Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Dreams of a rusted rider!

I am flashing the headlamps repeatedly, trying to warn that zillionth driver on the road today who has decided to swerve into my lane without even giving a passing glance to the desperate biker asking for his own space. As I grab the brakes and blip to drop the cog, my arms cringe and my back groans. I am holding the handle-bar firmly, forcing my eyes wide open against the wind, the gust of air drying my eyes up as I make an attempt to improve visibility keeping my muck/shit laden helmet visor open. Its twilight and all I can see are blurred tail-lamps and blinding headlamps. No, I don’t want to stop to even clean the visor. To stop means to shift gears, brake and then get off the motorcycle. However tempting that may be, I know for a fact that getting back up on the saddle would need much more effort and then getting the concentration back would be a gargantuan task. Why are my thoughts drifting? I am not giving up, not now.

They always say ‘it is the last few miles that eat up the smiles’. But what about the 900 kilometres I have ridden since morning to fulfil my promise? My best friend is getting married to the love of his life and I had promised to co-host his sangeet that would start in an hour. There I was today morning, 950 kms away, I was cheering other bestie as he participated in the last round of the Indian Rally Championship fighting to be the champion co-driver for 2014. If I said I was tired, tears would well up litotes’ eyes! The Suzuki though, is cool and calm as ever, just like she was in the morning – not even one bit tired, not even one bit grumpy for all the grime stuck upon her. She is the one who is driving me up to pull myself up or rather what was left of it and reach home safely.

The calm and serene hills of Chikmagalur, famous for the sprawling coffee estates, were alive with the with the growling and screeching exhausts of rally cars that turn up here every winter to race against nature, terrain, rain and time to finish one more round of the Indian Rally Championship. The beaten dirt track of Birur with its narrow flowing high speed sections has always been one of the toughest challenges for the Indian rallysts. I am actually able to recall some of the sections like it was yesterday! Sadly, the stage has been phased out since last year with increasing traffic and safety concerns. A new stage has been built through the coffee estates. Though it is not as fast as Birur, it is scarily narrow and immensely technical and now an even bigger challenge.

All the cars were gleaming in their colourful liveries - spruced up and repaired after the beating down they had taken over their previous outing - ready to hit the road as fiercely as they can in the able hands of their drivers. But as fate would have it, it rained the previous night, throwing all equations in to a tizzy. Friday morning it was and the pits transformed into a war-zone with tuners fighting hard to change the suspension set-ups and tyres for each car to get them to their competitive best in the short one hour time window before the super special stage. Wrinkles of worry were quite visible while I prayed for my friend to get a fair chance in his race for the title.

My phone started ringing. I wasn’t wired nor I had Bluetooth synced helmet and I had forgotten the phone in my shorts that were buried under my riding pants. I was sure it was my friend who had called me to ask where I was. He was completely against me starting on the Sunday morning, the day of his sangeet, to ride down 950 kms and make it in time. Everyone said I was out of my mind to ride across the Deccan plateau within a day. My mother even offered to buy me air tickets but then, I had to salvage my lost pride of being a tourer, a long distance rider – something that I had not done in at least the last two years. There are quite a few riders who have sailed through the Iron-Butt challenge, doing close to 1700 kms within 24 hours, almost twice my target – but this was my ride for redemption.

The adrenalin rush to conquer my quest had me going strong for quite some time since my departure into the freezing cold at 6 am. It started getting better as the sun steadily made its way up. In the meantime, I had joined the NH4 – one of the few roads in India where you can crunch miles steadily and at good speeds. I did not even stop for breakfast, not wanting to lose time. As exhaustion started creeping up, I stopped in Kolhapur for a quick bite just after noon.

Slightly ahead of my schedule after the dream run I had since morning, I did not want to relax. I got back on to the saddle wringing the throttle open every time I found an open stretch. I was carrying good steady pace but somehow, I don’t know why, the odometer seemed to have slowed down. My body was tiring out faster than ever, may be due to that extra pack of fries I munched at McDonalds. After riding hard for two hours, I was still at Satara. I stopped in the shade of a massive roadside banyan tree for a break, trying to evaluate what was going wrong.

The rally is spread over three days with the Super Special stage on Friday followed by six special stages on Saturday and three on Sunday. He did well on Day 1 and Day 2, looking poised to bring the trophy home. I had wished him all the luck in this world and left today morning. I called him up when I stopped over at Satara. The ‘hello’ was low and I knew something was wrong. An electrical failure robbed them off the power steering and they went straight into a tree stump that ripped the front suspension and axle off. Both occupants were safe, but he lost the championship by just 6 points! Aaaarrggghhh!

Only 250 more kilometers to go - which means a maximum of four hours of riding left to be done. Yay! I just did 700 kms in 9 hours. A pat on my back and back on the road!

Well, the phone is ringing continuously now. Well just 50 more kilometers. I have been riding for the past 13 hours. The traffic in Pune and Lonavla have already taken a huge toll on my flailing spirits and Mumbai was yet to come. Well, just 50 more kilometers, you can do it!

a-ring a-ring a-ring a-ring!

What! Why is my morning alarm ringing? Am I day dreaming on the motorcycle? Wait!

a-ring a-ring a-ring a-ring!

Let me snooze that one first and then think!

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