Pune to Pandharpur – Cycle Wari (Devotional Ride)
I am a rookie cyclist! Started somewhat serious cycling in March 2018, attempted my first-night BRM 200 on May 12th. Had been reading about the Annual Devotional ride to Pandharpur from Pune and back every year during the Palki organized by ICC (Indo Cyclist Club). Had never done a 200 km ride so waited until my first BRM 200. The first BRM triggered off the need to upgrade my bike with at least quick release wheels and I ended up getting a Trinx Free 1.0 in mid-May. Armed with a new bike and the confidence of the BRM I signed up for both sides of the ride on 21st May 2018. Ride date 7th and 8th July 2018. Approximately 450 + kms to ride over two days.
This is my story of how a rookie planned, trained and executed this trip both ways.
Planning, training, injuries
Completing the first 200 kms ride was a big confidence booster. However, I knew I need to train well to cope with two back to back double centuries.
The bike upgrade from a 19 kgs steel Kross Bolt to a 6061 frame Trinx at 14+ kgs gave me another boost. Right after getting the new bike I was sprinting on small climbs, and enjoying my speed gains. I decided to start a self-challenge of a minimum of 50 km ride for 10 days starting May 18th. I hit a 60 km ride on 18th May. 19th May morning I decided to ride to Khadakwasla and then to wakad to collect the bib for the COB night ride that day, hitting a 69 kms in the morning and another 55 kms in the evening with COB gang. I was late for the ride as I and cycle mechanic were trying to figure the reason for a weird knocking noise from the cycle and did a lot of high-intensity sprints to reach the venue. The new bike was feeling awesome. So a cool 120 + ride over the day. I did feel a slight pain in my left knee but I ignored it.
Tendon Injury Part 1
Day 3 of the self-challenge of 50 kms and I planned a ride with Suraj, my BRM partner. Being a Sunday we decided to ride to Hinjewadi phase 3. Lovely roads, empty roads. However, I started feeling intense pain near my patella (knee cap) on my left knee. I was finding it difficult to ride. We stopped and decided to head back. The knee pain had increased tremendously and I had to cycle back with a single leg for the last 20 kms on the return ride.
Reached home by 10:30 pm in extreme pain. Showed it to my in-house physio (read wife). She told me that I had injured my tendon because of the high-intensity sprints I had started doing all of a sudden and also because of the increased distances I was doing. She recommended rest and icing. I purchased a kneecap with patella support the next day from Decathlon.
Also, 21st May was the day I signed up for the Padharpur ride because I heard in some group that the registrations would be closed after 31st May. Even though I was injured I was sure that I would recover soon.
The recovery – Discovering speed at lower gears with high cadence
Got back on the bike with a small and slow ride on May 22nd, two days post the injury. I started focusing on cadence with riding lower gears. I was reading about tendon injuries and learning.
May 25th I tried my hand at a slightly longer ride of almost 50 kms however I ran a 38 chainring for the complete ride and was able to achieve avg speed of 26 kmph. This was an eye-opener for me because as a novice rider I always had the understanding that the best of speeds could only be achieved using the highest gear.
First brush with Headwinds
On 26th May, I planned a century ride to Chaufula for breakfast. This was the first time I would hit those roads on a bike. Knew the roads are flat on that side. This was a recce ride to understand the route to Pandharpur somewhat. My ride partner was slightly unwell and decided to head back after Loni. But encouraged me to go ahead with my century ride. I decided to go ahead and abandon a ride partner for the first time. But kept checking on my partner to check their location.
AliExpress.com Product – iGPSPORT IGS50E GPS Computer Cycling ANT+ Bike Wireless Computer Digital Speedometer Odometer Backlight IPX6 Waterproof ComputerBecause I was alone and the roads being flat, I was sprinting again, hitting an average of 27+ kmph for the first time. Decided to head back from Yavat instead of Chaufula after hitting 50 kms. The moment I crossed across the road I was hit by headwinds. I realized what headwinds were for the first time. The sun was showing up and the headwinds made it difficult. I still managed to reach back home in under 4 hours. My first-century ride at 26 + kmph. And this was my third-century ride ever.
Return of the Knee Injury
Next week I did a lovely ride to Bopdev ghat with two strong riders, Neville and Nishanth. And then quickly followed it up with a crazy sprint ride up to Urli Kanchan with this team. 70 kms again at an average of 25+. This ensured that my pain in the injured tendon resurfaced again.
I knew I was doing something wrong, riding a high chainring for the speed gains. I need to slow down but when I ride solo, I target the slow-moving two-wheelers and rickshaws for my speeds.
The next week, I decided to ride with Sneha. Having a ride partner ensured that I slowed down a bit. We rode almost 300 kms in 5 days in that week. The slow speeds and me riding in fixed gears helped the recovery of the tendon.
