Birthday Challenge

Nandi hills is to Bangaloreans what Khandala is to Mumbai, Agra is to Delhi and Mysore is to South Bangaloreans.

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It is in Chikkaballpur district of Karnataka, India and it is about 50kms away from the nearest petrol pump to my house according to the analog odometer on my 32 year old motorcycle. And it has been the destination to my birthday challenge since the last three years. If you do not know what a birthday challenge is, you should either read on or stop right here.

So what is my birthday challenge? I take my bicycle and pedal from my house to the top of Nandi hill and back. The first year, I wished I was dead, almost cried and took some insane number of hours to finish it. Last year was a breeze. This year, having not used a cycle in months, I was apprehensive. I got caught on work and got an hour of sleep last night and decided to go anyway. What good is a human being if he cannot carry his own weight.

The last time I used the stopwatch on my wrist watch was when I ran my first 10K a few weeks back. I finally reset the counter and took off.

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I do not have an expensive carbon or aluminium bicycle. Its custom built by me from scavenged cycle parts and has only six gears. Not the first choice for most people who have to climb 8kms of tarmac incline with an elevation change of about 1000ft.

I left home at 0503hrs. The stop watch started fresh to count the total number of hours for to complete my challenge.

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About 20 minutes into the ride. My mother calls me up to tell me that I have forgotten to take the food I had kept packed. Bread with Jam. Enough sugar to keep me going for the whole day. LLUckily I had managed to drop in the little bottle of jam into my backpack. I can buy bread anywhere. I pedaled on.

Another 30mins later. bang! Left pedal snapped out of the crank. In order for me to keep pedaling, I need to put it back in and let it grind out its own threading and the threading on the crank.

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I decided to gun it till the village of Devanahalli and hope to the soul of all cyclists that there was a shop open with the spare parts. This is the fun part of not having some fancy cycle. You can find spares almost anywhere. I ended up waiting for an hour and a half for the shop to open and also being a huge inconvenience to the villagers going about their morning chores and even the dog guarding the cycle shop.

I am way out of form and now I am delayed by almost two hours in getting this mess sorted out. While I was waiting for the cycle shop to open, I was reading none other than ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.’ The irony surely made me feel like an ass and if not, all the villagers staring at a man exposing his hairy legs by wearing shorts and running around in a cycle like some kid surely did.

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I had to make up for lost time and so I gunned against the head winds ever present at the valley leading to the hill. Grabbed a quick breakfast, Chitranna! At my favorite Sri Hari hotel.

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The rice for carbs, the groundnuts for some fat and the spicy chutney to help burn the fat. the deep fried pakoda? Because I can.

Good, but not great weather. No weekend crowd. Just the occasional love birds. For those who do not know, Nandi hills is the favorite spot for men to teach their girls how to ride a motorcycle. Because the roads are secluded and other obvious reasons.

I made a new friend today. I do not know his name. He startled me at first. I think I changed his life when I taught him a few stretches. My birthday challenge isn’t a race. I go up the hill for solitude. I rest when I want. I talk to myself. I even go to sleep on the boundary walls of the roads. As I was napping. I woke up all of a sudden to see a short creature with a bloody stick for walking which can easily be called a log. He’s my friend. He’s a weekly wage construction worker from devahalli who decided to cycle to Nandi today. He got too tired that he parked up his cycle somewhere near the base of the hill and decided to walk up instead. He was scared for his life and the money he had and his mobile and hence was carrying the stick to wade off any miscreants that might pop up.

He was weird. Just lime me. our similarities ended right about there. He offered me to exchange my phone with his because he wanted to use the internet to access facebook. I sat him down and advised him against it. He moved on. I continued my nap. This isn’t what made us friends. It wasn’t even the fact that I, now had a lot lesser water because he needed some too. I met him again at the top of the hill. He had even managed to befriend the same shopkeeper I did. He wanted to  sneak in to the part of the hill that needs an entry ticket. I wanted someone to guard my lockless cycle while I peed and washed up.  It isn’t this either that made us friends. He was given some money by that shopkeeper and put in a bus that would take him to his village.

I finished my birthday ice cream. Caught up some reading, stretched myself and raced down the hill. Oh the downhill is always fun if you know what you are doing. you could even out cars and motorcycles behind you with a measly cycle. thrown your knee out if you know how to and you have excellent curves of the roads enhancing your ride. I have about 39 kms to get home. I stop to chug some water and get some rest. And there he is again. He got off the bus early, used the loaned money to get some food, picked up his Atlas Goldline cycle and had pedaled to catch me after having left from the top of the hill a good 30 mins or so before I did.

Well I had to share water with him, again. And this time I forced him to drink some. The man obviously has no clue what dehydration is. I gave him the bottle without salt in it. He began cursing and complaining about our current state of affairs, about why would anyone want to pedal. He asked me why I did it. I merely told him that I did it 2 years ago and I almost died. I wanted to do it every year to remind me that this is one less thing that could kill me. I tried getting a little philosophical with him. He was so purpose bound that he outright rejected my ideology and said, you can suffer on your own. I am leaving. He taught me something here. It is simple for humans to be born and then to do what he is told to do to survive and that is about it. That instant right there is when he became a person of importance to me, like everybody else ought to be. His possession of a point of view bought him my respect from more that being the person who was just annoyingly present at every point.

I am a huge fan of simplicity. But I could not accept his ideology. Human beings deserved thrill, satisfaction of the soul,  and every other hippie cliche. I did not argue with him instead I taught him how to stretch his muscles. We stretched together at an abandoned bus stand. It was like watching yoga on TV. I suggested that he does these later today and even into tomorrow to relieve soreness. This is where we became friends.

I know of a public tap on our way that promises cold water for drinking only. It is a sin to wash your vehicle with this water. There is a sign to tell you this too. So we finished whatever water I had and headed to the tap. We filled up water and chatted some more. We figured out that we would be parting soon.  We said no good byes. We assumed we would ride together. As we met the highway, I found an easy entry on to it and he did not. I went ahead and waited for him to catch up. He never did or probably he was taking too long as I had a loner way to go, or I did not want to say good bye to him. I did not know which one it was. I pedaled away and there was no way he could catch up before he got to his point of deviation.

I reached home in 12:53:00, incusive of wait times, rest times, times where random people stopped me to ask questions and even try and sell me an Iphone 4S, because to them, I look like a person who wants to spend money on shit he does not need.

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I pedaled around 100kms today. Scandalized a few villagers with the way I look. Philosophized to a lay man. I think I made a friend our of him. Had my heart pounding like it was going to explode. Fed two random street dogs, one of whom could catch the pieces of bread with his mouth. I’d like to believe that I had something to do with it. Climbed a few elevated highways. Today, I finished my birthday challenge. Today I am 27 years old. Today I vow to be on top of the mountain pass of Khardung La in Leh next year for my birthday challenge.

Disclaimer: If this piece seems too long, non engaging, has too much information or possibly does not have more of the fun stuff that I managed to do today or for below my usual standards. It is only because I can barely keep my eye open. My shoulders and wrists are almost incapable of being in full control and I should be getting drunk and cutting cakes like everyone else should on their birthdays, but I am not. Also, I shall not apologize for the low quality cell phone imagery on this post and neither for not clicking a selfie at the end of the challenge.

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