Shriram Revankar, July 2013
I tamely let go of too many of the ideas that come to me without acting on them. In early December of 2012, something inspired me to make a 450 kilo-metre bicycle trip from Bangalore to Hubli. This is a story of an under-prepared bicycling-novice (i.e. me) struggling through to complete the distance in two days.
Some people occasionally go on a “Teertha-Yaatra” (Sanskrit: travel to holy places) and I had decided on mine. That was to go-see my mother who lives in Hubli – my “Matr-Yaatra” on a bicycle. Although I had decided to act on it, it remained just an idea till I fixed ‘the’ date. I probably was waiting for the confidence to build up. I talked to a few of my friends and read a few blogs on bicycling, and then waited a few more days without fixing a start date. All through this procrastination I never doubted my ability to complete 450 kilo-metre long bicycle ride – probably my naiveté was blinding me from the reality.
Bicycling and me
When I was an 8 year old child in Ankola, a quaint little coastal town in Karnataka, I had learnt bicycling the hard way. My father, in his late forties was my coach. The bicycle was about the same height as me, but probably weighed double my body-weight. My riding style was quite awkward. The left hand controlled the handle and the right hand tightly wrapped around the seat. My little painfully-thin and knotty frame bobbed up-and-down as I peddled in-and-out through the frame of the bicycle. Manoeuvring the bicycle was not easy. I do remember suffering from persistent open wounds on my knees, shins, palms and elbows for a period of nearly a year or may be more. The poor bicycle did not fare much better either. It was a miracle that the bicycle survived my vigorous ‘half peddling’ through the monsoon hammered streets of Ankola.
I did not do much bicycling for the next four decades. In late 2009, I decided to commute to work on bicycle. Now I commute to work every week day, for more than 25 kilo-metres a day. In traffic-congested Bangalore, bicycling takes about half the time of what it takes to drive a car from my home to the office.
The longest single stretch of bicycling I did until this trip was from Nashik to Shirdi in Maharashtra while I was in Bhonsala Military School, Nashik. It was a two day trip of about 180 kilo-metres and about 30 of us rode rented bicycles. A couple of our teachers accompanied us. On paper, they were our chaperons. On the road, we (and our bikes) were noisier than a flock of geese. Of the many things I remember of that trip, one particular incidence really stands out. That trip permanently changed our physics teacher’s walking style. The newly married young teacher who had no noticeable walking style, started walking as if he rode horses all his life – bowlegged with interesting side-to-side upper body roll – an occupational hazard of chaperoning teenagers on bicycles.
Preparation for the trip
After weeks of mulling over, I decided to start my trip on December 26th. I had not done any preparation till then. Just two days were left. My preparation promptly started with me tinkering with the bicycle. I thought I needed a small portable air pump. I bought one and while struggling to use it at 100PSI, I promptly broke a tube-valve, thereby adding one more item to my to-do list, i.e. to buy a new tube. I had to visit multiple bike-stores to find a fitting new tube. The next day, I started looking for a water bottle, a luggage carrier and a pair of biking pants (butt-cushioning pants). Later, I ruled out the luggage career and decided to go for a good backpack with built-in water bottle. The standard biking backpacks were single function backpacks. In those backpacks, other than water, I could not have carried much food or clothes. Then I found a trail-running backpack with integrated water bottle and sipping pipe with additional space for carrying some food and clothes. This turned out to be a great buy. This single item probably helped in the success of the trip, more than any other preparation. I bought a 17 litre backpack with 1.5 litre built-in water bottle. It met my need perfectly. For some reason, I did not buy the bicycle pants. On the hind sight, that probably was a big mistake. (I have cried and complained about this mistake all through this narration.J)
I had decided to leave by 4:00AM on the 26th. However, by the time I was done getting the bike and the backpack ready for the ride, it was around midnight and I had only about three and half hour of sleeping time left. To save time in the morning, I took a quick shower and went to bed – by then I was well into 26th December.
The Start: Kasavanahalli, Bangalore
The alarm rang at 3:30 AM and I had to get up. There was no backing out at that stage. I had told friends and family that I was going to start my trip that morning. My wife was all set to sleep through the late morning hours while I was gone – so no chance of not going... I dragged myself out of the bed. It was one of those incomplete sleeping episodes where my head hurt as if some part of my brain was all knotted-up. I felt annoying sense of a productive sneeze constantly being interrupted.
As I was getting ready, I found that I still had some more preparation to do. It was pitch dark outside. I needed to fix back and front blinkers for my bike. I moved the front blinker from the right side to the centre where the handle bar was fatter (a mistake!). It took nearly an hour for me to get ready. By the time I got out of the house, it was 4:40AM and I was 40 minutes late from my planned start time.
At that point, it was all adrenaline that was controlling me. I no longer noticed the head-ache. My tongue was all dried-up and could not taste anything. The Dosa my wife made tasted like a cardboard and tea was nauseating. I sipped some water, it tasted mildly bitter. I was itching to go! Finally at 4:44 AM I left home.
It was dark everywhere. The blinkers were of no help guiding me – they were meant more for other people to give way or for vehicles to avoid killing me. For directions, my last minute browsing of Google maps was somewhat helpful. Getting out of Bangalore was my biggest concern. I knew I needed to get close to MG road and then take Raj Bhavan road and get past the Sankey Tank and somehow get to the Tumkur Road to get out of Bangalore. At least that was the plan.
I followed the Sarjapur Road and then the Hosur Road to get near the MG road. Then I lost my way for the first time (of the several times before getting out of Bangalore). I took a circuitous route in the general direction (i.e. towards North-West from South-East) and at some point I saw the Raj Bhavan Road. From there I was supposed to get to the road that gets past the Sankey Tank. I lost my way again. Soon I found myself going around the Palace grounds and at some point I asked a 'tempo-traveller' driver for direction. He promptly gave me wrong directions, so I ended up wasting some more time and energy. After a few minutes, under a dim street light I saw a family in traditional Islamic garbs walking. The man of the group gave me directions that were different from what the driver had told me. The instructions were clear and made good sense. I followed them without second guessing. Soon I was crossing the Indian Institute of Science (IISC). IISC was a land mark on my planned route. I had reached where I wanted to be without getting past another major land mark I had in mind – the Sankey Tank.
