Dec 21, 2011

Failing Gracefully

No, this is not about how to design/build software which fails gracefully. This is a short commentary on my recent Did Not Finish (DNF) on the 300 Km Kolar Gold Fields (KGF) Brevet ride. 

For those not familiar with what a Brevet ride is: it is a self supported non competitive time bound bike ride. The 300 Km KGF Brevet ride would take us across 3 states and we had to cover 313 Km in 20 hours at an average speed of over 15 Kmph. I had previously done a 300 Km Brevet ride so was quite confident of completing this as well. 

But what a crazy ride it ended up to be. The ride started at 6.00 AM from MG Road metro station. It was great riding in the fog all the way up to Hoskote where we turned right towards Malur. This is where the state highways and village roads started. In addition to this had a consistent wind resistance for most of the ride. The weather was good and while there were bad stretches of roads, the tree cover on both sides of the road provided protection from the Sun. Rode through nice stretches but was always under the gun to keep moving - was averaging right around 15 Kmph including the breaks. Took only short breaks to eat and stretch. 

Reached Pernambut @ 3.00 PM but missed the SBI ATM which was the second control point. Went back in search of this and lost precious 30 minutes. Checked in to the control station just in the nick of time - had covered 143 Km in 9.5 hours. Reached Vaniambadi toll booth around 6.00 PM - had covered 182 Km in 12 hours. Took a rest break here and saw 7-8 riders pass by. While I was happy that I was not way behind the others till this point, I was worried about what lay ahead. I was averaging 15 Kmph at this point and the remaining 131 Km ride would be in cold, dark and include a tough 50 Km climbing ride from Krishnagiri to Hosur. This is where I decided to not ride in the dark but take a bus back to Bangalore from Krishnagiri instead. Reached Bargur around 8.00 PM and had dinner here. Thought I would try and get a bus right from here and waited for 30 minutes to get a bus but no luck. Again got into bike gear and rode to Krishnagiri and requested/argued with the conductors to take me & the bike to Bangalore. Thankfully had luck on the second try itself and after securing the bike on the top, deposited myself on an empty seat for a cold uncomfortable drive back to Bangalore. Reached at 00.30, got the bike down and rode home to reach around 1.20 to end a day of painful riding.

Fellow rider Parag later learnt about my DNF and enquired if I was okay. Informed him that I was okay but decided to quit as I did not want to ride in the night. My idea of a good bike ride is where you get to enjoy the ride and not just burn the Kms. Honestly I was in a pretty bad mood riding through the nice villages. Did not even exchange pleasantries with the village folks which I usually do on a ride. I guess no more Brevet rides for me... but hey! you never know :-). 

Couple of tech highlights of the ride:

Map My Ride: I developed an application using which a rider could mark one's location on a ride and anyone could track the progress of riders. I could not use the app very well as my iPhone did not seem to work very well but Devaraj marked his position throughout the ride - Thanks for checking out the app Devaraj. My thought now is that this app is better used by tourers and not in time bound events as time is of the essence in these rides and geolocation + marking location takes some time - I did end up wasting quite a bit of my time trying to locate myself and mark my location. You can check out the app here: Map My Ride. Suggestions for enhancements are welcome. 
Map My Ride - Mark Location Screen
Rider Progress - Devaraj & Shashi's Updates
Solar Charging Garmin: I had purchased a Solar Monkey solar charger on a recent trip to London but had never used it till now. I used this charger on this ride and am happy to report that my Garmin Forerunner 305, which usually runs out of battery in 13-14 hours, survived the entire ride - home to home - around 18 hours and still had some juice left in it. I think I can get it to work even more effectively if I am able to position the solar panel well. Check out the setup below. 
Solar Monkey & Solar Nut charging my Garmin Forerunner 305

The power of Community Development

Over the past few months the site was rebuilt on Heroku and Code contributed by developers across 8 countries over 22 challenges was used to rebuild the site. Proud to say that I have been a part of this journey. Read more on the Cloudspokes Blog

Dec 6, 2011

Bangalore to Chennai Ride

It's been a while since I did much of regular cycling. Since Aug 2011, couple of overseas travels, unseasonal and (often unpredictable) Bangalore rains, the time I have been spending lately learning and using cool and exciting cloud technologies and finally plain laziness have kept me off the bike. So much so that it started showing on the waistline as well. 

So when my parents and few other relatives decided to visit my cousin in Chennai, I figured why not ride to Chennai and return in bus along with them. Chennai appeared to be a good choice as I would be riding with loaded panniers and the route did not have many climbs. Thus the plan was born. 

The total distance to be covered was around 342 Km. My gameplan was as follows: 

  • Ride with minimal breaks
  • Start the ride early in the morning and end by early evening
  • Take rest during mid day when the Sun is at its scorching best
  • Ride as much as possible on Day 1 so that I reach Chennai early on Day 2 and spend more time with family. Vellore was the planned target for Day 1. 

