Sunday 15 November 2015

The 'Surprise Ride' Home

After the last ride, I really didn't have any plans of taking the bike out (even though I secretly wished to). I was a bit too drained out from office work, as it appears never-ending at times. I was starting to feel not-so-driven anymore and that in my books is very bad. I believe anything worth doing is worth doing with passion and dedication, even work. The type of work really doesn't matter, small or big, paid or otherwise. How we operate on a day-to-day basis forms our habits and that in turn has a great deal of effect on the quality of life we live. Now when I look back on my last vacation, it was way back in January this year (2015). And I could already feel I was starting to miss home, not to mention how much they miss seeing me in person (even though we speak with each other almost every day). Given the availability of a slot in my team, I planned for my vacation at the end of October and started clearing my work queue diligently towards the travel day of the 31st (Saturday), on which I had a flight booked for Bhubaneswar. One not-so-good habit of mine is booking the flights at the last minute (am working on it though:P) and in the process paying more than usual. This time it was no different and I had to cough out 15k instead of 10k. However, I had no complaints, as being at home in a few weeks was really exciting.

Days went by and I grew a bit restless thinking about when I will be home. This was a bit uncommon for me as I usually am not homesick. Anyway, thankfully workload was manageable and I used to chat with my sister on phone every day, keeping myself updated on the happenings there. Part of the excitement was for the renovation work happening at home and the bigger parking lot which is coming up. I had asked (read demanded !) for a space in the parking lot to keep my Enfield, once I retire it from touring (in case I move out of the country or upgrade to another machine). My sister said, "yeah it's big enough to house your bike along with dad's car". On a casual note, I said, "Shall I send the bike home just to check if the space is adequate?". Knowing my reputation since childhood to be really capable of doing such a crazy thing, she got a bit serious and asked, am I really thinking of doing such a stupid thing. And I was like, "Naah, why to send it so far just for the sake of checking out the parking space. But hey, how about I ride it home and bring the bike myself ?!!". I didn't think too much while saying this, it was a spontaneous thought and I just uttered it. But from this point on I knew a possibility that got created. The idea of entering through our main gate and riding my bike was more than a passing thought for sure. Before my sister could get her head around the idea, I announced that I am gonna ride home this holiday and we both gonna keep it a secret from mom and dad. After a bit of coaxing and cajoling, she agreed to be a part of it. Now the plan was on!! Again, as I continued to think more about this trip, which has to do with my hometown, I recalled my school-time friend Nachi. With whom I had done many trips back home, back in the days when we didn't even call these trips. I realized he has been postponing the plans to come to Bangalore for years now. But this seemed like the kind of thing that might get him excited enough to break that jinx and come over and join me. I called him up and shared the crazy plan. For this, I had to muster all the excitement that I (genuinely) had. However this offer came with one condition, he has to be in Bangalore at least a day before the 31st, to start the ride on Saturday early morning. Knowing me he could guess, I was definitely not kidding, yet he had no clue if he could take off from work for 5 days on such short notice (there were only 2 weeks left). Well, it took him the next whole week, to finally get a nod from his boss for the leaves. This was it, I got my flight ticket canceled immediately and booked a new one for Nachi to come to Bangalore on the 30th afternoon. This was the point of no return for me, as I had no more ticket to fly home, and the only door left for me was to ride. This is what I wanted anyway:) That day I was waiting for my day's work to get over so that I could rush home and do my homework for this epic ride. I started doing my basic research on the route, places to stay, and timeline. 

Day 0 - Friday (30th October) - City to Airport to City

"We should've slept some more!!"

I was lucky to have been able to finish my assignments before time yesterday by working late hours for the past whole week. So I could speak with my boss to leave early. I had to leave by 2 o'clock at the latest to reach the airport by 3:30 PM. The expected arrival time for Nachi's flight was 02:55 PM. So 30 minutes he could manage to wait, as half of it will be gone strolling out of the plane and reaching the arrival gates. But due to some last-minute work that came up, I couldn't leave the office before 2:40pm. Now there was this crazy traffic in Bangalore, after all, it was a Friday. Somehow I drove and made it to the airport by 4 PM. We both had a quick lunch at the airport and started towards the city. We had a lot to catch up on, other than the ride and we got enough time for that when we met the traffic of the worst kind (read peak hour), when we entered the city around 5:30. Hebbal junction was worth a sight. He got an idea of Bangalore on the first day of arrival and I had my car's clutch plates worn out trying to get us home sooner. We reached my flat around 6:30 and took some rest. Then later around 8, visited Decathlon in Bannerghatta road, to pick up some rain gear for Nachi. 

