From Limelight into the Woods

Day 1 – Friday, June 3

Everything was perfectly set. Saddle loaded, helmet stickered, emails checked and everyone at home waiting at the gate to wish me luck and start the ride. I flipped the key in and gently pressed the ignition. Nothing happened. I wasn’t sure what was happening. My instinct was to press the ignition button a little harder. I noticed the Fuel Injection red light and the low fuel indicator both flickering pretty fast. Not a good sign, certainly not. I checked the side stand (because the Ninja won’t start with the side stand in place) and everything else. I noticed that the green neutral light was glowing much lighter than it generally does. I had a strange feeling things weren’t right. My Father had already sensed there was a problem. I had a flag off scheduled at the Wrangler exclusive showroom at Anna Nagar and my bike wasn’t in any way going to move. My next call was to the Service Manager of Bajaj. He has never let me down in situations like these and I was sure he was going to get me out of this, this time as well.

Ninja malfuntions. FI and low fuel light blinks at the same time.

Stranded at home with media coverage in an hour.

I explained the situation as he listened to me patiently. He said it has to be a problem with the battery and said that he would send Jeeva, the best man in the Service Centre. Things happened so quickly. Jeeva came by, checked the batteries and asked me if I had ridden anywhere after the recent service I’d done a couple of days ago. Since I had not, the batteries had been drained by the addition of distilled water during the service. The problem wouldn’t have arisen had I ridden the bike after the service. Thanks to Jeeva, we were quickly back on the road.

I reached the Wrangler Showroom at about 10 AM. The Showroom Manager and the rest of the folks at the showroom were expecting me a little early. I explained them what had happened and they were courteous enough to bear with the delay. I was supposed to choose my apparel for the ride. I had a big showroom right in front of me and I tried one pair after the other. Such things don’t happen all the time, and there was obviously a big smile on my face! I was going to wear a single pair of denim for the entire ride and this was to show how rugged and durable Wrangler is. I patiently picked one having in mind all the different ways the denim was going to be tested in the next 7 days. The showroom folks were extremely helpful in guiding me with the right information behind each design and how it would make a difference to my ride. After about half an hour, I had my denim and a few t-shirts.

Photo shoot at the exclusive Wrangler store at Anna Nagar, Chennai.

Photo shoot at the exclusive Wrangler store at Anna Nagar, Chennai.

The photo shoot began once I switched the Wrangler True Wanderer outfit, if I may call it so. The photographer helped me pose all around the showroom and took his time gathering all the pictures he needed. It was my first experience being a model. I knew I didn’t perform well, but I think it was a good start, especially with all my friends watching from one corner, giggling and enjoying the all the fun. We also had a few snaps shot outside the showroom in front of the ride banners that were installed. People on the road stopped by thinking it was some kind of movie being made.

Flag off

Getting ready to leave

The photo shoot was followed by a quick interview from Radio City. We spoke about the contest in general and the experience so far. My expressions and tone was enough to show how excited I was about the whole thing.

It was then time for the big thing; the flag off. It was finally the moment I was waiting for. I got on the bike, while people gathered around me. The Showroom Manager was ready with the flag with the cameraman watching everything through the lens. I started the engine, twisted the throttle gently as the bike gently pushed the flag away and made it to the road. Everyone behind was waving, and put one hand out thanking all of them.

It’s this feeling; the feeling of being on the road. You don’t know what’s ahead. All you know is you’ll go somewhere and you’ll be back in a while, but your mind will still keep riding.

I checked up the time and it was quite late than what I had planned. I’d fallen behind by over 2 hours. I targeted to reach Vellore by 2:30 PM. I weaved through the traffic until it was just the open highway beyond the outskirts of Chennai. This time the saddlebags were completely loaded and I’d applied crazy techniques to get it mounted along with the other stuff. Not far away from Chennai I could see the saddles hanging to the left, in my rear view mirror. I stopped the bike and switched to other crazy techniques to mount the saddle bag. This time around, I ensured it was going to be pulled more to the right to adjust the weight on the other side.

I checked up after 10 or 20 kms and everything was doing good back there. I was now concentrating completely on the highway since I was averaging at slightly higher speeds to make up for the loss. I passed Vellore just as I planned. In about half an hour after Vellore, I made my first stop for fuel. The Ninja is a hungry vehicle, by the way.

Tank up at Ambur

Enroute the highway

I tanked up and looked up at the sky. The clouds were setting in although the evening was still early. I wanted to make it to some place for sunset. My usual escape it was; Yelagiri. Just after Vaniyambadi, the clouds were slowly clearing out letting the sun slip through the small spaces in between and casting beautiful shadows on the hills nearby. Just as I passed the base of the foothills, I had a strange encounter with a foggy area. As I moved closer, I figured out something was being burnt on the side of the road. Although it didn’t smell so great to stand there, it looked pretty good on the camera.

Holy smokes!

Yelagiri foothills

Sweet ride up the hill

View from a hair pin bend

The scenic uphill ride

Climbing the hill on the Ninja was super fun. Although this time I was patiently stopping now and then for pictures, I recently climbed up the hill in 13 minutes flat. The rev friendly engine was happy to burst out loud in every corner. The recent rains had cleared out the sky very well and the blue shades with the red flowers created a fantastic opportunity for great pictures. Just like they call out colors, I captured  Red, Green and Blue light. I wanted to stop by in every corner, but time was running out. I had less than a few hours before I could make it to one of the sweetest spots I’d known in Yelagiri.

A painting by God

A painting by God

It is a trekking trail that is at the end of the road that is adjacent to the lake. The trail leads into the jungle passing through water holes where animals generally turn up early in the morning. I was consciously estimating the time remaining and made my stops accordingly. I was pretty familiar with the whereabouts of Yelagiri and had no problems finding my way to the woods, after buying some bit of food for the night.

As far as the Ninja could get

This time around, I’d made up my mind to take the Ninja as far as I could. The tarmac turned from tar to sand and eventually stones. At some point, it was just mud and rocks. I patiently flipped the bike from one side to the other and it was absolutely impossible beyond a point. I parked the bike there, hid my saddle bags behind the bushes a few metres from there. I was pretty sure nobody was going to get there, but I wanted to make sure even in the rarest case, I did not lose everything together. I knew that just after the small rocky patch, the trail would be ridable. This meant that I could take the bike all the way up to the water hole. But I decided to chuck the idea since the sun wasn’t going to take extra time to set.

The trek into the woods begin

In the woods

I carried just what I needed, and started my short trek inside the woods. The smell of the eucalyptus was quite inviting, as if it was awaiting my arrival. I wildest of the animals I encountered were just a few wild cows. I was thinking it might be quite scary straying all alone amidst the tall trees, but the continuous chirping of the birds made me comfortable. I kept walking along the trail and reached the water hole in about 15 minutes.

Camping by the water hole

Camping by the water hole

Nothing like it!

Without wasting much time, I unpacked the tent and settled down just near the water hole. Unpacking all the photo equipment, I went around the entire place setting up the camera, and clicking quite a few pictures. Thanks to the remote, without which quite a lot of the photos would have never been possible.

Spirit of the biker

Spirit of the biker

I settled down in the tent and started blogging for the day. After about half an hour, I realized that there was no coverage and I wasn’t going to get my blog out. I stayed as long as I could see and packed my bags before it was too dark to see anything. A short trek, back to the bike, I headed back to the town to continue my blog and end the day.

Wrangler – The perfect choice to wander

Ride Stats

Route: Chennai – Yelagiri – The woods
Distance: 225 kms
Ride Time: 4 hrs, 15 mins
Trek Time: 1 hour


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