Friday, November 18, 2011

The Sri Lanka Pilgrimage with Baba Velo - Day 5

For once, I got a good amount of sleep the previous night.   However, I was still very sore when I woke up, thanks to an extended muscular effort (not aerobic) climb the previous day.     What I really wanted to do was lie in bed for a bit, then go out and lie on the couch outside, and then come back and lie down some more.  I was even justifying it to myself - after the hard ride, I need recovery, because it is during recovery that I would get better, and I shouldn't spike my weekly training load too much, etc. etc.  

It didn't help that everyone was speaking Roadie that morning:

"Oh, I am really not feeling good"

"We'll just ride nice and easy, at a recovery pace"

"I dont feel like riding, either"

"My legs are hurting"

So obviously, the gauntlets were being thrown down and it was going to be a hard and painful day.

The initial route was 20km of downhill, followed by 25km of rolling terrain, before the first climb of 6-7k.  After this would be approx 10km of rolling/downhills, followed by the queen climb:  Nuwara Eliya, 13km or so of approx 8%.

However, we decided to skip the downhill as well as the bulk of the rolling terrain and start directly with the climb. After breakfast, we packed up the car and drove about an hour to the starting point.

A short warm-up later, we were off.  And when I say we, I mean the others, of course.  I was pacing myself on this climb, saving my legs for the ballbuster at the end (not that it would have made a difference in staying with this group, I should clarify).  

We start, I get dropped

 The first climb was easy enough - rode at a steady aerobic pace, keeping legs out of the anaerobic zone despite being over-geared - my average HR was only 140bpm on this climb.    Despite the easy pace, it was quite hard going due to the sun and the heat.    After about 30 min of climbing, I made it to the top and we re-grouped with the others (translation - the others were waiting for me), and we started again.

Regrouping at the top of the first climb
Now we hit some rolling terrain - mostly downhill, winding through the hills:  my favorite type of riding conditions.  The weather was also starting to cool, so I turned up the gas a little and enjoyed the feeling of throwing my bike through the corners.   Being on freshly-glued tubulars, I wasn't going as hard as I could, but it was still fun.   Raj was riding with Ros and Rakesh, so it was Mohan and me up front.

Mohan - smiling, of course

And then we encountered the one clueless driver who almost spoiled everything.   We were on a wide road but on the left edge - where I was cycling - there was a deep and narrow (1.5') cement ditch just past the white line marking the shoulder.  A car passed me and as he did so, cut into me very aggressively, almost forcing me into the ditch.    

I yelled a few obscenities at him, but for some reason, the rage wasn't there and so I continued on at my own pace.   Mohan, however, charged after the guy and pulled him over shortly after and was explaining - very nicely, I might add - why he had just been a Giant Douche.   The driver did seem very contrite and it was obvious this was just cluelessness, not deliberate, so we let it go and took off again.

All too soon, the flats were over, and it was time for the climb.   Knowing that I would be trackstanding my way up the hill, I took my helmet off, deciding to enjoy the fresh air and mist on my face.  

And off we went.    And again, when I say "we", I mean the others.   At my speed, "went" would be a bit of an exaggeration.    :)

El Professore puts on a masterclass on climbing - and how to give The Look

This climb was truly a ballbreaker.   Due to a cassette spacing issue (turned out later that my freehub was loose, which is why the cassette wasnt sitting properly), I didnt have access to my 27t cog in the rear, and so was climbing along in a 39/24.    For my weight and that gradient, that meant a very slow, sustained muscular tension effort.   As the slope turned up, this effort was coming from my not-too-well-used glutes and hamstrings, and shortly after, they started to hurt something fierce.   I gritted my teeth and kept going, wishing to dear heavens I had not put my iPod in the car:  Rage Against the Machine and Metallica would have helped me climb immensely.

Climbing hard - see how much my legs are working!
At 5km mark, I passed the car and Rishi - Raj's son - gave me a cheery wave and said "You've still got a long way to go", crushing my soul some more in the process.  

