5 May 2013

My Take On The Brevet 600 ~ Chiro Mitra


As I write this, the index fingers of both my hands are still numb from holding the handlebar for more than 600 km. It was on a chilly January weekend in 2012 that the five of us decided to do the 600K Brevet. With a 300K and two 200K in my kitty for that season, I was aiming for the title of Super Randonneur and the only  hurdle was the 600K. 
During our regular early morning rides, I planned and strategised with Nitish, my riding partner of many long rides (Jaipur, Ajmer, Leh and more). We decided to cover 350 km on Day 1; then take a break for a few hours of sleep; and do the remaining 250 km on Day 2. A consistent cruising speed of 24 kmph would get us to the 350 km mark by about midnight, if we didn't take any long breaks. Both of us had done 350 km+ in a single day earlier, so that wasn't a problem, the issue would be riding again the next morning.
Pre ride preparation.
30 days. I started to run and walk for at least 10 km every day, along with the regular dose of cycling, in order to build up my leg muscle strength.
48hr. I started to hydrate myself with loads of fluids in the form of juices and water.
24hr. I didn’t go to work that day and relaxed by listening to some music. I slept off early that night.

Day 1.

Just after turning the NUH crossing to Hodal, Nitish and me broke away with a sudden rush of adrenaline. Barely had we done 20 km when Nitish had his first flat due to a huge nail! A quick patch-up had us back on the road in under 10 min as Ritchie and Patrick caught up with us. Next was Ritchie’s tyre and as it was being fixed, I took a quick puff or two. Back on the road, Nitish set up the pace and the two of us broke away again. We had travelled a short distance when Patrick overtook us on his Friday asking us to stop. He told us Ritchie had again had a flat and needed help. So, we went back about 1.5 km to find Ritchie surrounded by curious villagers trying grasp what he was doing to his bike. Nitish and me tore through the crowd to help him fix the puncture while Patrick had a good time with the villagers communicating in sign language. It took about 20 min to fix this one and now we made it a point to ride together. 
The second T.S. at 118 km was the turn back point for the 200K so Patrick would be heading back. We decided to wait for Satish and Pankaj so the five of us could ride together. Satish arrived soon after. In the meantime, I was forced to take a pill for my brewing groin pain. Manas, the Marshal here, warned Nitish and me to go slow lest we burn ourselves out. Casual bantering and bidding Patrick goodbye took 30 min, yet there was no sign of Pankaj. The others doing their 200 had also started to arrive so Manas asked us to leave, saying that he would tell Pankaj to join us at Chatigra, 50 km ahead. So, th e four of us shook hands with the 200 guys and headed out for the remaining 488 km. Nitish, once again took the driver’s seat as we pedaled towards Agra on NH 2. For the next hour or so we cycled like well oiled machines without talking, just pumping in a single file. After 30 km or so, a plastic piece flew in from somewhere and got stuck in my rear cassette. Not knowing what it was or what the damage would be, I stopped Satish for help and asked the passing vehicles to inform Nitish. It was nothing major fortunately as I disassembled the rear wheel and Satish pulled out the plastic.
I guess Manas had been giving live updates of my ride for the last 80 km, as my friends, wife and even my father came to see me at the finish line. My father had rescheduled his knee replacement the next day so he could see me finish this ride. At 9.50 pm I touched the finish line, with 39 hr and 30 mins of total time; 25 hr and 40 mins of ride time. My cycle computer showed a total distance of 611 km but the official route said we did 604 km. I was overwhelmed to see my friends waiting for me with a bottle of champagne, which Nitish and me fizzed thereafter. Nitish had come 35 min before me. I had a big lump in my throat seeing my wife’s eyes get moist at seeing me finish, as the previous night I had told her I would be calling it quits after the 400K mark. It was the perfect example of the victory of the mind over the body in the most challenging circumstances, 
Nitish and me hit the roads at 6.15 am for the mammoth journey to be covered in under 40 hr. Averaging a cruising speed of 26.6 km, we reached our first time station at 63 km. The most experienced rider of this event was our friend Patrick from New York, a veteran and a PBP merit holder who was riding the 200K to see this part of India on his cycle -- a Good Friday 20 inch tyre folding bike. He caught up with us on our road bikes soon after NUH and we were the first to reach the T.S. A kill of a couple of bananas, several swigs of water, some customary pictures and we were all set for the next leg of 58 km towards the Agra Highway. Just as we were about to leave, Ritche arrived, so we waited for him to join us. I guess the four of us riding fast in a single file must have been quite an amazing sight. 

