Saturday, August 13, 2022

Potatoes, Onions and India

The jet-lag is slowly ebbing away, the main issue is that I feel a bit groggy in the morning, but that is about it. The weather today was dull but pleasantly warm and not too windy. In fact it must have been the ideal weather for cycling because I saw 15-20 cyclists out and about cycling through the Fens. From families with trailers and young ones pedalling furiously through to fully kitted racers. It was great to see and everyone was friendly. In fact the other thing I noticed was that whilst trundling around some of the tracks between Lode and Quy is passed quite a few dog walkers - most not on leads as the area is ideal for dog walking and none of the dogs was at all troublesome. My theory is that people who are prepared to take their dogs on serious walks into areas that are fun for the dogs are also people who know how to train a dog and ensure they are not a nuisance.

It has been quite dry and so the farmers are having to irrigate their fields - here is a potato field being watered. The thing that surprised me is that these potatoes will be late and I had always assumed that farmers tended to grow earlies for the price premium they gave. Mind you this could well be the second crop for the field this year.


I mentioned the other day that I had seen a farmer pulling up onions - well here they are drying in the "sun". The thing that gives the field away was the strong onion smell as you get close.


So what has all this to do with India - not much, except last week I got an email from the organiser of my upcoming cycle tour in India. It is good to see efficient organisation. He was reminding us to consider (if not already done so) booking flights, injections and visas. We have around 8 weeks to go so a timely reminder. I spent this morning researching flights. Well to tell the truth the first thing I did was check to see whereabouts in India the trip actually was. 

I have not been able to embed a Google Mymaps of the relevant part of India - but it is here if you would like to look at it.

View Cycle Tour in Southern India in a larger map

So I spent Sunday morning checking into when I would need to fly. There is a chance my son will also be able to make the trip - but he will need to take time off work which is not so easy. It looks like we will be able to fly out on a Saturday and return on a Sunday, two weeks later. We will probably have to fly out through Bangalore and catch connecting flights to the relevant areas as the tour starts in one part of India (Trivanundrum) and ends in another part (Kochi). We also get to go on a train journey. The total distance is around 680Km/425miles which should not be too bad in 14 days, we do get a few rest days thrown in. We will also climb up to around 2000m as well which should provide some great scenery, apparently the climbs are long but not steep! I work from home and in my study have a couple of white boards for work purposes - one of them is now taken up with trip planning.

Over the next week I must also check with my GP (family doctor) to ensure I am up to date on my inoculations, although having recently been to Peru and Cambodia I don't think it should be a problem. I must also check out how to get a Visa. I am also going to check out GPS maps to see whether I can get something to put on my Garmin Edge GPS.

India Day 4 Cycling from Theni to KodiaKanal 84Km/50 miles

For other pictures and stories of the trip Bob – our leader! has a blog on his website.

(13/8/2022 - the blog appears to have a problem so I have deleted the link)

Today was to be a difficult day in terms of cycling and how vulnerable cyclists are when faced with other inconsiderate road users.

The plan was to start early before breakfast was served in the hotel and eat along the way. I slept very badly and had huge bags under my eyes (which is why I am wearing sunglasses in the group shot lower down). The constant waking up did allow me to charge my phone, GPS unit and camera. You have to use a plug adapter (when using English equipment) in India and although I have two, I have lent one to Ben, so I have to cycle the gadgets around after each has charged. I was up on time though.

One minor problem is that I try to wash cycle clothes every couple of days – it saves having to carry (and buy) loads of gear. The trouble is even the cycle gear does not always dry overnight in a humid bathroom – so I had to pack some of my clothes damp. The stay in Kodaikanal was for two days as there was a rest day, so hopefully I would catch up with my drying and washing then.

As there was going to be a large climb I packed a packet of jelly babies in my rackpack. I also raised my saddle 0.5cm – it does not sound much but it can make all the difference when you are going to spend a lot of time sitting on the saddle pushing the pedals. Ben also raised his saddle a little as well – now he had a bike that was about the right size and an un-jammed seatpost.

