Every endurance cyclist has a dream of racing in The Deccan Cliffhanger (DC) and achieve the Race Across America (RAAM) Qualifier title. And all this has to be done by covering 643 kilometres all in 32 hours (this includes food break, sleep break, attending nature's call etc) and and elevation gain of 5500 metres across the Sahyadri mountain range of the mighty western ghats.
So keeping this target in mind I started training under Asia’s one of the finest ultra-cyclist Dr. Amit samarth who himself is a solo RAAM finisher and winner of the DC 2017. during the initial days of my training I found it a bit difficult managing my professional and training commitments. But with the will power and sheer determination of racing in DC and achieving RQ title I gave it all. Coach sir laid down the plan and I blindly followed it to the core. So much was the sacrifice that I haven't met my toddler son for the past 5 months now.
With proper training as my strength I somehow managed to form a LAGAAN crew as none of my crew member had any idea of the race route or terrain. All of my 4 crew members were completely new to crewing in any ultra-cycling event.
After travelling from Raipur non-stop for 1100 kms and 27 hours we reached Pune on 24th November 2022. Then on 25th November 2022 we went to the race start venue Keshavbaug, Pune for pre-race car and bike inspection and race briefing by Race Director. Now some amount of nervousness had already crept into me but somehow I maintain my calm and slept early by 9:30 PM loading myself with good amount of calories by eating aloo paratha and vada pav.
And then came the race day. Sharp at 3:30 AM of 26 November 2022 me and my crew woke up and freshened up sorted out all my nutrients, hydration materials, bike related things in my car and reached the race venue at 5:15 AM. I felt like living my dream as I was going to race alongside the legends of Indian ultra-cycling community like Kabir Rachure, Anand Patil and other well established ultra-cyclists of India. As a rookie it was like a altogether different experience for me.
CP 1 – CP 2 Kehavbaug Pune to Mahabaleshwar
In time trial fashion racers were flagged off one after another and I was flagged off exactly at 6:23 AM. It was a bit cold at Pune so riding was all pleasant. Within first 5 kilometres of the race we came across the first climb though a small one. After passing through the Katraj tunnel it was all flat till the beginning of the Khambatki ghat. After the climb it was all flat for some 40 kilometres and I gained a good amount of speed till we reached the beginning of the biggest claim of the race- The Pasarni Ghat. The Pasarni ghat is a 11 kilometre climb with an elevation gain of 1400 metres. The claim was difficult but I was able to reach well within time to CP 2 at 10:54 AM.We covered 110 kilometres with 3 major ghats well within our calculated time.
CP 2- CP 3 Mahabaleshwar to Yellur
So after crossing CP 2 there was a small climb and then started the descent of Medha ghat. Medha ghat is a 15 kilometre ghat with steep descents, blind turn and fine screes on turns which made the right extremely dangerous because a slightest mistake would have led me to hang in the Cliff of Western ghat (and hence the name The Deccan Cliffhanger). After carefully navigating through the Medha ghat we started proceeding towards Satara.
And now the ride condition were getting tougher because of the overhead blazing sun. The temperature was soaring and there was a lot of dehydration. I suffered severe muscle cramps along the stretch of Satara to Kolhapur but thanks to my dedicated crew they kept on feeding and hydrating me every 20 to 30 minutes and I kept on riding despite of the cramps and pain all this lead to a decrease in my overall speed and we reached CP 3 at 5:00 PM.
We covered 147.6 kilometres in 6 hours under extremely challenging conditions. We were already late by 2 hours from our calculated time projection (purely theoretical as we all were new to the route!!!!).
CP 3 to CP 4 Yellur to Sankeshwar
With the night rules setting in we had to be very careful and vigilant. As any breach in the rules the race marshals were all over and a time penalty was inevitable. So me and my crew were very particular and stuck to the rules with all sincerity.
With the setting sun and cool breeze blowing I regain my strength and composer. The 90 kilometres in this segment was all flat and we crossed the CP 4 by 9:00 PM regaining much of the lost time. there was a small climb in this segment The Tawandi top but I could easily climb it. With over half of the race distance covered we were now confident that we will be finishing race well within the time limit.
