Monday, 2 April 2012
Did it ! Mumbai to Pune and back on a cycle: 329 km
Jaideep, Prashant, and I just cycled from Mumbai to Pune and back, covering a distance of 329km in the process !
As unbelieveable as that sounds, what is far more incredible, is that three idiots on a bike (I take liberty with my two friends here :) ), could raise more than 85 lakhs in ten days for children suffering from cancer (more details on the NGO below) !
Here is the detailed account of how it all took place for those willing to undergo the suffering of reading about our dream ride on April 1, 2012 (the irony of the date does not escape me).
How did it all begin ?
Jaideep and I have been friends since the past 12 years, and have always done our outdoor endurance runs together. As age and injuries have caught up, we decided to spend some of our time on a sport which is kinder to the joints, and therein was born the cycling bug. We did our first 100 k on May 3, 2009 and it seemed a big deal at the time. We did not increase mileage much, until we decided to do something truly challenging for ourselves and the decision to cycle to Pune was born sometime at the end of Nov, 2010. I was about to turn 40 in a year, and I would like to think that this was not a mid-life crisis decision (though I guess most men look for a fast car and a faster woman to tide over that one). We trained for it and closer to the big day, decided to use the 'event' as an opportunity to raise funds for St. Jude and Akanksha. We were very pleasantly surprised, when an email to family and friends ended up attracting more than 15 lakh Rs. in the span of a week (yes, it did help very much that one of us is an investment banker). During our training rides we bumped into Prashant and realized that we had one more guy who was crazy enough to come out cycling at 3 am on a Sunday morning when most people were trying to figure out ways to beat the breath analyzer test on the way home from a party. Prashant had spent many years biking in the US and even with very little training was able to ride along with us to Pune last year.
It would be fair to say that the 'athletic achievement' was the prime motivator last year, but this year we were driven by the desire to do something for the kids at St. Jude and knew it had to be 'special' for us to go back to our friends and family like Oliver Twist to ask for one more helping for a good cause. We threw around ideas, and 250 km came up as a real challenging number. We looked at the map and figured that besides Mahableshwar there was no other location which was specifically that distance away from Mumbai. We then thought about going to Pune and returning till the 250 k point, but somehow it did not sound right to say we will by cycling to Pune and back to somewhere between Khopoli and Panvel! On one of our training rides one of the three wise men (yes, i am being sarcastic) came up with the bright idea of going to Pune and coming back to Mumbai, and much to his surprise the other two wise men agreed. Technically one could start from Chembur and finish at Pune univ and return to Chembur, for a total distance of about 280 k. While that sounded most sensible (in a relative sort of way), the wise man suggested that if we were going for it, we might as well start from the tip of south Mumbai, so that we can do 320 km which in the endurance cycling world is known as a double century (200 km). Once again the other wise men agreed and the three idiots (and now I am not being sarcastic- ask our wives) were quite happy until they realised what this entailed.
The Actual Ride:
I will bore you with our training details in a separate blog, for those masochistic enough to take more of this, but to get back to the point, we were all ready in our cycling gear at the gates of Mumbai University, at 7 pm on 31st March, with our family and friends in attendance to flag us off. More importantly a group of young kids from St. Jude were there with a twinkle in their eye and a smile on their face (to avoid infection while undergoing cancer treatment, they wear a surgical mask, but the smile came through). Seeing them there deepened our resolve, and made me realise that those smiling faces would carry us through the next 15 hours, come what may. We were gaily dressed in bright yellow and black (no pun intended), colors of the LiveStrong jersey and cycling shorts. We have written to Lance Armstrong for his 'support' and not heard back yet, but will keep trying.
For the first 50 km till Panvel, we had the Mumbai chapter of Hell's Angels (a.k.a investment bankers in leather jackets and Enfield bikes) to be our outriders, and they were superbly effective at their task. The way they revved their mean machines to frighten away taxi drivers who dared to steer onto our path, made me shudder at the plight of the corporate folk they cut deals with during the day. Besides, I think the taxi drivers knew that Jaideep was on the road and they need to steer clear (sorry, thats an inside joke). Following close behind each bike was a car with drivers trained to stick to the cyclists rear wheel all the way through in a scene reminiscent of the Tour de france (minus the speed of the cyclists and the backdrop of meadows of sunflowers, though fuming trucks and ST buses more than made up for the ambience). I am convinced that Prashant's driver, Sanjeev has a job waiting for him in the professionaly cycling circuit, the way he nimbly cut off speeding motorists and dogs alike.