As I got past the road that goes through the IISc campus, I reached a dimly lit road-construction area. I thought I knew the way from then on. Soon I felt I was going the wrong way. It was still very dark and I flagged a lady on scooter. She was kind enough to stop and point me towards Yeshwantpura – the right way. That was 180 degree opposite to where I was heading!
Soon I was pedaling along on the national highway towards Tumkur. That was the first time my jittery nerves cooled down and I no longer needed the adrenaline to guide me. I felt some mild discomfort around my butt but it was quickly drowned out by the cool breeze that I just started noticing. By then, it was 5:40AM and I was already getting out of the city. Usually it takes an hour and a half or two hours during the daytime by car to get that far. Within an hour I was going well past another land mark, the McDonalds where my kids usually force me to stop while we are driving for a family trip away from Bangalore. For me it is a major landmark because, once my kids even made me backtrack a few kilometers and eat breakfast at the McDonalds.
Scare in the Dark
6 AM. It was still pitch dark and my enthusiasm to reach the city of Davanagere (60 Kilometres beyond the midway point) was getting the better of me. I did not want to take any roads that had intersections and road-humps. So there I was riding through unnecessary ups and downs of several flyovers on the Tumkur Road. The flyovers in general have little or no space on the sides for riding bicycles. It made my rear red blinker, reflectors on the rear of my helmet and front blinkers on the handle even more critical for my safety. Occasional trucks and tractors coming on the reverse direction with high-beam headlights were a nightmare. In the dark, the emperors of the road, i.e. the huge trucks, without the little cars and the reckless 'two wheel'ers to annoy them, were truly ruling the road. To my pleasant surprise, they were staying away from me for the most part.
Then suddenly a bright blinding light and a thundering sound threw me off balance. For a few agonizing moments I panicked and struggled to avoid the lights. No matter how I turned, the lights were following me and blinding me. It took me a while before becoming aware that my flashlight attached to my bike handle had become lose and its light beam was falling directly on my eyes. It was clearly my deer-in-the-headlight moment. The thundering sound probably was from a passing truck. My mistake was that while preparing for the trip, I had moved the flashlight holder more towards the centre of the tapered handle. Through an hour of ride, despite the rubber grip, it had become lose and it had simply moved towards the narrower side and was dangling such a way that its light-beam fell directly on my face and into my eyes. For those few moments I felt that I was smack in the middle of a scary B-Grade movie.
Soon I was busy riding and tightening the thumb screw of the flashlight holder. I heard a metal part falling on the road just as my bike jumped over a joint of the flyover. I decided to stop and make sure that no essential part of my bike fell off. I still had a long way to go. As I was trying to get down, my both feet got stuck in the pedal straps and I almost fell down at the same moment another huge truck zoomed past me. (Putting the pedal straps was another of my mistake. I should not have put them. My naïve thinking was that if my legs got tired pushing, I can do pedaling by pulling my legs up. That never really worked and it may be the case that when our legs are tired, the muscles that we do not normally use are in worse shape than the muscles that we regularly use. It was somewhat stupid of me to put them on for the trip, even though I had never tried them before. ) After I took a few moments to orient, I walked back a few metres to the spot where I thought I heard the metal part falling. Discomfort of the blinding flashlight beam on my face and the dangerous stuck strap had rattled me. The darkness around was starting to annoy me and fleeting truck-lights and my flashlight were not enough for me to explore what was it that fell. After a few minutes of search, I did not find anything. I yearned for darkness to cede. For some reason the physical discomfort that I was feeling at that point, I thought would also go away if only darkness went away.
I continued riding at a fast pace (probably at about 30 km per hour). Slowly sun light started seeping in on to the roads. That is when I noticed for the first time that there was dense fog everywhere. The interplay of darkness, fog and sunlight gave an interesting reality to the phrase “darkness melting away”. It took a long time for the sunlight to make a difference in visibility.
At some point I decided to try sipping water from my backpack. I was not feeling thirsty, but I thought I should keep myself hydrated. It would be the first of the several hundred sips I would be taking throughout the trip. The first sip tasted extremely bitter. I reasoned that it may be because of my poor rinsing of the new hydration pack. However the first sip continued to be bitter each time I tried. So I started spitting out my first sip each time. I could not figure out why just the first sip was bitter. All through early morning hours this was the concern and then I completely forgot about the taste of the water till hot sun started warming the water in the exposed sipping pipe. Then the warm first sip became a concern. Overall I must say the hydration backpack was the best part of my preparation for the trip. It allowed me to keep the water cool and sip it without moving too many body parts.
The Kamat Upachar Break
At around 7:30AM I reached a Kamat Upachar that is about 20km before Tumkur. I really was not feeling hungry or thirsty. I just wanted to be cautious about the future comfort of my ride. The place was quite crowded and I was getting an early feeling of being tired. The primary issue was the pain at the buttocks. I leaned back and sat on the hard chair and ordered a cold litre bottle of water, a plate of “chow-chow” Bhaat (Uppittu and Sheera mix – see photo), a plate of Vada, a plate of Dosa and a tall glass of coffee. Of course I was not hungry, but in the name of giving calories to my body, I gulped all that in and washed it down. By the time I walked out, I had already spent nearly fifty minutes, and I was not feeling particularly fresh or relaxed.
When I arrived at the Kamat Upachar, the security-guard-cum-parking-attendant there gave me a prime location to park my bicycle. Up close to the restaurant where nothing else was parked. This special status to a bicycle is unusual considering that all across Bangalore, bicycle parking in the Malls is relegated to a remote unsightly corner of the property. After I finished my breakfast, while I was engaged in a brief chit-chat with the guard, a young couple came to me and enquired about my trip. The young man told me that he had once ridden from Shimoga to Hubli on bicycle. They also snapped a couple of photos of mine (above). I wished them and the security guard well and left at 8:30AM. By then I had covered about 75 km in three hours – but the long break had brought down the average speed by about six kilo-metres per hour.
Riding into Tumkur Town
After the breakfast, I continued the ride at the same pace as before. I rode along the golden quadrilateral highway that has practically transformed India. While growing up, this kind of a road was unimaginable to me. The road on which I did not have to constantly monitor the potholes or rocky gravel sections or fine sand filled spots that invariably brought a bicyclist down. I salute all those that built this road and the politicians who found the vision and guts to get it done! However the one thing that I yearned for on the road was a place to sit and relax on the roadside.
