It was time to head back from where we began. It was the last one, a short 70 kms ride from Kalpetta to Mysuru. Riders took their time to enjoy the last stretches of emerald greens, breathe in the fresh air, zip past the teak forests before ending the last ride of the tour.

As they set off from Kalpetta on a chilly morning in Kerala, riders were seen exchanging numbers and connecting on social media. As quite a few of them planned to head back to Bangalore today, may be some of them would never meet again. Or maybe they would, right here for the next edition of TfN.

SS1 at Koodalkaduvu was just 25 kms away, a quick refuel before heading onwards to SS2 at Bavali. This stretch had a very narrow passage, with quaint village huts and their bountiful kitchen gardens along the way. This was a tough, steep stretch, the last climb of the tour. But by now, all riders were super strong. After all, they had conquered Kalahatti! So they braved across and reached the forest check post.

Nagarhole Tiger Reserve was a 20 km stretch that riders had to be escorted through with a lead vehicle, as cyclists are typically not permitted through for safety reasons. This truly tested their team spirit, as some riders wanted to speed ahead, and some took their time to pedal along. But those who balanced their pace with that of the lead vehicle truly enjoyed the ride through the forest, having sighted quite a few spotted deer and elephants.

Once they crossed the other side of the forest gate, they let go and went off in full steam. Knowing the lunch spot and the end of the tour was just a few kilometres away, it was a good idea to speed up and just zoom ahead. And just as the riders reached the colourful little public school that marked the end of the tour, emotions were high in the air, as were hugs and high fives.

“I feel so great, I’ve completed the tour for the second time. I did the first one in 2015, it changed my life.” Said Shravani, who has a rare disorder that has affected the nerves in her feet. Yet, 950+ kms and eight days on the road and she is all smiles to have pushed herself through this challenge.

Rashesh, who had just started cycling a year ago is on top of the word. While quite a few riders took at least a day off during from the day rides, especially after Kalahatti, he cycled, walked, dragged himself but didn’t give up through all of the 950+kms.  That says a lot of his, “I won’t give up, I won’t give in’ spirit.

And then there’s Deepa, one of the few women riders on the tour. She was nursing an ailing child for ten years. Two hours is all she had for herself through those challenging years and she used it to run, cycle and train. Such is the spirit of all the riders who aced the 11th edition of the Tour of Nilgiris. Everyone has a personal story, a tough life that they’ve managed to navigate through and come out super strong.

And now it’s time to celebrate. The spirit of the tour, the valour of all the riders and the never-ending service of the volunteers.