ON A BICYCLE / MUMBAI-GOA

Photo: Shyam G Menon

Cycling from Mumbai to Goa is a popular endeavor undertaken by many. The journey is approximately 550km long and is usually done via roads hugging the Konkan coast although some seeking faster passage are known to take the highway. Each rider has his / her set of reflections. These are mine:

Summary

Mumbai-Goa: the pairing is old.

I didn’t know of people cycling between the two places, till into my thirties, working in Mumbai and more importantly – member of the outdoor club, Girivihar. In 2002, Rajneesh Gore, a club member, cycled to Goa with a friend and wrote a book on it called Goa on a Cycle. That was my introduction to the Mumbai-Goa cycling bug, later packaged into group-trips by commercial service providers and done by many every year. In December 2019, Prashant Venugopal, friend and fellow club member at Girivihar, decided to avail his annual leave from work. As residents of the same suburb in Navi Mumbai, we had done a couple of single day bicycle trips of 100km and more. We decided to attempt Mumbai-Goa via the coastal route, unsupported or as some call it, self-supported. However, we weren’t going to carry tent and stove. Those two needs – stay and food – we decided to pay and obtain on the way. Much of the rest – and there is a bit therein ranging from hydration to snacks, clothes, first aid kit, pump, locks and bike repair tools – we decided to carry ourselves.

Goa on a Cycle; the book by Rajneesh Gore

There was a reason for the above mentioned self-supported approach. As freelance journalist surviving frugally, I cannot afford commercial service providers although I would love to be client having support vehicle, hired mechanic, prearranged places to stay and no luggage carried on bicycle. Who wouldn’t? At the same time, as a once active hiker-climber, I am used to trading speed and achievement for the slower world of progress with all that you need lugged alongside. Not to mention – a major challenge in contemporary life (if challenge also be what you want) is not making things faster but slowing them down. Can the competitive mind with voracious appetite for distinctions, take it easy, be patient? Can it feast on life’s innocuous details, life’s ordinaries instead of the brag-worthy conquests? Over the years, little by little, we had accumulated some of the gear required for bicycle touring. All we needed to do was, load up the pannier bags and cast off.

Prashant (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

To get us started, we needed a route map. That was easily found on the Internet. In our case, we picked the route available on the website of Add-Venture India, a commercial enterprise in Navi Mumbai started by a couple of Girivihar members, which among its activities, offers an annual cycle trip to Goa. It provided an overview of the route they followed; the rest we filled in ourselves or decided to figure out as we went along. Early morning, December 16, we pushed off. Less than seven days later, on the afternoon of December 22, we reached Panjim in Goa. Like most other denizens of the urban universe, we too ended up slaves of haste working our schedule back from limited number of days to spare. We kept a disciplined grind of cycling from 6AM every morning to about 6PM with a break of little over an hour for lunch, which isn’t recommended pattern, for the right way is to avoid wasting yourself in the warmest hours of the day. Our indestructibility wilted slowly. By around midway through the trip we were very mortal and most accepting of the laws deciding human limits. At Panjim, we loaded self and bicycle into one of those Volvo buses headed to Mumbai; suffered a vehicle breakdown near Kolhapur, changed bus to Pune, changed bus again at Pune and eventually reached Mumbai happy to sink our sore butts into the comfort of cushions and mattresses.

The poster we saw on a ferry boat (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

The route

Most commercial operators commence their cycling from Alibag after taking the ferry from South Mumbai’s Gateway of India. Given Prashant and I live in Navi Mumbai, we cycled through Uran to Karanja, took the ferry there to Rewas and then pedaled on to Alibag. That first day, ended in Murud.  Day 2: Murud – Agardanda – Dighi – Borli Panchatan – Harihareshwar – Bagmandla – Veswi – Kelshi. Day 3: Kelshi – Anjarle – Karde – Dapoli – Dabhol – Dabhol ferry – Dhopave – Guhagar. Day 4: Guhagar – Palshet – Velneshwar – Tawsal ferry – Jaigad – Ganpatipule – Ratnagiri – Pawas. Day 5: Pawas – Purnagad – Jaitapur – Padel – Devgad – Kunkeshwar. Day 6: Kunkeshwar – Achara – Malvan – Parule – Vengurla. Day 7: Vengurla – Aramabol – Panjim. This route likely includes some creative connections we opted for, making it marginally different from the original route map we had. For instance, both of us like ferries and didn’t waste a single ferry that presented itself as potential onward link. This was thanks in the main to a poster we spotted – we saw it first on the Agardanda-Dighi ferry – which listed the ferries along the Konkan coast. It also ensured that we remained close to the coast and never very far from the sea. When hard at work, I have a tendency to hunker down and slog in tunnel vision. I miss noticing the world. I am also not digital savvy; I prefer to ask people for directions. So credit for whatever adoption of navigation’s modern avatar we did, should go to Prashant, who is comparatively more comfortable with apps and Google.

A scene from the trip (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

An easy way to visualize route

Keep your palm face down on the table. Now imagine climbing up each finger, then down into the cleft in between and up again over the next finger. That’s how our route was – it was relentless uphill, downhill. Every time you descend to sea level and find a bridge, ferry or beach, you know there is an ascent waiting, not far away.  Each segment of elevation gain is not significant compared to the height and size of hills elsewhere in India. What plays with your mind is the relentlessness of the up-down mix, which serves as idiom for the trip. It should also be mentioned that there are some sharp, stiff inclines served without notice and sometimes, served with notice, which the urban ego then shapes into a competitive tussle. It reminded me of lessons learnt in hiking. It took many hikes to abandon the competitive streak, discover one’s steady, sustainable pace and then gradually improve efficiencies therein. On the Mumbai-Goa coastal route, there were also a few combinations of sharp, stiff incline followed by longer uphill and bad road. Very memorable for me was one such combination of all three attributes or two, following which I emerged on to a flat, smooth road atop a plateau where a posse of policemen sat. They beheld my panting self on bicycle married to easiest climbing gear. They smiled and waved. Then the inspector shouted: o kaakaaa….kahan jaa rahen hain? Goa?  Strangely, unlike those instances from my early forties, when being called kaka (uncle) alarmed and reminded of fading youth, now it didn’t. Maybe there’s nothing left to defend and the mind knows it. Kaka waved back at the policemen, showed a thumbs-up and carried on.

Road on plateau; a typical specimen from the trip (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Eventually you embrace the uphill-downhill idiom of the Konkan coast. There are also portions of road that are utterly straight (like the one where I met those policemen) but they stretch like runways atop plateaus with no tree cover. It is solitary cyclist and miles of open space. We called it spaghetti westerns with a twist: Ennio Morricone’s background score plays as Clint Eastwood becomes visible on the horizon, not on a horse but a bicycle. Talking of plateaus with no shade; if there was one complaint we heard consistently from residents all through the route, it was this: this is not how December should be. It should be cool. But it just isn’t.  Welcome to climate change. And yet we ridicule Greta Thunberg. I am not a geologist. But the incessant ups and downs and the palm-on-table analogy it inspired, made me recall that era from India’s northward drift millions of years ago, when the volcanic explosions forming the Deccan, occurred. Were the fingers of land we kept ascending and descending, the remnants of ancient lava flows that cooled off into the sea? Is that how you got this beautiful weave of hills, estuaries, coves and inlets? Who knows? But I remembered well what Mumbai based cyclist Sumit Patil had recalled from his childhood. One of his earliest memorable experiences in cycling was a school trip. Led by their teacher, the class pedaled out to get an idea of the lay of their tehsil. On day one of our Goa trip, as I cycled through Alibag noticing the place with my eyes and feeling it under my wheels, I remembered Sumit. He grew up there. Cycling through, Alibag came alive as geography lesson. You want to learn? Then, you should walk, run, cycle, swim, sail or float in the air; anything else is a compromise. And by the way, there is no compulsion, no rush. Let it unfold at your pace.

