Background : 2nd edition of the TFN. 70 bikers, 20+ support crew.
Day 1: Bangalore to Mysore : 150kms or so.
We left the Koramangala Indoor stadium around 8am, and till we got to Kengeri, it was the usual morning madness of Bangalore's traffic. A quick regroup and we were off on the mostly downhill, great tarmac route to Chennapatna, where our first support station was at Kadambam (the gentleman who owns this is a Bulleteer, and was extremely enthusiastic about the TFN, and even hopes to ride next year! Compared to last year, I rode it real easy. The knowledge of the route, and available time, meant no pressure to 'beat the sweep vehicle' and I enjoyed the ride and the route much more than the last year. Took lots of pictures, had lunch by a lakeside and made full use of whatever the support stations had to offer :)
The weather stayed very benign right through, and even the second half - which I mostly rode with Jas - was easy. Jas had some knee issues as we got closer to Mysore, so we took it real easy and slow towards the end. Despite all this we got to the Regaalis by 5:30. The early birds made it by 1:30 or so and had already had a nap!
A bunch took the Volvo made available by the Transport Dept to Chamundi and the Palace. I preferred to hand around and chat over chai and snacks. The dinner was good, and accommodations top grade. The bikes, laid out gently across the lawns, made for a very pretty picture :)
Day 2: Mysore - Hassan. 124kms + a pretty 8km detour
The day started with a nice breakfast spread, and Vasu's instructions! The first few hours were done in a very very light spray and clouds. The roads stayed fantastic upto Hassan limits, and the roadbikers just ripped through, especially after the turn off the Madikeri Road as traffic thinned out (esp compared to the Mysore road). Adi, I and Jas rode most of this day together.
The route was so amazingly scenic - we just had to stop for a gazillion pictures, chai and what not. At one looong stop near a temple, a local even tried out Jas' bike and came back grinning ear to ear :) The whole area is totally green, and the Cauvery and other streams criss cross your path. There are numerous lakes as well, and of course we stopped at a couple for photo ops and generally chilling out!
The afternoon saw some climbs though nothing serious. The sun came out strong too, so we took an hour's break at the last support station where we also had lunch. A whole bunch of kids gathered around, curious and excited, and it took Kamesh's impropmtu quiz (and lots of biscuit packets) to keep them from huddling around the bikes.
A little before Hassan, 4 of us took a detour left at Mosale Hosahalli to check out some old Hoysala Temples. These were clearly not the objects of even infrequent visitor attention, and it took some persistent interrogation to get directions to the place. But, as the pic shows, it was totally worth it!
The last bit to Hassan, and the town itself, was lunar. The poor roadies complained about it for a long time, but little did they know things were turning in favour of us MTBers ;) Hassan itself had little to offer, and neither did the hotel. We went deep into town and managed to hunt down a solitary board of ludo+snakes and ladders, and that salvaged our evening.
Day 3: Into Coorg: Madikeri via Gorur, Shanivarasanthe, Somwarapet. 125 kms
This is where things got interesting. After renegotiating the battered Hassan exit roads, we were on a not-too-wide stretch leading to Gorur. The road was perfectly ok for us MTBers, but the unevenness and the odd pothole appearing randomly presented a negative surprise for a lot of the roadies - especially those who'd switched not too long ago from their MTBs.
I ripped through to Gorur, pausing for some pics (including those of some roadies as I overtook them 3 at a time :D). And at Gorur, we were welcomed by the local cops who'd not only opened the dam to us (courtesy the Transport Commissioner, who was a fellow rider on the TFN) but also arranged chai, biscuits and presented bouquets and garlands to us! Riding on the dam was one awesome experience.
