The idea of riding my cycle to the Wagah border was pretty exciting. It is an historic location no doubt but to ride a 1000kms brevet from New Delhi to Wagah and back, well historic also became epic. After having finished the Kittur 1000 strongly in 72hrs in Dec ’17, this was supposed to be a cake walk or should I say cake ride. Most of south India is known for its undulating terrain. During the Kittur 1000 we gained about 8500mtrs in total elevation. Compared to that the Wagah 1000 was around 1800mtrs. That, to me is flat!! Couple that with mild winds on the way out and mild tail winds on the return leg, I mean, I was planning a 65hr finish.
I arrived in Delhi on the 1st of March, couple of days from the Wagah 1000 start, scheduled on the 3rd. I was prepared mentally as the Kittur 1000 just 3 months back, was still fresh in my memory, even though I had not ridden my cycle for nearly two weeks, it didn’t bother me much. I bunked at Shravani’s. Yes the same Shravani from the Kittur 1000. The whole of that day went in visiting a cousin and doing my duties as a good relative. That day I slept with the thought of how much I can dislike Delhi. From the really thick pollution in the air, to getting balloons thrown at twice (yes, this was a day prior to Holi), to people speaking so loudly in a metro as if no one else was even there. Seemed, as though people just couldn’t mind their own business and had a terrible need to poke around.
Anyways, after a relatively peaceful next day, putting my bike together, staying indoors, strategizing and planning, 12 riders were flagged off from India gate for an epic journey on our cycles on the 3rd of March ‘17. Remember the 65hr completion target that I had in mind, well, Shrav just shot the idea down. She warned me about the head winds, the terrain and the hot weather. To add to that, it wasn’t safe riding long hours in the night. The Haryana-Punjab belt is seemingly notorious during the nights. I still had my doubts about the terrain. I mean, Shrav had warned me about the flyovers, but how difficult can flyovers be? Trusting she knew better, we revised our target to a 70hr finish. I literally had a smile on my face for the first 100kms. It was flat as a carom board. I dint even break a drop of sweat. There was an occasional flyover or two but come-on, nothing could wipe that smile off my face.
All that changed from Panipat. Flyover after flyover, relentless for the next 250 odd kilometers. There are easily over a 150-160+ flyovers. The real issue is that most riding apps or mapping apps don’t consider flyovers for elevation gain, but trust me, if they did, the total elevation gain would easily be over 5000mtrs. While passing through the historic cities of Panipat and Kurukshetra, thinking of all the battles that waged here shaping our country’s future, we were battling the flyovers that would reshape the intensity of this brevet. We arrived at Hotel Majestic Grand near Jalandhar at the 378kms mark at 1:20am. More than an hour later than our plan. Of course, Shrav and I were joined by Prasun and a gang of 4 riders from Punjab lovingly known as the Punjab Express. From a safety perspective this was reassuring that our plans to regroup and ride together in the nights worked out well.
The 2nd leg of our ride was no different for the first 130kms. More flyovers and slightly stronger winds. But I was really looking forward to getting to the Wagah border. I had no idea how I would feel when I got there. There would certainly be a feeling of relief as that was the U-turn point and also may be the point where the winds would get behind us. The thoughts of the winds and the flyovers vanished for some time as we approached the border. I could see the India and Pakistan flags from 8-9kms away. And suddenly there was this feeling of strong patriotism that took over. I kept thinking of all the wars that have ragged between India and Pakistan, all the terrorism, all the cross border firings, all the ceasefire treaty violations from Pakistan that continue to happen. I also thought of the movies like Veer-Zaara, Border and Bajrangi Bhaijaan and as I got closer to the border, to see that everything is the same on the other side. The roads, the air, the trees, the fields and yet the people and their choices made me feel super proud that I was on this side of the line. An Indian!
I was ready for the tailwinds and the 500Kms back to Delhi. The tailwinds (more like tail-breeze) did come after 35odd kilometers. We arrived at Hotel Lamellez in Ludhiana a little before 1am covering 300kms during the 2nd leg of our rides. We knew, the third leg will not be easy. Tired legs, sleepless minds, the heat and the flyovers would take a toll during the last 325Kms. Shravani and I started at 5:30am and we rode with a new strategy. Avoid the flyovers by taking the service road. It worked brilliantly. We avoided almost all the flyovers for more than 200kms.
