It was great to be in riding spirits again. After a hiatus of five years, in 2013 I picked up my Hercules MTB 18. What started out as a simple way to keep fit after graduating from college, turned into a means to seek adventure and see places I hadn’t before and to experience things I wouldn’t have imagined earlier. The Hercules MTB 18 was a beautiful bicycle but was a tad heavy I thought. My awareness about the international brands available in the country was in any case limited then. Anyways I was happy. The idea was to just be on a saddle. The cycling bug caught on real strong and long rides to Nandi and around Bangalore became routine. As I got involved with the community I became aware of the snazzy new wheels in the market and in no time, was the proud owner of a Scott Aspect 670.
New bike meant new resolutions, new plans and new places to be explored. I thought why not take it up one notch. There was anyways a plan to celebrate New Years in Goa. I thought why not integrate the two. I decided to ride to Goa for New Years rather than take any conventional means of transport.
This is the first time I was doing a long ride. I had not even done any conducted randoneurring tours so far. This meant I had to plan myself and rely on my instincts and take on the elements. I was advised that riding is a buddy sport and it would be preferable if I had a buddy to ride with. I had met Shivram Subramaniam several times on our group rides around Bangalore to Nandi, Yelagiri and Bannerghatta Natioanl Park. In him I found a willing buddy to go the distance. Shivram was in Mangalore for a friend’s father’s birthday and to celebrate Christmas. Since we decided to do the coastal route, we packed our cycles on to buses and begin our ride from Mangalore rather than Bangalore.
Mangalore to Goa is approximately 460kms and we recon it would take us approximately four days. We set out just after Christmas. The prospect of a scenic route all the way to Goa was exciting. We had two options, either take the coastal route via Udupi or the Inland route via Tirthahalli . Experienced riders suggested that we take the inland route. We had it all mapped out, Mangaluru to Tirthahalli on day one. Jog Falls on day two. Gokarna on day three and finally on day four we reach Palolem Beach, Goa. About a 100kms every day.
Shivram was on his Trek 7.1 Hybrid and we packed as light as possible and geared ourselves for the exciting journey ahead.
On day one to Tirthahalli, we had to take several stops as we were not yet accustomed perhaps and were getting tired but the mind was driving the body. We dismounted and laid down on the roadside breathless and sweaty . It was hilarious! We had never done something like this. It was a sense of complete freedom and bliss. We were laughing and the passersby were wondering what was the matter.
Day one was without a doubt the most difficult part of the whole journey, there was a lot of rolling terrain, with almost no descent to help ease the burden on our tired thighs, the worst of which was conquering the Western Ghats. The long row of shady trees was a god gift protecting us from the sun. The ride was strenuous but doable. Thankfully we were fortunate not to have any mechanical troubles throughout the trip with the slight exception of Shivram’s faulty front derailleur. Upon reaching Tirthahalli very late and tired, we stayed at the first available lodge and went straight to sleep.
Day two offered the excitement of encountering Jog Falls. After a good night’s rest at
Tirthahalli we set out for Jog Falls. Thankfully the ride wasn’t as taxing as the previous day. We took a couple of breaks in between, to stretch and regain strength. One such break was when we spotted a watermelon seller. Our tired minds had led us to gorge on the fruits non-stop until we probably lost track of how many we had finished. We must have thanked him a hundred times for being stationed there. Seeing how satisfied we felt with the fruit, he did not charge us for it. He said that, this was his way of appreciating our efforts of riding such long distances and more importantly, he was happy that his fruits were greatly appreciated in contrast to how the travelers who use cars rarely even stop by. We realized that such things will happen only when we are on our bikes. We learn to appreciate the smaller things in life. The ride further was made truly picturesque with great landscapes, quaint villages and busy rural towns. We stopped several times to take pictures.
When we finally reached Jog falls at around 7 in the evening, we got off our bicycles, wiped the sweat that shone on our faces and unpacked at the Karnataka govt. guest house. Soaking in our achievement for the day, it was time to celebrate with a beer. But we didn’t know that getting a beer from the nearby town would be an adventure by itself. In the dead of night our adventure spirits intact we trekked through dark foliage just to get that cool accompaniment for our parched throat. We were told that the foliage was infested with poisonous snakes, but we trudged along. What’s an extra risk in an already adventurous expedition?
After enjoying the morning mist and the majestic beauty of the falls, day three lead us to the coast. It was supposed to be an easy ride from Jog to Honnavar, the heat had already taken its toll on us. By afternoon we reached Honnavar. But we couldn’t find any place to stay and decided to ride further to the town of Kumta. With a short distance to reach Kumta and a lot more of the daylight left over, we decided to rest for a while. We met a warm villager who worked as a contractor and had a nice conversation with him. When he inquired about our destination, with the time we were making, I got excited and replied, Gokarna! He suggested that we take a boat from Agnasani docks, which according to him was just 8kms away. And so at 6pm we started riding to Agnasani to catch the last boat at 7:30pm. As it turned out the distance was terribly miscalculated and the sun had already set, and all of a sudden we were doing 12-15 degree climbs in pitch darkness. My night lights were in the bag, fearing that we would miss the boat by digging out the lights, we pressed on. The sharp climb gave way to steep descends and we were praying to all our gods that we could make it safely to the dock that was in sight now. On the boat, we met these two fishermen, who were en route to their boat at Gokarna beach. They were very friendly and helped us out in loading and unloading our bikes and even to find our way into Gokarna town. That was a very close call, we had pushed our luck a little too far in that instance. We reached Gokarna around 8:30 in the evening and stayed at a quaint guest house run by the most hospitable family in town. Great homemade Konkani food was already giving us the whiff of the countryside. The tangy taste of tamarind mixed with coconut milk is a heady flavour that makes this cuisine one of the best in the country.
The sun rose early on day four, we were just a couple of hours away, we were eager but worn out, we made it to Karwar which is half way from Gokarna and Palolem, we were half way there but the exhaustion caught up to us, we tried cajoling our weakened legs but eventually the traffic snarls were getting to us. We thought anyway we have succeeded in our endeavour and took a call to hitch-hike the last 30kms to Goa. After all we had to be fresh and ready for the New Years’ eve.
For me, the most memorable moments would be the sight of the coast, it was all I could think about on the trip, and when I finally got to see it, with the sweat beading down my forehead, the pain and the rough roads seemed worth the trouble, the waves that crashed against the shore, the salt in the air, the skies that dominated the view made it all worth it.
Looking back now, this trip was beautiful. I made new friends on the way from varied walks of life, I experienced so much culture and got great pictures. It was incredible. The beauty of Karnataka is incredible. I’m so humbled by the splendor of our country. This trip inspired me to perhaps do many more tours around the country in the future. Perhaps the north all the way to Kashmir. But if you really want to measure an experience by the number of breathless moments it has then a cycling long ride is one of those. Hope we can do a long ride together.