I didn't have a good sleep thinking about riding through a new route, and Nachi had similar issues with his share of sleep, thinking about the first such a long motorcycle trip of his life. Considering the length we were planning to cover, it's a no-brainer that we both were supposed to catch some good rest before starting. But alas, that didn't happen. Packing was pending to a great extent as I had to accommodate his stuff along with some gifts I had gotten for my family during my travel abroad. Those were in my check-in stroller, which now I had to somehow fit into those smaller saddlebags. It was quite a task. After a bit of trial and error, we managed to pack everything into 4 bags: my tiny tank bag, saddlebags, and a waterproof backpack, which will be tied up as a tail bag. This way neither Nachi nor myself had to carry any weight on our shoulders. Amidst all the chit-chat, packing, and stuff, Nachi dozed off around 1:00am, but I still had some office work to finish. So I sat down with my work laptop for another 30-40 minutes and completed the remaining tasks. Now I could relax and sleep. I set an alarm for 3AM and slept off, just to get up again after an hour when the alarm went off.

Day 1 - Saturday (31st October) - Bangalore to Nellore

"Seeking the golden route home"

We were well past the planned departure time of 3:30AM. But realistically considering the work we (mostly I) had to get done, I had rescheduled the start time to 5:30AM. And with that, we were kinda on track and were mentally prepared to deal with the traffic on our way out, as well as en route to Tirupati.
 From my last two ride experience to Valparai, I remember the feedback provided by my friend. There is this strap (/sheath) for the saddlebag, that goes over the rear seat, due to the weight of both sides, that sheath stretches to the limit and hence turns into a hard surface, making the seat cushion underneath useless. I had to sort that out, otherwise, Nachi wouldn't have been able to ride the pillion for long. How we dealt with that is, we put the saddlebag over the rear carrier below the rear seat. We had to make a small cut and a hole to let the latch mechanism of the rear seat fit over the saddle bags (see images). As the bottom of the seat was already a tight fit for the rack, it took us a bit of try before we could latch the seat correctly after adding the thick layer of saddle bag sheath. Once this was done, I was relieved and confident that the broad rear seat will do its job well in keeping the pillion comfy all through. By morning 5:30 we were ready to roll with the luggage snuggly bungee (/tied) to the bike. We set the destination as Tirupati and started riding. We left Bangalore, took the route via Hoskote/Kolar, and were on the highway by 6:45AM. The riding condition we faced at this time of the journey was really interesting.

Due to dense fog, hardly a foot or two of the road ahead was visible. I had to rely on the fog lights, both to see the road ahead and also to be seen by the vehicles moving in the front. The fog got worse for a short duration when the sun was coming up, and the sunlight was scattered through the fog and was all over the place, making it impossible to see through. It was risky for riding but it was worth a sight:)

It wasn't long before the fog cleared up completely and there was this statue of Lord Ram standing tall on our right-hand side. This one was a 4-lane highway and in really good condition to relax and enjoy cruising along.

We continued our journey towards Tirupati with short breaks from time to time. On the way, the never-ending advertisements of 'Giri's Kumbakonam Degree Coffee' got our attention and we stopped at the coffee shop. Considering the number of advertisement boards they had put up along that route, I was hoping for a big outlet. However, it turned out to be a small one in the corner of an HP petrol bunk, though not difficult to notice due to its color. The coffee we had there was 'excellent' and add to it they serve those in copperware. That was something different. They also had packs of cookies and other confectioneries, which we decided to skip, as we wanted to avoid stuffing ourselves too much so early in the day. So we just sipped on the great-tasting coffee and continued with our journey. If you happen to be passing through this route, I recommend a stop here.

