Cycling 200kmx2 — Part One

The mind wanders to funny places, I think. That was definitely what my family thought when I told them I will be attempting a 200-kilometre long-distance cycling event. I could almost hear my late grandfather squeak in bouts of wonderment & despair. “Why on earth would I buy a cycle — that has always been the modest man’s aid — that costs more than half a lakh & then go about riding a distance that could easily be covered on a bus” These words would have bound to come from him.

In August 2020 I took to cycling again after a long hiatus. I have a 6-speed firefox (called Firedash) & she is a beauty. But she is heavy, & old — and hence does not make the best companion for long-distance rides. I knew I would get better, more consistent & faster if I upgraded to a better bike. But I needed justification. I couldn't just go to a bike store and simply hand them a cheque. So I decided to do 2 month-long challenges in August & September. It involved doing at least 15 km for a minimum of 20 days in a month. I kept that as a benchmark, a metaphorical carrot dangling in front of my old, study & loyal Firedash.

The challenges, dare I say, were easy. I did not have an issue waking up in the morning. My distances were predetermined & I had apps to check my progress.

Pretty smooth. During my cycling expeditions, I found myself ogling at road bikes. Oof! Just the finishing on the roadies! Smooth, slick, oiled & gorgeous. I couldn't stop staring at riders & their bikes. The way their backs hunched a little as they held on to the hoods of the bike. Or the way they would resemble a tour-de-France cyclist when they were on the drops of the drop handlebars. I had made up my mind that my next investment was going to be a road bike.

But 2020 is the year of the pandemic. Along with people, good cycles had quarantined themselves from lecherous human stares. There was not a road bike in sight. And the road bikes that were available were either too expensive or were too “this is a cheap impersonation of a road bike and will probably ruin your back & knees for life”.

Nonetheless, I kept the search (and hope) on. I kept calling random bike stores & took down technical specifications of the bikes that were available along with the prices. I went and did extensive online research on brands, parts & what to look out for in a road bike.

In November, I got a message that a particular cycle store was clearing all its Ridley bikes & that there was a major discount on the selling price. I quickly consulted a few friends, whom I considered knowledgeable in the cycling sphere, and all of them came to a consensus that it was a great investment & that I should buy it before other hungry demons grab onto it.

I quickly booked it, and within the next 2 weeks, my beautiful, dainty, delicate yet strong Ridley Sora Liz arrived. She was christened Liz Sora Lemon. She was black in colour with hints of teal neatly coated on her. Liz was a stunner. Among all the bikes in the basement, she glowed. I became a proud cycle momma for the first time! (Firedash was adopted)

Time for Lizzie to take the test! An actual TEST

In February 2021, I signed up for a 200km brevet that started from Bangalore.

A brevet is a long-distance cycling sport with its origins in audax cycling. Riders attempt courses of 200 km or more, passing through predetermined “controls” (checkpoints) every few tens of kilometres. Riders aim to complete the course within specified time limits, and receive equal recognition regardless of their finishing order

My mental preparation began the minute I signed up for the event, a few weeks before. I messaged past participants who were friends, called them for tips, tricks & what to look out for. I designated a corner of my room with “Ride Day” supplies so that I don’t miss out on anything. I kept a checklist. I made sure I had multiple energy bars, sanitisers, soaps, bandana, napkins, fruits etc. I studied the route, drew a map on a piece of paper — just in case my phone gives way. I checked, rechecked & double checked the bike for anything out of the ordinary. I inspected the brakes, closely monitored the wheels & tires for any thorns or stones that could have been lodged — leading to a pinch puncture.

No amount of preparation seemed enough. I stopped riding Lizzie one week before the brevet, just to minimize unforeseen events. The night before the brevet was tough. All the anticipation, preparation, advice I had taken — all of it would go futile if I was not able to complete the ride, I thought to myself. Not to mention, I was attempting this all by myself. I did not know anyone well enough to tag along with. It was a brave, solo ride. I had to be ready. Just me & Lizzie & the world to conquer.

The most crucial part of the preparation is rest. The day before the ride, I could do everything but rest. I was restless, anxious, & induced with buckets of adrenaline. I couldn't sleep for most of the night. Planning the route in my head, double-checking my supplies. Calculating rest time & ride time. The works.

I woke up at 4 am on the day of the ride, & changed into fancy cycling clothes. I shoved energy bars in the back pocket of my cycling jersey. I also wore a cycling gilet to protect me from the 4 am cold! I planned to reach the start point by 5:15, so I asked a friend to ride with me till the start point. It was dark and the streets were almost empty. I left at 4:50 am, and the city was barely waking up for the day. Street lights were struggling to keep awake, dogs aimlessly strolling across once busy streets, an occasional car or scooter would buzz past creating a rippling sound effect into the dead night.

I went to the checkpoint only to find a pretty long line of participants! There were over 100, I realised later. A bunch of volunteers inspected my bike and registration — it had to be a human-powered bike and the riders should have reflective jackets, headlights and taillights.

I thanked my friend and bid him adieu after the registration and brief chat with the riders.

