Written by Chethan Ram

Feb 16th and 17th, 2019.

Total Distance  –  600kms

Cut off Time  –  40 hours

Route: Bangalore – Krishnagiri – Salem – Yercaud – Salem – Krishnagiri – Vaniyambadi – Yelagiri – Vanayambadi – Krishnagiri – Bangalore.

My association with Twin Hills 600 BRM dates back to December 2016 when our dear friend Satish Addanki was riding this for the first time and it was his SR (Super Randonneur) ride. Super Randonneur is the title given to an individual who rides 200kms(13.5 hours), 300kms(20 hours), 400kms(27 hours) and 600kms(40 hours) in a calendar year. These rides are called Brevets. The two hills are Yercaud and Yelagiri. Soon after he finished his Yelagiri climb, he called me to inform that he might quit anytime. He was done with 450kms and we didn’t want him to quit. Though I had no clue about his condition and also the terrain condition for the next 150kms I tried to put some encouraging words so that he continues to ride. The next moment four of us Karun, Shashank, Pancham and I were in the car driving towards Krishnagiri. The idea was to meet him around Krishnagiri and encourage him to finish as we didn’t want this effort of his go down the drain. We were at Krishnagiri and Satish was too happy seeing us there. He stopped for a while, we spoke to him and the rest is history. He earned his SR title by conquering Twin Hills. Looking at him, I said to myself that I would never do such a ride in my life even though I had done a few brevets during my early days of cycling.

When we met Satish at Krishnagiri

Within two years, we were on the saddle trying to conquer the same Twin Hills. Six of us – Aditya, Madhu, Jaisimha, Phaneesh, Pancham and yours truly. Did we conquer? No, we all failed. However, we went to Coimbatore for our second attempt at 600 which eventually got us the Super Randonneur title.

Twin Hills – Elevation Profile

Feb 16th, 2019. We were all set for our second attempt at Twin Hills. Pancham had stopped riding brevets. Jaisimha and Aditya had to back out in the last minute due to some family commitment. Phaneesh has transformed himself into an independent rider and he rides alone most of the time. It really takes some effort to even ride with him. We had Praveen, Ratnaveer, Sharath, Nitin and Kousthub also riding this from our group, but they were riding at their own pace. Madhu, Param, Dr. Gowri Shankar and I were riding together as a group.

Just before the flag off. Image courtesy: Phaneesh Nagaraj.

Flag off was done at 6:00 am from Kanteerava Stadium and 42 riders set out on a journey to conquer Twin Hills. Since it was a Saturday morning the traffic was very less and we were able to exit the city quickly and within no time we had crossed Electronic City. The plan was to have breakfast after we crossed Krishnagiri which was around 90kms. We had carried chapati rolls with us so we didn’t have to go searching for a place to eat. We were about to reach Krishnagiri, at 8:55 am about 90kms into the ride my bike started slowing down. The front wheel looked alright but I had a flat in my rear wheel. All four of us stopped, Madhu and I started fixing the flat and we fixed it in less than 15 minutes. We lost the momentum a bit but continued to ride beating the light traffic in Krishnagiri. Within a few minutes we were out of Krishnagiri and we started to cruise towards Salem. By 9:40am we were done with 103kms where we decided to stop for breakfast and coffee and we stopped on a roadside coffee shop. Since we had carried chapati rolls with us, it didn’t take much time to finish them. Within 15 minutes we were done with our eating and also finished coffee and we are all set to restart.

The heat started to build. Since the terrain was flat we continued to spin and good pace. Our idea was to reach the Yercaud base as early as possible and start the climb. With not much of training, I knew I would struggle the climbs and hence I was pushing the guys to reach the base at the earliest. They all obliged. We decided to make our next water stop after Thoppur downhill and it was 12:00pm when we stopped and we were done with 160kms. It was a quick stop just to refill our bottles. Since we made this stop right after the downhill our bodies had recovered well during this 5kms of downhill and hence we did not take a longer break. We finished this in 10 mins and we are back on the saddle.

I made an announcement to the team that our next stop would be at the base of Yercaud which was another 46kms. I saw Madhu nodding his head but he never looked convinced. The sun was right on top and we started battling against him. The pace dropped a bit and the Yercaud climb was already playing in our minds. With all these thoughts going through our minds we reached Salem by 1:30pm. As decided earlier we continued to ride till Yercaud base and reached there by 2:00pm and we were done with 207kms. We stopped for a good 30 minutes and took rest for a while before we attempted the climb. We had our second round of chapatis stuffed with potatoes topped with some cold refreshments and refilled our bottles with some really chilled water. Mohan Subramanyam, the man behind Bangalore Randonneurs, had already informed during the briefing that he and Eashwar would be available at the 10th kilometer mark on the climb with some refreshments. We just hoped that the water would last till then.

