I will never forget the first time I rode a bicycle in India. It was in central Mysore, a bustling Southern city on a hot and sticky Monday morning.
My senses were assailed with the heat, the noises and smells. Drivers were constantly sounding their horns, cars, trucks, tuk-tuks, mopeds and cyclists were coming at me from all directions and then there was the smell…that ubiquitous unmistakeable smell of India – a melange of exotic spices, sweat with a distant sweet tinge of festering rubbish or sewage.
I lurked nervously by the kerbside. My travelling companions had cycled off and I was in danger of being left behind. I realised that in Indian traffic, you don’t wait for a suitable gap in the traffic, you just set off – everyone else does. The guy behind will sound his horn but he will have to let you in. It’s mad, but somehow it works.
Cycling in India is great for mental focus. One’s mind is totally committed to staying alive and there is no time for thoughts of work, home, Facebook or anything else to usurp the concentration.
Still feeling my calf strain, I didn’t think about running until the very end of the holiday. I just wanted to unwind, de-stress and enjoy this amazing country. Fortunately for me, I was accompanied by a thoroughly lovely bunch, everyone got on brilliantly and after only a few days into the trip, we had bonded and were laughing and sharing lots of silly in-jokes.
It probably started when we discovered that Indians bizarrely describe Strawberry ice cream as ‘Pink Love’ – cue lots of sniggering, smirks and innuendo amongst the Brits in the party.
Here’s Karen and Andy sharing some Pink Love:
Most of my fellow travellers had been on other Exodus cycling trips and they said that were usually one or two people on previous trips that were a either bit weird or a bit of a dick – but not this time (unless of course, I was the trip-dick this time and they were just being nice…).
Our Indian Guides, Joseph and Ringdu were fab as was the driver/mechanic Manish. The ladies on the trip seemed to like Ringdu, I’ve no idea why:
Because of the condition of the roads and the need to keep the group together, most of the cycling was very steady, with one amazing exception. A few days into the trip, after a stay at the Bandipur Reserve (unfortunately we didn’t see any Tigers), we tackled an epic climb to Ooty.
If this climb was in the Tour de France, it would be classified as an Haute Category climb – its 13.5 km long, steep and has 36 numbered hairpins. It rises to nearly 2200 metres with a brutal long 15% ramp in the second half.
On the battered old hire mountain bike, the climb took me 1 Hour 38 minutes of full on effort. It felt great to really push myself physically. I was the first in the group to reach the top, closely followed by Andy and Alison.
I was well off the Exodus record of 1 hour 20 minutes. Whoever did that time must have been incredibly fit and was probably incredibly tired at the end.
Half way into the trip we stayed for a couple of nights at a lovely homestay (posh bed and breakfast) in Fort Cochin. Along with a couple of my new mates, I decided to treat myself to a massage at a place just down the road, it was only a few quid.
Unfortunately for me, the service provider was not a dusky maiden, but a strapping hairy Indian bloke. We went into a cramped room and he handed me a piece of string with a small rectangle of cheesecloth attached to the middle.
He soon detected complete bemusement in my eyes as I wondered what the hell I was supposed to do with it. “Sir, you must strip and wear this for your massage” he said and he demonstrated by looping the string around his waist and then tucking the cheesecloth oblong around his wedding tackle and tying in a bow at the back.
I assumed he’d leave the room whilst I undressed and tried to arrange myself into this excuse for a loin cloth, but no, he just stood there as I got naked and fumbled around trying to arrange my bits and hide my embarrassment. After about a minute of fumbling around he ended my torture by helping me to tie the strings at the back.
The massage was certainly thorough – nearly an hour of pummelling and there is only one part of my anatomy that he didn’t touch, though it was close on a couple of occasions. He then made me sit in a fully enclosed wooden cabinet, with my head sticking out of a hole in the top which he proceeded to pump full of hot steam.
It was certainly and interesting experience and I can safely say I was taken well and truly outside my comfort zone.
Enthused with a desire for more new experiences, I went to a yoga class that evening with Eral, Ian and Nicky. I do a yoga for runners class every Monday run by Liz from Valley Striders – which is a calm and relaxing hour of stretching.
The Indian yoga teacher was very different – he rushed us through dozens of poses at breakneck pace, instructing us like a sergeant major and then gave us a good 15 minutes at the end of spiritual verbiage about how we can never be happy until we find our soul and how our soul can travel from India to London in under a second when we die and plant itself inside a baby in a pregnant woman. He said I would never get good Karma until I found my soul…Oh dear, I think I might struggle in my future lives…
After enough new experiences for one day, we dined at an amazing waterfront restaurant that served fish and mango curry from heaven followed by pink (or brown) love to die for. The food in Kerala was absolutely delicious and once we reached the coast I had fish curry eight evenings in a row. I could happily eat it every day forever.
A great thing about travelling with cyclists is that everyone has a pretty positive attitude. There was no complaining and the only bad moment on the tour came when one of the group, Sandy, had an accident on a long descent. He looked to be in a lot of pain and it transpired that he had fractured a shoulder so sadly he had to leave the tour and fly home to Australia.
I felt that I was away for ages, yet after two weeks, I could easily have stayed on for longer.
The journey home was tortuous – a midnight pick up from the hotel to make a 4.30 a.m. flight to Dubai, followed by a seven and a half wait for the final flight back to Manchester. Luckily, most of the group were at the airport for a couple of hours of the wait then I had lunch with Jock and Karen in Dubai airport. Jock kindly treated me to burger and chips costing nearly £25! You can imagine what a Yorkshireman and a Scot thought of that.
Exhausted after all the travelling, I turned up for the final West Yorkshire cross country league race at Keighley the day after returning. Completely knackered and not having run for a month, I struggled around much nearer the back of the field than the front.
A few days later, annoyingly I aggravated my calf strain again. Thankfully, after a week it seems to have settled down and I am back running normally again. I hope I can stay fit as I have two races to tackle over Christmas – the Chevin Chase on Boxing Day and the Ribble Valley 10K on the following day. I don’t feel in prime shape and I have no hope of running PBs, but I think two hard runs in two days will help sharpen the fitness for the New Year.
On January 1st I’ll turn my thoughts to training for the London Marathon in April.