“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.
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.
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.