As the time passed, slowly my body started aching and I wanted to stop for a break. I found some interesting looking poles on the road side all along the Bangalore - Tumkur stretch. These poles had a small metal enclosure around them and were jetting out from a few square feet of concrete flooring. I stopped at one of them and fished out my phone from the backpack. I wanted to take a photo of that pole. However I forgot all about it because there was a fresh missed call on my phone. It was from my younger brother. When he had learnt about my plans to ride alone from Bangalore to Hubli, he wanted me to call off the trip. He was worried about my safety. He was probably more worried about someone physically attacking me on the road rather than a vehicular accident. Similar feelings were expressed by a few of my colleagues too. To be on the safer side, my brother had taken a train at 6:00AM from Yeshwantpur railway station and he had called me when his train had reached Tumkur. He was surprized that I was already so close (18 kilo meter) to Tumkur. I talked to him for a couple of minutes, applied some sun screen lotion on my face and neck and started riding towards Tumkur. My brother’s plan was to accompany me on the train and be ready to bring his car parked in Hubli to rescue me, just in case I gave up in the middle. He thought that ‘my giving up’ was quite a likely scenario.
It was early in the morning. Sun was just past the tree line. Kids were ambling to schools and the traffic police had nothing much to do. The Board reads "Tumakuru Mahanagara Palike, Tumakuru" – i.e. The Tumkur Municipality Offices
I covered the next 18 kilo-metres in about 45 minutes and went off the highway (another mistake!) and entered the Tumkur town. I thought it would be a shortcut (because usually the highway bypasses go around the city). I thought wrong! and the strategy backfired. After about 10 minutes of ride in the town I lost my way and went past a perpendicular road directly in front of the Tumkur Municipality and kept on riding towards Shivamogga (or Shimoga). Even after riding for a while, I did not see any road-signs to Chitradurga. By then I should have encountered those road-signs if I was on the right track. So I asked a person on a moped about the direction to Chitradurga. His reaction was – ‘how could one make such a stupid mistake and ignore such a prominent and obvious road!’ He pointed me back in the direction I came from; to a road perpendicular to the one I was riding. I rode back and took a few of photos of the municipality entrance and headed towards Chitradurga. (The Chitradurga road starts right in front of the municipality building.)
That was a terrible road for an already aching bicyclist. It took a long time for me to get back to the highway. The road had a lot of early morning traffic and pot holes; construction dug outs and muddy spots; like any other road in a medium town, India. It is just that my body had started noticing those things more prominently. My butt was constantly complaining and the shoulders had started squirming too. Every time I hit a rough patch on the road, every time a car or a motorbike got past me just to slow down or break right in front of me, I started yearning for the highway.
After a very long ride, I saw the intersection to the highway. I stopped at a roadside store and filled up my water reserves. While resting for a few minutes, the store owner Srinivas and few others gathered around me and started asking a lot of questions like: what is my name? exactly at what spot in Bangalore did I start? how much does my cycle cost? why am I doing this? where am I going? am I going all alone? etc. I wondered that if 26/11 terrorists were passing through Tumkur, there was absolutely no chance that they could have carried out their dastardly act. All of them would have been caught then and there! There was no way they could have answered all those questions without stumbling on a few. That was some serious interrogation!
Mirchi Bonda and School Kids at Sira
If you zoom-in enough, the board (on the right side) reads: "Welcome to historical city Sira" in both Kannada and English
For the next 50 or so kilometres the highway was completely embanked on both sides. On several occasions, I wanted to stop and get off the highway for water or a break, but I could not. The embankment separating the highway from the side roads was too tall for me to cross. I kept on riding while my shoulders and butt kept on howling in pain. By around 12:15 PM more than seven hours after I left home, I crossed the midway point of that day’s ride. I rode past the welcome sign of the “Historical Town of Sira” (photo above). Then I saw a narrow opening in the embankment on the left. I decided to sneak out on to the side road. As I ‘snake’d out through the opening with my bicycle, I saw a roadside stall manned by an elegant lady in her fifties and the stall looked quite clean. Usually these stalls have barely enough space to stand and safely eat without being pushed around by the road side traffic. Luckily, there was a shop next to her stall that was still closed and I could sit there in the shade. I parked my bike and took a break. It was 1:00 PM.
That stop was a big relief from persistent pain. Interestingly the most prominent pain, the butt pain, would cease as soon as I got off the bike. However shoulder pain would not go down by much. I ordered two plates of Mirchi-Bonda, one plate of the other Vada and two cups of tea. The lady promptly tore-off a piece of a newspaper threw-in four Mirchi-Bondas and three Vadas and handed it to me. I enjoyed the Mirchi-Bondas and ordered two more of them. She picked them from her sheet of newspaper and put them on my newspaper piece. I washed down the Bondas and Vadas with two cups of tea – and then ordered one more tea! When I went to pay, the lady decided to give me a five rupee discount on the big purchase. I did not take the discount and fortunately it ended up helping a child with 10 rupee note with no change to buy a 1 rupee match-box.
From the surroundings I could guess that Sira is a typical small town India. There were about 12-15 people around the stall waiting …… for something – or may be for nothing. All through my break none of them went anywhere, nor did they buy anything from the stall. Just were being there. A quintessential Forrest Gump moment (for the Hollywood fans)! I have been in such places and moments all through my growing years. Other than the stall lady, among all those men and boys, there was one other woman who smiled every now and then but did not participate in any conversations. I could not guess why she was there either.
School Kids around my bike, bunking their classes -- at a Tea Stall in Sira
After about 15-20 minutes, I decided to find out about this ‘nobody going anywhere, doing anything’ phenomenon. I started chatting with the kids. I asked a lot of questions and they had even more questions for me. They were quite chatty with this outsider ‘uncle’ with a bicycle without a chain-guard. I asked them if they were supposed to be in their School. (They did) Silence was their answer. No matter how many times I asked them to go to school, nobody left. There was another adult sitting with me chatting about Bangalore. He told me that he used to be a security guard at one of the MNCs near the KGA Golf Course. He loudly started asking the kids questions like ‘who is the chief minister of Karnataka?’ and the kids thought it was Yeddiyurappa – ‘who is the president?’ and kids thought it was Pratibha Patil – and so on. I was still stuck on why they were there and why were they not going to their classes. I asked their names and nobody answered. Just one name came out – “Kempe Gowda” because it was written on his bicycle chain guard in Kannada. I could not get any other names. At one point another kid’s aunt happened to walked by. She asked the kid as to why he was there and not in his school … and she could not get any answer either.
