“It’s a weird thing to do. Trust me, it is. 1,600kms from home to home in about 21 hours to achieve what? I’m still thinking. But there is a voice from within that assures me I did the right thing.”
They call it a SaddleSore. I first read about it on xBhp and then heard about it in a small gathering of bikers. It is about riding very long distances in a stipulated period of time. I found it completely stupid and unreasonable. Late last year, I was planning to ride from Pune to Chennai. The topic came up again, when a friend of mine gave me more information about the community that backs these rides, called the Iron Butt Assocaiation. I checked up the website. It didn’t look so cool, but it certainly had been up for ages. It had a long list of achievers and an interesting set of rides. Most importantly it conveyed the message that this is not about speed, but endurance. After reading through for a while, I liked the principles behind the idea and wanted to attempt it. My first attempt was obviously from Pune to Chennai, wherein I had made a lot of plans. However, through the ride there were quite a few surprises and I ended up not completing it. It was a great learning though.
Monday, at work
I somehow couldn’t keep my mind away from some thoughts. The mind thinks about exactly what you don’t want it to think. Sometimes certain things misfire in life for no fault of anyone specific. We always have a lame excuse for it, “Think, it’s for the good.” I don’t take such excuses and always strive to take control of my life. In one such attempt, I decided sitting like this at work with a disturbed mind and yet smiling at people won’t really help. I wanted to do something big; something that will last in my mind for a while; something that will shadow the turbulence. I decided to attempt a SaddleSore; again.I didn’t think too much about it. I didn’t validate if it was the right thing. When I had the thought, I could feel the slightest amount of adrenaline my body generated. That was enough. I informed my colleagues, and started charting out a quick plan. I recollected all the learning from my previous attempt and got to a plan that looked good enough. I strategically chose my routes and speeds. The Ninja was the obvious candidate for the run. However it was due for a rear tire replacement. I called up the service folks to place an order, but they told me it was going to take a few days before the tire arrived. I decided to go for it with the present tire in place. I didn’t want to wait since I had the other risk of letting this crazy thought wither away. Allen was a little hesitant when I told him about the tire, but he wished me the best since I’d already made up my mind.
I’d chosen to ride from Chennai to Madurai and back which would clock around 900kms. I decided to continue again to Salem and return, which would be another 700kms. I created a ride plan with estimated speeds and planned time of arrival at every checkpoint. The advantage of this route was that, depending on how good I was at the end of the first leg, I could always choose to continue to do the second leg or just terminate the run.
I filled up the tank, checked the tire pressures, bought the stuff I wanted to carry and hit the bed early. Folks at home only knew I was riding somewhere, but had no idea about this run.
I’d hardly slept. The excitement was much more since there was a delay. I packed the tank bag with some basic stuff. I got my camera, some chocolates, a pack of glucose, chargers for the gadgets, rain pants and a bottle of water. I’d setup a real time tracker and shared it with my friends so that they can see where I was, every moment. I setup the GPS on the handle with some sensible maps loaded on it this time. I could have sneaked out of the house, but I made sure my Mom was up and helped me start from home.The rules of the ride insist that there has to be witnesses for the start and end of the ride, which will help verification processes which happens at a later point in time. To document the ride, it is expected that one has to collect receipts from ATMs, fuels stations or any other place which will produce a computer generated time stamp.
I rushed to the nearest ATM and got a statement with the time and place printed as ‘03:30AM’ and ‘Alandur, Chennai’. I switched on the iPod and caught the NH-45 to head towards Madurai. It was dark outside and my visor wasn’t very new. I had been using it for a few months now and I could see the glare from opposite vehicles although I patiently cleaned it before leaving. It was going to make a key difference since I slowed down every time there was a glare, rather than taking a chance with the open highway. There wasn’t much traffic, but for the most of what was there, it was lorries. I passed through roads that were slightly wet and realized that it had rained at some point. In the one day I had lost, I checked up the weather websites to make sure I was going to have a dry day, at least for my first leg.
Tindivanam was my first checkpoint, but I was passing through that in slightly over an hour. With all the excitement and energy, I wasn’t in any mood for a break. Rock ‘n roll, I moved on. The sky slowly lit up. The sun was somewhere behind me, not to forget that I was riding south west. I was getting conscious when the odometer crossed 200kms. The Ninja has a range of 240kms, after which every kilometer is just a chance before the fuel light comes up. I decided to halt at my next checkpoint, Veppur. It wasn’t before I stopped there, that I realized it was too small a town to expect premium fuel. The fellow at the gas station assured me that I wasn’t going to get it anywhere on the highway unless I was ready to venture into some popular place like Vilupuram. That sounded like a big no-no. With a heavy heart, I agreed to fill it up with the amount of regular fuel that would take me till Trichy. I was very sure I wasn’t going to get a printed receipt at this place, so got a bill with the details hand filled. It was good since it at least had the information about the place although the timestamp was missing.