Some of the other riders say they prefer the flyovers as they have to put an effort for 300mtrs and the remaining 300mtrs is going down. But in my opinion, they are momentum breakers and 150 of them can prove to be spirit breakers when you riding the last leg of a 1000kms brevet. Well, every rider has his/her preferences and if you prefer to make your ride comfortable, take my advice, avoid the flyovers by taking the service road as much as you can. After Panipat, just like while going to Wagah, it was flat all the way to Delhi. 69hrs45mins later from when we started we reached Delhi at 1:45am covering a total distance of 1005kms.
Everything about this brevet was epic. The many flyovers, the many parathas that I had in all the dhabas, the lush green fields of Punjab (just like in the movies), the flat terrain, the cold nights and hot days-simply epic!! The relentless support from Chiro and Satish, support from some of the veteran randonneurs in Punjab. I mean those guys just opened their hearts out to cheer us, provide us food at 1am on day 2, again simply epic. The fellow riders, Prasun, Dr. Vikram, Vijay Mittal (63years of age) they are just some of the most warm and welcoming people I have met. Thank you for riding with us during the nights. I take back special memories and friendships from this ride. Also, a special mention for this rider, Shankar. A young cycle mechanic who rode a single speed, old school Atlas cycle and finished it 3hrs before us. A big kudos to you man and wishing you many more happy miles.
To those of you randonneurs and aspiring 1000km riders reading this post, the Wagah 1000 needs to be added to your list! Think about it.
Just because more often than not things don’t go as per plan, doesn’t mean you should not plan. Wow, I can’t believe I said that. It is very unlike me to plan and prep in detail. But thinking of riding a 1000kms brevet in 75hrs or less without a plan just dint seem right. I am the heart guy nine out of ten times and what that means is that for most long rides I say to myself (and others) “we’ll see. Let’s just ride and we’ll figure things out”. But not this time. One of the biggest reasons to successfully ride 1000kms in 72hrs is that I had a clear head and that clarity was a result of a clear plan.
You see, if you plan to take up a challenge like riding a 1000kms in under 75hrs, then you better have a clear head about it. Small amounts of doubts and uncertainty will play a big role at the first sign of problems. Deciding to quit is easier when the mind is not 100% certain. A clear and certain mind will find ways to overcome challenges. Okay, I think I have made my point about a clear mind. So let’s move on.
It’s not like I was new to ultra-endurance cycling. I had successfully done a tough 600kms about a year ago, but what was playing on my mind were the recent 300 and 600km brevets that I quit. More importantly, quit in a flash. Like a switch just turned off. Therefore doing a 1000kms which is 65% more than the 600 always felt jittery. There was a whatsapp group created by Mohan (ride responsible from Bangalore Randonneurs chapter) with all the 16 registered participants and therefore there was a lot of chatter leading up to the event. Conversations around the route, road conditions, weather, checkpoints, sleeping options, nutrition, ride plans and the works. It’s difficult to discard any information as useless especially since this was going to be the first 1000kms ride for all riders. All but one, Shravani Sen from New Delhi. A good friend and a super gritty rider that I first met during the Tour of Nilgiris (TFN) in 2015. She had a few 600kms, a 1200km and an incomplete London-Edinburgh-London (LEL) ride of 900kms under her belt before this 1000k. I was already considering doing the 1000k but it was one small chat with Shrav that sealed the idea for me. Although if you ask her, she’d say she bullied me into it 😉
Shrav and I connected separately about 3-4 weeks before the ride. And it was her who first mentioned something about having some sort of a plan. Coming from a seasoned rider like her it had to make sense. According to her an ultra-endurance ride is mostly about managing sleep especially if you have 3 full days and nights to ride out. And that makes sense right. So here was our plan. Our aim was to finish the 1000kms in 70hrs or less. Those 70hrs we broke into three blocks of 24hrs. The plan was to ride 350-360kms in 20hrs then rest for 4 hours and repeat it on day 2. Leaving us with less than 300kms to finish in 24hrs on day 3. We still had a 3hr buffer just in case things didn’t go as per plan. Though this plan was great on paper, it wasn’t random at all. It came from some experience of riding long distance in the past. So we knew it was tough but not impractical. Although a lot of riders didn’t seem to agree with our plan and as per them, one must ride the first 600kms like a regular 600km brevet, within 38-39hrs and then sleeping for 4-5hrs would leave the riders with 400kms in 30-33hrs. Anyways, Sharv and I decided to stick to our plan and not change it last minute under peer pressure.
