Day 8 TFN

Top demo
The final day of the TFN was going to be a short and sweet ride. We were going to ride from Gonikoppa to Mysore, a distance of about 80km. Of course since this was the last day, there were the usual photographs at the foyer of the lodge we were staying, and after the customary briefing by Santosh, we were all off.

Final speech

top view

I tried taking some photographs whilst cycling today. A lot of folks were a little bemused by the domesticated tusker that was patrolling the periphery of the road in the buffer zone surrounding the Titimathi range.

The tusker

The road condition was quite varied, and as a fellow TFNer quipped, we are letting you experience the moon without having to leave the comfort of our planet.

The Kodagu moonscape
Coorg  moonscape

Imported road in Coorg

Nice view

More coorg road
More coorg

More dust, less road
more dust than road

We had one pitstop today somewhere after the Titimathi area. Had a break at a Neer dosa shop where the owner had an unexpected windfall. We reached the Hunsur – Madikeri road, and probably for the 1st time the roadies had tarmac they could drool on. the rest of us tolerated the heat , but a few water melons and coconut waters of course helped us along.We reached around mid-day , packed our cycles to be loaded to the trucks taking them to Bangalore.Tucked into the lunch and hitched a ride in Siva’s car to Bangalore from here. Dozed off in the car , reached home early. Of course kids and rest of family were happy to see me. I came back to the bus stand with my car with bike carrier at night to pick up both my and Jace’s cycles. Went with my kids. Picked up Kiran and his wife on the way, took our bikes, and loaded them on to the car. Dropped him at his place , and by that time my sons were fast asleep. Reached home for a second time with my broken cycle at night. Twas definitely a memorable experience, these last 8 days, probably will be in memory for a while.

Day 7, TFN

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.

On the way down

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.

Travel on gravel

The way down
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.
Yogesh getting a bird's eye view

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.

Bridge before Irutty

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.

The rubber plantation

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.
The forest

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.
image of the lake

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 and pepper in coorg

Coffee seeds out to dry

coffee seeds drying
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.
the roster with vasundara

Day 6, TFN

Today was a pseudo rest day with a trip planned around Wayanad. A short 70km ride was planned with one pit-stop. The whole lot of us were made to go through a rather steep incline for a sojourn to the middle of town. We all went towards Calicut when we were asked to head back by Navin Mathew. However Roopak and another roadie had already started the downhill through the Lakkidi ghat section to Calicut. Rest of us headed back, and went towards Banasura Sagar dam through the TFN designated route. Today’s route was rather bad, the road condition were not really good, and the scenery wasn’t outstanding. But still there was fun in cycling in Wayanad terrain with continuous climbs and downhills

Stream of cyclists in idyllic Kerala
Had an incredible amount of fun making Amit pronounce Mallu words like Padinyarattara, Chakkankulangara , etc. He basically wanted to know the name of each village as we passed along. It started with him trying to pronounce Pazhampori , the ubiquitous Mallu invention of frying sweet banana dipped in Maida in coconut oil. So we had a few Pazhamporis and teas on the way. I was beginning to feel my infection and kept myself hydrated throughout. Had a lot of fun with Deena and Pranav , we must have had 10-15 small hills (or more cross). At every downhill these guys would zoom past me, and I would wait for the next uphill to get my own back.

A rush to catch the local beef

Ended up forgetting my helmet at the lone pit stop today, and our official blogger fetched it for me. Halfway back to the hotel, Anjana made me wear her helmet for the rest of the journey.

We reached the hotel early but thanks to my fever, cold and congestion did not go into the water. A lot of the folks enjoyed a good massage by some trained local(s). Learnt later on that the two cyclists had gone all the way to Calicut beach before the support staff caught up. Hmm…
Can’t remember much of the night other than liking the calm night in Kalpetta. Had a severe case of congestion at night, and could hardly sleep, must have woken up about 8-10 times to use salt water to clear my nose and throat. (Naasyam). I am lucky that my room mates did not kill me that night.

