The intervening night of June 22/23 was different in more ways than one. Instead of the cool confines of home, I was out under the hot and muggy Delhi Sky, staring up at the distant stars. At home, I would have been woken up rudely and plastered with birthday wishes at the stroke of midnight while here I was all alone, barring a few drunkards floundering around in the dark night. Most of the other details are sketchy as I wasn’t completely in a conscious state and was fleeting in and out. At a certain point in time, I stopped trying to be awake and surrendered myself to the overpowering tiredness…
I was done with my one year at Wellington and was posted to a peace station as a staff officer. The past two years had seen me swell past my normal weight and I desperately wanted to reduce but evidently lacked the will to do it. Nevertheless, I resolved to reduce and to regain the military bearing that I had lost for quite some time now. Upon reaching the new location, I started with my regular 5 km runs in earnest. The time of the day became irrelevant as I began to cultivate a routine of sorts and set up my regimen. I did not try too many different things. Just 5 km each day combined with timely meals. The transformation that was supposed to happen did not quite materialise as 3 months thence I had just about shed 2 kgs. I was at my wit’s end to come up with new solutions. That is when I thought of pedaling alongside running. I had seen many fervent cyclists at Wellington but paid scant attention to this form of physical activity as I wasn’t too keen on it. But desperate times demand desperate measures and I plunged into it headlong. Being a complete novice, I depended on Google and a few experienced rider friends for inputs as to my first bike.
I settled on to a Hybrid bike as an MTB was not to my liking and a Roadie demanded an aggressive posture which I wasn’t willing to resort to. I reckoned that an upright riding posture would serve me well and the hybrid ticked all the right boxes. So one fine day in September 2018, I brought home my newest acquisition - a Scott Sub Cross 40. Riding it turned out to be more of an anti-climax! I didn’t quite enjoy my first ride - a paltry 16 km over an hour. I returned home questioning my judgement and contemplating the future. But because I had already invested a decent amount in the purchase, I decided to plough on. One hour of cycling a day was anyhow within my reach. So, for the next few weeks, it was running and cycling in tandem each day, week by week. The next couple of months brought a change. Not only in my weight but also in my mindset. I had started enjoying the solitary sojourns over the bike and steadily kept increasing the distances. I had hit a few 70s and 80s but the century ride was still alluding to me.
By December, I had reduced and reached the desired body weight and so the pressure to reduce further was off my shoulders. From now on, my cycling was just to fuel my interest, nothing more and nothing less. It still took me 6 months before I achieved my first Century and that gave me immense satisfaction. The long hours on the saddle were like meditation to me where I could interact with myself, look within, introspect, think, come up with solutions and start to value things more dearly. These things are difficult for a non-rider to comprehend but are gold dust to those who can understand.
By June, I reached my next milestone of 150 km. I felt more confident and assured about my riding and started asking myself ‘what next?’ That’s when I became aware of BRMs(Brevets des Randonneurs Mondiaux) and I started reading about them. I then knew what my next target was. For the uninitiated, BRMs (more commonly referred to as Brevets) are official cycling events organised under the Audax Club Parisien, France which is the umbrella organisation for cycling all across the world. At the national level we have Audax India Randonneurs(AIR) and under AIR are numerous Audax clubs strewn across the country. Each calendar year pans from 01 November to 31 October and the events are clearly spelt out in a coordinated annual calendar. Depending on one's geographical location and physical reach, one can opt to participate in any of the Brevets by registering oneself. There are mainly four kinds of Brevets; 200, 300, 400 and 600 km. Each Brevet is required to be completed in stipulated time for it to be counted as successful. Brevets are completely self-assisted which means that a rider is completely on his/her own with respect to administrative/logistical/miscellaneous issues. Anything contrary draws the attention of the organisers and a rider can end up being disqualified. Phew! That’s it for the explanation.