2:30 pm, we were out on the road back on the saddle and started our first climb. We had a 20kms of climb ahead of us which had about 20 hairpin bends with an elevation gain of around 1200 meters. The Yercaud climb started with a right-hander hairpin and we started to climb slowly. I didn’t want to push hard at all and I was prepared to climb slowly with multiple stops. Few minutes into the climb I heard a familiar voice from behind and it was Phaneesh. He was surprised to see me alone and asked about others. I told him that they were slightly ahead, he was gone in a flash. I tried to stay behind him and he was too fast for me. I continued to spin at a steady pace and finally saw Madhu, Param and Doc resting and waiting for me. It was such a wonderful site, I joined the group. I asked them not to wait for me as I would slow them down. The reaction from Madhu and Param gave me an answer that they were tired too. But our Doc looked in good shape and he had stopped only because he didn’t want to leave us and go. We continued after a short break, the heat was peaking, rather than counting on kilometers I switched to meters. We made another stop and I convinced our Doc to carry on as we were slowing him down very badly. With him gone ahead, we didn’t have the guilt of slowing anyone down. Finally reached the halfway mark where we were welcomed by Mohan and Eashwar along with few members from Salem Cycling Club. We didn’t have to worry about parking our bikes as this was taken care off by the volunteers and Mohan even went to the extent of filling our bottles with water. What a wonderful gesture! Hats off to these guys. We stopped for a while and we all had multiple servings of lime water with salt. We were done with about 10kms of the climb by this time and we had taken a good 90 minutes for the same with multiple stops. We could feel the temperature dipping as we went higher and with this, we continued to climb. The pace increased a bit compared to the first 10kms and finally approached the 2nd hairpin bend. From then on we got the hairpins at regular intervals which in a way was good as we could climb with a hairpin countdown. I learnt this method from Monish after reading his Twin Hills Blog which he had written a couple of years ago. Thank you, Monish. With 3/4th of the climb done, we encountered the first rider coming down who is none other than Monish. He was literally flying. He waved at us and he was gone. We had less than 2kms to the summit when we saw another rider and it was none other than our friend Phaneesh. With Sun going down our pace started to pick up and the stops also reduced and we finally reached the Control Point by 6:00 pm which was three hours before the cut off time. We had taken a good three and a half hours which is one hour more than what we took last year. We decided to descend but stopped for a coffee as suggested by Madhu. Coffee felt nice after a hard climb and we started to descend. With few hairpins done, we saw the young boy Kousthub (19 years old) and he was making his way up on his single speed bike. What a sight it was! This kid was riding this climb off the saddle and he had a smile on his face. I got really excited looking at him and I cheered him at the top of my voice. With few more hairpins done, we met Nitin, Sharath and Ratnaveer making their way up and it was already dark. Nitin and Sharath were riding together and Ratnaveer was slightly behind. We gave them some encouraging words and moved on. We also met Praveen who was done with 50% of his climb and looked like he was cutting it too close to reach the control point on top of Yercaud. In the midst of all these, we had made two stops in between so that our rims don’t overheat due to excessive braking and we were back at the base by 7:15 pm. A 20km long downhill stretch was a real nightmare as constant braking was required and the hands had taken a solid beating. We saw a few riders going back in a bunch and later got to know that they all had called off their rides and were making arrangements to head back to Bangalore. Swamy, a seasoned rider was one of them and he had made a brave attempt of doing this ride on his single speed MyBike and had given up halfway into the climb. The other rider was Pinnak who started the climb at 6:30 pm and had given up thinking that he wouldn’t be able to make it. He decided to stop with us for a quick coffee as we made another quick stop to refill water. By now we were done with 250kms with just another 55kms to the next control point which was a manned control point.

Halfway into the climb where Mohan had set up a support station.

We decided to ride nonstop till the next control point and started increasing the pace. Soon we were slowed down by the bad roads and heavy traffic through the Salem city. Once we were out of the city the pace picked up and we were back in the zone. Suddenly I saw Madhu next to me and he wanted to stop and have something to eat as he was hungry. I tried to convince him to push till the next control point as I knew that Mohan would be there with some food but in vain. We made a stop at a roadside food joint with 30kms to the next control point. Though we wanted to have curd rice we had to be content with Dosas as curd rice was not available. While we were having dosas I was thinking that we should compensate for this stop by not stopping for long at the next control point. That’s when Param said that he wants to rest at the next control point. I agreed to it as this was his first 600 and didn’t want to push him to ride without rest. We didn’t want to spend much time there and we decided to start. We knew the distance to the next CP was around 30kms, but we had a small ghat section of about 5kms to climb. This was the same 5kms downhill that we had enjoyed in the morning. Since it was short and not steep either we didn’t even realise the climb. We reached the control point by 10:40pm and we were also told that 18 riders had stopped their rides for various reasons. That really was not encouraging. We finished the formalities of the CP, got our Brevet cards stamped and decided to take a power nap there. Since it was Coffee Day the AC attracted us. I asked Mohan to wake us up at 11:30pm and we all rested. None of us got any sleep there even though we forced ourselves to sleep. Mohan woke us up at 11:30 pm and served us with some curd rice and buttermilk. With halfway done we were all set for the remaining 50% of the ride and started our ride at 12:00am.

