Wednesday, July 27, 2016

logistical issues

ever since I realized that gym isn't gonna work too well for me during the monsoons, i've been looking for alternatives to squeeze a decent amount of activity into my daily schedule. one prime candidate has been the folding cycle I purchased almost two years ago, for this exact purpose.

sadly for me, it's almost never in running condition, as I usually get it oiled and readied, and then forget about it for months. and so, last night, I got home with some time to spare, and decided I had to prepare to start using it regularly, as part of my commute to work: basically, cycle to the point where my office bus starts, pack it into the bus, and then park it in office... and do the reverse on my way home.

the first minor hiccup was that I was unable to find the keys to the bicycle lock. I even tried getting keys made, but the local locksmith wasn't at his shop. that wasn't too big a deal though, as office parking is (i assume) safe enough to park without a lock.

so then, I switched to preliminary testing mode: checking how long it took me to fold and unfold the cycle, and how best to carry it.

that's when i hit the actual problem: I've kept the cycle in the unfolded state for so long that I don't know how to perfectly fold the cycle!

I did fold it somehow (it certainly didn't seem optimal), and then moved to the next problem: how to carry it in the folded state. but before that, I hit another unexpected problem: how to make the folded cycle stand upright. I still haven't solved that one satisfactorily.

anyway, I somehow managed to awkwardly carry it up the two flights of stairs home, and then realized I've gotten grease on my shorts. and my hands.

I decided to give it a shot today anyway, but while getting ready, I realized I won't be able to get the cycle through the door without someone to open or shut it for me. and nobody else is awake at home in the morning.

and finally, while entering the office bus, i realized the doorway is too small and the steps too tight for me to get the cycle in.

and so: the devil is in the details. the plan has to be re-evaluated. folding cycles aren't as convenient as they look. I'm now wondering if I should make some sort of strap holder that I can use to carry as well as attach to a backpack.

ps: my cycle is the btwin hoptown. anyone with any knowledge or ideas that can help me?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

missing the point: garbett point

a few weeks ago, the rains had started in earnest, and since nobody else was taking the initiative to plan a trek, i decided to do the honours. I wanted to do something fun, and yet accessible to people working on Saturday (sadly, none of whom turned up). so i decided on garbett point, matheran. and decided to do it at night. I had done this trek once a couple of years ago, and once over a decade ago. the route has changed completely from since the first time, as a dam had been built since. the dam and lake was there the last time we went, a couple of years ago... so i was reasonably confident of doing it at night. also, the route does not involve going through any sort of jungle, so it's less scary for first timers. there's a big plateau just before the point (and by big I mean huge: bigger than a football ground, for sure!), so it's perfect to camp. I was initially considering taking a train, but all the train people canceled while the bikers stuck to the plan... so bike it was.

and i guess that was the clinching factor: there were heavy showers for the preceding day, and traffic was jammed all through bbay despite it being Saturday afternoon. it took me 3 hours to reach panvel from borivali, two hours more than my friends from mulund and vashi took.

and so, we met at panvel circle at 7pm, two hours behind schedule. we then fueled up, ate vada pav and dosa, gulped chai, strapped on my tents (i was carrying two tents, and they had almost come off the bike by the time i reached panvel - the last 100m were with the tarp I had wrapped them in, literally touching the road!)

the rest of the ride was a breeze, as the rain had let up to a drizzle and i didn't have to keep an eye on the tent in my rearview... until we were nearing bhivpuri, when ajith had a spill due to a patch of potholes surrounded by gravel. luckily he survived with just some scratches on his palm. first aid done, we reached diksal village outside bhivpuri station. I was fully stocked, but the rest of the guys hadn't carried water or munchies. also, we were all running low on cash, so santosh stood in line and did the honours on behalf of the rest of us.

google maps had the route mapped out, so i loaded it before we lost network, started navigation, and we rode through the village in search of a hospitable parking spot. we parked at a dead end in the lane parallel to the start of the trek, asked the villagers to keep our helmets and watch out for the bikes, and made some chitchat while we hitched on our tents to our backpacks. one villager started to mention something cautionary about the Dam, but another villager shushed her. I ignored it, and nobody else seemed to notice.