Day 5 , TFN

Today was the day TFN would live upto its promise of “Mostly Downhill”. About 140km or so of distance expected ,and we were going to enter God’s own country today.After the gift of Jace’s bike, felt more comfortable doing the misty downhills. My rides on the roadbike lasted a good half day , and now it was time to go back to hybrids.

Duh, where is my helmet?
Starting  point, where is my helmet

It was drizzling and misty so the ride was delayed till the race director was comfortable. And as with any other day, 100 guys started off the starting block. We were made to cycle Ooty some 10 times before the route took us on the Gudalur downhill. There was some confusion so I just followed Prem. For the rain,I just wore 3 T shirts to ensure I was as dry as possible. Decided not to carry the rainjacket, knowing that I would be cycling in the Wayanad heat. Its great to get wet in the rain while cycling.

We had a good break once we got out of the Ooty area. A tea stall selling Paruppu vadas and tea did roaring business from the descending cyclists. I am sure she must have done her daily quota in 2 hour of madness leaving some evening regular customers dissatisfied.
Here is all of us posing for the cameras in the mild rain near the tea stall
Posing in front of tea stall

Ram was also going to go downhill today after rehabilitating for a couple of days from his bruises. I learnt later on that he suffered another injury after slamming his chest after two buses forced him off the road. A crack on the ribs.

Fingers crossed, downhill

The downhill was relatively quick , though I took a break at the tea stall(Ayyappa Enterprises)just before Naduvattam where I was greeted by Amit Chatterjee and co on the way up. Nice lemon tea, though the carrot stall opposite had not yet opened up. Went on downhill and took the designated detour towards Kalpetta from Gudalur.

On the way down, in front of tea stall
Prem and Shankar J

It was misty in the latter part of the downhill and some part of the road was quite wet.
Me photographed by our official photographer

Our 1st pit stop was probably just before Gudalur at the same place which happenned to be the 1st pit stop on our way up. Wasn’t hungry but could not resist the temptation of a peanut butter and biscuit combo. And of course a customary swig of the pulpy orange juice. After going through the town, realzed how much of a shortcut we had taken because of the school. Soon after Gudalur, the scnery changed to large swathes of tea estates, and repeated stretches of horseshoe shaped roads with a tea estate in the middle. You could see the other side of the road sometimes even a kilometer away.
I saw a lot of Moplah women on the way ,and stopped and chatted with one of them. She was curious about this steady stream of cyclists coming this way. I explained that we were on a tour of the Nilgiris and Kalpetta was our next stop. Was surprised to learn that I was still in Tamil Nadu though. This is one rather astounding feature of the state of TN. In the Border areas, you’ll find Kannada, Telugu and Malayalam (as I now learnt) spoken, but no Tamil. The areas surrounding Bangalore ,ie Hosur, Bagalur, Denkanikottai, Karadikal, etc, you would find a lot of Kannada and Telugu speaking people and here I found a lot of Mallus. I was determined to reach early enough to enjoy some time in the pool so I went ahead alone today, and in fact for the rest of the journey I was pretty much alone. The roadies had gone far ahead, and the other guys were enjoying the scenery. Somewhere along the road I overtook Mohan, Ross and her 9 year old son doing TFN. The next pit stop had some lunch, which I just took with me while I rode, since I was not hungry.
The roads from Gudalur to Sultan Battery are long winding rods with huge tea estates, and you see a sea of tea estates everywhere you go.
The estates and 2 cyclists

