It is around four in the evening. We have halted at a small roadside shop at Dodabetta, Ooty to gulp down cups of tea and munch biscuits and chips. This little snack is to keep us warm in the rain and fortify us for the next leg of our journey – the 23-km-ride to Kotagiri. My friends from the Chennai Trekking Club tell me that the ride to this small town in Ooty is entirely downhill from Dodabetta.

It has been pretty much this way ever since we began our cycling trip in Wayanad and Ooty on a pleasant Friday morning in April from Mysore. Long rides on our bicycles punctuated with short breaks at tea shops or hotels along the way keep us energised; followed by cycling again.

It is tough to get back to a form of exercise one has long abandoned. Cycling through the winding roads of Wayanad was nothing less than a challenge for a few of us who were getting back to the sport after a long time. We took our time to get used to the mountain bikes, their gear system and the uphill rides in the torrid heat on the first day while the experienced bunch surged ahead of us.

Anticipating the stops at watermelon and pineapple shops on the wayside to take a bite into the succulent fruit or to swallow a whole yelakki banana, a thin and sweet variety found in Karnataka, was all that kept us going. And maybe the waves from excited children and the surprised looks from the villagers in the little towns and villages we passed by!

What made the trip fun were the surprise treks which popped up in our itinerary – like the climb up Chembara, one of Wayanad’s tallest peaks – on the second day. Nestled among the tea estates of Wayanad, the climb up the steep 2,100 meter peak was a difficult and sluggish one.

Our group managed to climb around 800 – 1000 meters before the forest guides, who accompanied us, warned that the rest of the climb was dangerous due to the previous night’s rains. We halted at the heart-shaped Chembara lake at this point and took in the breathtaking view of the valley.Our disappointment of not continuing the climb was aptly compensated with the summer showers that greeted us.

It was only by the final day that we worked up a decent stamina to endure the rigours of cycling. While the morning presented a tough climb uphill on the slopes of Ooty, from Pykara to Dodabetta, the rest of the downhill ride was the crowning glory to the entire trip.

This was also, by far, the most scary and dangerous part of the trip. Reduced visibility in the evening and the torrential downpour made it difficult to look out for the bends in the roads. A few of us stopped and clambered into the back-up truck to finish this terrific journey, while a gutsy bunch continued the ride till Mettupalayam, our last stop.

Around nine in the evening we were greeted by the awestruck faces of the hill town’s residents.
Looking at each other under the streetlights we realised that we were one bunch of tired, bedraggled and excited cyclists who had just had the ride of a lifetime.

Our trip stats a few days later confirmed the same. We had covered a whopping 183 kms, cycling at an average speed of 18 km/hr and reaching a top speed of 52.2 km/hr during this three day trip.

Day 1:
Mysore to Gundulpet (58.9 km) – an open truck ride
Gundulpet to Kakkavayalin in Sulthan Bathery, Kerala (71.4 km) – By cycle

Day 2:
From Kakkavayalin to Kalpetta (8.5 km) – By cycle
Kalpetta to Base of chembara peak (16 km) – open truck ride
Chembara’s base to Lunch at Meppady (7 km) – open truck ride
Meppadi to Cherambadi, Tamilnadu (21.3 km) – By cycle
Cherambadi to Gudalur (34 km) – By bus

Day 3:
Gudalur to Pykara (30 km) – Open truck ride
Pykara to Doddabetta (27.8 km) – by cycle
Doddabetta to Mettupalayam (55.3 km) – by cycle