Limbering up

I nip into the washroom to give my reflection a quick but thorough scrutiny:

  1. Cheekbones: Prominent. (Ugh!)
  2. Tan lines: Why didn’t I wear something with longer sleeves? (Why!?? WHY!??)
  3. Waist: O! M! G! (I’m so dead!)

The phone vibrates.

“Coming! Coming!”

I sprint out of the exit terminal, stuff my not-at-all-sapient (sigh…) luggage into the boot, vaguely try to pull the sleeve of my tee down further, mutter an oath, suck in a rattling breath, and duck into the backseat.

One hour later…

“Arrey Mashi…, I eat enough for two people! Honestly! Pliss to be believing me!”

Ah, home sweet home!

Of the 25 years I have spent darkening this planet, the initial 16 passed in Burdwan, a small, quaint town around a hundred kilometres north of Kolkata. It’s a place of azure skies with fluffy clouds, verdant paddy fields, sparkling streams, ancient moss-stained mansions, and dark green marshlands dotted with morose old temples. The people are glib and suave, the vendors overly so. In fact, I would not be very surprised if there is a man somewhere feeling rather sheepish at this moment as he sits back and admires his purchase of the day: a dozen fluoro-green umbrellas, a honker for a Lamborghini and a nuclear submarine. I’m kidding about the submarine. It’s a loud and colourful town full of blustering madness, quite the opposite of what I enjoy being amidst; but I do like to come back here once in a while- because my parents live here, and because the sweets are succulent- and that is the root of half the problems in my life.

I own a fancy bicycle which I like to ride in and around Bangalore. I am a talentless twerp as a cyclist, as has been very generously and deliberately hammered into my psyche by people I am (un?)fortunate enough to call my friends, but I do enjoy riding my bike. It has brought me down to 64 kg from 80 (that’s where I had reached once upon a time, courtesy of the succulent sweets), my parents have made peace with their fate of having a son with cheekbones, and my uncles with the fact that their nephew will obstinately maintain for the rest of his life that he never wants to take after them, potbelly-wise. Inquisitions have been held, counselling sessions have commenced and have adjourned, promises have been made of debilitating and incurable diseases, and no amount of cajoling and threatening has been able to show me the errors of my ways so far. I like not looking like a chubby-cheeked Russian babushka. Deal with it.

The attempted brainwash and force-feed sessions aside, the visits are not that bad. I get to eat home food (heaven!) and to loaf around on the couch with the books and comics I grew up reading. It’s a peaceful life, mostly, except for the rare occasion when I take it into my head to take the traditional walk around the town. I have been told I would tire myself out, but the long legs and the base fitness of a road cyclist who frequently dares to race in the elite category have their unfair advantages.

Despite having grown up in the town, its sprawling maze of lanes and alleys and what passes for thoroughfares never ceases to amaze me. I stroll past the cool, shadowy university campus, through the corridors of the apparently deserted medical college, past the mouldering palace of the rajahs and under the Curzon Gate, towards my old school, and the river after that, wondering how it would be to bring my road bike here someday. I immediately decide I would have to be high on weed and liberal doses of coke with a dash of LSD thrown in to do that. Riding a road bike through that anarchic melange of pedestrians, steel bicycles, superbikes and electric ‘toto’ rickshaws, all rocketing around  without any apparent order or reason, promises to be a hair-raising experience. Well, no thanks, I’ll pass. The traffic here is an organism I never want to mess with.

I will not even talk about home food and the sweetshops lining the streets. It’s probably for the best that I don’t visit home so often.

This happens.

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Every. Damn. Time. Even when I have the BBCh Nandi Epic 100k coming up in three weeks. I come back to Bangalore cursing my sweet tooth, two weeks off the bike, 2 kg heavier and with my upper aerobic zones in tatters. Every. Damn. Time. So much for limbering up for the race.

But I DO need some time away from the lab once in a while. Ah, well, home is sweet home after all…

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Yercaud boot camp: Day 2

It was sooo cool and cosy. I had no body, no limbs. There was only a fuzzy sense of existence, like I was floating on water. But shouldn’t it be a little darker outside?

AAARRRGH!!!!!

8 o’clock! 8 bloody o’ clock!!

Yercaud was going to flambé us to hell today.

I had been very conservative on the descent the preceding day, my skills having rusted on account of not being within 10 kilometres of a hill since the July of 2015. I started today’ s descent to Kupanoor the same way, in Scaredy Cat Mode, through a narrow forest-covered road flanked by a valley on the left and a sheer, green wall of rock on the right. The corners were tight and technical, the grades a lot steeper than the day before. One glance at the left was enough to tell me what one small mistake might cost.

Wow! That’s a long way down!

After following Lee for about four kilometres, something clicked.

The world moved in slow motion as a deathly calm stole over me. All I saw, felt and heard were the road, the road and the road. No conscious thought was necessary as my body settled into the rhythm of the corners, as if I had been doing it for years.

“Six-lean-turn”

I had gained thirty metres.

“Six-lean-turn”

Fifty metres.

“Six-lean-turn”

I could no longer see any of the others, and no sir, I was not going to wait. The thrill of hurtling down that slender, sun-drenched pass had gone straight to my head.

“Sage Mode: Unlocked!”

Kupanoor was incredibly beautiful and bore an uncanny resemblance to the inside of the hot-air oven in my lab.


The size of the mountain that loomed over us caught me off-guard.

Whoa! We’re climbing THAT?”

