After a gap of two years the Montra Desert 500 Ultra cycling event was held at Jodhpur on 26th /27th February, 2016. I had successfully completing the 250 kms challenge at the 2013 edition and I was keen on taking the challenge once again, two years later at the age of 67 years!
The pre-event lead up:
The three months leading up to the event was an important phase for me to take a final call on participating in the 250 kms challenge with a more plausible and less arduous 100 kms ride beckoning. As I moved to Bangalore for the months of December and January I decided to invest in an additional cycle, a Giant Roam 3, as in any case I would be spending several months every year at Bangalore.
Cycling in Bangalore was quite enjoyable particularly on the highway leading to the airport and beyond on the road to Hyderabad. Over three months I rode in excess of 1250 kms with the maximum single ride of 90 kms. Not much to write home about but since I was on rolling roads at Bangalore, this was reasonable training. Regular rides of 50 kms on the Gurgaon Faridabad road prior to that and thrice a week sessions with a personal trainer also helped keep me reasonably fit.
But the motivation to ride 250 kms was elusive as I had not been testing my ageing body on long rides. At the last event I remember how exhausting it was as I battled strong head winds and an upward incline on the way back. Over the last 25 kilometers I was bone tired and weary and had to stop every few kilometers to ease the pain in my legs. There had to be a strong reason to take the strain and pain once again. I decided to dedicate my ride to the cause of cancer care and treatment of the under privileged and partnered with the Indian Cancer Society.
This is a cause very dear to my heart and that of my family as we have lost several family members to the dreaded disease. There was no looking back after that, I was committed to take the 250 kms challenge and told the world about it as I embarked on a mission to spread the message of cancer care for the poor and the work being done by the Indian Cancer Society.
Onwards to Jodhpur:
I was thankful that my cycling buddy Sunil Batra agreed to ride with me for the 250 kms challenge. He had initially not planned to participate but on hearing of my dedication and on my resolve to cycle 250 kms, he has inspired enough to support me. We hired a Zoom Car and Sunil arranged a driver as both of us and my wife Deepa set off by road for the day long journey to Jodhpur on the 25th February. Deepa was initially not going to join us and she was encouraging me to take the 100 kms ride without a back up vehicle and to finish the ride well before nightfall. On hearing of the dedication of my ride to cancer care, she willing agreed to come along and man the support vehicle. She was also happy that Sunil would be with me and urged us to ride together in the dark unlike last time when Sunil and ridden on a couple of hours ahead of me.
We packed our cycles and secured them on the roof carrier of the Scorpio we had hired as we leisurely made our way over the 600+ kms to Jodhpur. Thankfully the roads were very good and traffic reasonable so we had a pleasant journey with several rest pauses. Thankfully the Jat agitation that threatened to be a dampener had eased off by then and we had no trouble enroute. We checked in at Jodhpur around 8.30 pm at the Bijolai Palace Hotel. It was near the Kailana Lake and was very well situated and had a beautiful setting.
The next day we assembled our cycles and then set off on a rece of the route. We had heard that the first 15 kilometres or so was bad and wanted to get a feel of the conditions. The first stretch was indeed quite bad with climbs and descents that worried us as we would have to do these climbs on our way back when we would be very tired. Stray dogs were also a menace and prevented us from making a very early morning start ahead of the rest of the riders. The road leading on for the next stretch of 10 kilometers was also very daunting as it was quite narrow and cobbled at certain stretches with loads of traffic . All in all we were very disappoint and felt that this was a much more challenging route than what we experienced at the last edition of the event.
The 250 kms challenge:
On the 27th February we set off just a little ahead of the group at 6.30 am. Dawn had not yet broken so the roads were still dark as we negotiated the early treacherous stretches. Stray dogs gazed at us tensely and suspiciously but the presence of a support vehicle driving just behind us honking away kept them at bay. Luckily traffic at that time of the morning was low and we could cycle without too much of difficulty. Soon the sun arose from its slumber and the reassuring morning light and pleasant temperature of 13/14 C allowed us very pleasant riding.
We stocked our support vehicle quite liberally with water, energy drinks, energy bars, some snacks and dried fruits, bananas and oranges and we were confident that we would not need to depend on the refreshment points. The support vehicle driving to and fro along the way as we cycled was very comforting. Sunil rode on ahead but would stop from time to time as I caught up with him; having the company of another rider is also a luxury I never usually have when I cycle even during the last Desert 500 event.
We reached the turning point at the 125 kms mark quite comfortably at 1.15 pm after riding at an easy pace for 6 hours 45 mins. On the way back after a half hour halt at the turning point we had to contend with the blazing sun and temperatures in excess of 33C. We decided to halt at 10 kms intervals to drink fluids and stay hydrated. I found it refreshing to wash my face and pour a little water over my head. We didn’t feel the need to be overly aggressive about our ride timings.
It was around the 160 kms mark that Sunil had a puncture which took some time for us to fix. He had a set of spares tubes and I had brought along a pump. When we were finally all done and recommenced our ride I had a back wheel puncture about 5 kilometers ahead. Thankfully Sunil was just about a kilometre in front and turned back to help. Back wheel puncture repairs are a bit trickier and I was happy to have his help.
Soon the intensity of the sun eased off and from 4.30 pm to about 6.30 pm we had a very comfortable ride. We were riding on an incline; the roads were good, traffic sparse and the weather reasonably cool. Nightfall was around the corner and at the 210 kms mark and we decided to ride together, prudently at an easy pace, with the head lights of our support vehicle lighting the way for us. I felt less discomfort and only the tiredness which was natural when you are on a long ride like this thankfully less pain and stress than what I had experienced over the final stretches at the last event. Sunil, felt giddy and unsteady about 25 kilometres from the finish, probably due to an aggravation of spondylitis caused by fatigue. He took a half hour medical time out and then felt better and we cycled on.
The final stretch was challenging as the road condition was not good and lorries screeched their way past us with horns blaring. We even had a couple of wild boars race across the road in front of us. We finally cycled past the finish line at 10.30 pm. We had taken in all a modest 16 hours to complete 250 kilometres with 12hrs and 25 minutes saddle time, which is the actual cycling time. The balance being rest pauses. We lost about an hour due to the two punctures we had and about half an hour for the medical time out Sunil needed towards the end.
We missed the post event party but that was not something that worried us. I was extremely happy that I had dedicated my ride to the cause of cancer care for the poor and I was happy that my efforts of raising funds resulted in donations of Rs 1,12,500/- to the Indian Cancer Society thanks to the generosity of family and friends.