at about 10:30pm, we finally switched on our torches and started walking. the first part of the trek was very familiar, we had to go around the lake, cross the stream that was feeding it, and then start climbing. Google maps was showing us a route that was submerged, so we circled the lake from slightly higher. the terrain was reasonably flat, so it wasn't a problem. we then reached the point where we had to cross the stream. as we were nearing the stream, a group of three or four guys passed us on their way back to the village, looking at us quite suspiciously. dipesh nudged me and mentioned one of them was carrying a sword. scary. we hurried ahead, making sure the only girl in the group, liselle, was in the middle. scarier still, those guys turned around a few hundred metres later and started following us!

the map showed that we had to cross the stream, but it said we had to go about half a kilometer upriver, cross, and return down on the other side. I took a call and decided to attempt wading across the fast moving stream instead. I managed to pick the shallow parts, and made it across without going more than thigh deep. the rest followed, and we made it across safely before those guys caught up.

we crested the next hillock by the time they reached the stream, and i noticed them watching us from across the steam, but luckily they made no attempt to follow.

it was then a quick climb to a ridge, the first real climb of the trek, and by the time we reached the ridge we were all in dire need of our first break.

dipesh took out theplas and chunda (how stereotypically gujju, lol), which we relished to the very end. it was a little past midnight, and we were pretty hungry, so we also had some masala groundnuts, and observed the horizon stretching all the way to the highway and railway tracks on three sides of our vantage point. well rested and refreshed, we decided it's time to move on.

we now had to walk along a narrow ridge, with steep Valley on either side. it was somewhat scary due to the wind, but that was more psychological than anything else. we also passed an old man walking downhill, and that guy said it'd take us two hours to reach garbett point. Google maps said it was just one hour (about 3.5 km, 1/3rd of the total trek distance), but two hours seemed more realistic even though we were on track with Google's predictions so far.

the ridge took us to this huge mango tree, which had concrete encircling it. I remembered this tree from last time, and was wishing we had taken the break here instead of 20 minutes earlier. the walk on the ridge had been quite uphill and i was trying to pick up the pace on the way, so people were huffing and puffing and needed another quick break.

after the huge tree, there was a bit more of ridge, before we reached the plateau of the last village. we then had to trudge through freshly ploughed farms. tricky and mushy though it was, it was also reassuring as we were nearing the final ascent, and the lights of the village were beckoning.

we entered the village, and dogs started barking their lungs out from all directions. I guess that scared some of us, but i knew it's just their way of warning the villagers that intruders had arrived. strangely though, not a single person emerged from their houses. I had hoped we could speak to a villager to get some help regarding the final route, as I was wary of relying on Google maps completely. not a soul stirred though, and so we bore the barking dogs and exited the village, in the direction google maps indicated. it said we were slightly off the path, but in the right direction. crossing fields made it even more difficult to stick to the route, and we were drifting further off, though I was doing my best to stick to course. after the fields, we had to circle the foothills until we found the exact point to ascend the plateau. this is the only part I remembered jungle from the first time (14 years ago!)

while we were circling, we found a mud path leading somewhat uphill, and another leading somewhat downhill. we unanimously picked the uphill one. it was fine, until it suddenly disappeared into rocks which was leading to a waterfall and stream. it was easy to cross that one, and we could see a path on the other side of the stream. we continued on the mud path, until the next waterfall, and the next, and the next, until we lost count. liselle's torch, which was the brightest of them all, ran out of charge. I could see the nervousness on her face, but she didn't say anything. I had a spare torch, and she used that from now on.

strangely enough, Google maps, which said 40 minutes/2.5km when we were in the village, wasn't reducing its time or distance remaining estimate. we were still moving parallel but in the right direction. that's when i realized Google maps doesn't show the distance from the path, or indeed provide any indication of scale of the map.

still, we were following what looked like well trod mud paths, and were ascending consistently, so we assumed we were on the right track. we could also see the top of the hill, and it seemed surprisingly close. we trudged on, and through countless waterfalls and streams, and it was now nearing 3am. moisture got into my phone's waterproof pouch, and the touchscreen stopped responding. while taking it out, the back button got pressed. navigation exited. with no network, we were unable to resume navigation.

