Sitting inside my tent I try to unwind my days since I arrived in Delhi. The flag off day helped me meet lot of new faces – Dicky the Surd (he’s a vetran, 50+ yr old chap I guess.. he the fittest and most helping in nature), Akarsh (He’s just back from Leh where he was biking, so he’s getting used to lower altitude of Shimla), Anmol and Rohan are Delhites have been doing recreational biking for some time. Dicky had set up a meet with his friend Kunal (aka COCO) whose is the principal of a school in Shimla. 80% of the trip was downhill. This was awesome!!! I guess this was the first time I experienced mountain biking and got to know the importance of brakes (Disc breaks are a must).
Going downhill is very addictive and great fun. We reached the destination with a lot of high speed downhill riding. I guess I was having so much fun that God wanted to teach me a lesson; so there came the fall, a classic bike topple. I was somersaulting over the bike, don’t ask how this happened (probably not getting the breaking right (actually not wanting to slow down). I got a bruise on my right knee, which is not bad. In fact it looks good but I was up in a flash and we were ready to go. We finally reached the Coco’s School. Riding up-hill was a killer… you needs to continuously tell yourself not to give up. After the grueling climbs (frankly I don’t want to recall) there were a few downhill, that’s when you realize their actual beauty. Finally!! We were back to the hotel around 6pm. Good ride approx 50+ kms. At the end of this day I realized that I was not that bad as a ride. I finished ahead for 3 for the 4 riders with me. Dicky even though an old chap, it is very difficult to catch up with.
DAY 1: Today we had two leg of race which were timed and will be used for our ranking. The terrain today was rough and it was more of down hill ride something that is very close to technical and full of rocks. Although the race did not prove to be great for everyone but it’s was an experience for me. My bike interestingly was very good and deserves all the credit while there were plenty who had flats and falls. The day 1 race could be concluded as ‘Fit for the survival’. The race seemed more challenging each day with Day 2 being even tougher and is mostly an uphill terrain. Day 1 seen few riders quit or out as their official ranking did not complete all the race sections.
DAY 2: We started around 8am from the camp. Our camp was at ground level surrounded by mountains. All of us had a good heavy breakfast comprising of eggs, porridge, cornflakes, milk, honey etc. a proper sportsman’s diet. Yesterday there was a downhill road of 8+ kms to camp so most of us were prepared for the climb. There were two continuous climbing stages which took the juice out of my body. Luckily the last stages were downhills which were big relief to my legs. Today’s course was tougher than yesterday and according to few experienced riders the following days would be even tougher. This situation made me think “how long would I last as a qualifying participant?” I had planned for the worst and was hoping for the best tomorrow. Now its getting late at night and I need to take enough rest to be geared up for tomorrow.
DAY 3: This was the toughest day faced till date. Every day we have “timed” and “transport” sections. Transport section is the ride which is not timed but is compulsory. When we start form the camp we usually transport to the “time section”. This day seen us cover approximately 25 kms. When you are in the hilly region, distance is immaterial. It’s the gradient (climb) which matters. The timed section is where we are timed and which will decide our rankings. One needs to complete all transport and timed race sections to be qualified for rankings.
Day 3 seen a horrible transport section before the 2nd time section. Over 35kms of climbs, which never ended seen Anmol (works with Maruti. just 22 and a strong rider) and myself together. We kept motivating each other while riding. This was the most horrible experience. Finally we reached the start of 2nd time section. After a good lunch, we started the 2nd time stage, which had even more climbs. A complete killer!! By the end of it I had given up. I tried to get a vehicle transport to the next time section but did not receive permission for the same. I cursed myself. Why did I get into this?” After 10 mins of rest another rider called Vrinda (from Sikkim who has been Mountain biking for 8 yrs) arrived. He had an injury in his knee. I did realize at that point of time that I have been riding all this while with an injured right knee. It was 4:30pm and we had to make it to the 3rd time section before 5:30pm, else we would be disqualified. Vrinda had been dragging his bike for a long time. He told the official “If I walk a 5kms/hr. with some down hill he can make the 3rd stage in time….” They (officials) wouldn’t also allow him the free transport to the next race stage. Hearing that I changed my mind… I had to do it. I wouldn’t give up easily and complete the ride till the end of the day. From that day, I learnt the lesson of “Never to give up”, no matter what the circumstances are. I might fail too but giving up midway is even worse. In the end it was great feeling. I thanked Dhanajay (HASTPA) for not letting me have the free ride. Awesome day!! And of course some Great lessons learntJ
DAY 4: We stared the race at Day 4 and had to cover a 27 kms track of downhill. We were getting pampered early in the morning. That was strange!! However, for the first time stage we could get only upto 10 kms of transport. The day began with great excitement. I did some great downhill riding. I covered a distance of 28kms in 32mins. A simply outstanding feeling sank in me. But I was cautious and didn’t get speed devil over my mind (downhill crash memories were still fresh on my mind). Unfortunately it wasn’t the case with the others. 5-6 riders had crashed, of which one had a serious fall over the cliff. Down hill riding is very dangerous. One wrong move can throw you into the valley. But I’m getting a hang of it. Soon the fun was over. The 2nd transport started, which was really a long one i.e. climbs, long stretches and all of this in an open sun. This definitely gets one dehydrated. Somehow, I managed to reach the Beverage point with multiple breaks. The 2nd time stage section was still 7 kms away and a complete stretch of climbs. “Why me?” was the question I asked. Then remembering God (which I do most often, when I need strength as my glucose and energy bars were failing to deliver most of the time) I pushed myself to the limit (with my hurting knee). Finally this was end of this leg of the race. The final stage, don’t want to recall how it was. Luckily the transport back to the camp was by car. Day 4 ended at Kullu Saran.
