It has been more than 2 months since I have done either a long ride or a good bike workout. And I have not rode all night since Bliss in the Hills. The Yercaud trip and back was definitely on the cards. I tried to find some company from within my team but unfortunately not everyone was excited about riding all the way, or riding at night. So I decided to go, and as casually as I could , told my wife on Wednesday “I’m going to Yercaud this weekend”
She : Nice , who else is coming with you?
Me : My cycle for sure. Nobody else that I know of
She : Anantha ?
Me : He doesn’t want to ride at night, he’d rather drive till base and then climb. I prefer riding all night , hitting the base in the morning and then climbing
She : Please get some company. Try putting onf facebook , you might get someone.
Me : Okay.
So I post on Facebook, a little tentatively. Instead of yercaud, I vaguely word it as a night ride, thinking I would have better chance of getting company by posting a ride and quietly cranking up the distance to Yercaudesque levels. ( Of course I was prepared to compromise by maybe going to Mysore and back or Yelagiri and back).
I posted on Wednesday and by Thursday evening I had Kiran Kumar (of Fitness Through Travel) also wanting to do the Yercaud circuit. I closed the deal over a facebook post. And to make things better, Sylvester with whom I have ridden the 600 (and other rides) also deciding to jump in. One person who had said yes, opted out but we had a good 3 members, a good crowd for a 450 km ride at less than 2 day’s notice.
We decided to start at 8 pm but of course a mixture of laziness, unexpected last minute gotchas and an irrational fear of Bangalore traffic meant that we left Silk Board at 10 pm. The stretchh towards Attibele probably took for ever with frequent breaks due to traffic.
Starting point, Fitness through travel
Of course the traffic either decided to linger till 10pm and beyond or it must have been messier earlier. We rode at the pace the traffic permitted us to and reached Attibele toll plaza. Sylvie was a bit behind and we waited for him. The first real action came on top of the Hosur flyover, where we were stuck for 15 minutes or more. So much for delaying the trip to avoid traffic. Once we reached the base there were few diversions and more traffic jams. We were separated as each of us tried to squeeze through wherever we could. Eventually we reached relatively freer movement and I pedalled hard. Found Kiran waiting for me 5-10 km beyond Hosur. We waited about 5 minutes for Sylvester and then decided he must be ahead. So we continued , we met him waiting at the Krishnagiri toll plaza , and the time must have been some time after 1am. The real killer came when we got stuck on *top* of the Krishnagiri flyover for another 20 minutes or so. This was beyond weird. Bangalore traffic had either reached Krishnagiri or there is a mass exodus every weekend from Bangalore. Either ways, in future it pays to brave the Electronic city traffic jam than getting stuck in the middle of the night at Krishnagiri.
From here, progress was slow , we took one big break in a petrol bunk when I could not proceed due to sleepiness. I slept in Karthik’s patented sitting pose while the other two slept on the grass lawns. Kiran had got some packed Chitranna from home, and once we were up the three of us finished it off there. Once we got off from here , I pedalled ahead ( Or rather after steady pedalling in a semi trance state), and I found the two of them were no longer behind me. I was about 2 km from the Dharmapuri toll plaza (after which the descent to Thoppur starts) and decided that a good way to wait would be to take a nap. I found a Bus stop , put some musquito repellent on my exposed limbs and zzzzzz (again using Karthik’s trademarked pose, with a hand over the shoulder length wall of the bus stop — to prevent myself from falling over during sleep). So I wake up after a while , see that the twosome hadn’t turned up – I call. Nobody picks up but sure enough Sylvie called back and told me to wait, they were asleep and would come shortly. So of course I continue to the next nap. When I wake up it was past 5 , I called and nobody picked up, I decided to go ahead ( We had discussed being at the base before 6 , this was no longer possible – but if we made it fast then at least we’ll prevent ourself from being roasted)
I connect the phone to my ear plugs/mike and now start listening to music. I make the descent quickly , noticing that the NHAI had now made the road much smoother (no longer those ridiculous rumblers that threatened to create a fall ) , after a couple of short breaks to stretch a strained back I saw myself in the outskirts of Salem sometime after 7:30 . Kiran called and he was about 20 km behind me. I told him I’m going ahead. Went to Annapoorna restaurant , had a good breakfast and then some cleanup. I had to fill my camelbak, asked the waiter to do the needful — as expected curious glances all around. Finally I found myself at the base at about 9:20. There was a tendro coconut vendor and I decided to load up on one tender coconut. Deed done, I started the climb. I had 2 liters of plain water on my back, and a liter of concentrated electrolyte solution (double dose) in my water bottle ( Remember this was my third time here, I knew that for the next 23 km there would be nothing, and while the climb is not steep, it is long , and I was expecting less shade due to the summer). And yes, it was hot, very hot even though the time was just 9:20 am. As I would discover later it got a little pleasant after the 7km mark or so, but the humidity was quite relentless.