Finally, at the 8km mark, I had to stop for a minute to stretch my lower back, which was in excruciating agony from the climb.   Then back on the bike and off again.   The stretch helped and I was able to keep going with a little less discomfort.   After an hour and change - and almost 3km+ beyond my expected 10km distance - I came across Raj, Mohan and Rakesh, looking soul-crushingly relaxed and rested.

"1 km more to go - do you want to stop or keep going?"

Yeah right.  I may be slow but no way am I going to quit on a climb.    So I kept going.   Rakesh also joined me - he had gone up a bit further and turned back, not realizing where the end of the climb was.   Apparently, there was a police checkpoint a little further up, and this was the summit finish, and he was just as eager to make it there as I was.

Rakesh:  very strong ride - he climbed as though he had 2 servings of Spanish beef.

So off we went, suffering together.    The 1km turned out to be 1.4km - and at that stage, every additional meter was Hurt Personified.  Still, we managed to summon up the energy to sprint for the finish together.

However, we were missing one person:  Rosanna.    Raj had told her that the summit was the police station - not the checkpoint - and so she had gone on ahead, continuing to climb for another 5km (!!!).   We waited for a bit and decided to get in the van and continue onwards to meet her at the top.    We had barely gone a couple of kilometers when we turned a corner and spotted her whizzing by - heading downhill.   Before we could react, she was gone!

Rosanna - the only one to actually climb to Nuwara Eliya!
Now we had to turn the minivan around and chase her - yeah right.   Like a big lumbering minivan is going to catch an Italian cyclist on a downhill.    Finally, after 5km or so, she pulled over and waited for us.     And of course, we were on the receiving end of some well-earned trashtalk, along the lines of her being the only person to actually complete the climb.   :)

We rented a room at a hotel along the way in order to grab fresh showers, give the boys some TLC and change into regular clothes.   After a mediocre lunch in a restaurant with fabulous views, it was then time for a long drive back, returning back to Colombo past 11pm - only to encounter a drunk passed out in front of Raj & Ros's doorway!    Woke him up, shooed him away - only to have him crawl into the back of the van (really!) and try to sleep there.   Woke him up, shooed him away some more.

The bikes and clothes were all tossed in a corner - we'd pack in the morning before leaving for our flights.

And thus, another edition of the Great Roadie Sufferfest came to an end.  And as before, the next one is already being planned:  Phuket in late January.

Yeah, yeah - he can climb.  But does that really excuse the mis-matched jersey and bibs?  :)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sri Lanka Pilgrimage with Baba Velo - Day 3 and 4

On Day 3, we rested.   Slept in till about 8am, and then, after breakfast, headed back to Colombo, stopping over in the historic town of Galle for some sightseeing en-route.   Checked out the old fort overlooking the cricket stadium, had some walnut brownies and ice-cream at a local cafe and then headed back to Colombo in time for a late lunch at Raj's club and then, a short three hours later, a Vietnamese dinner at the same place.

In Galle - from L to R:  Mohan, moi and El Professore

Safe to say that all carbs were fully replenished by the end of this day!

The next morning was another early rise - 5:30am - so that we could load up the car and head out of the city, to the point where we would start our ride to Hatton.   Rakesh had just arrived from Mumbai a couple of days ago, and he and Ros were joining us on the rides.   So Chaminda's minivan had 5 bikes, 5 riders and Rishi in it - and all fit very comfortably, much to my amazement.

After an hour-long drive out of town and breakfast of cakes and bread, we started riding around 9am.   The initial 20-odd kilometers were flat and rolling, and wound alongside a river - very scenic!   I did have a few  curse-out-loud moments when my bike ran over some rough patches while on a curve, jolting my not-fully-healed hand.   But other than that, all was good.

Early part of the ride, before the climb.  How can you tell?  I havent been dropped yet.
Raj, followed by me, Mohan, Rakesh and Rosanna

Then the road went up and I bid the other riders adieu and continued up at my own steady Z2 pace, taking in the ambience and scenery, and eventually catching up to the rest at the top of the 30km climb, where they were feasting on strawberries and tea while I had been slogging my way up the hill.  