The first 50 kilometres went by like a breeze. Challenges erupted one by one soon after. To begin with, I lost my route a few times — having no idea about the roads, I had to rely on a tiny app on my phone, which wasn’t very user friendly. Thankfully I managed to make some wonderful friends en route who guided me throughout the event. When we were at around 100 kilometres, we had to climb a short hill — the Avalbetta Hill. Probably 8 km. Seems easy, I thought to myself. 8 kilometres was just 4% of the entire ride! But there were certain things I had not accounted for.

1. I was tired 2. The elevation wasn't very cycle-friendly 3. We were there during peak afternoon when the sun was blazing over you 4. I was dead tired.

After a point on the hill, I had to get down and push the cycle. I found comfort in seeing other riders succumb to the same beastly hill as I did. Some of them were strong cyclists, quite experienced in the art of long-distance cycling, while others, like me, were new to putting in the endurance.

I remember reaching the peak and almost collapsing into the ground. We had to take selfies at assigned checkpoints — as proof that we cycled till there & also to keep a timestamp. I remember things being blur while I took the selfie. Oh, wait! I needed water. I stumbled to the tender coconut seller. There was a temple hoisted at the peak of the hill, but this tender coconut seller was like God. I gulped down huge sips, almost choking myself.

“It is all downhill from here, I thought to myself. When the going gets tough, the tough get going” I thought to myself. But I am a naive fool, cause the tough had just begun.

The thing about uphill climbs is that the more effort you put to climb up, the more you look forward to the down. A steep climb like Avalbetta had an equally steep descent. Unpopular Opinion: Overcoming a steep descent is as difficult as conquering a steep climb. Downhill descent needs more control & balance. My body froze. It was rigid, my hands desperately clinging onto the breaks, not applying them too hard so as to topple off and not applying them too carelessly, so as to fall off the cliff — thus making it a delicate balance between speed & control. Every inch of my body screamed in pain. The roads were winding, there were other cyclists climbing up the hill as well. Every bend had to be manoeuvred carefully. The brakes had a Goldilocks rule — too soft and you'll become a soft pile of bones. Liz glided through the hill beautifully.

We were provided with lunch — a temptation too good to ignore. Food during brevets is extremely important. But if you're not careful, it can be extremely detrimental. I wolfed down the masala rice (but within limits of course).

Not a moment to lose! Soon after, I got back on the saddle. The afternoon Sun angrily growing bigger and bigger — sucking every fluid out of my system. Soon after, I hit a patch — let's say 10 kilometres — of uneven, potholed, loose road. I have a pure road bike. A road bike has zero suspension, which means every rock you hit, every pothole you go past directly impacts your body. If not careful, your arms and elbows take the maximum hit.

I had just belted a nice hot plate of masala rice, I was in no mode to navigate the extremely horrible road. The masala rice in my stomach was already turning into some form of acidic khichdi, and I could feel it with every burp that came out as a reflex action to the jerky, “potholey” ride.

All the videos I watch on posture, all the advice on “how to ride a road bike”, all went down the drain. When it is 2 pm in the afternoon in the month of February, and you feel like half your body has evaporated, learning doesn't help much. My wrists and elbows screamed in pain.

Finally, after the very painful ordeal, I found a nice patch of beautifully tarred road. The weather had slightly dipped or the tree cover had slightly increased. The road soon merged into a winding downhill. Extremely pleasant & extremely enjoyable. But here’s the thing. When you are climbing an uphill in the beginning, all you think is the beautiful (or not so beautiful) downhill that is eventually being gifted to you. But when you are met with a downhill first, you never ever think about the uphill that is an eventuality as well. Or at least I didn't.

My riding friends (yes, friendships and bonds happen quickly when it's a mutual ordeal) & I stopped at a water tank and gave ourselves a mini-bath. I felt fresh.

Soon enough, the Sun quickly went back to its roaring self & we were met with another uphill battle. This one was a long and gradual one. Slow & painful. It made me count each pedal, measure each inch of land covered, in my head. At one point, I had to stop and rethink my options. Was this really worth it? What am I doing hundreds of kilometres away from Bangalore? Does Uber work here? There was not a soul in sight (except for the riders — whose souls, like mine, had been dehydrated by the sun).

That is the thing about cycling, you make a commitment, you have to keep it. So i kept my commitment & rode on. The frequency of stops at coconut sellers increased. Now we were just desperate to stop and give our buttocks some rest.

I felt a sense of urgency in other riders, and it got me a bit curious. We were well within our cutoff time & I was in no mood to “pace myself”. At this point, I was a riding corpse. “Hebbal Traffic” I heard someone whisper from a distance. “Oh S%^&*” I had completely forgotten that I lived in Bangalore — a place where neither you nor the traffic is forgiving. We had to exit the beautiful-ish village roads & at some point enter Bangalore. We had to do it quickly before the evening traffic ends your mental health.

I was a riding corpse for sure, but Bangalore traffic would evaporate whatever was left in me. No time to lose! We picked up the pace. The traffic was slowly brimming, rising.. I could see scooters, trucks, cars gather from a distance.

I had to reach the endpoint by 7:30 pm. If we got into the thick of it all, we would miss our deadline. I had come this far! I wasn't going to lose to traffic? I pedalled hard. We somehow managed to reach the endpoint well before time.

My body had given up! But now it could afford to give up, I had reached the end of it all! We rested, clicked pictures, some pleasantries here and there. I completely forgot that I had cycled till the start point, & I had to cycle back home which was a good 8 kilometres away!

“Oh S$%#@!”

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