Woke up at 2:30 am on Sunday, Sep 13th, to the sound of my phone alarm. By now I wake up to the first alarm and snooze only once thanks to some early morning cycling routine I had started following for the last two months. I had been waking up much earlier than usual for the past two days to try and alter my sleep pattern for todays ride. The idea was to force myself to go to sleep early and wake up early. As with any best laid plans, I spent the previous night Skyping with my three month old niece and her mom in Dallas. My Fitbit tells me that I have had 3 hrs and 42 mins of sleep. That will have to do.
I wanted to start at 4 am so that my 13hr trip would bring me home in Goa by around 5pm when there was still daylight. I hate having to arrive at my destination when it is dark. I get out of my house at 5:30am. The last 20% of the packing takes up the most amount of the time. I load up my fully stuffed saddle bags. Wrap my 65ltr backpack with the bike cover, praying that my passport and iPad inside will remain dry in the event of rain. I lay out the backpack on the rear seat of the bike and fasten it with jump cords. The two cords barely hold the bag in place. Should I risk riding like this? I knew I should have tried out securing the backpack the day before when I did the trial run. I stretch two other shorter cords to their breaking points. We have lockdown! I step back to take a pic of the bike. Then I start laughing. Dad, who had come down to see me off, has a quizzical look on his face. I tell him that I am laughing at how I have set myself up for this incredulous adventure and two day ago my bike would not start as it was laying idle for two months before that. And now I wanted to do 670Km journey on it. This is going to be awesome.
I start my bike and wake up a few neighbours in doing so. I let it idle for a few minutes, always a good practice with bikes. Switch it off. Practice getting on and off the bike with it packed the way it was. I am set to go. Dad makes some offerings to our myriad of gods for my safe journey. Only in India would you have a space scientist believe in the occult. He is only following my mom’s instructions phoned in from Dallas though. I start the bike, wave good bye and set off. I do a drive-by of our neighbourhood temple and say a silent prayer that warms up my cold atheist heart. I stop to Whatsapp the family group to let my sis and mom know that I am on my way. Go into airplane mode to conserve battery and restart my epic journey.
The first 15kms of the journey is through Bangalore ring road. What worries me most here is the million speed-breakers that are nearly invisible until you are upon them. The next day I will read in the news papers that speed-breakers kill 4000 of my countrymen every year. Some bureaucrat is going to put up his hand and say, “but what about the lives these speed-breakers saved?” Can’t answer that my good man but why the hell are they so many potholes on the road? Rage is good. Warms up my body and keeps me awake.
I hit the expressway and have a uneventful ride for the next 100kms. I keep a steady pace while dodging mild traffic and riding past toll gates. Two-wheelers don’t pay toll in Indian highways, which is brilliant. Two months ago I had done the same route solo in my car and had to pay a fortune in toll charges through out the way. Towards the 100kms mark my body core temperature has fallen in the brisk morning air and my teeth begin to chatter. I hymn a note under my full-faced helmet to the beats of my teeth chattering. At 8:45am I have my first pit stop for breakfast at a punjabi dhaba that is set up to service the truck drivers from north India that were traveling through. Have a onion-paratha with dahi. Oily paratha but good dahi. I cuppa chai to warm my bones then it is back on the expressway.
I hate riding/driving on expressways. Its so boring. The only challenge is to break the speed limit or dodge slow trucks. I always pick the A roads or twisty mountain roads when I can. Here I am anxious to cover 60% of the distance on a expressway so I can gauge my ability to make it all the way to Goa and do that before nightfall. I have too much time to think on these long straight stretches. I contemplate my career. Worry about my bike’s fuel gauge that does not seem to be working. Stop early for fuel. Spot windmills far away. Unfortunately still have time to notice my sore muscles, uncomfortable posture and the people staring at me from the cars the drive past. Windmills close by now. I am not sure I can take any more of this. Fortunately I reach my exit (Bankapur, on the AH47). A quick stop over for some coconut water and I hit the narrow, dusty roads of rural north Karnataka. And I love it.
What lay before me is well a paved road running through green fields on a bright sunny day with some scattered clouds. It is perfect. I feel rejuvenated. All my sores and aches are gone or forgotten. I can hear the reassuring thumping of my bike as if she know that this is what she was made for. Time for a quick pic. And that turns out to be the only pic of my bike in good light. I later regret not taking more of them.
I take off towards the horizon on this road past villages, fields and lakes. I am beginning to enjoy this. I am also in two minds whether to keep the pace up to reach the destination or to stop and take in the view. Decide to do more of the latter but not as much of it as I would like. I ride past Tibetan monasteries that were set up when the refugees from Tibet were settled here. I see shaven headed young buddhist monks in their colourful garb playing and cycling on the street. A scene out of a Shaolin temple movie (I realise that Shaolin is Chinese and I see the irony here) but I have no time to stop for pics. Oh, why didn’t I.
I ride on until I am blocked by a group of teenagers holding a rope across the road forcing everyone to stop. Ganesha Chaturthi is coming up and they need “donations” to set up the festivities. It was extortion but these were well meaning kids who admire my bike and who were a bit surprised by me talking Kanada to them and settled for Rs. 10 in donation. I ride on only to be stopped at the next village again in the same way by kids asking for donations and stressing how they where not the same as the last group. This happens for a third time soon. I frequently loose the way in some places, once discovering a lotus pond on one of the wrong turns.
Riding further along the route you see scenery that would not be out of place in Scotland on a sunny day. Beautiful green fields with mountains in the distance and a blue sky with puffy clouds. Picture postcard perfect that I am unfortunately not able to capture in all its glory with my iPhone while sitting on my bike.
Fresh green paddy fields line to raod, fenced off to keep away grazing livestock. The more innovative farmers used old sarees to prevent cows from reaching in through the holes in the fence. Step farming was a common sight on the hills.