The Second Double Century – Pune-Bhigwan-Pune
I needed to do a double century and planned a ride to Bhigwan. The solo ride was so adventurous that this ride deserves a place of its own. Read my story of the second-century ride with 4 Punctures in a single ride. The story of the ride that I almost gave up.
But this ride taught me to fix punctures on the go and also taught me the skill to handle some crazy headwinds. I came back much stronger post this one solo double century ride.
Back to Back centuries
One thing I had still not attempted as yet ever was a back to back long ride. I had done centuries and double centuries but had always managed to have a rest day post that because of some reason or the other. So decided to and planned a back to back century ride over a weekend. July 16-17 I did two solo rides on the highway. One towards Lonavala and another towards Khed Shivapur. Both the days offered rains and strong headwinds. I tested my newly acquired rain jacket and realized that it was useless to ride with a rain jacket as
a. One sweats a lot within the rain jacket and I was wet anyways
b. Because of the sweat and the rain, I unknowingly managed to get dehydrated after the ride.
Ride to Kambhatki and the ride canceling second Tendon Injury
I followed the rest of the week with daily commutes on the cycle. I use a single gear Hercules MTB to commute around the city, averaging 15-20 kms a day. Hit another 130 kms ride to Mulshi on 23rd June and planned one last long ride with climbs on 30th June.
Set up my second date with Kambhatki ghat on 30th June. Started slightly late from home and had to end up sprinting a bit to catch up with the rest of the group. The beautiful rolling roads ensured that I continue my sprints at higher gears. I was managing 29 kmph average until the base of Kambhatki. While coming back I started experiencing pain in my knee, near the quads. Around 60 kms from home, the pain increased but I managed to cycle back home.
Realized I had ended up injuring another tendon this time. 6 days to Pandharpur ride and I had an injury again. That day I could not even climb stairs with the pain.
The recovery and test
I was heartbroken that I would need to pull out of the Pune Pandharpur ride. So much of planning and training was all going to be wasted because of my mistakes. I rested the next 5 days, no workout, no cycling. Iced the injury 4 times a day. Was using the car for my commutes and noticed that the pain was there while driving.
In the meanwhile, I messaged Ajit (Organizing tea), that I might not be able to come. His reply was “Anshuman you are coming, either on the cycle or coming to support us.” I decided that either I will cycle or support the team.
From Tuesday I started carb loading in the hopes that I would ride. Had set Thursday as a test run. Went out on a short commute on Thursday and another short run to Alandi on Friday afternoon. Felt no pain and I decided to take the chance.
Did extreme carb loading on Friday, had rice for 4 meals, with protein and ended up with a pizza for dinner. I had food which I normally have over two days. This carb loading strategy really helped me over the next two days.
Onward Journey- Pune – Pandharpur
Thankfully I woke up at 3:30 am as planned and did not have my usual waking up issues. Had packed everything the night earlier. Went to bed at 1:30 am. Waking up at 3:30 am was a great achievement. Spent the next one hour having my usual cup of black coffee sans sugar and also added a boiled egg for breakfast. Unfortunately the mess the day before had ensured that I did not get bananas, my usual long ride breakfast. Anyways the Vishranthwadi market was shut down with palki the next day.
The major problem was riding with two bags
I took one on the back and one in the front. Popped up the light and pushed the first pedal at 4:30 am. There was a slight drizzle and I was getting worried about the bag getting wet. Quickly reached Yerwada bridge, the meeting point and saw the Sunrisers (Vishranthwadi gang), Sashi, Vaibhav, Narendra Sir, Feroze bhai. We all decided to proceed to the Hadapsar meeting point. Reached Hadapsar meeting point, 13 kms at 5:15 am, average 22.5 kmph. The place was teeming with riders. Fantastic environment. Met Vijay Vasve for the first time and a few of our riders from my Bhighwan ride. Was looking for my group mates and located Prahlad Jani sir. He helped me load my bag onto the truck and once that was done, I was feeling a little lighter. Oh, Btw Prahlad Jani sir is 59 years old.
Ajit Patil flagged Group A at 5:50 am and I was still looking out for Dr. Dhanraj, our group leader. I was pretty much alone and decided to push ahead so that I might figure out where Group A guys were. Avinash Anushe zoomed passed me (on marshal duty), as we have never met before, I decided to pull next to him and say hi. We had a brief introduction and rode for almost 10 kms together before I let him go as I was riding on a lower gear with a high cadence. The aim was to ride with the 2nd chainwheel (38). I was still wary of my knee. Saw Sachin Goghare and started riding with him for a while and he asked me about the hydration point. The moment he asked me the question I realized he did not have a bottle holder, nor a bottle and was definitely struggling sans hydration in the humidity. I quickly pulled out my bottle and handed it over to him and asked him to drink. Post this I carried on ahead.
