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Euro Trip - Greece

Athens, Greece :

A modern city caught in between development and poverty. A huge International Airport, world class underground Metro right from the Airport, streets that are cleaned every evening with modern equipment, well dressed people, preservation of their archeological wealth with extreme care give us an impression that Athens is just another developed and well-to-do European city. But, a tete-e-tete with any localite reveals the not so impressive underbelly. Beggars in the same world class metro, again right from the Airport, tourism as the only flourishing industry, their unsuccessful attempts to attract IT industry, failure to cash-in the Olympics for which, apparently, they spent obscene amount of money etc., explain the current state of Greece.

If we keep out the poor economy story away, Acropolis hill and the surrounding areas, allegedly, one of the oldest and most important places in the human history, are well preserved, maintained and taken care of. A museum has been built right on top of archeological excavations, close to the Acropolis hill, that unearthed an underground city, with transparent glass floor for visitors to see the unearthed city underneath, while exploring the museum. Undoubtedly, a brilliant idea. Many underground metro railway stations and Airport, where during construction a lot of archeological artifacts were found, have shelves full of those spoils.


Santorini / Thira, A Greek Island:

Apparently, Athens is only an entry point into Greece for Tourists, due to its International Airport. Tourists typically head to one of the several popular Greek Islands right away. We spent a couple of days at Santorini, a small half moon shaped island of around 30 KM in length and a KM or two in width. A less than one hour flight from Athens took us to Santorini, in the middle of sea, to an almost unmanned airport. There is absolutely nothing, other than what tourists need, on that island. The island has only car/bike rentals, fuel stations, hotels and restaurants and an airport and seaport. Every place on one side of the half moon is categorized as sunrise point and of course, the other side as sunset point. With sea in every direction and a few small islands in the vicinity, sunrises and sunsets are routinely mesmerizing. 

The island is formed due to volcanic eruptions over the years. So, very minimal vegetation and absolutely no drinking water at all. One has to depend completely on packaged water. Interestingly, contrary to our common sense, vendors don’t exploit the situation and the price of packaged water is same as in Athens. Sand in beaches is either red or black, again due to volcanic eruptions. And, water is crystal clear. At a 20 minute cruise distance from the island is a well studied, live volcano. I have seen a fuming volcano for the first time in my life, and spent an hour roaming around on it, visiting the vents through which lava had erupted at various points of time in the past. With nothing other than driving around (mind you, one end to the other end takes not more than an hour) and watching sunrise/sunset, drinking abundantly available home-made wines, and exploring Greek delicacies (Gyros-Pita, Moussaka, Souvlaki, Baklava etc.,), one can have a perfect lazy holiday. Riding the 4-wheel All Terrain Bike for one whole day is the best thing that I did on the Island.


Book Review: The Immortals of Meluha
The Immortals of Meluha
--- Amish Tripathi

The Immortals of Meluha is about a near perfect imaginary kingdom that follows the dictates of Lord Rama, some where in Northern India, in 1900 BC. The Suryavamshi kings of Meluha and the entire kingdom, who think that they are under threat from the neighboring Chandravamshi kingdom, believe in a legend that Lord Neelkant will incarnate for them and take on the neighbors and protect them. Shiva, the hero of the story, leader of a tribe in Himalayas, is identified as the Lord, by a Meluhan soldier and is brought to their king. Shiva's romance with Sati, a widow and daughter of the Meluhan king, eventual declaration of war on behalf of Suryavamshis and defeating Chandravamshis concludes the first part of the 3 books (that form a Shiva Trilogy).

Though the story sounds so uneventful, author's story telling abilities, well intertwined incorporation of Indian mythology make it an interesting read. He came up with an entirely different way of running the kingdom as per imaginary dictates of Lord Rama. The message after the supposedly conclusive war is the best part of the story, which is relevant even today.

Though I stopped even browsing through the shelves with fiction in Landmark / CrossWord, when a colleague recommended and offered a copy of it, I grabbed it. And, I don't regret.

Beaming at the finish line - Nenikekamen

12000 runners, representation from 88 countries, a repeat of an event that happened exactly 2500 years ago (just a legend, but, a very convincing one), and I was fortunate to be part of it. I dreamt of it, 2 years before the event, when I came across such a thing called Athens Classic Marathon, that happens on the original Marathon course every year. And, 2010 is going to be 2500 years after Phidieppides' legendary run to convey the victory message of Battle of Marathon, shouting Nenikekamen (We won).

The day started at 5 AM. We (I along with Harish and Karthik) reached the assembly area in front of the Greek parliament. Thousands of runners were already there waiting to get into the buses lined up to transfer them to the Marathonas village (the starting point of the run). The bus took the same route that we have to traverse back. As Harish pointed out, after a few KM the driver could very well have switched off the engine and we could still have reached Marathonas at the same time. The road was steep downhill for almost 20 KM. And, we will be running back uphill that long.

We haven't visited the Marathonas village proper. But, the assembly area still looks like an ideal battlefield for old fashioned battles. A wide and flat area surrounded by tall hills, which can accommodate a million people. I was in the last wave, and it started at around 9:30 AM. It was so cold that we had to wear plastic sheets given by the organizers to keep us warm till we start running. First 10 KM was almost flat and the weather was pleasant. With a 1 minute walk break after every 10 minutes, I was cruising at a comfortable pace to touch finish line in 5 1/2 hours. Well stocked fuel stations with water, electrolytes, fruits and energy bars and gels, were located at every 2 1/2 KM. There were people to cheer the runners, almost through out the course (till we reached Athens city). 'Bravo, Bravo...' is one rhythmic sound that we could hear continuously ('Well Done' in Greek). There were kids handing olive branches to the runners, through out. (An olive branch used to be placed on the winner's head in ancient Olympics, it seems). The course between 10 and 30 KM was uphill and sun was getting harsher and harsher. With the protective polythene sheets long gone, I started pouring cold water on head to take on the heat. 28 to 32 KM was the toughest for me, with the mid-day heat and the killer uphill course. I slowed down a bit and recovered after 32. This was the first full Marathon, where I was comfortable even in late 30s.

The part of the course that I enjoyed the most was the last 2 KM. After taking the last turn and with the Olympic Stadium in my view, and 1000s of people cheering, I was ecstatic to say the least. I entered the stadium with a broad smile on my face. Probably for the first time, I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face and didn't stop after crossing the finish line and just continued running. And, there comes that long cherished dream true.

21.1 (Half)2:38:05
42.195 (Finish)5:37:50

A much awaited, dreamt of and about to realize uphill task - Athens Classic Marathon
I have been talking about participating in Athens Marathon, at the birth place of Marathon with a story that takes us back 2500 years, back to 490 BC, for a long time. Finally, it is time. I am all set to trace the foot steps of Pheidippides, 2500 years after his triumphant run and death, on 31st October.

I overcome the last hurdle to enter into Greece; the Greece Visa has been approved, though only after an unnecessary personal interview in Delhi. Next week by this time, I should be in Athens, waiting eagerly for the run with around 36 hours to go. The elevation map looks as follows.

Around 70% uphill and 30 % downhill and almost no flat stretch at all. A daunting task for me by any standards. But, the best part is, they are going to keep the course open for 8 hours and that's much more than enough to enjoy the route, run, mild winter weather and of course an exotic and historical place.

Dilip is joining me for the run and we are going to visit few more places after the event. Madrid, Barcelona, Baden-Baden (Germany) and Paris are part of the plan. Depending on the time and convenience, I may visit Amsterdam as well.

How is Sunny doing ?
Is Sunny dead ? Or is it just hibernation or suspended animation ? What ever. The Cafe-Coffee-Days and Baristas in Bangalore don't ask my name (unlike Starbucks), when I order Kapi Nirvana or Cafe Mocha. Even if they ask, Srinivas is such a common name (when I was in school, the number of my namesakes used to be always in double digits, in my class). So, Sunny will hibernate till my next visit to Starbucks.

The last few weekends have been quite engaging. A weekend office outing at Kabini Jungle Lodges and Resorts, another long weekend visit to home town and my little darling, and of course a Marathon. Kaveri Trail Marathon occupied a weekend, though the show was poor, with me doing only half-marathon (though aimed at full). But, it really helped me get out of mediocrity and take the next step towards the real stuff. Though 2 years is not a big time for distance runners (particularly for people like me, with very modest beginning. I remember keeping my legs in hot water with a lot of salt for an hour, after doing a 6 KM dream run in Mumbai Marathon 2006 :) ), it is time for me to aim at the next level. I have started working towards a sub 5 hour Marathon (I have been saying this for a year, but, started only now). It may take a year with my current fitness levels. But, I will be there.

Athens Classic Marathon
is just a couple of weeks away. Itinerary, tickets, plan etc., are ready. (Thanks to Dilip, an expert in planning Europe trips, who is also running his own venture: http://backpackingtoeurope.com/ ) The final hurdle is Visa. Visa interview is scheduled on 20th at Delhi. I don't see any reason for not getting through.

Another test run at Nandi Hills is calling this weekend. 6.7 KM uphill and downhill through the same route, with a bit of higher elevation than Athens course. Though it would be torturous, I will get a first hand experience of a long downhill run, which I can't do on a treadmill.

