Every day morning we have a pre-ride briefing that charts out the details of the day’s ride. Today the emphasis was repeated that we were going to have a 900m elevation drop and then a flat ride followed by a 900m elevation gain over a tropical forest( Aaralam). There was enough phsyching going on in the morning. I had a fever and took my time to clear my nose , throat and visceral organs , relaxed and started about 30 minutes late for what was repeatedly stressed as the toughest day of the tour. The previous night presentation also neatly laid out the climb at the end of the day, and the maniacal drop at the start.
In any case, loner that I am, I pedalled my way through the early Wayanad chill. One of the striking good aspects of the tour was the way the daily markings were helpful everywhere. Come to a fork, and voila you see the ubiquitous marking on the road telling you which direction to go. Of course once in a while, interspersed with Francis Lobo’s wisecracks. “Country roads take you home” was probably the most memorable one on day 2. Eventually we took a deviation before Mananthavadi and went towards a signboard that said ‘This way to Aralam’ or something to that sort.
We were not headed to the forest, not in 22km. The only way now was down!
This was after the 1st pitstop where the usual savouries were normally dispatched but today I was very careful to only indulge in fluids. We kept going for sometime before the downhill started.And it was some downhill. There was tar being laid on the road and most of the road was gravel.
I forget the number of times I skidded down with both my brakes tight. I just held on for dear life and balance. Folks like Shreyas just glided down at full speed.
Early in the morning, a rikshaw driver carrying gas cylinders had toppled and the guy had bid adieu to life. It was pretty crazy going down on that road, and I just kept going as slow as possible till we reached the end. Caught up with Vinay Pydah and cycled with him for some time, when the realization dawned on me that we had plateaued at the base. Now I had not done a geography study before I started but something told me that this was not Wayanad. No undulations, just plain straight roads with intense heat and humidity. I again went ahead and continued being the lone ranger. Stopped a Mallu lady doing her daily rounds under her umbrella, I suspected I was in Kannur and that was duly confirmed. Now I realized what the downhill/uphill profile meant. We were going down to the coastal district and then up again over the Sahyadris. Just the thought gave me a kick. In any case I was happy as cycling from the coastal regions over the Sahyadri was something I wanted to do for some time. So here I was , running a fever (but by now I was so hot from the ambient heat that the fever was probably secondary).
Some time after the base we reached the 2nd pitstop where lunch was served by FringeFord. Lovely lunch. Kerala Parotta with potato subgee and boiled egg. I decided to take part in the protein offering despite the fever, and just relaxed for a couple of minutes. A few friends asked me to relax, but I was not sure of my stamina for the day, given my throat infection. I was not sure of whether I would last through the day in the intense heat,so I decided to keep a steady pace and not take any unnecessary break. I started again all alone, but after about a km or two, felt too exhausted to move. Took some fluids, relaxed under one tree, stretched. Meanwhile Pradeep and Ruby (the couple who personified togetherness throughout the tour) went past me,and after a while Prem Sagar went past as well. I started again, and after some time went past them as well. Went past Bernard as I cycled through the town of Iritty.
Eventually I reached the 3rd pitstop at about 2 or so. From the 2nd pitstop I had covered by head and ears with two wet handkerchiefs to prevent any sunburns ( in addition to copious amounts of a sunscreen). Boy was it hot today!
From the 3rd pit stop the base of the climb over the forests were about 5-6km I guess. The river came into view and we cycled some distance in parallel. A rather metal bridge had to be crossed, and at this point I missed the directions on the road, and took the straight road, only to realize that I had erred when I saw the big crosses on the road ( again a brilliant idea). Went back and was redirected. At the base of the forest there were some rubber plantations, nice sight but the plastic bags strung to catch the sap were real eyesores.
Oh-kay the amazing rainforest (rather tropical) came and it was ridiculously painful. Fully shaded but the intense humidity meant that it was similar to cycling in a sauna or steam room. The forest was noisy with crickets, and the noise was intense. At certain wet patches there were butterflies in plenty.
Take a look at this amatuer(ish) video of butterfiles.
And another of the general sound of crickets in the forest.
Here it is . The breathing sound is probably me as I’m pumping up and videographing simultaneously.
I cycled and caught up with Shankar Jayaraman in the middle of the path. This slope was nothing alaming but the humidity really contributed to the misery.
I made a mistake of stopping about 2/3rd of the way up (estimated) when Devakishor did his motorcycle sortie. Bad idea as the break cooled my muscles. From now on I went through slowly , but suddenly after cycling maybe 12km on the uphill I caught severe cramps on my back. And then another , and then again another, could do nothing but writhe on the side of the road, stretch and wait.
And lo, came a truck carrying bricks who took pity on me and said, banni saar, I had to reason with him that I was actually enjoying my cycling experience. After a 15min break, went ahead, and saw the Krishnaswamy brothers bonding on the side of the road, and they informed me that the next pitstop was just ahead and I was near the end of the climb. Felt happy to hear that. The final pitstop was next to a lake. It was quite pretty actually.
We were finally in Coorg. Well we always were in Coorg through the climb but that was politically , We had just reached the highlands. Now it was flat to rolling till we reached the town of Gonikoppa. The roads in Coorg are bad, even by Karnataka standards.
Coffee seeds out to dry
But negotiated the last leg of the journey with Haresh and Shankar and *poof* landed into the *hotel* where were were to stay for the night. Nice pakodas and tea to greet our penultimate day, and arguably the most strenous. Rest of the troop streamed in one by one. There was some drama with one gent riding ahead to glory avoiding the sweep trucks.
Night was easy , skipped dinner and had a good sleep after making sure no bedbugs in the room. Had the room to myself since my partner checked into another hotel.
A copy of the roster that the support guys ticked every day.