गौरी। कुछ ५ साल की थी जब उसकी माँ इलाहबाद की गर्मियों की चपेट में आ गयी और २ दिन में ही इस दुनिया से चली गयीं उम्र इतनी नहीं थी कि सब कुछ समझ पाती, मगर पापा थे, भैया थे, दादी थीं, तीनों बुआ थीं. खयाल रखने वाले काफ़ी लोग थे। ज़िन्दगी इतनी बुरी भी नहीं थी। फिर कुछ सालों बाद उसके पापा की दुसरी शादी हो गयी। पापा नयी मम्मी के साथ रहने लगे और गौरी और उसके भैया इलाहबाद में चाचा चाची के साथ। कुछ दिन सब ठीक रहा, स्कूल भी ठीक ही चल रहा था दोनों भाई बहन छुट्टियों में पापा से भी मिल लेते थे। गौरी छठीं कक्षा में पहुंच गयी। फिर एक दिन अचानक ख़बर आयी  – गौरी मर गयी।
मर गयी? कैसे मर गयी? कुछ भी तो नहीं हुआ था उसे।
पता चला किसी ने ड्रग्स की आदत लगवा दी थी उसे।
ओवर डोज़ ने उसकी जान ले ली।
गौरी मेरी ममेरी बहन थी

The 200 km brevet that I failed to complete

Behind the scenes

Brevet or Randoneering is a long distance cycling event in which the cyclist attempts to complete a distance of 200 km or more, passing through predetermined and timed checkpoints, completing the entire distance in a given time.

I started cycling after a break of 25 years in November and was happy doing small distances. Then Tarique and Aasim participated in their first 200 Brevet in December 2015, while I went along in the support vehicle. It is then that the brevet bug bit me.

With Tarique and Aasim in their 200 km Brevet, December 17, 2015
With Tarique and Aasim in their 200 km Brevet, December 17, 2015

I started training, hoping to do the April night brevet and slowly started gaining miles and saddle time.  On 6th February, I did my first 50 km. Steady progress, I was happy. But I could not continue. I got a nasty viral, during which I traveled, and the viral brought out all my allergies. The Asthma was so severe that I could not cycle without taking several asthalin puffs. The frequent and extended hot flushes during the ride did not help either. I decided to give up on the April event.  Tarique completed his third brevet the 200 km night brevet on 17th April. 

I decided to take charge of my life and met Dr. Rajesh Swarnakar, friend, a fellow cyclist, and most importantly an allergy specialist. He assured me that my allergies can be taken care of and started me on medications.

Things seemed to be working fine; my asthma was in control, and I felt I was ready. Tarique promised to help me train for the June 12th Brevet. With just eight weeks to go, I was cutting it a bit fine,  but I was determined, and we rebooted my training on 19th April.  I struggled a bit, managing hot flushes while on the ride – and there is no escaping them given my age. But then a new issue cropped up. I started getting leg cramps at night. The cramps were so bad; they would wake me up from a deep sleep. Realized that the medicines (for diabetes, high triglycerides, and the new allergy meds) I was taking are known to cause cramps. I continued for a while and then on a whim, I decided to stop Lipicard – the drug I was taking to keep the triglyceride levels in check. Managing hot flushes while on the ride and night cramps were getting too much for me.

A week passed, the cramps reduced. On 14th May, I cycled 100 km on my newly acquired Surly LHT AKA Dhanno .  Happy with the progress and with the new bike, with about three weeks of training left, all I needed was a little bit more speed which I was sure to gain in the coming weeks.

First 100 on Outer Ring Road
First 100 on Outer Ring Road


One day I woke up and realized I have pain on my right thigh which turned out to be thrombophlebitis. The pain radiated down my leg and left me limping. I cursed my luck and wondered as to how will I train after a week’s break which I was taking to travel to Pune for Aasim’s graduation.

Aasim graduates from MUWCI
Aasim graduates from MUWCI

Thankfully, a week’s rest did me good. The 12th June brevet route was declared, and on 28th May, we decided to attempt a 125 km ride on the same route. This was to be my last long ride before the event, and I did manage to complete it without any problems despite it being very hot. Everyone I know said  I will easily be able to complete the 200 km brevet in time even though I had some doubts about the last sector, the long, lonely, barren stretch of Outer Ring Road.

My Surly LHT AKA Dhanno
My Surly LHT AKA Dhanno

11th June 2016

The weather on 10th June was good. On 11th, there was a cloud cover most of the day, but it was hot and humid post 1 PM. It rained a bit in the night. Doubts started creeping in. Heat and humidity can be a killer in long distance rides, so I prepared myself, deciding to drink a lot of water and keeping the electrolyte balance. Packed some extra stuff on my bike.