we were now officially lost.

the path was still there, and nobody stopped to consider how we mysteriously kept finding the path after every rocky patch and stream. we continued.

at one point, we reached a hillock that was sloping upwards at a gentle 45 degrees, with a zigzag mud path up, and the top quite clearly visible.

ajith and dipesh decided to make a break for the top. they started uphill, almost in a sprint. liselle, santosh and i brought up the rear.

the slope kept getting steeper, and the top didn't seem to be getting any nearer. at one point, probably a 60 degree slope, we spotted a tree, and decided to take a break. it was well past 3am, and we were extremely hungry. there was a rock outcrop, barely few inches wide and a few feet long. four of us squeezed into it, to prevent ourselves from sliding downhill when we sat. santosh sat against the tree, and we took in the beauty of the spot we were at. the horizon stretched into the distance, and we saw the last train to karjat passing, at least 10 km away. nobody wanted to have the chicken rolls I had carried, so we had liselle's cold pizza instead. it was heavenly.

we saw the last train return from karjat. dipesh and ajith thought they'll try climbing a bit more to check if the terrain improved. they called out from uphill, saying that it didn't, but they found a tree to sit against, so they weren't coming back down.

I propped my bag behind myself, ensured my butt had a good grip on the outcrop, and shut my eyes.

all our chitchat and eating and whatnot had only taken half an hour. we had over 3 hours until sunrise. it was going to be a long, cold night.

I dozed off before I knew it, and it seemed like it was bright in barely a blink of an eye. dipesh and ajith woke me up, and i was still groggy from my deep, dreamless sleep. the sun wasn't out, but there was light.

I looked down. the village was right below us.

I saw the well outside the village and remembered.

that was the pointer to the route we were supposed to take.

we had spent all night, climbing random hills around the village.

and those mud paths? every single hill was covered from top to bottom with them. some sort of natural formation.

we had been completely lost all along, and we didn't know it.

anyway, the way was pretty clear now. straight down to the village. we were going to go there, breakfast, and plan our next steps... but i guess everyone had already mentally decided that we were heading back home.

I washed my face and hands, drank some water, and we were at the village in 15 minutes, flat. we stopped at a house we had passed yesterday, and asked them if they will make breakfast for us. half an hour later, we were sipping black tea (they don't use milk at all, as they believe it's meant for the cows only) and pigging on rice bhakri and bhurji.

we asked an old man (probably the head of that family) how far was garbett point. he said it'd take us 45 minutes. heartened, i asked him how far was diksal village (our start point). he said it'd take us half an hour.

something was obviously wrong with his sense of timing.

we unanimously decided to head back. I was sad, as I really wanted to complete the trek, it was barely 7am, and we had all day. but i realized that we were tired and sleepy, and had a rather rough night.

also, though we didn't reach garbett point, we did have a pretty darn good trek. it was beautiful, enriching, and fun, with more than its quota of madness.

it was time to head back home.

the villagers told us the dam had flooded that night, and we should return by an alternative route, one that went all the way along a plateau, and descended only at the end. it was so broad and flat, that we could have even biked it till the village, i think. maybe next time.

when I reached home, my brother asked me about the trek. I told him the story. he said that he will come next time, and we will conquer it. at night. without getting lost.

and so, until next time...

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

the perfect ride

it was Saturday evening, 8pm. I had accomplished most of my weekend agenda, and had only one major thing left to deal with: the itch to travel.

my thoughts at the start of the weekend were, I'd wrap up my agenda by sunset, and set off to malshej to camp out by the lake, alone. not that I particularly needed the space at the time, but i just felt like randomly doing something I hadn't done before. 8pm was a little too late for such shenanigans though, so i had to make do with vegetating at my pc with a beer that's been waiting for me in the fridge for a month too many, munching on slices of grilled pork that I prepared that afternoon.
Sunday would be different though. I had the whole day free.

and given the weather, i couldn't think of anything better to do than ride.

and so, I called the first person I could think of: santosh. he was reluctant until I mentioned we'd do some off-road trail biking. and then he enthusiastically agreed.

we had quorum, the ride was on!

