Wednesday 14 October 2015

Endurance and Glory

(Rahul has been riding with Discover on Wheels since the club's inception. On October 11, he completed the Super Randonneur series with Subhajyoti. Here's what he feels after the achievement)

While thinking of sharing my experience of BRM with you, words like fatigue, exhaustion, hallucination, numbness, cramps, injuries comes to my mind first, but then words like fitness, endurance, courage, willpower, fame, recognition, glory, over powers them all and inspires me to go on for BRMs again and again.

Instead of talking about how tough 400 BRM was, I would like to talk about the things that I have learned during Randonneuring.

At the starting point of 400 BRM on October 10, 2015, at 6am, I was oozing with confidence and energy. I think this confidence and resolute feeling was the result of my previous success at completion of 200, 600 & 300 BRM, consecutively.

The first 100km was a piece of cake. Me and Subho were easily able to maintain an average speed of 30kmph. After covering 160km in just 6 hours 30 minutes, we decided to take a lunch break at Panagarh, which lasted for 45 minutes. Now, the halfway mark was only 40km away. But because of traffic and scorching sun, we ended up spending 2.25 hours to reach Raniganj (200km). After lavishly spending 2 hours at Joy Da’s (a good friend) home, we took off to our way back. On the road, heavy traffic, dust and pollution welcomed us. After riding for 2.30 hours, we were only able to cover 35km only.

Lesson learned No. 1: Things like weather and traffic are never in your control. So while planning your BRM one must allot some time window, especially for such unknown variables.

Lesson learned No. 2: Never spend too much time resting. A 45-minute rest would be more than sufficient after riding 200km. Anything more than that is a waste of your precious time.

Riding in traffic and pollution was very tiring. Clock was showing 8.35pm and we decided to have dinner. After dinner we rode another 15km, after which we broke free form the traffic and rode at a very brisk pace for next 45km. Now the clock was showing 12.15am.

It has been 18 hours since we started and now we were left with only 105 km more to go. We took another 15-minute break, after which I decided to push my body to its limits. I thought let’s finish this as soon as possible. I was pedalling hard and was cruising at above 45kmph and covered another 18km in just 25 minutes. The confidence and energy that I spoke of earlier were now replaced by fatigue and exhaustion. I was completely drained out and was struggling. I had a sharp pain at the left side of my chest. I was not certain what exactly it was but I suspected it was my heart. I got scared and hence was taking breaks after every hour or so. Riding speed came down to 20kmph. The only thing that was moving at a brisk pace was time. Now that’s what I call irony (LoL). Every 10km now felt like a BRM in itself. I was hallucinating. The last 50km was the toughest 50km of my life.

Lesson learned No. 3: Pushing yourself at the start of the line is a good thinking but doing the same after covering 300km and spending 18 hours with the elements is certainly a bad idea. It was not just the heart but every organ in my body was rejecting my decision.

Next time when I checked my watch it was 4 in the morning and we were still 35km behind the finish line and in front of us there was a traffic jam I had never seen before. Thousands of trucks were standing one after another. Nothing was moving at all. Standstill traffic for next 13km! That reminds me of the first lesson I learned.

It took us 2 more hours to reach the finish line. I and my fellow rider Subhajyoti Sen Sharma (Subho) arrived at City Center 2 (the final check point) at 6.11am on October 11, 2015. That was the last event of Audax India Randonneurs (AIR) Kolkata for the calendar year 2014-2015. And on that note I and my good friend Subho both have successfully completed our goal of nailing all four BRMs.

And the last lesson that I learned is that BRMs above 300km are always difficult no matter how well trained or how may BRMs you have nailed in the past. Good amount of planning and execution are required to have positive results.

I Would like to thank my mom, dad and my wife Deepika for supporting me.
Also a big thank to Subhajyoti SenSharma. He and I have done all the BRMs together. I couldn’t have done this without him.
Thank you Supratim Pal and Nishant Maheshwari for bringing Brevet to Kolkata and hence making all this possible.