Beach at Kelshi; sunset (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Some good people

Located in Raigad district’s Srivardhan taluka, Borli Panchatan is roughly 65 km south of Alibag. By the time we reached Borli Panchatan, we had become very aware of both the up-down nature of our route and another challenge – stretches of terrible road; some almost wholly gravel and dust, others, erstwhile tarred surface ruined by large potholes and craters. It was humbling to the mind (to realize that people lived so) and numbing to butt perched on bicycle saddle. In my assessment, a well finished asphalt / bitumen road is surface friendliest to cyclist. There’s something firm and yet soft about it. Unfortunately, there’s another category – concrete – increasingly popular with the ascent of infrastructure projects. That’s like a truck ramming bicycle frame, human bones and joints above it. The hardness is so much and so acutely felt that everything vibrates. Not far from Dighi we had run into a terrible stretch of potholed road. Then that gave way to a stretch of concrete. It felt weird. If you want to know how good a road is, you should run or cycle on it. Which government official overseeing roads does that? Unfortunately the surface quality of roads is decided by motorized vehicles engineered to soak vibration, not bicycle or human knee which sense vibration. The roadside tea stall we found at Borli Panchatan appeared a small, makeshift arrangement. We had no expectations when we sat down for tea. But a bunch of men there took great interest in our trip and proceeded to not merely inform us of the best route options ahead but also present it in terms of ascents, descents, road conditions and availability of shops for tea and snacks. That was amazing; most helpful. At Guhagar in Ratnagiri, the next district; the home-stay we chose referred us to their next door neighbor for dinner. According to the manager of our home-stay, Jog Kaku was in her seventies. She had a few tables and chairs for people to sit and eat at the back of her house. The dinner she served was the finest on the trip and among the best specimens of home cooked food I have had anywhere. Bless her. Food was without doubt, one of the highlights of this trip. There wasn’t a day without good, simple food for breakfast, lunch and dinner; all of it local cuisine, made with what was available. The less digital savvy of the two and often cycling alone to sense personal ecosystem, I was happy to periodically see pointers and markings drawn on the road, courtesy two names well known in the domestic cycling circuit. The first was `YHA’ – Youth Hostels Association; the other was `DC,’ which I assume is – Deccan Cliffhanger. As helpful as the lot at Borli Panchatan, was a juice shop owner on the outskirts of Malvan. An avid talker, he first informed that all groups of riders halted at his shop. Then as we sipped glasses of sugarcane juice and kokum sharbat, he provided a detailed overview of the way ahead, recommending lunch at Parule. We did as he said.

Murud beach; sunset (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Whoooosh

“ Hello, happy journey?’’ the man on the scooter said, bit inquiringly, trying to figure out if cyclist was Indian or foreigner.  “ Thank you,’’ I replied, continuing to pedal. Encouraged, he drew alongside and said, “ your friend? He got puncture. But not normal puncture; it was like a small blast: whoooosh.’’ I stopped, thanked him for the information and turned back. Whoooosh didn’t sound good. All trips have some point when things go wrong. For us, that point occurred less than 10 kilometers past Ratnagiri, at Pansope, when one of our cycles suffered a burst tyre. It was a warm afternoon. What we had was a rip through both tyre and tube. We had carried spare tubes but not spare tyre. A new tyre had to be purchased. Given the cycle in question also seemed to have a few issues with gear-shifting, we figured the best option may be to take it to Ratnagiri, get it checked by a mechanic and if required, stay in town and carry on the next day. We parked the cycles in front of a small restaurant and using our phones, located a bicycle shop to go to in Ratnagiri. The husband and wife team running the restaurant served us tea. Then we flagged down a three wheeled-cargo carrier and asked if the driver would take rider and cycle to Ratnagiri. “ Are you the guys who called me on the phone?’’ he asked. Apparently, somebody in the neighborhood had called him for assistance in taking a damaged motorbike to the city. He was responding to that call. As it turned out, that caller was from a shop right across the road and the destination of the motorbike (its place of repair), pretty close to where the bicycle shop was. The motorbike owner agreed to take the bicycle too into town and suggested that if we paid the return fare, the same three-wheeler would bring the cycle back after repair. Prashant went along. I waited at Pansope.

A scene from the trip (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

In that while, the husband and wife team at the restaurant served me some more tea, gave me a bottle of water, shut the place and left briefly to get supplies and on return, told me about their business – how long they had been running the restaurant, where they had started it first before shifting to Ratnagiri. It was a business model we saw in other places too – the woman ran the kitchen; the man got the supplies, served customers and maintained the front desk. Truth be told – the woman’s share of work, wherever we saw this model in action, seemed more. On day one, there had been a hotel we got into for lunch at Kashid. The man promised food without delay, barked a few orders loudly, the kitchen came alive like machine switched on, a woman in saree could be seen working furiously and chatting happily at once in there. Fifteen minutes later, as I tucked into the delicious fare she had cooked, I noticed that the kitchen was back to quiet and the woman was now busy cleaning the guest house adjacent to the restaurant. She was hanging sheets and towels out to dry. After lunch, as we asked for tea, one of the men around scratched his head, stared at the kitchen now bereft of its engine and said, “ sorry.’’ But the couple in Ratnagiri appeared quite happy. I felt envious seeing their happiness and wondered to myself – what monsters was I trying to slay in my head cycling daily from morning till evening when happiness is not a case of because of or due to, but simply, is? The bicycle repair-episode took some time. It was dark by the time we reached Pawas.

A scene from the trip (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Me, mid-life and my baggage

As we age, we become several people in one till at some point, fed up of all that we are defending as accrued baggage, habit and conditioning, we strip away the layers and genuinely simplify. At 51, I am still far from that simplicity; ego rules. That’s what makes expeditions by humans tricky. It isn’t only about enduring nature; it is also about enduring one’s self and that of others as complicated, defensive and hauling baggage like you. Week-long outings as a team are a bit like that TV show: Big Boss; it can become too much of each other. Not to mention, all that plus the stress accumulating from pushing one’s limit daily. There are good days and bad days. Days when we speak a lot to each other; days when one or both clamp up briefly, often to preserve the peace. You can’t do anything about it. Staying aware of these possibilities is the best solution. Joke about situations; joke about your tortured butt. Give each other space. Visit a beach at day’s end. Clean your cycles. Have some good food. We did all that. Not every reflection in the mirror will be pretty. But hey, you knew this possibility from start. That’s why you are here – to know what all may happen.  Speaking of what all may happen, our first aid kit mercifully stayed untouched. The one time it begged being opened it had nothing to do with either of us; it was someone else in trouble. At the guesthouse we stayed at in Kelshi, the manager’s friend was delicately poised on a chair atop a table, repairing a ceiling fan, when both chair and table gave away like a pack of cards. The man fell awkwardly, hurt his hand; he was in considerable pain. For some time, that is. An hour later, he started his motorcycle and drove away.