The First One - 200 km
Having decided to take the leap, I scouted for events around me and decided on the 200 km at Delhi on 22 June. I first took membership of AIR and was allotted my unique Rider Number. I promptly registered for the Delhi night BRM and lay in wait for the D Day. In terms of preparation, I had done one 150 km ride and quite a few 100s and was confident of pulling it off without too much of a sweat. As I entered the Brevet week, on Monday, I was down with fever. Tuesday continued in the same vein and I decided to take matters into my hand. I popped down Combiflam in a bid to suppress the fever. It worked as Wednesday and Thursday went by like a breeze. On Friday, I packed my bags and proceeded to drive down to Delhi. Saturday posed new challenges as I was hit by a bout of loose motions. It got me worried as the brevet was less than 12 hours away. I popped down a few more pills to quell the onset of diarrhoea. So as things stood at 6 PM on 22 June, I had successfully warded off fever and diarrhoea and was 100% fit for my first cycling challenge(apparently!). As I prepared to drive to the start point, my wife mentioned to me that I looked haggard and nervous. I brushed off her concerns with my characteristic nonchalance and told her not to worry. After all, this was just 50 km more than what I had already conquered.
We were a total of 18 riders who had registered for the event. These were low numbers considering that the event was happening in Delhi. But the June heat had compelled many a rider to not venture out for this ride. Most of the riders being localites knew each other well. I, however, was an unknown entity. As such, I was accustomed to riding solo and this was my plan for the brevet too. Satish sir was one of the organisers of the brevet and he briefed us all on the route from Hauz Khas to IFFCO and beyond. Preliminary briefing and documentation done, we shot ahead amid the rush hour Delhi traffic at the stroke of 8. A 200 km is required to be finished in 13.5 hours. So the deadline was 9.30 AM on the morrow. I tried to tag behind the other riders to avoid getting lost in the maze of NCR but the constant traffic signals played spoilsport and I ended up being alone after a mere 6/7 km. I tried to follow the Metro line and reach IFFCO chowk but still veered off track and had to stop, dismount, inquire from passers-by, mount and then proceed. This ate up time and I started lagging behind the other riders. On enjoining the Delhi-Jaipur highway, I heaved a sigh of relief but my Strava feed quickly made me realise that we had just covered 20 km. It was a still mammoth 82 km before the turn-back point!
I accelerated my bike to make up for the lost time. The ride on NH was like a roller coaster. You were either ascending a flyover or descending one. The flat stretches were far and few. Finally, after crossing the Manesar Toll, I glanced left to spot the Mc Donalds which was our first ‘Time Station’. I slowed down and entered the premises to see other riders making their way out after availing their quota of the break. My 5-minute halt consisted of a banana and a cold juice. Without pausing for long I made my way back to the NH and ploughed on. During the initial 50 km, I did realise that vis a vis the majority of the riders who were on Road Bikes, my Hybrid wasn’t the swiftest of the lot. This is not to say that Hybrids are unfit for brevets or long rides. There are numerous riders who compete with MTBs and Hybrids and accomplish with aplomb. But a Roadie has a distinct advantage that is not possible for others to match up to. The difference is more pronounced on climbs. The effort and output are simply not commensurate. Around the 60 km mark, I felt my legs cramping up. I immediately increased my intake of ORS to nip the cramps in the bud. By 70 km, the cramps spread and the body started acting up. By 80 km, I started vomiting and the only thought in my mind was to somehow reach the halfway point and take a ride back in the organisers’ vehicle. But fate had other plans. By 90 km, I was as good as done. I was barely able to stand, let alone pedal. I stopped at a Dhaba by the highway and dialled up the organiser to inform him of my condition. He advised me to stay put wherever I was and take a cab back to Delhi in the morning. Because I lacked the energy to even contemplate my options, I just looked at the lawn by the Dhaba, put my bike down, and collapsed on the grass without giving a dime to what the onlookers thought about this weird scene. The time was 0030. I had turned a year older!
In the early hours of 23rd June, once I regained some kind of sense, I dialled up my friend in Gurgaon and asked him to pick me up. Eventually, I was rescued at 8 AM and reached my guest room by about 11. I had to explain the sequence of events to my wife who could not decide whether to bash me up at the stupidity of it all or to sympathise with my condition. She settled on the latter and saved the former for later! This ended my first Brevet. I returned to base, dejected, disappointed and embarrassed.