Action! The Day of the brevet – 12th June

A cool morning. I checked the weather forecast, and it predicted 43-44 degrees, no chances of precipitation, 75% humidity, UV index of 10 and predicted wind speed (WSW) of 11-14kms per hour. This should have been a warning, but my adrenalin filled mind was rearing to go.

The scenic zilpi ghat enroute Bor Tiger Reserve
The scenic zilpi ghat en route Bor Tiger Reserve

I was ready for the brevet. Tarique, despite being a much faster rider (he averages 26+kms per hour) had decided to ride slow with me. Uncle, Dr. Bhupendra Arya, decided to escort us till the first checkpoint at 39.4km which was Bor, the nearest tiger sanctuary we have.

I cycled through the city and reached the beautiful Zilpi ghat, enjoying the cool and gentle breeze, cycled along watching a hornbill fly past, listening to several cuckoos, spotting Grey Tit, Treepies, a pair of Iora and several other beautiful birds. Despite the climbs, I reached the first check- point in good time. The route was scenic and passed through the buffer area of the tiger reserve.   I thought I spotted a bear amongst the bushes about 200 meters from the road, but I was cycling fast, and it vanished from the sight very quickly. If this were a Bollywood movie, I would be singing a happy tune for sure.

At Selu, the 60 km point, while Tarique stopped to take cold water from an eatery, I took left on the route and got onto the state highway. After a scenic ride the traffic was annoying, but it was ok till one car driver overtook a truck and came on too close to me. The side mirror of his car hit me on my hand and made me get off the road scaring me a bit. Nothing eventful happened throughout the road till we reached the second checkpoint at 83.8km well in time.

“Take a right, go two km left, take a left again and cycle three km till you the national highway, then turn left” were the instructions. We followed them. This was a route through the Wardha MIDC area, and the terrain was mostly flat. So while it was hot and humid, I sailed through it.

The national highway was, as expected, traffic ridden and had a gentle upward gradient. So far so good, I was doing fine, and suddenly the sun hid behind some clouds. I heaved a sigh of relief but noticed the headwinds were beginning. These would turn to crosswinds as I will turn right on the Outer Ring Road, I remember thinking to myself.

Around 100 km mark, Tarique had a couple of punctures, and his cyclo computer died. He opted out of the Brevet and called Aasim who was in our support and backup vehicle.

I decided to continue. I wasn’t very tired, and it seemed doable to me.

The winds were getting stronger but so was my determination. At 114 km I turned left to climb the outer ring road (ORR), as I reached up, a traffic police car stopped me. They were just curious. They offered me water, but it was luke warm, I needed cold water, so I told them I will buy it from a Dhaba on the ORR. The one sitting inside the car wondered loudly as to why would an almost 50 woman (they asked me how old I was) even attempt a physically taxing thing like cycling for 200 km.

As expected the winds were stronger, but they were cross winds so while I wasn’t exactly fast, I felt that I will manage a 40 km distance to reach the third checkpoint at 153 km in time. I decided to stop at the first Dhaba that I came across to buy cold water. The owner of the dhaba gave me a complete account of the riders that had stopped over and ate rice and asked me as to why I did not come with them. As I was finishing the conversation and paying the man, I saw a traffic police car stopping by the road side. They waited till I restarted my ride and then sped off. I did not think much about it.

The sun was burning down my back.  The humidity was killing me, the crosswinds were making it difficult to paddle fast. The Temperature must have been around 43 degrees, but it felt like 46. I experienced a hot flush.  While I have gotten used to hot flushes on rides, this one took me by surprise.  As it passed, I shivered and felt cold. So much that I had to get off the bike and stop for a few seconds. I took a gulp of Coke (whatever the black poison is, its like Amrit for sugar deprived riders like me) and started pedaling again.

The crosswinds were steadily increasing. I remember cursing aloud. The one liter cold water I had bought did not even last me 15 km. I saw another dhaba and stopped for a refill of water and a coke bottle. This time again after about 3-4 minutes, the police car appeared. While I was talking to the serving boy trying to satisfy his curiosity about me and my cycle, the man in the car asked: “Sab theek hai madam?”  I replied in affirmative and realized, the good folks were just keeping a watch over me and taking care that no one troubles the lone crazy woman on cycle on the ORR.

The featureless expanse without even a single tree lining the roads rose the temperature of the outer ring road considerably.  Humidity factor was high and the winds had started taking its toll on me. My speed was reducing on climbs and I was unable to paddle faster on flats.

The Bhandara Road flyover was in sight, and I was happy. I was hoping to gain some speed after this last flyover on the route. But nature had some other plan. The wind intensity increased as I crossed over.

