Yet another Leh Ride triplog.

Leh Storm: Attempt 2; Re-Preparations

2 Weeks had passed since my last attempt to do a Leh Ride. A lot had happened in those 2 weeks. First and foremost, my family was pleasantly surprised that I had returned early. I was massively disappointed to not be able to join my friends on our journey. To cheer me up my family took me to a motoring picnic of sorts through the hills of Maharashtra. My biker buddies were worried about my well being since it is not often that someone returns on the first day of a multi-day ride without a medical / technical reason. The bike made a trip to the service center for a general check-up. Sumit, Aniruddha, Sanjay and Anuradha, my *couldn’t be* co-riders met with a setback which meant even they were also delayed, but only by 2.5 days, at the beginning of their journey in Jammu itself (Read their triplog here)!! And most important of all, I got the time to re-think the ride in my mind and then decide whether I could do it on my own.

The repercussions of my decision were bigger than just losing 2 weeks. The entire dynamics of the ride had changed. The ride had changed from a partial-group-ride to a entirely solo ride. I was about to venturing into the most inhospitable of climates without any backup of people who would be able to pull me out of a pickle (if I happened to get into one). I had to prepare myself for the biggest motorcycling challenge of my life. There was so much that could go wrong and could leave me stranded in the middle of nowhere, hundreds of km from any kind of help, thousands of km away from home. To make sure that I didn’t kill myself somewhere en route, I would need to be much more careful about each and every detail now. I needed to be better prepared and I needed to avoid the mistakes I made the last time around.

So, I chalked out the entire detailed route including alternate routes from Nasik, all the way till Leh. Confirmed road conditions with whatever sources I had at the time. (Special thanks to HVK Facebook group) Re-confirmed road conditions with my aforementioned friends who were still to return from their journey. And decided that I would start my journey, not in the middle of the night like last time, but during the day after being properly rested. It was also decided that I would avoid riding after sundown as much as possible since, as soon as the sun sets, it becomes increasingly difficult to navigate and to find accommodation for the night halt. This is especially true when riding solo. The biggest thing which was decided was that I wouldn’t be having any deadlines for myself. There won’t be any time bound action plans or any such fancy things. Since I was on my own, I could do things at a pace I am comfortable with, without worrying about meeting anyone and keeping up with anyone on the road. This doesn’t mean that I would be riding slower :D. It only means that there won’t be any pressure to reach a certain location or all my plans ‘risk going haywire’. I wanted to ride like the proverbial *Man without a plan*. If such is the approach, I am never late and never behind schedule for anything. I am always relaxed, and always *on time* :D. Isn’t that what a vacation is supposed to be??

Since I was already pretty much prepared with most spares and tools for the previous ride itself, no such effort was required to get prepared again. It was all in the mind and the mind was now set on the goal.

The D-Day was decided to be August 4th 2012, i.e. the day my bike turned 3. The time of departure was decided to be 4PM, i.e. the exact time when I first took my bike out of the Wasan Bajaj showroom in Nasik for the very first time. This ride, since the beginning, was always meant to be a birthday gift for my bike. As fate would have it, I managed to re-start it on its birthday :D.

The restart comes after the break..

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Leh Storm: Attempt 1; Day 1

“BEEP BEEP – BEEP BEEP – BEEP BEEP” the alarm rang exactly thrice before I was up. It was exactly 3AM on the morning of July 19 2012. Just like the previous 2 times it rang, it was still raining outside. I was already geared up so I washed my face, put the raincoat on, picked up my 3 bags, a tank-bag, a tail-bag and a saddlebag and went down the stairs to my bike to load it up!

It had been quite a while since I had last gone on a long road-trip that involved tying up so much luggage, it took me quite a while to get it all done properly. The bungee cords that I had borrowed were too short and it was mighty hard work to secure it all in place. It was already 3.30AM and I was already 5 hours late by the time I was all set.

My friend joined me downstairs just when I was warming up the engine, we exchanged goodbyes and I was on my way with the bike odo reading exactly 39750km. As I navigated myself through Pune city, I took a slight detour towards Pune Station where I picked up 2 x 1 liter bottles of water for the road and then left Pune city by 3:45AM going towards Ahmednagar Road amidst heavy rain.

The plan for the day was to traverse the following route.

Pune – Ahmednagar – Shirdi – Malegaon -(NH3)- Dhule – Manpur (M.P.) -(SH31) Dhar – Ratlam – Neemuch -(NH79)- Chittorgarh – Ajmer

Even if I wouldn’t do so much distance all in one day, I would still have had enough time to make it to Jammu Tawi station in time to join the gang  just in time.But since nothing was going to plan, what I eventually did was starkly different.