Meanwhile, Nitish and Ritchie had stopped at a dhaba for chai after being informed of our delay. When we got there Satish felt hungry, so the chai stop got transformed into a lunch break. Based on previous experience, I had decided not to indulge in roadside food while cycling, but careful coaxing and serious suggestions from Satish and Nitish had me eating chapattidaal and sabji, a disaster in the making! We were almost on our last morsel when Pankaj arrived. I was impressed with his having made up so well for lost time. Pankaj too decided to dig into the food and he did, except for one big mistake…he ordered 100 gm of butter with four chapattis, and it was going to prove to be a disaster. It was 230 km and we were already behind schedule, so we decided to regroup after 50 km at the McDonalds past Mathura. I took the lead with butterflies in my stomach about the food I had just had. 5 km down the road and I started to upchuck, and this continued all the way to Mathura for almost 50 km. I must have vomited at least 20 times and was feeling weak, but I didn’t stop. I knew that if I stopped, so would the others and I didn’t want that. I kept taking sips of water and maintained a steady pace. I was lucky that Nitish was carrying rock salt as it really helped me.

After a short break at McDs, as we were approaching Agra at the 630 km mark, it started to get dark. It was 7 pm when we took a right turn from Sikandra towards Fatehpur Sikri and realised that Ritchie and Pankaj weren’t with us, so we decide to wait. Once all five of us were together, we began our night crusade towards the Jaipur Highway. As luck would have it, it started to rain and since it was impossible to ride in the night rain, we solicited shelter as soon as we could find one. The trailing vehicle that had been last sighted at McDs somehow got lost in the night rain, or so we were told. At about 9 pm it stopped raining and we got back on the road, 120 km behind our scheduled night halt. It was beginning to look like a daunting task by now. The five of us were like ghosts riding on the well laid out NH11, completely in the dark except for our headlights. After about 5 km or so, the trailing vehicle with Manas and Anubhav, the photographer, caught up with us. It was extremely cold as our clothes were mildly drenched from the showers that had caught us, but we cut through the darkness of the night like valiant soldiers. 

We reached Bharatpur at about midnight and stopped for dinner. To avoid any more bad experiences with roadside food, I was carrying a burger from McDs. The rest had daal and simple chapatti while Pankaj again indulged in butter. Dinner down our gullets, we got ready for the last leg of the day. As predicted, Pankaj had to give up at about the 250-260 km mark, and now it was Nitish, Satish, Ritchie and me. We were very tired and sleepy by then and to shoo away our sleep, we came up with the brilliant idea of bitching/swearing at all those who had mastered the big hurdles for T3...it worked as the next 60 km just flew by. Balancing almost 80 kilos of my weight on a cycle was a miracle enough for me, and at 320 km, I was absolutely exhausted. I requested the others to pull over at the nearest stop as I had started to waver on the bike as my eyes were closing with sleep. As I mentioned, we were riding like a family so everyone kindly heeded to my request and asked the trailing vehicle to look for the next sleeping joint available. Manas overtook us in a jiffy, only to be found about 2 km further in front of a decapitated dhaba with charpoys that looked very inviting.

At this point the Marshal made it clear that if we rested here for the night, we would have to do another 30 km by 5 am to remain in the game, the choice was ours. As it was already 1.30 am, we decided to quickly take out our sleeping bags from the trail vehicle for a power nap of an hour and a half and start at 3.45 to get to the next T.S. before its closing time. Soon all that could be heard was thunderous snoring from the four of us which ensured that the Marshal and the photographer were kept wide awake. In the sleeping bag, my body began to cool down to the extent that the same sleeping bag which had made me sweat at altitudes over 15,000 feet on the Leh trip failed to keep me warm that night. Somehow, tiredness won over the cold and I rested only to be woken up by the cell phone alarm at 3.15 am. Believe me, that was one morning I just didn’t want get out of the sleeping bag. The unbearable pain in the groin area again flared up when I put my right leg on the ground. I told Manas it was time for me to call it quits, but the stone hearted monster just handed me a big white pill instead!

Day 2.
We washed our faces, sprinkled some water on our heads and were a couple of km on the road before we realised that Ritchie wasn't with us as he hadn’t been able to make it back on the saddle after the brief nap. So, now it was Nitish, Satish and me racing against time to do a quick fire of 30 in 1hr 10 min. Cutting through the early morning dense patches of fog, Nitish and me hit the 30 km mark first, signing our time cards, and then Satish. By now, Satish had started to look slow and fatigued. The three of us regrouped again and started at 5 am for the next destination 100 km away, Alwar our last T.S. and the deadline was 1 pm. 

The temperatures had plummeted to about 2-3 C at this point and even a minute off the cycle meant losing body heat, so to keep ourselves warm, Nitish and me paddled up and pushed harder on the Agra-Jaipur Highway 11, one of the best I have seen in the country. The fog was getting bad and as the temperature got worse, we decided to stop till daybreak at the right turn to Alwar. We sat by a roadside tea shop where some wood fire had been lit in front as the trail vehicle arrived but Satish was not to be seen. By then he had given up mentally and was riding slow, and had asked the trail vehicle to go past him. Satish arrived about 15 min later only to declare he quit. Nitish and me were quiet for a minute or two at hearing Satish’s decision. He has been our idol for many rides, but perhaps today was not his day. Personally I felt I would miss Satish for the rest of the ride and so would Nitish. After all, we belonged to the same team –TeamT3. What had started as a family of five on the road to do a 600K was left with only two of us.