Packed my two pannier bags as follows: 
  • Bag 1 - change of clothes at end of Day 1, fresh riding clothes for Day 2, two tubes and puncture kit. 
  • Bag 2 - Extra 1 litre bottle of water, 1/2 litre bottle of orange juice, sandwiches (packed by wife in the morning), air pump, tools, gatorade, torch, wet wipes, almonds and raisins. 
Day 1 - Saturday, 3/Dec/2011
Started from home at around 3.30 AM. Before long passed silk board and then stayed on the service lane all the way till past Electronic city. Stopped at the A2B before Krishnagiri at around 7.00 AM with the Garmin indicating 71 Km. Had a couple of sandwiches and a coffee and re started the ride around 7.30 AM. Saw Chiddu and Parag on the other side of the road returning from their Krishnagiri ride. Could wave and shout out only to Parag as Chiddu had passed me before I could react. We gave each other a thumbs up and moved on in our respective directions. Quite an uneventful ride till around 11.00 AM when the Sun started getting intense. The breeze which was against me was actually quite welcome due to the cooling effect. Passed by a town called Ambur which I later came to know is famous for leather and shoe works. Saw lots of small and large factories dealing with leather and shoes. Also passed by a small coir establishment - Could see some of the processing from road. It's a wonder how every part of the coconut plant is utilized in some form or other. I wanted to break for lunch only after completing half the distance to Chennai and also at a place where I could take some rest during the peak afternoon. Found a temple on the road side which had a resting area. Decided to take a break here for lunch. The Garmin showed 171 Km and the time was 12.25 PM. Washed up, had the remaining sandwiches and slept for some time after securing the bike. Left from here around 2.00 PM for the final leg of travel for the day. While the Sun still fell hot at 2.00 PM, post 3.00 PM, the heat was not that intense and was quite comfortable. Reached Vellore around 4.30 PM but decided to continue onto the next town Ranipet as there was still daylight and I was feeling strong. Reached Ranipet around 5.30 PM and found a hotel right at the edge of the town. The hotel was not so great and actually quite shady but I figured "will just be sleeping here and it is right on the highway" and so decided to stay there. Washed up, went out and had some food, got some water & bananas for next day. Got back to the hotel and after cleaning the bike and setting the alarm for the next day, went to sleep early at 9.00 PM. 

Day 2 - Sunday, 4/Dec/2011
Woke up around 3.45 AM and quickly got ready and hit the road at 4.18 AM. Was riding in a new area in dark so though I was using two sets of front and rear lights, was waiting for the dawn. The hints of daylight started around 5.45 AM but since the fog was rolling in, saw the first glimpse of Sun only around 7.00 AM. After passing Sriperumbudur, got off the main highway and took inside roads to head towards the Airport. I had another 30 odd Kms to cover. The roads were bad in stretches. Passed a glass recycling area - had never seen so much broken glass in one place. Crossed a stream of water on foot carrying the bike - contemplated removing my shoes but since it was only a short stretch to the destination I just walked through the water. Since it was a Sunday and feast day, saw several places selling pig meat - in fact at one place saw a whole pig head next to the meat - wow! Pretty soon I could see planes making their approach to landing - I was close to the destination. Covered the last few Kms quickly and with some directions from a traffic policeman arrived at my cousin's home in Nanganallur. Was received warmly by her family and thus ended my ride to Chennai. 

Some Gyan
While the whole ride was quite uneventful - no punctures or breakdowns, no accidents or altercations, no wrong turns, no running out of water - the ride itself made me come to a few conclusions:
  • While it may sound like a cliché, it is true that the longest of journeys begin with that first step or in this case the first pedal. Till the time I came out of my home on Saturday morning, I was not sure whether I would start or no. But I just told myself "Lets go for it. You can always stop and return.". 
  • While touring, don't aim for speed and higher gears. Keep at lower gears and keep going. I was myself surprised that though I rode for long stretches in 2 x 3, 2 x 4 & 2 x 5 combinations, I still had an overall riding average of over 20 Kmph. 
  • Be prepared - food, drink and tools. Though I didn't have to use the tools, it was calming to know I had the tools to do basic fixes and puncture repair if I needed to. I always made sure I had a reserve of water with me and would stop to buy water before I ran out of it. 
  • It is difficult to keep riding on and on. On this route, the pedalling is not difficult as it is a fairly flat route with the few uphills being only the ramps to bypass the towns and cross the occasional stream and railway tracks. The catch is how do you motivate yourself to keep going. I just kept at it visualizing the bed at the end of the day, the nice food I would have at the end of the day and the get together with the family members after so many days. Visualizing a nice end or a goal is always a good motivation to keep you going - whether it is cycling or something you are aiming for in life. I have myself found this technique work for me many a time. 
  • Day 1 - 238 Km - 11 Hours 20 Minutes riding time, 14 Hours elapsed time
  • Day 2 - 105 Km - 5 Hours 30 Minutes riding time, 6 Hours 10 Minutes elapsed time
  • Intake:
    • Food - 6 2-slice Potato sandwiches, 7 Bananas, 1 Orange, 3 Idlis, 1 Vada, handful of almonds and raisins
    • Fluids - 6 Litres of water, 1 small coke, 1/2 litre orange juice and 6 packs of Gatorade 
I did not take too many pictures on this trip to not lose time but here are a few. Not sure how many of you have seen this type of grasshoppers. They used to be a regular sight in U.P. where I grew up but haven't seen any here in Karnataka, Andhra or Maharashtra.