Bob tends to take pictures of everyone just before the start – here are most of us – from left to right – Abby, Ben, Mary, Me, Alan, Jim, Jay, Denise, Mary, Christine, Barry and Graham. After the photo everyone went back to sorting themselves out – pumping tyres, putting on sunscreen, avoiding mosquitoes filling water bottles and checking their bikes out.


Here is a picture of my bike ready to roll, water bottles filled and tyres and Custard hanging on the back - the little yellow thing is my mascot given to me by my daughter last year for my cycle ride from Bangkok to Saigon.


Some milling around.


One of the challenges is ensuring you have the right tyres on your bike – big knobbly ones are good for riding down mountains but sap you energy for cycling along normal roads. You also pump up tyres to a higher pressure for roads than rough tracks.


After cycling out of Theni the traffic was fairly busy. The worst culprits were the buses they oncoming buses would happily overtake slower vehicles and leave no room for cyclists. Pedestrians wander on the road – we had to ring our bells non-stop on the towns. After around 20Km we stopped for breakfast. On these sort of trips the group spread out – people cycle in different groups at different speeds and when you add in random stops to take pictures it can be hard to keep track. These stops provide a way for our organisers to keep track of us.

This time around Mary set the pace with Jim, Abby and me following on in various places in line.

Quite often when we stop we get onlookers checking out these weird foreigners wondering why they had stopped to eat food by the roadside. These kids were happy to have their photograph taken.


The stops also give me an opportunity to take pictures of the scenery – when the cycling gets harder you don’t really want to stop to take pictures as you get left behind. So here is an “interesting” tree at our rest stop.


Here were are having our picnic breakfast – we had an omelette and two toasted jam sandwiches - it was quite tasty.


It was also a chance to get picture of Bob and Anil – Bob runs Far and Away Cycling and Anil manages our local support team ensuring supplies of water, food, luggage hotel transfers and the rental bikes,


We set off again ready to clock up some distance ready for the long climb at the end of the journey. Gremlins struck almost immediately – Ben has a rental bike that is well past its best, it is supplied locally – it once was an OK bike a Marin. I do not put stands on bicycles – just something else to go wrong and if they go down when you are cycling they can be a real danger. Well Ben’s stand start to dangle down. My multi-tool did not have a large enough spanner to remove the kick stand - and none of us were carrying anything to tie it up with. Luckily Abby’s rental bike had a spare zip tie that was not being used for anything. I have long learnt the art of re-using zip ties and we had Ben going again with his stand lashed up with a yellow zip tie.

We got going again and on the way through a town a man just walked out straight in front of Jim with a hand cart – despite all our bell-ringing he just did not care. Somehow Jim avoided him, Abbey went over the front of her bike, Ben swerved to avoid Abby and I went over my handlebars trying to avoid her.

Everyone is wearing helmets – but Abby landed on her front and her chin took much of the force of her landing. I almost landed on my feet, but fell forward onto her back feet. As we picked ourselves up it became clear that Abby had hit the ground really hard. The support team arrived quickly and she was taken to a nearby health facility for assessment.

We waited and picked up the bikes – mine was fine, a few minor scratches on protruding things. A lot of my forward velocity had been lost. I had scraped my knuckles and knee as I rolled onto the ground so mopped those with an antiseptic wipe. (I carry a few first-aid supplies in my rackpack. It became clear that Abby was going to be there a while so we returned her bike to the support crew and Ben and I carried on – feeling very shocked at how quickly our pleasant cycle ride and turned to disaster. Our thoughts were with Abby and her family as we cycled on – there was no doubt we would be wearing our helmets.It was an awful reminder of how challenging Indian roads can be,

The accident brought out a number of on-lookers – always keen to see what’s what – a group of schoolchildren turned up as we were waiting and posed for a picture.


Ben at the same spot – perhaps wondering what I had got him into.


As we carried on we find ourselves diving off the road whenever buses came hurtling along at us. There was often a sandy strip alongside the road –which provided a refuge for cyclists. We did notice one or two vehicles that had been in accidents. At one point two lorries came along carrying huge round tanks that overhung the back of the lorry by another half its length. The tanks extended into the “airspace” of the oncoming traffic. We stood by the side and watched as buses refused to be held up. In the UK they would have required a police escort with Police motorcyclists front and rear to provide advance warning.