And thanks to all my good wishers, friends and fellow riders for the support and appreciations.

Thursday 8 October 2015

Riding the Trails of the Unexplored Silk Route

First Mountain Biking Expedition On The Silk Route

Snow-capped mountains, age-old monasteries, gurgling waterfalls and rare high altitude birds. These are just some of the facets which make Sikkim so special. Peace and tranquility are perfect words to describe this corner of India which is a virgin biking route. If nature, thrill, adventure, Himalayas and mountain biking appeal to you, then you do not need to look beyond Sikkim. Just escape there on your bike from the cares of the city into the lap of mountains which hold millions of surprises within its folds. There is such richness of culture, religion, a mélange of peaceful people, amidst all its splendor, challenging terrain, high altitude, wildlife, unpredictable weather which made the maiden biking expedition on the old and new silk route nothing less than an expedition.

There were mix of emotions of anxiety, fear and thrill when we were told by authorities that this would be the first such biking tour on the old and new silk route. They wanted proper documentation for permissions and authorisation letters from Discover on Wheels, the registered cycling group to allow Three Idiots to cycle the route which has a total ascent and descent of approximately 23,892 ft. in just under 100kms of ride with certain incline section as high as 21.2 degrees.

Ms Manisha Sharma, a cycling enthusiast who also runs a travel agency “Tag Along” along with Mr Abhinna Mukhia, an ardent and champion mountaineer from Darjeeling joined me at Padamchen on 1st October, 2015, which was our base camp for acclimatization where we stayed overnight at a cozy homestay. Considering the weather as it was still raining in the region, we had planned to cover the distance in 3 days starting from 2nd October on Gandhi Jayanti with overnight homestays at Longthu and Gnathang Valley.

Uphill from Padamchen, we were heading towards a region which had recently traced leopards, wild pigs and even red pandas. The zig zag incline route with numerous hair pin bends went through thick vegetation of pine, teak and different species of oak trees. The biking route was to start from Padamchen at 6140 ft above sea level to Nathula Pass via Zuluk and Gnathang Valley and then down to Gangtok via Tsomgo Lake. We didn’t get permissions to ride upto the border, so we had to satisfy ourselves till the gates of the pass - Dagar Dwaar.

Route map

First day ride upto Longthu via Zuluk was the toughest which included the famous 32 hair pin zig zag roads which can be viewed completely on a clear day from Thambi View Point at 11,200 ft above sea level. The weather in this region is very unpredictable and changes frequently. It was clear sky when we started, expecting a sunny day but it suddenly became misty, foggy and cloudy.

Homestay owner offered us a scarf as a sign of good luck

Enroute Padamchen to Zuluk


One of the numerous hair pin climbs on the way to Zuluk

We took breaks to take selfies amidst serene surrounding

10 kms into the ride, we reached Zuluk where we took an hour-long breakfast break. Zuluk or Dzuluk is a small hamlet that resides amongst the serene, beautiful landscape of the Eastern Himalayas. At a height of about 9800 ft, the natural beauty which Zuluk offers is a treat for one's eyes. With a population of about 750 people, the tranquility of Zuluk is in the air. We felt rejuvenated and fresh in the pristine surroundings and chilly wind that coming from the Himalayas.

At Zuluk

We continued our onward ride towards Longthu which was about 16kms uphill. We reached there by 3pm. On the first day itself we had climbed more than 7000 ft under misty cloudy conditions. We checked into a homestay at Longthu and were served very delicious homemade food for lunch and dinner.

Zig Zag roads from Zuluk to Longthu

Enroute  Longthu

Next day morning we woke up to a thick cover of black clouds hiding the Kanchenjunga and even the zig zag roads below. Undeterred and determined to stick to our schedule, we decided to ride in rain jackets. Luckily it stopped raining by the time we were ready to ride but the cloud cover remained with extremely foggy conditions making the visibility less than 10 meters. 