Due to the incessant rain, I was taking it slow and steady in the beginning. The first time I gathered enough confidence to cross into triple digit speeds, I was already over 28km into the trip. This is very unlike my behavior even on the shortest of trips but obviously I was being extra cautious on my biggest ride ever which happened to have a less than ideal start. As I moved further and further away from Pune, the rain started to ease. But since the traffic at this hour and this bad weather was almost negligible, I was making swift progress towards Ahmednagar. I took my first break around 4:45AM, a few km before Ahmednagar for tea. That was a shot of much needed warmth in the cold rain water. I literally gulped down 2 cups of tea before I pushed off again. Crossing small towns along the way one, after the other, I was covering distance at very good pace, over twice as fast as my bus driver from yesterday 😀 especially given the deteriorated condition of the road soon after crossing A’Nagar.

As the sun started peeping over the horizon, I was keeping up the pace and was entering the holy town of Shirdi. It was busier than the last time I went to Shirdi on the bike but still considering that it was just about 6:30AM, it was majorly traffic free and the only traffic I did encounter was pedestrian traffic of devotees trying to get into the Sai Baba Temple. As I passed the temple, under the helmet while still on the move, I said a silent prayer seeking Baba’s blessings for the safe and successful completion of my ride.

Post Shirdi, the roads took an unexpected turn for the worse but since there was very little traffic on the road at that hour, I could still keep on going along at 70-80 on semi-badly potholed 4-lane tarmac. Soon enough though, Ahmednagar district lived up to its good old reputation of providing excellent roads and I was greeted with immaculately maintained tarmac leading to some mild twisty stuff en route towards Manmad.

About 15km from Manmad, I saw that I was approaching a major milestone in the long term journey of my bike ownership. I took this opportunity to take my 1st real butt break since the start of the journey at exactly 7:08 AM.
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But apparently a Crow in the vicinity was not as pleased as I was about the fact that I just made a stop in its *territory* and tried to sit on my head more than once. Thankfully, since this happened before I had taken my helmet off, I understood the Crow’s point and moved on.

By that time, there was enough light around and given the enjoyable + traffic free road conditions, I picked up the pace. Soon enough, the town of Manmad passed by in a flash and I continued on towards my predetermined breakfast stop. Enjoying myself on the butter smooth roads, I made it to my first checkpoint of the day in good time. It took me a shade under 4 hours to cover my first 300km and I had only barely reached the best bit of road. After having a breakfast of wada-pav, Pohe and tea at the Malegaon enterance of NH3, re-energised I moved on since I still had to cover a better part of 800km before EOD as per plan.

As I moved on towards Dhule, as many readers would realize that NH3 in this stretch is an absolute treat to ride on and surely enough, my riding pace was upped significantly from the roughly 75odd km/hr average speed that I was managing on the Pune-Malegaon stretch to around 90-95 now. With renewed energy, I rode on in the comparatively faster traffic on butter smooth roads towards Dhule, but somewhere at the back of my mind, I was getting the feeling of something being amiss. Something not being quite right. ‘Maybe its just cold feet, this is after all my longest ever solo ride..’, I thought and kept moving.

After tanking up just ahead of Dhule, this feeling of something being amiss was steadily increasing. Maybe it was not just cold feet, maybe it was the mental fatigue of shifting residences a couple of days back, maybe it was the physical fatigue of all the travelling in the days leading to this big day. Whatever it was, the one thing I knew for sure was that I wasn’t enjoying myself. For the very first time on a ride, I wasn’t in a mental state to enjoy myself. Maybe I had set too high an EOD target for myself. But I really wanted to visit Ajmer Dargah before I went to Leh. There was no other way I could have accomodated Ajmer in my schedule. Was I doing something wrong by not taking the train to Jammu instead? I really didn’t kn0w the answers to most of the queries arising in my mind.

All this thinking went on as I rode on past Shirpur and towards the MP border. The doubts in my mind grew and I remembered the words of my dear friend Vishwas Mokashi about not riding on a day you didn’t feel like riding. I was getting strange thoughts about past bad days and this being a bad feeling, I decided to stop for a drink of water. The road by the way was standard issue 4-lane pothole and traffic free road, probably the reason why I had so much time on hand to think about all the things I need not have.

