Pandharpur Pune- The Cycle Warkaris Return
After the epic journey of 250 cycle warkaris on day 1 from Pune to Pandharpur, and the special darshan of Lord Vitthal and Rukmini, some 130 of us went to bed dreaming of and planning of the return ride the next day.
4 Hours of Sleep Again And NO Tea
The alarm went off at 4 am and I opened my eyes and noticed quite a few people were already up and all ready to push the pedal. Saw Mayur trying to locate me (I had given an incorrect bed number by mistake). The first thing I checked was if the cycling shorts had dried. I only had one pair of these Btwin gel shorts, the other pair was normal padded shorts. Thankfully the gel shorts had dried. We all quickly got fresh and packed our bags. I stepped out on to the road to look for some tea, but no luck.
Came back to pick my bag and Sidhu bhai was sitting right there, a quick chat later we realized that we have all decided to ride together. I knew that this ride is going to be fun.
The Day Started with a Loss
We all got together at the gate, all set to start our return journey. My knee was not hurting and I felt confident, no sore muscles too. Sidhu wanted to wait a bit and have the breakfast being served at the mandir, the arrangement done by team ICC. Dhanraj sir was against the delay and moreover, he wanted us to have tea. I was happy with the idea of having tea. Just as we were starting I noticed that my dear Mi HRX fitness band was missing from my hand. It was loose already and must have fallen off somewhere. I went with a torch looking for it, but no luck. I guess God wanted me to deposit something at Pandharpur, so be it.
We started at 5:30 am and just as we were exiting the city found a small tea shop. Filled up on some garam garam Poha and tea. The guy had just made poha which was just enough for 6 people. Well, who would have poha at a small shop in a small town that early? We made his day. Started rolling at 6 am.
Rains Headwinds and the Peleton
Once we left the city we were greeted by some lovely landscapes, lush greenery, trees and two-laned roads. Mayur and I started sprinting. However the sprints were short-lived, the headwinds were growing and we were not sure of the directions. So we waited for Sidhu and Dr sir to join. Sidhu threw open the idea of riding in a peleton and I grabbed the idea. I had been looking for a team to try out a peleton for a long time. Sidhu and Dr. Dhanraj had done a few rides together and hence had the experience. Mayur joined our peleton for a while and then got bored of it. Also, it started raining and the peleton riding got slightly difficult with the muck and water flying off the wheels.
We were maintaining a healthy average of about 24 kmph. We decided to take a small tea break at Velapur. Roughly 30 + kms, time 7:20 am. We were wet and the warm tea did a lot of help. Sidhu who does not have tea at all had two cups. He was also complaining that his wheels feel slightly jammed, we inspected and found that his disc brakes cable were pulled too tight. Sidhu was able to quickly fix it. Seems he was riding like this all day today, the damage happened the previous day on that rough patch before Pandharpur.
Tea Breaks Were Our Friend
We started rolling again soon and the rains disappeared. The headwinds were getting more difficult with the day. We pulled off for another tea break soon enough, this time at Malshiras. 18kms in this small session, slightly less than an hour. We needed frequent breaks today because of the sore backs we had from the second day of riding. We gulped down some lovely cookies. I was already hungry and so I also had an energy bar. We ended up taking an almost 30-minute break. But with the headwinds, this was needed.
The Breakfast at Natepute
We pushed for another 18 kms and reached Natepute, 70 km mark, 10 am. All good till here, average around 23 kmph. Team ICC had arranged a lovely breakfast at hotel Pahunchar. ICC team were slightly worried as the scheduled time was 9 am and we the first gang who showed up at 10, such was the effect of headwind. On our Pune Pandharpur journey we had not taken breaks for 70 kms at a stretch and here we had already taken 3 in 70 kms.
We loaded up on Poha, tea, water, bananas and some black rock salt shots courtesy Sidhu. 30 minutes and we started rolling again.
It was very important that we kept eating as we were spending a lot of energy for a very small distance.
We Fought Headwinds with Peleton and High Cadence
The peleton and the high cadence on low gears that we were doing was the key to us getting some decent speeds even in such adverse conditions. I was running a 38 chainwheel in the front and an 18 or 16 in the rear for most of the day. The gearing I would use for a grade 5 + climb.