Beach at Guhagar (Photo: Prashant Venugopal)

Kabaddi country

Kelshi in Ratnagiri district had a quiet beach. There were all of seven people there, the evening we visited. The absence of crowds and the soothing quietness seemed to come with an unspoken footnote for the visitor: you homo sapiens, you are the disturbance, so tread carefully and the less you are here, the better it is for aesthetics by nature. Hopefully someday, our species gets it. A couple of youngsters wearing identical T-shirts jogged barefoot on the beach.  On the approach to the beach, next to the village path; was a small playground with carefully nurtured mud floor. Two youngsters in identical T-shirts did exercises there. A few more, dressed the same way and on their way to the play field, told us that they weren’t the local running team as I thought, but recruits for kabaddi. The jogging on the beach was part of daily training. Kabaddi competitions existed in the region and on day six as we found our way to Vengurla, we met a youngster who was on his way to Sagareshwar beach for training. He said he occasionally played for Sindhudurg. There were kabaddi players running barefoot on Guhagar’s beach too. Possessing strong legs, they bounced along smoothly on the beach sand. Each lap would have been a kilometer, easily. It was the time of sunset. A woman sat meditating some distance away. As we prepared to leave, a different type of runner arrived. He wore black shorts and black vest and on his feet, were a pair of Vibram Five Fingers.

Fishing boats at Vengurla (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Operation Thali

On day four, I was so hungry on the approach to Tawsal that I mistook the police station perched on the edge of a plateau just before long descent to ferry, to be a hotel. Most of these roads on plateaus have few restaurants and tea shops; so perhaps, it was a case of plateau-mirage, my mind replacing reality with that which I wished to see. Less than a kilometer before the ferry, we found a nice restaurant bathed in the aroma of cooking and ordered two thalis. The women in the kitchen promised to deliver it promptly. That was when a team of three or four policemen arrived. They seemed to have a feast unfolding at their office; maybe some senior officer visiting. For the next half hour they hung around, gazing expectantly into the kitchen, as the women fried several slices of fish, made chappathi, rice, curry and salad. Then they packed it all up along with steel plates and spoons, loaded a small pick-up with the precious cargo and proceeded to wherever the meal was due for staging. It was an operation effected with efficiency and enthusiastic team work; much like a crackdown on crime except, the target here was a dozen or more thalis laden with curry, fish and meat.“ I am sorry. We had to give them priority,’’ the elderly lady who served us, said apologetically. Understandable – that was a big order. By the way the thali we had – it was yet another case of delicious Konkan food.

Ravinder and his bicycle (Photo: Prashant Venugopal)

Time and touring

Sometime on day four, on a road atop a plateau – to be precise, after enduring that treeless road for long – I was happy to find a shop and check into its shade for a couple of cold drinks. I had by now abandoned caution and was experimenting with brands I was seeing for the first time; names like Fizzingaa or something similar. Five minutes later, Prashant too pulled in. We were at the shop for a while and when we left, true to my tunnel vision-self, I locked on to next major destination and pedaled off. Prashant on the other hand, noticed another cyclist – out touring like us – tucked into the shade of a nearby shop. Ravinder from Chandigarh was on a long journey through India. According to Prashant, he had been on the road for five months already. At the next halt, as we discussed Prashant’s meeting with Ravinder, it was opportunity to reflect on how differently time was perceived by people. Unlike us, this cyclist appeared comfortably settled into a patient experience of existence. I remembered some cyclists I know, who don’t hesitate to spend longer time than originally planned at places they like or pedal at leisurely pace making sure they don’t needlessly stretch themselves. We had limited number of days at our disposal; we just kept pedaling, chasing a goal each day. We might as well have been in the city. But more than that, it was mental; conditioning. We simply didn’t know how to cope with a slower flow of time, flow of course being a human sensation for time is whatever it is. Do less and you sense existence and time. Do more, you seem to own time, which (the ownership) is an illusion. Prashant’s meeting with Ravinder was brief. But the unhurried cyclist left us with much to think about.

Karanja; early morning (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Two low points: the beginning and the end

The coastal route to Goa is by and large an escape from the urban, competitive paradigm of life. However the route we were on started in city and ended in city. Both these ends are steeped in all that has gone wrong with the urban model; its best ambassador being ugly exploded traffic. Thanks to infrastructure projects, a major sea port and real estate business, the once pleasant road from Navi Mumbai to Uran has been usurped by vehicular traffic. Cycling here is not a pleasure anymore. You are at the mercy of a mindset that gives no damn for bicycles or thoughts in the slow lane; it’s called development. But you still cycle through the traffic laden road to Uran because there is something charming in the contrasting quietness of Rewas just a ferry hop away from Karanja. It is a contrast (like so many other such contrasts) that should inspire people to introspect: what are Indians doing to their daily existence? Does a tonne of money made, justify the ruining of life as we know it? A week after we set foot in Rewas, Navi Mumbai returned as Goa. It was Sunday and yet, the road from Mapusa to Panjim was filled with traffic. Life had come full circle. We were back in the embrace of development. Someone with a talent for the blues should compose a song: Development Blues; sing it like John Lee Hooker belting out Boogie Chillen.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)           

AN AQABA TO REMEMBER

Nupur Singh (Photo: courtesy Nupur)

Nupur Singh got into running in 2014. Two years later, she quit her job in Delhi and moved to the mountains to organize races. In November 2019 (as reported earlier on this blog), Indian ultra-runners did well at an international 100 kilometer championships in Jordan. In the same event, Nupur – she was not part of the official Indian team but running in the open category – finished in fairly good time.

On November 23, 2019, a team of ultra-runners representing India participated in the 2019 IAU 100 kilometer Asia & Oceania Championships at Aqaba, Jordan. The men’s team won the gold medal and the women’s team, the silver.

Mumbai’s Deepak Bandbe won the bronze medal and set a new national record in the men’s 100 km. Kolkata’s Anjali Saraogi set a new national record in the women’s 100 km; she finished fourth. The course on which, the race happened was a 10km-loop.

Alongside the Indian runners on that loop was another compatriot; Nupur Singh. She was running the same race but in the open category. She was not part of the Indian team. In fact, Nupur had resumed running only in July 2019 after a gap of three years. By November in Aqaba, it was only around four months since returning to running. Nupur finished the race in nine hours, 36 minutes and 15 seconds. She finished second behind British athlete, Joasia Zakrzwenski, the winner of the open race. Joasia finished in 8:25:50 hours. There were just two women in the open race in their gender category.