The Last Weekend - Ending a 3 Month Holiday
Three months flew like a few days. I wanted to utilize the last weekend in California, before getting back to Bangalore, to the fullest. Saturday went in retracing those Marathon foot steps with my new baby. Loaded the cycle on car and headed for San Francisco, early in the morning. Started pedaling right at the Marathon start line. A buzzing and lively city, Himalayan weather, beautiful scenery made it an awesome ride. Ride on Golden Gate Bridge is quite an experience. The 3 KM long bridge, which is a mild uphill from both sides, with nothing to block cold waves from Pacific, has a lot to offer to cyclists. After doing an out and back ride on the bridge,I reached Golden Gate National Recreational Area, which is not like Yosemite in scale, but a sprawling one, nevertheless. Around 50 KM ride concluded at Osha, a sea side Thai restaurant, and as usual divine spirits and food followed :)

During that drive of a lifetime, I missed the last part of the Pacific Coast Highway between Monterey and Half-Moon Bay. And, I have the last Sunday without any plan. Quickly finished breakfast on Sunday and was out to cover the missed part. I took a deviation from a highway and reached Redwood city. The route between Redwood city and Half-Moon bay goes through a scenic forest with tall trees and full of bends, making it an excellent drive. Frequent cyclists keep a tab on speed. Half-Moon bay -> Santa Cruz -> Monterey completes Pacific Coast drive. Visited the famous aquarium in Monterey, and could catch a glimpse of different types of Jellyfish, Octopus and a lot more. For the first time, I saw a few penguins and the funny penguin walk.

Everything, good and bad, has to come to an end. So is this three month holiday (Hope, my manager is not reading this. He actually complained sometime back that I have not been updating my journal of late. So, should be fine). Just few more hours left before catching a flight to Hong Kong. I am looking forward to the 12 hour break that I have in Hong Kong. Thanks to Ripul  and his cousin, I already have a tightly packed itinerary for 12 hours there :) Should be reaching Bangalore on Sunday, the 5th September.

A Marathon Walk, a Beach Cruise and a Drive of a Lifetime
Though I visited Los Angeles and its famous Universal Studios, Hollywood already, when the latest set of my colleagues (from Bangalore, visiting Sunnyvale) asked me to join them for a Los Angeles trip, I jumped, as there is a lot of driving opportunity :) A 7 hour long drive on a Friday evening, with a couple of hours through some scenic surroundings and the rest through a boring and monotonous interstate highway (I-5) took us to Los Angeles.

I stayed back on Saturday for my own adventures, while the rest headed for Universal Studios, Hollywood, in the car that we came in. I wanted to go to Santa Monica, a lively beach with a lot of activity and a buzzing down-town next to it. With no car to take me there, I quickly checked for public transport and found that I have to switch 3-4 buses to reach there (around 20 KM). As it was one month since the last Marathon and I have one more month to go before the next Marathon (Kaveri Trail Marathon, SriRangaPatnam on 19th September), I decided to walk across the city to reach there, with some vague idea about directions. I ended up walking for around 4 hours across the city through suburbs, palatial houses, high rises only to find that I took a wrong turn after 15 KM and I was 15 KM away from Santa Monica. In no mood to spend the rest of the afternoon also walking, I waved at a taxi and reached the beach. Treated myself to some divine spirits and lunch at an open air restaurant in down-town, Santa Monica, from where I could oversee a bunch of crazy activities on the pedestrians-only roads. Took a beach cruiser cycle on rent at the beach and I was back to my favorite pastime

We decided to leave early on Sunday and take CA-1, a slower and very scenic route, to get back to Sunnyvale. And, that led us to the best drive so far in US. CA-1, also known as Pacific Coast Highway, is adjacent to Pacific ocean along the coastline of California, with a mountain range on the other side. With absolutely nothing between road and ocean for hundreds of miles and innumerable hair-pin bends and breathtaking views, and a highly responsive Nissan Altima, we felt, a drive just can't get any better. We spent whole day driving with frequent stopovers. This route is classified as one of the Drives of a Lifetime by Nat-Geo's Traveler :)

A Visit to Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park
is one of those beautiful parks under National Park Service of US Department of the Interior whose mission is "To Protect America's Great Outdoors". And, they do their job really well. A peek at the numbers gives us some idea of the scale. The park is spread over 700,000 acres (1000+ square miles), around 4 million people visited in 2009 and the budget for 2009 was over 28 million USD. All this is about just one of those many such parks. These guys are really resource rich.

Yosemite, a grand valley with great waterfalls (though almost dry after July), boulders, bike trails, hikes, lakes, winter sports, camp-sites etc., makes a perfect weekend getaway. Ideal visit should include at least one night camping in the wilds. As the above numbers speak for themselves, it is hard to get a booking for a camp-site. So, we planned just a day's visit. We started very early in the morning (at 5 AM), as it is a 4 hours drive from our Hotel, and reached the park by 10 AM. Spent some time in a nearly dry, still beautiful waterfall and played around the boulders. Overwhelmed with the number of hiking options, we struggled a bit to choose a couple of them. Almost all trails lead to one of those peaks around the valley and the grand views from peak tickle a handful of philosophical bones, as usual :)

After a late, hard-to-name continental lunch in a restaurant on the floor of the valley, we just had a couple of hours left before it gets dark. While we were on a random walk to spend those 2 hours, we got to know that there is some 'Mirror Lake' near by. There is something really mystic about that lake. Though a reflection in still water is just natural, the reflection in the Mirror Lake is crystal clear, almost like a mirror. May be something to do with the type of sand at the bottom or purity of water. Though, we reached just before dusk, still could witness the miracle.

Another 5 hour long drive brought us back to the Hotel. And, it was mid-night.

Embarrassing Expereince with a Bell-Boy
Finally, I had the embarrassing experience that I was consciously avoiding, by trying not to be identified with one of those negative stereotypes (and wherever possible, not to create one), on a foreign land. I walked out of the Las Vegas Hotel at 5 AM after checking-out, to catch a flight to San Jose. At the Hotel taxi stand, a bellboy offered to put my lap-top bag and another small bag that I was carrying in a taxi boot. I politely said, "It's OK", and helped myself. He looked offended and said, "Sir ! It's OK, if you don't want to give TIP. But, you should let me do my duty". There was no rudeness at all in his tone, or I will give him benefit of doubt, as I am the one who was out-of-place. He softly closed the taxi door after I sneaked in, only after wishing, "Have a good day, Sir !". It might be quite unusual for him to find someone who refuse such service in Las Vegas, that too in front of those luxury hotels, where people throw 100$ bills on those strange machines (I don't know even one name, despite being spending 6 days walking along them everyday, to get to my room) and rush to the ATM (right next to the machines) to get few more bills.

I didn't refuse his service to save a few dollars TIP that I might had to give, but, I refused out of habit (or saving everywhere itself is a habit ?). The bags were too small to take help from somebody (Not that I would have yelled for a bellboy, even if I had a bit bigger bags). I don't know whether I should have got out of the taxi and explained him the cultural & habitual differences between India and Las Vegas and cleared the mis-understanding :). I am sure he understood that it was an Indian (The Mexican taxi driver who witnessed the scene started the conversation, asking about Indian economy and population problems, with out even asking whether I was an Indian). Next time when that bellboy sees someone like me and hesitates to offer his service, he would surely be called a racist :(

I Ran Francisco

San Francisco Marathon 2010

The experience of distance run in an absolutely unknown place (not quite, though), amidst a diverse crowd was worth the effort.

My preparation started 24 hours before the start of the actual run. On Saturday morning, I drove a cute Chevy HHR (rental car that I currently use) alone to the Marathon expo in San Francisco (65 KM away from the hotel) to collect my running kit. Expo was of more or less same size as Mumbai Marathon's. The timing chip that the runners have to attach to their shoe, to get tracked, was more sophisticated. Expo had a lot of Hi-Tech gadgets for runners. But, quite expensive for a visitor from Bangalore :( So, stared at them for an hour and headed back to Sunnyvale.

As usual, followed my strict routine on the day before the run. Lot of fluid intake, absolutely no solid food after lunch, early to bed etc., I had to reach San Francisco by 4:45 AM (Run starts at 5:30) So, woke up at 3 AM on the D-Day, and started driving by 3:45 AM. Thanks to the amazing freeways, I could cover 65 KM in less than an hour. All the major roads around the venue were already closed to vehicular traffic and GPS directs me through only those major roads :( After circling around the venue for 10-15 minutes, and using the knowledge acquired from roaming around a couple of weekends, I could find a parking lot a few blocks away. So, reached the start line by 5 AM, as planned.

I joined the 3rd wave of runners starting at 5:45 AM. Weather was very cold for a South Indian. The 3rd wave of runners have an estimated finish time of 4 hours, which means, they run a lot faster than me. So, I kept to a side of the road and stuck to my own pace. The first few miles of the course overlaps with famous 49-Mile Scenic Drive, that covers popular tourist places like Ghirardelli Square, Fisherman's Wharf etc.,. A decent uphill from there takes us to the entrance of Golden Gate Bridge, the symbol of San Francisco. The bridge was covered with clouds. Though the bridge was an uphill from both sides, the gradient was moderate. So, running on the bridge was fun. It was an out and back course on the bridge, and we were soon back to the city. After a couple of miles of ups and downs we reached Golden Gate Park, a well designed park of 1000+ acres size. This is where the exhaustion started. Though mostly flat, I had to reduce my pace by more than a minute per mile. The last 6-7 miles were through down-town. There were cheering crowds all the way through down town, but, not much fuel left. So, my pace further dropped. Though it was confusing for the cheering crowd, we hated those down hills in the last few miles. With paining knees, running or even walking the down hills after 20 miles was torturous :) Finally reached the finish line 5 hr 45 min after starting, well with in the time limit (6 hrs) to receive a finisher medal :)

Timing chip data:

MilesTimeAvg. Pace

Slightly better than last Mumbai Marathon, considering the San Francisco hills evened out Mumbai's heat.