The Most Difficult ride till date
I decided to start ahead after the breakfast as I was sure that Dr and Sidhu would catch up soon. I rode alone for about 15kms fighting the headwinds. Mayur, as usual, had sprinted ahead. Even after the heavy breakfast, I felt the need to munch on an energy bar. I was constantly looking behind to see if my peleton team was nearby. 15 kms later I saw them, I slowed down a bit to let them catch up. Sidhu overtook me and asked me to join the peleton, I joined at the end and I cannot put to words my feeling. Having ridden alone for 15 kms battling headwinds alone, joining the peleton was heaven. The advantage of peleton was absolutely clear.
The Black coffee break
We continued for another 35-40 kms before we decided to take another break. Phaltan was where we halted. We needed some water and the team needed some cold drinks. I was happy to manage to get some black coffee.
Dr. Dhanraj felt that his wheel was less on air. Well after that headwind session we all felt that there was something wrong with our bikes. Mayur’s front wheel, however, had a small stone which had made a hole in the tire and probably the wheel. He pumped in a bit.
We quickly started again and the next target was lunch at Lonard, 23 kms.
Lonard had different plans
With an early start again I was ahead. The headwinds were now at 30+kmph and all we saw was inclines. Dr. Dhanraj caught up soon as we two pushed together. Some 5-6 kms down the line we saw Mayur towing his bike on a motorcycle. He had a flat. A good gentleman on the motorcycle had been very kind to drop Mayur to our lunch spot. Mayur was struggling to hold the bike. I recommended that he load the bike in between him and the rider and he was very much comfortable.
Dr sir and I were pushing our heart out against the winds and inclines, giving up was never on the plate. We decided to take a small break near a tea stall and wait for Sidhu to catch up. I checked and found that we were roughly 7 kms from the lunch spot. We had some chakli from the stall. Sidhu came in after 10 minutes. He needed some water and we had some more chakli.
The Delicious Lunch Break
We reached hotel Shivar Garden at Lonard at 1:30 pm. 130 kms, average 22.4 kmph. Team ICC had again managed to pull off an excellent arrangement. We loaded up on rice, dal, mix veg, papad and some beetroot.
Mayur wanted to put a patch in the tire, but I knew from personal experience that the tire usually does not get damaged from such things and the tube might have a small hole. We decided to check and with some help from Sushil (Team ICC support team, as he could not ride with a knee surgery just a month back) we were able to fix the single hole. Filling up the wheel to 90 psi was easy with the excellent pump that Dr. Dhanraj had. I made a mental note that I would need something like this myself. Sidhu and Dr sir got in some sleep.
Never Give Up
Mayur was extremely happy that he could ride and his trip was not canceled as yet. After the crazy headwinds, we all joined the peleton, this time even Mayur decided to follow it. With four riders a peleton is heaven. We were munching miles, rotating the lead rider every one kilometer.
We had many a funny incidence, children shouting from their home and asking “how much does the cycle cost?” and I would nod my head in dismay. Once a Maharashtra State transport bus overtaking another vehicle came right in front of us. We almost thought that 4 of us were gone. Saved by a whisker.
Jejuri and the breakaway Attack
At around 5 pm we were 15 kms from Jejuri, our next hydration point. I told Sidhu we should be there within the next 40 minutes, Sidhu said 1 hour. The effect of headwinds showing up on the strongest of riders. We peddled on, Mayur I guess took a small break somewhere and it was me, Sidhu and Dr in the peleton again. There are small inclines just before Jejuri, beautiful landscape. Sidhu mentioned “the last incline” somewhere. Riding the peleton was great for headwinds however my major advantage is my speed on inclines. Because of my lean frame and my training, I am significantly faster on inclines, declines and flats are where I miss out. So I was finding it difficult to ride in the peleton during inclines.
The moment Sidhu mentioned “The last incline” I launched an attack. What awaited me was some fresh tarmac and I was gleefully sprinting. I was burning energy and quickly pulled off an energy bar to keep the levels even. Reached Jejuri and saw the lovely Mandir on the hill. Stopped at Jejuri waiting for the team to catch up. Looked at the watch, 5:40. I had made it in 40 minutes, small mental victory. Then I waited for over 10 minutes and with no signs of the team, I was worried if I had missed the hydration point or if the team had stopped somewhere. I called up Sushil to check the hydration support and he told me that there might not be anyone at the point and the team was already in Pune. Looked back and saw Dr ride by. Apparently, they had stopped to get some good clicks of the mandir.
We all stopped at a small tea shop, Modi tea. The team now was slightly larger, Swamiji had also joined us post lunch. Some tea, energy bar, and a few pics later we decided to move. Close to 6 pm, Dr. Dhanraj had canceled the plan to visit Alandi. Mayur was to take the Bopdev ghat route and we would take Dive Ghat.