Nupur’s first race in three years had happened three months earlier – the AFMC Pune Marathon of August 2019, where she finished second overall among women. On October 6, 2019, she ran 60 kilometers at Solang Sky Ultra, which has cumulative elevation gain of 3570 meters and cut-off of 14 hours. She was the overall winner finishing the distance in nine hours, 46 minutes and 48 seconds. Aqaba followed.

Photo: courtesy Nupur Singh

Nupur, 32, is from Lalitpur in Uttar Pradesh. She took to amateur running in 2014. But she was not new to sports. “ I come from a conservative business family. My mother was the mayor of Lalitpur,’’ she said. She is the third among four siblings – two brothers and one sister. After an initial phase of schooling in Lalitpur, she did her senior years at Indore Public School. She was into a variety of sports such as swimming, tennis, basketball and cricket besides getting as far as the inter-school nationals in air-rifle shooting, wherein she secured a bronze medal. She moved to Pune to pursue graduation in architecture. As studies took precedence, sports got relegated to the background. Once done with studies, Nupur took up employment in Delhi. “ For three years, I was deeply involved with work with no room for any sporting activity,’’ she said.

In 2013, Nupur decided to take a break and went on a solo trek to Kedarkantha in Uttarakhand. “ This trek helped me get into the outdoors. I started trekking regularly. I also bought a cycle and started doing bicycle trips,’’ Nupur said. She spent a lot of time training to cycle from Manali to Leh, a trip that is hugely popular among amateur long-distance cyclists in India. After trekking and cycling, the next thing she got into was running. Nupur enrolled for the 2014 edition of Airtel Delhi Half Marathon (ADHM) and finished the race in two hours, pretty good time for a first time runner. It encouraged her to pursue running. Alongside the treks and bicycle trips continued.

In 2016, she quit her job in Delhi and moved to the mountains to organize races. She shifted to Bir in Himachal Pradesh. She joined hands with Vishwas Sindhu to co-found The Hell Race, which includes a clutch of races mostly held in the foothills of the Himalaya, besides routes in other ranges. That put a complete brake on her personal running plans. Organizing races under the Hell Race banner took up all her time. It involved traveling to various destinations, finding routes and marshaling the logistics required for the races plus other responsibilities.

Photo: courtesy Nupur Singh

In 2019, she decided to get back to running seriously. For that, she resolved to move away from The Hell Race but not from organizing races. Vishwas and Nupur decided to split The Hell Race. Of the many races organized under the banner, Nupur decided to take three and resume them with coach and ultra-runner Sandeep Kumar under the enterprise called Grand Indian Trails, also known as GRIT. “ We split on amicable terms,’’ she said. This new arrangement, Nupur hoped, would give her time for her own running. From the basket of races held previously under The Hell Race, the Deccan Ultra, Bir Billing Marathon and Coffee Trails are currently organized by GRIT. “ The best part of organizing running races is that both running and organizing are co-related. It needs discipline at my end to focus on both equally,’’ Nupur said.

In February 2019, she had met Sandeep Kumar at Deccan Ultra. The Deccan Ultra includes the Sahyadri peaks of Kalsubai, Alang, Kulang and Madan (Alang-Kulang-Madan is one of the classic hikes of the Maharashtra Sahyadri) in its route. Nupur decided to train under Sandeep in ultra-running. From Sandeep she learnt about IAU’s open category at the 100 km race at the Asia & Oceania Championships in Aqaba, Jordan. She applied for the same. Sandeep was part of the official Indian team heading to the championships. “ My training started in earnest only in September. Sandeep helped me with goal-setting, training plans, nutrition, recovery, running gear and race strategy,’’ Nupur said. Her preparations entailed all the elements required for an ultra-distance race – speed workout, core and strength workout and long runs. “ I could have done better in training. My weekly mileage was in the range of 100-150 km but my single day long run could not exceed 60 km,’’ she said.

At the race in Aqaba, Nupur’s first 50 km went off quite well. “ My target was to finish the first 50 km in 4:30 hours. I finished the distance in 4:15. At around 60 km, I had to slow down. I started to have stomach issues. At 70 km, I had to take a toilet break and then resort to some bit of walking,’’ she said. Headwinds were quite strong. Although the elevation was only 75 meters, repeated running on the 10 km route and the variations in temperature had an impact on many of the runners. “ The Indian crew was absolutely amazing. It is because of the crew members that I was able to finish the race quite well,’’ Nupur said. A lesson from the championship that Nupur takes home is that she needs to work on her nutrition. She recently shifted to being vegetarian. According to her, this choice has been helping her immensely in post-training recovery.

Photo: courtesy Nupur Singh

Two weeks after Aqaba, Nupur ran the SRT (Sinhagad-Rajgad-Torna) 53 km with cumulative elevation gain of 2350 meters and finished in the top position among women and sixth overall. She had a timing of 7:33:09 hours. At the time of her speaking to this blog, winter was beginning to set in and Nupur was scheduled to head back to Solang, where she has a base. This winter, she may attempt skiing. “ Last year, I learnt the basics of skiing,’’ she said. Sandeep believes Nupur has a good future in ultra-running. “ She trains wells, is quick to learn and works hard. Among women, she is one of the best in ultra-running in India,’’ he said. Going ahead, Nupur has her mind set on the Comrades Marathon (the downhill version) in South Africa, the IAU 100 km World Championships to be held in the Netherlands and the Asia Trail Master Races.

(The author, Latha Venkatraman, is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.)

A TALE OF TWO RESULTS

Jigmet Dolma (left) and Tsetan Dolkar (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Early December, Tsetan Dolkar topped the open category for women at the 2019 Vasai Virar Mayor’s Marathon (VVMM), among prominent running events in the Mumbai region.

VVMM is one of the races that the team of Ladakhi runners supported by Rimo Expeditions participates in, during their winter season spent running at various events in the plains. Tsetan is one half of the now well-known duo of herself and Jigmet Dolma; both Ladakhi runners who worked their way up the ranks to be currently included in the elite category at races like Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM). They usually finish very close to each other.  At the 2019 IDBI Federal Insurance New Delhi Marathon, which served as basis for selecting the marathon team that headed to the 2019 South Asian Games (SAG), Jigmet and Tsetan were apart by just two seconds. Jigmet made it into the Indian team.

According to her, when they are running the marathon in Ladakh, the two may be together for as much as 40 kilometers. In the races of the plains where competition is higher, they stick together till past the 21 kilometer-mark – sometimes more – and then progressively strike out on their own. It’s a sight regular participants at TMM have become used to – if one from this duo passes you by, the other is never far behind. That’s why the racing they did in early December 2019 is important from the perspective of their evolution as runners.

