Oh S*#T! His scream was a little loud.
I looked up, and saw his leg broken, and dangling down like socks on a clothesline. With a shock I sat up on the bed. It is going to be 2:30 AM. I have half an hour more till the alarm goes off. I tried to close my eyes, but the scenes from the unfortunate and stupid event in the previous morning keeps getting replayed in front of my eyes, as it has been so all night. I should have listened to the experienced riders and have taken rest rather than jump out for another short gist at the first instant and witness friends commit stupid mistakes. I tried to feel his pain in my leg. It is definitely not the best way to start the day earmarked for a 200 km ride. I got out of bed, switched off the alarm and started getting ready for the day.
The Unreasonable 200 is a ride initiated by the cycling group Cycloholics (of which I recently became a member) along a seemingly quadrilateral pattern of highways designed to keep the flow of goods and long-distance passengers out of the city limits of the National Capital Region. The last side of this polygon was inaugurated earlier this year, and we wanted to explore that stretch before they completely prohibit the entry of cyclists and motorcyclists on that highway. I rode slow to the Mahamaya Flyover and waited for the team to join me. I am new to the group and am only known to the organizers. One of the riders had his car accompanying us, just in case of emergencies. A few minutes and they all rolled in. Introductions, handshakes, gulps of water, a large selfie and we started off.
The first patch of this route was the Gurgaon-Faridabad Road (GFR) that I had detailed in my previous post. We didn’t cover the complete stretch of GFR but took a turn from the Gwal Pahari area through the outskirts of Gurgaon to enter the Delhi-Jaipur Highway, where we joined the endless flow of cars and trucks till Manesar. The road is not completely without potholes, but seemed much better than our own local highway, the Noida-Greater Noida Expressway. We drew all sorts of curious faces from pedestrians to motorists and few untoward comments from truckers. There was a constant flow of headwind, though not so strong.
My first interaction on the GFR was with Anupam – the organizer of this ride, and the Founder member of Cycloholics. We had together shared some good kilometers along the Noida Expressway. He has a pleasant way of conveying his thoughts and would always sport a hearty smile. I said I keep doing solo rides along the GFR, and every time I feel the road is new. He recalled from his experience a brevet from Pathankot through to Jammu where the road seemed to be a never-ending climb.
Throughout the GFR stretch, I couldn’t help noticing this gentleman who was riding a commuter-bike, which I was just this close of buying about three years ago and had left it at second thoughts. The best feature of that bike was its metal mud-guards, quite like the ones on the bikes I remember riding in my childhood but are now extinct. On the route to Manesar we became friends. His name is Vinodh, and just like me he is also infrequent with long distant rides. When I introduced myself, he asked me.”from…?”
Well, that was a question I prefer to avoid. I generally don’t keep a regional identity. But he insisted, and I had to spell out “From Kerala”. But I clarified: “I’ve spent more than half my life here in the Capital, so there is much less of Kerala left in me.”
That delighted him. “You know, I am from Andhra Pradesh”. That delighted me too. I liked his company. Not because he is also a Southerner like me, but because our riding patterns are similar – slow and steady. And indirectly we pushed each other to put in more efforts. Little did I know then, that it is this man who is going to support me during my hour of need.
Taking the road, we would halt at Manesar for breakfast. The Bikanervala restaurant along the highway opens early and is one of the favorite eateries for people wo drive through this highway. Our organizers and experienced riders had already suggested that we eat more carbohydrates and retain the energy to support this long ride and cut down on the proteins to feel lighter on the stomach. Most of us stuffed ourselves with traditional delicacies like Aloo-parathas with a generous dressing of white-butter, followed by a rich grass of buttermilk. We rested on the grass outside the restaurant, while the most experienced and seasoned rider in the group – Deepender Sehajpal – briefed us about the nature of road ahead. We should be ready to face a steep incline in the road, some 15 kilometers down the highway, where our speeds would easily cross the 50 kilometers per hour mark and just when we reach half-way through the incline, we should face this huge speed-breaking bumps that suddenly becomes visible and could throw the rider (and probably the bike too) off the road, if not handled carefully. There are no markings on those speed-breakers, and also no road signs or indications on that part. So, we are to be most careful and should not move our eyes off the road (because the road is so scenic that we could hardly keep our eyes on the road).
We shot off from there, taking a turn to reach the third side of the quadrilateral – the Kundli-Manesar-Palwal Expressway towards Palwal, each one on his own pace. I rode with Vinodh for a short while, but gradually picked up more speed and went forward to see others. It seemed to me that this highway perfectly dissects the seemingly unending spread of agricultural fields leaving lush greenery on either sides. There are signboards indicating turns approaching for deviations to Sohna and Tauru. A few more ups and downs and I saw this large hill which this highway seems to have dissected. Really? I was awestruck. That was the beginning of that dangerous descent we were warned off. I haven’t reached such high speeds on my bike ever in my life. The gravitational pull was so huge that despite my changing the gears to the tightest levels, the drivetrain still felt so loose that if I tried to move my legs even a few degrees, I would have toppled down. Before I could realize, I was almost in parallel with three others – two of them were quite fast riders on their road bikes, and another one on his MTB quite faster than me. Before I could realize, I suddenly spotted the huge speed-breaker bumps. They were a set of three, and so large that crossing them felt as if I am jumping over gas cylinders paved on the road. I thank my stars that I didn’t topple down. My grip on the handlebar was so strong and I was standing on my pedals, mentally prepared. The three fellow-riders manage to escape despite their bikes skidding slightly. Many motorcyclists and unsuspecting car drivers fall prey to these uncivilized road feature, whosoever is responsible for that. Enjoying the remaining non-bumpy part of the incline, we flew towards the plains and re-grouped for another quick break to gulp down water and ensure that no one is hurt.