After a while one by one all the kids huddled around my bike. I requested them not to touch the levers and they were mindful of my request. I took the above photo – and in jest, I told them that while riding if something goes wrong, I will come back and give the photo to the local police and tell them that one Mr. “Kempe Gowda” was one of them. Immediately, this little Kempe Gowda became highly animated – he started pointing to each kid and started telling me their names! This is “Tippesha”, the one in checks shirt is “Ramesha” and next one is “Madayya” …etc. He did not stop till he named each one of those kids! J
Ultimately I found out about why they were loitering there. This little Kempe Gowda – one with the bicycle, was sent by a teacher to make photo-copies (gee-raa-xu in their lingo for XEROX) of what looked like some private documents. Kempe Gowda was carrying a few sheets of paper in a plastic bag and the rest of them were with him to help with the monumental task of ‘gee-raa-xu’ing. Of course the task was long over, but they were taking their time getting back to school. None of them were in any hurry.
Severe Drought: Browned out coconut trees near Sira in Tumkur District.
The MNC Security Guard had his own interesting story to tell. He has some ancestral land in Sira area. Now he was back for good from Bangalore. He recounted his bicycle experiences while in Bangalore. He told me he always tried to overtake these ‘girls on geared-cycles’ in Koramangala and he never could, because he had ‘no gears’ to his bike. Gears were the magic. I asked him why he was in Bangalore in the first place. He talked about the drought in Sira and pointed me to thousands of baked out coconut trees. He told me that till I reach Chitradurga it is all drought ridden landscape. He was right. As I rode-off from there, I could see one coconut plantation after other for 50-60 kilo metres, all in bad shape. The bottom part of the tree heads were all browned out. Once lush well cared for trees that probably quenched the thirst of thousands of people were desperately in need of quenching their own thirst! There were almost no coconuts on any of the trees, and a few coconut trees had gone top-less – and it was not a pretty sight.
Hatti Gold Mine in Chitradurga District – 2:05 PM – looked very desolate.
After nearly 45 minutes more of bicycling, I crossed Tumkur district and entered into Chitradurga district. The Hatti gold mines board on the left side of the highway declared itself to be in Chitradurga district. Last time I probably heard of and cared about the ‘Hatti gold mines’ was probably while I was in 5th or 6th grade Geography class. I can’t recall what mental picture I had of that place then – may be nothing more than the squiggly shapes of the Kannada characters that read ‘Ha-t-ti’. Now it looked like a desolate place with no sign of human presence. I looked around for a while. The road to the gold mines was absolutely empty. There was no vehicular traffic of any kind.
The Pain and the Brain
It had been nearly 9 hours since I started my ride. Sun was hot and bright – but I did not notice either the sun or the heat. I had other things distracting me. How many ways can I talk about pain?! There are not enough ways. As my butt felt like it was in a blender, (sorry for being so graphic) I started supporting my weight on my legs and shoulders. Although my knees and thighs were up to the task, my shoulders were not holding up well. Slowly the intensity of pain at the butt and the shoulders overwhelmed all my thoughts. The blunt pain just below the neck, underneath and around the shoulder blades was constant and excruciatingly gnawing. It felt as if a heavy dumbbell got buried into my back and stayed-put and did not move even an iota no matter what I did. I pulled the shoulders in, pulled them down; pulled the chest in and hunched back. Nothing worked. It was a constant struggle.
Every now and then, the places where the highway is still being built, there were road diversions. Every diversion road was a lot bumpier than the highway, and the high speed vehicles competing to be ahead of each other on the narrower diversion roads, made bicycling more interesting than I could bear at that juncture. I started frequent walks just to relieve me of the pain. The shoulders were getting increasingly worse because walking or resting made no difference to them.
After every break, getting going again became highly unpalatable. It took immense effort to climb back on the bicycle and continue the ride. I started noticing that the rest-breaks no longer helped me to get a break from pain. It felt like every riding episode started and ended with the same intensity of pain. It was as if I took no break. The breaks were of no help at all. My younger brother had already reached Hubli and was willing to come and rescue me if I asked for it. That put further dent in my resolve to bear the pain and continue. I was still quite far from my first day’s destination – Chitradurga. By that time I had completely forgotten my over enthusiastic early eagerness to go an additional sixty kilo-metres past Chitradurga, to Davanagere.
Other than a Google search of a few hotels in Chitradurga, I had not made any arrangements for the night’s stay. I wanted to reach there early while there was still sunlight. I thought that it would give me an opportunity to evaluate more than one hotels option. However the pain was unrelenting, brute-force speeding up was out of the question. I decided not to take breaks anymore – they were not helping. I started walking and bicycling. Every time I bicycled, I had to get down and walk again within a couple of kilometres. I really tried to extend my riding time to walking time ratio. The idea was to match the walking time with the up-hill stretches and the riding time with the flat or downhill stretches. The up-hills were not particularly harsh. It was just that on the up-hills I had to pedal relatively more compared to the downhill or the flat stretches. Not a deep revelation, but the “butt” equation was forcing me to minimize the number of ‘pedalling-s per kilo metre’. I could barely tolerate resting my butt on the seat; any further movement was sadistically cruel. I also rationalized that the ratio of walking speed to riding speed is the highest during an uphill anyway.
My democratic body was on complete non-cooperation movement, but my dictatorial brain was taking none of it. It was not letting any of these revolting body parts to make their own decision. At this stage I was ready to take any and all moral victories with great relish. If I could get a few more rolls while not pedalling, that was a win. If there was a stretch of shade that I could get under, it was a win. If I avoided a bump on the road, that was a win. It was getting pathetic and what made the situation ridiculous was the headwind. My whole strategy of uphill-walk; down-hill-ride had to be thrown out. There was a stretch where I was going downhill and I had to pedal as if I was going uphill. Given the state of pain I was in, this made it a real torture. Wikipedia says “it is a practice or act of deliberately inflicting severe physical pain and possibly injury” I think that description of torture matched my situation very well. J It is during this stretch of ‘not-reaching-Chitradurga-yet’, it became clear to me that my brain was the biggest “muscle” that was driving the ride and the rest of the muscles were but secondary.
