Thursday, January 01, 2009

Day seven: Diamonds and rust

The goodbye hung over the day. It was important for the record to make that final run to Bangalore, but nobody had to like it and many didn't try very hard to. It didn't help that the Mysore-Bangalore route anyway feels more like a commute than anything else.

Many people took it easy, some choosing to stop often at wayside tea stalls for chai and a chat, hailing others as they passed. Others amused themselves for a while at the lunch stop with watermelons and Nelly's wheelies. As Virender said, "This is the difference between a tour and a race. After a race, you have no friends, you won't find anyone taking phone numbers and email addresses." (Not everyone agrees with this, though. Dickie for example, has been in races where "riders have made friends with closest rivals" and he's seen far more emotional goodbyes there.)

Our entry into Bangalore was great. We were met by a police escort at Bangalore University, where everyone stopped to get into their TFN jerseys. Many of those who did only a part of TFN joined in here for the final stretch. Though the going was slow through the city and the traffic did occasionally creep up on us, the police motorcycle did help to keep the whole group together. I was riding on a motorcycle myself today, as Modi's wingman (I really wanted to do this on the ride up to Ooty but was too late to catch either of them), so I was able to see the critical mass for the first time on the Tour.

I don't know whether the riders could have felt it, but from my vantage point on the back of the shepherd motorcycle, it was an impressive sight, with bicycles stretching all the way down the road, filling the horizon. My feelings were reflected in the faces of those who turned to watch and the occasional tourist who whipped out a camera in a hurry. This was the second awesome sight of the day. The first was when we were following what I personally think of as the pro group. They rode in formation from Channapatna to Bangalore and it was like watching racing footage on TV. Very exciting.

By the end of the victory lap around Vidhan Soudha, they had done well over 919 km. We arrived at the finish line in front of the Central Library in Cubbon Park to a chorus of cameras.

The sun is setting now as I stand on the sidewalk and watch the riders congratulate each other, cheer for their support team, make thank-you speeches and plans for rides next weekend. And so the first Tour of Nilgiris is complete, as always a little too soon, just as we're making friends and it's getting good. Well, maybe next year.

Diamonds and Rust, Joan Baez, 1975

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