The clouds enveloped us as we rode from towards Gnathang Valley

It was a recovery day ride. We had kept the riding distance short, only 10kms upto Gnathang Valley as there is no available accommodation beyond the place in that route. So we rode carefully on the steep sharp curves.

Manisha Sharma feeling exhausted after the long climbing

The high point of the ride that day was the chai adda break with the army personnel of the Madras regiment who were thrilled to see us at 12500 ft and wanted to know our experience. We however were not allowed to take pictures with them but it’s an experience that will remain etched in our memory. With a short break there, we reached Gnathang Valley in under 2 hours ride. 

At Laxman point, just before entering Gnathang Valley

In front of our homestay in Gnathang Valley

They say, if you do not like Gnathang Valley, then you may not like Paradise. Situated at the height of 13,500 ft. above the sea level, Nathang Valley is one of the most beautiful places in Old-Silk-Route. Nathang is the highest location to stay in the Indian part of the Old Silk Route. It is one of the remotest Tibetan habitations in Himalayas. The valley usually remains covered with thick snow from January to April. The long four-month of sub-zero temperature makes the valley a cold desert and one of the most beautiful parts of Himalayas. We didn’t find any snow in October. Since we reached early, we decided to explore the region on our wheels. We visited a monastery, a Krishna temple and also a war memorial carrying the memories of "Tukla War".  

Krishna Mandir in middle of Gnathang Valley

Monastery in Gnathang Valley

The accommodation again at the homestay was pleasant and we were taken good care. We kept our bikes with us in the room after the ride and took a nap after the meal. The weather got chilly from the evening as it again started raining which went on entire night till next morning.

My room in Gnathang Valley

About 64kms of ride still remained to be covered in the day and we realized we must start early to reach Changu Lake after which we knew it was all 40kms of downhill till Gangtok. So we had to cover a hard 24kms of riding at high altitude with gradual uphill sections. We started from Gnathang Valley at around 8 am and were greeted by a clear view of the Himalayan range and Kanchenjunga as the skies had started to clear. We saw different colour shades as sunshine entered the valley.

Enroute to Baba Mandir from Gnathang Valley

I could definitely feel the altitude that day early into the ride. Just 30minutes into the ride, I was quickly getting out of breath. My heart rate was shooting up as I started panting and I had to stop frequently to recover and get it down. I was wearing a heart rate monitor belt to keep my heart beats under check and it turned out to be a good decision.  Abhinna who is a mountaineer advised me to take deep breath from the nose and not my mouth and also to uncover my ears to acclimatize faster. And I did. I started to feel better and our pace improved.

Finding it tough at high altitude

On our way to Nathula Gate, we stopped at Old and new baba mandir and the elephant lake. The army personnel at Kupup check point were thrilled to see cyclists in that region climbing uphill and got eager to take pictures. They wished us good luck and safe riding ahead.

Elephant Lake

At Kupup with Army men

Finally making to the midpoint of our ride at Dagar Dwaar which is a gateway to Nathula Pass was a special feeling and we felt proud to have made it so far.

The roads leading from the Dagar Dwaar towards Changu Lake were not good and we had to be very careful from the shooting stones and road construction work in progress.

The last few kilometers before reaching Tsomgo Lake were fun as it was nice downhill ride and good roads. The lake was buzzing with tourists as it is popular spot. It was already 3pm and we still had 40kms to cover. After taking pictures with the colourfully dressed Yaks in the background, we continued our downward ride towards Gangtok.

At Tsomgo Lake

Our final leg of the ride from Tsomgo Lake to Gangtok though mostly downhill became very challenging as the weather had changed. It was extremely foggy and we had to be careful of the tourist vehicles also rushing back to the city. Many sections were marked “Sinking road” which were as steep as 36 degrees. I was more confident on my bike which had hydraulic disk brakes but Manisha and Abhinna had to struggle and be extra cautious with their v-braking systems.