Tea and strawberries.  Very civilized - except for the sweaty people in Lycra

After this, we only had a short ways to go - a rolling segment, a short downhill and then a 1.86km climb which Raj dubbed as the competitive section.

The climbing section was a solo ride for me
Off we went, with Raj leading, Mohan following and me, Ros and Rakesh next.    I was hoping to attack a little on the downhill segment and build up a little buffer before the climb, but just as I started, I got forced off my line by an incoming bus which was taking a turn wide - this threw off my line and rhythm, and I hit the climb behind Raj and Mohan, who were shooting up faster than petrol prices.    Knowing that it was a short climb - and the gradients were only 4-6%, which suits me - I punched it up and tried to follow the best I could.

Apparently, I went so fast that I dropped the GPS satellites - I covered the 1.86km in 1.6km!

However, it still wasnt good enough to catch up to Raj and Mohan, of course.    But it was a nice way to end the ride.  

We loaded up with munchies from a nearby supermarket, and I got another case of women walking by staring at my crotch and giggling to each other.   Good lord.  I was wearing black bibs, no world clocks were on display, so wtf was up with this?  

After packing all the bikes, we drove off to Raj's hideaway - an absolutely amazing cottage, overlooking the Hatton lake, where we stuffed ourself with more Sri Lankan curry.   By now, my stomach was getting the hang of it and I was able to dig in with such gusto that I think I saw panic in the eyes of the caretaker at the cottage.

The view from Raj and Ros's hideout - amazing
(Photo by Rajesh Nair)
Post-lunch was R&R time.   I lay back and read a book, while the others, showing a distressing level of energy and enthusiasm, decided to go for a walk to check out the dam.   Some more R&R later - which involved me teaching Rishi some Filipino stick combat techniques from Arnis and a Rammstein session, it was time to eat again - a most excellent pork curry (this really DOES sound like something from That Other Forum, doesnt it?).  

Tomorrow was our last day, a climb which Raj described as harder than Lavasa.  Gulp.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sri Lanka Pilgrimage with Baba Velo - Day 2

The morning dawned way too quickly for my liking.    Being used to waking up at 9:30 or so, three consecutive days of early morning rising were beginning to weigh on me.   Mohan, as usual, was up and ready with a cheerful smile on his face while Baba Velo was outside, bustling around.

A quick breakfast of omelette and toast later, we loaded up the car and drove for 5 min to our starting point for the ride.

Mohan, Raj and me

My legs were a little tired after yesterday's long ride, and so I was happy that the initial 9-10km were done at a relatively easy pace.

After 10km, as the legs loosened up, the speed started to increase and we were rolling along at a brisk 32-34kph.  

My plan, based on Raj's advice the previous evening, was to attack the hills by shifting UP, and not worry about blowing up or saving myself for the end.  I did this on a few rides but on some extended climbs, went too far into the red and had to ease back, and then cycle like mad to bridge the gap to Raj and Mohan.

Of course, this would tire me out and I'd get gapped again on the next set of climbs.    So finally, at one point, I decided to draft a pickup back to those guys.   Barreling along at 42-43kph, I figured I'd continue past them for a kilometer or so and then ease up and recover, so that I could stay with them when they caught up.   So when the vehicle brought me alongside the others, I kept going for a while before pulling off.   As the next car passed me - going noticeably faster than the one I had been drafting - I noticed to my abject horror two cyclists firmly in its tow, whizzing by me.   So much for my rest.

The next 20-30 min were a game of chase and draft.   At one point, Raj and I were both sprinting up a hill, off the saddle, trying to close up to a tempo.   Raj later grabbed an auto with a see-through rear window and stayed with it for a long while.   I lost the wheel of the vehicle behind it and then sprinted like mad to catch the next one (which had Mohan on its tail), and was unable to do so, resulting in me blowing up in a spectacular fashion.