The Post Mortem
The aftermath of the failed brevet was much more agonising than the experience itself. Self-doubts raised their ugly head accompanied by the concern from family, friends and seniors. Many told me that the incident was not to be taken lightly as it could easily have turned into a dangerous situation. I fully comprehended the fact and did not in the least bit mind the aggression displayed by many as it was just a different form of concern towards me. I was plagued with self-pity and doubts over my capabilities for many days after. It took me some time to realise that I should have paid heed to the body and not gone ahead with the ride. Hindsight! I decided to take it easy for some time and let the scars heal. I also resolved to be better prepared the next time. Of course, there was to be a next time. Of that, I had absolutely no doubts whatsoever.
I resolved to graduate to a Road bike. If long rides were to be competed and completed, I had to make this leap. After a lot of research, survey, speaking to experts and bike dealers, I zeroed in on my next bike - the Cannondale Synapse Alloy 105 which was one of the best endurance bikes in the market. I started practicing in earnest. There was no deadline in immediate sight but the clock was ticking. I adjusted quickly to the changed geometry of the bike and my speed improved along with the average. Confidence made its way back and I truly believed that the Delhi 200 km was an aberration. I started scouting for my next brevet location. There was a 300 km at Sonipat but I was sceptical of attempting a 300 km and instead wanted to finish the 200 km first. Amid this tussle of ‘should I? Shouldn't I?’, I called up Satish sir (the Delhi organising team) to clear my mind. He agreed that I needed to attempt a BRM sooner rather than later and advised me to go for the 300 km. As an afterthought, he added that he would ride alongside me in the brevet too. That gave me the added confidence and I signed up for the event.
Sonipat 300 Km/31 Aug 2019
Brevets in India are generally organised on Saturdays (exceptions exist of course). So the modus operandi for me was to take a days leave on Saturday, leave the office by late afternoon on a Friday, pick up my stuff and drive to the event location, crash in upon reaching the venue, grab whatever sleep I could manage, get up early, finish my stuff, grab my gear and report to the start point at least 30 minutes prior to the ‘GO’, finish the event, go back to the room, refresh, change, grab my stuff again, drive back to home on Sunday, reach home by midnight (if I were lucky) grab whatever sleep I could manage and reach office on the Monday by 8.30 AM. Sounds hectic, isn't it? It is! But there was no other way I could accomplish these goals. Blame it on my place of posting, what else?
So I followed the same routine to reach Sonipat and was barely able to sleep for a couple of hours. I made a mental note to not think about my sleep deprivation as the mind is fully capable of playing games en route. I reached the start point and was met with a very warm response from the event organisers. Anand Ji was a genial and generous person who was extremely adept at organising brevets with loads of attention to each rider. I couldn’t have chosen a better venue to kick start my BRM journey. The documentation was done in a jiffy and all other last-minute checks and measures taken. Satish sir had reached too and we were a total of 4 riders in the 300 km category and 4 more in the 600 km. At 5.15 AM, we shot off from Sonipat. I tried to maintain a good speed in the initial part at least till 100 km. The time of the year was such that beyond 9 AM, the Sun would beat down on us and the going would be slow, painful and harsh.
I started tagging a couple of riders who were in the 600 km category. They were cruising at a decent speed and it suited me. We crossed the first time station at 45 km comfortably and thereafter I teamed up with Satish sir to continue the ride. At 9.30 AM and 105 km, we halted for our breakfast. During long rides, what you eat is important as the stomach should not be burdened with spicy junk which would later keep tormenting the rider. My funda is to eat less and drink more. By the time we finished our Parathas, the Sun was out in full glory and scorching up everything and everyone. We resumed our ride but made slow and painful progress. The series of flyovers made sure that we were climbing up and down constantly. At 140 km, Satish sir halted due to cramps and asked me to continue. My plan was to hit the next time station which was at 178 km and then wait for him. The going was extremely difficult. It was very hot and very humid. I had to constantly tell myself to keep going. At times like these, the speed and average do not matter at all. What matters is whether we are moving or not. At a snail's pace, I continued on and reached the time station at 2.30 PM. I was exhausted. The climate was taking its toll and I had to gulp down ORS and cold juices to attain some modicum of normalcy.