My younger brother was calling me every now and then from Hubli. It had been a few hours since he reached Hubli by train and he was wondering why I was not yet at Chitradurga. I tried explaining to him that I always expected my average biking speed to be around twenty kmph. He offered a comfortable ride for me and my bike to Hubli -- again. At that point his car trip would have been nearly 500km long to and fro. Of course I declined his offer. As I neared Chitradurga there were several long uphill stretches. At one spot I saw the “Valley Hanuman” temple way up on a hill, competing with a windmill. I thought that was interesting. I took a couple of photographs wondering who made the ‘Valley Hanuman’ the ‘Hilly Hanuman’.
Soon I saw highway exit signs to enter into Chitradurga. I had already decided based on my experience in Tumkur to not to enter the city. A few Kilo-metres later I rode past the city entrance on the left. In Kannada it read “Welcome to Chitradurga a fort made of Rock” in English it read less dramatic “City of Fort”.
26th December 2012, 5:22 PM – A welcome sign to Chitradurga
I was glad that there was still nearly an hour of sunlight left. I knew there were a few hotels in that stretch of the highway that bypasses Chitradurga. The first hotel I saw was the hotel Naveen international. I saw a tiny opening in the highway embankments with a handwritten sign to the hotel, but the hotel building itself was nowhere in sight. About 500 metres later I saw a descent looking ‘Hotel Naveen International’ by the side of the highway. There was no way at that stage I was going to ride nearly a kilometre back (extra!) to get to the hotel. So I continued riding. I passed a couple of more hotels that were inaccessible from the highway. Then there was a stretch where there were no hotels. I started mentally preparing myself to make nearly five kilometres of extra distance – i.e. to ride back to the Hotel Naveen International. Just then I saw a hotel, the Hotel Ravi Mayura International and Ravi Kamath Restaurant, and to my luck I also found an exit from the highway nearby. Deep in pain, it was another small victory (saving 5 km ride) that I relished!
The hotel person showed me two rooms. The first room was a ‘Super Deluxe AC room’ and the second was a ‘Deluxe AC Room’. Since I wanted good rest for the night I wanted to checkout both the rooms. The so called ‘Super Deluxe’ was on the top floor reeking with smoke and strong alcohol smells in the corridors. The other room was one floor down and looked quite clean. I decide to take the ‘Deluxe’ room. I told the manager that I had to take the bike into my room. He was reluctant at first, but then agreed to my request once he learnt about the ride so far and my next day’s plans.
Apparently the top floor was occupied by the local ruling-party leadership that was managing the logistics of on-going local elections. As I was getting ready to settle down, a man, very polite but completely drunk, started chatting with me in Kannada. He introduced himself to be the local president or vice-president of the town Panchayat. I wondered aloud with him as to how he could manage the election logistics and campaigning when he is so completely drunk and his talk is barely audible. He did not take offense of it, and explained to me that it was a very hard and very stressful work ……. and then with all seriousness he told me that he still had more drinking to do! (I was impressed! It was quite touching to see such a deep commitment to duty!)
Bike inside my hotel room with the bellboy (sorry, I forgot his name) who brought my dinner
The Dinner and the Good Night’s Sleep
As the minutes passed, my eyelids were becoming too heavy to be held up. The hotel manager was kind enough to provide some hot water for a quick bath. Unfortunately not a drop of that hot water came out from my bathroom tap. I had brought just one set of ‘dry fit’ track-suite for biking – the one that I was wearing. Thirteen hours of cycling had rendered it unusable without a thorough rinse. I quickly rinsed the track-suite and put it to dry on the bathroom door handle and on the showerhead. While I was still in the bathroom, the door-bell rang. By the time I came out the person had left. I went back and finished my shower. In my backpack I had two sets of clothes that were comfortable enough to function as pyjamas. I got ready to go to bed even as I was browsing the room service menu for the dinner.
Just then the doorbell rang again. I opened the door and a person on a colourful uniform (photo above) was ready to bring me some dinner. I was startled for a moment. I wanted someone to bring me dinner, but I had not called anybody! Was it telepathy?! Nah! It was social engineering and social network at work. The person who showed me to my room had told this person about the modest tip I gave him, and this person was more than eager to bring me the food. Another win! J
I ordered a large beer with fresh lime; lamb curry, roti and some rice. I told him that the beer has to be absolutely ice-cold and if it was not, I did not want any. The food and the ice-cold dripping wet beer came sooner than I expected and it tasted great! Just as I finished eating, the bell-boy came and told me he would give my change the next day morning. I said fine and after that I have no recollection of anything including when I washed my hands, how I got on the bed and whether I closed the room doors.
The next thing I recall is jarring doorbell waking me up around 10pm. I was in deep slumber and the doorbell had just jerked me out of my sleep – I could feel the painful bruising of my brain. I wanted to sleep so badly that I had not even locked my door. When I opened the door, the same bell-boy was there. This time he told me he had a family emergency and he was there to pay my change. He had already decided on his tips and he returned the rest. Sleep was my priority. I thanked him, and this time I remembered to latch the door and collapsed back to sleep. The rest of the night was quite peaceful and the bed linen was soft and comfortable. When I woke up at 4:30AM, I did not feel any lack of sleep or lethargy. None of that brain-knot of the first day was there. I was all ready to go!
Start of the Second Day
I took a quick shower wore the same track-suite that I had rinsed and put to dry. It was slightly damp and cool on my body. It felt good to wear it. This time I remembered to apply sunscreen lotion before I started. (Applying sunscreen turned out to be a great idea)
The thought of impending day-long bike ride was quite intimidating and discomforting. However I did not think even for a moment about getting to Hubli any other way. I picked up the bike and walked down the stairs rather than taking the elevator. When I reached the ground floor, I had no easy access to the front door. There were three or four people sleeping on the floor. I left the room keys and the three remote controls (AC, TV and the Set-top-box) on the front desk and gingerly stepped over the sleeping people without letting any part of my bike touching them. I was glad that I had already paid the room charges at the time of checking in. I did not have to waste time waiting for somebody to take the payment. It was still very dark outside. Except for occasional truck headlights that ripped through the darkness, there was no light. Soon I was on my bike with my water pack filled with fresh water. I had an open pack of trail-mix, but I did not feel like munching on it.