Just one of the many Sinking steep downhill roads towards Gangtok 
from Tsomgo Lake

The tourist car drivers however were also careful when passing us each time. The continuous steep down roads, with sharp hair pin curves and then again a steep down were very challenging and heart throbbing.  It got dark by 5.30pm and we rode the last 4-5 kms in the trailing headlights of our backup car. By 6pm we successfully finished the ride with a group hug in Gangtok. 

Over the farewell dinner, we all agreed that this is one of the best ride we have ever done and hoped that this route would soon become a popular mountain biking destination. And we will definitely be back!!

 Written by:
Nishant Maheshwari
One of the cyclists on this expedition
and co-founder of Discover on Wheels

Tuesday 24 March 2015

A Journey of a Randonneur

(For Kuntal Kuilaya, an IT professional, cycling has been a passion, which has inspired him to touch new horizon everyday. In his first blog for Discover on Wheels, Kuntal comes up with his bicycling diary that has now scribbled with brevet jottings)

It was someday in December 2013. Checked Facebook as usual and somehow my eyes got hooked to a post that some guys are going to the Sundarbans from Kolkata on bicycles and there was an open invitation for anyone who want to join. Out of curiosity, I contacted the person organising the ride and after some discussions, planned to hook up. That was the first day when Subhajyoti and my paths crossed. We got to know that we have some more like-minded fellows of this little tribe called “cyclists”. It was a sudden decision to travel that far on my BSA Photon and I did not regret for that decision from that day.

Comprising some more people from our own city, Discover on Wheels was formed after a few days from then. It was inevitable to happen someday. With days, I got to meet with its founder-members like Supratim, Nishant, Subhajyoti, Joynath’da and it was a homely atmosphere from the very beginning. Being part of Team DoW from the initial days is a nice memory to cherish. Time passed on and the tribe started growing. I had little bit of knowledge regarding bikes, their use, what are required and what not among others. I also bought an MTB as off-road-pedalling attracts me always.

In July 2014, we decided to get into something more serious, more constructive — the BRMs. At that time, Kolkata had no club organising BRMs. Some of us decided to attempt 200km BRM in Hyderabad. I talked with Abhishek for the first time to plan it better and within a short span, I got to meet another humble human being. The planning was done with Supratim, Nishant, Subhajyoti, Joynath’da, Abhishek, Ashis, Chandranath. And there came the disaster. One over-excited mason with his roadster pounded on me from behind on one fine evening just two weeks before the event. Achilles tendon of my left leg got partially torn resulting no more cycling in the next four months. The recovery took a painful seven months and then I could concentrate on pedalling properly and the BRMs again.

Maiden BRM: 300km on January 23, 2015

I never rode more than 100km at a stretch in the last six months due to injury then. So I was a bit sceptical whether I can do it or not. Accompanied by three fellow riders, I started the journey. And boy, what a journey that was! I did enjoy every bits and pieces of it. Accompanied by RakeshAgarwal from Rourkela, I dusted the whole route together in a nice way.

Bike used: Fomas Roadking
Time: 15.20.00
Lessons learnt: In BRMs, you need a speedometer to measure your speed. It is not about pedalling fast. It is about pedalling calculative as per the situation appears. If the speedo has a backlit display, it is good to measure at night too

Second BRM: 400km on February 21, 2015

The success of 300BRM in the previous month made me confident and I did proceed with an undersized hybrid bike this time. As an inevitable result, due to lack of proper saddle height and wrong frame size, this BRM took a toll on me. Accompanied by three other riders, we started in the right pace. But after midway, while returning from Raniganj to Kolkata, knee pains and saddle sores became literally intolerable and slowed down myself and Justin David Neal. Physical exhaustion and mental exhaustion took place heavily and our strong willpower fought with our bodies to keep up pedalling. Finally, I completed just 20 minutes before the cut-off time.

