Day 4 : “It’s not the mountains we conquer but ourselves”, Edmund Hilary .
Distance 104 km,
Elevation gain 3140 m,
Moving time 7.55 min
Conquering the Italian Dolomites was the dream we dreamt for the last 8 months…. And the day was here!
The ride started as usual with a 5.30am bag drop. There was a eerie stillness in the air during breakfast, as if the riders were about to go to the battle front. And boy, battlefront it definitely was 😊😊.
8 miles into the ride, we came face to face with our first climb, Passo Valles, a 2037 metre climb over 26km …. The route was spectacular, resplendant with gushing waterfalls and pristine emerald green lakes.
The company was varied. Caught up with Milind. Reminiscing of memories from our past from 1997, of experiencing the first snowfall together and long walks with the then chubby toddler Varun took us happily through a few miles. Cruising behind the father son duo Ashutosh – Parth / Sunil – Miheer was equally interesting. They kept pace with each other and encouraged each other to go ahead at times. Moments like these are the cementing blocks of any relationship and it felt beautiful. Watching them reminded me that somewhere in front even Ram and Varun were creating history together. The latter half of the climb was with Vijay, one of my ideal cycling partners….. We climbed slowly and steadily to the beats of music, trying to chat intermittently about life in general but knowing that nothing could distract us from the difficulties ahead.
Soon we reached Passo Valles and after the customary photos etc, the thrilling and knuckle buckling descent started. My music playlist changed to all the soothing numbers and I was in seventh heaven on the loop of Ae Zindagi gale laga le….
Following lunch break, everything changed and soon the climbs started again. The much awaited hair pin loops went on for 30km and soon I realised that everything that I was holding on to dearly in this journey was slipping away from me.
Ram and Varun zoomed past me. Vijay decided to take an extra long break in anticipation of the climb. At the 4th bend, when Parth declared that we had 29 bends in all, Subhash lost it and just charged ahead , disappearing for the rest of the day.
My phone battery soon died down and at that point, I suddenly realised that I was on my own….. The feeling was immense, being surrounded by colossal mountains, the light air closing down heavily upon me, silence so loud that it was deafening. Soon, a new sensation set in, I felt totally disconnected from myself and everything that belonged to me. It was as if I was up in the clouds, watching this lone figure struggling her way up the killer climbs. All I felt was the need to just move on and that’s all I did. A cleansed soul, it was pure and devoid of any emotions…..
But that didn’t last for long. At turn 17, I decided that enough was enough, my mind suddenly connected itself and chided me for my actions. I was not getting any younger, I was not getting any medals or accolades for this, was I? So why was I going thru this pain…..I tried to flag the support van down but they thought I was waving at them and they waved back merrily and went away. The skies opened up after that and as if laughing at me, soaked me to the bone. I took shelter in a nearby hut but it was only turn 20 and I had 8 more km to go. I was in tears, I just wanted to stop, I just wanted to be somewhere warm, but there was no choice but to carry on.
My mind wandered to all those who had left me, to those who were going through either battles in life. My speed was barely recordable and I was stopping after every few metres. At a distance I saw the faint outlines of some of our cyclists and soon enough, Ram and Varun came up. They were such a beautiful sight to see and I immediately announced my decision to stop cycling. Ram cycled for a while with me, and reasoned that if I have done marathons, I should be able to do this easily.
That was my wake up call….. Yes, I was a marathoner, and a proud one at that. How could I give up now?! One thing that the marathons have taught me was never to give up, and so with this renewed vigor, I pumped ahead, the end in sight…..
Alas, a few minutes into my new pumped up avatar, I heard Ram shouting out to the support team that I wanted a break and a lift!!! I went into a total apoplectic shock, refusing velhmently to get into the support van! I had climbed the steepest and most difficult climb of the Giro d’Italia, not to give up in the last 800 m.
A few metres ahead, I could see the happy yellow jersey of Nandu, waiting to push me through the final 500m and I cried out in joy!!! Nandu and me raced to the top, him running and me cycling and soon enough I was reunited with my flock. A blur of green helmet came rushing through and enveloped me into a tight hug, whispering we did it, we did it….. Kalpa!!!! My partner in crime in all these adventures, who savoured each and every breath of the mountain air….
Ram was waiting at the top, super thrilled and excited…..Passo Giau was finally conquered!! 30km of uphill climbing, 2230mt high.
“It’s not the mountains we conquer but ourselves”, Edmund Hilary .