Leading up to the main event:
Dec 13th– Two days before we start on an epic journey. Shravani arrived from Delhi and I had the honor of hosting her at my place. Before picking her up, I put in a hard 65-70km ride with a Nandi climb. I even got a personal best on the Nandi climb time. That felt good and I was glad that I had two full days to recover from that for the 1000kms coming up on the 15th Dec. Shrav and I got to planning and prepping without wasting anytime. Setting up the bikes, shopping for a laundry list of things, putting the plan down on paper and further breaking it up, visiting some local cafes and just getting enough sleep was all we did on the 13th and 14th Dec. Surprisingly, I think we were nervous, but it dint seem to bother us.
Dec 15th. D-day:
At Vidhan Soudha, the start point, all riders discussing their plans and asking questions about the plan, felt exactly like the moments before an exam. You don’t want to let it get to your head too much but you can’t avoid it either. So anyways, after much conversations and briefing at 6am sharp 16 brave souls start their epic rides. 30 secs into the ride, I realize I have forgotten my water bottles at home!! Yes, that too after so much planning and prepping. I rushed back to the start line to Manasa, my wife, who had come to drop us and asked her to rush home and hand over the bottles to Mohan who would hand it over to me somewhere along the way. Until then Shrav was kind enough to lend me one of her water bottles. Without letting it bother me too much, we started again.
We reached the first control point, VRL restaurants just outside of Tumkur and 85kms into the ride at 9:10am. 50mins ahead of the plan. On the way we tagged along with Alok and got along well. Our pace matched and so did our plans. Got some breakfast, refilled some water and we were off by 10am. The next control point was 115kms from here at Chitradurga. After about 60kms from VRL things got slower. Why you ask. The weather. The piercing winter sun and absolutely naked highways meant tiring far more quickly than we imagined. Literally any kind of shade was welcome at this point. It’s the kind of heat wherein you don’t mind sending down half a bottle of chilled Pepsi and that’s exactly what we did. Although sugary drinks like Pepsi are not the best idea but don’t be afraid of having them if needed. Remember, riding a 1000kms is more a mental battle than physical. So if something makes you feel good, go for it.
Right then, with the small 2-3mins breaks becoming more frequent we managed to reach Chitradurga control point at the 200km mark by 2:40pm. Interestingly, we were still 1hr20mins ahead of our original plan. So that meant, we could afford to eat a good lunch and rest till 4pm. Again, a good lesson for some of you. If you have done well to reach a certain milestone, reward yourself in some way. Remember, rewards for winning mental battles will go a long way in keeping your spirits alive. At about 4 or 4:05pm we start from Chitradurga heading towards Bankapur, 152kms from here. Although Bankapur wasn’t an official control point, it was our planned long rest place for the day. We had a good dinner at Kamat at 295km mark and pushed on. As per our plan we were supposed to reach Bankapur by mid-night and rest till 4am. That was ideal case scenario, however, fatigue from riding in the sun and some headwinds caused a 1hr delay and we reached Bankapur by 1am. That meant we could sleep for only 3hrs instead of 4 but we still reassessed our plans and decided to cover more distance during the night. So instead of starting at 4am we started at 3:30am and by the time we made this new plan and got a small room at a lodge in bankapur it was already 1:45am.