We resumed at 4 PM when Satish sir joined me in a not-so-good state. He was cramping up due to the heat and had to rely on fluids to keep him going. We decided to be practical and take a break after every 20 km. We halted in between for an evening snack and then dinner. At one point, it was 80 km in 4 hours to finish the ride. I was beginning to feel that we might just miss the cut-off time. But the weather had cooled down considerably and the cool breeze was making it easy to pedal. We finally reached the endpoint at 12.15 AM. A total of 19 hours and 15 minutes taken out of the stipulated 20 hours. Finally, I was a Randonneur! I accepted the finisher medal from Satish sir because he had been a constant voice of motivation and guidance. It was extremely satisfying to finally bury the ghosts of Delhi and finish the event. I went back to the room, freshened up and quickly caught a short nap before I proceeded home the next day.
Delhi 400 km/07 Sep 2019
After the 300 km, I wanted to give adequate rest to my body to recover. The Delhi 400 km brevet was the next Saturday. I hadn't given it any thought even till the middle of the week. But by about Thursday, I started thinking about participation. Most plans are made on a whim and this was one such decision for me. I spoke to Satish sir (who was in the organising team this time) and registered for the event. Followed a similar routine like the previous week and reached Gurgaon by Friday night. My accommodation was very close to the start point so that I don’t waste too much time commuting to and from the venue. One successful brevet under my belt had made me more confident and self-assured.
We started at 4.30 AM the next morning, a total of 9 riders. In the initial part of the ride, I tagged behind a very strong rider – Kanwar Gill. He was cycling at a rapid pace and I tried to keep up with him for as long as possible. It was at the Daruhera flyover that I let go of him as I realised that in trying to match pace, I might end up getting cramped. I maintained a steady pace from thereon but was solo. Halted at the time station at 110 km, got my brevet card stamped, had breakfast and moved on. Since it was already past 9 AM, the Sun began to make our journey tougher. The period between 10 and 4 is the toughest because of the climate. I have realised that the only solution to not getting stuck is consuming plenty of fluids and taking regular breaks. This period has the potential to derail any rider who is not mentally hardened. I keep telling myself aloud - “keep going, keep going”. So, I kept going and reached the halfway mark at 1.30 PM. 200 km in 9.5 hours was not at all a bad speed. Kanwar Gill and Kamal Bisht were the two riders ahead of me and I felt content with my progress. Had a bowl of steaming hot Dal/Rice, filled up my bottles and made a move on to the return leg along with one more rider – Gaurav who was riding immediately behind me. We decided to ride together since riding solo at night may pose certain challenges.
Our return leg was mostly uneventful, barring the severe cramps that I started getting beyond 250 km. The cramps were restricting my movement and I had to manage them well to have any chance of finishing the ride. I made it a point to consume ORS at every break and not speed too much and end up cramping my thighs more. The last 50 km was very difficult. The fatigue and sleep deprivation were getting ominous and we had to really fight hard to stave off both. Beyond the Manesar Toll, I felt as if the entire nature was conspiring against me. The 15 km to the finish point was never-ending! After stumbling for a while in the late night Delhi traffic and breaking a traffic rule or two, we finally trudged into the finish point. 400 km done in 21 hours and 15 minutes out of the stipulated 27 hours. My second finisher medal! 400 km brevet was my most satisfying ride. For the most part, I was solo and I could regulate my speed and the breaks as per my requirement. And I finished the ride with oodles of time to spare. Went back home the next day with little fatigue and a lot of confidence.
For starters, there are lots of French words associated with cycling, France being the hub or the nerve center of the sport since times immemorial. A Super Randonneur is someone who finishes the entire series of BRMs (200,300,400 & 600 km) in a calendar year. A calendar year is the duration from 01 November to 31 October. That’s the story of who gets to be a Super Randonneur(‘SR’ in short). To put things in perspective, there are riders in India who have attained 13 SRs in a single year and still going strong!