DAY 5: The Kullu Saran campsite woke us up to a complete breath taking view. Our camp was in a school in the village of Saran which had a stream going around it. It was picture perfect. Day 4 had ended and for most of us it was the biggest sign of relief as Day 5 was a rest day. Day 5 started with getting up early. However, my biological clock didn’t allow me sleep beyond 7, washing clothes, cleaning up myself and the bike in the river. The river water was so cold that after washing my head and face in it. I thought I experienced something like a brain freeze, cold water aches. So after enough interaction with nature I had planned some rest for my knee which had been aching badly. Pain killers were regular part of my diet. I tried to settle down but the beautiful meadows had got everybody excited. We played cricket and a few of us went for a swim in an icy cold water body near by. Around the time we were done I had developed the immunity for it. Later that night we had a good snacks and dinner.
DAY 6: So after the rest day everybody was all charged up. My knee pain had subsided a little and after the first transport stage of a few kms we were all set for the first down hill race section. I got my TCB (Time Card Book) signed and was ready with four other participants to start the race. I started with a lot of aggression but it did not last long, I had a fall, I think my right foot slipped from the pedal just 20 meters from the start line. I don’t recall the fall now… but it looked nasty, some said later. I was up in a flash since it was a race section and didn’t want to loose time. At this point of time I was shaky in confidence, but wanted to complete the section quickly ignoring my wounds. This downhill was very rough, loose stones and rocks, lot of mud. I completed the downhill ahead and a few more who, must have started ahead of me. On completion it was injury check time. I realized the front crank had bruised my calf for my right leg. It pained but I could take it. Surprisingly the knee injury in focus got less notice from me then on and I felt better. Later there were some really long transport and race stage which I managed to complete in time. All well that ends well.
DAY 7: Everybody had been scaring us for this one. The Allodia Pass, which is 10,000+ ft in altitude. And 35+ kms of up hills. Last 5-6kms would be really steep. Even the army participants seemed to be scared of this. We started around 9 am for the race. This was so grueling that I cannot put it in words, continuous climbs, which never seemed to be ending. The air began to get thinner, which in turn saw my body running out of energy bars. Jabbi Bhai (Very sweet surd, 40+, but steadily climbs hills.. he’s a gr8 inspiration to me..) and myself were together for most of the time but later he fell back. The road to Jalodi was never ending and as I moved ahead it began to get misty and cold. Being alone I decided to wait for Jabbi; as a partner helps in setting up pace and momentum during the ride. By the time we were 5kms from destination (most of the time were never had the right information how far is the destination, the marshals would say 3kms.. and it would turn out to be more than 7, flats road were up hills for us, Gradual uphills were nightmares). After dragging our bikes over for some 3-4 kms over steep uphill on loose stones we managed to reach jalodi pass around 3 pm. For me this was the Herculean task of the century. Just 2.5 hrs to go and I needed to catch the second race section before 5.30 else the officials wouldn’t allow me to compete and I would be disqualified. I started around 3.45pm after stuffing lunch and catching breadth. The transport was down hill luckily and I was at the 2nd race section by 4.40. I started at 4.45pm. This was 20km for gradual uphills. I just managed to complete this by 7. Last few kms were covered in dark and most people behind me were not able complete this day. All I have to say at the end of this stage was ‘Oh man that was terrific!!!’ Thank god its over and for making me push harder and harder.
DAY 8: All exhausted on Day 8 but this race was a complete blessing. Some few downhills and uphills and it passed by easily, although I’m unable to recall the day completely.
DAY 9: This stated with a very small race section of Bike and Hike. Although, “Bike and Hike” may sound cool but it’s carrying/dragging your bike through mountains i.e. steep climbs, edges, etc. Very scenic views of the mountain and valley but this section took a toll on my body. Somewhere while carrying my bike I twisted my left ankle and the pain was very bad. Slowly and steadily I completed the “Bike and Hike”. (It just sounds cool). Later that day, we had to cover a down hill called Managable. I said to myself, down hill sections might not require pedaling much but they take a toll on your back, shoulders, biceps, neck and mind. This was nowhere a smooth downhill as one would imagine. After 10kms of downhill, you want it to end, this was an unrelenting ride. But now it’s over!! Later that night at the camp I treated myself to a full body massage and a shave. I saw my face after 9 days, “good to see u abhishek” I told myself. Our camp was 30km from Manali. Injuries were in check, right knee was better now, however the left bone above the heal was in a bad state. So I was doing pain killers and volini. Tomorrow being last day I was excited to see Arun and KC.
DAY 10: Oh man!! It’s finally the last leg. Cool, misty day in Kullu. We were supposed to start early and head for Bijali Mahadev, which is a 15km+ climb. We took off in a convoy with a car leading and bike marshal leading us. Just half way down, nature played spoilt sport and it started raining. Winds were very chilly and an hour more riding in rains would have been dangerous. The last stage was called off. No regrets. Later that night we had a drinks, dance, dinner and exchanged contacts. That night I had a hard time sleeping on the bed… it was too soft and cosy, which was too uncomfortable after the long 9 Days. It all over now, but the memories that I will take back are priceless. Thank you all for your support and wishes. Couldn’t have done it without you guys!!!