A couple of weeks ago I blogged about my training for the Xaxti 100, specifically a jaunt through south Goa with the Xaxti Riders that had me questioning my own knowledge of the picturesque Goan landscape. Confronted by the pastoral beauty of the rolling greens dotted with picture postcard houses, I realised this is an experience missed by tourists who opt for the crowded beaches and discos of North Goa.
In that post, I also promised to document my experience riding in the second edition of the Xaxti 100 on November 19. I have been training for this gruelling (for me at least) ride for a few weeks now with regular rides of 25 km whenever in Goa, and more extended rides of 50-70 km on weekends. When travelling on work, my fall back has inevitably been the stationary cycle in hotel gyms. Stationary bikes are tedious, but thems the breaks when you spend half your life in hotels.
During my training, I paid close attention to my diet. (Moar prawns) I was careful to stray hydrated. I started drinking a minimum of three litres of water one week before, and for the two days immediately preceding the event I ensured I did not do anything strenuous.
D-day – November 19. I was a quivering bundle of excitement. Bikes on to my car we headed towards Margao – the starting point.
A 20-minute drive got us to Margao at 5:50 am. Customary bike checks and safety gear inspections conducted, we converged for a briefing. 134 cyclists had registered for this ride with a few enthusiasts joining in from Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka. The excitement was palpable as the 6:45 am flag off approached. Lt Col Dr Sreenivas Gokulnath flagged off the ride and even accompanied us to motivate and inspire us, especially the youngsters. And who better than him? The first Indian rider to complete the Race Across America (RAAM) – the toughest bicycle race known to man. A gruelling 4900 km across America completed in eleven days, 18 hours and 45 minutes.
We flagged off on the dot. It was a warm, humid and gloomy morning. Goa in November is pleasant and cool, with traces of the mild winter bite to come. The question on everyone’s mind – would there be rain? We hoped not. The first 40 km was supposed to be over relatively easy terrain and most riders capitalised on this to better their timing. The Xaxti 100 is an endurance ride and times do not matter much so long as you finish within the time limit. But we’re humans who want social media bragging rights. So, time.
The weather did what it does best – played truant. A few stray drops of rain quickly turned to a steady drizzle. Axl started singing November Rain in my head, my private concert. But, rain or shine, we always ride. At this point, we’d covered about 20 km, and it didn’t seem like the rains would subside anytime soon. I was drenched soon enough. Uncomfortable but not challenging. I was worried about my phone though, my brand new iPhone 8. But then the promos said it was waterproof and what better way to test the claim. In Jobs and Cook, we believe. The rain meant I couldn’t stop for occasional photos, disappointing but not a huge deal in the grander scheme of things.
We completed 42 km at Balli junction. I had so far averaged 25 km/hr. I came upon a breakfast place, and the glutton took over. None of the other riders was interested (priorities), but then I stopped for a while and gluttoned. As I waited, I checked my phone and I can officially confirm my iPhone 8 withstood the rains.
Onwards. The rains had eased my effort by bringing the temperatures down somewhat. But the wet roads meant that riders on road bikes had to be particularly careful. Road bikes have smooth, thin tyres susceptible to skidding. I rode past the Caurem forest gate water station as I had enough water on me. But just about a hundred metres in, I momentarily lost concentration and went off the road. Instead of stopping and getting back on the asphalt, I tried the impossible of getting the bike back on track while riding and crash landed. Fortunately, there were no passing vehicles. I quickly picked myself up, only to realise that I had bruised my left shin pretty badly and was bleeding. I had forgotten to carry a first aid kit, so turned back to the water station to have it looked at.
I met fellow rider Pranav who helped me with a bandage to stem the bleeding. As I rode on, I realised my left handlebar was severely dented.
The tricky part of the terrain had just begun, and there were many uphill slopes to ride. The picturesque landscape was utterly tempting, but photographs would have to wait another day. I wanted to better my timing from last year’s ride.
Riding past Quepem, Zambaulim and Rivona we approached St. Jose de Areal. I was now on the last leg of the journey – only 20 km to conquer. I was tired, and my thigh muscles were loudly making their disapproval felt. The last leg is always the toughest and the last 5 km defined the word ENDURANCE for me like no dictionary ever will. But the rest of the terrain was an easy one, and I knew I could keep going. As I approached the finish line, I was ecstatic. I had not only improved last year’s times; I had shaved off a whole 60 minutes off. Woohoo ME!
This post would not be complete without a shout out to all my fellow riders. Participating in an endurance race like this is only possible because of the constant encouragement you receive throughout the ride from your fellow riders. True camaraderie at work. 133 of the 134 who started off completed the ride in the stipulated time of 6 hours 30 minutes.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention how flawlessly the Xaxti 100 had been organised. Everything from the route selection to the volunteers who stood at every diversion with large signs, and manned water stations, not to mention the sumptuous snacks and encouragement from the assist vehicles. Ershad Khan and his team of photographers did an excellent job documenting the event, and a fair few of their photographs are featured in this post.
Race run, laurels won, the glutton awoke. I said my goodbyes, packed my gear and hurried home to a delicious meal of steamed rice, spicy mackerel curry and prawn chilly.
Until next year, Xaxti 100!