Ami was attending a retreat with some of her work colleagues at Lonavala last Friday and Saturday. Although I was not sure what I would be doing while she was gone, I was certain that it would involve cycling.
Some of my colleagues had gone out to lunch on Wednesday and amongst them was good friend and fellow biker Amit (not to be confused with good wife and fellow biker Ami). He owns a Trek 4300D and regularly rides long distances on it. In the course of our conversation, one of us brought up the suggestion of a ride this weekend. Since Ami was going to be at Lonavala, we too decided to be there and surprise her.
Friday night I got home from visiting Surendra Cycles at Karve Road (that is another story, on another thread) and hit the sack early. We were to meet at 5:30 near my home and take the National Highway . Amit was waiting for me at 5:45 and I went down. This is where the fun began.
When I went down the cycle was not standing upright, as I had left it, but completely keeled over to one side, leaning against the wall. The cycle had developed a slow puncture in the rear tire from my trip the last evening. Fisssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss…
I was completely helpless at that point and called up Amit. He came over and we waited out at my place until the cycle store opened. Incidentally, it had occurred to me several times in the past few days to ask Amit to carry his puncture kit, but I ignored it. This was going to cramp our schedule big-time – over two hours lost.
Time to go
Finally, at 8-ish we pushed our cycles to the store. It took a few minutes for the patch-up to be completed and the ride was ready to roll again (Note to self: buy puncture kit). The sun was high in the sky by now. As mentioned in a previous post, the Pimpri-Chinchwad portion of the National Highway is a pleasure to ride. However, that applies only when you sweep off all other traffic and stray cattle from the road. I had three near misses with an autorickshaw, a pedestrian and a Mahindra Jeep when they broke the signal (except for the pedestrian, who was taking a leisurely stroll in the middle of the road). Once past Jai Hind Industries, up to where I had ridden the last time around, I was into virgin territory for my bicycle. From here onwards, commuter traffic began to thin out in favour of trucks.
On entering Dehu Road , we were into heaven, sort of – lush greenery all around, with an intermittent squatter generating…ahem…fertilizer for the plants. I had seen such views by the railway tracks in Mumbai. However, watching them answer nature’s call on a 100-foot tall hill amongst fresh grass and goats even astonished me.
We had been doing good time so far – 22 kilometres an hour and we had reached so far in just under an hour and a half. I called for the first break at Dehu Road . We stopped and I got off for a few minutes to ease the cramping in my thighs. I was now beginning to push myself beyond any previous ride attempt and would soon begin to show.
At little while later, near Vadgaon, I realized that the Maggi that I had had for breakfast had moved over and left a gaping void in my stomach. So we stopped again and had some biscuits and plenty of water. Since we were still hungry, we rolled into the first roadside hotel that showed up and feasted on wada’s and a masala dosa. After refilling our bottles with water, we were on our way again.
Now is where the fun begins. All of a sudden, we were caught in a sweeping sheet of rain. However, before we had removed the rain gear from the bags and put it on, it had stopped. We left the jacket on anyways and continued onwards.
I had to get off the bike at Kamshet because the slope was too steep for me to pedal the Exodus upon (what was this designer thinking when he fed it over 25 kilos of aluminium and steel?). On the other hand, Amit merrily clipped along up the hill in low gear.
Going downhill was much easier upon my legs and I coasted along easily until the next uphill slope before Karla. Once past this slope, the road flattened out into the distance for many kilometres. We could read the milestones counting down the distance to Lonavala – chhey, paanch, chaar, chhey…what?! Oh well, never mind. Somebody had mixed up the old and new milestones and could not be bothered to come and fix them again. After all, what’s a couple of kilometres here or there for a car. Try to explain that to a cyclist though.
The Final Stretch
After that, we were unmindful of the milestones. We would know we were there once we actually got there. On that note, we forged ahead full steam and shortly found ourselves mired in the traffic jams of Lonavala. It is amazing how a perfectly serene spot is vandalized by our society in the name of development. What was once an idyllic retreat for retirees has now turned into a weekend picnic spot featuring a water park, plenty of restaurants to stuff your face and unorganized traffic. It is like the Mumbaikars (yes, I am looking at you) have brought a slice of Mumbai to Lonavala and instead of gobbling it up or taking it back, have left rotting leftovers for the Lonavalaites.
After this point, the road was downhill, with brief humps that the momentum of our bikes would take us over. We were going so fast that I barely noticed the sign to the resort that Ami was in and screeched to a halt just in time. We entered into the lane, and after some searching, finally found the road that led to the resort.
The road was a sheer slope, well beyond 45 degrees, covered with slippery and evilly sharp edged rocks. Amit easily went down on the Trek, but I was completely out of my element with my road-riding configuration. I was probably violating every rule of mountain biking – no helmet, a tall seat reaching above the handlebar, slippery calliper brakes and smoother tyre treads.
I did the prudent thing and dismounted, then lugged the cycle down the slope.
I left a note at the hotel reception and sent it to Ami. The smile on her face when she came down made the entire gruelling journey worthwhile.
We left after lunch at the hotel, but it was already quite late. Neither one of us was in the mood to ride 70 kilometres back home, especially since we would still be on the highway by the time it was dark without any lights. So instead, we purchased luggage tickets for the bicycles and boarded the Pune local. We left Lonavala at 5:20 and were back home by 6:45.
Some tips for bringing your cycle by train
The ticket clerk did not have a clue about bringing bicycles by train. He told me that it was not possible. Not looking forward to riding back in the dark, I persisted and spoke to the chief ticket inspector on the station. He told me that he would be able to make a luggage ticket for me.
The handy-dandy-freight-fare-reference book that the Indian Railways provides to its employees was probably written when the first train chugged from Boribunder to Thane, and has never been updated since. In the absence of a weighing scale, bicycles are to be considered as weighing 40 kilograms, which is quite absurd. We would have to be descendants of Hercules to be able to push 40 kilograms of anything over 70 kilometres. We tried to reason for a bit, but it turned out to be fruitless.
We went onto the platform and waited for the local train to arrive. We loaded the bicycles while the compartment was still empty and found comfortable seats. Amit’s Trek was a great conversation starter with the locals.
I was glad when we stopped at Khadki station an hour later. One side of the platform at Khadki is reserved for military trains and hence was empty. Amit took the opportunity to live his childhood dream – riding a bicycle on a railway platform – a final bit of delight to a very enjoyable trip.
A non-geared bike is no match for a geared bike.
You can go anywhere on any reasonable bike. The condition of a bike matters less than the conditioning of the rider.
Going uphill on a non-geared bike builds character.
Going downhill on a steep slope can easily turn into a white-knuckle ride.
Riding a cycle lets you take in the entire road and not just visit a destination.
Safety is entirely your responsibility. I did not expect a single motorist to go warily around me and did my own defensive riding. Since I am not writing from a hospital bed, I can assume that this works.