Fresh off the boast: The Aravalli One Day Classic
Saturday Morning. 520 am. I think I heard the alarm go. In my semi-conscious state I might have shut it. Or I had slept through it, like the last five alarms before that.
530 am. Okay, I definitely heard that one, and almost fell off my bed in distress. I was late for my first Pedal Yatri ride in six months. Its not that they have a call over which requires you to be punctual; they just don’t wait for you if you’re running late. Which is only fair. I anyway rushed and got into the lift, hoping to make it in time. It seemed highly impractical to bike 10km in 15 minutes all the way to Gaushala. But heck, I had to give my mum’s MTB a taste of the trails, something it hadn’t had in years. I rode as fast as I could, while alternating between a peanut butter sandwich and water – a perfect combination to fuel up and get over last night’s hoo-ah’s.
I got to Gaushala at 615, a full 15 minutes late. There was no one in sight but I could see multiple tire marks in the dirt track leading up to the trails. I steadily rode up to The Ramp, about 4km from the start.
Mum had swapped her fatty tires with thinner road ones, which made going over pebbles and uneven surfaces horribly difficult. I reached The Ramp only to see about 20 cyclists, mostly all in their PY yellows, all standing in one long row. It was a ritual that if you happened to be riding along the Aravali trail and crossed The Ramp, you had to climb up to the top. No questions asked. In a group ride the norm was to climb up the ramp, click a lot of pictures, play catch up and get a quick swig of water before going down. All this and more. I was happy to have caught up with the group, though terribly exhausted and out of breath. What’s more, the climb up to the top seemed like a guilty walk of shame to the Prinicipals office. Having a group of guys watch as you struggled up the steep slope – not to forget I was late – was not a pleasant experience. One of the cyclists was a Dosco, and it was nice to talk about the Main Field and chotts in the middle of this isolated Mad Max-ish dirt road.
The plan was to ride past the Lost Lake (I am yet to find out why it’s lost) and then to Bani Dham, a temple(?) tucked away in the Aravalis. I had a fair idea of the trails up till Lost Lake but I hadn’t explored anything further yet. Most of the cyclists were seasoned mountain bikers and knew these trails inside out. The way to Bani Dham was very scenic. Though the shrub filled area lacked some real forest cover, the hard packed trails and gradual inclines made up for most of it. Right towards the end, the cemented path suddenly dropped and I was rolling down one of the steepest roads I have ever been on. At the end, I thought we would move ahead and finish in a loop, but the plan was to climb back up. What a nightmare this was turning out to be! Im not one to shy away from a climb, but not this hell hole. A no nonsense 20% gradient awaited us, and there was a lot of murmur about how to approach this mammoth of a climb. I started pedaling up and was already abusing myself for putting myself in this spot. I was on a 1×1 gear combination and occasionally the front tire would casually rise up in the air. Not a good start at all. Every time I stopped, I’d lose momentum and all my efforts gone to the dumps. Somehow I made it to the top, with Jasbir clapping his hands and shouting ‘Well done’ to everyone coming up. It really was a feat.
We regrouped and discussed the way back. Some wanted to go back the same way and some wanted to finish a full loop and come out from Mangar. Get on to the Faridabad road and have a bit of tar to cruise on and cool down. We split and made our way towards Mangar.
We stopped at Chote Lal’s for chai and then rode home. I felt an intense pain in the knees all the way back; I was unsure if riding everyday was doing me any good. I thought about some of the conversations I had overheard in the last few hours, too shy to enter any of them. Two cyclists were discussing the toughest part of the Manali-Leh highway, and where their knees creaked and they gave into the mountains. I smiled all the way home just thinking about what I would find tough and my mind wandered to carefully constructed images of the Himalayas, waiting to be explored.