I once again tried to convince myself that this is just cold feet, and my nervousness getting the better of me. I tried to keep up the pace but I was strangely unable to. Even though the road ahead was straight, 4-laned, traffic free and butter smooth, I was strangely lacking will-power to move any faster than 40-50 kmph. Strange thoughts had taken over my riding instincts and all I could think at the time was accidents that my riding buddies had been in, accidents that happened to me when my buddies were there to bail me out. There was especially an incident involving a friend which happened on the Lonavala – Amby Valley road in front of my own eyes and the surrounding conversations which were the biggest things on my mind.

I decided to stop and think over it since riding like this was totally dangerous so I pulled over to the side of the road and sat down to think about my thoughts, the task at hand and my ability to complete it successfully.

It was only 9:30AM at the time and I had the entire day ahead of me. I had made good progress till then and turning around would be stupid.

WHAT? Turn Around?? But!! Why??

That was not the kind of thought I wanted inside of my head at that point of time. So I decided to call up home, maybe a comforting chat with my family will get my thoughts going straight… Just ahead of Palasner village, barely 4km away from the MH-MP border, I sat down on the railing of a Narrow bridge, took off my jacket, helmet, gloves, shoes and even socks and made a call Home.

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Talked to everyone normally informing them about my progress, talked to my mother and then hung up. There was nothing I could point a finger on that was wrong, but still I was unable to continue. So one by one, I called up Surojit Sadhu & Shrinath Rao and told them how exactly I was feeling. They told me exactly what I needed to hear.. that it was just cold feet and I shouldn’t be wasting time sitting on the side of the road like this. They were telling me to enjoy myself but clearly that was the thing I was struggling to do the most.

Finally, I decided to call up Vishwas uncle, the person who introduced me to the magical land of Ladakh. I hoped that a call to him would give me some clarity of thought. But somehow the call didn’t connect. Was this a signal?? No rather it was it was the lack of signal. NO NETWORK DUH 😀 !! Anyways, I knew what he would say and I remembered his words once again, “If you don’t feel like riding further, you probably shouldn’t. There is no harm in turning around if you are not enjoying yourself.”. So after waiting over 2 hours at that spot to make a decision, I made one. I made the hard decision to abandon my very first Leh ride and jinx it forever. In hindsight, I would say it was the right thing to do at the time because clearly I wasn’t enjoying myself. I was too tired, physically and mentally to undertake a ride like this, my targets were too ambitious and I probably would have hurt myself really bad had I stuck to the plan and continued the onwards journey that day.

Now some may argue with my decision to turn around and go back and suggest that I could well have gotten a room up ahead instead of riding back all the way and continued my journey the next day, but clearly I wasn’t in that kind of state of mind to think logically enough to have thought of that. In my mind, even though this decision meant that I would lose my chance to have company of friends on my maiden Leh ride, I did get the option of riding in a better state of mind some other day.

I learnt an important lesson that day, things can go wrong for no apparent reason. It is better to retreat for a few days and come better prepared for the challenge that lies ahead rather than keep pushing on underprepared. When in doubt, abandon, only to try again with more effort. Kind of the exact same approach we employ while making a simple overtaking maneuver on a busy road, but  this time it was in a much broader sense.

Turn around I did, but still I was far from home. Almost 250km away to be precise. Palasner is roughly 250km away from my residence in Nasik and that, apparently, was my new destination for EOD. To add to it, all these intense thoughts, conversations and the accompanied fatigue had started taking a toll on my body. To add to the disappointment of not being able to join my friends on the ride of my lifetime, I was starting to feel drowsy already. It was just 11:30-11:45 AM but still I was unable to continue. I decided to stop at a Dhaba to grab a bite before I went back home. The plan was also to have tea or something to counter the drowsiness. Before I could even make it back to Shirpur, I took another stop at a Dhaba to take a power-nap.

As soon as I stopped, it started to rain heavily, so as I napped, the universe had made my challenge of getting home by EOD that slight bit harder. It was noon by the time I got up so decided to have lunch there itself. Had a quick and spicy lunch of Shev Bhaji and Roti, I moved ahead amidst heavy rain, encountering much higher traffic than I was earlier in the day.

The continuous rain meant that trucks consistently kept on splattering me with generous sprays of dirt keeping my visibility low. To add to this, I was already feeling fatigued and was having trouble riding any longer than 20km at a stretch without a boost of Nicotine into the system. By 2:45PM, I somehow made it back to Dhule and took another one of my nap breaks in a roadside bus-stop. I still had to go another 160km to reach the safety of home but my decision to turn around had started to make a lot of sense by now. I was in no condition to ride all the way to the heart of Rajasthan in such a state of body and mind.

Fighting drowsiness and fatigue along the way, I took breaks liberally and kept having carbonated drinks so that the caffeine could help me stay awake. The rain did come back on and off along the way keeping me at the top of my game even though the progress was slow.