It surprised me as to how long the Kerala border took to arrive. We took a route that went near the Meenmutti waterfall. Given that it was 2km away from the main road with a rough approach (plus the fact that I was alone), I chugged along to Kalpetta. I was keen to use the pool today. Day 2 and Day 5,6 were the days we were in rather upscale resorts with nice pools. The opportunity to relax was welcome , but there was a time limit of 7pm for the pool usage. I reached the Kalpetta area sometime after 4 and was there at the resort before 5 pm. Today there weren’t much breaks apart from needed ones to replenish.
I spent about 2 hours in the pool. I entered it soon after checking in, and was followed soon by Amit Mukherjee, Sudarshan Iyengar , Darshan and some more of the Pune gang. Got a little irritated that the hotel didn’t serve Mallu food. What is it with all these “resorts” that they serve Panner Butter Masala and Naan irrespective of their location. No local cuisine? One more reasons why homestays stand out. I cribbed to the hoteliers and they organized boiled rice from the food prepared for the staff.
There was a display of all the photographs taken over the past few days at night, The day after was going to be a local Wayanad ride , but I was already feeling a little uneasy at the end of day 5. Cornered a bed on the floor ,away from the fan , as my repeated roomie Boni had a habit of sleeping with the fan on, irrespective of the temperature! We had the windows open, so that was not required, as Arun D’Silva also did not like the fan on, and actually it was a bit chilly.

Day 4,TFN

God knows when I must have drifted to sleep after the spirited night and the noise from the bonfire outside. My room mates Darshan, Yogesh and Gokul came in later at night. Gokul was my bed-mate and complained the next day that I pulled up more than my fair share of the comforter. Possible, I remember having a tug of war in my sleep, shivering in the Ooty cold at night. Got up at about 4 am or so (Amazing how easy it is to wake up when on holiday, I try to replicate that on a workday with no success). In any case, I got up, got ready to go out for a walk. The gate was closed with a sleeping sentry telling us ‘Saar this is ooty, nothing and no shop will be up now’ My reasoning of course told me, this is Tamil Nadu where buses ply all night. Just tell us the way to the bus stand, there will be at least one tea stall. At this point Vamsee joined me and we set out for a walk.
View from the rear truck
It did not take long for us to come to a tea stall a short distance before the main square. The guy served some bun with tea, and in the early morning chill, that was heavenly. We took a walk around the race course , effectively circumnavigating 3 sides of a rectangle to get to the bus stand, and saw many more tea stalls there. Got back to YMCA and saw a bunch of runners (Jace, Chidambaram, Vinodh) getting ready for an early morning run in Ooty.

Post breakfast, a big gang headed with Prem to tour some forest areas around the base of Doddabetta. Most of us went on an open tempo, and the journey must have been exciting, though I chilled next to the driver. During the walk in the forest, a forest ranger stopped us and asked for permissions. Prem and his local friend expressed surprise at the requirement, and went about furnishing their local credentials.
Prem's local friend

The ranger relaxed and advised them to please come with permissions next time, because in his words, teenagers who frequent the areas on bikes don’t know how to behave in the forest, they create noise and throw junk around. We spotted a malabar squirrel on the way, a red mushroom which caught the fancy of cyclewallahs with photographic inclination, and general flora. Its amazing to walk on thick layers of leaves scattered on the forest floor. I cringe everytime I think about how little effort we make to preserve urban green spaces.

Caterpillar hunting

A plan to climb Doddabetta through the woods was abandoned due to lack of time. We decided to head back to do the customary Chocolate shopping.
Prem was showing around the area when Juggy mentioned that yeah we’ve been here before, we had the Ooty run on this spot where we are walking. He seemed very knowledgeable of the local terrain. Mayank was lagging behind photographing all the insects and mushrooms on the way. Once we reached the main road, it was mid afternoon. We reached a junction where there were jeeps willing to ferry us to town. The ride to town was in a closed jeep.

