Chapeau lad, climb on: The Kasauli One Day Classic
The battle lines were drawn two weeks in advance. Once I knew there was a vacant Monday coming my way, a weekend tour was pretty eminent. A quick look on Google Maps and a word with Asmi was enough to convince myself to climb the Chandigarh-Kasauli-Solan road. My training for the much-awaited Manali-Leh tour was yet to take flight and what better way to start. Angad had just made the transition from his Enfield to a ferocious Raleigh 29er, and we’d been riding together regularly. I’ve been sharing my love for the trails in Gurgaon with him, and hence it wasn’t too tough to convince him to attempt the climb up to Solan. The team needed a third person to ensure a positive environment in the peloton, and Pranav decided to join us as well. He’d never sat on a bike with the intention of climbing up a mountain, Angad was still recovering from his infamous accident and I was still recovering from my time in Sri Lanka. A day-long climb was just what all three of us needed.
I packed my bags on Friday morning, rode to work, finished off work, and then rode to Majnu Ka Tila. I’m yet to process the fact that getting there takes more than ninety minutes from Gurgaon. Each time I ride out to catch the bus, it’s a sprint to the finish line. It’s the only time in the season when my competitive spirit shines in full blossom. Well, thank god for private buses that never adhere to time schedules.
We’d managed to get Pranav a rented Giant 29er, a black stallion charged up for the mammoth climb that lay in front of us. I got onto a bus on Friday night and reached Chandigarh at 3 am the next morning. We awoke to a lavish breakfast featuring pancakes, boiled eggs, gooseberry syrup, strawberries, and cream – courtesy Zo’s mum. Oh the joy of a hearty brekkie before a long day on the road! By 830 am, we had packed up our bags (the other two riding out with panniers), done a final bike check, and taken innumerable jabs at each other. This tongue-in-cheek humour would last till the dying moments of my little escapade, something I dearly miss on my solo tours.
We started with a slow tempo. I didn’t want the peloton to tire out in the first few kilometres. The odd 30 km stretch across the Himalayan Express till the start of the Parwanoo was ridden with as little effort as possible. To our delight, the sun had decided to help out, and was just looming over the black clouds that towered over us. We’d been warned of heavy rain from all the forecasters in the family and it was nice to ride out on this semi-sunny day.
We ambled across the gradual ascent, with yours truly clicking photographs from all sorts of weird angles. I would sprint ahead and wait for the domestiques to arrive, stooping like one of the cameramen on the Tour, clicking with serious fury. The boys didn’t seem to mind; how often do we get on a two wheeled rig and set out to ascend entire mountains.
From the base of the Parwanoo climb, it was all about the TV tower. Angad knew these roads on the back of his hand, and each time the TV Tower of Kasauli was visible in the distance, the team radio would be abuzz with updates on our proximity to the top. Gradually, we crossed Parwanoo and stopped for a lunch break. We were in the mountains, it would be unfair to not devour the godly noodles, so we hunted down the closest Maggi Point and gobbled up some amazing veg Maggi. As we had our final cup of tea, it started to drizzle. At half past three, we still had 20 km to do. This little shower would only delay us.
I cooked up a strategy to tag-team the climb with Angad. Pranav was climbing at his own pace, well aware of his stamina and climbing ability. So instead of waiting for him at every hairpin, the two of us would attack for one full kilometer, one after the other. Distances would be covered faster and we would mentally be getting rid of the numbers faster than usual. And it worked. At the next km stone, I told Angad to sprint up to next one, and I would make the pace till the one after, and so on. In quick succession, we managed to rack up 12 km. It was a sight to see Angad towering over the stone, mocking me as I puffed up the incline. He had really managed to keep up the oh-so-vital josh that Doscos were famous for stirring up. You could hear cheers and shouts at every bend of the road. “C’mon Pranav”, “You got this, keep climbing!” The atmosphere was great and the feeling of being in the mountains, fighting for every inch on the road was truly satisfying.
By tea time, we had 5 km to go. Exhaustion was kicking in and pain was spelt out over each of our faces. But the damn TV tower was right in front of us, and the josh had just hit a new tangent. I’d gone a bit silent, mentally trying to stay positive till the end. Pranav was expressing an honest decay in strength, but Angad had found some new found energy which led him to take charge of the lead-out, making it easier for us to chase him to the top.
It’s funny how the tactics that I watch on the television, executed by professionals, make so much sense on a day like this. Lead outs help the race contender to maintain his pace and push on for a final sprint to the top. All these things started playing in my mind, and just like that, I was transported the 2016 Tour De France. The silence had been interrupted with my commentary of Froom’s epic ascent of Mont Ventoux. ‘Chris Froome has dropped his bike and is now jogging up the road. We have never seen anything like this before and the Man In Yellow has the crowds bubbling with energy. With his team car miles away and with no bike to ride, Froomey has decided to keep moving, hell with the bike. He’s not going to let the other General Category riders get the better of him in this fashion.’
This is how it goes. No one is stronger than the mountain, but with a poor sense of humour and a bunch of carrots along the way, the average cyclist manages to ascend any distance, come hell or high water.
We headed to the Kasauli Club, where Angad’s grandfather had arranged a room for us. Before we could settle down, it was time to hit the bar and get in a few drinks. Rules of the Club are to be strictly adhered to – timing and dress code the main constraints. We were stopped at the gates for not wearing formal shoes. In the process, poor Pinku, the receptionist, got a blasting from our headquarters in Chandigarh. Bechara, he had just stepped out for a breath of fresh air. Anyway, Pinku gave each of us formal shoes and we headed to the bar, greeted with fried fish, cheese toasts, and a cold pint of beer. A quick dinner followed and we were fast asleep in no time.
Sunday morning, 830 am – Solan was about 35 km from Kasauli. The plan was to ride to our friend Asmi’s house in Solan, via Subathu. The gradient was relatively flat and it wasn’t going to be a repeat of last evening’s burnout. After crossing Lawrence School, Sanawar, we were treated to a long lasting downhill, where I let my brakes free and soared down in full aerodynamic position. With my odometer tipping just over 40kmph, the wind in my face was really strong and I quickly picked up a bad headache, but nothing a Crocin couldn’t solve. At the bottom, we devoured a couple of fatty paranthas at Giani Dhaba and headed out once again. By 1130am, we were in Subathu. A quick detour to the Subathu cemetery was followed by one last sprint to Solan. It was my last few kilometers in the hills, and I was eager to pick up a good cadence and ride the rest of the route in a time trial fashion. By lunch time we were in Asmi’s mansion, treated with an unlimited flow of hot water, powered by solar panels. Pasta for lunch, bonfire beers for dinner. It was one heck of a day.
Monday afternoon, 1 pm – Angad and Pranav had decided to ride further to Rishikesh, via Dehradun. I was a little put off seeing them ride into the distance, and got the bright idea of cycling down to Chandigarh. It wasn’t meant to be, as in just under 4 km of riding, I was assaulted with water balloons by happy drunks aiming from their balconies. In no time, I was in a bus back to Chandigarh. And that was the end of Holi-day.
I was back in Gurgaon at 3 am in the morning on Monday, and at work in the next few hours. The body was in pain, but I was all smiles through the day. It had been a highly entertaining weekend, and most importantly, it was a step in the right direction. Post-tour blues had been done away with and the urge to restart training had returned. Cycling season was finally back!