After completing the 400 km, I started contemplating on trying to get my SR in the year 2018-19 itself. Since I had started my BRM journey on 31 Aug, I had exactly 60 days to give it a go. So I was left with the 600 and the 200 km brevets. The 600 km brevet was scheduled for the immediate next Saturday of my 400 km. I was almost certain that my body won't recover in such a short span and was not keen on the ride. I started looking for other options in October. But by the middle of the week, I felt ok and decided to attempt the ride. By then, three riders had confirmed participation and I would be the fourth. All three riders were known to me. The first being Satish sir, the second being Anant who was with me in my failed 200 km and Kamal Bisht who was in my 400 km ride. Known faces were one more reason why I decided to participate. Noida Randonneurs were organising the event and that was when I met Mr Deepender. He was a successful PBP finisher and had many feathers in his cap. Over the course of the brevet, I was bowled over by the efficiency with which he conducted the brevet including a dash of personal touch that is so very important but often ignored by many.
Noida 600 km/14 Sep 19
I decided to alter my routine a little for the 600 km. Because we would be riding this distance with a stipulated time of 40 hours, I wanted to rest adequately before the commencement of the event. So instead of leaving home on Friday, I went a day prior and ditched self-driving, taking the bus to Delhi instead. Got my bike packed carefully and got it assembled at Noida. That gave me a crucial 24 hours to rest, recuperate and prepare mentally. I also made a tentative time plan of the ride which indicated the time by when we should be reaching a specific time station and the expected short and long breaks. If all went as per plan, we should be back at Noida by 5 PM on Sunday(in 36 hours). Three of us decided to stick together whilst Kamal Bisht went solo.
Either it was nerves or plain rotten luck that I slept fitfully the night prior. I tried every trick in the book to shut my eyes and sleep. But it evaded me with as much determination if not more. I would have eventually fallen asleep at 2 AM or so which gave me a couple of hours at the maximum. I woke up suddenly to realise with shock and horror that I’d overslept. We were required to report at the SP by 4.30 AM and that was precisely the time that I woke up. I promptly gave a call to tell the organiser that I would be late but will make it by 5. Quickly finished my morning routine less the bath (which I was very determined not to miss as it was a 600 km ride and God knows when I’d get to shower again!) and rushed to the SP which was thankfully a five-minute ride from my hotel. I only had time to sign the waiver form, collect the brevet card and grab a banana before we set off for the ride.
Initially, we were to take a loop in Greater Noida itself and then head North-East out of Delhi and on to NH1. It was a swift 50 km in Noida and by the time we exited Delhi, we had covered close to 100 km. It was also nearing 9 AM which meant that the Sun was out to roast us to ashes. It was unbelievably and unbearably hot that day. I had separated from my co-riders and aimed to halt at Chokhi Dhani which was a time station at 130 km. The time was 10.30 AM and it was raining heat and humidity. Sat down for a simple yet hearty breakfast which I washed down with a glass of cold Lassi. I waited for both my co-riders to join in to resume the ride. It turned out to be a long break as we could resume only at 11.45 AM. The next time station was at 180 km and it was a slow, grinding and painful ride till there. Multiple breaks were required to keep the body hydrated and cramp-free. We eventually reached the location at 2 PM and had our lunch.
