NEF Enduro3 is a team sport – an Adventure Race which tests the competitors’ physical and mental endurance. The team should cover a vast area; navigating from checkpoint to checkpoint steering past a combination of disciplines like orienteering, mountain biking, trekking, etc. This year (2014), the race was held on Feb 1st and 2nd at Pune. I considered myself a rookie as I knew hardly anything about adventure biking, and this is the prime reason for me not wanting to lead the team or organize for the race. Hence, I posted in Facebook asking if someone was looking for a teammate. Finally, on 23rd January a guy named Shane Hines from Pune replied and I never stopped dreaming about the event ever since. Shane’s father’s organization sponsored our team and we registered on January 25th with the name “Mitras on Wheels”. I had absolutely no idea about who the 3rd guy was until I met him at Pune on Jan 31st.
Fortunately, the gym and pool in my apartment building had been functional since the past few weeks, and the recent Kumaraparvatha trek in Dec 2013 highlighted my weaknesses. I concentrated on cardio and legs, thus started with tread mill, cycling, cross trainer and swimming. I geared up on the last four days before the event with following practices:
15 mins of Tread mill (Starting with speed 10 km/hr)
15 mins of Cycling (Levels 4 – 10)
15 mins of cross trainer (Intermittent levels of 4 and 8)
300 mts of swimming
And taking stairs in the office.
Diet included fruit bowl/juice, dry fruits and lots of food.
Only very essential things were packed: padded cycling shorts, gloves, toilet kit, cap, sun glasses, two pairs of clothes and charger – all fit in my tiny Wildcraft bag. I wore Kalenji running shoes for the entire course of the race.
I left for Pune from Bangalore at 9.30 PM on Jan 30th in a comfortable Airavat bus with a Puneite sitting beside me who filled in information about his work, Maharashtra and little other stuff. After checking in at Sushil Lodge in Swargate, I left for Rajiv Gandhi National Park to say Hi to fellow species. It’s a huge area around the Katrej lake with snakes, crocodiles, monkeys, antelopes, tigers, peacocks and many other animals either in caged rooms or open large areas. White peacock and white tiger were new for me. Then I met Shane (team leader) and the other teammate Shailesh, and went to Shane’s hostel near the Katrej milk diary. My qualms about the race multiplied when I learnt that they were Physical Education students who looked well-built. Being frequent cyclists they had all the gear required for the race and were ready with almost everything barring few items. Shane had arranged a mountain bike from his friend, Cannondale Five worth around half a lakh but I realized its true worth only during the race. He himself had Trek and Shailesh Cannondale Six. We shopped in the evening and I retired to bed and slept which was very essential before the race.
The race was divided across categories: Open Mix, Amateur Mix, Amateur All Men, Corporate/IT Mix, Media, Junior and College. Open Mix had the toughest route with Amateur’s route almost close to it. Our team was called AMM11. The flag off event was at Kataria High School near Swargate and everyone had assembled to mark the start of NEF Enduro3 – 2014. We were given the route maps, jerseys, cap and ID card. The route was around the backwaters of dams located around 40km southwest of Pune. Varasgaon dam and Panshet dam embanks the Mutha river’s two tributaries in the North and South respectively. The dams are located in the eastern part and two main narrow lakes (backwater) stretch to the west. We had to start from the eastern part of northern lake, trace the bank of the lake for around 21kms then do hike and bike to touch the southern lake. We then had to park the cycles at a village called Mangoan, then do a loop of around 50kms of trekking in Sahyadri hills and then collect the cycles and ride back to Panshet dam tracing the southern lake, which was about 40kms. I could see multi-national people all excited and ready to cycle the red carpet. Yes, it was nothing short of a red carpet and cycling on it was one of the most awesome feelings I had ever experienced. Drummers, photographers, etc. had lined it and cycling amidst them I felt no less than a celebrity. I just hoped that I complete the race to be worthy of this feeling. We had to cycle till Mhatre bridge and then use own transport till Panshet to start the race. We put our cycles on a small tempo where Shane and I sat in the back enjoying the curiosity and the cheer of the onlookers.