It took me almost 4 more hours to complete this final stretch of 160 odd km. A long time if you consider that the road has some of the best asphalt I have seen all over the country. A stretch of road I would do in under 2 hours, a few days after that fateful day, but more on that later…

I finally made it to Nasik by 6:15 / 6:30 PM, just as the sun was setting but before the light could fade. Thankfully, there were no close calls all day and so a journey of almost 700km during the day took me exactly back to the same place where I started from the previous evening by bus. My hopes of reaching Jammu by the time my friends make it there were all but shattered and as of now, I didn’t have anyone to accompany me to my first trip to Leh ever.

Instead of my earlier mentioned plan for the day, instead, I ended up doing this stretch:

Thats the end of my very first Leh ride attempt. Lets hope that the 2nd attempt isn’t as badly executed.

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Leh Storm: Attempt 1; Day 0

The day of July the 18th 2012 started like any other day when you are in the holiday mood. I was ~200km away from my bike when it started, so I packed up my stuff in a travel-bag and boarded the 2:30PM NasikPune Neeta Volvo bus.  The plan was to catch some sleep in the bus and start my motorcycle journey soon after I reach Pune, preferably around 10:30PM so that I get traffic free roads all through the night aiding extremely swift progress so that I can join my friends at Jammu-Tawi Station on the afternoon July the 21st 2012.

As luck would have it, the on board movies were “Ishqzaade” followed by “Rowdy Rathore” which meant that I spent most of my time watching and not sleeping as per plan. Due to torrential rain throughout the journey, the bus driver drove sedately all the way and it took him an incredible 7 hours to cover the 210km between Nasik and Pune!

It was already 9:40 PM when I reached my bike and all my luggage was still in a non motorcycle-appropriate bag. There was no way I could have kept up with the pre-decided schedule. Even before the start of the ride, I was late. Since it was still raining in Pune, I dumped the luggage at a friend’s place, rain geared up, went over to a More store to pick up polythene bags to cover my Woodlands with (since they were getting wet), and then went over to Nikhil Sood’s cafe, The Moto Cafe to pick up his Saddlebags for my journey (Thank you and Sorry Nikhil :s). After getting some last minute advice from Nikhil and Navendu, by the time I eventually left TMC for my friend’s place, it was already 10:45PM! I could only start packing by 11 and then was eventually done and all suited up and ready to leave by midnight.

Since it was still raining outside, my friend suggested that I rest a while before I leave since it is not exactly safe to start a journey in a torrential downpour at midnight. I concurred with his advice and decided to finally catch some sleep till the rain stops. But at the back of my mind, I knew that I was getting late all this while, I decided not to waste time gearing down and gearing up again, decided to sleep in full riding gear (with even shoes on) ever ready to leave. So with half an eye open to keep checking on the rain, I finally went to sleep, setting 3 alarms at 1 hour intervals.

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Leh Storm: Prologue

For too long, I had wondered why book authors have this text before the book begins. Why can’t they just get to the point? Now I know why they do it. Sometimes its important that the reader should know some background before he dives deep into the text. And to truly understand my story, you really do need to know some background.

Why ride? Some would ask.. Well, for me, riding merely began as a means to commute. Back in 2003, my humble Caliber 115 (Hoodibaba!!) really started off as my commute to college and coaching classes. It was really a slightly faster replacement for my bicycle. I didn’t know at the time that motorcycles could be used for any other purposes. Even a 20 km one-way ride was classified as a long ride.

As I grew older, I started to explore the world of motorcycles and promptly fell in love with one in 2007. Thats the one I wanted to have, no matter what. Without even a single test ride, I knew thats the bike I wanted. And thats the one I eventually bought, on August 4th 2009,  just as a tool which would take away all the worries in my life with a strong dose of Adrenaline. I call her ‘The Storm’ (hence the title).

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The idea really was, to naturally release as much adrenaline into the blood stream as possible without killing myself in the process. This very adrenaline would help me take my mind off the tensions from the office and help channelize all my attention to be on the road, trying to save my life. Thats how I really started riding. When this need for adrenaline grew into a Passion it is right now, I do not know. But now, it is difficult for me to imagine a life had my bike never come into my life. August 4th 2009 will always be a life-changing day in my life, all the more reason to celebrate it in as many ways possible.