Crammed into the jeep that ported us to town

More photos of the inside

After reaching the town, we went to have lunch at Kurinji, the cheese dosa was awesome. And of course we downed a truckload of chocolates while we kept waiting for the Dosa. The place was decidedly small but very good. After this we went to King’s for the chocolates and fudges. I must have spent close to a 1K there on chocolates and fudges. I also managed to find a shop that sold Long pepper and bought 1/2 a kg of that stuff as well.
Ooty town

It was evening by the time we came back. Caught Kiran who told me that he was quitting TFN for a personal emergency, and I was free to ride his bike. Felt like a good option. Rakesh Nair had a damaged bike and he wished to ride a road bike, and unfortunately the only road bike free was the Kruge. A lot of the folks were busy cleaning their bikes this day.
Dinner was late in coming. Sudarshan Iyengar was busy playing old Hindi songs on the Piano, I could not resist joining him, and we were singing to some memorable tunes. Soon , a few folks started trickling in and we had our first Mehfil . This was probably the most memorable night in TFN, and it was made possible through Sudarshan playing around with the piano and me bursting in to sing a few songs.Haresh, the Pune gang, Priya , Anand all eventually made a big gathering and a big chorus accompanied by Sudarshan’s rendering on the piano.

Overall I did not find Ooty too crowded or dirty despite the bad press I had heard about it. Probably because this was off season for Ooty. The marketplace was a little crowded but just about as much as say Munnar or Madikeri. Weatherwise, today night was much more pleasant (probably we got used to the cold). Most folks tucked in early and EOD happenned with looking forward to the (long) downhill on the next day morning.

Day 3 TFN

Day 3 was one of the most awaited days of TFN. Though mentally , it didn’t feel that tough. Overall we were going to do a distance of 87 km that seemed a little trivial compared to day1 and Day 2.Day started early in the morning. I got ready before the rest of my roommates woke up so. So got ready and went to the kitchen to have more than my fair share of the morning’s offerings. Last night it was the egg curry and morning it was the omelettes, the idli, chutney. Man I am beginning to love cycling tours. In any case, my excesses will be matched by the junta who subsist on protein shakes. So got ready and got out with my bunch of buddies riding in the jungle. All of us were stopped at the main road folks were being dispatched in groups of 5 to ride on the main highway passing through the forest. We had a 10 minute photo session with patrolman Gagan, and a few of us petered into the road. After about 10 minutes or so, shilpa started lagging behind us. I slowed down to stay back with her but I must have moved ahead. Santosh (tour direcor) told me about the lone lady tailing me. So I decided to move together with Shilpa till we scaled the next peak. There was a good chance that the twosome of us would look like a large group to a predator. Possibly would deter a predator looking to use the twosome of us as food for a couple of weeks.

Riding in Bandipur/Mudumalai

Along the way we heard that someone had spotted a leopard. Tough luck for us, it wasn’t one of us. After cycling for some distance with Shilpa , Priya caught up with us, so I decided to leave Shilpa with this group and pedalled forth. Caught up with Yogesh, Manju at the border with Mudumalai, where the river crosses under the road. While we were spending time in the company of our ancestors, Shilpa caught up. From this point on I rode with Prem Sagar, who kept a constant effort of educating me about every bird species we saw on the way. Unfortunately, my lack of birding skills means I’ve forgotten the names, though remember one with a long tail on the upper banks of the river. Eventually we crossed the forest and reached a tea shop a few km before Gudalur where a lady was waiting for us iwith instructions on getting to the tribal school (for which one of the riders, Sudarshan had raised cash). I now remembered this guy as one I had met in a ride around Sarjapur Road, and realized he was an avid runner. My gut feeling told me that the runners would easily ride ( I used to and still consider running extremely difficult – May be I am not professional about it but find it difficult to run more than a few km at a time consistently so have a lot of respect for all the marathoners and ultra-marathoners).
So we reached the town of Gudalur. Supreet followed a small boy to the school and I followed him. The descent was quite steep and I was just wondering how the return journey would be like.
The trip to the school itself was one of the highlights to the school. The kids were very lively, some lively songs and dance, I do hope someday they grow up to be successful people, making a difference in this world. I quite recall many of us giving speeches about verticals and “spaces”, wondered if the kids understood anything.
Me holding up a local student.

Prem Sagar’s blog on this day covers the school trip very well, with a couple of videos to boot. Here is a link to it.