In a departure from the past, at 2019 VVMM, Tsetan was running from start to finish without her friend and fellow competitor from Ladakh for company. Around the same time, at the 2019 SAG in Kathmandu, Jigmet was doing the same thing. Tsetan placed first in the open category for women at VVMM; Jigmet finished fifth in her first outing as part of the Indian team. “ It is an indication of the runners slowly maturing with experience.  When you run alone, you have to know how to keep race strategy going and set the pace accordingly. You have to do that by yourself,’’ Savio D’Souza, Mumbai-based coach who has worked with both these runners, said. Tsetan’s victory was notable for two aspects. First, her timing at 2019 VVMM was better than the time she took to complete the full marathon at 2019 TMM at the beginning of the year. Second, she crossed the finish line with significant lead over those following her. In 2019, while it did have an elite category for men, VVMM did not have a corresponding segment for women. The strongest woman runners in the field were those topping in the open category. “ After 21 kilometers, I missed Jigmet,’’ Tsetan said recalling her run at VVMM and the practice the duo had got used to. She completed the full marathon in 3:10:27. This wasn’t Tsetan’s first time on the podium at VVMM. Three years earlier, it had been a very different experience.

When the 2016 edition of VVMM happened, it was still early phase for the Ladakhi team and their annual winter-outing to India’s races. Realizing that the location of VVMM was away from Mumbai city, the team had traveled to Virar a day before the race and found a place to stay there for easy access to the start point. On race day however, just the opposite occurred. Finding their way to the start line took time and the Ladakhi runners commenced their race much after the rest of the field had taken off. Although Jigmet and Tsetan had their bibs with them, they didn’t have pins to fasten them to their T-shirts. So they clutched the bib in their hand and ran. In due course they caught up with the rest. They not only completed the run but also secured podium positions; Tsetan finishing ahead of Jigmet.  They collected their medals and prize money. But not long afterwards, fellow competitors lodged protests against the duo’s late start. The problem was – while you are allowed to start late, the Ladakhi runners had started too late. They exceeded the grace period. It was a very valid protest. “ We had to return the cheques. Those who complained had a point,’’ Savio said. The result of December 2019 reversed that misfortune. “ This time also we stayed in Virar. But we found a place close to the start line and on race day, reported on time,’’ Tsetan said, putting the result in perspective. December 2019, the cheque is hers to keep.

TMM is anchor for the Ladakh team’s annual outing. Mid-December 2019, the entire team was not yet in place. Given the political developments in Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh’s new found status as union territory, there had been uncertainty over exam schedules for some of the young runners headed to Mumbai. The remaining members of the team were expected to join a few days later, Savio said. While the team has kicked off its 2019-2020 season on a good note with Tsetan’s win at VVMM and Jigmet’s debut at SAG, there is something else they have their eyes on. According to Savio, both Jigmet and Tsetan tend to improve as the season progresses. Typically their final event of every season is the IDBI Federal Life Insurance New Delhi Marathon held in February. At its last edition (February 2019), both Jigmet and Tsetan had touched 3:01 hours in the full marathon. That is the closest they have come so far to the three hour-mark. “ I am hoping that they get to three hours or below this season,’’ Savio said.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)      

JYOTI GAWATE GETS BRONZE IN WOMEN’S MARATHON AT SOUTH ASIAN GAMES

Jyoti Gawate (Photo: courtesy Ravi Raskatla)

Rashpal Singh and Sher Singh place second and third respectively in men’s marathon

Hiruni Wijayaratne of Sri Lanka secured gold in women’s marathon at the 2019 South Asian Games, currently on in Nepal. She covered the distance in 2:41:24.

Silver medal went to Pushpa Bhandari of Nepal ((2:50:11).

India’s Jyoti Gawate took the bronze (2:52:44).

Jyoti’s compatriot Jigmet Dolma placed fifth (3:07:24). This was Jigmet’s first time representing the country.

The race took place earlier today, December 7, 2019.

Hailing from Parbhani, Maharashtra, Jyoti is a familiar face at road races in the country including the annual Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM), where she has been podium finisher multiple times. This was Jyoti’s second outing at South Asian Games. Earlier in 2016, she had been part of the marathon team for that year’s South Asian Games held in Guwahati. In 2011, she had taken part in the Asian Marathon Championships in Thailand and finished seventh among women with a timing of 3:17 hours. She was chosen for the event in Thailand because of her podium finish at the 2011 Mumbai Marathon. AFI had funded her trip and stay. The federation also sent her to participate in the SCO Marathon in China.

At the 2019 edition of TMM, she had finished second among elite Indian women with a personal best timing of 2:45:48. Both Jyoti and Jigmet were selected to represent India at the 2019 South Asian Games based on their podium positions at the fourth edition of the IDBI Federal Life Insurance New Delhi Marathon held on February 24, 2019. Ahead of leaving for Nepal and the 2019 South Asian Games, Jyoti had told this blog that she would be aiming for a performance close to what she achieved at TMM (for more on Jyoti please try this link: https://shyamgopan.com/2019/02/04/jyoti-and-the-eight-minutes/).

According to Wikipedia, Hiruni Wijayaratne is a Sri Lankan-American track and field athlete specializing in long distance running. She represented her country in the 2017 London Marathon and the 2017 World Athletics Championships. She holds ten Sri Lankan national records. She holds the Sri Lankan national record in the women’s marathon of 2:34:10, which is also a South Asia Area Record.  The Indian national record in the women’s marathon set by O.P. Jaisha at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing is 2:34:43.

In the men’s marathon, Kiran Singh Bogati of Nepal emerged victorious. As per information available on the official website of the 2019 South Asian Games, he clinched gold, covering the distance in 2:21:17. Silver went to India’s Rashpal Singh (2:21:57); India’s Sher Singh took bronze (2:27:07).

(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai. For more background information on Jyoti and Jigmet please click on this link: https://shyamgopan.com/2019/11/29/jyoti-jigmet-in-marathon-team-for-2019-south-asian-games/; you can also refer the archives of this blog for articles on them.)    

CHANGE OF MIND ON DENALI

Seema Pai (Photo: courtesy Seema)

In late June 2019, Seema Pai from Bengaluru reached the summit of Denali, North America’s highest mountain. She returned with many questions in her head and the desire to rethink the projects she was working on.

It all started unexpectedly with a hike in the Sikkim Himalaya in March 2015. That was when Seema Pai and her partner, Dinesh Kaigonahalli, met Sergei Chulkov, a Russian mountain guide. They agreed to meet again; hopefully in the Caucusus Mountains, the mountain system at the intersection of Europe and Asia. A few months after the hike in Sikkim, Seema and Dinesh had an enjoyable outing in Ladakh, trying out a hiking route they hadn’t been on before, in the eastern Nubra Valley. The trek involved three passes all above 17,500 feet in elevation. At its end, the duo decided to extend their outdoor experience to the Caucusus. It seemed appropriate in another way – they were well acclimatized from their stay and hike in Ladakh. Why waste that fitness with a return to the plains?

They flew to Moscow and from there, traveled to the resort town of Mineralnye Vody in Stavropol Krai where they met up with Sergei. Given their recent acclimatization to high altitude and the fact that its benefits stay on for a brief while, Sergie recommended that they attempt Mount Elbrus (18,510ft), the highest peak in the Caucusus. A mountain guide, he kitted them out for the trip. That was how Elbrus happened. With it, rather unexpectedly, Seema found herself looking at the possibility of attempting Seven Summits. It wasn’t something she sought. Elbrus happens to be among mountains constituting the Seven Summits challenge in mountaineering. She had just traveled to Russia and climbed it. So, how about trying the rest? First accomplished by American businessman Richard Bass in 1985, Seven Summits entails climbing the highest peak on each continent. The seven peaks are: Everest (Asia), Aconcagua (South America), Denali (North America), Elbrus (Europe), Vinson Massif (Antarctica) and Kosciuszko (Australia) or Puncak Jaya aka Carstensz Pyramid (Indonesia). That last choice depends on whether you view Australia as continent or tectonic plate; if latter then Puncak Jaya in Papua, Indonesia qualifies to be highest.