After 35Km we turned off onto a quieter road – the road up to Kodaikanal. Apparently it was an old American Hill Station – providing American soldiers with a refuge from the merciless Indian Summer heat. The Brits used to do the same thing. My Dad lived in India as a young man and has mentioned going up to the Hill Stations.

I have always thought that a gradient of 5-10% was straightforward for a cyclist – although the longest cycle climb for me was probably no more than a couple of miles (3.2Km). (Either the Mendips in Somerset where I grew up – or the Scottish Highlands when I cycled from Land’s End to John O’ Groats seven years ago. This was going to be around 2000m of climbing in 40Km

Ben seemed to find the hill easy and went of without any problems – I settled down to a more sedate pace. The road jinked about quite a bit and we had to keep an eye out for traffic especially round the hairpins. This is the trace from my GPS unit The map shows the road as a fairly straight road – in reality the road wiggles all over the place. Each time a vehicle reaches a hairpin they sound their horns (road side signs advise drivers to do it). Many have been customised and sound on for ages playing various tunes. Apart from buses the jeeps are also best avoided – they seem to think nothing of passing a cyclist with only centimetres (inches) to spare.

Koadai Wiggle road 2

Why do we do it – well there are some tremendous views – here you can see the plains from which we have risen. At this point we were probably only at a quarter of the height we were going to gain. It was hot and the exertion meant a low of sweating – we drank loads of water and our support team would pass by at regular intervals checking to see whether we needed more water. This was definitely a day for carrying two water bottles – even though it would weigh more. I ate jelly babies for energy and Ben ate Haribos – Bob liked them, Graham wasn’t so keen.


The area we had passed though was fairly agricultural – you can see the fields here in this picture.


There were mountains around us – they served as a reminder that we were probably going to have to climb a great deal higher – since our mountain top was going to be pretty high.


A typical photo stop. Ben would wait for me to park my bike and take some picture – he probably also ate a few sweets for energy. He also carried dextrose tablets as well. My bike is also propped up in the foreground waiting patiently.


We saw quite a few monkeys along the way –they can be a bit of a nuisance – they search for food anywhere – trash cans and food inadvertently put down by motorists stopping for a roadside picnic. Alan turned out to be one of the faster climbers and would pass us and go off into the distance. We would pass him as he seemed to stop whenever there were monkeys around. Once – yes, twice – maybe – but every time! He still passed us though. Here is a monkey walking by us on a wall.


At this “monkey-stop” There was also a view across the countryside of a lake nestling between the hills.


There were also loads of monkeys in the trees.


As we got higher the weather seemed to get quite overcast – actually not a bad thing when you are cycling up a hill – but hopefully not a sign of rain


On the way up we saw a long waterfall – I wonder where all the water comes from.


There was a small path of sunlight on the plains below.


One of the “enemy”. On this hill the buses were not too bad – this one waved as he went by. It gives a sense of the hill’s steepness as well.


This is where we were heading – the darker mountains in the background.


The roads steepness was relentless – I have not documented the entire length of it – but believe me most of it was just hill with very few places where it levelled out or even went down a little. Mind you we resented it when the hill did go down – that meant losing hard-won height gain.

At one point the hill did get a little less steep and we came upon our support crew setting up their table and chairs for our lunch stop. We had started out at around 6am and so had been cycling for around 5 hours or so, not including stops so it was a welcome sight. I even felt that perhaps we were nearing the top.

We had idly, a vegetable curry paste and a hard-boiled egg along with ordinary pepsi-cola – it was delicious – and gave us both a source of short-term and long-term energy. One thing I did not mention – a few years ago before going on vacation in Peru I was advised to always wash my hands with an antiseptic hand cleaner before and after meals – so that is another item that goes into my rackpack and was of course used. We ate with our right hand so the cleaner came in doubly useful.

Before we set off Graham checked his cycle computer to check how high we were - gulp we were only at 800m and had another 1200m to go – we were nowhere near the top – we were not even halfway up our climb.

As we set off it started raining – so I put on my raingear, including my camera bag which has an extra cover for the rain. Just where we had lunch a couple of dogs came to investigate – Graham and I got by, but they started getting a bit close to Ben. Bob got the support crew to throw stones at them before he went on his way.

