In the Month of June just after a few days I turned 18,I had to leave for the most exiting race that was to happen on the Indian Continent! With struggling for the right bike equipment and doing some ‘jugaad’ repairs to my bike as the parts weren’t easily available, I was race ready! Or maybe that’s what I thought. In no time I was hustling my luggage and bike bag into the trains all exited for the 2 day journey to the Mountainbike Capital of India, Manali. I won’t really call it a hustle because as soon as I realized I was in the north, with snow caped mountains and fresh water rivers flowing beneath me, I almost instinctively knew that I have finally answered to the good times that were calling me for so long.
As soon as we reached Manali town, our friend Naveen Barongpa the owner of Himalayan Bike bar and also an avid downhill rider, received us and showed us our place to stay! Frankly, I fell in love with that place. All I could see when I opened my window was mountains, mountains and mountains. I knew this was the place I’d find what I was looking for..
Well after roaming around the city for a bit it was time to check the course out for the first Himachal Downhill Mountainbike Trophy which was being held at Solang Valley Manali. I met up with these awesome dudes, Vineet Sharma, James Frampton,Naveen and friends from Nepal who arrived later in the week! As I already knew that this place won’t disappoint me I walked through the course with gnarly rock sections and off cambered root sections with one thought repeating in my mind, ‘Oh this going to be so much fun!’ I just couldn’t wait for the next day, which was the official practice for the race!
I think I missed some part.. Oh yes! This event was held at the Ski Himalayas resort which had a Gondola feature to take us to the top of mountain!! Indian Bike park? Yes that’s what we thought. It has always been one my wishes to ride up and down the gondola doing runs on my favorite trails. So there it was! The official practice day and as much as I was exited for it, I’m sorry to say but it eventually sucked! It rained heavily just before practice and was drizzling during it, which made the track so slippery that even the Race marshals were slipping on steep sections. But I had to get runs on the track in anyway whatsoever. So I held my self together and went out for my first run and yes, I crashed. TWICE! I did 8 runs in total that day out of which 7 runs I crashed, slipped, hit a tree, thrown over the bars or got washed off. I was so out of energy after the 7th run that I felt I should give up and save myself for the race day, but then I saw my mentor, Vinay Menon known for hucking huge cliffs walking up to the gondola for another run. I thought to myself, why not? Let’s give it another try! In the end after crashing so much I almost knew where all I could go wrong because I had gone wrong in every possible way! So there I was with no confidence and with pain in my muscles I dropped in, being careful along the way and trying not to slip out and be all over the place I completed the course WITHOUT a crash! Yes, that was it! Now was the time for a hot shower and getting my mind ready for the Race action tomorrow!
Have you every heard that phrase, ‘It’s always darkest just before the dawn’ ? Yeah that’s what it felt like after three days of cloudy weather and bad luck we woke up to our race day with bright sunshine, it felt like heaven. Tiny shreds of cotton were floating in the sky, yes Manali is known for that you always end up finding something trippy and interesting. But anyway we shuttled our bikes in to drove off to the race venue.
As soon as we reached I saw the other riders doing practice runs, but I decided to stay low and save myself for the two main official runs for the race day! All riders were told to take the gondola and reach the start as the First Himachal Downhill Trophy was about to kick off!
Seeding run, yes the pressure was building. All riders were lined up! Things were gonna get rowdy and the tourists who came to see were waiting to be amazed. After all riders were ready for their seeding run.Soon it was my turn to drop in, I stood on the start line and adjusted my goggles,checked my gears and kept breathing to keep the nervousness away! It was 30 secs to go and in no time to think it was 5…4…3…2….1!GO!
I sprinted and much unfortunately I got out of breath and tired after the half length of the course, I still kept myself together and sprinted across the finish with a time of 4m50s putting me second spot with Nepal’s Mangal Lama known for this tight switchbacks and fast sprints! Well I did better than I thought I would, but I knew I could push it a little more. As the fastest riders drops in the last, I was second last to drop in during my final run! This time it was Game on! I had to give it all, everything I had because that’s what I had trained for! 30 seconds to drop in, I was calm, quiet, feeling the breeze and suddenly I switched in the BEAST mode when the Marshall said 5,4,3,2,1 GO! After that was the run I had fun riding, I din’t really care to win that time. I just wanted to ride fast and have fun just like I always do when I’m not racing. SO that’s how it was with a few mistakes that slowed me down. I pinned it in the later sections of the course, full in flow and raw power! Pumping it into the last sections and crossing the finish line with a time of 4m42s beating Mangal by a 7 second lead. I guess the beast mode worked! I was astonished and so happy that I threw my shades in the air without even knowing it! The big Trophy that sat on the table was mine and I had won! It was obviously a great feeling and just the finale I was expecting for this trip. It taught me much more than just riding and I met the craziest people ever and had the raddest times! This was one unforgettable experience that will go down in my memory banks as the best race trips I’ve ever had!
IT’S A WRAP! Now was the time to head back to Pune and start work for our new venture.