Giri's Kumbakonam Degree Coffee Outlet, where they serve great tasting coffee in traditional copperware

With quite a bit of break on the way, around 1pm we reached the Tirupati bypass road. We stopped for lunch at a newly opened restaurant on the way. We opted for the a/c cabin and it was a treat. This was being our first day of the trip, we were a bit lavish with our choice of restaurants and quality of food, I reckon. No wonder we were shelling out 400-500 bucks for every meal. The thought of being at home during Diwali and all the possible expenses of shopping for family and planned outings, as well as the cost of sending my bike back by freight, helped me to sober down a bit with my expenditures from then on.

With few photographic opportunities on the way, we continued our journey and kept coming across interesting mountains out in the distance. Some of them we stopped to take pictures of and some just got etched in our memory that only we would remember.

This mountain range in the distance reminded me of 'Table Mountain' of Cape Town, South Africa

Naidupet was a landmark for us, as that is our entry point to the GQ/NH5, the road we based our trip on. That being a 4-lane (and in many parts a 6-lane) highway, would take us home sooner and in comfort. After a short muddy detour, we finally merged into NH5.

The first sight of NH5 didn't disappoint us at all.

First sight of NH5 (old NH16) at Naidupet.

Nachi taking a break and enjoying the view post-rain (yep we rode in the rain from time to time, after crossing Tirupati)

This was a long break and a bit of excitement was due to the possibility of covering a large distance on NH5 quickly and effortlessly, from now on.

Considering the load on the 350 single air-cooled iron engine, I am sure it must have felt equally good seeing this road.

Nachi posing with the bike during the break.

We reached Nellore just before sundown. Nachi insisted on riding around the town to find accommodation ourselves, instead of using the app. "Not a bad idea", I said, and we continued towards the central area on 'Trunk Road'. What a busy road it was. It was definitely not a good idea to ride a loaded bike through that maddening traffic on a Saturday afternoon. Hotels were very few (comparatively speaking) and we decided to first check with APST Hotel. Google Maps showed it correctly, but we ended up giving it a pass. They quoted around 1600 for a Single Room A/C. As it was a government setup, they are not allowed to negotiate on tariffs. The guy at the counter was kind enough to recommend us another place nearby named 'XYZ Hotel'. Ironically they offered a so-called 'Deluxe Room' for 1550 (inclusive taxes) which was actually worth 1800 bucks. Sounded like a good deal at that point and we took it. I am happy we got an underground guarded parking space for the bike too. That allows me to have a good sleep. Now having seen that so-called 'Deluxe room', I would have rather tried the APST Hotel instead. Anyway, the accommodation was ok, old looking yet spacious rooms on the 4th floor with air conditioning and ceiling fans. The fan was good enough, so hardly kept the a/c for long. The food served by room service was good and they had a good choice of snacks to munch on. We had to catch up for all the sleep we had missed out on in the last couple of days. So we decided to sleep for 7-8 hours at least or as long as both of us recover well and feel fresh. Again, this wasn't before we watched some TV. It's always fun to watch what's going on on regional channels :)

Day 2 - Sunday (1st November) - Nellore to Visakhapatnam

"Justifying the 'Enduro' tag"

Day for us in Nellore began at 8 in the morning. I must admit, this night's break got rid of all the tiredness we had the day before. We couldn't have felt any better for a long day's ride, that was up our sleeve. We got up and got ready. By the time we checked out and were all ready to roll with our luggage, it was past 9:30. However we had no worries whatsoever. I was fully charged up after the much-needed rest to do a day of Dakar (..or so to speak) and Nachi was totally looking forward to a night ride. 