At mid Control Point, 305kms. Image courtesy: Mohan Subramanyam

Our next target point was to reach Krishnagiri which was about 60kms from the CP. We found it hard to get the momentum after a 75 minute break, but we continued to pedal. The pace had dropped significantly and we didn’t bother much. With one water stop in between, we reached Krishnagiri by 3:00am. That was the point where we had called off our ride on our previous attempt. We decided to ride till Vaniyambadi and then rest for a while before the Yelagiri climb. Having this thought in mind we stopped at a roadside stop for a quick coffee. We ended up having buns as well and refilled our bottles and we were good to go till Vaniyambadi. As we just started from there we found an ATM and an empty space outside which was very inviting. I checked with Madhu and Param if we should take a power nap here. They both felt so and we decided to stop and settled down outside the ATM. That was a bad decision as that place was full of mosquitoes and we couldn’t stay there for long. We continued to ride as we wasted a good 20 minutes there and we covered 20kms in the next 45 minutes. It was around 4:45 in the morning, we were done with 390kms and I started to feel sleepy. I tried to ride but it was getting really hard for me to ride and I decided to stop and get some sleep and the other two also stopped. We found a nice bus stop with a shelter and we settled down. It was 4:45am and Param kept the alarm for 5:15am. Within minutes I was into a deep sleep. Param woke me up at 5:15 and I snoozed for another 10 minutes. That was a much deserved rest for all of us and we were up and running by 5:30am. With 20 odd kilometres to Vaniyambadi, we maintained a good pace. The sleep made a lot of difference and I felt as if I had slept for a good 7–8 hours. We were at Vaniyambadi by 6:30am and took a deviation towards Yelagiri base which was 8kms but the roads were rough and patchy and slowed us down. With few kilometers to the base, we met Dr. Gowri Shankar who had already finished the climb and was heading back towards Krishnagiri. We asked him about the road conditions and his response brought a smile on our face. We made a quick stop to refill our bottles and also had some bananas before we started our climb.

7:15am, we were at the base and without any further stops we started to climb. It’s a 14kms climb with 14 hairpin bends with an elevation gain of around 750 meters. Since it was early in the morning it was not as difficult as the Yercaud climb and we reached the halfway mark with one or two stops. The hairpin countdown really helped here too. As we continued to ride we saw Phaneesh who had completed the climb and was descending. We exchanged greetings and continued. Time of the day matters a lot especially when you are doing the climbs and that was very evident in our Yelagiri climb. We reached the top by 8:45am and we were welcomed by Mohan. We asked Mohan for a good place for breakfast, we were told to get back on to the highway to find some places to eat. We started to descend as we were feeling hungry. As we were cruising we met Nitin and he was riding alone. We were told that Sharath decided to stop due to lack of sleep. Further down we met Kousthub who looked strong on his single speed bike and again he had that smile on his face. We kept meeting riders at regular intervals as we were cruising downhill. Venkat, Somaskanda and Ratnaveer were the other riders that we met. We were done with the downhill and stopped for a short break at the base to give some rest to our hands which were paining due to constant braking. Madhu made use of this stop and helped himself with a quick coffee whereas Param and I decided to stay on the bike. Once Madhu was done with his coffee, we continued our ride towards the highway and in no time we were on the highway. We spotted a good restaurant and we stopped as our Garmins displayed 458 kms. There was a sense of achievement as we conquered two hills in one ride. I made a comment saying that we have now conquered Twin Hills which didn’t excite Madhu as the Shoolagiri climb was playing in his mind. While we relaxed in the AC room we were served with nice hot dosas for which I ordered some extra butter to go with it. We decided against coffee or tea this and went ahead with Horlicks.

