Visually impaired runner, Sagar Baheti talks about his experience of completing the Deccan Cliffhanger Challenge.
“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience” – Eleanor Roosevelt.
This inspiring line from the former first lady of the United States certainly comes to mind every time I think of the ‘Adventures Beyond Barriers Foundation (ABBF)’.
The ABBF is a non-profit organization that promotes inclusivity through adaptive adventure and sports activities for all people (with and without disability). They achieve this by creating opportunities for people to come together, experience the adrenaline and camaraderie that only sport has to offer.
The ABBF helped bring me and 7 other fantastic individuals come together so that we could have the privilege of competing in the ‘Deccan Cliffhanger Challenge’ this year and I would love to share my journey on this incredible adventure.
The Deccan Cliffhanger challenge is a cycle ride that covers a distance of 643KMS between Pune and Goa and all of it to be done in under 30 hours – simple enough, isn’t it? Hardly, but the gorgeous scenery, verdant greenery, and picturesque locales more than make-up for the challenges this ride has to throw at you.
I was looking forward to the day of the race and also to share this journey with 7 other riders who came from Pune, Mumbai, and Bangalore. Four of us had vision disability (Divyanshu, Sanket, Manasvi, and Sagar) being stokers and four captains (Bharath, Nupur, Kailash and Raju). Despite the lack of adequate practice, we were all super excited to take part in this ride.
Before the race
November 24, 2018. 04:45 AM
I (and the rest of us) stood giddy with excitement at the start point of the Deccan Cliffhanger ultra-cycling race. I was nervous beyond measure as it was my first tandem cycling event and it mattered a lot to me. But, the excitement of being part of a team trying to attempt such a stupendous task quickly overshadowed my nervousness. We were the only inclusive cycling team in the race and I did not want to let my team down.
Divyanshu and Bharat, the most experienced riders started and the goal was to maintain our speed at 25 kmph and we hoped to achieve this by making quick changeovers.
It was also my first experience of a relay race, which requires you to do your assigned part but also being mentally ready to back-up your team members if need be. The crew and support team play a significant role in making sure that we don’t lose time during changeovers and be alert to handle any unforeseen situations that may come up.
The trail and the terrain
This route can be divided into three parts,
- The toughest of all – maximum elevation
- Mostly highway with rolling terrain and
- Downhill into Goa with a few small climbs.
The good thing about this course is that the most difficult piece is right up front and you can get done with it when you’re fresh. It is key to maintain a decent pace but also, we needed to be careful that we didn’t push too hard as it is a long race.
For the second part of the race, we had to focus on improving our average speed because this is mostly rolling terrain. However, there is a small challenge – it has to be at night! Your tired muscles aside, the chill of the night makes it really easy for you to fall asleep during the short breaks.
The final leg of the race is mostly downhill which is less demanding but after riding all night, staying on the bike is a challenge itself. As the sun comes out, it makes it even harder but you push on knowing that the endpoint is only a few hours away.
So, how did we do?
Our strategy worked pretty well throughout the race. In the first part, which is the toughest, Nupur and Sanket did especially well despite the steep hills and the sun beating down on them. It was extremely demanding on the legs and it left our bodies severely dehydrated. Divyanshu and Bharat kept the pace up as well and supported Nupur and Sanket. In the second half, Kailash, and Manasvi did a great job while Raju and I kept pushing on to improve our the average speed.
There were times at night when some pairs had to continue longer and we had to make changes in pairs to fill in for each other. Our tired legs and minds wanted to rest and sleep, but we backed each other, the crew motivated us and we also had a speaker held out by one of the crew members playing peppy tracks to keep our spirits high. We held on as a few rested so they could come back in the morning for the last part.
It took a near superhuman effort for us to get through the night part of the race but when we turned off the highway from Belgaum to Goa, there was a sudden burst of energy from us. It was almost like the rising sun had healed our tiring minds and bodies.
With the end point a few hours away, we really pushed on and despite being on track for an under-30 finish, we wanted to achieve our best possible timing. We made some quick changeovers and with each passing kilometre, we felt enthusiastic that we were going to achieve something awesome. We finished in 29hours and 38 mins with Nupur, Sanket, Kailash and our youngest rider Manasvi riding past like they were just getting started! Not a single rider or support crew looked like they had been up for the last 30 hours!
It was finally over and time to celebrate!
In ultra-cycling and relay racing, the crew and support play an important role. Vaishak, Swamy, Tanya, Nikunj, Sandip, Pavan, Jon and all the drivers who formed the crew and support played an equivalent role in helping us achieve this result. We didn’t have to bother about anything other than riding. Nutrition, bikes and our tempers were all managed perfectly.
I enjoyed every bit of it and was happy to play my part. Like any endurance event, it was mind over body and I think that’s why training your mind is as important if not more as physical training. Being part of a team in an endurance event was new to me and was a great experience.
Tandem cycling is very new in India and we have a long way to go. For many serious solo cyclists, tandem cycling still seems like leisure cycling. It requires coordination between two people and that’s probably more challenging in a race setting. ABBF has been and continues to do a great job in promoting inclusive tandem cycling. And with this achievement, it sure will be taken seriously by all other cycling organisations in India.
This timing helps our team qualify for the greatest amateur cycling event in the world – RAAM – Race across America. It is a 3000-mile race literally all across America!
Will we go for it? Something for us to ponder about?