Cycling Part 1:
As there were a number of categories, ours began at 12.55 PM sharp. Everyone enjoyed the first long ride downhill only to realize that we had taken the wrong route. We had to climb all the way back and thus the steepest cycling climb in the first day’s race was due to a wrong turn taken. After this it was a straightforward route where we just traced the lake on a rough non tar terrain. To my horror, the back brake lost its 90% of power in a short distance. Shailesh couldn’t check this the previous day as it was hydraulic disk brake which required some kind of oil to repair. I managed the rest of the bumpy route by holding the full back brake and to spare the front brake, I used it only on reaching the maximum speed near the turns. We reached the first checkpoint and got filled the sheet with time and stamp. We started with the next stretch without wasting much time.
Hike and Bike:
This was the most exhausting part, as we had to reach the southern lake by crossing a series of hills which were around 45 degrees steep. We had to either push or lift the cycle entire stretch. After exhausting ourselves after the first few meters of pushing, we saw a team smartly handling the situation by carrying the cycle in pairs. This required double the number rounds but reduced the amount of stress. We followed suit and managed to cover some more distance after we which we went back to one cycle each. We cycled for a small stretch at the top and it was a beautiful experience to cycle on the hill with a panoramic view of Sahyadri hills. Somewhere while pushing the cycle, I fell and injured my right knee. Fortunately it didn’t hurt much and continued with less hesitation. We reached the next checkpoint, Kashedi top after which it was a steep downhill. I initially found this stretch easy but gravity acted at its best during the steep slope and it became increasingly difficult to hold on to the skidding cycle. Carefully and slowly I managed to reach the bottom by dancing all around the cycle.
Cycling Part 2:
This stretch after the checkpoint at Tekpole fork wasn’t filled with surprises other than the muddy road which caused our cycles to skid. It started getting dark and as I didn’t have a torch on my cycle, I was put in between with Shailesh and Shane, with Shailesh leading the way. I didn’t exert myself much as I wanted to save my energy for whatever was waiting for us ahead. We soon reached the next checkpoint at Mangaon village where we parked our cycles to start with the trekking.
Trekking Part 1:
It was around 7.45 PM and we started on foot with again only 2 torches out. For the first time I somehow felt like checking the route on GPS. I took out my cell and came to a conclusion that we were heading on the wrong route. After much argument with Shane to go back, we went to the village and asked for the route to Dighi School which was the next checkpoint. We indeed had been on the wrong route. It was an uphill mud road to Dighi School and we took help of the fellow racers and footsteps to validate the path. The checkpoints were marked with blinking red and green lights. It was around 10.30 PM by the time we reached the school. I just sat in the cold to relax myself while the others refilled water supplies. The following route was tortuous and there was an increased possibility of getting lost. So we made sure we stuck with other people while trekking. Once when we were alone we had 4 routes in front of us and after walking some distance Shane and Shailesh found that dry leaves filled the path and they weren’t smothered which cautioned them of possible wrong route. They were right and I admired their presence of mind and knowledge. We waited for others to come, tagged along with them and frequently found the arrow marks directing to the next checkpoint. On the way we found the marshalls(organizers) who warned us of the dangerous route ahead. So we took out one more torch so that each had one and crossed the most dangerous stretch of the entire race. At some places the trail was so narrow that there was nothing but free fall into the valley to our right. Following this was a steep slippery downhill to the next checkpoint Warangi. Night trekking was a different and soothing experience compared to tiring cycling and hike and bike. Shane was furious that we left him behind during the downhill and he didn’t speak to me till the next morning. Shailesh and I rested at Warangi where the cold gradually caught up. We used camp fire’s help to warm ourselves. We then started for Sandoshi after crossing the labyrinth like Warrangi village when Shane caught up. We stopped midway as Shane decided to take a break. I fell asleep unknowingly and on being woken up by Shailesh I realized Shane had moved forward without even informing us. We reached a village from where 2 teams were searching for the right route out. Some had already slept too. It was around 4.30 AM and one of them woke a villager to ask for the route. Without getting irritated, the first thing the villager asked was if we wanted some water. I was stumped at the kind behavior and usually such gestures energize me and bring a smile on my face. He with his relative, walked with us all the way to the next checkpoint which was around 3 kms ahead. Thanking them wholeheartedly we reached Sandoshi checkpoint at 5.30AM where we had to take mandatory rest for four hours. I suddenly retired to cut sleep in the temple premises nearby only to be woken up at 7 AM with doubly shocking news.