I pulled over at a tea stall close to the gas station to relax a bit. After all, a 220kms nonstop ride certainly needs at least a small butt break. As I sipped the tea, I could feel something small in my mouth. I initially thought it was tea powder, but then when I took it out, I realized it was a fly. Wah, what a way to start the day! The devil in me gave the shop fellow one dirty look. The very little angel in me reminded me road trips are road trips. So I chose to throw away the fly and finish off the remaining tea. Yes, I did. I paid up and got back on the road.
Trichy wasn’t too far. Slightly over a 100kms. I rode faster taking advantage of the light. I was able to confidently boost to 120 kmph since there was very less traffic so early in the morning. I could sense I was getting closer to Trichy even without having to look at the GPS. There were more people on the road and I could see the city from far away. I pulled over at a pretty huge BP bunk at the entrance of Trichy. My efforts went in vain to know that I had to go inside the city to get premium fuel. I wasn’t ready to waste time and therefore filled up my tank with regular fuel. The good thing was that I got a computer generated receipt.Back on track, I proceeded towards Madurai, a place 140kms ahead. I was quite inhibitive about this route. I wasn’t sure of the road condition between Trichy and Madurai. When I inquired people while planning this ride, I heard mixed opinions. So, when I charted out the plan, I kept the planned average for this route to be 70 kmph which is very low when compared to a standard average of 90 or above. To my surprise, this route was extremely cool, rather the best of the stretch from Chennai. It was a four lane road, with very less traffic or people crossing. It did not cut through any village or town too. I could easily cruise at 120 to 140 kmph with a lot of confidence. I reached the entrance of the city even before the sun’s warmth was felt. Before entering the city, I spotted a very big BP gas station on the highway on the other side of the road. I decided to stop there on the return. I had to take the road into the city since I needed solid proof to mark the end of the leg. I went in search of ATMs. The first receipt I got from a bank read ‘Matuthavani Offsite’. Damn, I had to find another ATM to get another receipt that at least had the name of the city, apart from the area name. After a bit of fishing, I managed to find one.450 done; 1150 to go!
I could slowly start feeling the warmth of the sun. Somewhere near Trichy, I saw shops wide open indicating I could expect people walking up on the road to claim their space. I was watchful. I slowed down when I passed the city without the pressure of falling below averages. I overshot about 20kms where I decided to halt. In a small shop by a restaurant, I got myself some pepsi. I wasn’t in the mood of eating. I chose to gobble a couple of Perk chocolates and emptied some of the glucose I had. I called up Allen to update him on the status and ask him how the tracker was doing. He was mentioning that Google had done a good job on that.
Mentally prepared to fight heat, I rode at constant high speeds without any issues. That was the moment I realized how big a blessing the Ninja was. The temperature of the bike was well within control, it was delivering power to quickly pass every vehicle on the road, and yet very easy to maneuver. Somewhere on the way, I realized that the iPod was getting stuck once or twice. But it resumed playback without me having to do anything about it. After a while, it stopped. I wasn’t ready to waste time on troubleshooting it and chose to do that at the next fuel stop.
ather than cry or try to alter it. I put the player and the headset in the bag and moved on. After all, what’s a road trip without surprises?
The sun was getting hotter slowly sucking the energy out of me. Getting closer to Chennai, I had to fight more traffic. I had considered this in the plan, but practically facing the lower average for various reasons like this was indeed painful. At Tambaram, I had faced enough vehicles, traffic and heat making me long for a break. I didn’t want to stop since I knew that all this lasted only till I crossed the Chennai bye pass and got back on the next highway to Salem. I stopped by a gas station at Vandalur, topped up and took a few minutes to relax the muscles. I started fighting the traffic again to get to the other exit of the city which connected me to the next highway. The time was 1:45PM when I was back in Chennai. I was an hour ahead of schedule.
900 done; 700 to go!I decided to take a long break for lunch before starting my second leg. I halted at Motel Highway, one of the most common places for people who take this route. At first I was a little hesitant because of the crowd, but I assured myself that the service was going to be fast. When I stepped in, the air conditioning was such bliss. The food arrived in no more than 10 minutes. I patiently chewed it, swallowed it and enjoyed every bit of slow things happening around. During a fast ride, even the smallest break of doing nothing can make one smile. I got myself a copy of the bill and stepped out. I updated Allen, and the two of us were happy that things were going as per plan, or rather slightly better.I was doing well on energy, not much of body aches and wasn’t even bothered about music anymore. I crossed the outskirts pretty fast and entered the no nonsense highway area. I could confidently cruise at 130 kmph and the engine responded pretty well without issues. The temperature still was under control and that surprised me. I asked myself, “These bikes need just speed, don’t they?”
The GPS was going a little crazy when I crossed Kanchipuram. It was asking me to take a U-turn when I was so sure I was on the right track. I thought it was probably because I hadn’t configured it well enough. I didn’t bother to stop and spend time on it, since I had done this stretch of the highway so many times that I knew every place by the mile. I wanted to cover as much distance as possible when there was broad daylight. Initially I had thoughts of stopping at Vellore, but my favorite gas station was at Ambur, which was another 50kms away. I decided to push further and arrived at Ambur around 4:00PM.