I was a little scared, to be honest, especially given my record as a climber. But I’d fired a maha-dialogue at a lady friend, a few days ago, about how cyclists are tough as nails and tenacious as lobsters; and it was partly that and rule 5 combined and the mere fact that that hill was one hardcore *insert swearword* that made me hit it hard. I’m a badass. Period.

Two hours of agony, a lifetime of bragging rights!” was my motto that day.

 

Twig-man Leander prepping to eat the hill for lunch!

It was beyond agony. There was the heat and the pitiless sun that made me feel like I had second degree burns all over my body, there was the dehydration that made my mouth go dry in minutes, there was the boiling water in my bottles that did nothing to soothe my parched throat. There was the solitude that crushed my morale to a squelchy, gooey pulp. And then there were the worst of them all, the gradients that brought back, in a murky brown rush, all the excruciating memories of the 170 kg leg-presses at the gym. That crawl, up the tortuous grey slopes of that wild mountain, taught me new meanings of the word ‘pain’.

Here’s my ride data on Strava. I’d planned to do it at SST again, but my heart rate simply refused to go up!

Follow this link for an account of what we did on Day 1. This trip was a total success, as I surmised from the hand-clasp Sourav gave me and by the looks of how excited Leander was. Ankit took a wrong turn and had a lot more fun riding away at top-speed from a drunken man who wanted to test-ride his bike and, later, from a bull that I think wanted to test-ride HIM.

I felt a little sad while descending towards Salem for our bus back home, but I could not have asked for a better start to my holidays.

I’ll return to the hill someday when it’s a little cooler. And not just for riding. It’d be great to stroll down the road, find the spots where the views are the most magnificent, and just sit there quietly. There’s Heaven right there in all its resplendent glory. 🙂

Here are some photos and  a video from the day.

Yercaud boot camp: Day 1

I’m not a climber. I’m fat, my bike weighs a ton, and it has a huge-ass crankset attached which I can barely churn at 100 rpm on a flat road. But I guess I have suicidal tendencies, because when Sourav came up with the idea of attacking the two Hors Categorie climbs at Yercaud (A HC climb in the summer heat of Tamil Nadu can easily qualify as one of the most brutal methods of destroying your heart, lungs, legs and mind.), the first reaction I had was:

“When do we start?”

The when turned out to be at 3:15 a.m. on the 19th of March, which coincided beautifully with the beginning of my two-week exile from the lab (Boohoo! I’m weeping! NOOOTTT! I’m finally on a vacation!) Ankit turned up at the bus station bang on time, but where was our twig-man with the Dura-Ace Di2?

We called and messaged and swore and stamped our feet (almost), but there was no sign of life on the other side.

 “LEANDER WHEATLEY, YOU’RE DEAD TO US!!”

Well, not so dead. He woke up the following morning, realised (with horror, I hope.) that he’d kept his phone on silent mode, profusely apologised to us, called his girlfriend to a snappish “WHAT ARE YOU CALLING ME FOR? GO GET ON THE NEXT BUS!!”, and did as he was ‘advised’ (Lee, you lucky dog, you! *sniff*). All the better, since Ankit, Sourav and I could use the time it took him to get to Yercaud to squeeze in some extra hours of sleep. I had stayed awake the preceding night following a nearly popped vein in my brain, thanks to the bus conductor demanding 6000 rupees for the transport of our three bikes (He’d actually meant 600 but jumbled up the hundred and the thousand in translation. He can’t have been all that bright at school! Whoof!)

I had had a good look at the Salem-Yercaud climb from the auto to our guest house and, frankly, I was already in love with what I saw. My ‘skill’ at prose is insufficient to describe it, and I couldn’t possibly compose any form of poetry to save my life, so I’ll let the photos and videos do the speaking for me.

To be perfectly honest, you have to be there physically to feel the majesty of what lay before our eyes. The inadequacy of my vocabulary keeps grating against my ego.

The descent to Salem from Yercaud was exhilarating beyond anything I had ever experienced before, but there would be a steep price to be paid afterwards. 🙂

We began climbing back to Yercaud latish in the afternoon. I felt like I was being slowly roasted on a spit (Recall Bibhutibhushan’s description of an African summer in ‘Chander Pahar’. Imagine the boiler room of a steam ship if you can’t.). I could see Sourav and Lee about 500 metres ahead of me for eight kilometres, after which they were swallowed up by the folds of the switchbacks. I was now alone in my battle against gravity. Ankit was locked in his own struggle somewhere behind me. The heat was incredible. The water in my bidons had become scalding hot. Small sips followed by tiny squirts over my neck at regular intervals kept me going.

“Should I engage God Mode?” (I’ve described my God Mode elsewhere. It wipes my mind blank and brings my feeling of pain down to a minimum.)

I toyed with the idea for a while, and took a good, long look around me.

“Maybe not.”

I’d be doing a great injustice to the place if I fled within myself to escape the pain. So, amidst that heaven of craggy hills, refreshing verdure and sloping grey tarmac, fully aware of my screaming legs and burning chest, I climbed on.

Follow this link for an account of our shenanigans on Day 2. It was a lot harder and a lot more rewarding.  My apologies for the histrionics. I’ve been reading classics lately.

Here’s my ride data on Strava. I rode at the sweet spot of my power output, with occasional bursts on the hairpins. I’m happy that I never stopped, never panicked when half a dozen dogs gave chase, and especially that I never cramped. I HAVE gotten a lot stronger. 🙂
Follow this link for some photos from the day. There are some more videos (uncut and unabridged; pitifully short on time.) on my YouTube channel.