It all began with an innocuous packing list that started with “1. Cycling shorts”. I figured that hard-core cyclists like wearing specific shorts to prove their street cred, and ignored it. But after two more reminders with this item at the top of a must-have packing list for the cycling trip I’d signed myself and V up for, I realized it was time to Google this. Even after discovering that these shorts contained padding, I continued to stay in denial, and unilaterally decided that they couldn’t possibly make much of a difference. Finally, I mustered up courage to ask A (who couldn’t believe I signed up for this trip in the first place), and she’s like “yeah, you need them. That’s how AM does his long cycling trips. Your butt will hurt if you don’t have the padding.” That was the moment I knew I was in over my head. I’d signed up for this trip to Wayanad primarily because I’d get to see the place, and I thought maybe some exercise wouldn’t hurt. I should’ve known it wasn’t that simple, given my history with trekking, if not cycling.
With misgivings (and a brand new pair of cycling shorts), I showed up at the bus terminus on Friday night, wondering what I’d gotten us into. We reached Wayanad, and for a while I forgot about my worries once I saw where we were staying. I even optimistically took a pro-biker picture.
Post the photo clicking, I suddenly realized that all we got before we began the ride at 6AM was a cup of tea. I was essentially cycling about 10kms just to get to breakfast! But I had Plan B – the option of riding in the support vehicle once this exercise business got to be too much. We set off on our ride when I suddenly realized that Plan B had disappeared in a cloud of dust with the pack of cyclists ahead, leaving V & me to puff and pant while P helped us out at the back of the pack. I should’ve quit then, but well, I needed my breakfast.
We rode on, and on, and on, while I wondered when we were reaching those lovely flat tea plantations I’d conjured in my head. So far, we were just headed upwards on some hilly terrain that was way more exercise than I’d bargained for. I mentioned something about flat trails when P burst out laughing and asked me what tea plantations were found in the plains. That’s when I realized that this wasn’t just exercise, this was a cardio punishment that involved steep uphill riding. I was told that the downhills are worth the uphill pain, but let me be the first to tell you that a free fall downhill flow felt more like a rollercoaster gone wrong than a reward of any sort. I somehow muddled through to breakfast (finally!) and inhaled the food. At this point, I was done, but I didn’t want to give up that easily (I blame the food and the mountain air for impacting my rational thought process).
So I persevered, and pushed my bike up through the bad roads and steep climbs. Just when we could see the last stretch of our return up ahead, D was enticed by a local at a tea shop, and our plans changed. We were going to take a new path that would show up a part of the Meenmutti waterfalls. Oh and by the way, this was a route the support vehicle couldn’t take so there went my Plan B yet again (worst Plan B ever!).
We arrived at the water falls, and I was THRILLED to discover a swing by the river and promptly settled on it. I was contemplating if I could get some reading done (yes, yes, I took a book along on a bike ride), when someone asked the pertinent question of how we were to get to our resort, given that we could see it on the opposite side. Turns out that we were supposedly going to haul our bikes across the river and cross it. Um, OK then. I’d almost resigned myself to living on that swing when enthusiastic V set up a process where he & D did most of the heavy lifting to get the bikes across. Reason #1000 that I married right! All that remained was for klutzy me to feel my way across the smooth river stones and somehow crossover without falling flat on my face, and thankfully this was one of those days when I pulled it off.
If you thought this was the 50KM ride I signed up for, you’d be mistaken. This was about 25KM. I still had the evening ride to get through. I started off by blocking space for myself in the support vehicle for the after-dark portion of the ride. Turns out I couldn’t even get that far. After a punishing uphill stretch of about 2KM, I quit within the first 5KM of the ride and checked out the scenery from the confines of the car (the way God intended man to enjoy these things!). I also doubled up as the photographer and took some of these after-dark photos, for those of you who are reading this and thinking, “this sounds awesome, what’s she complaining about?”
The next day, we had 2 treks. As some of you may know, I don’t do treks. The incentive for the “walk” in the morning was breakfast. It was fairly simple, probably because I’d recalibrated my expectations post the first day. We had breakfast by a lake, and while others ran around trying to spot birds and enjoy the scenery, I did what I do best when confronted by a nice peaceful space – I read (with my back to the lake, because who needs to see the angry bull stare at you).
The day was fairly light in that we got quite a bit of time to relax at the super awesome heritage bungalow we were at, so I also got in a Sunday nap. Then came the second trek, to the top of Neelimala peak.
As soon as we got to the start point, we were accosted by folks trying to sell us the option of going up on a jeep. Tempting though it was, I used my rusty Malayalam skills to pack them off so we could begin the upward trek. I was suffering my way through some treacherous uphill (at the back as usual), and was just about beginning to enjoy the views. I was ALMOST deciding I liked (ok, fine, tolerated) this climb when suddenly a forest dept official materialized to say we were late and we couldn’t go up. We tried arguing that half our group was already ahead, but he began grumbling. The tourism guide (who we’d paid) then began to have a conversation with the ranger and they promptly proceeded to argue for the next 15+ minutes. With all hope of peace gone, I soldiered on, wondering why I was doing this anyway. Finally we reached a point super close to the peak and the forest ranger decided that he was going to draw his imaginary Lakshman Rekha at this point, even though we could see the rest of our group. I was pretty mad by then, and I told him that I was fine to stay where I was provided he didn’t say anything more. All I wanted was the silence. He began complaining almost immediately so I stalked off to a point where I couldn’t hear him anymore.
A few minutes later, he’d let us go through. So we hurried ahead, saw the views from the peak, got some cursory inputs from the tourist guide, took the mandatory photos (I didn’t take any because it wasn’t worth the loss of mental peace on the ascent), and began our descent. This time though I made sure I was well ahead of everyone so I could get that elusive quiet that the argument had destroyed on my way up. And that’s when I realized, that silence is the key to trekking. It gives you time to just be, and you actually feel good (of course this was downhill, and it had been two days of inhaling mountain air so maybe I was just delirious and mistook it for happiness!).
At the end of it all, though, I’m still the city girl, who needs the city air. I’d rather get my mountain air as instant gratification by inhaling it through the windows of a 4-wheel vehicle. Huffing and puffing in the air does not have the same kick. I will probably still go on these trips with Pedal in Tandem, because of the awesome locations, stays and food. Most importantly, I can threaten D into letting me do most of it from a car! Also, I need some exercise and even if all I do is push a bike up a hill, Apple Health tells me that’s the equivalent of the 81 floors I’m NEVER climbing otherwise.
If you’re one of those who likes to cycle, trek and all that (*shudder*), please contact Pedal in Tandem – they’ll find you awesome locations to get your weird endorphin high every month. If you’re someone who just likes traveling, you should still sign up, the #protip is to be sure to block rides in the support vehicle upfront.
As for me, next time, I’ll get into the jeep instead of getting on the cycle so they don’t have the opportunity to strategically ensure I get the exercise!
PS – anyone who tells you the padding on the cycling shorts saves you from an aching butt is a liar. Also, lycra combined with sweat will give you a rash. Whoever thought it was a good idea to reduce the padding on the cycle seat and compensate it with padding on lycra shorts was clearly onto trying the printer + ink business model in the cycling industry.