For those of you planning to do this Kittur express 1000km brevet, the lodge’s name is Delhi Durbar and its right at the Bankapur toll plaza. The rooms are definitely sub-standard but hey, remember you are a Randonneur and all that matters is a place with a roof over your head and a safe place to park your beloved cycles. And this lodge allowed us to carry our cycles to right next to our rooms on the first floor. While I slept like a baby for about 90mins, Alok had some bedbug troubles but still got some sleep and shrav could hardly sleep. In light of sticking to our plans, we reluctantly got up, took a few minutes to re-orient ourselves, took a bio-break, had a cup of hot tea (the restaurant below the lodge, by the way, is open 24hrs) and off we went at 3:30am.
Day 2: Almost broke our spirits
Next official control was at this town called Khanapur at 493Km mark, roughly about 141kms from Bankapur. Since we started 30-45mins earlier than the original plan, we aimed to reach this 3rd official control at Khanapur by 11 or 11:30am worst case. The only trouble was nobody had recced this section of the route before. You see, up till Bankapur it was all national 4-6 lane highways, so the roads were in great conditions. But from Bankapur to khanapur and 26kms after that to MK Hubali was going into countryside roads for about 165kms till we get back on the national highways. So all of us only hoped that the roads were good. As it turns out, they weren’t. Well, it started of very well for about 40-45kms but with tons of rolling terrain. Just going up and down and up and down and more up than down. To add to that it was dark, so we had to be extra cautious. Just at the break of dawn, the road conditions started to deteriorate. The tar had depleted leaving the smoother parts feel almost like we were holding a vibrating massager in our hands. The other parts were broken roads, no roads or badly patched roads making the ride very bumpy for most parts till Khanapur. I reached khanapur at 12:10 followed by Sharv and Alok 15-20mins after. We were 90mins behind the revised plan from Bankapur. We realized that the going got so much tougher that in order to still reach the manned control at 567kms mark by 4 or 4:30pm we couldn’t afford to take a lunch break. So we had some snacks at a bakery and pushed on by 12:45pm.
The next 26kms dint give us any breather. It just got worse. The roads were gnarly, super narrow with a lot of trucks moving on them. They made cycling, hell. Top that with the afternoon heat and some of our spirits started dwindling. 26kms is not a long distance but considering we had done 352kms yesterday and 145kms of average road with rolling terrain, 26kms of bad roads can feel like a lot more. It was time to switch back to winning mental battles. My aim got to getting to the highway and then reassessing the plans to reach the manned control. I blocked myself from any other thoughts and just rode like a horse with blinders. One kilometer at a time. I dint realize that I had left Shrav and Alok behind. The sight of the highway was such a refreshing change. We all as riders look forward to riding on countryside roads, but trust me, not like these. Rewarded myself with a chilled road-side lemon-orange soda pop and carried on towards Dharward. Rode for may be 4-5kms and decided to take a small break next to a bridge. It was about 2:30pm and I needed shade of the bridge as a break from the belting sun. I was hoping that Shrav and Alok were not too far behind. When I saw them at a distance, my first thought was to give them a nice hug for making it through those roads. Shrav thinks the hugs were for them but deep down I knew I needed the hug 🙂 The rate at which we were going we would reach the manned control only by 5 or 5:30pm. 3hrs for 45kms?!! That is because nature had headwinds in store for us.
I reached Dharwad (570kms mark) at 5:15pm, Shrav and Alok 45mins later. All of us were far more drained than I imagined. Only, this time, we got to reward ourselves with a nice shower, some great food (jowar roti meals) and clean & comfortable rooms for us to sleep for a couple of hours. Three other riders Monish, Raghu and Partha were already there since 4pm, I think and were well asleep. We slept immediately after the food and shower and in such a tired and sleep deprived state, some could easily fall asleep and not wake up for a long time. So find a way to wake yourself up. In our case, we asked Mohan to wake us up by 8:30pm. At this point in time we were already a couple of hours behind our original plan but we didn’t think too much because getting a couple of hours of sleep is more important.