On Elbrus (Photo: courtesy Seema)

Belonging to Bengaluru’s early crop of woman rock climbers, Seema has been climbing, hiking and going on expeditions to the Himalaya for many years. A self-made person with multiple rebounds from testing predicaments to her credit she owned of a couple of shops selling outdoor gear in the city. In mid-August 2017, after another acclimatization trek in Ladakh, Seema and Dinesh flew to Tanzania. In less than a week they were atop Kilimanjaro (19,340ft), the highest freestanding peak in the world and the highest mountain in Africa. In early 2018, the two of them traveled to Argentina in South America, where Seema successfully climbed Aconcagua (22,841ft). All these ascents – Elbrus, Kilimanjaro and Aconcagua – were guided trips that were also supported (meaning – use of support staff) to varying degrees. It made the next expedition, Denali, stand out. Trips to Denali are mostly self-supported. It is only in the Himalaya and the mountains of Africa that clients are indulged with support services. In the world of hiking and mountaineering, respect is highest for people who do things by themselves. Seema was certain she did not want to be a tourist on Denali. She wanted an expedition in which, she did her share of hard work. There was also another angle at play here.

If you go through Wikipedia’s page on Bill Watterson, a sentence to remember is his observation that he works for personal fulfilment. Watterson is the creator of the popular comic strip: Calvin and Hobbes; first published November 18, 1985. Despite its success, Calvin and Hobbes had a syndicated run of only ten years, from 1985 to 1995. According to Wikipedia, Watterson stopped drawing the strip with a short statement to newspaper editors and readers saying that he felt he had achieved all he could in the medium. He is also known for his battle with publishers against merchandising his characters; something he felt would render his characters cheap. Amid the comic strip’s immense popularity even today, Watterson’s take on commercialization is, arguably, not as well-known. Seema is a huge fan of Calvin and Hobbes. In her childhood, she had been the strong-willed, independent sort with penchant for courting trouble. The story of the six year-old adventurous boy and his stuffed tiger had instant appeal. Among concepts that she latched on to was the idea of the transmogrifier, the cardboard box Calvin uses many times to transform himself and Hobbes into a variety of characters. She had long wanted her own cardboard box.

From the expedition to Denali (Photo: courtesy Seema)

Alaska has been an emblem for the world’s wilderness spaces. There are other places similar to it or near similar, but when it comes to imagining vast snowbound landscapes, polar weather and animal and human existence evolved in such circumstance, Alaska easily invades the brain. It is also true unfortunately that some of the results of human intervention – like oil spills; they too enter the frame. Alaska is home to North America’s best known mountain – Denali. For many years, the mountain was also known as McKinley, called so after William McKinley, 25th president of the United States who was assassinated in September 1901. Although its height is only 20,310 feet – significantly less than many of the peaks in the Himalaya – Denali is both a big mountain, among the world’s most northerly big mountains, quite cold and capable of attracting feisty weather conditions. There is also plenty of raw ascending involved given the walk-in starts at around 7000 feet on the Kahiltna Glacier. According to Wikipedia, the first verifiable ascent of Denali was in 1913, by Hudson Stuck, Harry Karstens, Walter Harper and Robert Tallum. Within the Seven Summits world, Denali is among the most demanding climbs because in addition to whatever it offers, the challenges are tackled with few of the luxuries of guided ascents. After Elbrus, Kilimanjaro and Aconcagua, as Seema knocked on Denali’s doors she knew a different experience waited. This would be her personal transmogrifier to become the sort of outdoorsperson she wanted to be.

In Bengaluru, along with her regular training, Seema commenced a special 24 week-program designed for the Denali ascent. The focus was cardio-vascular, core and strength training. Additionally she also pulled heavy tyres and periodically did stair workouts at an apartment block having 15 floors; her backpack loaded to almost 30 kilos. Then just before heading to the US, she and Dinesh spent two weeks in Ladakh. They hiked to two passes – Stok La and Ganda La – without much load; they carried just about five to six kilos of stuff in their backpack. The idea was to take it easy, provide a tapering, relaxed phase to all the hard work that had gone in. It was also a case of repeating the pattern they had resorted to before the previous peak ascents as part pf Seven Summits – Ladakh was ideal place to acclimatize ahead of expedition. Early June, they flew from Delhi to Seattle via Frankfurt. There they met Madhu Chikkaraju and Pranesh Manchaiah, climbers from Bengaluru who had previously been on Denali as part of faculty for a premier outdoor school. Seema had tied up with them for the Denali attempt. At Anchorage in Alaska, which they reached on June 16, they were also joined by Brian, who had come from Oregon. Seema’s birthday – her fiftieth – was celebrated at Anchorage in the company of her expedition team and friends from Sacramento, who showed up for the occasion. There was some final shopping also done at REI, Anchorage.

On Denali (Photo: courtesy Seema)

A few days later, the team proceeded to Talkeetna. “ It is a rugged place,’’ Seema said.  Here, the expedition’s gear and supplies were reviewed and repacked. Given an expedition proceeds setting up camps on the mountain and a load ferry precedes each camp, the supplies had to be repacked in plastic and dry bags so that they could be buried six to seven feet deep in the snow; each such cachet is identified with markers bearing the expedition’s name. “ Since there is nobody to help you haul what you take, every unwanted gram is left behind. You orient yourself for life based on essentials and what is relevant,’’ Seema said.

Talkeetna was where the final paperwork and briefing related to the expedition got done. The rangers who interviewed the team had already seen the climbers’ biodata. They had much respect for the altitudes of the Himalaya. But that didn’t stop them from checking whether the predominantly Indian team was aware of what it took to attempt Denali. They made sure the team members knew glacier mountaineering, that they knew the basics of climbing; they even asked how many trips Seema had made to the Himalaya given Bengaluru is in South India. Their focus was more on Madhu and Pranesh, who were the more experienced members and assuming responsibility for the rest. The region around Denali is a national park. The rangers gave a Power Point presentation on dos and don’ts; they also provided an overview of the route available for the season, prevailing conditions and how many attempts had happened as yet. The park service, responsible for maintaining the environment and ensuring visitors’ safety, provided sledges (to pull gear) and poop buckets (to collect and ship out human waste). You have to pay for these. “ The park officials were professional and articulate,’’ Seema said. The private expedition was given the name: Team Bengaluru. They would attempt Denali via the popular route – the West Buttress Route.

