Tour of Nilgiris: Riders on the Storm

[Offbeat Fridays] Untravel! 70 riders, 8 days and 900 kims of extreme endurance riding to the mountains and back. We go behind the scenes of the mother of all cycling tours in the country: TFN, and discover riders who are determined to make their pedals count.


[Offbeat Fridays] Untravel! 70 riders, 8 days and 900 kims of extreme endurance riding to the mountains and back. We go behind the scenes of the mother of all cycling tours in the country: TFN, and discover riders who are determined to make their pedals count.

Wake up. Breakfast. Traffic. Swear. Office. Coffee. Work. Lunch. Tea. Work. Traffic. Swear. Home. Gym somewhere along the way. Throw in a movie on the DVD, weekend shopping, the odd night out, the annual vacation, and some kind of forgotten hobby. Snapshots of nostalgia exchanged over phone calls, facebook updates and a quick laugh. And life goes on, for a lot of us. If we were to pause for a moment to dwell on more carefree times, chances are that we’ll find our way to school and if we look closer, our first cycle- the thrill of racing down the alley, and the taste of freedom it brought.

Perhaps it’s time to rediscover that simple joy of riding a bicycle. The road and you, and nothing else. Zen.

Nilgris_TFNRiders_Gudalur

The TFN riders on the Ooty-Gudalur highway. Pic: PeeVee

There is a whole host of people who have experienced the exhilaration and vouch for it. I can’t really find any other explanation for why a team of 70 riders would toil over eight days, riding 900 kilometres (at some points at a 12% incline meaning a one foot incline for ever ten feet), across the Nilgiris. I can only imagine the rush of adrenaline, the taste of victory in a challenge where there is only you and the infinity of the mountains. The achievement and sense of purpose that comes from pitting physical and mental endurance against the strength of will.

The Tour of Nilgiris 
What started in 2008 when a few friends passionate about cycling went on a “mission to conquer the mountains” has today grown to being the mother of all cycling tours in the country, inviting riders from all over the world. The plan is simple – to ride across challenging terrain and provide a space for like-minded riders to gather, share notes, push their limits, test their endurance and embark on adventure together. Add scenic routes, cheerful camaraderie, healthy competition and warm friendships built over a tough journey to this mix, and you have the Tour of Nilgiris – TFN as it is popularly called. Organised by the RideACycle Foundation (RACF), the TFN is an annual event where 100 ride, and over a 1000 adrenaline junkies from all across the country and the globe follow with fervour.

Now in its fourth year, TFN, a serious circuit for the seasoned cyclist, received scores of applications for the 70 spots that are open. Those who don’t make it offer to volunteer with the tour while others follow updates on the Internet. Applicants train for months to ensure they are fit enough to ride an average of 128 kilometres a day back to back for seven days with just one rest day in the middle.

Operating the tour

TFNRiders_breakfast_ArvindTeki

An enterprise such as this is, run on a purely volunteer driven non-profit basis, is a mammoth undertaking. Sridhar Pabbisetty, co – founder, TFN, explains the brass tacks – a six member core team in charge of logistics, an extended team lending support; discussions on routes and recces follow and a circuit is finalised before registrations are called for. Each applicant sends in his/her cyclist resume, motivation etc., (2010 saw all spots being filled within an hour after registrations opened causing discontentment among riders about the early bird system). Candidates are shortlisted and invitations sent out to confirm the 70 who will scale the mountains, each making his/her own history.

Given the nature of the sport, suitable accommodation has to be found and nutritious local meals to meet the dietary plan of the riders arranged, a tough task given the remote routes the circuit traverses. Locations for support stations get finalised during the recce, tour directors settled and contracted.

The team ensures that no waste gets left behind. Every rider is expected to bring all the trash to the support stations. These are carted back and handed over to the staff at the hotel they are staying at. Given the fact that the core team can’t ensure recycling, they have a mandate on minimising, so bottles of water get replaced by 25-litre containers that the logistics team hauls over to locations .

Race week sees the riders accompanied by a fully functional ambulance, designated tour photographers and volunteers.

It takes a team of over 30 volunteers excluding hotel staff to ensure the smooth functioning of the TFN. The grind is even longer for the volunteers, who start at 3 am and very frequently wind up at 1 am throughout the tour.

Giving Back

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Five charity riders raise funds to support education at tribal schools along the Ghats. Pic: PeeVee

Going beyond cycling as a sport, the riders are also determined to make their pedals count and do good to the people and places they ride past every year. Five charity riders raise money for the development projects that TFN-RACF supports and follows up. Pabbisetty talks passionately about the growing divide and the lack of opportunities in tribal communities.

Choosing to work with smaller schools that are doing a great job with education, the RACF supports five educational institutions in the Nilgiris. “This year, out of the 5 prestigious Charity Rider slots 3 have already been filled up – Arun De Silva for Aarohi, Vishnu Navda for BR Hills Tribal School and Chacko Cherian for Wayanad Girijana Seva Trust”, says Pabisetty. 2 more slots are available for the other tribal schools RACF works with. Last year, the charity riders raised 6 lakhs against a target of 5. RACF’s commitment to these projects is long term, which is why the charity riders are also limited in number.

RACF tracks how the money is spent and aspires to ensure the best use of contributions. 2011 will see them raise money to set up vocational training infrastructure and providing vocational training to youth, encourage exceptional sporting talent among the tribal kids with scholarships, conduct high quality sports events, support maternal and infant health initiatives, cycles for the tribal youth, and 35 residential students throughout the year.

The organisation is also involved in, as the name suggests, bringing back a culture of cycling. As a result of their advocacy efforts, the BBMP has agreed to creating a 43- km long dedicated cycling lane. A parking stand for cycles opened at Lalbagh with the support of RACF just a few weeks ago in Bangalore.

The Route
TFN travels a total distance of 860 kilometres spread across three states (Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu) reaching a collective incline of 17,000 meters. The group traverses three national forests – Bandipur, Mudumalai and Wayanad. The route is: Bangalore – Mysore – Madikeri – Kannur – Sulthan Bathery – Ooty – Kodanad Viewpoint – Mysore – Bangalore.

More about TFN at:

http://www.tourofnilgiris.com/

If you wish to support TFN’s charity rider initiative or their cycling efforts, please get in touch with Sridhar Pabbisetty psridharp@gmail.com
+91-9379060666

If you would like to start cycling, this is a great place for useful resources: http://www.bikeszone.com/forum/



  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Vani is a bangalore based writer who has worked with such organisations as Ogilvy and Mather, Time Out Bengaluru, and Deccan Herald. But right now however she'd rather be sitting under a tree. more

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Vani is a bangalore based writer who has worked with such organisations as Ogilvy and Mather, Time Out Bengaluru, and Deccan Herald. But right now however she'd rather be sitting under a tree. more

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