At 140 km, just after crossing the Bhandara Road flyover, I was hit by another hot flush. I stopped to catch my breath and saw the time. It was around 1.30 PM, and I had missed my lunch. I gulped the sandwich I was carrying, drank 200 ml of electrolyte, topped it up with 100 ml coke and a few sips of water and was back on the saddle.

A few kilometers more, I kept telling myself and then I will take a U-turn which was to be the last leg of the brevet. Around Lihigaon,  I saw a rider approaching on the other side of the road and was surprised to see that it was Aniruddha. He is a strong and a fast rider and I had expected him to be off ORR and finishing already.
“Don’t give up,” he shouted from across the road “keep peddling”
I shouted back and asked him “how long for the 3rd check point?”
“10-12 km more” he replied.

I tried to push a bit but my cycle refused to go any faster. The wind, heat, and humidity were fast sapping me. I need to be there in an hour. “I know I can do this”,  is what I was thinking. It was a mind game, I had to stay positive.

I kept going. “Bhaiya Kanhan ka bridge kitni door hai? I asked a passerby. “Bas 4 km” he said. After 4 km… nothing! I had to stop myself from cursing aloud. I was loosing time; my speed was decreasing and there were unexpected gradients. After a couple of kilometers I spotted Didar bhai across the road getting out of the car “I gave up, he said and added, “keep going!”

A bit ahead two more riders across the road. “Bhaiya is waiting for you”, he said. “How much more?” I asked to which he said “bas five more minutes” I cycled for 5 minutes and there was no river or bridge in sight. The five minutes turned to 15 when I finally  spotted a structure that looked like a bridge. I laughed. Aloud. I tried to paddle harder, but I could not. I climbed and got off  the bridge, and had ridden about a kilometer or so when I spotted what seemed like a checkpoint and then looked right to find Tarique coming towards me in the innova.
” You are late” he said.,”we were tracking you on Find my Friend and Aasim kept looking out for you” he added. I did not utter a word. Handed him my cycle and opened the car door.

I quietly sat in the car, took huge gulps of coke, while he took my bike cycled the 600 meters distance that was left to reach the checkpoint. I was late by 6 minutes to report on the third checkpoint.  I was hot, hungry, tired and depleted but I surely wasn’t ready for this. I wanted to complete this brevet, but after missing the third checkpoint it didn’t make sense.

At the checkpoint, I thankfully ate the soft homemade idli made by Bhavana, Jitesh’s Wife. She also took care that I drank some juice and gave me water.

Food, AC in the car and some cold water brought my core temperature down. After waiting for a while we took a U-turn and headed back when Tarique received a call from Pushkar that he wants to give up because of bad leg cramps. We tried to edge him on into continuing but he was just not able to walk due to  the severity of  cramps. With both our cycles inside the car, we had to tie Pushkar’s cycle on the carriage over our Innova, and he sat with Jitesh in his car along with Bhavana and Aasim as the two cars continued the journey towards the endpoint.

I was checking my WhatsApp when I saw a message from Aniruddha saying that he is huddled up with Neel and Rajesh in a small roadside tapri because of bad weather. The crosswinds that I had faced while going towards the third check point had turned into full-fledged headwinds for the returning riders as the sun was setting.

While we were going to meet the trio, we spotted another rider, Dr. Urmila who was with me till Jamtha (about 112 km) and then had lagged behind. She was obviously late and wanted to give up too.

Neel had already left by the time we reached Aniruddha and Rajesh. A cup of chai and some laughter later Anirudha and Rajesh started the arduous journey towards the end point. We expected around six riders who were already heading back to complete the brevet before the end time of 6.30 PM.

We drove down to the end point to find Bharti and Sudarshan waiting for us with ice cold salted nimbu pani. We parked our car and were discussing the vagaries of weather when there were messages of Balraj and a few others quitting. Aniruddha, Neel and Rajesh were the only bravehearts, still on the road battling  the heat, humidity and very strong winds.

Brevets are not races, and in most brevets, most of the participants complete the event. But this one was different, and was aptly named “the burning man brevet” Three out of 16 riders completed the 200 km “it’s hot” brevet. Kudos!

Neel, Rajesh and Aniruddha, the brevet bravehearts
Neel, Rajesh, and Aniruddha, the brevet Bravehearts

You learn most when you play against an opponent who can beat you
– Richard Bach (The messiha’s handbook)

My first try at the long distance cycling challenge failed but not without its rewards, the lessons I learned. The foremost being, I need to work on my cycling speed.  A moving speed of 17km per hour is too less. With the number of stops I had to take, the total speed came below 15.

And as for the experience, like Uncle, Dr. Bhupendra Arya, wrote on my Strava ride”

“Girte hain shasawaar hi maidane jang mein
wo tifl kya gireNge jo ghutno ke bal chaleN”

Picture abhee baki hai

My heart will go on....
My heart will go on….