Much Needed Breakfast break
Reached Chaufula for breakfast by 7:45 am. Even with a smaller chainwheel I was being able to maintain a good speed. The average was hovering around 27 by now with 60 kms done. I had packed my pockets with energy bars and chikkis and was not planning on having anything other than tea. The ICC support team handed us two packets of lovely chikkis. I gulped down one packet as I had not had much other than the egg. Then I saw vadapavs being served and I could not resist the temptation. Dr. Dhanraj was there and so was Mayur from our Group. A cup of tea later, Dhanraj sir signaled that we should move. I started and noticed Dhanraj sir was still speaking. I decided to push ahead.
The Lonely Patch and finally finding a ride partner
2/3 kms from Choufula, I was joined by a bike rider who wanted to know every detail. This young fellow rode next to me for almost 5 kms until Patas toll. He told me that I was doing 30 kmph + which I knew (small confidence boost sans a speedometer). Post the toll, this rider incident got me slightly concerned. I could not see any riders ahead of me, nor behind me. Crossed Kurkumbh and rode ahead. This loneliness and concern were growing. I have ridden alone, however, I was not getting a positive feeling today. I stopped for a while to wait and have someone join me.
Mayur crossed me within 7-8 minutes and I started to roll, but I saw he was being followed by two teens on a motorbike, looked like Mayur was going through the same experience that I had gone through. I pretty soon realized that Mayur was riding at a much faster pace than me. I did not want to push much with my knee and tried to keep Mayur in my visible range and ride. Mayur slowed down a bit and we both caught up just before Bhighwan. I asked Mayur if he wants to stop for some great tea at Bhighwan but he refused citing the heat. I too thought this was better. Post Bhighwan we had a rolling terrain with small inclines which kept me interested. Mayur and I started interacting and chatting. This part of the ride was fun. We crossed the point where we were supposed to have Hydration support and saw no one. So we decided to ride. Mayur asked me if we should take a break and I realized that the lunch spot at Indapur was just 18 kms away. We decided to pedal on.
Lunch at Indapur- Pedaling 80 kms in less than 3 hours
Dr Dhanraj sir crossed us 2-3kms before Indapur. After a slight confusion on the directions near the bypass, we reached our Lunch spot. Hotel Mauli Prasad was our lunch spot. So we had covered 140 kms by 10:50 am at an average of 29 kmph, my fastest to date. We went in and the restaurant guys were surprised, they informed us that they were expecting us my 12 noon. The food would also be served by 12. Waiting for an hour for food was not what I had planned for. Asked Dhanraj sir if we should move ahead and have lunch on the way. He convinced me that we should rest. His statement was this “if we reach too soon then our families would think that we went by a motorbike.” Mayur added to this “Let’s go slow else families would start expecting us back home today.”
We decided to do some photo session, have a cuppa and drink water. While we were waiting, the rest of the cycle warkaris started to pour in and the environment went electric. Lunch was served by 12 noon and the food arrangement was super fantastic. Hot rotis, jira rice, dal and a sabji, with 3-4 pickles and thecha, all served with love. I picked up dal and rice, did not want to have rotis as I have been sticking to rice as a source of carbs. Kalyani had recommended that I have Dal Rice during a ride during my BRM preparation. I was done in 5 minutes however the team decided to have to their tummy full.
Lunch Done and we started rolling again
We rested for a bit and started rolling again by 12:45. With another 75 odd kms to go, we were confident that we would reach before 4 pm (actually hoping for 3 pm at the speeds we were doing). Mayur started his sprints again, but we all kind of kept each other in our visual range. Some distance ahead I had another motorbike guy slow down next to me.
Bike Guy: “Riding to Pandharpur?”
Bike Guy: What time did you start?
Me: 6 am from Hadapsar
Bike Guy: Don’t lie. A cyclist just told me that he started at 10 pm last night
Me: There are 200+ cyclists, everyone must have started at their time.
Bike Guy: mumbling something went ahead.
Later I got to know that he had been talking to Dr. Dhanraj and Dhanraj sir being himself, never entertains anyone on the road.
The final Tea break- Or was it?
35 kms were done quickly and we were trying to figure out the turn towards Pandharpur near Tembhurni. By now Dr, Mayur and I were riding together. Right after the turn, we were greeted by lovely two-laned roads and winds. Dhanraj sir asked us to take a break. Welcome break. We had 40 odd kms to go on two-lane roads and we were sure to get cross and headwinds. From my driving experience on this road, I was sure that this had some bad surfaces, some off-roading was needed.