Anyways, coming back to topic, this post is about my Leh Dream. This dream was not something I had ever since I got the bike. This dream didn’t even come when I went on my first tour. The idea just happened to gradually work its way into my mind as I rode more and more. The first seeds were sown back in July 2010, on my very first xBHP G2G at Burger King in Koregaon Park. That was the G2G just after Vishwas uncle and Inder had come back from their Leh ride and were showing photos and sharing their stories for the very first time. We all sat down on the steps outside a shop opposite Gold Adlabs, Kalyaninagar on a Wednesday night listening to stories and looking at photos of a magical place I had never ever seriously thought about visiting. It was less dreaming that day and more education.

My next encounter with this magical land was through the innumerable triplogs that we get to see on the world wide web which gave me a glimpse of what I could expect when I eventually make it there. What was interesting though was that each one of those triplogs had different stories to tell. But what these stories collectively told me was that a Leh ride was not a ride to the neighborhood shopping mall. I knew I needed experience under my belt to even attempt such a thing. And experience on the open roads was something I lacked severely at the time.

Fast forward to Summer of 2012:  I had gathered enough experience to back myself to do a Leh ride. Albeit with a group of trusted riders. I also had a group of riders I could trust on such a long ride. But as fate would have it, I was caught up in other commitments too much to even be able to think about a Leh Ride. When the roads opened, even though I wanted to go this year at any cost,  I really had no concrete plans to. Just when I stated to contemplate in my mind that I could actually make it to the roof of the world,  I got the worst possible news. My good friends Satyen and RishabH, the guys I was mentally banking upon to accompany me on my maiden Leh journey, were about to leave for Leh within 10 days. I had no idea what they were planning it, and their timing was such that I couldn’t have joined them anyways. I was so broken that even reading triplogs of fellow riders started to bite me from within. So much so, that I started making half baked plans of riding to Leh solo all the way.

Just after Satyen and Rishabh left, the itch worsened and I mentioned my *half baked* plan to Aniruddha, a fellow xBHPian and who, surprisingly,  immediately wanted to come along. After a bit of looking around found me 2 more riding partners in Sumit and Sanjay who were also attempting their ride around the same time. I finally had a group to ride along! After this group was formed, it was decided that everyone will meet up at Jammu Tawi station on the afternoon of 21st July 2012. While the others chose the safer option of transporting the bikes over, I was the only one who decided to ride all the way. Everything was planned, I chalked out my route taking the help of HV Kumar sir and decided that I would leave on the night of 17th July, take 3 full days and easily reach Jammu on the predecided rendezvous date.

Well what happened later was something which not even I could predict. Anything and everything that could be planned did not go as per plan. See you on the next post with more details…

Categories: Yet another Leh Ride triplog. | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Where do I begin?

As I sit down to write the triplog for my very first Leh ride, I realize the hardest part. The hardest part is to decide where to begin.

The issue with a Dream ride is to decide when the dream began, because thats where I have to start from, isn’t it? Or do I start from when I first confirmed my ride? Or rather when I was packing my bags or loading up the bike? When should it actually begin from?

Its not as simple to blog about a Dream ride, as compared to any other ride. The amount of mental conditioning, preparation, effort, anxiety and sacrifices that go into a Dream ride is incomparable to any other ride. I remember clearly what happened before the South India Ride. We had to leave at 3AM and I could sleep for exactly 4 hours before I loaded up the bike and left for Goa with the gang. On my Dream ride, I had to start at 11 PM supposedly after 5 hours of sleep. I could only start at 2 AM with practically zero sleep in the last 18 hours preceding the start of the ride and had already traveled almost 450km (220km driving a car and 220km back on a bus) in the immediately preceding 30 hours. Even though there was a lot of fatigue from my 2 inter-city journeys, I just couldn’t get myself to sleep before I started off on my ride. And even though I turned around and went back home that day, in my heart, that was the day my Leh ride truly began. So, I guess, thats where I should start from.

But, there’s so much I have experienced in the days leading up to this day which has had an influence on my actual ride that leaving anything out of it would be rude. But still, for the purpose of logging a ride, I have to pick a starting point! But what if it all began 4 years before the actual ride? Thats the real reason I am writing about it on my blog and not where I normally would have. So I can pick and choose what parts to write and what not to leave out without worrying if it gets boring for the readers. I will try to keep it as interesting as possible, but you have to give me some freedom to go on and on and on.. about something totally irrelevant to the narrative.

I am sorry if this post has bored you, but, I guess, I was just type-thinking and this post was more for me rather than the readers. And believe me you, it did give me some direction to take the blog forward. When I started writing, I couldn’t figure out where to begin from. But as they say, the Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with the first step and this, officially, is the first step.

I hope a proper prologue will follow soon enough. Good Day.

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