Thursday, July 26, 2012

14/15 July – A Record Drive

I had done 2096 kms in 72 hours since the flag off from Leh at 4 am on the 11th. I was well on target to complete the drive in 110 hours, as scheduled. When I started the car at 4 am on 14th morning I had targeted to halt at Bangalore. Well, plans are just that, plans. What happened in the next 27 and half hours was nothing as per the ‘script’. A dream played out and a record was broken in style.
Between Nagpur and Adilabad the NH 7 is not in great shape. The heavy vehicles on the roads and the constant dogging of pot holes tired me early and my eyelids drooped. Before 5 am I pulled up to the side of the road and slept for 20 minutes. When I woke up there was enough daylight to discern the condition of the road. Despite the short nap I reached Adilabad at 7.20 hours – I had covered 200 kms in 3 hours and 20 minutes. Leaving Adilabad at a half past I was on the best part of the NH7 – the stretch from Adilabad to Kanyakumari is a beauty. Nizamabad went by and I reached Hyderabad well ahead of the appointed time at 11.20 am. The struggle to get through from the north of Hyderabad to the south to take the Bangalore highway was forbidding. As luck would have it I asked an auto driver at an intersection and he guided me expertly on to the Outer Ring Road.
Once on the ORR I started recalculating again. I thought to myself that I should bye pass Bangalore and halt at Salem instead. Maybe the dreams were too much for me. I was overcome by sleep. I pulled up once again and slept. This time I slept for an hour. As I woke up I was gripped by panic. I had informed Kurnool that I would reach there by 3.30 pm. It was already 1.40 pm and I had 155 kms to go. I washed my face and stepped on the accelerator. Fortunately, I got a couple of companions who wanted to race me. The competition saw me reaching the certification point 15 minutes late after fuelling at a pump. Anathapur went by within the next two hours – 150 kms. Nearing Bangalore I got ravenously hungry – I had had very little to eat the whole day. The sight of a Cafe Coffee Day outlet made me go limp. I drove in and ordered a combo. I used the facilities in the outlet to refresh myself. I also got in touch with the MF team in Cochin to confirm the rearranged timings beyond Bangalore. There was not a murmur of protest from any of the teams down the line. I was to reach Dharmapuri and Salem on either side of midnight.
The enthusiastic Bangalore team caused much mirth in front of the Esteem Mall where I stopped for certification. In five minutes I was off on the road again. I resolved to drive through to Kanyakumari. If I reached there ahead of 8 am I would be bettering the existing time by about 50 hours. That was the new target – reach Kanyakumari before 8 am. The same was relayed to all the MF teams down the road, as it were.
Just of Bangalore the skies opened out. Buckets and unending buckets of rain made driving almost impossible. The rain water on either side of the road made lane driving nonsensical. To top it all vehicles on the opposite side of the road splashed copies quantities of water on to the wind shield. At one time I contemplated stopping the car till the rains eased. But the thought of the MF teams waiting and their regular calls made me feel a sense of guilt every time I thought of stopping. If they could wait in the rain why could I not drive in the rain? I kept at it and reached Dharmapuri almost at the stroke of midnight. The warm and smiling MF team was at the appointed place to certify. They assured me that I would be able to drive into Kanyakumari as scheduled. The weather did not let up till Salem. The Muthoot team was waiting in pouring rain, but with smiles on their faces. I left Salem at 1 am and the rains eased. Thereafter, I drove at ease to reach Dindigul at 3.30 am and Madurai at 4.15 am. I had been driving for over 24 hours. I kept the creeping fatigue away by reminding myself how close I was to my goal.
It was around 5.30 am when I heard a big shout. My eyes opened in time to stop the vehicle. I had narrowly missed a guy on a moped travelling in the opposite direction and I was headed for a field! I parked the car, shut my eyes for a minute and prayed to the Almighty to give me strength to complete the task within the target. I cannot explain what happened but I was overcome by a new wave of energy. I reached Tirunelveli at 6.40 am – had covered 170 kms from Madurai in 2 hours and 10 minutes. The reception committee at Tirunelveli was ecstatic at seeing the car and the driver. Everyone wanted a photo and to garland. Time was slipping by. I had to tear myself away from a cheering crowd in 5 minutes and get into the car for the last lap to Kanyakumari – but not before accepting a large portion of Tirunelveli halwa and a garland of rajanigandha, my favorite flower.
My mind was in a whirl. An assortment of thoughts demanded my attention. I had another 70 kms before me. The possibility of completing the distance in less than 100 hours was brighter. Would I have a breakdown before reaching Kanyakumari? When you near the goal the goal seems a little further away. But as I paid the entry tax at the toll booth and parked the car in front of the Muthoot finance office I asked the waiting crowd for the time. It was 7.30 am. The 3848 kms Record Drive was completed in 99 hours and 30 minutes – nearly 50 hours less than the existing entry in the Limca Book of Records. The last stretch of 1750 kms was completed in 27 hours and 30 minutes in one go – a true test of stamina, concentration and blessings of God. Having said this I must admit that it would not have been possible without the cooperation and excellent logistical arrangements by Muthoot Finance.
The Assistant Civil Surgeon who had certified my start from Kanyakumari at 4 am on the 2nd July was at hand to certify my arrival into Kanyakumari at 7.30 am on 15th. A two week saga had ended. The regular and prompt handling of the Facebook site had drawn a lot of friends and fans to follow the drive. My wishes to all of them who egged me on and provided crucial emotional support. Completing the drive within 100 hours made me experience what Roger Bannister must have felt when he ran the mile under 4 minutes, even against the advice of doctors. Skeptics were many on the way, but prayers of well wishers triumphed in the end.

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