The roads got a little worse after this, and the scenery got much better. Upto Sanivarsanthe, where the next support station was, was mostly rolling hills except one steep climb and one long, fast descent before that. A lot many riders got the first taste of what it meant to be Touring these parts on this stretch. After Sanivarsanthe, the coffee plantations on both sides meant a lot of tree cover. The road was better too (though some roadbikers still had issues, with already aching shoulders). The climbs got progressively steeper as we got closer to Somwarapet, and the sun got stronger as well. We ran out of steam just before Somwarapet and locally procured Coke + Chips provided enough emergency fuel to get to the lunch point :)
The route got prettier and much, much tougher between Somwarapet (just after which we had awesome rolls at the support station - I had 2 packs!) and Madikeri. The last climb was some 8kms long, and the lower gears came into play for the first time.
The last 5kms from Madikeri to the homestay broke the spirit of many a rider, and not just the roadies. Of course, prior knowledge of the horrible horrible surface there meant I knew what was coming, and actuallu wuzzled my way through the potholes, gravel and traffic. We also picked up some more coke and chips at Madikeri, but this was devoured by hungry bikers as soon as we got to the destination. There was also nice chai served as we reached. The acco was in dorms + rooms, and those of us in the dorm were treated to some great surround-snoring deep into the night :D
Day 4: To Iruppu, 143 kms of which I did about 125. Toughest day.
Started the day with a fast ride to Cherambane (averaging 21kmph+ through the hills!), where I met Satya (pal who's helping me with the house we're building around there). Treated a dozen riders who stopped there to Pattal-Kadla and Salaam Bhai's chai. This turned out to be a real long break. Adi pushed ahead and missed all this, and stayed ahead all day. Jas and I then stopped at Chettimani to take a look at the current state of the construction, and were pretty much the last to reach the support station at the base of Talacauvery. We'd lost a lot of time because of the breaks and had to take a call on whether to miss out on this, vs stopping a little short of the destination for sweep. Again, I knew the craziness that awaited us a little before Iruppu in the form of craters and lousy traffic, and the choice was clear. The ride up Talacauvery was a much easier 8kms than Nandi, and up there I watched the bikes as the others went into the temple (which I've seen plenty of times already). Chai and vadas kept me in good cheer, and fuelled up for the 10km hell ahead.
A quick ride down, and 6kms of slick roads later we hit 'the patch' of the entire tour. A lot many riders will remember this more than any other part of the ride. every bone, every part of the bike, shook, rattled and was severly tested. After a couple of downhills, I got used to no-brakes-fast-downhills and watching for potholes, gravels, turns all at once. It was immense fun - doing the climbs real slow at 2-2, 1-3 and then letting go on the descent.
The support station provided welcome lunch and Appy, and the road improved within a couple of kms after that. The backroads of Coorg, all the way to Virajpet, had lots pf coffee, little traffic and were ok for the most part except some rough stretches. The entire day was full of delights, challenges, and incidents. Helped people get off the grass after bus scares, fix flats, and brakes. And most of all, fight the devils that played with the mind!
We took a 'snack break' at Virajpet and downed Thums Up, Chips, Badam Milk. That was enough to do a rapid ride upto Gonikoppal (averaged 24+ on this stretch!), and from there to the last support station some 16kms short of the destination. We stopped at around 6pm and waited for the truck to come pick us up. The truck was filled with bikes so we got an Omni which bumped its way to the homestay.
The next day was a rest day so fun, games and general cacking went on late into the night. Some guys went star gazing, some found beer, and some played dumb-c.
Day 5: Rest, Massage, Waterfalls-that-I-didn't-see and Wildlife Trips
I got up later-than-usual-for-the-trip and had a couple of chais over morning gup. Went over to the pond in the property for a massage and some idle time. Next figured out a way to do some laundry. Sauntered over to a local shop for some 'Sunspot'. Vasu offered to, nay, insisted, on cleaning my bike's chain. There was also lunch somewhere in the midst of all this, and then someone mentioned a trip to Nagarhole which sounded like a good idea. Some enthu junta had done a quick ride to Iruppu falls by then! Very packed day!
The wildlife sanctuary ride was nice enough, and apart from the usual spotted deer we saw a turtle and a lone tusker which I guess was kinda used to traffic so no charge.