Alwar our next TS was 72 km ahead, and we had 5 hr to reach. With the sun out now and Rajasthan’s temperatures having mercy on us, we left at 8 am for the next leg. Cutting through the outskirts of the Sariska Tiger Reserve, the scintillating backdrop of the Aravalli Ranges and the blooming yellow mustard fields, we kept pedalling and taking breaks every hour or 25 km until Nitish had his second flat. As we got back on the road and crossed the trail vehicle, which had at some point gone ahead of us, we found its occupants were asleep inside. “Knock, knock…wake up Marshal, we are about to enter Alwar, it’s 12.10 now.” As Alwar was an ATM receipt based TS and the Marshals were not required, we went to an ATM, got a balance receipt before the closing time of 12.58 pm. A power nap of 45 min was all we could buy there and at 2 am we exited Alwar city for our last leg back home, which was 140 km away and had to be finished in 8 hr.

Nitish and me were on a high once we were on this leg. I had done this route a month earlier while doing the 300K, so I was leading. 10 km down the road and I had my first puncture at 470 km. We lost no time in fixing it and were back on the road doing speeds of 27 kmph, happy to be going home! Then it was my tyre again. We fixed it quickly again knowing at the back of our minds we had lost 30 precious min. I told Nitish that if I had a flat again, he should go ahead as he had a better chance of making it than me. Another 10 km and Nitish had a flat this time. Luckily Satish had left behind three virgin tubes so the tube was changed and just as the air was to be pumped in, my mini foot pump gave way and we used Nitish’s mtb hand pump to inflate the tyre, but only to about 80Psi. Between us now, there was one hand pump and one tube that was in the trail vehicle. We had to do 80 km in 4.5 hr, so I asked Nitish to go ahead and we would ride on our own luck. Then, I had another flat as I hit a big brick on the front tyre. I had no pump, no tube and with Nitish ahead of me and the trail vehicle nowhere in sight, I was left with two options - either call Nitish for help through a passing vehicle as he was about 2 km ahead, or give up and get into the vehicle. I didn’t take either options and opened up my wheel, pulled out the tube and waited for the trail vehicle for the spare tube. It came soon enough and Manas gave me the tube, then zipped off to Nitish to fetch the pump. I quickly inflated it with some help from Manas, giving a push or two and was back on the road.

It was 6 pm as I nervously started again for the last 80 km with no spare tube and no pump. Manas had by then gone to Nitish who had fallen prey to a puncture and would need help as one can’t inflate a hand pump alone in the dark on a highway. Determined not to give up even if I finished outside the time limits, I would try to finish was my mantra. I stopped for a minute to strategise and took some deep breaths. I made my plan keeping in mind that I would be out of the race if I had even one more flat. So, wisdom lay in riding slow for the next 30 km and carefully avoiding all potholes and glass pieces. Once in NUH for the last 50 km I would give full throttle as by then I would already be in the backyard of my home, Gurgaon.

The last leg was a real test of nerves, riding alone against time with no spare tube and an impaired vision in one eye...nothing was in my favour except my determination and will to complete. Inch by inch I rode carefully, hoping my luck would hold out through the night. Barring one small incident of road hooliganism where three guys suddenly came from behind and hit me on my back, everything went off smoothly. 8 pm at NUH with 50 km to go and a timeline of 2 hr, it was the chance to create history for myself. I stopped, had a quick bite on some munchies, gulped some water, lit up a ciggy, put my jacket in the trailing vehicle and did the last bit of planning. In normal circumstances, I would have taken 1.5 hr to get back home, but that day I had been cycling non-stop for 550 km for the last 37 hr and was racing against time. So, I got back on the saddle and started to crank ferociously. Knowing that I was riding on my last tube, I made sure that I avoided all pot holes. I had kept a steady pace of 26 kmph at the beginning, nearer the finish line my avg speed went up gradually. With 50 min to spare, I entered the outskirts of Gurgaon, my home and the finish line. I started to smell victory and knew that even if I had a puncture here, I could run with my cycle towards the finish line and still make it.

Lessons learnt:
Should have carried more tubes.
Should have carried a big foot pump in the trail vehicle.
Should have covered my mouth and nostrils with a buff.
What worked:
A good rest the day before.
Carb loading a day before.
Hydrating the body 48 hr before.
No new additions or fine adjustments to the cycle in the last few days.
A strong and determined mind and body.
A riding partner of the same frequency.
An encouraging ambience at home.
Walking & running long distances in addition to cycling for a month.
Last but not the least, the company of people during the ride, including Manas and Anubhav, made it possible. No way would I have been able to do it alone.          
Cheers…Chiro Mitra


  1. Excellent write up.. Infinite thanks to you for sharing your wonderful riding experience. I learned a lot from your write up. As I already complete my 200Km brevet twice. I am yet to attend my 300Km in june, 400km july and finally the 600Km. You clearly explained how to prepare for that. I am going to follow that strictly. Wonderful T3 club. Cheers..

  2. Loved reading your experience..

  3. Thanx Senthil n all the best for ur future endeavours:)