San Francisco Marathon
I thought Athens Classic Marathon would be my first distance run overseas. But, San Francisco has a different plan for me. I got to know about the upcoming San Francisco Marathon on 25th July, while having breakfast in Sunnyvale Hotel (through a runner, and yet another software engineer on a business visit to California, whom I first met in an i-Race in Bangalore). A couple of hours later, I was one of the registrants for Full Marathon.

A quick browse through the Marathon website casually reveals that Wall Street Journal calls this race as The Race Even Marathoners Fear because of those famous hilly stretches all over San Francisco. Now, I have an opportunity to validate this claim by a prestigious news paper, and a chance to get a first hand experience of running up-hills and down-hills before going to the Mecca of Runners :) So, why not ?

The marathon course covers the best part of San Francisco: Road along the Sea, Golden Gate bridge, Golden Gate park, Down-Town etc., The above graph shows the elevation through the marathon course. 4-5 decent up-hills, 3-4 down-hills and around 50% flat course. Some stretches with 3-4% inclination. I have started up-hill training on treadmill, just a couple of weeks back with up to 1.5% inclination (45 degrees = 100%). Don't know where to train down-hills :( There is a strict time limit of 6 hours to get a huge 3.25'' finisher's medal. I hope, I will be holding one, when the clock ticks 12:00 on the coming Sunday :)

Book Review: Breaking News
Breaking News: NDTV Election Bus
--- Sunetra Choudary

A travelogue written by one of the NDTV journalists, who covered the length and breadth of India in a special bus equipped with up-link facilities , over a few months, doing 30 minute shows everyday from different places en-route, during the last general elections. Apart from bringing out the election scene of the entire country, It also lets the reader have a peek at typical day-to-day life of journalists, the issues they face when they are in such long term assignments.

The journey takes us through diverse parts of India, through a village that never had electricity, a village that doesn't have electricity, but have televisions and mobile phones (they use batteries and there are a few entrepreneurs who opened shops to collect those batteries and charge them for a fee),  a place that had one of the seven wonders in the world, that is visited by every foreign dignitary, but has a pathetic road to access the wonder (Agra) and the expectations of people of these places from the upcoming elections and their aspirations etc., The journalists on-board the bus have direct access to several high-profile politicians like Jyotiraditya Scindia, Yashodara Raje, Laluprasad Yadav, Naveen Patnaik etc., infamous personalities like Pramod Mutalik (Hindu Taliban leader from Mangalore), Bainsla (Gujjar agitation mastermind)  and likes. So, reader gets to know some inside stories about these politicians as well.

Californian Weekends

A visit to Stanford University:
With a cool bike to ride and bike friendly roads, California is a heaven for weekend rides. My first long ride was to Stanford University, which is around 15 KM from the hotel. A colleague joined me right from the hotel and another colleague rented a bike after reaching the campus. That being a weekend, there were hundreds of cyclists all over the campus. After spending an hour doing circumambulaion of Stanford (unlike my earlier circumambulaion of Bangalore, Stanford qualifies as a sacred place to live up to the weight of the word circumambulaion :) ), we got into a posh shopping mall, right in the middle of University campus, full of stores by many big brands. We got maps from visitors center and roamed around the birth place of stalwarts like Google, Yahoo, Cisco, HP etc., till evening.

Whale watching at Monterey Bay:
A 100 KM drive from Sunnyvale, through a scenic route, took us to a small bay side city, Monterey, famous for Whale watching. A one hour turbulent boat ride into deep seas, where generally whales are spotted and a couple of hours of following the spotted whales concludes the trip. Though, it was not very exciting for me to watch whales after a turbulent boat ride, I enjoyed my first long drive in a flashy Nissan Altima. Just a couple of days before this trip, I got this rental car. Except for the vehicles in high speeds in all directions, I felt, driving here is fun. Automatic transmission, mostly well behaved drivers, following rules as a norm add to the fun.

Biking in the bay area:
I bought a nice car carrier for my cycle. That nicely fits to the rental car that I have and can carry up to 3 cycles. This gave us freedom to mount the bikes, drive anywhere and start pedaling. I and a colleague from Bangalore, chose a couple of good trails over the last few weekends, drove there with our bikes mounted on car, and explored. Alviso Marine park is one such area with a salt water pond of 15 KM circumference. There is an off-road bike trail along the pond with lots of rabbits running across the path. I was worried about the performance of my road bike on that off-road trail. But, it turned out that it can take off roads as well, as long as the surface is not stony and rock hard. Shoreline park next to Google's head office is another scenic area that we explored. Steven's creek trail, a popular biking trail in the bay area, took us to the shoreline park. The park is beautiful with a famous amphitheater, golf course, lake with boating facilities, exclusive roads for bikes, small grass covered hills etc.,

Los Angeles, and its Universal Studios, Getty museum, Alcatraz island jail (of Rock fame) in San Francisco occupied another couple of weekends. Still 5 more weekends to go. Already drove three different cars. Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry and Chevy HHR. The current one, HHR, a compact SUV, is part of Hertz's fun collection and is fun to drive. So, more to come...

Mystery Spot: Vortex Anomaly or Visual Illusion

On one of the Californian weekends, we drove to Mystery Spot, a gravitational vortex anomaly due to some mysterious force (according to the owners and a few physicists) and a mis-perception due to optical illusion caused by distorted frames of reference (as per psychologists Arthur P Shimamura and William Prinz Metal, University of California at Berkeley).

If we keep the fight among physicists, psychologists and mysterious forces aside, it is an interesting place to visit. There is a ~100 year old 2 room wooden house near Santacruz, California, inside and around which gravitational laws appear to break. Spherical objects roll uphill when left free, pendulum rests in a 30 degree tilted angle, people appear to gain or loose relative height depending on which side of the hill they stand etc., Also, spending more than 10-15 minutes inside the house make people feel giddy.

They made a tourist spot out of it by doing guided trips inside and around the house with 4-5 demonstrations to break the generally understood laws. Apparently, a few scientists also have studied such places, and a paper by Shimamura et al stands as the best explanation as per wikipedia

The new baby: Trek 7.2FX

After the tearful adieu to world class Merida, I chose a Trek (of Lance Armstrong fame) this time. Trek 7.2 FX, an Hybrid Bike with best of the both worlds (upright position of Mountain Bikes and lean frame and tires of Road Bikes), which allows the rider to scale speeds closer to Road Bikes, but demands little decent roads of course (unlike Mountain Bikes).

Thanks to Saugat, an ex-colleague from HP (currently with Cisco, San Jose), for taking me around a few bike shops over the weekend. I found Cannondale Quick 4 a little better than Trek 7.2 FX, but that costs also a bit more. So, settled with this. Immediate experience is simple physics. Tires and frame are leaner, bike is lighter. Gear ratio is also better than typical Mountain Bikes. So, easy to scale higher speeds with less energy. But, less comfortable than Mountain Bike frames, as there is no suspension in fork and rider would feel every small stone on road.

Many roads in and around Sunnyvale have bike lanes. So, commuting and long rides would be a pleasure. Stanford University, with a big biking community is around 15 KM from the hotel. I should start my long rides with that, probably the coming weekend.

PS: Venkat, (formerly annacoder on LJ) advised me not to put a pic this time. As I put a pic of 'The New Apple of My Eye' and lost it in a week. I also put pic of 'Merida-My new Baby' and lost it in a year. But, being superstitious is beyond me. So, going ahead anyway :)

Life as Sunny in Sunnyvale
I haven't checked with an astrologer, but, had I, he would have found some interesting star that would keep me away from home during most of the year 2010. It started with a 2 week visit to Austin, Texas, and now a 3 month visit to Sunnyvale, California (And, at least a 2 week trip to Greece and may be another European country or Egypt will happen in October, thanks to Athens Classic Marathon).

I jumped with joy at the idea of carrying my Merida with me to Sunnyvale and blasting in that cycle friendly community. But, in one freaky incident, just a couple of days before leaving Bangalore, I had to part with it, right in-front-of my eyes. I was left with only the nice Cycle carry bag that I bought from Decathlon to carry my Merida :( As some of my friends rightly put it, I am going to use this opportunity to get hold of a better baby this time. I have shortlisted a couple of models(Cannondale Quick 4 and Trek 7.2 FX), for which I will get spares in Bangalore as well. And yes, I have diligently brought the bag with me, so that I can carry a flashy new cycle back. I should get hold of one of those models this weekend.

Life in Sunnyvale...  not yet started. How can it start with out a cycle ? ;) So, may start from next week. Hotel is just 15 minutes walk from office and there is one nice Starbucks coffee shop on the way. That's a good enough incentive to avoid taxi and enjoy a Mocha while walking. Only issue is to tell my name to the Starbucks guys everyday to call me once my coffee is ready. They distorted it in every possible way (Seanvaas for example) and they even write it on cup :(. So, I re-incarnated myself as 'Sunny'. What other name would have been easier for them to spell and pronounce than 'Sunny' in 'Sunnyvale' ? They don't have to say 'sorry' any more whenever I say my name. :)

An Ordeal Called Removal of Wisdom Tooth
When I visited a dentist, almost a year back, she suggested me to get rid of my wisdom tooth which will trouble me very soon, if they have not started already. Naturally, I ignored, as I didn't even feel their presence at that time. For the past few months, I felt them once in a while and they are slowly turning problematic. This weekend, I decided to get rid of them and visited the same dentist.