Bike used: Fuji Absolute S
Time: 26.40.00
Lessons learnt: For riding long distances, bike fit is one of the most important things. Oversized and undersized bikes can take a toll on you on long rides

Third BRM: 600km on March 21, 2015

It was an amazing brevet for me as I had to ride solo more than 90% all through the route. In the first 200km from Kolkata to Raniganj, the terrain was almost flat. Then the next 200km starting from Raniganj to Topchanchi (Jharkhand) and back tested me rigorously under the scorching sun as inhuman gradient was a part of Jharkhand’s landscape. Added to that, chilly cold at night from Topchanchi to Asansol was second round of torture on the skin. I also saved myself once as sleepiness took over me for fraction of second and got unbalanced and about to hit the temporary dividers kept on the road. Thankfully, no crash or puncture happened. Then reaching Raniganj, I took a power nap of two hours at Joynath’da’s place after completion of 400km. On a short and sudden notice, he and Joyanto arranged for so much including post-ride exercises for me in the middle of the night. Then the last 200km comeback happened on the flat road. I took almost six hours to complete the final 100km with my exhausted muscles.

I wish to extend special thanks to Justin David Neal (in picture above) for his Scottie. Amazing bike he gave me. And Joynath’da and Joyanto for their hospitality. It was a gala ride for me in terms of having food also. Along the highway, I stopped at many places and got chance to taste locally made dishes. Brevets are good for foodies too, but you should have hygienic foods only which will not give you any trouble on the way.

Bike used: Scott Speedster 50
Time: 36.00.00
Lessons learnt: One more thing I’ve learnt in this brevet that each and every petrol pump on the highways has water filters. People over there are enough kind and hospitable to let you fill yours and they love chit-chats. And never ride with empty bottles.

Fourth BRM: 200km (yet to plan)

With this BRM, I will get the Super Randonneur (SR) title for this 2014-15 season. BRMs are not only for personal achievements. It is a teamwork indeed, helping fellow people on road, motivating others when they have given up, accompanying them till the end. It’s all about joy, fun and frolic on the road. Behave well with the locals, interact nicely with the curious people of the road, do chit-chats with the bikers who show interest in this sport and you will never feel the exhaustion happening.

Chiro’da once gave us a very useful advice — eat before you are hungry and drink before you are thirsty. Those words are apt unless you fall in those situations.


Monday 29 December 2014

Battle of Body and Mind

(For Rahul, 600km brevet is a stepping stone for ultra cycling. "It seems to be a big figure but in reality, it’s just another milestone. I always knew that a human body is capable of doing great things so I told myself, let’s put that thought to the test. It’s a fight within — between the body and the mind")

We — Sudipto, Subho and me — started from City Centre, New Town, at 12.30am on December 20 for our maiden attempt of Brevet 600.

It was quite cold — the cellphone app showed 11 degrees Celsius but felt like 7°C — and we were going at a very comfortable speed as we knew that a long road lies ahead of us.

We almost took five hours time to reach our first check point (Sher-e-Punjab, Kolaghat), which was 88km from the starting point. We did not took a break there and kept on moving after taking a selfie at the unmanned control point.

The next control point was 190km away and we were moving at an average speed of 25km per hour or a bit more. After covering 140km, we took rest for 10 minutes at Balihati, just a few kilometre before reaching Kharagpur. Next stop we took after covering a total distance of 160km was a dhaba were we first “unloaded” and then loaded ourselves with good breakfast followed by half-an-hour rest.

We practically killed more than an hour there and started again at approx 10.40am. We took small breaks after every 30km and rode next 100km in five-and-a-half hours (approx) after which we took a lunch break of half an hour.