Further down this road you hit the Western Ghats. A young rocky mountain range that runs along the west coast of peninsular India. Roads here are narrow, bendy and lined with trees, some planted but most wild. These roads are simply called the Ghat roads or Ghat section and are a bikers paradise. The roads have sharp turns, quick rises and sheer drops, sun peeping in through the treeline, narrow bridges over ravines filled with monsoon fed streams. It gets a biker’s pulse raising and the adrenaline flowing.
As I ride along these roads I am trying to keep pace with a set of bikers that had ridden down this road many months ago. While researching this trip I had come across a blog post of a group of biker that had done this route a few months ago. This post had a timeline which I translated to pace notes. I started an hour and half behind them and was roughly keeping pace until I reached Yellapur. A small town that was having it’s Sunday’s Market on main street requiring a short detour.
I ride past what seems to be a popular restaurant there, going by the number of cars parked outside, and decide to break for lunch. I am a bit weary struggle a bit to take off my backpack and my motorcycle jacket. A sumptuous masaal dosa and hot coffee later, I set off towards Karwar on the west coast. I had barely gone on for 15mins than I am hit by rain. I stop on the road side under a tree and pull out my brand new poncho that I had bought the day before. I can wear it over my biker jacket and it covers the small backpack that I have strapped on. I worry about my passport and iPad that is in the larger backpack strapped to my bike. I had devised some “jugaad” ways to keep them dry but nothing works against a monsoon downpour in India. I wait for 10mins for the rains to subside but it does not. I get restless and decide to ride in the rain. I am falling behind my virtual co-riders. I get on my bike and ride out with the rear half of my poncho flapping around in the wind like Superman’s cape. Now I know why the lady in the The Incredibles insists on no cape for the super suits. But I am hoping that some of that lose cape is keeping my bags dry. Most of me remains dry and my waterproof shoes keep my feet toasty. The rains stop in half an hour and I stop to take off my poncho. The sales girl at Decathalon was right, the poncho folds back into its bag pretty easy. I ride on again with only intermittent rain. I decide to not take the road-less-traveled this time and stick to the main road to Karwar. I have the first sighting of the coast in an hour as I crest a mountain and have to make a U-turn to get back to a good vantage point to take a pic.
I ride down the mountain into Karwar and realise that I am being chased by rain.
The rains catchup with me as I ride into Karwar and I am forced to seek shelter. I put on my poncho but wait for some time for the rains to ease. I am off 15mins later riding north towards Goa. I am out of Karwar before I know it and on the bridge over Kali Nadi. The other side of the bridge has been cut through a hard rock mountain outcrop. Both side of the cut section had lookouts built. It looked quaint.
I enter Goa by 5pm and stop at the first petrol pump. Petrol is nearly Rs 10/ltr cheaper in Goa. I setoff towards home driving past The Fish Curry restaurant that I later regret for not stopping at. That is because I am quickly caught in the rain and this time it is torrential. I find shelter in a empty roadside stall. Even protect the luggage by bring the bike half way in. I sit there for the next half hour waiting for the rains to ease, eating some fruits, all the while rueing the fish curry I could have been munching on if I had stopped by earlier. Seeing no sign of respite, I get on the saddle and ride again in the rain. It is slow going but it is better than sitting around. I, again, skip the scenic route and stay on the main road but soon run into traffic. My poncho stops me from getting wet but drains the water around my ankle right into the weak spot of my waterproof shoes. Water is seeping into the shoe now and has nowhere to go as the waterproof shoe is effective in keeping the water in as it is in keeping the water out (as long as the water line is below ankle level). My feet are now soaked in a puddle of water and that remains so until I get home a couple of hours later.
It is slow going in the traffic but at least the rains had stopped. I do not see any fish places enroute and cannot assuage my craving. Ridding in traffic means more gear changes on the bike which hurt both my left knee and left shoulder coz of the heavy clutch. My focus shifts from finding fish places to finding tea stalls. I have no luck with that either as it is a Sunday and it is not Christian to work on a Sunday and Goa is Christian. It begins to get dark. I drive by a restaurant that seems open so turn back and stop there. It turns out to be a bar and restaurant with a tandoor for fried chicken. I am disappointed but glad to get off my bike. I begin planning my route on Google maps to a popular chicken place, called The Chicken Man, near my house that is about hour from where I have stopped. It starts to pour just then and I duck for cover. Ten mins or rain later I abandon The Chicken Man plan and order a take away from the tandoor restaurant. Ten more mins of rain and I am like chuck it and decide to eat in at the restaurant and order a beer. An hour later I step out as a satisfied customer with a full stomach and a very light buzz. I get back on my bike and ride the last cold, wet hour back home. I ride past my empty office and reach home at exactly 9pm (the watch on my bike shown in the pic below is slow).
So I left my house 15 1/2 hrs earlier with a effective ride time of 13 1/2hrs. I had complete 671kms and used up some 25lrs of petrol. I am weary but all parts of me are still functional. I struggle a bit with getting my luggage to the 3rd floor apartment. I am glad to find my house keys in the first place I looked in my luggage. I had no idea where they were and I spent the time on the bike trying to remember where I had seen them last. Did I leave it inside the house here in Goa (house has an auto lock) or in the house at Bangalore? Ah, yes! I most likely left it in my laptop bag when doing the security check at the Goa airport before flying down to Bangalore on last Thursday. And that is where it was. I get into the house and collapse on the sofa. I get up a little later and have a warm shower. The skin on my hand, ass and feet are numb to the touch. My little pinky toe on my right foot will remain numb for the next two days. The colour of my wet leather gloves have soaked into my hand and would not come off.
I had completed my little adventure. Now it was time to sleep.