I still did the perfunctory whatsapp announcement, called a few friends who I thought would be enthu, but nobody was free all day on Sunday. and the ride i was planning was gonna be a longish one.

the rendezvous place and time were fixed, and i was ready to go to bed at midnight, when i remembered that I hadn't rigged my cam to use the waterproof case yet.

further inspection revealed both of my camera's two battery packs weren't charged, and to top it all, I hadn't transferred my last ride's videos either!

and so, I started working on preparing the cam.

3 hours later, the mount was ready, both battery packs were charged, and we were done and dusted. I had 3 and a half hours to sleep.

three and a half hours later, i was up and about, and ready to hit the road. it had been pouring all night, and it looked like it was gonna be a fun rain ride as expected.

rode till thane, and suddenly noticed the roads were drying out. kalyan, our rendezvous point, was completely dry. still, it was overcase, and one could only hope the clouds eventually turn into rain.

By the time we reached murbad, we were pretty hungry, but the stalls opposite the bus stand were pure veg... an i can't do without my morning fix of eggs! there was another group of riders, they were probably melting inside their raincoats, visibly disappointed at the prospect of not encountering rain. we rode on further, and finally stopped at a dhaba just before the ghats started. I had missal pav and bhurji, while santosh made do with what he could get (just potato bhajiya, sadly!) and chai.

breakfast done, it was time to rig the camera onto the mount. and it was positively sunny by then, so i even put on my sunglasses!

video on, we started climbing the ghats, and at one point, a biker pulled up and honked a couple of times - before i recognized him! we stopped, he was with a couple of friends (another of whom i knew as well). introductions were done, we exchanged notes on our plans for the day, and rode on.

malshej was good as always, other than the lack of rain. we reached the top minutes after the camera froze (it does that after every half an hour of video... strange!). we stopped at a shop at the next village, to parcel some lunch and drinking water.

my friends saw us there, stopped, and told us that they've decided that my plan (off-roading to naneghat) sounded more interesting than theirs (riding back to mumbai via junnar/talegaon). and so, we were now 5 riders instead of two.

they picked up lunch too, i swapped batteries in the camera, and we were off!

we took the turn off the highway a few km ahead, onto what used to be a broken tar road which should have given way to a mud road to naneghat - except that it had been recently paved, and was now pretty good, save for the occasional pothole. so much for off-roading.

we reached naneghat. had a good lunch (chicken curry with bhurji, lol), walked around, clicked photos, relaxed a bit, and generally took a break.

And then, we started back. Santosh had a flat tyre, so we figured Junnar was the best bet to get it fixed. And so, we ended up doing the circuit after all.

The roads to Junnar were excellent (much better than the roads from Malshej to Naneghat), but after we passed Junnar, there was plenty of traffic. Also, we finally got rain! It started off with about two hours of drizzle, the sort that leaves everything slicked with muck, and that wasn't helped much by the irritating traffic: unruly bikers, aggressive car drivers, and truck drivers that seemed out to mop you off the road at the slightest opportunity. We reached Chakan at about 6, and it started pouring. By the time we reached Talegaon, we were soaked, the traffic subsided, and we were back to enjoying the ride. Talegaon to Lonavla was an awesome ride in a downpour that made up for the rest of the day's dry spell. Despite it being dark by now, we enjoyed this stretch to the fullest.

By the time we reached Lonavla we were in dire need of comfort food. Egg Maggi and chai it was. we stood under a shed, juggling our plates and cups, as the two chairs were only enough to hold our helmets and bags.

By the time we were back on the highway, the rain was back to a drizzle. We took the Panvel - JNPT - Uran road - Palm beach route, and reached Vashi to bid farewell as everyone parted ways. I had company until andheri, but there was so much traffic on the way that it was pointless trying to ride together. We parted ways after SCLR, and I rode home at my own leisurely pace.

And so, i was finally back home: drenched, mucky, tired, but refreshed after 420 kms of almost every sort of road and weather conditions we could hope for. it was an amazing day of riding, and bumping into friends and the last minute change of plans made it even more fun than we were expecting when we left from home! A sunday truly well spent.

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