Day 6 : Iruppu - Sultan Bathery. 80kms or so. Overconfidence and Hunger.
Apart from the stretch upto the Wayand WLS, the roads turned out to be better than on the recce and the last 25kms was a dream run. Of course, it being a 'short ride' day I 'forgot' to have proper breakfast, and the hunt for an omelette in Kerala proved to be futile. The sun came out strong, and the climbs got serious after Kattikulam (though it was very very pretty all along) and I felt really drained towards the end.
In terms of the route, this was one of the more interesting ones since we actually passed through villages, beside numerous little Churches that dotted the landscape, lots of small streams and there were turns every few kilometres.
At one place we had some local savouries and chai, and chips and coke elsewhere. No lunch before we got to Bathery since I dumbly decided to not eat the rice at the support stations! One of the shorter rides on the trip, but took the most out of me.
Oh, and the unniappams inside the WLS were toally awesome! (This will be remembered as my for-food-ride!)
In the evening we visited the Sultan's Battery, and interacted with local enthusiasts and historians. Courtesy Sajan, a local TFN supporter, we had decent media coverage there as well.
Day 7: Bathery to Ooty and the big 24km climb. About 100kms
I am truly proud of how well I paced this. I use "paced" in no relation to "speed" here - that was for Gaurav Dwivedi who got to Ooty in just over 4 hours! I knew the route exactly, and unlike the previous year, was totally at peace about "will I reach before I'm swept" despite lengthening shadows, and dropping temperatures. I also did the entire climb in 2-2, 1-3 and at no point hurt any knees or ankles or other muscles. Also took fewer breaks.
The previous and this day, we had Anand Iyer for company as well, and courtesy his constant string of jokes about this, that and everything else, I was forced to take LOL breaks lest I fell off, literally! That, perhaps, helped not notice the ascents to some extent :) Jas had some trouble with his calves, but thankfully it did not worsen.
We took lots of tea breaks, and at Devarasholai Anand took what I think was the snap of the ride!
Just before the 24km unbroken climb, we decided to fuel up at Gudalur. Once 4 egg puffs, 2 full plumcakes were devoured by the 4 of us, the guy there obviously got curious about what we were doing :)
The climb was pretty, pleasant, and because most people were mentally psyched up for this one, felt easier than it was. We had lunch at one of the support stations en-route and got the hotel by 5:45 despite hazaar pics, breaks, chai, and just plain admiring the pretty vistas around us.
In the evening, the exhilaration of 'having done Ooty', and imminent end of the ride meant a lot of bonding amongst riders. We took an SUV into town with a few support guys (packed like sardines, I must add) and had some yummy egg rolls, did some chocolate shopping and generally had a relaxed time. There was a very light drizzle and it only made Ooty look prettier.
Day 8: The Very very Descent. 58kms. Mental Struggle for most!
The Kalahatti is one steep downhill. Good roads, 36 hairpins, and a second's break in concentration and you will surely lose control. Yet it promises speed and if you brake too much, you'll have red hot rims.
I discovered the downhiller in me :D Fast descent into the bends, hard braking, and actually pedalling out of them kept me going fast and needing to overtake all the traffic. Stopped at one place to take pics, and still made it down to the base in about 20-something minutes. Totally mindblowing, and I had half a mind to take a bus back up there and do it again! Did all of it wearing jeans, too!
The route went mostly through forest - Bandipur, Mudumalai. We rode in groups though the inevitable scattering happened. A lot many riders didnt really expect climbs after the downhill, so started to tire mentally. The climbs weren't too steep, but they were persistent - all the way to MC Resorts, where the TFN finally ended. The sun got bright and hot and the 'wild' surroundings were probably playing on people's minds as well. In fact, one of the riders had a fortunately-not-major run-in with a pachyderm as well.
Have done 2 TFNs already. Both very different from each other. Both memorable and both tests of endurance, mental preparedness. Have made gazillions of friends on these rides. People who challenged their limits. Some who're totally astounded that they actually did it! Totally worth doing once in your lifetime, at least.