Day 2: Trekking Part 2 – Endure the Enduro:
As we were one of the tail enders, at 7 AM, the Marshall made an announcement that we could override the mandatory rest period and continue with the race and those reaching the Mangaon village (Cycle parked area) after 1PM would be disqualified. To make matters worse Shane had got blisters and Shailesh had a swollen leg. After listening to the fact that Mangaon was 3.5 – 4 hour trek from there, they both decided to quit the race and opted for transport back to Pune. I knew that trekking/hiking was my strength and undeterred, chose to continue with the expedition. After having Pakodas and chocolate, I tagged along with two others and started with the most difficult trekking leg of the race. It was almost continuous steep uphill for 2.5 hours and I carried on with very few breaks. I reached the next checkpoint, Garjaiwadi which was near the top of the mountain and heard the most discouraging thing. A kid there told that Mangaon village was 25 km from there and I had to literally walk till there in the hot sun. Again, I wasn’t deterred, I dedicated the expedition to my dad and decided to carry on till the failure of any organ. This part was the most depressing one, just plain walking on the mud road and tar road in the hot sun. One of the persons whom I had tagged along during the morning trek told me that he had run an ultra-marathon of 100km and I had done a run with only one zero after 1. He started running after few km from which I was inspired and I started running during the downhill. But again, I was careful not to hurt my knee any further. This ultra-guy went out of sight and I joined another group at Tekpole fork. When I reached Mangaon village at 2.30 PM, I had walked for whopping 25 kms since morning. Absence of blisters or any kind of major pain was nothing short of a miracle. I got the stamp and continued on cycle to Panshet Dam.
Cycling Part 3:
I enquired the other team for available cycling gear as I had none and didn’t know what to do even if I had one. They were ready to help me in case anything went wrong and we started the 40 km ride to the finish line which I surmised of covering 10km/hour. The road was very good with intermittent ups and downs. The organizers were winding up by the time we reached Thangaon for river crossing and rifle shooting. So, we were allowed to go further without doing these activities and were told that regardless of the time we reach, we would be awarded the completion medal. I filled water and got onto cycling to complete the last stretch. But as I continued, my back started hurting a lot and I emptied the water bag to reduce the strain. I got slow due to exhaustion and Kamlesh, the cyclist in the other team, kept waiting for me every time I was out of sight. He being a fellow competitor and though we hardly knew each other, the fact that he still stopped to make sure of my well-being really touched my heart. I rejoiced the ampleness of humanity I was experiencing. I am so grateful to this team with whom I cycled the last 40 km. Finally I reached the finish line only to feel proud at this amazing unbelievable feat. I had pushed too far this time but still succeeded. This was truly a dream come true. I lifted the cycle for a pose, got the finishing medal and thanked people. I met Shane and Shailesh there who had come with the tempo to collect their cycles. I put my cycle on the tempo, got on the bike with Shailesh to reach Pune. I literally slept several times on the bike way back because of which I asked him to put me on a bus. Somewhere 20km from Pune, got into a bus, reached Swargate and checked into the lodge. I guess I had never been this sleepy before, as I could barely keep my eyes open. I had pizzas and went to sleep. The next day I met my school friend, collected the certificate at the prize distribution ceremony and left for Bangalore at night with my chest swelling with pride.
I was overwhelmed with the experiences during the race: cycling on the mountain, trekking in the night, moving in a team, experiencing shades of humanity, to name a few. Some were good at cycling, some at navigating and few others at trekking. I felt really nice being a jack of all, due to which I finished the race without any major hassles. I can now confidently say that I am no more a rookie in adventures.
This is how I managed to complete the toughest adventure race in India:
• All-round training: Cardio, legs. Swimming helped in overall development I guess.
• By not pushing hard enough in any stretch. Always was in energy saving mode.
• Consumption of nutrients daily: Sprouts, dry fruits.
• With the help and love of numerous people.
• The most important ingredient: Will power.