The next control point was only 15km away at Remuna Balasore bus stop where we reached around 5.20pm and moved on towards Soro. We kept on pedalling and reached Soro, around 35km from Balasore control. We took a 15-minute break before reaching the control point, which was only a kilometre away. We finally reached Natapada Chowk — the 300km mid-point of the brevet — at 9pm where we took dinner and an hour’s nap. We knew that we did not have enough time in hand with only 18 hours left.

We started our ride back to Kolkata from Soro around 10.45pm amid chill beyond our imagination. Adding to our woes, were poor visibility, knee pain and saddle sore.
The next 200km was really difficult. We all were pedalling hard all night long. At every 20km, we were taking a break of 5 minutes. Maintaining an average speed of approximately 22km per hour, we kept on pedalling. After riding 100km, we noticed that four hours have already passed and it was 3am. In the wintry morning, we all needed some rest so we three decided to take a 20-min short nap at a roadside dhaba but that 20 minutes stretched to an hour and we were back on the saddle around 4.05am.

Now, we were taking breaks at every 10km or so and our average speed went down to 18km per hour. Poor visibility and extreme cold were slowing us down. We firmly decided that no matter what happens, we have to finish before time. It was 8am in the morning with the Sun was out and weather turning warmer. In the last four hours, we covered approximately 88km.

While we were taking a break, we were informed that in the next two hours we need to reach the Sher-e-Punjab, Kolaghat, control point, which was 30km away. We rested for another 15 minutes and then took off for Kolaghat. At Sher-e-Punjab, we had our breakfast and got fresh and then started at 11am for the finish line, which was only 77km away. 

Knowing that we have five-and-a-half hours to cover only 77km, we moved at a comfortable pace. We made several halts and reached City Centre, New Town, at 3.16pm.

Happiness is not the feeling that describes the moment. I would say we were rather relieved then happy. The difficulty faced on the route only makes the journey more adventurous. If anyone ask me to sum up Brevet 600, then I would say “what doesn’t kills you but makes you stronger”.

Tuesday 23 December 2014

Dream to Reality of Ultra Cycling

(Subhajyoti Sen Sharma is the co-founder of Discover on Wheels, the first cycling club in Kolkata. In this short piece, he comes up with his thoughts after completing 600 km brevet on December 21, 2014)

At last, one dream has come true, but it was not easy to realise either. 

When i started cycling at a very tender age, it was a dream to be a good cyclist. With time, i changed my focus to make myself a better and better cyclist. Earlier, i used to ride in the morning but without any aim — just like a bird on wings. Later, i realised that i should change it to build on stamina and endurance that would make me a better long-distance cyclist in the future. 

Besides the on-track practice, i started getting in touch with international and national-level riders. I used to get tips on hydration, on-saddle nutrition, riding skills, building stamina and endurance among others.

Since i've already passed my prime, it might be difficult for me to join any pro-racing team but that did not deter me from dreaming! When i completed my first 200 km brevet in Hyderabad in July, my conviction of being an ultra cyclist rooted deep in me. Coming back to Kolkata from Hyderabad, i started focusing on endurance training.

I learned that ultra cycling is not only a game on saddle and pedals — it's all about mental strength and unlimited recovering capacity to boost yourself, motivate yourself, gain over ache all over the body. And, all this is enough to distract yourself from the right track and make one a normal person. But i had one goal: ultra cyclist. How can i give up when my bike dusted hundreds of kilometres already? No, there's no second option but to pedal on! 

On a chilly winter night, I participated in 600km brevet in Kolkata. I started pedalling at 00.30am from City Centre, Kolkata to Soro in Odisha. And, obviously, there was the return loop also. I pedalled on for the whole night with Sudipto Pal and Rahul Pasari

After 240km, I was very tired thinking to quit also. But i motivated myself that i have to cover more than 300km. That's what an ultra cyclist does! At the end of 39 hours, when i came back to Kolkata again, i thought that i would die of sleep deprivation! But the thought of death germinated the birth of a new being: ultra cyclist.

But it was just a beginning, as i hope to be Super Randonneur soon and later crack the RAAM one day.