The first 25 kilo-metres of the ride was quite treacherous. Cold wind and the darkness were compounding the mental agony of dealing with the rebelling body. I could sit on the bike seat only for a few minutes at a stretch. When I tried to balance my weight anywhere else but the butt, peddling action would end up stressing my shoulders and back. I felt that if the darkness just went away, it will all be fine and I would be back to riding or rather gliding towards Hubli.
As usual the highway was ruled by heavily loaded trucks. Again most trucks were quite respectful of me. They shifted to a lane away from me while overtaking. I did not feel threatened by them. Some buses and trucks however did not care much of me. If they were anywhere close to me, they nudged me further to the side. I did not have a rear view mirror. I don’t think it would have helped with the situation. Some trucks were loaded so heavily that I could easily ride past them in the ghat section. Daylight broke very slowly. By the time it became bright everywhere, I was mentally quite tired because of constant vigilance against both external elements (darkness, cold, pot holes and trucks) and internal elements (rebelling and painful body parts). I had forgotten all about gliding to Hubli and I had just started noticing that damp clothes in the cool breeze were adding to my discomfort. Once the sun came up, all the cold was gone. My partially numb palm and fingers became alright. Soon the constant worry about hitting an unseen pot-hole also went away.
After about three hours of ride I reached Davanagere. I had my breakfast at a small shack right next to one of the several toll booths on the highway. In and around Davanagere was the first time I enjoyed significant stretches of downhill and flat roads. I have captured an elevation map at the end of this story from ‘mapmyrun.com’. Although over all I am going downhill from Bangalore to Hubli, there are only two significant downhill stretches. The first one around the 140 KM mark and the second one at the 280 KM mark. I never felt the first down-hill, most probably because of the head wind. The second one was at around Davanagere and I did not have to pedal hard for a stretch of five to six kilo metres. I probably was averaging 20-22 kilo metres per hour. It could have been faster if the first hour of riding was not in as much darkness.
The Pain and the Music
During early hours of riding, I used to sit on the bike-seat and ride for a stretch of five to ten minutes. By the time I crossed Davanagere, I could bear to sit on my seat and ride only for two three minutes at a stretch and then I had to switch position. This was putting a lot of stress on legs and thighs. My legs had been rock solid till then. They were supporting without complaint and helped in alleviating my butt, shoulder and upper back pain. However as I rode past Harihar, legs started cramping. I longed for some shelter by the road side where I can just lie down for a few minutes in the shade. There was no such luck!
From then on I had to stop favouring my butt, shoulder and back. The piercing pain was getting increasingly unbearable, but I had no choice. Slowly the legs stopped cramping. The riding speed or effort no longer had any bearing on pain or tiredness. So I started riding quite hard and fast for a few kilo metres and then walked for a 100-200 metres. It was much better now. Soon I found out that no matter how short or long a break I took, it hurt with the same intensity as soon as I started riding. So I made the breaks very short, just enough to remove the edge of the pain and then ride again. I had taken with me some Ibuprophen (pain killer, fever reducer) tablets, but taking two of them had no effect even an hour after taking them. So I did not take them for the rest of the trip.
I am not much of an ear-phone-music person. However just for this trip I had loaded hundreds of Kannada and Marathi ‘Bhajan’s on to my phone. Although I could understand most of the Kannada lyrics, very little if any of the Marathy lyrics made any sense to me. It did not matter. The praying songs were supremely appropriate for the occasion. It allowed me to ignore the pain every now and then and mellowed my pain immersed mind enough to enjoy the surroundings. As I neared Davanagere, there were no signs of drought anymore. There was greenery where expected and coconut groves were lush green and flush with tightly packed coconuts (photo). May be it was because of irrigation or may be that Davanagere being in a valley has more water in its bore wells.
Lush green coconut grove near Davanagere
Torture from Road Signs
If you plan to take a trip similar to mine and happened to be in pain, beware of road signs from Davanagere onwards. They start playing cruel jokes on you. In the intense pain every push of the pedal and every second you are on the bike starts to count. However just as you start desperately looking for how much more riding is still there, you see boards showing widely different distances. Just as I was feeling good about being 3 kilo metre away from Harihar, a kilo-metre later, instead of showing 2 kilo metres to Harihar, the board reads 8 kilo-metres to Harihar! It was sadistic, it was torture! I think the road authorities owe us some intelligent explanations. The explanation may just be that “if you go this way it is 3 kilo metres and if you go that way it is 9 kilo metres”. Whatever…. I tried ignoring it. But when you are crawling every inch of the way, you just can’t ignore them. To make things worse, these maddening miss-distance markers kept appearing till I reached Hubli. L
BESCOM Reward -- a Cruel Joke
Just to make my situation even more interesting, in the middle of my road travails, I got a call from home. Apparently BESCOM had disconnected power for my house. Despite having paid the full bill online before the deadline, the intelligent and customer caring people at Bangalore Electrical Services (BESCOM) had decided to disconnect my house electricity. They apparently took away the fuse plugs that ‘I’ had purchased and installed. So I was simultaneously getting battered on my butt because of bicycling and getting my butt battered metaphorically through my phone for being an incompetent nincompoop who does not understand how the electric company in Bangalore works. My competency was in question because the argument was “why did I pay the electricity bill just before the deadline? If I had any intelligence, I would have paid the bill ‘much’ before the deadline. To make things worse, my over exuberant decision to put an over capacity UPS for my home had backfired. By the time my wife found out that there was no power and that somebody had taken away the fuse, it was nearly 12 hours and near midnight. The UPS was creating a racket because of overload. So she patiently waited till the next day before calling me. Thank you BESCOM you made my day!
The phone conversation was long and was competing well with the beatings my bicycle ride was giving. BESCOM took its sweet time to restore the power after my wife made a trip to their office to pay the same bill that I had already paid nearly a week before. I must thank BESCOM for giving me power, after taking it away six full days after I paid in full. I should also thank BESCOM for giving me a minus seventy rupee bill the next month. I guess I should thank BESCOM because they proved (albeit one month later) that I did not make up the story about having paid the bill just to save my butt. The irony was that before the BESCOM episode started, all my focus was literally on saving my one butt. Now I had to struggle to save my metaphorical one too! Sorry readers… too many mentions of butts in this trip report. If you are offended, my sincere apologies. May I request you to globally replace ‘butt’ with GM (Gluteus Maximus)? Thank You!
