The legend continues…
My kingdom as I always call this Martian land, it has always been a relishing experience being out there in the wilderness with old friends and new, and expressing the gratitude towards the demon that lay silently behind the bushes waiting for the magical race to flag off at this time of the year. Into its fourth year, we have travelled far with this venture and still that day looks fresh when I contacted Kavitha (Race Director, Globeracers) for the first time asking details about Bhati Lakes Ultra expressing interest about running 50 miles (inspired by Asha Arora’s 50 miler) and did end up running 100 miles – curses to Vishwas Bhamburkar for that (kidding mate).
Finisher in the first year, a naggy DNF in the second and then being back as a volunteer/part-time pacer – Bhati has treated me alike with the similar warmth but sharper instincts. Loved the route this year, that was at par with 2011 route with little more trail. Cheering and serving the good old pals and veterans with likes of – Raj Vadgama, Bhupendrasing Rajput, Piyush Shah, Aparna Choudhary; and Tanvir Kazmi, Lovekesh Uppal, Vineet Agarwal, Ankush Mendiratta, Jaspreet Singh, Anil Kumar, Randeep Singh, Chauhan brothers being among those to return yet again to test the mettle – was indeed an amazing experience. Understanding their needs and serving before being asked was the motto right from the start.
I was late to reach the venue as I landed right on the start line after 28 hours of travel followed by 5 mile warm up walk – with luggage. 135 milers were on the go and I was assigned to setup aid station three around midnight after rest and dinner of lemon rice. Meanwhile, I made a quick halt at Coach Ian’s place to say hi, drop one of my bags and invite him to join us the following mornings. There were many known faces and a few unknowns and soon I was in know it all crash course by race operations director, Abhijit Yeole – the guy handling La Ultra, better than anyone else for a long time now.
Right as we left to setup the aid station 3, I lost the Camelbak pouch and kindle in the process of some serious mishandling at my part and more. It was a far too high loss for an uneventful ultra to start with, given that I pulled out of all my ultras for next few years primarily on economic grounds than physical. I was not aware of the loss of latter as I had a belief it was lying somewhere in safest lap I left with, before setting off to mark the remaining route. Shit happens, as they say… lol 😛
With Dharmendra and Ravi, we began to mark the route backwads to 5K mark. Three kilometers in, and we got a diversion. One always have had tough time in retracing the route back to start, despite spending two nights and tens of other runs in the wilderness all by myself I was blindsided. Golden rule of Bhati says, whenever in doubt, take right (on way back). So I did. A few meters in and Ravi insisted that to be a wrong trail and it was far too bushy to be runnable. “No athlete would run here to die, Gaurav. Let’s walk back.”
I kept running for a kilometer and I was all by myself. I was thirsty now and none of us was carrying water. Ravi and Dharam were not visible till the deepest sections of the forest. “Ravi might be right. It’s been almost an year the last time I was here and this place changes every day. Left turn from there might be correct.” I started to run back and join others to keep the plotting job ON.
We took the other way now. For a long time, I was running and others were following me on bike. We had good time under our belt initially, but things were slipping out of hands. Suddenly after few turns, we were stranded. We could see the lake but we were on the wrong side of that. We traced the route back and took the third turn that unconvered the most hidden sections of the trail. We were LOST! We were lost in the wilderness, being 10 minutes away from 100 mile, 100K, 50mile, 24 hour flag off.
“Such an ass I could be, and I call myself to be the veteran of this track. Shame. What Kavitha would think? How runners will feel? They’ll be lost in the wilderness.” I cursed myself. Somehow, we got the hold of two villagers and managed to convince one of them to get us back on the route.
We ran all the way back only to find ourselves back on route we took for the first time. Once confirmed, I was know all guy. I was running for over 12 kilometers now faster than any time else on the roughest trail with no light. Bushes scratched my face, legs and hands were draining more blood than sweat, lungs were dry as desert as I paced myself to the 5K checkpoint. Vision was getting blurred following the dew on the glasses. I was there. I could see Prateek and other runners moving towards the route, which was now marked. I had won the personal race – to move faster than others to reach the 5K checkpoint. Suddenly, I realized Harveen was all by himself at AS-3. As I began to run back after refueling, I realized there were no glasses.
I ran all around only to realize, in the high of pursuit of the goal, I was not paying any attention to the fact, ‘I can’t see the surface at all where I was running.’ Soon, I joined Harveen back and we were on the business. As Harveen left to collect medals, I was joined by another enthusiast Vikas, who was a great support. Meanwhile, I was talking to runnerswhile ensuring them, they were in safe hands. Nidhi Garg was first challenge who was struggling with sprained knee. With no real resources, I began to ice-stretch-relax-massage and analyze the situation closely. She was too tensed to pull out on the first loop and I was feeling stranded. We had little resources, spray was not working, ambulance was 10K away. After little effort I was able to convince Nidhi to go to the start in the car with Avinash, get herself checked up and start the race again from there 11th km onwards.
The day continued with loads and loads of chit-chats, laughs and jokes. Meanwhile, Jaspreet and Anil were losing it now. They were losing the focus and both wanted to pull out at an early stage with huge amount of hours to spare. Calming them down, some non running chats and bam, we were able to convince both of them to continue. Where Anil went on to finish in 11 hours, I happily paced Jaspreet with injured Ankush towards their respect 80th and 90th km late in night to seal the DNF. Throughout Anil and Mohit were too shy to ask for their needs that might have costed a little to both of them.
Third day belonged to 30 milers who gave a little to talk driven by their lightening speed. Their laps were making 100 and 135 milers look sissy. A few familiar faces and few new. Tanvir, Aparna, Lovekesh, Navin and a few more were the DNFs I felt grieved of. I’m sure runners really enjoyed being out there on the tough trail accompanied by a very pleasant and cool weather, compared to any other edition of the race, that indeed is a huge success.
Closing ceremony felt lame to me as I was deeply grieved by lost possessions. However, the beautiful metallic souvenirs almost broke me to tears that took two years to arrive. Meanwhile, Avinash – the waste warrior – was busy with stuff as Kavitha greeted the runners, medical team and volunteers with the utmost warmth and love that drives people across the globe time and after to be around running and helping her with crazy projects. It’s this aura of Globeracers that separates it from the other world making friendship a lifetime bond and running a lifelong worship.
Harveen Singh was another gem of a person I came across last year and worked with. Ravi Sharma, Dharamendra, Manu et. al. were another valuable additions to team I wouldn’t miss to appreciate. Abhijit was at par with his expertise making sure runners didn’t complain of anything but the a tough trail and slightly stiff but realistic time cut-offs. Raw emotions, shear hardwork, people sacrificing the sleep and comforts, joining a for such a noble cause – proud to be part of such a venture and will continue to admire the efforts of the team, time and after.
True that I might never return on this track as a competitor, but the wilderness will keep calling me in the dark nights to test the grits and courage and have a conversation in the silence –I always fancy about this trail.