After the trip, we headed back to the main road, via a shortcut suggested by the principal. And while it probably was short, it was , well ,steep. I went out along with Shankar Jayaraman and Ragahavendra, the two of them were pedalling ahead and I was struggling in the slope. Suddenly an auto came from the opposite side, and I had to dismount, and I caught sight of Shankar J’s front wheel just coming off slightly. Decided enough was enough and walked the bike. I looked back down, and was amazed at the slope. Unfortunately nobody took any pictures. SJ followed too. I
The 3 of us reached the top, and I and SJ pretty much kept pace with Raghu who was on his bike. We reached SS1 after a while, and then realized that we are already on the Ooty road.(Was kind of an anticlimax,as I expected a steeper slope- in any case, after what we just came through, any slope could have not deterred us). From SS1 onwards I was pretty much alone but enjoyed the scenery thoroughly, with eucalyptus plantations and clicked a lizard on the way , and tried to capture a video of a malabar squirrel squeaking, captured the sound but the video was not clear.

A lizard?

Above: Photo of a lizard(?) basking on the side of the road

Photo on the way up, before the Eucalyptus plantations

Above: Photo on the way up, before the Eucalyptus plantations

The eucalyptus plantations

After SS2, at Naduvattam, my bike broke down , the rear hub cracked and my rear wheel was just basically came off , almost. Thankfully the station was 1/2 a km behind and the service jeep was near . My 2nd encounter with Jasvipul and company (Had caught him the previous day, when he had offered me handpump water) . Saravanan (the mechanic) said the bike could not be fixed, and I got to try out a BSA Kruge. Was a little apprehensive about trying a roadbike, took it and started, I increased the rear gears since the slope was easy, and when the time came to downshift, was quite confused not to find a 2nd lever. Just went back and caught the jeep coming up. Again Jas to the rescue. Apres la, went on , and must have caught up with Yogesh, Amit Mukherjee, Pramod , Visnhu at Ayyappa enterprises, the roadside tea stall. For the rest of the journey , I had a very relaxed ride, thanks to the roadbike. I could feel the complete lack of effort compared to my heavily armoured BTWin Triban Trail.There was some lake before we reached the town of Ooty. I expected Ooty to be really dirty but didn’t find it so. We all trudged into the YWCA for a heroes welcome, there was a welcoming party clapping on the final uphill into the entrance.
Turned out there was no warm water in the evening and so a bath was out of the question. And in the cold, somehow you don’t smell the stink I guess. We had some sandwich and tea after arrival, the place was beautifully decked up for a Christmas party. The manager informed us that the different hotels have their parties on different days.
Given that the day after was a rest day, there was a lot of spirits on offer from fellow members. One of them had got a single malt, and I ended up being the caretaker of it for the rest of the evening. The place was quite cold and the liquor warmth was quite welcome. The group of middle aged drunkards ( me included) were having a spirited discussion . And as with all such discucssions, I forget the topic, but remember that it was a high spirited discussion. While all of us were taking things in the right spirit, there was a talk by a pastor who had specifically for the party. No, he was not addressing the group in high spirits but there was a much bigger group of the devout and the respectful guests who had gathered around a bonfire-to-be in chairs specifically kept for the ocassion. While the pastor was talking about the festive spirit of Christmas, one gentleman from our group went on to demonstrate how to make a cocktail from vodka, and unfortunately might have drowned some part of the devout sermon. We were being frequently prodded by some of our less “spirited” friends to keep our levels of excitement (and more importantly decibel levels) down but I guess its kinda tough to come down when you are high. Finally when the pastor was talking about the holy spirit, somebody loudly drank to the holy spirit, me and my kindhost quitely slinked off down to the entrance, and I was clutching the single malt for dear life. Badri and company had come back with some warm fried Bajji’s. Nice accompaniment to the single malt. Once the excitement had died down, we came back, after observing that nobody was evicted. The rest of the night was largely peaceful . I noticed that more than half the bottle of single malt was empty, and I don’t remember too many people drinking it. My host affirmed that I had taken a lion’s share, though I was surprised I had drunk so much and was still in my senses. All this spirit meant that I went to sleep early , heard some noise outside but didn’t want to come from my bed. Had put on multiple layers of clothing and was feeling quite content in the bed. Tomorrow was rest day , and had decided to hang on to the local guide , Prem Sagar.