Beautiful Road and Beautiful Day
Although excruciatingly uninteresting BESCOM drama continued till the next day, I scraped enough minutes every now and then (i.e. when I was not on phone) to enjoy the beauty around me. It was extremely bright and sunny day (photo above). In that stretch of the highway I saw an abandoned factory. It looked absolutely beautiful. It clearly stood out from its surroundings. There was nothing else but miles and miles of parched flat land. The metal body of the factory gleamed in the Sun. It looked so ready to hum that if only people gave it a chance, it was ready to produce something shiny and of high value. Above pictures do not capture the beauty of the factory. However they do clearly show how bright the day was. The sun was bright; the sky was blue and everything around, including the road was gleaming with not even a speck of shade anywhere. Fortunately I did not feel the heat or get any sun burn. All that I remember of the day’s weather is that it was quite cool and comfortable. It may be because other discomforts were overwhelming my senses. Unfortunately, I was not feeling any hunger or thirst either. However, I kept sipping water frequently and decided to stop for lunch by noon.
11:14 AM Bright sunny day and the gleaming abandoned factory – my mug shot with factory in the background
Like any other highway across India, this highway stretch has numerous roadside vendors, mostly vending tender coconuts and coconut oil products. I have not seen so many coconut stalls anywhere else. Even in Kerala one would not find these many coconut product vendors – and this highway is nowhere near the coast. Such is the miracle of irrigation and bore-wells! As one gets closer to Hubli, all these vending stalls vanish without any warning. Unfortunately my water backpack became empty just as the stalls vanished. That was a signal for me to take a lunch/water break.
Lunch Break and the Heavenly Shelter
I had to ride a few more kilo metres for the lunch-break. It was well past 1:00pm before I found a place to eat. After the last toll booth, there is a large dusty unmettled parking area and a restaurant. I almost went past it. It was my last long stop and I was neither hungry or thirsty. It turned out to be a great stop. I ordered a soft drink, a litre of cold water, a plate of spicy lamb curry and a couple of tandoor Rotis. The food tasted perfect. The hot, tangy, spicy, salty curry awoke my dormant hunger. The Rotis played their role to perfection.
Availability of cold bottled water is a huge gift for armatures like me! I found cold bottled water at every stop. It is amazing! The parts of India I grew up in 60’s through 80’s would not have known what a ‘bottled water’ was. Getting something cold would have been unthinkable luxury. I enjoyed cold crystal clear water at every stop. Although the clothes in my backpack kept the water reasonably cold, I did not get too many opportunities to enjoy it. The water in the exposed pipe that brought water to the sipper was warming-up very quickly. The pipe held enough water for a couple of sips. So with every sip, the cold water from the backpack would come into the pipe and get warmed-up before I sipped the next time. If I took three or four sips, the last sip would be ice cold and quite comforting. If I go for a longish bike trip again, I will find a way to insulate the pipe.
A Roadside shelter about fifty kilo metres from Hubli: my bicycle is inside in the shade
Soon after the lunch break, I continued my arduous journey. Although it was a long break, there was no respite from pain. All parts started hurting as if I never took the break. Within about half an hour I saw the very first roadside shelter. It was too soon to take a break again. But the shelter was too inviting to go past it. So I took a break again. Nobody was there in the shelter. There was a granite slab for seating. I lied-down on the slab and relaxed for about twenty minute. It felt like heaven!
Inside the Shelter: The granite shelf like seating in side the shelter was cool and very inviting – this was the first roadside shelter I found after nearly 375 kilometres of bicycling
I left the shelter and continued my bicycling by 2:00 PM and immediately the pain returned with all its glory. My dictatorial brain made a special note of the fact that the pain paid no respect for all that heavenly rest! So it ordered me to take no breaks for the rest of the way. I started walking for a few minutes and riding bike for a few minutes. Uphill or downhill rides did not matter anymore. It all felt like uphill all the time. I attributed the lack of speed to severe headwind. Just as I was about to dismiss the headwind theory as a concoction of my tired mind, huge plume of some kind of a husk started pummelling my face and body. There was headwind after all!
Farmers sorting their huge pile of some kind of legume on the service road
A few meters ahead on the left side of the highway, farmers were sorting their produce and wind had decided to help them a little more than needed! A narrow tarred road just by the side of the highway was a great place for them sort and clean.
The Last Break
By around 3:30pm, I spotted two auto rickshaws on the highway. Since I ride my bicycle to work every day, I am used to getting harassed by the auto-rickshaws all the time. Auto-rickshaw drivers’ glorious disregard for bicyclists in Bangalore is legendary. For a change, I was very happy to see the autos. That meant Hubli was nearby, and the thought of being out of misery soon added additional oomph to my pedalling.
At around 4:30 pm I took one last break. I ignored my own dictate of not to take a break, because I really wanted to have some strength to enjoy the finish. That was the best 7-up I ever had (photo). It cut through my non-thirst and I relished it so deep that it felt as if every molecule of the drink was being directly sucked into my tired muscles. While at the soft drink stall a few adults stood around my bicycle and started talking to themselves in Kannada. I think they didn’t think that a Kannada speaking person would be in those ridiculous looking clothes with a funny helmet and a backpack. One guy was showing the rear-gears to others and telling them “See, this is a geared bike. You do not need to pedal this to go forward. You just have to sit on the bike, and it goes forward on its own”. After my brief rest, I just pedalled away from there. At that point, I was just twenty five kilo metres away from Hubli.