We hit Panvel at an average speed of 25 k/hr and were all set to leave after a quick food and 'call of nature' stop, when Murphy's law struck. Jaideep, who had not had a flat tire all season had a flat in the rear tire. Luckily we had spare tires (besides the ones around our waistline) and after a quick change we were on our way, only to be hit with another flat in my front tire. We tided through that one too, and were on our way to hit the Bhor Ghats from Khopoli to Khandala. It was a half-moon night and there is something surreal about putting all your effort in a concentrated manner on just one goal, which is to keep the pedals churning and moving the bike forward. The only other time you experience this complete laser sharp focus is weaving through Mumbai traffic (on your cycle)at peak rush hour and every sense you possess is heightened to a level of alertness you can never achieve in daily life. Once we passed the temple on the final bend, we knew the worst of the Ghats were over, and the only obstacle remaining in the next few km were the 'chasing dogs' which live on a strategic spot on the flat portion of the ghat, past the temple. Luckily they were not interested in our ankles this night, and that too passed.
We hit Khandala in 4 hr 26 min (sorry, but I am addicted to data), and took a pit stop at Kamats. I am convinced the right term is 'piss stop' since that is what really happens, but someone coined 'pit stop' out of politeness. The next stretch from Khandala to Pune saw us at our best, and as we were approaching Pune, I was convinced that we had this one 'in the bag'. I would pay for my optimism (the right word is 'cockiness') about six hours later, but thats another story. Prashant was his usual pragmatic ( i call it pessimistic) self, reminding me that it's not over till it is over, and of course he was right. At Pune university, we retreated to the warmth of our cars and got all geared up for the second half and took some pictures to prove we were really there. A group of policemen seemed quite amused to find 3 old men in spandex, cycling at 2:30 am, but were quite good natured about it and bade us well, as we left.
In the interest of finishing this before you fall asleep, suffice it to say that we had a strong ride till Khandala and thoroughly enjoyed the feel of zipping down the ghats with the help of the light of the moon (and our cars). At the end of 250 k all three of us were riding very strong, and all that remained was a short stretch home. To make the home stretch easier some of the Hell's angels had traded in their denim jackets for athletic t shirts and their Enfields for trek cycles, and joined us in our ride. Also, at Panvel we had a convoy of cars with family and friends following us.
Somewhere between Panvel and Vashi my body decided to remind me that it was sitting hunched on a cycle for the past 11 hours and that reminder did not go away till the finishing line. I freely admit that the last 25 k ( to use Jaideep's words) were 'not trivial'. What made it easier (or harder) was that both Prashant and Jaideep were riding wonderfully strong. We had decided to return via the 'long way' through Dadar, Worli, Peddar road and Marine Drive so we could ride along our home stretch, which further lengthened the ride by 9 km (another one of the brainwaves of the three wise men, which i was cursing at this point). Jaideep and Prashant were waiting for their laggard friend at Wilson college and we rode as a group, for our moment in the sun, with cameras flashing all round from cars of friends. As we rounded the Air India building bend one of the BEST drivers nearly knocked down some of the cyclists, and looked almost disappointed that he had missed such easy prey.
We entered the home stretch to be warmly greeted by the kids from St.Jude and suddenly all the pain and discomfort was over when we stood next to them to click our final pictures.
For those as crazy as me about ride stats, here is the garmin data from my watch. We did the 320 km stretch in 13 hr 11 min of ride time, and including stoppage time it was 14 hours 4 min. The 329 km, University to University stretch took a total time of 14 hr 30 min.
Below is a short write up of St. Jude. If you would like to donate please contact them or e mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will put you in touch with them.
St. Jude Child Care Centre: www.stjudechild.org/ St. Jude Child Care Centres is an organisation founded by Nihal and Shyama Kaviratne that provides free housing for children and parents that come to Bombay for cancer treatment. Typically, all these children live outside Bombay and are not in a position to take care of treatment AND pay for a place to stay. Most of their treatments are subsidised through various trusts that Tata Memorial, Wadia and Raheja hospitals recognise but what St. Jude does is make sure these kids finish their entire treatment by providing them with a place to stay and all the emotional support that comes along with it. At present they have 7 centres - 1 in Mhasker Hospital, 2 in Parel run out of the Indian Cancer Society building and 4 in Kharghar.