180 km done, 175km more till the ‘turn back’ point at Rajpura. I had calculated that we should be reaching Hotel Mayur at Rajpura (355 km) by 11 PM and grab a quick nap preceded by a welcome shower and change of riding gear. Upon resuming our ride post-lunch, it seemed very much possible. We rejoined NH1 at Panipat and continued straight thereon. Regular breaks to compensate for the fatigue and hydration were part of the routine and we followed this religiously into the late evening. Sundown brought the much-needed respite from the heat and our speed improved. The 11 PM deadline still seemed within grasp. But long dinner break followed by unscheduled stops to repair a rider’s flat tyre impinged on us and we slowed down dramatically. It is really difficult to repair a puncture in utter darkness on a desolated stretch of the road, not once but twice. Apart from that, fatigue was setting in and the body started to lapse into a sort of trance that was a result of the sleep deprivation. There were times when I felt myself slipping into the realms of sleepfulness. I had to resort to constantly talk aloud to myself to ward off the sleepy state. I was singing songs, pinching myself and shouting out loud to stay awake. “Lage Raho” was my constant mantra. That was a tough phase of riding. I was just looking forward to the cold shower and my quota of sleep and motivating myself. Because of our deteriorated speed and unceremonious punctures, our time plan went awry and we reached Hotel Mayur at 2.30 AM - well past the intended time.
I quickly calculated that we barely had an hour to freshen up, sleep and start back if we had to honour our own timelines. My co-riders crashed to a desperately needed sleep while I went in for my shower and got into my fresh riding gear. I set an alarm for 4 AM, giving myself just 45 minutes of sleep. But as was expected, I overslept and woke up just short of 5 AM and commenced my ride back at 5 sharp. My decision to ride back solo was purely based on the time available for us to finish the ride. I felt bad at parting company of the other two, but that was a tough call to make.
The ride to Ambala was slow and tedious. I had not slept adequately and the sleeplessness translated on to the ride too. I was struggling to keep awake and was waiting for the Sun to come up to jolt me out of this half-awake state. At 7 AM, I halted for breakfast to replenish my energy and to shake off the lethargy. Upon resuming, imagine my surprise at crossing both my co-riders ahead of me! They had woken up immediately after I left and quickly changed and resumed the ride. I was happy to get their company again and regained my chirpiness of the day back. After covering some distance together, both of them halted for their breakfast while I continued on.
I had made a mental calculation as to where I would be reaching at specific timelines. I wanted to stick to these timelines come what may. This second day of riding was way hotter than Day 1. It was very slow going. There are times like these when I start questioning my decision to undertake such rides/experiences. Despite the heat humidity, fatigue and sleep deprivation, there was a zing in my step as I knew that I was very close to realising a dream that I had not thought of accomplishing just a few weeks back. I hit the penultimate time station (470 km) by 10.45, 15 minutes before what I visualised, so I knew I was on track. There I realised through the WhatsApp group that Satish sir had quit at 450 km because of acute knee pain. I felt saddened but moved on. My next and last time station was 80 km away and I wanted to reach there before 3 PM.
There was only one thought in my mind - ‘Keep moving’. The lure to stop and rest was too strong but my ride would have been jeopardized if I did that. The saddle sores were troubling me too. It was already 30 hours on the saddle and that part of the anatomy had undergone a fair deal of wear and tear. In short, the body was screaming out for rest but the mind was hell-bent on pursuing. You know who’s voice I heeded to! I reached the last time station at 2.45 PM. Again a few minutes early to what I set myself. I recharged my water bottles but refrained from having lunch. My last meal was at 7 AM but I had been snacking on a couple of protein bars and bananas while on the move and hence decided against wasting time over lunch. Anyways I had a little over 50 km to cover to the end and I could eat in peace once I was done with the ride.
From hereon, since we were entering Delhi, I put on the navigation on my phone to negotiate the myriad of roads and reach Noida ASAP. Thus commenced the most torturous phase of my ride. For one, it started raining and that distorted my ability to see clearly despite my goggles. Secondly, it was so very difficult to ride in the traffic where a cyclist has NO right of way at all. There were vehicles that were passing me within a whiskers distance. I could not understand whether to keep left or to keep right. The number of turns that had to be taken did not make the task any easier either. Constantly cursing the traffic, I made gradual progress. I finally entered Noida by 5 PM. It took me half an hour more to navigate through to the finish point. At 5.30 PM, I had finished the longest ride of my life! Deepender sir stamped my brevet card and congratulated me. Kamal Bisht had finished at 5 PM and I was 30 minutes behind him. Unfortunately, Anant too had dropped out at 500 km due to a technical fault in the bike. Of the three of us who were riding together, I was the only one to finish. It was disappointing to not have finished together but that’s life. Frankly speaking, I wasn’t overcome by a surge of emotions or something. The immediate concern in my mind was to reach the hotel, take a bath and change into a fresh pair of clothes. My saddle sores were bothering me a lot. It almost felt that my bottom was on fire. I slowly made my way to the hotel in my wet and rain-soiled riding gear.
