It all started with a phone call on 16th November 2022 from a dear friend Asim Darekar asking me if I could be a part of his crew team for the prestigious Deccan Cliffhanger race which 643 kms of cycling in a span for 32 hours to qualify to the world famous RAAM (Race Across America) which includes 7 grueling ghats. I had to be with him from 26th to 28th November. I had my son’s birthday on 26th November and my mother leaving for a foreign travel on 27th November for a month. I had a quick discussion at home and I told my family that this race is Asim’s dream and he has trained hard for it for the last one year and he wants me with him in that journey and I need to go. They were a bit hesitant but then agreed. I had heard about this race but experiencing is was going to be a different experience altogether and I was super excited about it.
On 25th November 2022, we all visited the expo to complete all pre-race formalities like submitting all papers, ID Proofs, declarations, cycle and crewing vehicle checks were done and we were all set. There were 2 crewing vehicles (primary & secondary). The secondary vehicle was under the command of the primary crewing vehicle. Both vehicles were stacked with lassi, cold coffee, chaas, juices, high energy food & supplements, sandwiches, small tit-bits and lot of other things which were sufficient for 9 people for the next 32 hours. The crew consisted of Asim’s coach Rohan Kumbhar, Nilesh Gholve, Mangesh Kolhe, Ashish Bhamre, Chaitanya Deshpande, Umesh (cycle mechanic), Dilip Tejim (masseur), Jotiram Chavan & myself.
On 26th November 2022 the race day, the primary vehicle straight went to Keshavbaug which was the start point and the secondary vehicle was supposed to meet on Katraj Ghat. Asim was flagged off exactly at 6.20 am and there he was in his favorite flight mode. The primary vehicle was rolling exactly behind him and the secondary vehicle was following instructions of the primary vehicle and going accordingly. The first planned stop was at the start of Khambatki Ghat where the crew had some breakfast and the rider was given a packet of lassi and an energy gel. The rider was given stretching and massage and some nutrition & hydration before he turned off towards Mahabaleshwar along with the primary vehicle and the secondary vehicle was asked to go and wait on the outskirts of Satara. After about 3 hours the rider and primary vehicle arrived at the spot where lunch was taken by all of us except the rider who preferred to proceed up to Karad. At Karad was again given massage & stretching and lunch. After Karad was in cruising comfortably on a rolling course as he passed Kolhapur and finally reached Tawandi Ghat top which was half the distance of the race which was 334 kms. He was approximately an hour late as compared to the target given by the coach. This stretch was completed in hot & tough conditions. On the way we passed a lot of fellow participants who were putting in their respective power to move ahead.
Tawandi was a planned long stop where the rider had a nice hot water bath, underwent intense massage & stretching followed by some nutritious dinner. This stop was also delayed by about 20-25 mins as compared to what was planned. He finished his dinner with a mango ice cream for that extra energy.
It was already past 10.00 pm and the next 7-8 hours were going to be in complete darkness and the worst part was we were to undergo certain patches where it was raining which altogether was going to be a tough ride in all aspects. And there he pushed his pedal at around 10.15 pm with the primary vehicle following him. The main issue here for the rider and drivers was sleep deprivation as we all were awake from 3.30 am that day we had to ride or drive for another 16+ hours. But against all odds, we had to proceed towards the finish line in a hail & hearty condition. The only thing we all were seeing was Asim finishing within the cut off timing of 2.20 pm at Bogmalo Beach, Goa. The rider had undergone all kinds of extreme weather by this time which had scorching heat during the day, cold winds from evening and rains at night. But Asim had not reason to stop. He just kept going in all conditions. Hats off to his focus to reach the finish line.
The information exchange between the primary and secondary vehicle were extremely important and critical. The primary vehicle was all the time behind the rider and secondary vehicle was responsible for providing on route nutrition, navigation and any other help needed by the rider. Continuous interaction between both the vehicles ensured that everything was done as & when needed and the rider did not face any challenges at any time.
As we headed towards Belgaum, we saw rain and cold winds blowing into us but Asim was riding really strong against everything and he gave us that energy to stay awake and cheer him. We reached our U-turn point, MK Hubli close to 2.00 am and turned back towards Belgaum where we reached around 4.00 am. The control point at Belgaum was a cycle store where we had cycle mechanics, snacks, much needed hot tea / coffee and a washroom facility. We left the control point in 30 mins and just before exiting Belgaum, Asim started experiencing cramps in his knees and he also feeling extremely sleepy. By god’s grace we found a 24*7 medical store where we got knee caps for him and after some more stretching & massage, we started out remaining journey towards Chandgadh Ghat. Believe Chandgadh Ghat was one of the most dangerous ghats which most of us saw for the 1st time ever. Not a dot of light, deep potholes, dense forest on both sides and no one on the scary roads. The only inspiration for us to keep rolling was Asim who was going extremely strong against all odds. This entire section was in pitch dark conditions. As we drove further, the sun started showing signs of coming out and a ray of hope started coming up. By the time we reached Amboli, there was a lot of natural light with us which gave all of us a lot of comfort.
Rolling steadily we started descending the Amboli Ghat and within very less time our super strong rider Asim was at the 2nd last control point in Sawantwadi which was at 9.15 am. He was given nutritious breakfast, stretching and massage for the final 90 kms. Asim also had a fall in Sawantwadi but that didn’t affect him at all. He was physically & mentally screwed up but only the hunger to reach the finish line before 2.20 pm kept him going. He had to replace his cycle as the one that he was riding was damaged during the fall.
And there we started our last leg of the race in a super cheering mood. About 20 kms from Sawantwadi Asim had to take a washroom break. That was the time he saw his watch and embraced the fact that he had to cover the last 70 kms in 3.30 hours only. And the last 70 kms was a super rolling route with a lot of climbs, hot & humid weather till the finish. But this man was made of steel. The last 70 kms were finished in such ease in spite of being tired, exhausted (physically & mentally) & injured. We as crew had to give him everything on the go as stopping even for a minute was going to be a big problem. As we were 10-12 kms away from the finish line, there was a major road accident on the highway and one side was practically shut. Asim managed his way from the narrow shoulders of the road. The last one hour we all had goosebumps and a huge emotional feeling.
Finally Asim proudly entered the finisher area with tears in his eyes shouting RQ RQ RQ and we all were so happy for him. We reached the finish point and everyone hugged him in joy & tears. Today he had done something which only a super human can do. He collected the medal from the race officials and proudly held a placard which said ‘FINISHER – SOLO 643 KMS RAAM QUALIFIER’
From there the celebrations began never to stop.
Proper hydration, nutrition, massages, stretching, cheering, motivation and guidance ensured that the rider delivered his optimum performance throughout the race. Hard work from everyone finally paid off.
This ride gave all of us a lot of learnings and also told us what good and bad things were happened. The rider was the most important here but the crew also played a vital role in his success. A good crew is always needed in such challenging events. I thoroughly enjoyed every inch and every second of these 643 kms and 32 hours and I am looking forward to many more such adventurous experiences in days to come.
Cheers, until the next one!