Doctor confirmed that it was high time. As I am going to be traveling for the next few months starting next weekend, I didn't have much time to fix a date for the surgery or for post-surgical healing. So, when she asked for a suitable time, I said, "Right now". A surgeon was called immediately, while I was lying on the dentist's chair, as she was not a specialist in this area. He looked at the x-ray and said, "It is going to be tough one. The tooth has deep & multiple roots".

After giving multiple injections for local anesthesia, he started. It was no different from pulling out a lamp post from a concrete road. Insisting on me keeping my eyes open and watch the fun, he took out a sharp knife and cut the gum round the teeth. He used another sharp object to do some digging around the base. Finally he used a tong to pull the teeth out. All along blood was being drained out using a suction pump with a transparent pipe. And, I was not supposed to close my eyes, for doctor to know whether I was conscious or not. Anesthesia did wonders and I watched as if he was operating on somebody else. It hardly took 20 minutes and the surgeon left after that

I just walked out and was waiting for my bill. Doctor prepared the bill and explained certain things for good recovery. She was telling something about giddiness and I interrupted, "I am already feeling giddy". She suggested me to go to next room and lie down for a while. I got up and don't know what happened after that. I woke up after a few minutes to some cold water falling on my face and me lying on the floor across the door that connects doctor's room and the next room, and the doctor and her assistant looking into my face. I could guess what would have happened :) When I inquired the doctor whether the reason for that passing out was powerful anesthesia, she says quickly, "No, it's because of surgery" (Not giving me a chance to consider the bill as one of the possible reasons). Probably, my mind didn't receive any signals during the digging and excavation business, thanks to anesthesia, but, something would have received and reacted a bit late.

I started to get back home after a few minutes. Doctor came out to see me off and saw my cycle. She was worried, whether I would repeat the feat en-route home. Took back her prescription and wrote her mobile number for emergency :) Luckily, I reached home fully conscious. Probably, due to powerful pain killers, I didn't feel any pain at all, even after the subsidence of the influence of anesthesia. Now I have this cricket ball sized swelling around my right jaw, and my face looks completely distorted :( I have to give a 1-hour talk in office tomorrow. No issues with talking that long, as I practiced talking to myself today. But, audience will have a tough time, watching my distorted face for that long :)

Book Review: One Life to Ride
One Life to Ride - A Motor Cycle Journey to the High Himalayas
--- Ajit Harisinghani

Having worked with a couple of guys who had visited the mecca of riders, the higher Himalayas, multiple times, I got a chance to read day-to-day account of one such ride by Ajit Harisinghani, a speech therapist by profession.

The route that starts from Delhi goes through Manali, Rohtang-Pass, Leh-Ladakh, Kargil, Drass, Srinagar, covers the highest and second highest motor-able roads in the world. I have heard a lot of stories from my ex-colleagues about the beauty of the place, uniqueness of the ride, sorry state of affairs in Kashmir valley, how the most beautiful place in India (Not many locals in Kashmir agree that they are part of India, though) is in the worst possible state, with the mutual hostility among defense personnel and locals etc.., This book made me relive through that narration and strengthened my wish to do one such ride myself on my Classic.

The seamless system
A few months back, after paying the advance for my Enfield Classic, I finally applied for learner's driving license (both for 2 and 4 wheeler). As I didn't go through a driving school, I was duly shown some road signs, which I couldn't recognize (Loose gravel on the road, rocks falling at the next turn etc.,), and was asked to come again after a few days for learner's license test. I prepared well and cracked the next time.

My friends suggested not to go directly (with out an association with a driving school) for the driving test. I didn't want to pay bribe through the school, so went directly for the driving test on my Enfield, with 800 KM riding experience. The officer asked me to go till the end of a road (around 100 meters) and come back. I failed the test. The reason; I didn't show hand signals while riding the bike. I was supposed to maneuver the 183 Kilo beast with a singe hand, in that narrow lane with at least 100 people walking criss-cross, in the 100 meters that I rode, and show hand signals. The blinking indicators that I used were just not enough (according to may be, Road Safety act 1875 and Indian Motor act 1901). Fair enough :)

I went after a week again and couldn't show hand signal this time too. This was a different officer, who considered that I already failed once, and did my karma for not going through the driving school. So, he kindly allowed me pass the test. Of course, only after giving a lecture on hand signals.

As the 4-wheeler learner's license I took was about to expire and I may go to US again in the next month, where I may need driving license, I wanted to go for 4-wheeler test too. I don't have a car. So, the only option is using a driving school's car. I went through one. They even attached a back dated letter mentioning my date of joining their school, and the training that I had undergone. I couldn't drive properly for 20 meters also. The officer pleasantly took my form and signed and said with a lot of affection, "Everyday we are registering around 1000 cars here. Roads are so narrow. You have to practice a lot. Take more classes." Later, I was asked to drive a simulator (Yes, Bangalore is world class). I banged against the fence after driving for around 100 meters. The simulator shows "Serious collision". And, I got my driving license posted to my house in the next 3 days. Long live driving schools.

Now, as I got the license through the system that works so seamlessly and efficiently, I just have to learn driving :)

In the wilds, Part II - Arkansas, US

Camping in the wilderness continues, thanks to Pravin (lvalue) who is in Austin, doing his internship at IBM, Austin.

When Pravin gave me an option to choose the kind of place that I would like to visit over the weekend, I opted for some outdoor activity. He and his room-mate (Niranjan) did a lot of research and came up with a plan to visit Guadalupe Mountains, New Mexico, which has a lot of trekking trails and camping sites. But, one day before the D-day, they chose canoeing and camping at Buffalo River, Arkansas (As Guadalupe would be very dry during this season).

We started on Friday night from Austin. Prajacta joined us on the way at Dallas. Only Nirajan knows driving and he enjoys it. So, the rest enjoyed the drive. The place is around 12 hours drive from Austin. Arkansas has breathtaking greenery and the road has enough curves to seduce the driving lovers. We reached the spot by afternoon and rented a couple of canoes. Only Prajacta knows swimming. Water is just 1-2 feet deep at most of the places. But, it is as deep as 15 feet at some places. As we don't have a choice to choose a place where our canoe gets toppled, we all were given life jackets :) We have to reach a camp site that is 12 KM down the river.

We slowly started mastering the art of canoeing, munching chocolate bars and emptying stacks of bread. At a time when we thought we mastered the art of canoeing, we met with a couple of accidents. First one was a minor one where I lost my paddle to the river, which we could recover, thanks to a huge branch of tree. Second one was a major one. We were stuck between rocks and another canoe banged us head-on. We were thrown of the canoe and all our belongings started flowing away in the river. With the help of 3-4 other canoes, we got back after a few minutes of struggle.

We reached the camp site by evening and pitched our tent. With the elementary camping equipment that we had and Prajacta's culinary skills, we could manage some omelets along with bread for dinner. Next morning, We headed for Whitaker Point in Ozark mountains. An hour drive from the campsite and another hour of trek took us to the peak. It is a huge rock facing a very deep valley. All you can see from the rock is mountains covered by greenery. The valley is so deep that not many people who reach there will actually get on to the rock and look down.

Another 15 hours drive from there brought us to Austin by Monday morning. Niranjan's love for driving deserves appreciation. 30 hours of driving, Friday and Sunday night, with canoeing and trekking during rest of the time is just unimaginable for me :)


In the wilds, Part I - Parambikulam, Kerala

There had been so many firsts in the last few weeks. Among them, the experience while camping in the wilds is memorable.

There is a long pending plan to visit Top Slip (Tiger reserve), a beautiful forest in TamilNadu, near Polachi, along with a few ex-colleagues (from HP), which materialized a few weeks back. We reached Polachi on a late Friday night and planned to head for the forest next day morning, only to come to know that the forest is closed for visitors, due to some preventive maintenance (to handle forest fires during summer). Top Slip is on TamilNadu side and there is Parambikulam, the Kerala counter part of the same forest, which is open. We decided to go for their 24 hours package tour, a bit reluctantly (thinking that we will not have much freedom).

Parambikulam has spacious cottages (kind of tents) in the middle of the forest with all comforts and an excellent cafeteria. After having a sumptuous lunch, we were taken for a safari. Though, it is a tiger reserve, we had little hopes of spotting one, due to prior experience in various forests. We could see a lot of deers, bisons, elephants, oldest teak tree on earth etc.,  After trying our hands on guiding a bamboo raft, we headed back to the camp. On our way back, we saw a lot of activity around us, a few 100 meters away from our camp site. It was already dark. Deers were running across the road in groups. Suddenly, somebody focused the light on one side of the road and shouted something. The vehicle came to a stand still and the people fell silent. A leopard was majestically walking, a few meters away from our vehicle, into the wilds. It stopped and gave a 'who the hell' look and walked away. It was not more than a minute, I guess. But, the whole group was excited and was talking about that minute for the next few hours :) We saw leopards at several zoos, but, it is really something to spot them at their own habitat.

We concluded the trip with a small guided trek, the next morning. We kept the expectations high with the previous night's experience, but could only spot fresh and not-so-fresh droppings of tigers, elephants etc., :)

Pics (Stolen from others)

A detailed report in Dilip's words & Pics

Lost in Austin on a Road Bike
When my manager told me about a visit to Austin / Texas / US for a product transition from one of our offices being closed, one of the first questions that I asked was 'Is that a cycle friendly city ?' My manager immediately contacted a colleague (Andrew) from this place (who asked exactly the same question when he visited Bangalore). Andrew is kind enough to lend me his Bridgestone Road Bike on my very first visit to office for my commute, while I am in Austin.