Upon reaching, I requested a cup of tea and went in for the bath. My entire body was itching due to the dirt and grime of two days. My arms and legs had completely blackened and I surely would have lost a couple of kilograms of body weight if not more. After changing into fresh and sweat-free clothes, I dumped all my riding clothes into a separate cover and packed up my stuff. Thereafter I made my way to the Bike Shop to get my bike packed since I had a train to board on my return trip home. All that done, I treated myself to some high calories and tasty food. I was starving! All things done, I boarded my train and had a hearty dreamless sleep on my way home. Back to the office by 8.30 AM!
Sonipat 200 Km/ 21 Sep 19
The only thing still standing between me and the SR was the 200 km brevet. Sonipat Randonneurs were organising a 200 km on the next Saturday and I did not think twice to make up my mind. After a series of long rides, I was confident this time of tackling it with considerable ease. I reached Sonipat on Friday night and caught on to my much-needed sleep. I did observe that my legs were cramping up during the night and I made a mental note to consume electrolytes more often during the ride on the morrow. We were just three riders in the 200 km category. Kamal Bisht was riding with me third time in a row and along with us was an enthusiastic youngster named Nitin.
It was mostly an uneventful ride and I had a singular aim to finish within 9 hours (stipulated time was 13.5 hours) so that I had enough time to drive back home for dinner. Needless to say that it was very hot as is the trend during the September months in North India. It was overcast so the humidity was an additional bonus. Kamal Bisht and Nitin were riding together and I was solo. I took only one long break for breakfast at the halfway point and turned back on the NH1 towards Sonipat. Eventually, all three of us finished within 5 minutes of each other. I took 8 hours and 50 minutes. It was a satisfying ride. I was finally a Super Randonneur! Life had come full circle as 3 Saturdays ago, my Randonneuring journey had commenced at Sonipat and it had reached a sweet spot today at Sonipat itself. After a flurry of photos to commemorate our feat, I started for home at 3 PM and reached in time for Dinner.
Cycling is fun, it's healthy and it teaches life lessons by the dozens. When I started cycling, I realised that it is monotonous and boring to ride solo. But over a couple of rides, I found it to be the best exercise to speak to myself. Introspection takes place when it is calm and peaceful and both are available in abundance when one is cycling solo. I started comparing my solo rides to meditation. If conversing within oneself is not meditation, then what is? There are times when relentless headwinds make one's going very very tough and a cyclist blames the winds for the slow pace. There are also times when tailwinds push the speed beyond one's expectations but generally these are not acknowledged by the rider who commends himself/herself for achieving those speeds. This is very akin to the support that we receive from our family and friends. When there is ample support and we do well, we hardly acknowledge family and friends. But when life goes through turbulence, one doesn’t shy away from laying the blame squarely on lack of support.
When heat, rain and climate hamper the smooth progress of the ride, a cyclist has to bid time, keep moving and wait for the phase to pass before accelerating and making up. When situations are favourable, one should pedal as quickly as possible to compensate for the lost time. Even life, in general, is like that. It won't always be possible to encounter green pastures but we must have patience and bid our time in waiting for the fair weather and calm seas.