Troubled by sweat
The roads were better, 4 laned mostly, heavens were playing games with intermittent rains and sun. The atmosphere and views were what the western ghats have to offer during monsoons, absolutely beautiful. We rode on. Mayur, as usual, sprinted ahead. I was also pushing alone. Somewhat lesser headwinds.
I was constantly being troubled by my specs getting wet with my sweat. I was stopping every 3-4 kms to wipe my specs. The humidity was exceptional in the evening. I continued this misery for some 10-15kms before removing the scarf from my head and the immediate relief followed.
We all halted at a small fruit stall around Dive village. Guava was on the menu. While having the fruits the stall owners started speaking to us, the moment the lady got to know that we had been to Pandharpur on a cycle she came to each one of us and touched our hands. She said that lord vitthala had come to her stall. This was the defining moment of the trip. I had taken up the ride from a fitness objective, hence I was not stopping for any pics, however, this small trip was making an impact on another humans life.
We moved on.
The final patch
Just before Dive ghat, I received a call from my wife, we were discussing when I would reach as she had to go to a patient. As I was speaking I realized I had hit Diveghat decent. This was the first time I was on that route and hence had no idea as to how the route was. Kept the phone and hit the decent with a vengeance. Shifted to top gear and I was zooming past cars and motorbikes. Dive ghat was such a lovely feeling post the 190 kms of headwind ride all day.
Hadapsar had good traffic build up with the warkaris already having started to move. Again as this my first time on the road, I stopped to look at the map and check if I was on the correct route. Also decided to take this opportunity to have another chikki. Just as I was having the chikki, saw Dr. Dhanraj, he also pulled over next to me and we shared the chikki. We decided to take a small break for tea.
Joined by the rest of the team sans Mayur we stopped for some bun maska and tea. The bun was missing and the shop owner quickly managed to get his stock. We spent some 40 minutes here. We decided to take the Fatimanagar, Botanical garden Yerwada route so that the team hits the least traffic. I was the only one with knowledge of the route so I was entrusted to lead.
Around 7:30 pm we started our last patch. The traffic was thick but the feeling of no headwinds and the added energy of bun muska I started zipping through traffic. In the excitement, I missed the Hadapsar flyover and managed to enter the extreme crazy traffic of Hadapsar market. Waited after the flyover for the rest of the team to catch up and Sidhu reprimanded me for running away. We decided that I would ride slowly and look back for the team.
It’s not over until the fat lady sings
We continued our sprints through the city, the botanical garden road had slightly less traffic and we managed to pick up a good speed. We hit Miras college and at the next signal, we were planning to zip, Rohan and Sidhu ahead of me. I was focusing on following Sidhu. We didn’t realize when the signal turned red, Rohan saw a car and braked, Sidhu right behind braked and because of the disc brake had his rear wheel fly off, stoppiee at the signal, rear wheel 3 feet of the ground. I almost managed to bang into him but by the grace of God, no one fell or got hurt.
We said our byes over Yerwada bride. Dr. Dhanraj’s parting words “see you at the next BRM”. We all went our ways from Deccan College chowk. Swamiji who was going to accompany me till vishranthwadi told me that he knew the way from there and would need to stop to put on his lights. We decided to part ways.
I again sprinted towards home. Reached home at 8 pm. 14:30 hours in total, 216 kms, 1900 m in elevation, ride time 9:37, average 22.5 kmph. I had managed to hit a new personal best in my home stretch segment, 2 kms at an average of 32.3kmph. Such was the effect of headwinds. However, our frequent break to eat and the peleton had helped us save energy and also get to the target.
Informed and checked on the team. Everyone had managed to reach home by 9 pm.
I took a quick bath and drove my wife to her patient. So basically I was not absolutely dead past the ride. Still had a lot of energy and probably could have done another 100.
After reaching home received a message from Sidhu saying that he checked with the organizers and got to know that out of the 100 riders who started in the morning only 30 were continuing the ride by 6 pm. Dr. Dhanraj and I had calculated that some 30-40% would give up however the headwinds had taken a larger casualty count. Hearing this count, I felt a mental victory for myself that we did not give up, rather we did not consider that as an option. We had planned to be back home by 4 pm, but 8 pm was not bad. We had taken breaks of over 5 + hours but this ride deserved it.
Back to Back double centuries, done. Done against some extremely adverse climate.
Next target 400 BRM next month. However, that will happen after some rest the next week and some carb loading to recover from the massive energy that we spent.
Check out my ride on Strava.