Day 2, TFN

Today morning I started off with a bad back. However, I felt that my back would be better as the day progressed. In the morning briefing we were informed that the forest stretches today would have to be done in groups and we would have to get out of the forest by 6:30 pm. Started the day a little late after relaxing and stretching my back. Started very slowly and started putting pressure on my pedalling only after about 5-10 kilometers.
Breakfast , Cyclist in the hotel.

The 1st thing I chanced upon today was Gagan in his support bike. I started by asking for pulpy orange. I was beginning to enjoy the frequent support motorcycle visits for the pulpy orange infusions. Of course , Gagan was probably used to doling out general dollops of juice to me, and of course I would ask for a menu card every time he came over. One mention of the attraction of the day, sugarcanes had me tempted. I started off with a big stick, and realized it was a fairly sweet way of staying hydrated, the natural salts in the sugarcane , the sugar and the water should be enough , if supplemented regularly with plain water. Decided to try it out for some time. I took leave of Gagan and about 5 km or so , saw Manju and Yogesh exchanging pleasantries with a huge roadside shack cooking something in a huge vat over a wood fire. Took a break and realized this was a jaggery (Gud, unrefined lump sugar with the molasses ) making unit. Yogesh mentioned that half cooked jaggery that is just being warmed up would taste great, but unfortunately the vat was in its advanced stages of making jaggery. Instead we were treated to dollops of jaggery and lots of sugarcane juice as a reward for our visit and of course as a token of friendship from the jaggery makers. I had my filled and continued. My back pain which was subdued a bit came back, and I decided to just go hit the 1st service station (which was just before Chamrajnagar I think) and take a short break. Once I hit the SS, I just hit the ground and lied on my back, trying to arch it back and stretch it. Got a good massage from Sameer , relaxed, had some coconut water ( A couple of them had set up camp for the day , courtesy SS1 and were doing a lot of business). Put some muscle rub on my inflamed back. Spent about an hour here and then started off, with Yogesh, Manju, Prem Sagar and co. My back experiences and mails about Paracetomol resulted in some discussion about medicine between me and Prem. We went together in a relaxed mode for a big stretch and then hit up on an uphill. Somehow I hate uphills a lot because they don’t allow me to relax, so I just stood up and decided to clear it in a hurry. After the uphill, I didn’t see the rest with me so just continued alone. Once we took the turn to Sathi road from Chamrajnagar, after a few km, we went through some beautiful forests. I hit upon Sameer and Raghavan having some food/tea in a roadside stall in the middle of the forest. Given that I was feeling energetic, I declined their offer of a cup of tea in the stall and just continued. The next SS was after a big uphill some distance before the town of Gajanur.

Shankar joining me between SS2 and SS3 , before Gajanur

I think the TFN organizers were putting most of the SS at the end of uphills. Good to have an SS after an uphill, but bad to make people pedal on an uphill to avail support. After this support station started the worst stretch of the day. There was a long downhill after this with a bad road but not particularly bad for me, in any case I’m too scared to speed on downhills, unlike many of my co-bikers in TFN. There was a stretch which was particularly open to the sun and blistering hot. I took a rest, the support bike came and I helped myself to some juice. I again got exhausted after barely 50 meters . Pramod, Yogesh, Vishnu and Shankar caught up with me. We took another break here (brought back memories of a June 2010 ride to Anchetti where we were just inching forward and took close to 2 hours to cover 25 km. Once we went forward about 100 meters a breeze started to flow and it felt more comfortable. Amazing how we get these micro-stretches where it feels impossible to continue only to be followed by some stretches where suddenly things get easy. Went to SS3 where the food was served. Today’s food was quite spicy and ended up feeding it to a dog.Amazed at a (primarily) carnivore’s taste for spicy potato masala and Chappathi. Of course the biscuits, juice , etc made up for the food. Had my fill and continued.