Here is a reminder of the steepness – just in case you had not realised!


As the ride went on I took photographs less and less often (don’t worry this post is almost at the end). We also found out stops becoming more and more frequent. We kept eating out energy foods (well sweeties really) and drinking our water – and re-filling them whenever we got the chance.

I also found out that Ben was probably the youngest person to come on one of these tours. Considering he had not been able (or too tired too) do any cycling before he came out to India with me he was doing incredibly well. The manual work he has been doing in his Work placement must have helped – but it can’t prepare you for sitting on a saddle for long periods of time. He had gotten to the point where to sit back down on the saddle was painful – but you need to raise yourself when going over bumps of potholes or rocks. The pain is a little like bruising - it only lasts for a few days – but that does not make it any easier.

We started counting the milestone markers (which were actually in kilometres). It had gotten to the point where you body really doesn’t like being in the same position working away for so long – but it did stop raining,

Although my photography slowed down it did not stop completely. Here is another waterfall much higher up the mountain.


Ben at one of our frequent rest stops.


The view across the road was this fruit stall where everything was laid out beautifully. Further back we had seen carrots being wash in a stream that did not look too clean though.


The proprietor – they have loads of fruit on display – I assume the people on the many coaches that come by stop and buy fruit en-masse.


Not long after passing the Vegetable store were approached a Toll booth – with signs saying Kodaikanal was a plastic fee zone – where they going to search our bags and take away all our plastic?? How much was the charge going to be – actually they just waived us through-cars etc had to pay – but so few people are stupid enough to cycle up there that they deserve to get in free.

At one point within about 5Km we passed the van and were asked if we wanted to get a lift the rest of the way – we said no. Christine had taken up their offer a couple of Km earlier – she had huge knobbly tyres and a full-suspension MTB which must have been very hard work.

When we asked our van driver he said 7Km when we thought it was 5Km – never had an extra two Km seemed so awful – Ben admitted that at that point he came very close to accepting a lift in the van – but it was less hassle to carry on than get his bike into the van.

Towards the end of the climb if had gotten very, very misty and so we could not see a great deal. As we entered the village we saw one of our support team telling us to take a right turn and then cycle up a muddy dirt track – surely this could not be the way – we had another 2Km to go. But it was – our hotel was a short way up the dirt track – the hotel itself looked ok though.

As we entered the hotel reception area – Abby was there – wounded in action but it was a great relief to see her. She had visited various treatment places – which included having a stitch or two then having them removed by another hospital and replaced. After what she had been through she was remarkably calm. She had the option of staying for some treatment the next day or returning to the US. We all felt that going back was the right thing to do – although she was sorry to be unable to carry on. Get well Abby- we hope you are OK.

I was really looking forward to a hot shower – I got to my room – basic but acceptable – got undressed – and wondered where all the blood was coming from – it turned out that a leech had gotten me – and when I pulled off my sandal had fallen off – it lay on th3e floor wondering where its food had gone. They have a long snouty mouth that extends out searching from something to feed on. I must have acquired it on one of the last few rest stops.

I cleaned up the wound and turned on the shower – those leeches must have pretty good anti-coagulants as the blood kept on coming out of my foot. I also discovered that because of power shortages that there was no hot water. I was filthy so I showered one body part at a time – with blood leaking out of my foot. What a way to end the ride.

I got clean and put some cream on my various scrapes from the earlier accident and several plasters on the leech wound – which after a bit of pressure stopped bleeding.

I went down to find Ben but no-one knew what room he was in – the hotel had taken a group Booking and none of our support team knew either. He turned up in the end. I did try wandering along two corridors calling out his name but with no luck.

Dinner was in the hotel that evening – a buffer of various mainly vegetarian food – it was delicious – washed down by a glass of Kingfisher beer – which could be ordered chilled or un-chilled – whoever heard of un-chilled lager?

Here is my GPS trace of the climb from a low point of 240m to a high point of 1992m – 84Km in 6 hours of cycling (rests not included). My GPS also indicated 5000calories burnt in the process.

Kodaikanal run