My phone didn't catch good data signal to load the map, so we had to ask our way out of the city. After riding on 'Trunk Road' we stopped at a fuel station for checking the tire pressure. Unintentionally we caused a gathering there of onlookers and inquisitive commuters who were on motorcycles. After answering a couple of queries from the crowd, we were glad to see a guy coming forward to guide us till the end of town where we can get onto NH5 again, and we readily agreed. Glad we left the fuel bunk sooner, else it wasn't long before the gathering would have caused a traffic situation, which we didn't want. So here we were trying to follow (rather chase) this young dude on a pulsar showing us his riding skills by filtering through the busy roads. We couldn't do that with a bike loaded with luggage, so we had to keep the pace and try to keep him in sight at any cost. He was kind enough to realize that we were losing him from time to time, so he slowed down a tad bit. Finally, he escorted us through the busy city roads to the highway, and what a relief it was to see the open roads again. We knew it was going to be a long day but we never checked the odo. That's a more relaxed way of riding is what I have realized. So instead of tracking kilometers remaining, I rather put on my favorite playlist and just soak up the views (or lack of it at times). 

This day of riding was relaxing and in a way bit monotonous, as we had NH5 at our disposal. Such a good straight road, along with its obvious advantages has few caveats, from the motorcycle touring perspective. For example, one could just cruise at the top speed of their respective bikes all day long and need not have a single detour or a need to speak with anyone on the way. You may cover a lot of distance quickly but like us, may not have much memory of the day's ride. Either way, we needed it, as being at home on time meant I would have more time with my family, so I had no complaints. We took short breaks from time to time to stretch our limbs and to allow the constantly stressed engine to cool down. For 350 single-cylinder air-cooled motors, it was carrying the maximum load possible. The engine was always stressed and hence was revving hard at any speed. Also, we were doing a constant 90 for the better part of the day. After the day's ride, when the sunlight faded off, we maintained a constant 80 all through, all thanks to the headlight and the set of fog lamps. Yep, fog lights came in handy on a dusty dual carriage road, where 90% of the traffic were trucks and that too coming from the opposite direction. Around 8pm during a short pee break (yeah we needed it badly), did an assessment of the distance covered and that remaining ahead for making it to Vizag. Considering we could maintain an 80 kmph average, the earliest possible time we could make it to Vizag would be around 1am on Monday (i.e. next day) morning. Now the point worth mentioning is, we had been riding since 10am with a few short breaks thrown in from time to time. But surprisingly I had no signs of fatigue or lack of focus. So I was determined to make our planned stop for the night. To avoid the last-minute hassle of finding accommodation at midnight, I just booked a room through goibibo and got a 60% discount on that. Go figure. Called up the homestay and they were kind enough to offer us food from outside when we reach and also were ok with our odd check-in and check-out timings. This was one of the hard-to-believe things during this trip and Nachi was regretting not having done the same thing while in Nellore.

At Vijayawada, we had to move moments after to pull over this bridge to take this shot, by the police patrol vehicle. We knew we shouldn't stop on the bridge unless there is a layover area, but seeing some of the local people stop, we stopped. 

The lighting setup got us to travel quicker and safer during this long day.

Nachi posing with the yellow light from the fog lamps.

The interesting incident with the cops in Vishakhapatnam:

We reached Vizag around 12:30am and the city was looking beautiful with all the lights from the industrial estates we were riding past. The whole city was washed thoroughly from 2 days of a torrential downpours (we got to know about this the next day after we got up). We rode past a factory of sorts to reach one end of the beach road. From a distance we could see two police officers at the end of the road, interrogating (or at least that's how it appeared to us from a distance) a guy on a motorcycle, with two other guys on bikes waiting for their turn on the side of the road. We slowed down and stopped just next to the cop. Another guy in a brown uniform came with a  register and was making a note of my bike's registration number. The officer stepped closer to see our faces and asked where we were coming from. We said we are from Bangalore and riding from Nellore today. He didn't get it or so it seemed when he repeated his question. I cut short my answers and just said 'Nellore'. That didn't cut it either, when he came around the 3rd freaking time and asked, this time completely in English, "Where are you guys coming from, now??". This conversation was tipping off my boundaries of patience, considering I had been riding for more than 12 hours. Still, I answered the question for the third time. Calmly I replied, "This morning we started from Nellore". He was quiet for some time and continued. 

Cop: "Nellore?!! What time did you guys start???" 

Pretending to be accurate, I looked at Nachi's face and he replied: "Around 10 in the morning!"