Drilling it!

All in all, great fun!

Then, in a tribute to That Other Forum, we stopped at the 50km mark for some coconut water.    A couple of coconuts later, we were off.   On the first hill, I had to stop as my rear brake's bolt was loose and the calipers were rubbing against the rims.   Took me 2-3 tries to fix it, which resulting me losing about 3-4 min to Raj and Mohan, and then another 2-3 minutes on the road, before I caught up to where they were waiting for me.  

We started off again together, but now my legs were dead - I had burned too many matches pushing up the hills and sprinting to catch the wheels of various vehicles.     I started to get hungry and got another pro-style handup of bananas from Chaminda, our support car driver.   But it was too little, too late.

I had neglected to eat regularly on this ride and even yesterday, after the 160km ride, I had less than my normal food (unused as I was to Sri Lankan curry and a rice-based diet).   So I was starting to bonk.   The bananas helped stave off a complete crash, but my HR was 135 (barely above recovery) and I was finding it hard-pressed to go faster.    All I could think about was eating - when I started having visions of leaping off my bike and ripping Mohan's calves off with my teeth and eating them, and this vision actually made me hungrier, I decided that it was time to get off the bike and refuel.

So pack it in I did at the 81km mark.  Chaminda was nice enough to get me 3 sausage rolls, all of which I inhaled in a hurry, ignoring the fact that I normally find hot dog sausages dis-fucking-gusting.    Then it was my turn to do a pro-style bottle handup to Raj, who, as usual, was turning the screws in the last 10km of the ride.   He had gapped Mohan, who - for the first time ever - was showing signs of vulnerability, with his head down and a grimace... yes, a genooo-ine grimace, on his face.   I imagine it must have been like this when Indurain cracked in 1996!

A short while later, both of them were done for the day as well, and we hopped in the car and drove to the hotel.   I was tempted to get out and finish my 100km as well, but then decided not to - I had followed my plan for the day:  to push on the climbs and not worry about saving myself, and second, I had learned a good lesson about my nutrition.   So despite the less-than-ideal end to the ride, it was still one where I got better (both physically and in terms of learning my limits).

After a shower and 10 minutes of Zabriskie treatment for my boys, we drove to Raj's favorite surf resort, where, after lunch, Raj and Mohan went off to surf while I lay on a beach chair with a book (couldnt get my hand wet due to the stitches).

Raj and Mohan, off surfing

Me, resting

The lunch was quite light, so by the time evening arrived, we were all starving and stuffed our guts in a royal fashion at the Welligama Bay Resort, before heading off to a well-deserved rest.  

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Sri Lanka Pilgrimage with Baba Velo - Day 1

I ignored the knock on my bedroom window and rolled over, trying to sleep a little more.   The knocking went away, only to return more insistently a few minutes later.    Grumbling, I forced myself off the bed and started the process of getting ready for today's ride.

We were in the casa of Baba Velo aka Rajesh Nair, in the suburbs of Sri Lanka.    I had flown from Port Blair to Chennai the previous morning, met up with Mohan at the airport, and then continued on to Colombo on separate flights (which arrived within 15 min of each other in the early afternoon).

We had celebrated with large amounts of pizza the previous night, and I wasn't able to sleep till 11:30;  the night before, I had slept for 4.5 hours as well, as I had an early flight out of Port Blair.   So I was understandably in pain at 5:30am in the morning.

We packed the car and rolled out fairly close to schedule, and drove about 30km out of Colombo to the starting point of our ride, just outside the city.   A breakfast of cakes and chicken&cheese buns later, it was time to start riding.