He brought it and parked in the conference room during Lunch, and, my wait till 5 PM felt like eternity. I never used a road bike and the route that we took to reach office in a cab was very inviting. I quickly browsed through the maps (that 'quick' was a mistake, which I realized after a few hours), and took off to Hotel from office at 5 PM, while another colleague accompanying me from Bangalore took a cab and would be waiting for me in the Hotel. Then started the fun. First few KM, I rode through the familiar route (that I got familiar from the map). I soon understood the vastness of the place and roads. I found one cycle store on the way, suggested by Andrew, and bought a few accessories for my cycle in Bangalore. With that excitement, I stopped thinking about the route and just started pedaling. The distance between office and Hotel is 10 KM, my odometer was already showing 15 KM. It was just 6 PM and I knew that there would be light till 8 PM due to day light saving. So, I had plenty of time, I continued cruising.

When odometer showed around 20 KM, I thought of asking somebody for directions. But, whom ? All the roads were big & wide and highways. Hardly anyone outside a car, not even with a rolled down window :( After another few KM, I found a huge Walmart store, which, I thought was the same that we saw on our way to office in the morning.  So, happily called the hotel to give me the directions from Walmart, only to know that there are so many Walmarts nearby :), and I am supposed to tell them exit number of the high-way parallel to the service road that I was in. I was stupid enough to ignore the importance of knowing the exit number. So, asked some local cab driver for directions and took off in one direction. After doing another 10 KM, as its confirmed that I was completely lost, and all I knew about the hotel was its name and it was next to some inter-state highway (at least, I knew the number of this high-way), I started calling the hotel frantically, after every few KM, and reached the hotel area by around 9 PM by pedaling for around 35 KM.

It was not over.  It was completely dark by then. This cycle has only blinkers in the back and no head light :( With that, I circled around the hotel for another 30 minutes, and finally with the directions from a guy working in a near-by food store, I reached the Hotel at 9:30 PM, only after doing 42 KM :) The guy in the reception, whom I kept on calling, coolly says, ' Oh ! Sir, You finally made it'.

I don't know how safe it was, but, getting lost in a new city with a cool bike to pedal is fun :)

Book Review: The Diary of an Unreasonable Man
The Diary of an Unreasonable Man
--- Madhav Madhur

A reasonable man adapts himself to the world; An unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
--- George Bernard Shaw

Love this quote. So, naturally, I picked up this book, during a weekend stroll in Oxford book store. Madhav Madhur has a lot of simple, yet powerful stuff to say in his debutant novel. It is a story of a very normal well educated, highly paid executive who, instead of being in the rat race for his boss' job, chooses to be chased by  mafia dons and Mumbai police, by forming 'The Anarchists of Mumbai' and trying to educate people about life and the world.

The hero, along with 2 like minded friends, throws shit on a 'supposed to be extremely desirable car' during its launch asking 'who needs this shit ?', exposes the visitors of brothels, brings out the nexus between apathetic industrialist and bureaucrats, busts a topnotch fashion show, blasts a mumbai train with fake bombs to remind people that they are living etc., Though many of their acts don't sound great, the author loudly conveys a good message that driving Audi need not be the symbol of success, consumerism need not be the only way to happiness, working day-and-night to own some of 'the most desirable things in the world' need not be taken for granted etc., Though the final message that the author wanted to give to the world is not clear, this book opens up a bunch of points to ponder during those inevitable coffee-breaks at work.

P.S.: Worshipers of books like 'Rich Dad Poor Dad' may not appreciate this book :)

Towards Realizing the Athens Dream :)
The dream of participating in Athens Classic Marathon is becoming real. Registration opened last night. And, I am sure, I am one of the first few 100s to register.

I have been waiting for March 10th for the past one week, as the organizers replied very politely to my inquiry that registrations would open on 10th. Somebody on IIT runners group said that registrations would get over in 5 to 8 hours (though they open registrations more than 6 months before the event). I was really worried about time zone issues. What if they open at our mid-night and registrations get over by our day ? (: I had spent almost a sleepless night on 9th by registering a few times in dreams, only to wake up on 10th and to find that the link was not yet open. On 10th, I had refreshed my browser innumerable times at work, but in vain. The link was enabled only after our midnight on 10th. Last night, I kept my modem on and laptop in stand-by mode to check whenever I wake up. I woke up at 5 AM, and yeah ! the link is enabled. Registered immediately and did a small Katahkali, which woke up my brother sleeping in the next room (who couldn't sleep after that, and switched on his laptop too). Tried to sleep for one more hour, as my regular wake up time is 6 AM, though I couldn't (obviously).

Dilip, who has experience with International Youth Hostels, suggested me to try for accommodation in them. So, I booked a 5 night accommodation in a Youth Hostel, around the marathon date in Athens. On hearing all this, Dilip jumped with joy, and after 5 minutes, I did yet another registration for him, both for Marathon and Youth Hostel accommodation :)

Now, I have a partner too, end-to-end. This is going to be the greatest trip for me, so far. Oh ! I can't wait for 233 days, 23 hours (count down shown in the marathon website, as I type this). But, to meet my sub-5 hour deadline, in that hilly stretch, I need that much time to prepare. So, the next step is a meticulous day-to-day plan for the next 230 days.

Book Review: Breaking Trail - A Climbing Life
Breaking Trail - A Climbing Life
--- Arlene Blum

Picked up this book from a friend's place in Pune, during Mumbai Marathon. On finding me browsing through it intensely, I was offered to take it to Bangalore for a read.

Arlene is a daughter of a conservative jewish single mother, and  was brought up under the supervision of her maternal grand parents. All along, she was brought up to be a good house-wife material by her grand mother. Despite that, she builds up interest in climbing, mountaineering at a very early age. She excels in academics and chooses chemistry as her major, only to know that even premier institutes like University of California at Berkeley, Stanford etc., too discriminate against women, both in a Chemistry lab and mountaineering clubs.

Breaking Trail is a little about her journey fighting in the Chemistry lab, and a lot about her fighting to conquer the tallest mountains across the world, against the discrimination against women. She succeeds in both the fronts, by being a professor at premier institutes and doing some world class research to discover carcinogenic chemicals in infant sleep wear, which leads to a world wide ban on those chemicals, and by successfully leading a hand-full of all women expeditions to conquer the world's tallest mountains (located in Europe, Africa, Russia, India, Nepal etc.,).

This book gives a first hand report of what it takes to plan a high altitude mountaineering expedition, both physically and mentally. Right from applying permit to reaching the base camp, it takes a couple of years, at times. Finding a group that can actually team up, fund raising, fitness training, hardware procurement, permits, information gathering about the mountain, meticulous planning about travel, food and gear requirement at all the camps etc., is quite a feat. All this preparation aside, more often than not, team looses a few members in each expedition. Dealing with that and moving on is part of an expedition. In some of their expeditions, they had to return with out evening confirming the deaths of the lost members, and in some expeditions, they just had to climb down leaving the bodies of some team-mates half-buried in some crevasse.

It is hard to understand what goes in their minds, when they plan the next expedition, just after returning from one, loosing half the team. Arlene says, 'High altitude mountains are the places, where I belong'. Probably, that's what make them go there, time and again, the way ordinary mortals go to the safety and comfort of home, at the end of every/any day.

Nenikekamen --- We Won !
'Nenikekamen' (We won) is the last word uttered by this greek, Pheidippides, and he collapses and dies.

2500 years back, in 490 BC, Persians lined up at a place called Marathon to take on Greeks, and to intrude into and occupy Athens. Persians could easily outnumber Athenians. The worried Athenians sent Pheidippides to run 210 KM to Sparta and seek help from the neighboring Spartans. Spartans were ready to help, but only after full-moon day, due to some religious belief. Pheidippides ran back another 210 KM to convey the bad news.

As they were running out of time, Athenians decide to take on Persians with out the help of Spartans. Though only 1/4th in terms of the number, Athenians win over Persians in the Battle of Marathon. Again Pheidippides was asked to run back to Athens to convey the news. When they had already won, why Pheidippides had to run from Marathon to Athens to convey the news ? There were multiple stories. A convincing one is Athenians decide to burn down the City of Athens (for which Persians are staging the war), in case they loose the war against Persians, not to let them get the city. For this to happen, they place a deadline in front of the soldiers heading to Marathon. If the soldiers don't come back before that deadline, Athenians would consider that they lost against Persians, and burn down the city and escape. But, they win and not much time left for the soldiers to reach Athens and convey the news. To stop Athenians from burning down their own city, our great runner, Pheidippides, was again put into business of running 42.195 KM distance between Marathon and Athens, and convey the news. Though exhausted with his run between Athens and Sparta, Pheidippides covers that distance in 3 hours and reaches Athens and shouts 'Nenikekamen (we won)' and collapses and dies. That's why the distance 42.195 KM in modern day Marathons and the name Marathon (Actually, the distance is 39.99 KM. It has become 42.195KM in 1908 Olymipics to have the finishline in front of royal viewing box. And, that's official now - God Save the Royalty!)