Cop: "How many km have you traveled since morning to reach here?"

Me: "Somewhere around 600, but if you want the exact distance we need to check." 

He was a bit taken aback and looked at his colleague's face with blankly face. At this point, both Nachi and I were clueless as to what is wrong coming from Nellore. Then both officers burst into laughter, as they realized we have been telling the truth all this while. Duh! It was out of disbelief he was asking us again and again, thinking it is not possible to come from Nellore to Vizag on a motorcycle, on the same day. They immediately cleared our bikes and guided us on the beach road with a big smiles. I am sure they would have had a good laugh recalling this moment of confrontation with us, cause damn sure we won't forget this incident. 

It didn't take us long to find our accommodation. From the moment of arrival till our departure, the boy in charge of housekeeping took care of everything. He turned out to be from Odisha and he was very happy to meet us. During this trip, we crossed 2 other states and surprisingly, the 3-4 people who came forward to help us during the time of need, turned out to be Odiyas. Call it a coincidence of sorts, and a good one at that:)

Day 3 - Monday (2nd November) - Vishakhapatnam to Dhenkanal

"The day of the home run"

This was another leisurely day during this trip. Totally laid back and highly confident after doing a 600+ (670kms to be precise) yesterday without much fatigue, we started from Vizag after 11AM. The bike horn was totally mum with no effect on the new amp meter, so I took it around for a check-up. But, being an old Enfield, none of the roadside mechs were ready to check it. After a bit of hesitation, I decided to take it to an authorized service station. All thanks to the young chap from RE, it was sorted in a minute after a few puffs of anti-rust spray inside the left side switch gear. It was a case of rust formation but somehow had never happened to my bike before. With no money charged for the help, we thanked the guy and we started riding on the 12 km stretch of beach road to Vimli.

The beach view was absolutely gorgeous and we took the liberty to stop as we wished while riding through the beach road. At some points, I could recall my drive through the absolutely breathtaking coastal road in Cape Town. I can't help but think about the resemblance Vizag coast had with a particular stretch of Cape Town. With a couple of photos here and there we continued on the beach road and took the deviation from Vimli to head towards NH5 again. Our old friend had missed our company and was happy to have us back. It appeared as if it welcomed us with beautiful green vistas around, looking all fresh and glowing in the clear sunlight. I didn't realize this route would turn out to be one of my favorite routes to ride in India. The pleasant experience we had riding on this route was partly due to the good weather after the rains. Just like the previous days, we took breaks as we liked. There were so many beautiful sights on the way that if we had more time in hand, spending the whole day on that road was totally justifiable.

A quick fast forward to the following 2 photographs taken later that evening:

On the way from Vizag to Brahmapur(Odisha), I noticed a bike lying on the side of the road. And there was this trail of scattered pieces of broken plastic from the registration plate and other fiber parts of the bike leading all the way towards the bike lying crushed. It was clear that it met with a crash, but the reason I stopped was, the incident looked kinda recent and I was suspecting the victim might still be there. So we stopped to have a look and help if possible by informing local authorities/police. I cautiously walked close to the bike to have a look.

Closer view of the motorcycle

Seeing the rear wheel, it was obvious that the motorcycle was rear-ended by a fast-moving vehicle, possibly a car. The bike was 100 meters from a point where a village road meets the fast highway, and that means the bike got into the fast road without checking the traffic. 

Nobody was around the accident spot, however, we enquired from a guy we saw at a distance, and got to know it happened a few hours ago and the victim has been already taken to the hospital. Police will be coming back to pick up the motorcycle. We had a sigh of relief knowing the guy has been taken to a hospital. Hope he is in safe hands. This kind of riding mistake(resulting in accidents) is very common in India, where we quite often get to see residential (/another type of slow speed) roads directly merging onto fast national highways (or motorways as they call it in some of the developed countries). So it is the rider's responsibility to stop (yes, stop if necessary) and double-check the lane before merging in. I personally try to keep my blinkers on and keep watching the rearview mirror for signs of a clear lane for at least a km or if the vehicle at the back has slowed down enough for me to get in. Anyway, the sight of such accidents is a good reminder for me as a rider to be on alert all the time.