We woke up by 8:30pm, reoriented ourselves, did a quick chain lubing and air-pressure checks and off we rode at 9:30pm. 3.5hrs behind our original plan. Good thing is we always had that 3-4hr buffer in our plans. From here our improvised plan was to ride through the night and reach the fifth control point at 750km mark, some 180km from here in 10-11hrs by 7:30-8am. From Dharwad, I decided that I would stay with the group for as long as I could, but soon realized that riding at a pace that is not natural to you can screw around with your mind big time. So, I improvised. I rode at a pace that was comfortable to me, even if that meant I went ahead by a couple of kilometers but just stop at the turn of an hour to wait for a few mins for shrav and Alok to close the gap. Whether that was a good idea or not I will discuss later. For now it was working well. I waited at a brightly lit toll plaza after riding for 90mins at the 610kms mark. In about 10mins I saw Shrav come in but no Alok. She said she dint realize she had dropped him and dint want to stop and wait for him on the highway as it is not safe to do that in the dark for any rider let alone a woman. Anyways, Shrav and I got some break time. A few minutes for Shrav but much longer for me. That, by the way, was the story of most of our breaks. Also I realized since Alok wasn’t riding with Shrav, I couldn’t leave her to ride alone for too long and I couldn’t also slow down too much beyond my comfortable pace. So I rode at a pace where I stayed ahead of Shrav only till I could see her front lights at the horizon when I turned back. The moment that wasn’t the case, I stopped for Shrav to close in the gap. This second night was colder than the previous one and a 24hr Café Coffee Day (CCD) was exactly what we needed. We got to one at 1am having done 65 odd kms. With about 115 more kilometers and about 7hrs to go to reach the 6th control as per our plan, we decided to have a sandwich and coffee and take a power-nap for 30 mins here. We consumed an hour and started at 2am from there. Our next small milestone was to get to the next CCD about 55-60kms away. Boy o’ boy was it cold or what the moment we stepped out of that CCD. Almost felt like running back in for the warmth. But you have to ride on. Give it 10 mins but ride hard in those first 10mins, trust me you will get nice and warm. I was looking forward to the next CCD for a small break and may be another warm sandwich. We did get there at around 4:30am only to find out that it was shut. The worst feeling ever especially when you are looking forward to it so much. Our saving grace was that Prashant and Mohan were there and waiting for us. They gave a couple of bananas and I found a place to put my head down and sleep for 10mins. Our only hope for the CCD was some 55kms from here at the 750Kms mark (the 6th official control).
Day 3: No looking back now
The last 20-25kms of that 55kms, all hell broke loose. Again just after dawn, we faced the craziest headwinds. I have never experienced winds like those. Although the sun brought some warmth but now there was a new battle to fight. Somehow braved those winds and reached the 750Kms control at 8:30am. 30mins behind the planned schedule. But got a super warm welcome from Mohan and Prashant and the other riders who had reached before us. Sharv came in 40mins later. I did wait for her on the way, but it was just too cold for me to stand in one place. Even though we were 2-3hrs behind our original plan, Mohan assured us that we were doing very good for time and had a little more than 24hrs to cover the remaining 250kms. My reward here was two big sandwiches and two strong coffees. Man, did I enjoy those or what! Took a decent break here, called my wife and had a good conversation and some much needed cheering. She is my biggest fan and one of few people who whole heartedly support my mentalness with cycling. I also remember calling my boss from work, Feroza. Of course, when I called her, I called the good friend in her and not the boss, which is the case all the time ;-). She also gave me a much needed cheering. One thing was clear, from here there was no looking back. 750kms is just too close to 1000 to have any other thoughts.