That is something that happened 2500 years back in 490 BC. We, in 2010 AD, after 2500 years have an opportunity to follow the foot steps of Pheidippides (and optionally shout Neikekamen and optionally die), in the same route between Marathon and Athens on 31st October 2010, in the form of Athens Classic Marathon. I have initiated a discussion on IIT_Runners group, and will hopefully find a group interested in participating in the classic Marathon, so that we can do the bookings and planning together. Though there are several travel packages and authorized agents, there is no representation in India. So, logistics itself may become an issue :(

I have 6 months to prepare. My aim is a sub 5 hour timing. The route seems to have a lot of up-hill stretches, which make it more difficult than the earlier marathons I tried. But, this is something that is running in my mind for around 2 years, and I am prepared to shell out a king's ransom to realize this dream. So, preparation for a 'sub 5-hour' timing is the easiest part of the entire attempt. I hope that I will find a like minded group, and get over logistics issues soon.

Source of the story: Wikipedia, and a few other searches.

Long Classic rides
After doing a Bangalore-Mysore ride with a learner's license, I have been waiting for the driving license to do really long rides on my Classic. Finally, I passed the test and got the license just 2 days before Auroville Marathon in Pondicherry on 14th Feb. I immediately canceled the train tickets and made plans to go to Pondicherry via Chennai and meet some friends also in Chennai.

One of my dear colleagues (now an ex-colleague) got to know about the plan and suggested to take one more along, as the bike was new and I was also new to long rides. Another colleague, Pradeep, who was going to Chennai canceled his tickets and offered to accompany me. We rode one hour each alternately and reached Vellore (en route Chennai) by night and stayed there for that night. Reached Chennai next morning and met some old buddies. Headed for Pondicherry, after picking one more marathon runner from IMSc(a co-cyclist in Goa trip), via the beautiful East Coast Road over-looking Bay of Bengal. Our first impression about Pondicherry was, 'Ah ! back to Goa', with beaches, booze and babes. But, only after entering the Auroville Ashram (Aurobindo ashram owned and maintained by a group of French), we got to know that there was a lot more to it. It seems, they bought some waste land (1000s of acres) and converted it into a self sustainable one with organic farming, cattle sheds, small scale industries etc., Though maintained by the French, a lot of locals are involved in day-to-day activities. The ashram people came up with a beautiful off-road route for the marathon and have been organizing the event for the last 3 years. The marathon route was just great through Auroville forest, most of it covered by tall trees that keep the route shady (though it was very hot and humid, even at 7 AM). There were around 1000 runners, I guess (300+ from Bangalore alone). I started riding back to Chennai, right after the run and reached Chennai by evening. Pradeep joined for the return trip too and we reached Bangalore by next morning with night halt at Vellore.

I quit HP on 19th Feb and took a week's break before joining Blue Coat on 1st March. That week gave me a chance for another long ride, this time alone.  I came up with a quadrilateral with a 1500 KM circumference (partially overlapping with the Golden Quadrilateral). Bangalore -> Tirupathi -> Guntur -> Hyderabad -> Bangalore. Visited my home town and my little darling en route. High light of the ride is the 600 KM last leg, from Hyderabad to Bangalore, which I initially thought of doing in two days, but finished in a 6 AM to 6 PM, 12 hour straight ride. Thanks to NHAI, the roads were just great. At many places work is in progress, so, one has to slow down completely. I think, in a year or two, we will have world class roads.

* Contrary to the popular belief (or at least my belief), Truck drivers are the most well behaved on high-ways. The vehicles that come from adjacent villages and towns are the most dangerous, with some nuts in front of the wheels.
* Software engineers (and their look-a-likes) and BPO cab drivers are the worst on road, with least tolerance and with their self impressed elitism.
* Safest thing to do on high-ways, when you see 2 vehicles trying to settle scores is, slow down, hum a nice song and let them finish, and then first overtake the looser and then overtake the winner. Of course, you should have at least a 350CC bike for that ;)

HP --> Blue Coat
I quit HP, just after spending 2 years and joined Blue Coat yesterday, a Network Security and Application Delivery Network company. Work would be closer to my forte (that I gained while working at NCST/CDAC). Culture is a lot different from HP. A very small and aggressive group of 70 people, just started in India (little more than 10 year old in US, with 1500 employees worldwide). Never wanted to leave HP in such a hurry. But, ...some philosophy... I have just started getting exposure within that large and old company. Formed a handful of nice closed groups. I had separate groups at work for movies, badminton, cycling, motor biking, visits to cafe-coffee-day, and of course for exploring new research areas and publish papers and file patents, after day job. Had to leave all of them and move on. I am sure, I will build most of them at the new work place in no time, but, a loss is a loss :(

Mumbai Marathon 2010

The distance run that I look forward to, the whole year. This year, the trip to Mumbai had become more than just a trip for the run. A long weekend due to Pongal, 3 more friends (Ex-Nevis, Pune, currently in Bangalore) joining me right from Bangalore for the trip and run kept the 4 day vacation very very busy.

We left Bangalore on 13th and spent the time in train in playing cards and venting out frustrations at work, and reached Pune on 14th evening. Friends at Pune were ready to receive us and treated us to an elaborate Dinner at Malaka Spice. We spent 15th too in Pune catching up with friends.

We left for Mumbai the next day and directly headed to the Marathon Expo at World Trace Center. This being THE most popular Marathon in Asia, the Expo would normally be quite lively the day before Marathon, with lot of stalls sporting performance running shoe, energy drinks, running gadgets, lifestyle products etc., I have been waiting for almost 6 months for this Expo to buy Asics running shoe, supposed to be the world's best, and available only at Mumbai Marathon Expo in India (Not any more, Reliance Footprint is bringing Asics to India soon). So, immediately after collecting the goody bag, I rushed to the Asics stall and picked Asics GT2150. This particular model is the editor's and runner's choice and shows up in the home page of Asics :-)

On the big day, we got up before 4 AM and were in a local train by 4:30 AM. The weather was innocuous and not particularly unpleasant. We were expecting a comfortable run. Soon, it turned out the other way. I was very comfortable up to 26 KM and was following strictly my 1 KM run and 1 minute walk and cruising through the cheering crowds. We reached the new sea link at Bandra at 27 KM, and mercury shot up mercilessly. To add fun to it, for some reason, organizers didn't get permission to keep water stations on the bridge. 5 KM long bridge, hot sun, no water, 26 KM run behind, perfect combination. What else one needs to test one's determination to finish the run :-). We all were game for it. Slowed down, walked, limped, dragged ourselves, but, finished.

Timing chip noted my timings as follows:
Split @ 14.7KM   - 01:44:34
Split @ 17KM      - 02:00:47
Split @ 24KM      - 02:58:49
Split @ 29.7KM   - 03:57:13
Finish Time         - 06:02:56 (42 KM) (Position - 655)

Volunteers received us with a medal and a water bottle. As usual, we rolled on the grounds of Azad Maidan for a brief time, after crossing the finish line. On our way to CST, we met an old man in his 60s, who commented on the way we were walking (We were walking, as if we were carrying a 9 month old baby). He later took out the medal he just received, after finishing the 42 KM run in just 4 hours, with bare foot. And, I was admiring my Asics for hours, the day before. ( I couldn't use them this time, as they were brand new, and thinking of improving my timing next year with them :-) )

I could spend some time in NCST, Kharghar and Bandra quarters as well. This trip had just made me look forward to Mumbai Marathon 2011 more eagerly.

Photo Courtesy: dangiankit 

Year 2009
Yet another passed. As any other year, it showed me ups and downs. There were moments of jubilation and moments of shock. The only difference being, moments of shock have been in the completely unexpected arenas.

Human relations have never been my favorite forte. At last, I tried to get into matrimony this year, after a prolonged, self imposed moratorium. And it turned out to be a disaster. A couple of my close pals at work say that I am a prejudiced moron, and that's why the disaster. I was not completely convinced and ah ! when did I let others judge me :-). So, nothing much changed.

I have always been comfortable and in good shape at work, whether it is C-DAC, an R&D lab, or the current work place. This year has not been much different (at least, I thought so, till the end of the year), with a couple of patents and papers at internal (local and global) conferences, besides a decent day job. But, some startling revelations at the end of the year gave me shock of my life.

On the positive side, Yippe...! There are quite a few. I upgraded myself to a Full-Marathon runner. Already ran 2, one in the scorching heat of Hyderabad and the other in the mid-night chill of Bangalore. And of course a Half-Marathon at Mumbai. Upgraded my cycle to a world class Merida and did a memorable 3-day Bangalore-Mysore-Bangalore ride, besides a Duathlon and a Cyclothon. I am happy to see that Anand, one of the partners of the ride, feels that, that ride was the event of the year for him. And, I am the one who initiated it. So, will humbly seize the credit :-)

I have become a regular at Youth Hostels with 2 cycling expeditions to my credit in 2009. The first one at Jalori Pass, Himachal and the latest in Goa. At the culmination of the year, Goa expedition is the undisputed king, with me having difficulty to come out of it even after 2 weeks.

I am also a proud owner of Royal Enfield Classic 350. Have already done 800 KM, with a ride to Mysore and near by places with my little darling on pillion. What else could have been a better way to start the new year ?

Oh ! That's quite a list. With the first 2 disasters balanced out long back, it doesn't look like a bad year at all.

Yet another year started. Doesn't look very promising, as of now. Anyway, a long way to go. And, things do change.

My best holiday ever !

Cycling expedition in Goa, organized by Youth Hostels. 22nd Dec to 29th Dec

I had registered for this December trip as early as in June itself, as at HP, we have predictable vacation in the form of year ending shutdown. Sahu, one of my colleagues and a partner in Bangalore-Mysore trip, wanted to join me. But online registration was full for the chosen day, soon after I could register. So, we had to settle with different dates/groups.