Soon after we got underway, I had to make a short stop to adjust my seatpost, which I hadn't tightened enough, and then we continued.   The road was in fairly good condition, and while there was a fair amount of traffic, the drivers were quite polite and gave us ample space when they passed us:  no aggressive moves, no honking, etc.    The pace was nice and brisk, at around 32-35kp - the roads were quite flat and despite the lack of sleep, we were all full of energy as we had been looking forward to this trip for a while.   My recently-stitched left hand (had cut the webbing the previous day while trying to remove a pedal when packing the bike) was acting up a bit, making it hard to hold the handlebars;   every bump was causing a fair bit of pain as well.    However, in a short while, I was able to figure out a way to hold the handlebars that kept the pain to a minimum.

The road was mostly rolling - initially, I stayed with Raj and Mohan but kept going into the red while doing so.   Realizing that we still had a long way to go, I started going off the gas a little on the climbs and pushing harder to catch up on the downhills and flats.    After about 40km or so, the effort of repeatedly bridging up to them started taking its toll - we hit a prolonged climb and those two were gone.   I soldiered on for a while, pacing myself on the climbs and pushing on the flats.   By the 70km mark, my energy levels were dropping, my saddle - a Specialized Toupe, instead of my normal Selle San Marco Aspide - was starting to chafe and my shoes were hurting.   Thoughts of bailing after 100km started creeping into my head.

At the 90km mark, I caught up to the other two, who were waiting for me.   En route, I got a pro-style banana handup from Chaminda, who was driving the sag vehicle and by now, the banana was starting to take effect.     Mohan and Raj were also energized and we started with fresh gusto.   Soon, we turned off the highway onto a quiet road that passed through the side of a national park (electric fences on the side), and now we started picking up momentum, moving at a brisk 33-35kph.  

Riding next to a National Park
At around the 110km mark, we decided to stop for a quick lunch of Sri Lankan Curry (rice, chicken and a few vegetable dishes).    The resort was obviously designed for people on wildlife tours, and some of the guests walking in seemed a little surprised to see three sweaty lycra-clad guys sitting on a table.

After lunch, we got our aching muscles back on the bike and the initial 1-2 km were at a very sedate pace - we had agreed to take it easy for the rest of the ride, and in a strange linguistic mix-up, that actually meant that we were taking it easy.   We passed a couple of wild elephants right by the side of the road, watching us with impassive eyes from the other side of the electric fence, and also spotted a few land monitors sunning themselves.

By now, the food was starting to take effect and I started feeling better - by my calculations, if we maintained 35kph for the rest of the ride, we'd clock in the imperial at a 30kph.   Since we had been holding 33-34 for the bulk of the ride earlier, only losing time due to having to slow down when going through towns and villages, and with a smoother, faster tarmac under us and the hint of a tailwind, this was doable.

So we dropped the hammer, each of us taking turns to pull at the front.      After an hour, we hit rollers - and sure enough, I got gapped again (big surprise that.   As I've said on Facebook, when the road goes up, I get dropped faster than Paris Hilton's panties).    However, this time I was feeling good and while the legs were tired, I was still able to push when the road flattened out again.   And push I did, hammering along at 38-40kph for an extended period before finally bridging up to Mohan and Raj again.    Thus we continued for a while.

With about 140km under our belt, Baba Velo decided to turn on the screws and jumped.   Mohan tried to follow him, and I tried to follow Mohan, both with mixed success.   So we were all doing individual TTs.   At the 150km mark, Raj pulled over as per his ride plan.   Mohan and I continued onwards, and for the last 1-2 km, I gave it everything I had - big chainring, off the saddle, hammer hammer hammer for as long as I could before the legs eventually said no mas.    The Garmin read 161km at that point, at exactly 30kph, and that was it for me for the day.

The big push at the end

Mohan continued onwards for a few more kilometers as cooldown and soon, all 3 of us were back in the support van, feeling great about a nice fast ride and a very strong finish.

After a quick shower and a disgusting recovery shake (Rego, not my usual Hammer Nutrition), we took a quick round through Yala NP, scoring 3 leopards, an elephant, some chital, a couple of crocs, wild boar, a ruddy-faced mongoose and a few land monitors.    Not a bad way to cool down after a ride, eh?

Dinner was yet another Lankan Curry, after which it was off to bed.