We had tea and Mayur found some cold drink. We started rolling and I heard another group of riders call out to me. Apparently, Mayur had left his bottle and bag and was rolling happily sans the weight. I called out to Mayur but because of the winds, he could not hear. I decided to go back and pick the bag. Now I had two bags which was fine but how and where do I put the extra bottle? Decided to ride with the bottle in hand. Just as I was getting comfortable, saw Mayur coming back. He was enjoying the lighter ride but he realized what the reason for his joy was and quickly turned back.
The Final Patch was the roughest
The Headwinds and crosswinds were strong and I was finding it slightly difficult to catch up with Dr and Mayur. My hybrid bike was showing its difference. I decided to keep these guys in sight and keep rolling. 5 minutes into the last leg I started feeling slightly hungry, dug into my pocket and fished out a Unibic energy bar and started having it while still rolling. Halfway through the Unibic bar, I started feeling like I had hit a wall. I was completely out of energy and felt I could not push the pedal one more time. I fished out a chikki and quickly finished it. Did not want to stop as I would fall behind my group. Realized my greatest mistake here. I should have had something solid at my last stop. My lunch was small, though I had had Dal and Rice, however, the helping was very small. I had consumed the energy within the last 40 odd kms. The double dose of energy bar and chikki helped and I was rolling and had Dr sir within my sight, Mayur was gone, however. Crossed Dr. Sameer and gang ahead and we started rolling together.
The last Patch is always the most difficult
The road started becoming patchy and difficult. The surface was bad. Dr. Sameer fell back because he had a road bike. I could still manage with my gravel wheels on the hybrid. A km or so the roads absolutely disappeared and what we had was a mix of mud, gravel, and bumps. This continued for almost 6-7 kms. My hands went numb and the bumps and vibrations sent a sharp pain through my left knee muscles. Even with Good Gel gloves, I was struggling on the terrain, but the knee pain was what worried me. “Would I be able to ride tomorrow?” was the question.
Reached the railway crossing just at the entry of Pandharpur and Dr. Dhanraj signaled that we should stop for tea. 3:30 pm, 212 kms. I was more than happy. We both had tea, I had two cups and some 3 sweet buns. We rested for 30 minutes. Well, we were practically at Pandharpur so the break was ok. I looked at the cycle and saw it was rocking with the wind. Knew what to expect in the return ride. I thought the cycle might just fall with the wind.
Pandharpur you Beauty- Vithal Vithal
Pandharpur welcomed us with open arms and beautiful views. The clouds painted a gorgeous sky. We reached our stay at Gajanan Maharaj Mandir. 5-6 riders went straight in through the gate and were shooed away by the security guard. Hmm, so the people at Pandharpur seemed to be slightly rude and definitely not happy to see us cyclist. However, we had a gang of small kids follow us to the other gate constantly asking us for autographs. I was like “kids we have not done anything big here. We are mere mortals.”
However, seeing the enthusiasm we all signed the pages and posed for a few pics with the kids. It was some encouragement for the next generation.
The place was very peaceful. Reminded me of Shegaon. We figured our place of stay and the place was wonderful. On large hall with 250 odd beds. Reminded me of my school hostel. Absolutely fantastic arrangement by team ICC. However, there was one small problem. We reached early thinking we could quickly take a bath and settle, but the trucks with the luggage were still not in sight. Phone battery was dead and so was I.
Decided to get some sleep but couldn’t. The trucks with the bags reached at 7-7:30 pm. Prahald Jani sir helped me get my bag and we decided to have food first and then take a bath. Went to the food counter and were informed that someone from the organizing team needs to purchase the coupon for food. We were both hungry and decided to purchase the coupons ourselves and have food, anyways the cost was 35 INR each. The food was lovely as usual. Quickly had food and went to the dormitory.
Took a bath and we got to know that the organizers have been able to arrange a special vip darshan for the group at the mandir. The lovely and electric environment at the mandir was what we all were seeking. A quick darshan later I started feeling hungry again. Located Prahalad sir who was enjoying his glass of Masala milk. We headed to a small eatery right outside the mandir. I ordered Dal rice again and that must be the spiciest and tasty dal I must have had in my life. Finished one full serving and we headed back.
The dormitory now was lit with all the riders in. Medal distribution was going on. Met up Mayur and we discussed the plan to start at 5 am. Alarm set for 4 am, we hit bed around midnight. But not before a quick visit to the parking to check if the wheels and tyre pressure was alright.
I had a super peaceful sleep. One way done. Check out the return ride. Pandharpur Pune: Battle of the headwinds. How 100 cyclists started but only 30 made it back to Pune.
8th July day 2. Pandharpar Pune, the ride back. (Coming Soon)..