Now with this serious sighting out of the way, let us continue with the day's journey, which turned out to be a fabulous one. 

Due to Nachi's insistence, I had to shoot this trick shot. Not sure what he expected, but I think it has come out well.

It was dark by the time we entered Odisha via Brahmapur (locally known as Berhampur). Considering the number of exports we receive from Andhra Pradesh, we were warned against traffic, while entering via this route. When I first heard about jams on this route, I brushed it off thinking, "how bad could it be". "A long queue at a toll may be, which we can just filter through and go past." Well, it was much more than that. So here is how what we dealt with after entering our state. The excitement of entering our home state was undeniable, and that helped us ignore the change of surrounding from greenery and fresh air to dusty and polluted air to a bit deteriorated road conditions. However, nothing could have stopped us from overtaking the lined-up trucks, which for some reason were part of a long queue and not moving at all. So we took the liberty of riding through the gap between them,  as far as we could. As it was night, our visibility ahead was limited and we had no idea where this queue of trucks ended. After riding for a few kilometers, we abruptly stopped at a point where there was hardly any gap for the bike to go through. By this time, the fun of filtering through trucks had faded a bit and our brains were a bit active now, trying to analyze the situation. All this while we noticed there was not a single private vehicle in the jam. This is not possible at a state border unless we took the wrong lane, which was meant for trucks only. I asked Nachi to get down and check with one of the truck drivers. He came back with some good news and some not-so-good ones. 

The irony was, this route is known for jams due to commercial vehicles, hence private vehicles drive on the right (which is wrong) side of the road up to the point where this queue of trucks ends. From then on, they get back on the left (i.e. the correct) lane. So basically we were riding on the wrong side for this long and now thanks to the broken-down trucks who blocked our way, we got to know about this. Whew! Now our option was to ride all the way back to where we entered this lane and get on to the right side or jump the divider. The later option was not exactly a feasible idea at first look, as the divider was quite big for this bike (loaded with luggage) to climb. I was not so sure about riding all the way back, as some trucks might have moved by now blocking the route. Instead, I started looking for ways to jump the divider. A truck driver came for help. He had a metal board of sorts, which we used as a ramp to put the bike onto the grass patch of the divider and then used that again on the other side to safely bring the bike down. This saved us a lot of hassle we could have faced trying to ride back for miles among that jungle of trucks. There we were, happily cruising along NH5 again:)

We stopped right after escaping this patch for refreshments and a cup of coffee and some biscuits. Our eyes and face were full of dust. Washed our faces and took a break munching on some cookies from the small shop. We decided to skip our plans of staying one more night at Chilika lake and head for home instead, only stopping for some dinner on the way. It was too tempting not to go home being this close finally after riding 2 days. So chose to continue along NH5 till Bhubaneswar and then take the diversion for Cuttack and continue towards Dhenkanal.

The arrival:

As it was already past midnight, we decided to go drop off Nachi first and then come back home. I called up my sister, just 5 minutes before my arrival and she woke up mom and dad saying some guests are coming. They thought she must be kidding as to why would someone come at this time, it was midnight. Then I stopped at our gate, parked the bike, and came inside the house all geared up with a helmet on :P Dad has just gotten up and was still drowsy-eyed and was like, "So you got a flight two days early ha. Why are you wearing that helmet. Oh wait!! Did you.. !!". LOL. Before no time the whole house woke up, all thanks to our dog Roxy who was all excited and jumping all over me. It was so funny, to see so many people baffled. Mom was happy to see me sooner than she thought and dad had mixed feelings I guess. He was happy that I was home but a bit grumpy that I rode this far. For me and sister, it was a surprise visit we would talk about for a long time to come:)

This journey which started at 5:30am on Saturday morning from Jayanagar, Bangalore, ended at 12:30am on Tuesday morning (rather Monday night), at Dhenkanal, Odisha. Nachi and I had a great time together and covered a distance of roughly 1700 km during these 3 days.

Hoping we will get a chance to ride again together.

Ride Safe & Ride Far,


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