I remember Monish, one of the first riders to arrive here, say that the winds will die down at Chitradurga, 50kms from here, and may be even reverse. Those kind of words were music to my ears. The only thing I had to do was tell my mind that it is going to be windy and sunny as hell so just take your time and do the 50kms because after that there will be no more winds. Whether Monish’s knowledge turned out to be true or not dint matter. What mattered was the 50kms till Chitradurga. I don’t remember much of those 50kms except that I passed Raghu and Partha who were on the side fixing Raghu’s flat tyre and then I remember stopping to put on a napkin soaked in ice cold water under my helmet and pouring the rest of it on my jersey. Yes that’s how hot and windy it was. But that hack helped a lot. Cooling your head and core body temperature will up your efficiency while riding. Do the opposite in cold conditions. Anyways, I arrived at lunchtime in Chitradurga and had a well-deserved lunch at the same place, Naveen Residency, where we were two days ago. Took a nap for about 45mins and woke up to the sight of Shrav finishing her lunch I think. I was hoping she got some break time, but she seemed eager with the idea of starting soon with an aim to reach Sira, 86kms from here. Sira was our penultimate control. If we made it to Sira in 5hrs by 9pm, then we would have enough time to eat dinner, sleep for a bit and push on for the home run. I was so hoping that Monish was right about the winds. And man, was he! These 86kms to Sira were almost like a breeze. I was smiling almost all the way. The sun was down, the breeze was coming across us from behind. Reaching Sira by 9pm? Nope, I reached by 8pm.
My joy of reaching an hour earlier turned into some very anxious moments for the next 25 odd minutes. Upon arriving here I got the news that Shrav ran into trouble when some drunk guy on a motorbike followed and teased her for 10kms. Where was I during those 10kms, well, in my very happy mood I just rode on and gained a good lead without realizing how far back I had left her. I even got a sound hearing from Mohan for keeping my phone on airplane mode to save battery, while shrav was trying to call me during those 10kms. Shrav and mohan co-ordinated over the phone and got in touch with the highway police. They actually acted very swiftly and got to shrav and escorted her to Sira. Now, we could all get together and have a great dinner rest for a bit and start riding home. We had to sleep for a bit because this was the third night in a row with very little sleep, but we couldn’t as this restaurant here was crowded and noisy. We found another hall with some furniture and tried to sleep there, but couldn’t sleep much as it got cold and uncomfortable. So we decided to ride on at about 10:30 or 11pm.
The final night:
There was excitement now of finishing and we had enough time (about 10hrs) to ride the final 115kms. But the mind was very tired and needed some sleep in a warm place. I had all the energy to push on hard but it was a conscious decision to ride with Shrav. There was no way I was going to let her out of my sight. Both of us were very sleepy and the night was colder than the previous two nights. We were told there was CCD about 45-50kms from Sira. So our plan was to get there and sleep in the warmth for a bit and then ride non-stop to the end control. That CCD dint come at 45, nor did it come at 50kms. Both of us were so desperate for that CCD that we were almost hallucinating. I think it came 10-15kms afterwards at 2:30am. We instructed the CCD guys to wake us up in 45mins and have some coffee and sandwich ready when we wake up. The rush to finish this long blog is getting to me so much that I am skipping some details. It was the same rush to get to the finish line, very restless. It was freakin freezing outside CCD but nothing could stop us. We started at 3:45 or 4am after a nice coffee and sandwich.
We were so restless to get to the finish line in these last 45-50Kms. On the way we caught up with Monish, Partha and Raghu who rested somewhere else. From here the 5 of us rode together. The truck and bus traffic on Tumkur road was irritating and adding to the restlessness. But we all knew deep down that we were home. Just 2-3kms before the finish line Monish and I stopped to wait for the other three to catch up. We were home but we still dint congratulate each other yet. You see we had 2-3kms left still, so we were in no mood to jinx it. The final kilometer we had shrav take the lead, you should have seen Shrav scream and sprint to the finish line when I told her that it was just 100meters ahead. I won’t forget that sight. There they were, my wife, mohan and so many other fellow cyclists cheering us as we rode into Kanteerva stadium. I’ll be honest I felt like a superstar. It was a feeling unlike anything. 1010Kms, 72hrs out in the open on our cycles facing some tough odds but we came through with 3hrs to spare. Will I do something like this again? Hell yeah!!
Heartfelt gratitude for Mohan and Prashant who were supporting us through-out the route and relentlessly so, my wife Manasa for believing in me and supporting my madness. Congratulations to all the riders who completed it successfully. A big mention for Alok. He knew he will not make it in time but still rode on. He was late by a couple of hours but he finished and that counts. Kudos Alok. Shrav, you have all my respect for you as woman and as a rider. Aspiring long distance riders especially women can take learning from you. I am riding with her in March for another 1000kms. It is going to be epic.