This last stretch we had to go via Gundlupet to the forest. I suffered some back spasms about 20 mins after SS3. Vishnu helped put some pain balm on the area and Yogesh arrived to duly take a picture of my bare back. Manju , Amit, Pramod joined after some time. We reached SS4 which was after the turnoff to Bandipur from the Gundlupet – Sultan battery highway. Once this station was done, I thought I’d just speed up and reach the lodge in a hurry. Bad, bad mistake especially since I already had a bad back. I cycled like crazy and was totally out of breath 2 km before the forest entrance. There was a coconut vendor, we finished off a couple of elaneers and then trudged ahead. Pramod, Manju and Yogesh caught up at the forest gate. The cycling through these uphills were probably the most miserable stretch of my cycling life. I was completely out of breath, out of fluids and borrowed from my mates every now and then. I have been through this stretch 2 years back in a car, and somehow these uphills did not register in my brain. Once we completed the stretch and reached the forest headQ, we found a herd of 100 deer eating on the road side. Some guys took pictures but it was probably too dim. From here, we went towards the resort, and the road felt never ending. Once we reached the edge of the road and took the mudpath, we expected the resort to show up, but I guess we were still close to a km away.
Gajanur tree lined avenue
Was immensely satisfied with the days ride. I had done 2 consecutive 100 mile days. Todays mileage read 161 km. Also I had to fight good back spasms today to complete the ride. I’ve managed to do that earlier, but with the time pressure of the sweep truck, this was definitely a challenge. Spent some time playing ping-pong and generally hanging around. Dinner was served and it was quite princely. I remember devouring at least 8 eggs from the egg-curry. The dinner also had some gajar halwa to go with the sumptuous food offered. Misplaced my mobile. Vinodh from the support team found it. The surroundings were really good in the middle of the jungle. I remember a friend who had stayed in Tusker Trails telling me that wild dogs had come to the compound near the swimming pool. Hoped to see something as exciting as well.

Day 1, TFN

I barely slept  a couple of hours before the start of the tour. Took off to the starting point Koramangala and reached at around 6 am. There was a sea of riders and wellwishers waiting. Once I reached there, saw the breakfast spread and jumped in to gulp some. Met Neeta Katwal for the 1st time. Saw SreeHarsha and a few other blokes who were not riding but had come to see us off. At around 6:45 my wife and son surprised me by showing up to see me off. Good of them to come despite being a weekday and Vaibhav having school. We waited for a chief guest who I believe never turned up(RACF correct me if I am wrong), and duly the ride got flagged off at around 7:30 (as against a *final* start time of 6:45 per Sameer).