I had decided to be open about the climb. With my excess 10kg of body weight , extra humidity is a killer and I really lose a lot of fluids in hot and humid conditions. I went well below my threshold but still found myself panting. Every 2km or so I forced myself to take a break, whenever I found a shade. And I gulped the salts every 2 km. When I visited in September there was a lot of shade enroute the climb. Right now, it was completely desiccated, and I had no option but to bear relentless sun.Once I reached the top I checked the time. I had made it at around 12:01 pm or so. I actually thought I had taken much longer than 3 hours so was a bit surprised pleasantly (though wasn’t shooting for time, I was happy to make it one piece). And of course, I had to take the requisite selfie to prove my ascent.
Drenched with sweat, on top of the climb
Once I reached the top, I tried calling up the other two but no response. Soon though, Sylv called back using another phone and indicated that he had called off the climb. I tried to convince him to continue and waited. Had a relaxed sleep sleep on the parapet wall at the edge of the final hairpin. Soon I was woken up by a phone, and it turned out to be Sylvester again. He told me that he had given up after walking a km and then took a bus up. He had reached the top and was on his way back from town to the end of the climb (A distance of 2 km or so). He joined me and we whiled time away chatting. He had passed Kiran 2/3rd the way to the top, so we were expecting Kiran to reach soon. I think Kiran made it to the top around 2:30 pm or so. Unlike me, he managed to ride to the top non-stop. Quite a feat in the heat and humidity. We went from here to the town together with Sylvie ending up a bit ahead.
Just spent a couple of minutes next to the lake with Kiran when we realized Sylvie had taken a detour to Hotel Tamil Nadu , just before the lake. We went back to the hotel, and had a veg buffet meal at Hotel Tamil Nadu. We decided to chill at the top and wait for late evening to get down. Both of them updated me with the detailed story of why they were late. Apparently they took a short cut and did some offroad trails to hit the base of the climb. That explained the delay of them catching up with me. We decided to take up a room and sleep for a few hours. Unfortunately it was a weekend and the hotel was full.
Three of us before starting the descent
We slept till about 5:30 or so and then started on the way down. The way down was fast, we managed to reach the base by around 6:00 or so. Yercaud top is about 1350 MSL and the base at about
350MSL. At about 550 MSL we could feel the heat again. By the time we we made our way to the approach road to Salem, we actually could feel the Loo. Riding in TN is serious wrt humidity an
d heat. We have it lucky in Bangalore , but of course we compensate for the lack of heat by way of a little rolling terrain. We wanted to load up on some food before starting from Salem, and
of course Sylvie wanted to find a way to get to Coimbatore quickly. On my recommendation we went to Annapoorna to have a quick snack.
We ordered 2 plates of Sweet Paniyaram and 3 Dosas for each of us. The Sweet Paniyarams were really delectable fried in Ghee. We sat near the entrace near the place where they were making the paniyarams. The smell of freshly cooked desi food has its own way of relaxing your tired muscles. But We couldn’t finish it off, managed to pack one and carry it on t.
he road. So spliting ways with Sylvie at the 5-road junction we made our way towards Bangalore. About 20km after Salem I started feeling groggy but decided to focus on the road. I still was
losing a lot of fluids — guess one of the disadvantages of having extra body weight.
I searched for a medical shop but could not find one on the way. We were advised to try someay down the road. But I was so dazed that I could not focus too much on the sides of the road. All the shops more or less felt a blur.
I ended up going ahead and waited just after the Mettur dam turn off before Thoppur. Kiran joined me and was a little non-plussed because he had stopped at the hospital and medical shop expecting me to wait there. I told him I had a very dim idea of the sides of the road and could only focus on the road.We went ahead and located a row of shops just before the thoppur climb. I downed a Slice and an ORS tetrapack and bought 2 more ORS satchets. This helped us complete the Thoppur climb in about 30 minutes, Once we reached the top we located a petrol bunk and slept at the back for about 2 hours or more.