The meticulous me was ready with 3-4 different travel plans to and fro Goa, well in advance. Finally, I reached Goa on 21st and still had one more day to report at the base camp. Spent the day lazily at a beach resort at Colva beach, sipping some Firangi Paani and enjoying the sea food and bearing the not-so-impressive bare bodies of sun-bathers.

I reported at the base camp on 22nd. It was not the first Youth Hostel expedition for me. But, I was alone for the first time. For Himalayan trips, some colleagues or friends accompanied me. I really had no idea that, that was the last minute I would feel that I was alone.

We were a group of 17. 9 of them belong to the most common breed, software engineers from Bangalore, with 2 couples among them. 3 rare species from IMSc, Chennai pursuing Doctorates and Post-Docs. 3 from Haryana and a Dentist from Baroda and a maritime civil engineer from NCR. ( One should get an idea by now about the time we had together. For the first time, I can tell all the names and little more about each and every member of the group, after an expedition :-) ) Every one was unique and nice. A few amazed others by pedaling with their raw power and non-stop humor, a few with their melodious voice by making the camp-fires pleasant, a few with their nature consciousness by making the world a better place, and a few by silently cooperating in what ever the group does.

After a brief rock climbing and rappelling training on a false wall, we were provided with excellent full suspension, 21 speed, Merida cycles (Yeah ! Merida. I need not have to miss it this time), some of them brand new and the rest used for just one expedition. Though many of the group members were not regular cyclists, everyone got used to them on the first day local rides across Panaji. Expedition started on the next day.

Day 1: Panaji to Asolna...Collapse )

Day 2: Asolna to Netravali...Collapse )

Day 3: Netravali to DudhSagar...Collapse )

Day 4: DudhSagar to Dhargem...Collapse )

Day 5: Dhargem to Panaji...Collapse )

I usually say at the end of such rides, wow ! what a ride !! But, this time I would love to say, WOW !! WHAT A GROUP !!! Not just me, everyone in the group was with the same feeling. The next day, we all went out for breakfast to Kamath and again met for lunch and parted ways. Parted ways, but, the great time we had together will remain so, for ever. We may not meet again, or we may meet in some other Youth Hostels trek in just a few months, but, this will remain a memorable one. Whether riding the cycle, or enjoying the camp-fire in the night or silently enjoying the beautiful places that we visited or making fun of each other, we were so occupied that I don't remember even 1 hour in those 8 days when I thought about anything else. I can't thank Youth Hostels and my group members any more for making this my best holiday ever.

A few select pics...

The beastly beauty

After burning enough calories for a couple of years on my MTBs and accumulating a decent carbon credit, I felt, it is time to taste the other side too. As I don't go with just something :-), it turned out to be the latest sensation from the time tested Royal Enfield, the all new Classic.

Rode the beast home yesterday, and, I just loved it. It is the most responsive bike I had ever ridden. It has got everything just right. Comfortable seating posture, stunning looks, mind boggling power and head turning thump. I added 100 KM mileage today,  maneuvering through Bangalore traffic.

When it comes to choosing between burning calories and burning petrol, I would still go for the former. So, the poor Classic would make it to my office only alternate days, keeping the Merida schedule intact.

Bangalore Midnight Marathon
If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon.
--- Emil Zatopek (Winner of 5 KM, 10 KM and Marathon in 1952 Olympics and one of the finest distance runners ever)

That was the quote used by the organizers of Bangalore Midnight Marathon happened on 12/13 December starting at 12 mid-night. And, it was indeed an experience. Though not a first Marathon experience for me, running in the chilly Bangalore's winter night was just awesome.

When we came to know about the event from a colleague, Dilip (remember the unborn during the Cyclothon !) and I opted for full marathon. We reached the venue at 8 PM and completed the formalities. With 4 hours to cut and a strict no-no to drinking or eating and with no movies in the near by Forum Value Mall matching the time we have, we spent the time lazily, talking some random stuff and enjoying the rock music payed by some amateurs at the venue. There were a few short runs for corporates, CEOs and women followed by half and full marathon. Marathon started at the stroke of midnight.

We are fully excited and chill didn't bother us much. It was going to be the first full marathon experience for him and a second one for me (by no means, a veteran). As the route has to be kept free of vehicles and properly illuminated, it was not a straight stretch, but a 2.1 KM long one, where we have to do 10 laps (of 4.2 KM each). I did a fundamental mistake by running at his pace (which is around 40 sec/KM faster than mine) and found my left leg and foot unusable in the first lap itself. I recovered by running slowly for a while and continued. For the first four hours, there was a lot of activity in the route. By the time I got into my 7th lap, the route was almost deserted (except for a few slow runners like me and the support staff) with half marathoners and fast marathoners long gone. While I was doing my last lap, I told confidently the support staff that I was the last and they can pack-up :-) But, I was saved the credit, as I found 2-3 more going for their last lap, on my way back to the finish line. Dilip was waiting at the finish line, who finished 30 minutes before me. He clocked 5:20, a good feat for a first timer and I, a 5:50.

Our walk to the car park was again a memorable one. Hardly a few hundred meters, we limped and dragged ourselves and even avoided crossing the median, because we have to step on that (which is a few inches high) and step down on the other side :-)

I would love to end it with one more pearl from Emil:

Upon winning: "But it was the finest exhaustion I've ever felt."
--- Emil Zatopek

Of course, read 'finishing' in place of 'winning' :-)

Visit to Home-Town & Relativity
Year is about to end in a few weeks. There are some leaves that I have to use during this calender year itself. My parents are of the opinion that I have enough time to visit all the godforsaken places on earth, running or cycling, as if the world is going to end, but no time to spend a day with them at my home town. So, I ended up at home this weekend (making it an extended one).

Dad is away on a south-India pilgrimage tour with his friends and Mom is alone at home. I had been anti-social till my post college days, so absolutely no friends at my home town. 3 days with nothing to do is pathetic. Luckily, I have my laptop and Tata-Photon+ wireless modem (borrowed from a friend).

I have gone for a long walk today late evening in my home town where I did all of my schooling. Nothing much has changed. It is as poorly lit as it used to be 10-15 years back. All business areas are as chaotic (or more) as they used to be. Only major change I could notice is growth in business. And, I understood what relativity is.

All the places that used to be so distant, appear now so near. My school is just a few minutes walk from my home and I used to go on cycle at that time, and used to feel that I have to start early, if my dad was going to use that cycle on some days. Library is the farthest place in the town that I used to visit and I reached there in another few minutes now. There is a huge statue of Buddha near my home, which used to be a land mark. Now, it looks so small that I can even have it on my desktop. My grand parent's place is 20 KM away from this town and we used to visit only during Dasara, Pongal and summer holidays. Once every 3-4 months. We used to eagerly wait for these holidays. Office in Bangalore now is 18 KM one way from where I stay. So, relativity it is :-)

Book Summary: The Theory of Everything
The Theory of Everything
-- Stephen Hawking

The futile attempts to understand Stephen Hawking's Brief History of Time and Briefer History of Time, didn't kill my love for physics and here I am with yet another from the genius. This time, I am lucky. He tried to convey the 100s of years of struggle by the finest brains across the world, to understand the origin and fate of the universe, in seven brief lectures. As mathematics and complex laws were taken out completely and simple observable phenomena were used to explain the complicated theories, I could follow most of it.

Author starts with the ideas about the universe as way back as Aristotle's time, and gradually presents the transformation that happened in our understanding. The geocentric theory to heliocentric theory, static universe to expanding universe, black holes to not-so-black holes, ever existing universe to big-bang, the journey was fascinating. More over, when someone of his caliber and credentials presents 100s of years of research in such a simple way, it's hard not to appreciate.

Every single physicist, post Einstein's era (including Einstein himself after proposing relativity), seems to have believed strongly that there exists a single unified theory that explains everything, simply everything, the origin and fate of universe. Currently, there is a different set of theories to explain forces at microscopic level and a different set for astronomical. One can't explain another. But, so far they could only come up with, what such a theory should look like, but not the theory itself. The title 'The Theory of Everything' is author's wish that physicists would come up with such a theory by the end of this century, as they are a lot better off now than Einstein, in terms of the resources and know-how of universe.

I couldn't dare to call it a review, hence the title, book summary :-)

Note: (Courtesy - Wikipedia) Stephen Hawking apparently had denounced the unauthorized publication of this book. Only the publication is unauthorized, not the content.

Bangalore Circumabulation and Diwali
After passing the stage when I used to enjoy playing with crackers (yes, I don't any more), I used to roam around with friends in that time of the Diwali day, when everyone would be in front of their houses with a bunch of crackers, lighting one after another, as certain things are just as good as (or better) seen as they are done :-). I followed this Circumambulation routine mostly in my home town, where I spent almost all of my childhood. That being a small town, and as I had spent around 15 years there, we used to bump in front of some or other friend's house, once in every few minutes during our walk and spend some time and move on.

