There’s the Oasis I was looking for. The hands automatically went on to the brakes and the bike screeched to a stop. They surrounded me in seconds. One offered me a banana and apple juice, another offered to fill my water bottle up and yet another stuffed my waist pouch with Horlicks Nutribars. With all that royal treatment, I felt like a King. 🙂
The Freedom Ride:
By the time I reached Novotel at 6am, the place was already abuzz with activity. Organizers were helping the riders with registration and tag distribution. I collected mine from our HBC team captain, Habib, and began to wait for Krishna. He came walking for an hour to reach Novotel along with his bike that had a flat last night. Not finding any willing soul to fix it in the night did not daunt his spirit. It only strengthened his resolve to ride on this Freedom ride. I am humbled when I see such passionate and resolute people and I get to see them all the time among this group.
There were a couple of mechanics made available in case anyone needed assistance with their bikes. It helped. We fixed the flat on Krishna’s and Srikanth’s (Team Infosys) bikes. Checked the tire pressure on all of our bikes and used the pump made available to fill them up.
The sheer number of people there with cycles was very heartening. The organizers appeared to have done a fabulous job of getting all these people at one place to ride the 62km for the 62 years of Indian Freedom. There were all kinds of bikes. From the Indian to the imported; from the rickety roadsters to the fancy geared high tech bikes; they were all there to be seen. The riders’ backgrounds were equally varied. There was a team of construction workers from one of the sponsors Alien Group (A Construction and real estate firm), Teams of employees from high flying firms like Microsoft, GE, Infosys, Avaya etc; there were scores of riders from Invesco (An investment management company and one of the sponsors) and riders from HBC along with many individual riders. That’s about 120 riders in total. There was equal number of volunteers if not more.
We moved to the flag hoisting area and the ride was flagged off after the heartwarming National Anthem. Different teams of riders started out on their 62km ride one by one. For a large majority of them it was their first long ride and after years of being away from a cycle. Many riders have bought a cycle just to be able to participate in the event and got bitten by the cycling and fitness bug.
I began the ride slowly along with team HBC and glided along. The roads were abuzz with kids on their way to school flag hoisting ceremonies. Shay, Sunil, Karthik, Sandy and Maddy went past me and formed the front pack. I’ve decided to draft behind them. These are some seriously fit individuals and keeping up with them would take all I got and much more. I would try anyway.
We went past Patancheru and guided by volunteers took a diversion towards Shakarpally. The GE volunteer camp was setup shortly after but we decided to ride along without stopping. The guys stopped after riding for an hour at 26km mark for some water and a couple of dates and chikkis that they brought along. By this time my lungs were burning from a couple of catch up chases I’ve given these guys already. Only the break they took helped me join them.
We encountered a particularly bad stretch of road here that lasted about 3km till we reached Shankarapalli-Hyderabad road. I tried to keep pace with them on my road bike on a road apt for MTBs. My trusted warrior, my Hero Hawk, complied with out complaining and took me past that bad stretch. The road towards Hyderabad from Shankarapalli was a god send. Although it offered some gradients, the smooth road meant the group kept racing along at crazy pace. Shay and Sunil let their legs loose and the rest of us kept playing catch-up with them. They managed to lose me most of the time as they raced on.
At 40km mark I saw them going past a group of people by the roadside. I was about 500m behind them and the body refused to go past the oasis of the Avaya refreshment stall. I had my share of the royal treatment and rode along thanking them for hospitality. A couple of kilometers later I saw Shay and others taking a break and asked them why they didn’t stop at the refreshment stall as I knew that their water bottles are almost empty. They decided to turn back and refuel themselves while Maddy and I proceeded to ride slowly anticipating others to join us any moment.
Maddy rode like a man possessed and left me far behind while I rode alongside Diwakar and Krishna. Diwakar who started cycling recently after a gap of 14years was representing Deloitte and was riding admirably; so was Krishna on his single speed BSA mach. After a while, we were directed to take a diversion by the volunteers and turned to go past Hindalco factory. Here, I moved ahead trying to see if I can catch up with Maddy and in the process lost Krishna and Diwakar.
I kept going through villages and was confused if I was going in the right direction as Maddy was nowhere to be seen. When I saw a milestone saying BHEL 9km, I was assured that I was heading back into the city and not away from it. I kept riding and went past Alien Space station where they were having a flag hoisting. I was to later learn that the rest of the riders had fantastic reception there too. I guess the reception party was not ready by the time we rode past it.
Near Lingampally I finally got to see Maddy who was not sure which way to go. We decided to go via Gachibowli stadium to reach Novotel. At Gachibowli stadium where I there was an encouraging downhill after a steady climb, I accelerated and kept going to reach Novotel. I was thinking that I took a wrong turn somewhere as I did not see any of the riders ahead of me. But as I approached the Novotel gate where Deena and others were waiting to receive the riders, the unbelievable news hit my ears. I was the first to complete the ride!! It took a while for me to realize that they were not kidding! 🙂
Maddy came a minute later and Diwakar followed him. Krishna came in later followed by Shay, Sunil, Karthik and Sandy. The riders kept coming as we waited and received them with warm applause. The way many guys completed the ride on roadsters and single speed bikes you wouldn’t believe if I say most of them were first time riders riding after years of not being anywhere near a cycle. Kudos to one and all who participated and completed the ride to celebrate the spirit of Freedom.
There were fun events organized at Novotel for friends and family of the riders as well followed by a sumptuous lunch. The Bike Affair, a store being opened by Krish (a fellow cyclist) &Co, had a stall displaying Merida bikes offered test rides of the bikes. One gets to ride before one could make a buy decision. Wonderful!! Some models were very good and looked value for money.
Special thanks to Deena and his organizing team, scores of volunteers from Invesco, Atlanta Foundation, GE, Avaya, Alien Group. The way the event was organized with volunteers providing directions, equally spaced refreshment stalls, SAG wagons etc., is appreciated by each and every rider. They have put in great efforts and left no stone unturned to make this ride unforgettable for all involved. Thanks to you Deena and your team for organizing this ride.
Riding time: 2:47:39
Avg Speed: 24.3kmph
Total Time: 3:01:12
Here is the link to the photos: http://picasaweb.google.com/hivenkat.d/FreedomRideACyclingOdeToTheSpiritOfFreedom20090815#
From Sunils Camera: http://picasaweb.google.com/HBCSunil/FreedomRide2009?authkey=Gv1sRgCJT_3tuizILsaQ&feat=email#