I took a good break, wet my hair to beat the heat and did some basic exercises to relax the body. I had roughly 180kms to reach Salem before the sun would go down. I planned for one stop at Krishnagiri where I wanted to stop at a gas station that my Uncle owned. It would help me with two things. One, I could get a receipt. And two, I could leave my iPod there for charging so that I could collect it on the way back. I had already drenched my t-shirt a little bit and when I got back on the saddle, it felt pretty cool after all that water treatment. The nice break and the exercises really helped regain some energy and felt really fresh.
Enjoying the beautiful orange sun that was no more at the peak or hot, I was at Krishnagiri in my brother’s gas station in a jiffy. I handed over the iPod, collected a receipt for some snack purchase and pushed off from there. The sun was still very visible giving me a good feeling I would be able to reach the target on time. When I crossed the next checkpoint, Dharmapuri, I realized that Salem wasn’t too far from there. Since I wasn’t very tired, I thought I’d make use of the last few minutes I had light and moved on.
Closing Salem, the traffic was on again. This time, I really didn’t have a choice. I had to make it into the city to collect a receipt to mark the end of the leg. I patiently weaved through the traffic with a good feeling that I was still able to make it in good daylight. I got an ATM receipt and also filled the tank up.
1250 done; 350 to go!
I was surprised to see that there was still light. I had to choose whether to sit in the middle of the crowded city in the name of relaxation, or head to the outskirts for some rest. I chose the outskirts, obviously. I targeted to reach A2B, which is a big gas station with a nice restaurant. I reached that spot when the sun slowly disappeared behind the horizon. I didn’t need fuel, just rest. Not bad at all, it was 6:30PM then. I ordered some dosa and vada, slowly munched it in with Allen on the phone. We were happy for the fact that I was doing well on time and it was looking positive that I was going to complete the ride this time around. I spent about an hour taking rest and assured myself that I was going to ride patiently back home. I had anyways planned for a slow ride due to poor visibility in the dark.
The ride to Krishnagiri from there normally takes about half an hour, but took me about 45 minutes this time. I was that slow. I enjoyed the moon right above and the beautiful stars that patched the sky. I took it really easy and finally stopped at the gas station eagerly waiting to grab my iPod. When I checked it out, it was completely charged and so was I! I paid up for some more snacks to get a receipt and moved on.
I think it was a matter of mind set. I was just 250kms from home and on what I call as the home stretch; a highway I know by the mile. I was almost sure that I was going to complete this ride. I was feeling positive about that very fact when I realized that slowly my body was starting to give up. It wasn’t fatigue; I was so sure. I was so brisk and I could observe and sync with the traffic at ease. But I had to shift my seating position very often to make myself comfortable and my knees were slowly starting to ache. I had to stop after 50kms although I knew the fuel stop was just 20kms from there. I chose to stop and relax rather than push. I always believed in safety, which is why I had called off my first SaddleSore attempt although I was so close to getting it. I took time to exercise and relax my body. I didn’t have to worry about anything. I was doing so well on time.
ipuram, I was very close to the city. I was watching every mile for things I could recognize and trying to recollect how far home was from there. Unable to bear with the irritation, I made one more stop just outside the city near Poonamalee. I questioned myself, as to whether this was fatigue or body ache. I was so sure that this was just body pain, since, in the state I was, I could’ve still driven a car for a few more hours. But what I had given up was sitting on the bike in that same posture.Minutes away from home, I strolled through the city streets. Every small bump hurt. I stopped at an ATM very close to the house. The receipt I got did not have the name of the city printed on it. I was so frustrated that I decided to just get home first. When I reached the road on which my house was, I was literally counting the seconds in reverse before I could get off the saddle. My brother opened the gate for me. I parked the bike and we took the car to go to another ATM nearby to get a receipt that contained the name of the city. It read ’00:20AM’ and ‘Alandur, Chennai’.1600kms; all done. No wonder they call it a SaddleSore. Phew!
The idea of this whole ride sprung up in my mind in an attempt to handle some frustration and a state of helplessness. It is very difficult to tackle emotions when in the sway of it. I’m glad I had the senses to do something abnormal, to convert all the energy I was wasting in that turbulence, into positive energy that comes from this accomplishment. Nothing disappears, not even that state of helplessness nor the new feeling of accomplishment. But when they coexist, one shadows the other giving us a choice to take better control. It was a fantastic lesson learnt, and most importantly, boosted the confidence of being able to handle my own self.
Fuel – Roughly INR 4,700
Food – Roughly INR 300
The Ninja was no less than brilliant during the entire ride. Although I had a bad rear tire that was due for change, the amount of handling I got wasn’t that bad. I had to brake real hard in a couple of instances and I stopped well ahead without having to panic. There was a bit of fish tailing though.