This Diwali, Anand proposed a 70 KM Bangalore Circumambulation ride on cycle, along the outer ring road, which forms a neat circle around Bangalore. As usual Sahu too joined us. We started our ride in the pleasant early morning weather. All of us got into the outer ring road at the nearest point from our respective places. Circumambulation should be done in clock wise direction, according to Hindu mythology. And, we followed it by heading towards Banasankari. The first half of the ride had been very pleasant as the weather was soothing and short up-hill and long down-hill stretches added to the pleasure. We reached Bangalore University, which is at the diagonally opposite end of the Bangalore, in a couple of hours. The road was mostly bland after that, but the Sun was not. We could pick up good speed from there, particularly between Yeshwantpur and KR Puram. By the time I reached Marthahalli, it was mid noon and I could see my fore-arms turning dark due to sun burn. But, only after reaching home and after a shower, I could realize that Lotus Sun Block with SPF-60 kept its promise :-)

Anoop invited me for a Malayalam movie in PVR in the afternoon. Kerala Varma Pazhaasi Raja, the inspirational story of a king from Kottayam area, in the later part of 18th century, who led a Guerrilla warfare against the British. Though, Namaku Malayalam Ara Illa (I don't know Malayalam), as I had gone through a few wiki pages about the King and, as words with Sanskrit origin are liberally used through out, I could follow the story with out disturbing Anoop. Mammotty did justice to the role of king and a bunch of talented actors and a few more dressed as Mallukutties contributed their diligent share.

I couldn't escape the crackers session, though I reached home a bit late. My brother and sister-in-law just caught me walking in, and I had to do my share of the Karma, by adding a few decibels.

Yesterday, the 11th of October, Bangalore witnessed a rare spectacle. Around 6000 people treated the spectators, and of course themselves, to long rides on their cycles. The first ever Cyclothon in India, BSA Hercules Cyclothon 09, happened on world class NICE road, that connects Tumkur Road and Mysore Road, on a 18 KM stretch (36 out and back).

Though as per the original plan, the ride was for 50 KM, due to the vehicular traffic carrying flood relief goods, 50 KM long road could not be reserved and organizers had to settle for 36 KM ride. Starting and ending was at Bangalore International Exhibition Centre (BIEC) on Tumkur road. BMTC had arranged Volvo buses to ferry people to the venue and back. Packers and Movers transported the cycles. We reached the venue at 7:30. I was amazed to see the crowd in the Hangers of BIEC. Thousands of people gathered to be part of the first such event in India. Lot of corporates had representation to promote some cause or just to make their presence felt. As promised, 1000+ cycles were arranged neatly to rent out to out-station participants, though they turned out to be not of great quality.

We started at 9:20 AM and I could reach the finish line by 10:50, averaging a speed of 24 KMPH. As usual, I had a gang of colleagues and ex-colleagues. While Anand was an infant in the Mysore trip, we had an unborn this time, in the form of Dilip, who just borrowed a cycle and participated. He could finish 10-15 minutes after me, and the delay could be attributed to the bad cycle that he used. Though 24 KMPH sounds good, I feel, we can do a lot better with a good road bike. My MTB is good for bad roads and no roads. But, good road bikes are available only for 40K+ in India :-(

We didn't want to use the cycle transport back to the city and started riding back to our places. The ride back home turned out to be a bit longer than the Cyclothon itself :-).

The Story of My Experiments With Partner Search
Gandhi used such a title after being considered successful in his so called experiments with truth, world over. But, Nicholas Taleb says convincingly in his book, The Black Swan, that one should listen to the losers also. Otherwise, a winner will always give only winning perspective of a process, which might result in success just randomly. One should consider so many losers out there, who exactly followed the same process, but lost.

So, though a looser by many standards, I thought that I could tell the story of my experiments :-)

When I found a right one (at least I thought so, with a questionable maturity, considering my maturity now and believing that I am not doing a Benjamin Button with my maturity) when I was barely 21, my parents shrugged it off saying that's too early, the girl is older and they have to follow a social norm that parents know better. Though she remained older till date (no Benjamin here too :-) ), they were wrong. That was not early at all. They chose not to listen to my well crafted plan that marriage will happen only at the right age, but we just need a nod before we go for higher studies. And about knowing better, time proved. Here I am, sitting in office on a 3-day weekend, blogging about a 10 year old event :-)

I pushed it away from my mind forcibly for the next many years. Again, parents know better. So, they said, it is high time. I 'realized', oh ! yeah ! let us look around (like a stupid). But, how ? This is Information Age. At the click of a mouse, you can find quite a few who are looking for someone like you. I clicked many times (buttons on my mouse are not working any more) , only to kindle the philosopher in me.

I found a whole generation out there that is confused (of course, that includes me). Almost none of them knew what are they looking for. In most of the cases, it is just appearance that matters, once social class(caste and wealth) matches. If you take out the 'It is supposed to be like that only' as one of the possible answers, they don't have answers for many questions and they can't explain many of their beliefs. Many of them even accept that this formal process and short meetings wouldn't allow anything more than that. And then, there are elders to decide who know 'everything'.

I may sound an MCP (a friend introduced this cool term), but, in a few cases, as another friend says, girls typically look for a Brad Pitt who does Sandhya Vandanam. At the same time, guys also might be looking for an Angelina who cooks thrice a day. I have no complaints against them, as it is very easy to filter them out or get filtered out by them. The problem is bigger when they just don't know. And MOST fall in this category.

One girl said, "what do you think we will get to know about each other in this 10 minutes that the formal process gave us ? Nothing. Anyway we are taking a chance. Let us not add to the hypocrisy."

Another said, "I just don't know what to do in this process. You better lead."

More often than not, you find parents talking. They even write in colonial English. They introduce their children by saying whatever they 'wanted' their child to be, when she/he was born, forgetting that they were talking about their 25 old year wish list, and their wards had been away from them for the last 10+ years. That's pure noise. No information at all. 

After all these, on finding someone, often people get over excited, and use all the cool phrases in the literature like 'The Apple of My Eye', 'My Soul Mate' etc., etc., only to end up searching for a few more cool phrases to undo the damage :-)

One of my colleagues said, "Don't complicate things. No one gets into a relationship to ruin the partner's life, as it is the same the other way also. So, if one is sensible, and adjust here and there, it should work". Sounds good. Good, if it is as simple as that.

Cycling: Bangalore-Mysore-Bangalore

3 cyclists, 300 KM, 3 days. Between Bangalore and Mysore, out and back.

I came up with this idea a month back, considering a lot of 3 day weekends that are lined up in September/October. Sahu (middle one), the owner of my old horse, jumped in when I just mentioned about this. He bought a lot of accessories for the trip, which eventually ended up costing a bit more than his cycle :-). Anand (left), an infant in ProCurve cycling club, though hesitant for a day or two, joined us by the big day. He is a proud owner of a brand new RockRider 5.3, and did just 30 KM 75 KM so far on his new baby.

We met at Domlur flyover at around 5 AM on Friday. The plan is do 100 KM on the first day and stay at Mandya and do the remaining 50 KM next day. In the early morning pleasant weather and mostly downhill road till the outskirts of the city, we started our ride at a comfortable pace. Soon, we lost the count of heads turned and vehicles slowed down, just to ask what is going on. An Audi may miss an appreciative look, but not 3 cyclists in their cycling gear rocking along a high-way :-). We reached Bidadi, 30 KM from Bangalore, for breakfast. As, none of us were used to sitting on the almost non-existent saddles of our high-end cycles for longer periods of time, we started feeling the heat bottom-up. Few hours after the breakfast, we were searching frantically for the next Cafe Coffee Day en-route, for the cozy comfort of sofas to relax for a while. Finally, we found one around mid noon, just before Maddur. With only 30 KM left as per the original plan, we rode leisurely towards Maddur and had lunch at Maddur Tiffany's. Heavy lunch did some damage to my friends and we reduced our pace further down and reached Mandya by 5 PM and checked in a Hotel.

We started at 6 AM the next morning, and did around 30 KM with empty stomachs and reached Srirangapatnam. Unlike the previous day, this stretch was a bit more challenging with elongated uphills. After having a pathetic breakfast there, we are left with just 15 KM more to reach our destination. We reached Mysore Palace by 11 AM and did a cycle salute to mark the finish of our ride, before heading to Hotel.

We treated ourselves to an elaborate lunch buffet at Royal Orchid Metropole. Later, Anand got into a bus and returned to Bangalore. I and Sahu stayed back, to ride on our way back as well. 4 more colleagues reached Mysore by a car by evening. 6 bachelors in a city full of celebrations (the famous Mysore Dasara). Though we didn't participate in the Dasara celebrations, we had a gala time in our own way (Details have been censored).

Sahu wanted to break our just made record of 100 KM in a day, and do 150 KM and reach Bangalore on the same day. When he can think of doing it on a Hero-Octane, it would be an insult to hesitate with a Merida in hand. So, I too was game. We did 45 KM and reached Mandya with out any breaks and emptying bottle after bottle of water. We had a decent breakfast at Mandya and planned to stop next at Maddur Coffee Day. This is the luxury of the chosen route. Bottled water, 5 modern coffee shops, hotels and resorts with air conditioned rooms etc., One deserves them after day long cycling :-). We did 100 KM by lunch time and stopped at Kamat-LokaRuchi for lunch.

We slept for half an hour each at a road side abandoned dhaba after lunch. Then, the inevitable happened. A flat tyre for my cycle. I inflated it a bit, so that I can pedal to the next cafe. We spent an hour taking rest and changing the tube at the cafe. It was 4:30 PM and around 45 KM to go, with practically no distance covered in the last 3 hours. We reached the outskirts of Bangalore at 6:30 PM. The toughest part was to get into the city. What ever route one takes, one can't avoid uphills, while entering into Bangalore from Mysore. Incidentally. we took the worst route for cycling and struggled through the ups and downs and reached home by 9 PM.

Sahu was on the verge of collapse and ecstatic at the same time. I was on a high, as usual. Whether it is a marathon or a day long cycle ride, the feeling would be more or less same.

Finally, a ride that is worth a Merida.