As I write this, propped up on some soft cushions, the Lignocaine ointment applied for saddle sores having worn off, I’ve had some moments to recover from the sheer elation of completing this awesome route on my 3rd attempt. A lot of things fell into place at the right time during the ride. Mostly, it was looking at the energy and dedication of Anil, who helped each one and stayed up at the night control till all the riders left, to that moment at dawn, shivering to the bone, when my knee was screwed and I had strapped a bottle of icy cold water around it to alleviate the pain. We were chatting on our whatsapp Randonneurs group…and the encouragement I got from all you super dudes was quite a boost…screw Red Bull I say…just talk to your friends at such times 🙂 After that I was literally flying, till at least the last 70 km, which was horrible…
I have attempted a 600 on this route twice and dnf’ed…based my ride plan on my experiences of these two previous rides. I know my weakest point is night riding…well actually, my weakest point is my butt, but that was taken care off :-). I can’t stay awake or alert during the night for a long period. To work around this, I planned to ride the first 300 to Dhule as fast as sherwinly possible so as to get to the turnaround early, have a good nap and leave early. Then ride through the night taking frequent breaks for rest, catnaps and chai. So whatever distance covered during the dark would be kilometers in the bank as I could then make up for lost time during the daylight hours. Making it to the Nashik control at 459 kms is perhaps the most difficult part on this route and if you do make it in time, then a finish is almost, almost guaranteed. So this became my second target.
People say it’s not about the bike…in Pankaj Patil’s case this is very very valid. I guess he could ride a tricycle and do quite well – respect!!! For me, it’s as much about the bike as the rider – you become one on these long, mostly lonesome rides…and a well maintained and loved bike pays you back a hundred fold. I had recently upgraded the hubs on my Trek 1.2 (Angie) to a Shimano 105 front and Miche RG2 rear. Then last week I got the bottom bracket changed. I upgraded the tires as well – from Vittoria Zaffiro to Specialized Roubaix Armadillo Elite. A good set of tires, properly inflated goes a long way in minimizing punctures. I always keep my drivetrain sparkling clean and properly lubed – this time with Squirt Wax based lube. With all these upgrades and my hill training over the last month or so, I was feeling good to go and give another shot at the Dhule route.
We started off from Mulund at 0615 hrs on Saturday morning and I went about at a steady pace, building up slowly till about Kalyan Phata. I got into a good rhythm pretty fast thereon and continued to keep the pace up. My plan for the initial 150 km was to take breaks at 50 km intervals and I stayed to plan, reaching Igatpuri at 1050 hrs after a super climb up my favourite Kasara Ghat. It did get hot thereon to Nashik, but thank the heavens for those quaint Punjabi Dhabas with a water tank next to them. Had a cold bath and carried on till Nashik where I reached at 1322 hrs. So far all within my planned timings. Had a quick bite and moved on at 1400 hrs as my next target was to reach Chandwad by 1700 hrs and make most use of the daylight thereon. I went past Chandwad and it got dark about 18 km before Malegaon and I reduced my pace and started taking breaks after every one hour of riding. So far so good and it was a pleasure to see Dhule control at 2204 hrs. Had a light dinner and went off to sleep. I wanted to leave latest by 0200 hrs and I did it for once. I was ahead of the timings and wanted to keep it that way.
As expected and planned, the night section from Dhule till after Malegaon, about 65 – 70 odd km was slow for me. I took frequent breaks whenever I felt drowsy and stopped at any chai tapri I could find. It did get quite cold post 0400 hrs and I hate the cold. At dawn I reached a dhaba about 10 – 12 km before the base of Chandwad climb. My knee (ITB) was hurting very badly and I got an ice cold bottle of water and strapped it up to the knee. I got to chatting with my Randonneur buddies on our Whatsapp group (yup, they were awake that early). I had my doubts of reaching the Nashik Control in time, but quitting was not an option…I would complete this ride even if I was over time limit. My buddies, especially Mukund, Don and Gunjan gave a lot of encouragement to push on beyond the pain and at least try my best to reach Nashik within time as thereafter it’s mainly downhill. This camaraderie had a profound effect on me…even more than Red Bull :-p My knee was feeling much better and the pain numbed by the ice water treatment and I pushed on. Got into a beautiful rhythm almost immediately and flew up Chandwad Ghat…there was no wind…even the leaves were not moving!! Here I got to thinking that maybe, just maybe the Goddess of this Vintage Route is favoring us for once 🙂 What a ride those 70 odd km to Nashik…at some sections I was averaging 25 – 30 kph, aided by some gentle tailwinds. Reached Nashik at 1122 hrs, a whopping 90 mins before cut-off. At this point I was pretty sure I would complete this ride.
I can only ride as far or as long as my butt allows me too 🙂 Anil had a solution for that this time…well; actually an ointment and it worked its magic!!! Point to be noted for future use – be a little careful and less generous while applying as it numbed some rather important anatomical parts as well.
Left Nashik at 1230 hrs – a first for me, riding on the Nashik to Igapuri section. Super roads, rolling, but mostly downhill terrain and not much of winds. I heeded Anil’s advice to keep pedaling on the downhills and not to coast as this way you gather speed and the next uphill is easier – Bicycle Baba he certainly is!! It took me just 2 odd hours to reach Manas Lifestyle at Igatpuri 🙂
So now, only 101 KM to go and loads of time in the bank. My knee was still hurting, but thus far it had been a good day to ride hard 🙂 I don’t like descents; give me a climb any day. I tense up on downhills, maybe my technique is all wrong, and on the Kasara descent I think I aggravated the knee injury. By the time I reached Khardi and with just 70 km to go, it was hurting like hell. From here on, I stopped at every 10 km intervals or whenever the pain got unbearable to strap it up with a bottle of cold water. At Padgha, a generous tapri guy gave me a couple of ice pieces…man he was a saviour. It would have been horrible to quit with just 35 km to go.
The last part is still a blur…I now can’t recollect how I rode, except that I met Anil near Bhiwandi Anjur Phata. I was in the zone I guess…a Zen state, nothing was gonna stop me from finishing…even a couple of rowdy motorists who got the benefit of seeing the finger 🙂 It was a bloody relief to reach the end control…611 km in 38 hrs 14 mins. Happy to finish this route…I don’t think I would want to see Dhule or Chandwad again for a long long time 🙂
So what was different this time…the conditions favoured the riders (all 6 who started, finished) – yes, perhaps. There were no heavy head winds and at some places there were some super tail winds. The heat was not that bad. I did ride alone almost the whole ride – could this be the difference?? You ride alone, you are responsible for yourself and you stick to your plans better?? I personally feel this against the spirit and camaraderie of Randonneuring, where we help our fellow riders whenever in need, but that’s just my opinion. But in reality, I was never alone…all who were not riding were constantly pushing and encouraging us on Whatsapp and I am so very grateful to them for this priceless support.
There are those who will say to go all out and screw the route or conquer the route. I think I gave this route a lot of respect this time and planned my ride around it and enjoyed almost every moment of it. There was this time in the middle of the night where I took a break…pitch dark, clear night and the stars were brilliant…Orion and Canis Major in their full glory…this is when I realized why I love randonneuring. It would seem like Lady Vintage blessed us all and allowed us to finish…