Indicative of the ice, wilderness and far flung settlements ahead, there were plenty of planes around in Talkeetna. They do the work of ferrying people and supplies to remoteness. Alaska is among regions that birthed bush flying, wherein the tough terrain that planes take off and land on offered few prepared landing strips and runways. It called for tough pilots, tough planes and much innovation. Bush planes are characterized by their ability to operate from short landing strips, large tyres to tackle bumpy terrain, undercarriage designed to host floats and skis and high wings that permit easy loading and unimpeded gaze downward for pilot and passengers. Alaska’s first bush pilot was Carl Ben Eilson, hailing from North Dakota in the US. Bush planes, pilots – they are as much part of Alaskan stories as nature and people are, in the region. Team Bengaluru flew from Talkeetna to Kahiltna East Fork Glacier. The Kahiltna Glacier is Alaska’s longest; it is 71 kilometers long. “ You are supposed to be dressed for life on glacier and ready for it from the moment you step on to the plane,’’ Seema said.

From the Denali expedition (Photo: courtesy Seema)

The plane dropped off the team and their gear, took on those waiting to go back and left. It was now down to four people, their supplies and a vast landscape. Backpacks weighed over 20 kilos; there was roughly 55-60 kilos of gear per head in total. The distance from East Fork at roughly 7000 feet elevation to Denali’s summit – 20,310 feet – is 29 kilometers. Sense of work to be done, sank in for reduced to the minimalism of so much stuff, a few humans and  nothing else around, one thing was clear – none of that gear is going to move unless human being hauls it. “ I am thankful that I put my butt on fire in Bengaluru, preparing for this expedition. You have to be fit if you want to attempt Denali as part of a self-supported team,’’ Seema said. It was the evening of June 19, 2019. Aside from two metal shelters, there was no other permanent installation at Kahiltna East Fork. It was just miles of glacier. You saw the lower portions of Denali; its middle and higher reaches remained unseen. The months of May, June and July form the traditional window to attempt Denali. Thanks to global warming, Seema said, late July is not recommended while late April-expeditions have begun happening. Although flying with Seema to Talkeetna, Dinesh wasn’t part of the climbing team. He was scheduled to return to India. Dinesh is among Bengaluru’s pioneers in rock climbing, a former NOLS instructor in mountaineering and one of the original founders of India’s popular backpack brand: Wildcraft.  Before leaving Talkeetna, he went for a cruise on the river. The settlement is at the confluence of three rivers – Susitna, Chulitna and Talkeetna. From the boat, he saw Denali in the distance. He recalls thinking how massive it seemed. Mt Foraker: Mt Hunter, Denali – they are all in the same area. But Denali towered above the rest.

Life on a giant glacier comes with its own protocols. There were assigned camping spots on Kahiltna East Fork and limits on how far you venture off the designated zone for there are crevasses. You respect the safety markers that have been put up; you also watch out for each other. Climbers heading to Denali stick to the assigned path, identifiable thanks to periodic markers and the footprints of those who went earlier. On vast, barren glacier with nowhere to hide, a pee-break or poop-break finds you going about your business while others look away to provide an illusion of privacy. Tents, easily set up on other types of terrain, can be installed on a glacier exposed to the wind only after sufficient snow has been shoveled off and a flat trough excavated for the pitching. With so much ice around, snow goggles are a must. Sleep is quite different from mountaineering in the Himalaya. The Alaskan year is divided into two halves of summer and winter. June is summer and in summer, daylight never goes off fully. “ You put a scarf on your eyes and try to sleep. I went to Denali like a student. You have to have humility. What I liked about Denali is that you can’t be competitive in this landscape. If you are still competitive, then you are spiritually zero. Nothing works here without team work,’’ Seema said. The first few days of load ferry is done wearing snow shoes, designed to prevent feet from sinking into snow. Back in Bengaluru, Seema had trained to pull sledges (that’s what the earlier mentioned tyres were for). Still doing it for real was a challenge. She hadn’t factored in how traction would be with snow shoes. On the approach to Denali, she elected to do her hauling in the backpack instead. The team used snow shoes and sledges till the fifth day. Then they were cached (buried) in the snow at Windy Corner to be retrieved on the way back. Past this point, Seem also stopped using both her trekking poles. It became a pole and an ice axe. Among the camps en route, the one at 14,200 feet was sizable. “ It resembles a colony and is just ahead of the actual climb up Denali. This camp has a medical facility with Gammo Bag to tackle altitude induced sickness,’’ Seema said.

On Denali (Photo: courtesy Seema)

Fixed ropes installed every season for the climb, commenced from this camp. Here the team also faced their first set of serious problems. To begin with a storm was forecast. Bad weather typically entails lasting it out for a fresh window to open up. That puts pressure on the team’s supplies. Then, one of the team members became unwell, apparently caused by altitude. The medical personnel advised that the individual descend for safety. He was relocated to camp at 11,000 feet. Simple as it sounds, in reality this wasn’t easy. In the thick of an expedition with work to do and summit to gain, altitude sickness is rarely acknowledged by patients. When it is established through external intervention, there is the issue of patient buying into it adequately and descending to safety. Finally in small alpine teams, when one person is taken out of the frame, the others have to pull that much more for there are only so many to get the job done. The diagnosis of altitude sickness and descent to safe camp to park the individual – all this happened alongside responsibilities parceled out and load ferry continued to set up higher camps. By now the body clock had gone haywire; in Denali’s blurred divide between day and night sleep was happening at hours distinctly odd by the habits of lower latitudes. And so one of the timelines read like this – team members after transferring their colleague to lower camp (where his condition started to improve) got back to the camp at 14,200 feet by 3AM. They rested till 3PM and then left for high camp at 17,200 feet – below Denali Pass – which they reached by 10.30PM. The weather was starting to go bad. They rested till 8AM, then, left for the summit at 10AM. The narrative may as well have been of one long solar day; sleep – a case of badly required shut eye and not world blanketed by darkness.

The summit push is divided into three parts – there is the Denali Pass, the summit slope and a large slushy snowfield, replete with the associated risks of glacier travel. The team moved efficiently, tackling Denali Pass in under-two hours. “ Summit day was 12 hours long for us. We reached the top of Denali at 5.50PM on June 28. Luckily for us, the weather didn’t worsen that day and the next. Having gained the summit, we got back to the camp at 11,000 feet and our friend recuperating there, by around 10PM,’’ Seema said. Reunited and briefly rested, they wound up the camp at 11,000 feet and descended to East Fork at approximately 7000 feet. Having returned to Bengaluru, Dinesh had been monitoring the weather in Alaska online. He saw the storm forecast. He also saw that around the team’s previously calculated summit window, conditions were holding and not deteriorating further. “ Up and down Denali in eleven days is admirable,’’ he said.

For Seema however, there were other thoughts taking root. The whole Seven Summits journey had been triggered unexpectedly. Once she launched into it, there had been the related big expedition-rigmarole of impressing sponsors, articulating purpose and marketing it. All of that to try and raise funds. A century ago, in times vastly different from now, George Mallory could say he wanted to climb Everest “ because it’s there.’’ Now, adventure finds support because it promises relevance for sale in human collective. Empowerment; no-limits, team work – such descriptions help market adventure, when it is actually a case of nothing but because-its-there and you wanting to try it. Bucket lists by fifty are perhaps no different. Or to be more precise – there is nothing wrong in wishing for something but if you want it to be a soul-cleansing experience alongside, then it has to be just that and not what impresses sponsors and human collective. Seema had Elbrus, Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua and Denali in the bag. Everest, Vinson Massif and Puncak Jaya remained. Denali in particular had come after much preparation. She had worked for it. It had been mission mode. And just when it delivered results, it also posed questions. What are you on a mountain for? “ I don’t want anything in mission mode anymore on a mountain. I want it to be a fuller experience of what it is like to be out there. On a normal expedition, one is happier. You have time. Mission mode, chasing an objective or ambition, does not offer opportunity to connect deeply to the experience, ’’ she said.

