The day finally dawned for the long awaited Cycling Expedition with the GK Bikers. The task was to complete 300 kms in three days From Barmer to Jaisalmer in Rajasthan in semi arid desert conditions. We were told the weather would be chilly in the mornings and evenings but hot and sunny during the days. The roads would be well tarred with some sections swept over with sand; and fairly heavy cross winds .We would have two comfortable nights at hotels in Barmer and Jaisalmer and uncertain quality of accommodation in barracks at Munnabao and Myajlar.
There were 19 of us with two non riders who would play a support role. We had packed our cycles and loaded then along with heavy luggage and sleeping bags, in a lorry at Yogen’s farm house, a couple of days ago. They would be transported to Barmer by road while we travelled over night by rail. Deepa saw me off at Old Delhi station, perhaps to seek assurances from some of the other senior riders that they would make sure I didn’t over do it!!!
We had a comfortable train journey with a lot of banter, drinks and eats .Hotel Kailash International at Barmer was comfortable, neat and clean .We spent the morning visiting a temple at the Army base at Jassai and also took a ride on top of T-55 tanks!! Lunch was typical Rajasthani fare and later in the evening after we had unpacked and checked our cycles we went to the crowded markets of Barmer. My cycle had a minor problem with the front brakes; a low tension spring which was there earlier causing fouling of the brakes with the front wheel. Thankfully this was set right. Dinner was light with me opting for soup and a sandwich.
Over night rains and cloudy weather made the first days ride pleasant .The challenge was the long ride of 122 kms .We decided to halt and assemble at a town called Gadhe approx 40 kms short of Munnabao. This was good because each rider takes off at his own comfortable rhythm and pretty soon we get separated .The good thing is that we had a Tavera with Shivon and Sandeep driving up and down the line of riders offering replenishments of Gatorade, water , energy bars and fruits, our stable food over the three day ride. The lorry followed behind the last rider carry the support staff, our luggage and supplies. These guys did a wonderful job of fixing flat tyres in quick time and all through the ride we had several flats.
It was a wonderful feeling to cycle into the assembly point at Gadhe. We stopped for tea and snacks from the supplies we were carrying; and loads of encouragement from the senior riders for the first timers like me .After a refreshing halt we were on our way again .I found myself feeling quite fresh and set off at a comfortable pace, the pace I normally do my morning work outs at approx 20 kmph .I reached the army camp at Munnabao in good time much to the surprise of Gagan, Yogen, Manpreet and the others. They were rather impressed that a 62 year old had done 122 kms in a day quite comfortably. Gagan would keep saying that he never expected me to ride all the way and thought I would hop on and hop off the support vehicles and spend more time on photography. On this trip I had my mind focused on cycling and far less on photography .I only carried a small Kodak compact camera on this trip.
In the evening we went to the Indo Pak border .This was good as it helped stretch our legs and keep them exercised so we didn’t get stiff. I followed Gagan’s advice of a couple of pegs of rum and a crocin tablet in the night to help settle the body. Gagan also said he wasn’t planning to have a bath till he reached Jaisalmer. I thought this was a good idea and planned to do the same .There were innumerable pieces of such advice that Gagan had for all of us.
The barracks weren’t so good but ok for a night. Dinner was simple fare cooked by the support staff .Likewise the next mornings breakfast was a couple of boiled eggs ,slices of bread with jam & cheese, some fruits and tea .These frugal meals seemed right for the long rides ahead .Around 8.00am we were all set for the second days ride to Myajlar, a distance of approx 80 kms .If we felt that the shorter distance would be a cake walk , we were in for a surprise as the first half of the ride had several steep ups and downs across the dunes making cycling very tough.
I had a flat just as we were wheeling our cycles out of the army camp and so did Sunil .We both rushed back to get the flats fixed while the others, the stronger ones, waited for us .I was thankful the flat took place at the start but approx 30 kms on I had another flat .I wheeled the cycle along till the support lorry caught up and the staff fixed the wheel again .I had now exhausted both spare tyres and hoped I wouldn’t have another flat.
The dunes made a magnificent sight, much like the dunes in the UAE, so Sunil and I got off our cycles and took a few photos .This was the good part of this leg of the journey .The steep climbs were tough and so were the sandy patches on the roads that made us skid and end up walking across them. I nearly gave up at the second flat, but by the time the tyre was fixed I got my resolve to continue again and hitched a brief ride of a couple of kilometres to catch up with the others before resuming the ride. I was very happy I didn’t opt out at that stage. A group of us , Sunil ,Anju & I rode together towards the end and cycled into the army camp at Myajlar together .It sure was a relief to complete day two and now I felt day three would just have to be completed.
Vijay arranged a group of local Rajastani folk singers to entertain us for the evening and like at Munnabao we had a campfire ablaze as we sipped drinks and had our dinner. Dinner was hot food cooked by the army and after a restful night in better barracks we were set for the final days ride. I was feeling ok and didn’t have any thing more than a few niggles in the legs and a sore bottom! I was ready for the third day and in spite of the longer ride of 100 kms to Jaisalmer, I now felt confident of completing it.
We set off around 8.30 am for the last days ride .Unlike on the previous two days we had a hot sunny day and this was the challenge for the day .I choose to take more frequent breaks for drinking Gatorades and water .In fact after the first 50 kms, I stopped for fluids every 10 kms.We had a nice refreshing halt at the 50 km mark with Sunil, Anju, Hitin and I taking a break together. At the 70 km point we had an assembly point as we had done on day 1. It was time for tea and refreshments at a dabbha and the break set us up for the last lap of 30 kms. It was hot and tiring but I was never in doubt about completing the ride .Soon we were at the out skirts of Jaisalmer were the ride ended, 100 kms to be exact from our start point on day 3.
I had managed to finish the three day ride covering 300 kms fairly comfortably and felt really good about it .We had a well deserved celebration dinner at Nachana Haveli just out side the Jaisalmer Fort, an ideal setting for a celebration dinner.