Once we got again on our way , after half an hour or so, Kiran sensed that we were near the place where they had consumed some tea (which is when I was waiting for them to turn up at the bus stop on Day 1), it happened to just open as we reached the spot, so we had another round of tea and biscuits, and yes, yet another nap. Once we started from here we attempted to reach Krishnagiri non stop but a little while before Krishnagiri( 10km) I started feeling sleepy. We tried to go to a service road bus stop in a village but I did not feel comfortable there. We went back on the road and after sometime I started drooping off again. Kiran was ahead of me in visual range but outside audible range. I tried whistling to catch his attention but could not. SoI just sat on the divider between main road and service road and dozed off, my cycle balanced at the edge of the slow lane with vehicles whizzing by. Once I managed a micro nap, I continued
only to be greeted by the sight of Kiran sleeping on a slab by the roadside next to a transformer. I joined him in sitting pose for a few minutes and post (by now I lost count of number of) nap, we continued towards Krishnagiri.
Just before the road from chennai joins the highway, there are a bunch of eateries on the right side of the road (against the direction we were going). Kiran wished to infuse some nutrition before the climbs/rolling terrain from Krishnagiri to Hosur. I wasn’t keen on eating much, was happy to survive on fluids, but hunger rules so we stopped there. While Kiran was having his meal, I decided to spend the time sleeping, which I duly did by putting my head on the dining table and dozing off. From what I remember, I managed to sleep more than 45 minutes at this spot.
Snack time early in the morning
By now, I had probably slept way more than what I had ever slept during a long brevet. I began to wonder whether I could spend the Sunday normally not bothering to sleep. I had to drop my mother in law at the airport
By the time we decided to start from here, it was close to daybreak. And again we took another break in a petrol bunk just some distance before the initial climb from Krishnagiri started. Now came the best part of the entire trip. Tackling a fairly sustained climb/rolling terrain early in the morning after a decent rest at night.
It must have been about 5:30 or so when we started past Krishnagiri. The first climb to Chinnar tends to be the most intense, but the saga of rolling terrain goes all the way to Hosur. The steepest section I believe is barely a km or two before we hit the town.
After completing the Chinnar climb (that ends in Adyar Ananda Bhavan) , I remembered that Kiran had packed a sweet paniyaram from last night’s dinner snack. I pronto asked him as we were riding on a flat part of the terrain. I enjoyed the ghee laden sweet paniyaram on the climb. Made my morning really memorable. That is my fondest memory of the climb. The sun started getting a little tricky even a little after 7 am. So I decided to push and go ahead. A couple of times I caught Kiran off the saddle coming from behind. Later on he would tell me that he struggled to catch up with me on the climb. Of course such a statement just boosted my ego, that meant I was not in that bad a shape as It thought I was.
By the time we reached Hosur it was about 8:10. We went to the local Saravana Bhavan (on my recommendation). I noticed that the place was renovated ( I must have visited it last probably 2010). The morning lone paniyaram was topped up by a ghee roast and Pongal Vada. The chutney was also awesome. By the time we started from Hosur it was around 9:30 and the sun was seriously beating down on us. I ended up going ahead in a minor traffic jam before the toll plaza. Given that there was no shade I did not wait for Kiran. At times the heat was making it difficult and I felt faint at times. I just kept sipping a little hydration fluid , but I had mild acidity issues so stuck to water. The first ‘shade’ on the road was when the electronic city overhead expressway began and I waited for some time here. I rode slowly from here and Kiran caught up soon. I declined his offer of a juice shop break since I was no eager to get home as soon as possible. I had to drop my mother in law to the airport and had to go to a cousins’ engagement in the evening.
I went home , had a quick meal and then slept for an hour or so. I got up, drove to the airport , then headed to Jakkur at 5 pm for the function. I came back home probably at 9 pm and only then did I manage a good night’s sleep.
Surprisingly for the length of the journey, I had no cramps at all either during the day or the next. And yes, I ended up gaining a kg of weight after the ride.
PS : If you are curious about the title, I had planned two trips to Yercaud before BlissInTheHills, but both times ended up transporting the cycle back in a bus. This, for me , was third time lucky as I completed the round trip on a bike. The next trip to Yercaud will include the stretch to Kuppanur.