Chasing the sun – Panshet and Beyond
When the cycling group sat back to enjoy the piping hot chai and bhajee that Subhedar Ghadge had welcomed us with, it was obvious that when there is a strong wish to accomplish something, the whole universe conspires to make it happen. Nothing else can explain the fantastic time we spent with each other as well as on the road on that February weekend.
In December 2013, when NJ and SS circumnavigated the Panshet dam, lake and back waters for the first time by car (described in detail here), little did we think that our cycles would be treading the same path 3 months later. The wonderful sights, lake views, stoked our desire to do the same path at a slightly leisurely pace – on cycles. As soon as we announced it, the plan fell into place in the blink of an eye, help came from all quarters we pursued and a fantastic team joined us.
So it was agreed then that ML, VM, KP, BS, PK, DJ, HD, NJ, SS and able support of VJ in the support van would be the team taking this tough route on. Since SS and NJ had travelled this route before they were most familiar with its challenges. Or so they thought. The overnight stay arrangements were kindly taken care of by Col. Vish Godbole and his team who run the MI Initiatives outdoor camp at Mutha.
On the morning of 15th Feb all of us cyclist all assembled at Rajaram Bridge (Pune) at 5:30 am and the van also joined shortly. Once all the baggage was stowed away, last minute checks done, lights turned on and away we went. Not all of us were expert or necessarily long distance cyclists. There was a mix of experiences – Sinhagad climbing, Pune-Goa cycling, Enduro3 on the top end and most of us recreational cyclist at the bottom of the pack. We had been doing the occasional commutes and weekend rides. Yet, what united us was the desire to exceed our athletic abilities, be a part of something big, and of course, to have fun. Big emphasis on fun!
The going was easy as we went via Khadakwasla lake. The full moon was up in the sky guiding us and we clicked some wonderful pictures of it shimmering in the lake waters. The base of Sinhagad and turn towards Panshet at Donje came up next by which time the sun was almost up. The morning chill made riding quick and we were getting a good pace underway. The thoughts about a lavish breakfast sometime later also kept us going. At about 8.15 Am we regrouped in front a small eatery right after the Panshet dam. It boasted of serving pineapple sheera among the usual pohe and tea items. We had to have this sheera decided VM, whether it was really going to have anything resembling pineapple in it remained to be seen. The pohe and chai was served fast and then the pineapple sheera as grand finale. And boy did it turn out to be good! Real pineapple bits and flavor.
We were invigorated by the solid breakfast and pedaled hard as the sun climbed overhead. We now decided to regroup more often as it was likely that some of us would be fast and some not so much. Around this time, KP got out his huge stock of chikkis and he stuck a small stash of those in a bag on his cycle. At every stop we dug in with gusto.
The road was now extremely undulating and there was no respite from the hard climbs. At times, most of us had to simply push our cycles up as they would not just move on the inclines. VM, aptly named King of the Ghats, climbed them all without stepping down even once. He can push himself really hard, this guy. We could not take advantage of the descents because of the tardy condition of the roads. We never noticed the potholes and rough patches in the car but on cycles we felt each one of them. Road work is on in some patches, but when only one State transport bus takes the route twice a day, the administration really must think about where to deploy their meager resources.
The sun had climbed high in the sky and at about 2 pm, after a tiring ride on the left banks of the lake we were finally at the point where we could cross the stream to the other side. ML experienced major cramping in her legs, but the gritty gal that she is, she kept going hard. The support vehicle with VJ in it was kept shuffling back and forth between the cyclists so that VJ could take pictures. He also put on some loud rock music which he assumed motivated us on the climbs.
The turn at the stream was another tale and was almost a repeat of the earlier feat involving the car. The road, or the lack of it, is just a stone and dust filled path up a steep patch and the Innova’s wheels refused to budge. They just kept turning in place. We placed stones under the wheels and heaved. Luckily everyone in this team has a cool head and in no time we were up on a more stable path made up of gravel and dust. The Innova was much more stable here and swiftly made its way up to the tar road. That also, unfortunately, meant that the cycles would be equally badly stuck in the dust and gravel, so we had about 3 KM of cycle pushing ahead of us in the middle of the afternoon. We dangled the carrot of a picnic lunch in front of ourselves to get our legs moving. True athletes that we are, we clung on, motivated each other, and lead by Montra Man, made it to the tar road.
KP immediately decided that in the shade of nearby tree was the picnic spot we were looking for begin lunch. Out came the food packets, water, sweets and anything else edible. VJ quickly got a rug out and laid it in the shade. This also meant that some people got the right ideas about a siesta, but the food and light banter pepped us up for the last leg of the ride.
We left the picnic spot at 3:30 pm and followed a similar undulating road towards the Panshet MTDC, which would bring up a sharp descent towards the dam. This time the gaps between individuals with similar speed grew larger. While some of us were weary, others seem to have discovered a second wind after all that carb loading.
The rest of the ride down till the damn was fueled by Chikkis, Gatorade, water and most importantly everyone’s will not to let the road get better of us. We stopped more often to regroup, kept up the banter and made light of the road before we realized it.
A group photos, a third one that day, was due when all of us made our way to the dam by 5 PM that day. It was a culmination of a tiring 8 hours of riding and we were not yet done. We still had to cross Neelkantheshwar road and roads 3 & 4 to get to Mutha. The evening was still young and we were raring to go. It was thinking about the fabulous food (again) that we got us back on the saddles, pedaling hard.
The road was as bad as ever, passing through villages. So far in the day we had met a rare vehicle, but here the vehicles became a menace as darkness fell. The fumes spouting diesel goods carriers zoomed past us without a care and half of them did not have their head or tail lamps on/functioning.
A two hour ride later we were on the smooth Lavasa road, in Mutha and at the base of the MI Camp. All that remained was a final climb towards food heaven.
At 7:30 pm, we finally ended up at the camp gates and smelt the bhajee right away. Not stopping at those and tea, Subhedarji had a lavish feast and some chicken-on-fire up his sleeve. A camp fire was organized and simultaneously tents & bedding was set up. We were already sharing ride stories, our personal experiences with each other by 8:30 pm over the wonderful smells coming from the camp kitchens.
It was the longest ride ever for some of us, while it was the toughest for some. The common thread though was that all of us had sailed through without a hitch. The ride was tough, the team perfect, the support most appropriate and we could not have asked for a better way to end the grueling day.
All that remained to do the next day was a ride back to Pune via Mutha ghat and Pirangut. Given our previous days ride, that was..well, a ride in the backyard.
Update: A month and a half after our ride, our beloved friend and mentor, Col. V V Godbole passed away suddenly. It was as much a shock to us as to his numerous students, friends and the athletic fraternity in Pune. We chased the sun that day only by because of his unconditional support. We are sure he is chasing even greater challenges wherever he is because that is simply what he did. RIP.