CP 4 to CP 5 to CP 6 Sankeshwar to MK hubli to belgaum
After crossing Sankeshwar the next 104 km was a very interesting and challenging segment with large fly overs, road construction, diversions the terrain was very difficult as it was pitch dark in the night with only my car light being the available light source. But what added to the woe was fogg and rain with cold climate riding became very difficult. But with all those trainings I had of riding in the night in rain and cold I converted it to an opportunity and started gaining speed as I over took a few riders who were way ahead of me. And we have finished this 104 kilometres in 5 hours. (Not that good also!!!!)
CP 6 to CP7 Belgaum to Sawantwadi
So as we reached the CP 6 at Belgaum, me and my crew took a break of 30 minutes had some hot tea, sandwiches and stretching. Lakhan bhaiya quickly readied my bicycle as my bicycle was full of mud due to the torrential rains that I experience en route Belgaum.
As we resumed our ride little did we know what was in store for us. 99 kilometres of pure hell. As we navigated the Chandgad segment we were meted out with potholes which had roads. The condition of road was pathetic. And then came the deadly Amboli ghat. It was a steep descent of 25 kilometres with thick fog and blind turns with very bad road creating a extremely dangerous riding condition so I was advised by my crew to be slow, protective and very careful.
Phew!!!! after all these we reached CP 7 (the penultimate CP) at 8:00 AM. What a hell of ride it was. We covered 98.2 kilometres in 6 hours.
CP 7 to CP 8 Sawantwadi to John's seagull Bar and Restaurant Goa
And began our final leg of the race. After crossing Sawantwadi we were welcomed by the deadly rolling terrain of Goa what initially seemed to be a easy route turned out to be a nightmare for us and to add with it was the hot and humid climate of Goa with climbs, dozens of fly overs and the Goa traffic the ride became further complicated. With almost 30 kilometres to go I suffered a major crash and my left knee was very badly injured. But against my crews advice I decided to keep on riding. And with enormous pain and weakness the moment to reckon came. Yes we as a team did it!!!!
We were in the finishing line… John's seagull Bar and Restaurant Goa
I literally didn't know that we had completed my dream The Deccan Cliffhanger and I became a RQ as I was totally in a deliriant state of mind.
After receiving fast aid from my brother for life Dr. Arvind I drank 2 bottles of water and regained some composure.
And then I realised that I had actually completed my dream The Deccan Cliffhanger well within time and received my finisher medal from the winner of past three Deccan Cliffhanger and RAAM podium finisher Kabir Rachure!!!!
And this way I created history by becoming the first one from Chhattisgarh and Odisha to race and complete The Deccan Cliffhanger well within time and become a RQ!!!!
total distance - 643 kilometres
total time in saddle - 27 hours 51 minutes 38 seconds
total time lapse - 29 hours 56 minutes 19 seconds
total break including sleep food hydration and nature's call - 2 hours 4 minutes 41 seconds
total calorie loss - 16,600 calories
solid diet - boiled egg, boiled potato,dates ,chikky, bread butter, sandwich, chips, banana, cupcakes, paratha, grounded peanut
liquid diet - fast n up electrolyte tablets, fast n up gel, ORS, Red Bull, water
Heartfelt thanks to my family especially my mom, my wife and my toddler son who themselves have sacrificed a lot to bear my craziness and passion for cycling.
Words will fall short to express my gratitude to my LAGAAN crew. All of them where in total sync with me and navigation was taken care by my crew chief Suresh dua, nutrition hydration my tantrums by Dr Arvind, my bike by lakhan bhaiya and the car and driving by Khillan.
Well this Deccan Cliffhanger sojourn is incomplete without a heartfelt thanks to my coach come mentor Dr. Amit Samarth. Being a hard taskmaster and with a no nonsense attitude he made sure I train properly.
Also my gratitude to the organizers of the race at inspire India for conducting the race in a fair manner and maintaining all international standards else laid by WUCA and RAAM.
I bow myself before The Almighty God without who's blessings it would have been impossible to climb such monstrous guards and dealing with so much of un predictable weather.
This DC conquer and RAAM qualification is yours Papa. Wherever you are you must be proud of your son today for you only said me in your last days LIVE YOUR LIFE TO THE FULLEST.
Cheers to all!!!!
Dr. Abhishek Padhi