Finally at the Hubli Gate
Last 20 kilo metres had long stretches of severe uphill sections. I stopped my riding pattern of ‘riding a few minutes and walking a few minutes’. I started chasing auto rickshaws! It hurt, but my second wind (or was it the last wind?) was powerful enough to glide me all the way to Hubli. I reached Hubli gate on the highway at 5:20PM. It was still very sunny and my mother and my younger brother were waiting there at the gate. They had brought a ‘real’ flower garland that the politicians and sports stars get every now and then. It felt great! They were telling everyone around them that I had bicycled all the way from Bangalore, and I was basking in the glory with a sheepish smile of mild embarrassment. Bright orange red light from sun gave surreal warm colour to everything around us. My mother garlanded me and brother snapped the photos. Highlight of my life! J
My mother and I at the highway entrance to Hubli City: It was still bright and sunny
Roughly 13 hours after I started from Chitradurga, I had finally reached Hubli Gate. I still had about 10 kilo metres to go. The next half hour of ride through the streets of Hubli was uneventful, although I over stretched myself trying to follow my brother and mother, who were on a scooter. I did not know that they were trying to go well ahead of me because my mother wanted to prepare some ritualistic welcome for me into the house. Over exuberant me reached there along with them and then waited at the gate for my mother to get ready for the welcome. That gave my younger brother some more time to snap a few final pictures of the trip.
Amazingly the butt pain went away without any vestigial effects after the first night’s sleep. I had hurt my left knee while chasing my brother’s scooter during the last stretch. The knee healed in a couple of days. However the upper back and shoulder pain lingered for a few more days. I rested in Hubli for two days before heading back to Bangalore ……….by train.
Train Ride Back
The train ride in an unreserved compartment was reasonably comfortable. Since the train starts from Hubli, my brother and I could pick good comfortable window spots in the unreserved compartment. I put my well packaged bicycle and my backpack up on the luggage rack and tied it firm. I did not have to worry about the bike till I reached the Bangalore City Central station.
Bicycle packed and kept along with my backpack on the train’s luggage rack.
My brother got down at the Yeshvantpura station and I got down at the Bangalore City Central, the last stop for the train. When I finally got on to the waiting taxi, the entire trip was rapidly becoming history for me. I felt a strong sense of accomplishment and every time I talked about it, it became a story with a different side to it depending on the interests of the person I was talking to.
A security guard was concerned about the cost of my trip compared to a train ride and puzzled about my math skills when he learnt that I stayed in a hotel for the night. A teenager asked if I would sell him the bike, now that I am done with the trip. My teenage kids did not seem to have noticed the entire event or that I was gone. My colleagues appreciated the effort, but thought that I would never complete this blog or share the photos – they were partially right – it is the 8th month since I completed the ride. One older person wondered why I would do this at my advanced age. He recalled his own long 50 km bicycle ride a few decades ago. My wife thought I had a nice vacation while she was stuck with our kids, the chores and ‘the’ BESCOM. I thought that if this were a significant event, each of these folks would have written about it entirely differently. For sure every one of them would have written a much shorter story – probably with more attractive photos. J
It is quite obvious by the fact that I took time to write this much of text that I am proud of my achievement. I also felt obligated to write this because I benefited from reading some very interesting cycling trip reports on the web. Those write-ups helped me a lot, both in deciding and also in completing my long ride.
I think undergoing pain and suffering for personal survival, satisfaction and glory is fine. However suffering for someone else’s benefit is truly noble. We often read and hear about those stories. I have such a story in my personal life too.
When I was very little (about 4 years old and my younger brother was less than a year old) we were living in a small coastal Karnataka village. I had three older siblings too. The village did not have any roads, stores, street lights or water supply. Monsoon was in full force. Monsoon in coastal Karnataka showers-down not only cats and dogs, but also pigs and houses! (Sorry for that metaphor) It really rains a lot! Sometimes it rains for several weeks non-stop! So it was not unusual for little kids to get cough and cold all through the long rainy season. I was particularly adept at attracting these bad germs. If they were present anywhere in the village, first thing they did was to seek out for their favourite host – that would be me. That season I had also taken on the additional responsibility of rearing the waterborne disease germs too. Apparently I became a poster child of non-stop diarrhoea and vomiting for nearly two weeks. My mother gave that much time for the country medicine to work or my immune systems to kick-in. After that, when I started showing more the symptoms of an afterlife rather than real-life, she got really worried and decided to take me to the nearest doctor.
Narayan my younger brother, my mother Smt. Padmavati beaming with pride – this is a keepsake for me
On a serious note it must have been really hard to go through this for my mother. My father and his sisters were not at home and she had to take care of us five little kids on her own. She left the older siblings at home to fend for themselves, picked up very sick me and my less than a year old younger brother and decided go to the doctor. (All three of us are in the photo.) The nearest doctor was fourteen kilo-metres away in an another village on the other side of a forest and a river! She requested a seventh grade girl from our village (her student) to go with her. The girl helped carry my few months old younger brother. The monsoon rain showed no mercy. The two of them walked and walked, through the forest and across the rocky overflowing river, and took me to the doctor. After the consultation, there was no respite for them. They carried us back all the way home as the night fell, fully drenched but safe. My older siblings, still little kids between the age of 5 and 9 years were eagerly waiting for their mom. In my books that 29 kilo-meter walk ranks much higher in the achievement category. It is what mothers are made of – unfathomable love and commitment to their kids’ wellbeing. Of course I do not recall any of this; however my sister, the oldest of the siblings, does. Over the years my mother has lost touch with that little seventh grade girl who did so much for us and for me. We are hoping to get in touch with her. We are and I am forever indebted to her.
In my books my mother’s and that little girl’s sacrifice and innumerable similar sacrifices all over the world, that are not for personal glory and satisfaction, carry much higher weight. I am deeply indebted to my mother and my family, friends and many others who sacrificed every now and then for my betterment.
Interesting Statistics of the Trip
Route map and the elevation graph – although the distance here shows up as 460KM, I think it was slightly less than 450 Kilo-metres (picture from mapmyrun.com)
· First Leg – Bangalore to Chitradurga: 4:44 AM to 5:45 PM total travel time – distance covered is 225 KM – average is 17kmph. Total break time is 2.25 hrs – average riding speed is: 20.5 kph
· Second Leg – Chitradurga to Hubli: 5:01 AM to 5:20 PM total travel time – distance covered is 220 KM – average is 17.5 kmph. Break time is about 2 hrs – average riding speed is: 21 kph
· I think if I was better prepared, averaging 25 kph would have been reasonable.
· Entire 450 km stretch had just two shelters on the roadside that were inviting to sit and relax. Both those places were very close to Hubli.
· Applying sunscreen lotion on the second day turned out to be a great idea, because for the entire day till I reached Hubli in the evening, hot sun was ogling every inch of me non-stop.