We started off again after the break. As discussed earlier, we were prepared and packed with extra water and ORS packets to re-hydrate ourselves. Thankfully, the weather was quite cloudy with steady headwinds, but no sunshine. I maintained my position somewhere in the middle of the group. Vinodh was behind me with a few others, gradually picking up speed. A few more kilometers of climbing, and I realized at the top of the climb that my real wheel tyre had a puncture. Once you realize that you are out of pressure, the next few minutes are the toughest to stay peaceful. You start getting all kinds of thoughts. I shall have to stay calm first, and try putting into practice my tube-changing skills. The last time I did that was in the comfort of my store room. Here I am in the open road without a soul in sight. Vinodh and others stopped by to see if I need any help. “I’ll manage” I said confidently. All I need was to replace the tube. Right? Wrong! It would take me a few more minutes before I realize that.
Vinodh stopped by, despite my requesting him not to waste time for me. But he insisted on waiting, citing the excuse that he wanted to see me change the tube. He saw me put the bike upside down, open the quick release and take out the rear wheel, and deflate the tyre to pull out the tube. Suddenly I understood my stupidity (or unpreparedness, whatever would you like to call it). A cry of alarm came out of my mouth.
“What happened Manu?” he suddenly asked.
“The pump. I forgot to pack it” I said. Only I knew that it still wouldn’t have worked, had I packed it with the other stuff and carried it on my shoulders all the way. But I didn’t say that.
“Here, you can try mine. I have a small one here, and the large one is in the car. Wait, let me try calling the driver.”
Before experimenting with the pump, I picked up my cell and called Anupam to tell him that I am changing tyres and would take a little later than expected. He offered to turn back and reach out to me, but I said I am half-way through the changing process. Also, Vinodh is here with me. So, no worries there. Vinodh instructed his driver to find out a U-turn and come to us. But such a turn is nowhere to be found. I confirmed again that I could manage with the small pump. I connected it and managed to fill in the required air. We were ready to go. The driver confirmed that he would wait till we pass through. We rushed forward. To me, this episode seemed like the return of good karma – something I once did for a fellow rider – quite a learning experience.
I found them waiting for us towards the end of this highway where we would need to take another deviation to enter the fourth side of the quadrilateral – the Eastern Peripheral Expressway (EPE) which has been hitherto unexplored in terms of cycling. We shared some jokes, took some pictures and even shot a video. All of us shared our smiles and experiences. We were all tired, but not so hungry. It was almost 1:30 afternoon. From his experience Anupam shared that there wouldn’t even be provision for water (let alone food and cold drinks) along the EPE, and hence it would be a better option to find out an eatery somewhere nearby and have something for lunch before we hit the EPE. We ask a group of motorcyclists about the nearest eatery, and moved towards the way they pointed, for almost a kilometer and found a roadside eatery.
The shop was appropriately named “Truck Dhaba” because most of their customers were the long-distance truckers carrying heavy goods that were destined to reach the neighboring states within the next few days. We cross the road and park beside the eatery. Instead of tables and chairs, they have these charpais which are more like little woven cots where people sat face to face with folded legs and a wooden plank placed between them would serve the purpose of the dining table. We assumed our seats one by one as and how they got free, and ordered sumptuous quantities of rotis (bread-loaf), dal (lentils) and curd.
The Eastern Peripheral Expressway is a seemingly plain unending patch of concrete laid down in the middle of lush agricultural farms and extends long towards the horizon. As an apt greeting, I noticed the display preventing entry to bicycles, motorcycles, rickshaws and other slow-moving vehicles. However, the Expressway is yet to be fully functional (they are constructing toll plazas along the stretch) and hence we wouldn’t have the luxury of riding this route again. Very soon I realize that I have eaten too much during the day, and it is going to be troublesome. Each passing minute seems to me like a whole day. I am feeling pain in the shoulders, butts and the wrists. Palms of both hands start feeling numb, and I will have to keep moving /shaking them off and on in order to restore the flow of blood to my fingers. Seemingly the EPE is a long stretch of road with seemingly very slight ups and downs. Maybe because the surface is concrete, there are no gutters or potholes. Yet, I feel some bumpiness in the ride, and was forced to lock the shock-absorbers in the front.
“A few more minutes”, I keep telling my legs, “and we are home… just push through.”
A little more through the rain, and I see my friends waiting for me to finish.
It was a wonderful day with good weather, nice roads, and wonderful friends. I shall look forward to more group rides now.
Heartiest thanks to the organizers and my fellow riders. I feel quite at home with this group.
Here is the summary of the day in video
Have you tried riding on the highways? How was your experience? Let me know.