At Yelagiri top. Image courtesy: Mohan Subramanyam

49kms to Krishnagiri and we set a target of two and a half hours as we started at 10:30 am. The heat was on and the winds were strong. If there was one thing that cyclists hated, that’s headwinds. The winds were so strong that we had to pedal even in downhills for our bikes to move. Even with such hard pedalling, we were finding it hard to maintain 15kmph and we already started running out of water. We kept making multiple stops as we battled against the heat and winds. By that time the mind had taken over the body. Though the body wanted to stop the mind wouldn’t let you stop, a typical example of mind over body. We kept getting updates from Phaneesh who was ahead of us by about 2 hours and the story was no different. He was also going through the same situation. In the meantime, Madhu did some calculation and told us that the headwind situation wouldn’t last after Krishnagiri. It was not so convincing but hoped for it at that time. What we thought would take two and a half hours had taken a full three hours as we reached Krishnagiri at 1:30 pm. We were running out of water, but convinced Madhu and Param to continue for another 2kms till the Krishnagiri toll though I knew it was 5kms. Had I mentioned 5kms we were in for another stop which I was trying to avoid. Madhu got to know that I tricked him and as we reached the toll booth. I tried to convince Madhu to ride few kilometers more so that we can make a lunch stop and refill out bottles as well for which I got a strong opposition and we made a stop on the roadside to fill water. I pulled out my phone and searched for some restaurants and there were plenty in the next 3–4 kilometers and finally, we landed in Saravana Bhavan with 518kms done and the clock showing 2:24pm. We all ordered curd rice as we were in no mood for heavy food. I started to feel that we are inching closer to the finish line and it kept me happy even though I was tired. Param looked okay but Madhu was looking very low. I realised that he was worried about the Shoolagiri climb and convinced him that it’s just the rolling hills. I got into the calculation mode and we had 82kms to cover in the last 7 hours. I was looking at just 25kms in the first two hours as it was too hot and we all agreed to it. In the meantime, we also learnt that Monish had already finished the ride at 12:30pm. Salute to him.

3:00pm, we are back on the saddle for the last leg of our journey. Though we were tired the excitement of finish kept us going. We covered the first few kilometers really fast as we had few downhills. But these didn’t last long and in the next moment, we started climbing the rolling hills of Shoolagiri. Fully loaded trucks were struggling on these climbs as we rode side by side with them matching their pace which gave us a psychological boost. With 10kms to Shoolagiri, Madhu asked me again if this is the last stretch of Shoolagiri. The devil of Shoolagiri didn’t seem to have left him even at that point. I made a positive comment on it and continued as we had covered 25kms as planned by 5:00 pm with few stops in between. Our next target was Hosur which is another 17kms and we aimed and reaching Hosur by 6:00 pm and we in fact did and addition 4kms by 6:00 pm as we stopped for coffee after exiting Hosur. I knew this would be our last stop before we reach the finish line. We had some coffee and I refilled only one bottle as I knew I wouldn’t need the other one.

With Hosur behind us, we were on the home stretch with 18kms to Electronic City and another 17kms from there to the finish line. As the Sun was down we all gained the energy and momentum back and started hitting great speeds and at times we even touched 40kmph and were already at Electronic City. As suggested by Param we decided to take the Express Way which turned out to be a good decision in terms of speed, but I would strongly recommend riders not to take the Express Way as it is narrow and it’s very difficult to ride next to speeding vehicles. We were just 2kms away from Silk Board as we saw a huge pile of vehicles on the Express Way exit. The traffic had come to stand still with some maintenance work in progress on the Silk Board flyover. We didn’t have the place to move as we wasted close to 40 minutes. Finally managed to exit the Express Way, crossed the road, pushed the bike in the opposite direction and managed to reach the other side of the flyover. It just took 20 minutes from there to reach the finish line which is Kanteerava Stadium. As we approached the finish line at 8:30pm we greeted each other as this was the SR ride for all three of us and the first SR for Param.

At the end control point

Getting an SR with Twin Hills is always special or as Ashok Thiruvengadam says “Twin Hills blessed us with and SR”. We were excited to see our friends [Pancham, Nani, Vidya (Madhu’s wife), Jaisimha, Deepika, Harshith, Renu (my wife)] at the finish line who have been waiting for us. They all cheered us as we entered the stadium, the feeling which can only be experienced. We finished the formalities and submitted our brevet cards. There was a sense of accomplishment in all our faces and we didn’t want to move as we kept talking about the ride with our friends as we waited for the rest of the guys to finish the ride. We kept asking for updates about them and finally we were excited to see Nitin (newly crowned SR) and Kousthub reaching the finish line well ahead of time. Praveen had stopped at Krishnagiri as he missed the control point and Ratnaveer got held up in Silk Board traffic and couldn’t make it to the finish line. Dr. Gowri Shankar and Phaneesh had finished by 5:00pm and 6:00pm respectively. This was the second 600 for Phaneesh this season and he was already done with his SR when he completed his 400 in Feb 2nd. Overall it’s a tough ride but a satisfying one in the end. Just for the record out of 42 riders, 21 riders finished the ride.

Newly crowned SRs

We waited till the last rider, had dinner at Konark and it was 11:45pm when we reached home. After a failed attempt last year we were keen on finishing it this time. Like last year, we decided to ride as a team and we are happy that we achieved it.

Nani (Narayan) celebrating Param’s SR.

Now the question is, do you want to go back and do it again next year.

Why not?