From the Denali expedition (Photo: courtesy Seema)

Denali done, Seema has been questioning her pursuit of Seven Summits. “ I don’t wish to go after the remaining peaks in Seven Summits. On the other hand, Denali has given me the confidence to attempt bigger peaks. Not tick them as some objective achieved. Woh race mein nahin lagne ka….’’ she said. Not to mention – Seven Summits is an expensive proposition and the peaks remaining to be climbed – Everest, Vinson Massif (in Antarctica) and Puncak Jaya (in Indonesia) – are costly affairs owing to challenges in logistics or the commercial enterprise they come wrapped in. Is mountaineering all about measurement by capacity to afford costly expeditions and logistics? In days of commercial expeditions like today, it would seem so. “ The problem in life is that sense of accomplishment easily transforms to self-obsession. I don’t want that,’’ Seema said. Back in Bengaluru, she has been reassessing her life. Alongside her business, Seema has maintained a presence in farming. The latter’s appeal has been growing. Denali was indeed transmogrifier.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. For more on Seema Pai please try this link: https://whynotat50.com/)                

2020 TOKYO OLYMPICS / VENUE FOR MARATHON AND RACE WALK FINALIZED

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Sapporo Odori Park in Hokkaido will be the venue for the marathon and race walk events of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“ The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Tokyo 2020) today announced that Sapporo Odori Park in Hokkaido has been approved by the IOC as the venue for the marathon and race walk events at the IOC Executive Board meeting held today in Lausanne, Switzerland. This followed confirmation from World Athletics,’’ an official statement dated December 4, 2019, available on the website of IOC, said.

According to it, Sapporo Odori Park has been used in the past as a venue for the Hokkaido Marathon, giving the local authorities considerable experience in operating major events in this area. It is a popular spot for tourists and local residents; it hosts a variety of events throughout the year. It is a large open space of around 7.8 hectares in the center of Sapporo City, featuring beautiful lawns, flower beds and trees.

The park was chosen also because its layout allows both the marathon and race walk events to be held at the same venue, while the topography of the surrounding area allows for the creation of exciting competition courses. At Games time, temporary facilities will be constructed at the park to support operations.

The statement said that IOC, World Athletics and Tokyo 2020 agreed on one and two kilometer-loops for the race walk and a 20km loop course for the first stage of the marathon, leaving as legacy a half-marathon course which can host a future annual event. World Athletics and Tokyo 2020 will continue their discussions on the second half of the course and will conduct a site inspection in order to reach a mutual decision on overall operations by mid-December, the statement said.

The competition schedules have also been revamped to facilitate the support of NOC officials and coaches to the athletes, as Sapporo is located 800km to the north of Tokyo. The marathon and race walk events are now scheduled to be held on four consecutive days, from 6 to 9 August. The revised schedule is as follows:

6 August / 4.30 p.m. Men’s 20km race walk

7 August / 5.30 a.m. Men’s 50km race walk

7 August / 4.30 p.m. Women’s 20km race walk

8 August / 7.00 a.m. Women’s marathon

9 August / 7.00 a.m. Men’s marathon

The statement quoted the Chair of the IOC’s Athletes’ Commission, Kirsty Coventry, as saying, “ Athletes’ health and well-being are always at the heart of our concerns, and the decision to move the marathon and race walk events to Sapporo shows how seriously we take such concerns. We also want the Olympic Games to be the platform where athletes can give once-in-a-lifetime-performances, and this new venue ensures that they will have the conditions to give their best. I would like to thank the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee, the local authorities and World Athletics for confirming this new venue so quickly, in order to give the athletes as much preparation time as possible. I look forward to seeing the marathon and race walk athletes compete in Sapporo in front of a passionate crowd next August.”

Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto commented, “ We appreciate that, through the support of so many people, Sapporo Odori Park could be approved as a venue so quickly following the decision to move these events. With less than eight months to go until the opening of the Tokyo 2020 Games, Tokyo 2020 will continue to work closely as one team with all the parties involved in their preparation.’’

It was in mid-October that the IOC first announced plans to move the Olympic marathon and race walk events to Sapporo, the host city of the Olympic Winter Games 1972. The move to Hokkaido, the northern-most prefecture of Japan, will mean significantly lower temperatures for the athletes during the Olympic Games. In Sapporo, temperatures during the Games period are as much as five to six degrees centigrade cooler during the day than in Tokyo, an official statement issued then had said. In era of climate change, thermal stress has become a subject of concern for endurance sports staged outside the controlled ambiance of stadiums. It may be recalled that heat had taken a terrible toll on participants for the marathon and race walk events at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha, earlier this year.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)

BENGALURU BAGS TWO INTERNATIONAL ULTRA-RUNNING CHAMPIONSHIPS

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

IAU approval for bids submitted, received.

The 2020 IAU 24H Asia and Oceania Championships and the 2021 IAU 100 km Asia and Oceania Championships have been allotted to India, International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU) said in a statement dated December 4, 2019, available on its website.

“ We are very pleased to announce that the 2020 IAU 24H Asia and Oceania Championships and the 2021 IAU 100 km Asia and Oceania Championships were granted to Bengaluru, India. The 24-hour Championships will take place on 18th – 19th July 2020.  The 100 km event is scheduled for September 2021 (final date to be confirmed).

“ The IAU, Athletics Federation of India (AFI) and NEB Sports (responsible for the race organisation) invite all Asia and Oceania Federations to send their Athletes to the events. The GIS and Invitations will be send in due time. It is our expectation that this Championship will be the starting point for a new stage in the development of ultra-distance in the region. India has never held an international ultra-distance championship organised by IAU,’’ the statement said.

“ We are delighted to take our next two Asia & Oceania Championships to India. India sent their first team to the IAU Trail World Championships in 2017 and has quickly risen in the world ultra rankings both on trails and the roads. Ultrarunning is quickly growing on the subcontinent and we are excited to further advance our sport in the region by bringing our continental champs to the area. I thank the Athletics Federation of India and the team of NEB Sports for submitting very good bids and I am confident that these will be two outstanding championships,’’ IAU president, Nadeem Khan has said.

“ It is our pleasure to welcome the International Ultra Runners for such a prestigious event hosted by AFI in India,” Nagaraj Adiga, CMD, NEB Sports was quoted as saying in the statement.

Bengaluru, the capital of India’s Karnataka state, is located on the Deccan Plateau at an elevation of over 900 m (3000ft) above sea level. Compared to other big cities in India, it has a relatively moderate climate. IAU’s decision follows a site visit to Bengaluru some months ago.

(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai.)