A question that I encounter most often is - "How do you take out time for all this?" And better still, some people decide unilaterally and tell me - "You have too much time on your plate". There are times when I don't bother to answer. Time is finite. 24 hours a day. No doubts about it? How one manages that time is what matters when it comes to activities like these. One can choose to sleep till 9 AM on a Sunday morning. Completely own choice. I look at Sunday as an opportunity for longer rides/long runs. My Sundays are much more hectic than normal weekdays. In Summers, I wake up at 3 AM and am out riding by 3.30 AM. The plan is to finish 100 km and be back before the Sun is too brutal - probably 8 AM. There are times when I ride from 8 PM to 4 AM and then reach the office by 8.30 AM. This is a choice that I make to accommodate my plans and my ambitions. Yes, there are times when one has to compromise on sleep and comfort. But till the time it is within permissible health limits, I don't see why one cannot do it. Provided, of course, that the will to do it is stronger than the will to laze around or lie in bed.
Tips For Beginners
For anyone who wants to exercise, challenge oneself, lose weight, or just want to try something new, cycling is the perfect recipe. Before investing in the gear, I would suggest a newbie read up and educate oneself. There are three types of bikes – MTB, Hybrid and Roadie. For someone who is inclined to go on cross country and rough riding through trails, the MTB would suit the needs. For someone who intends to ride purely on roads and doesn’t mind the riding posture of a roadie, the road bike would be apt. And for someone who wants to do a bit of both and wants an upright riding posture, the Hybrid would suit them. It is a call one has to make based on his/her requirements and reading up from the net or consulting with people who know their stuff.
Apart from the bike itself, the riding gear is equally important if not less. Some of the riding gear is meant for the personal safety of the rider. The helmet, the front and rear lights, etc. Some are important for the overall comfort and health of the rider. The gloves, goggles, cycling shorts, cycling jersey, etc. Some are for utility purposes like the saddlebag or the top tube bag which can store one's mobile phone, power bank, knick-knacks, etc. and there are a few that are an absolute must for long rides – spare tubes & tyres, puncture repair kit, electrolytes, energy gels, protein bars, spare batteries, etc.
One can start with small rides and gradually go on to longer ones. The bike fit, upon purchasing a new bike is very important. If the bike is not suitable for the rider, he/she may end up with niggles and pains which would deter a person from future rides. Riding solo or in a group depends on one's own need as also on the availability of a group in the near vicinity. Both have their fair share of Pros and Cons. Learning to perform minor repairs should eventually form part of a rider’s skill set. The next step in evolution is to participate in brevets and subsequently take on ultra rides like 1000 km, 1200 km and 1400 km. Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP-1200 km in 90 hours) is considered to be the pinnacle of an amateur cyclist’s riding journey and a successful finish would mean that there is little to achieve further in one’s quest to keep scaling greater heights. PBP is organised once in 4 years with the next one in the year 2023. London-Edinburg-London (LEL-1400 km in 112 hours) is a similar event which is also organised once in 4 years with the next one in the year 2021.
My cycling journey (till now) has been heavily dependent on the support I received from family, friends, colleagues, co-riders and the organisers. The biggest sacrifice has come from my wife and son who have foregone the leisurely Sunday outings because of my long rides and still never rub it in. There is tremendous pressure on the immediate family when we undertake long rides because of the safety, fatigue and other issues and it is commendable that they agree to everything despite worrying about you. For that, I credit my wife, son and mother for standing by me and my crazy riding plans. Without their complete and unrequited support, my rides wouldn’t have been possible. There are many who appreciate and laud each achievement through platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp and provide another source of motivation. Thanks to all of them too.
To those who felt like embarking on this journey, pick up a bike soon. For those who did not feel like it, find your own mojo before it’s too late for that.
Cheers and Happy Miles!
About the Author
Lt Col Sriram is an alumnus of Sainik School Korukonda and National Defence Academy. He predominantly played Hockey during his school and Academy days. He took to cycling with an aim to get fitter and started with a Hybrid bike. As he steadily started crunching miles, he felt the need to graduate to a roadie and get into the Audax Rides. He completed his first Super Randonneur title in 21 days over rough weather which further fuelled his cycling aspirations. He completed a 1000 km brevet by riding solo in 68 hours from Bathinda and recently took on a 5 Day SR challenge over the mountains of Himachal Pradesh. He says that Cycling liberates him, it's like the purest form of meditation and hopes that more people take up this wonderful hobby.
You can access my blog library at - http://ikki377.blogspot.com/