Wife and son coming to see me off at the Indoor stadium

Given that I had done a recce 2 weeks ago of the same route, I rode at a steady pace trying to stay clear of traffic. Before hitting the underpass on the ring road, saw Deena who was looking for the road. Took the right at Haralur road and went towards Jigani. So far the ride was pleasant despite the bumps. The recce really helped in setting my expectations right. When I did the ride in early Dec, I was quite exhausted by the time I reached Jigani but none of that this time. After the triple humps we finally reached Hosa road, where I found Mark, Malvika and a bunch of other riders searching for the road. I promptly went ahead and asked them to follow me. They did, a bit uncertain at first but I hollered that I knew the route. I would think a few of them were taken by surprise by the 1km of mud road just after the Hosur road crossing. Bunch of them overtook me after a while and I continued riding. Vishnu was my constant companion from the start. Once we reached the Jigani – Harohalli road, Sagar and Mohan joined us. We did the downhills and I reached 60.5 (my highest recorded time) in one of them. On one stretch they had laid out the Ragi for threshing by passing vehicles I made the mistake of going fast over them and so did Sagar, paid for it by a lot of grass getting on my drive train and some into the chain links. After sometime I found pedalling very difficult and since I had carried limited hydration fluid ( after being told of the legendary TFN support) , found the going difficult. Sagar helped me with his Gatorade a couple of times, and then pointed out to the grass in my cycle. We stopped about 8km from harohalli and he helped me get rid of all the grass. Took us a good 20mins or so. Mohan and Vishnu were far ahead by now. I decided to stop by Jayaram’s if I found Vishnu or Yogesh there. Went there with Sagar, but found no cyclist so decided to continue. Sagar took the right towards Bangalore and I proceeded alone towards Sathanur. I think Santosh whizzed past before Harohalli and mentioned that the motorcycle support was on its way. However there was no sign of any one and I just keep chugging along. About 5 km before Kanakapura I got quite exhausted and chanced upon a Elaneer(tender coconut) vendor. Took care of 2 of them with some good coconut kernel as well. Got to give my tired legs some respite. Once done, I continued and after some time, our turbanned support guy whom I would meet often the next few days turned up. Took some swigs of pulpy orange juice from Gagan and continued on my way. At the start of the day, Santosh had mentioned that we needed to be at the 1st support station by 10:30. A quick calculation showed that this was about 90 km from the starting point and given the terrain , definitely a challenge. I was hoping to hit this station at around 11:30 and hoped to reach Halguru at around 2 pm. I think I finally made it to the 1st support station at around 12 pm or so. i found Vishnu, Sameer , Pranav, Prem , etc there when I reached there. Took a 10 min break here and then proceeded on the downward journey to the river. On the way to the river, saw what I believe was a jackal, tried to notify the others behind me, but the fellow had made his/her escape by then. On our way down we took a few pictures and met the official photographer and official blogger who was chugging along in his noisy 4 wheeler. They took some photographs of us and proceeded on from the base. I went into the water for 10mins or so, and a few of the others dipped their feet in the water.
Prem, me , Sameer, Vishnu on the banks of the river

 I started later than the rest of the folks from the river, by the time I reached the Bheemeshwari camp, my fellow riders were far ahead. I passed Prem and some one else. Passed Haresh after some time, and after some hufffing/puffing , finaally caught up with Vishnu. Around a bend too many, finally ran out of water. We went into a school and they refilled our bottles with pristine local water. Both of us , thankful gulped some and continued on the journey. By the time I reached the edge of the climb to the main road, I was quite desparate for the support station , and quite hungry. Gobbled up the offering at one go, took a few hearty breaths, and enquired about the sweep truck. Navin Mathew was on hand , and promptly  pointing to a truck on the wayside said – Thats the sweep truck and will start from here in 20 minutes. you guys better get going. Given that I had decided that today was going to be the longest of the tour, and the one day that I’d be likely to get swept, I decided to go for it. We got some motorcycle support from Naveen on the way.  I think the period from 3 to 5:45 on day 1 was probably the most intense ride of my life. It gives me some confidence that I can push myself in the future if need be. From here, we just kept pushing till we reached the 2nd support station. I believe the SS told us that there were about 40+ riders still behind. So I figured there were enough people to be swept behind so they would take time to reach here. I tried and overtook as many as I could in this stretch. But on the whole a bad idea. As we neared Kollegal, I was beginning to get blurred vision and couldn’t focus on the road, Gave Vishnu a heads up and thankfully he was closeby till we reached the destination. Looked at the cyclocomp @ arrival, and it showed 198.03 km. Quite the end of a long day. Not to mention that I had fairly intense back pain when I reached Kollegal. I hoped it would go away by the morning of the morrow. Met Namit Nangia later at night and he mentioned he decided to push as well looking at me pedalling , since he figured I was doing it to avoid the sweep truck. There was a small get together of the beer loving bikers (BLBs). Had a fairly good nights sleep but woke up with some amount of discomfort in my back, some  stiffness and some pain, and a swelling/inflammation. I decided to start the next day slowly and see if the biking eased up the pain on my back.