In conversation with Gopikrishnan Kesavan, who set a WUCA Kashmir to Kanyakumari record, being the fastest self-supported cyclist. He rode this 3641 km in 13 days flat!
Meet Gopikrishnan Kesavan, a 27-year-old IT professional from Trichy, Tamil Nadu, currently working at Deloitte in Chennai.
While his daytime job involves the intricacies of the IT world, it’s his passion for cycling that has recently catapulted him into the limelight, earning him both a WUCA (World Ultra Cycling Association) record and a coveted spot in the Guinness World Records for the fastest self-supported cycle ride from Kashmir to Kanyakumari in just 13 days.
Embracing Change: A Shift from Laziness to Cycling Addiction
Gopi spoke about his transformation from a self-proclaimed “lazy fellow” to an avid cyclist. “I wanted to break free from the shackles of a sedentary lifestyle filled with laziness, junk food, and late-night movies,” he confesses.
His journey began in August 2021, during the waning days of the pandemic-induced lockdown.
“I took the plunge and bought an old Riverside bike from Decathlon via OLX,” he recounts, pointing out that this choice was a pivotal moment in his life. Little did he know that this purchase would mark the commencement of a remarkable cycling odyssey.
The Riverside Ride: A Catalyst for Change
Armed with his Decathlon hybrid bike, Gopi embarked on a transformative journey. “I completed my SR (Super Randonneur) on that bike and even ventured into touring rides,” he proudly shares. Notably, one of his early cycling endeavours included a ride from Chennai to his hometown Trichy and back.
It was during this period that Gopi discovered the WCCG (Chennai Cyclists Group) on Facebook. “I blindly bought a bicycle on OLX and then found a group on Facebook called WCCG. Then I went and met them on rides,” he reveals. This chance encounter opened up a world of opportunities and connections with like-minded individuals who shared his passion for cycling.
A Lifestyle Overhaul: The Addictive Power of Cycling
Gopikrishnan’s foray into cycling wasn’t just about breaking records; it was a conscious decision to overhaul his lifestyle. “I am addicted to cycling now,” he admits, reflecting on how this simple act of pedalling became a driving force for positive change. Cycling became more than just a physical activity; it became a medium through which he rewrote the script of his life.
Conquering the Hills: Gopikrishnan’s First Big Ride
Gopikrishnan Kesavan’s cycling journey took a significant leap with his first big ride – a challenging 400 km Brevet des Randonneurs Mondiaux (BRM) in November 2021. Recalling the experience, he describes it as a hilly terrain with a staggering 2000 meters of elevation gained. “Even now, I wonder how I did that ride then. I had a simple bicycle, no modern kit or gadgets,” he reflects.
WUCA Kashmir to Kanyakumari Record
Inspiration Strikes From a Newspaper Article
The idea of attempting the record-breaking journey from Kashmir to Kanyakumari wasn’t an instant revelation for Gopikrishnan. It all started with a newspaper article he stumbled upon during his early rides in 2021. “India’s longest Highway is Kashmir to Kanyakumari,” the article declared, planting a seed of inspiration in his mind.
Until November 2023, Gopikrishnan hadn’t entertained the thought of breaking records or earning a spot in the Guinness World Records. His initial motivation was simply to undertake the ride itself. “I was planning to do approximately 300 km every day during the ride. But not any record,” he explains. However, the suggestion from fellow riders changed the game. Encouraged by his peers, Gopi decided to aim for the record, leading him to the World Ultra Cycling Association (WUCA), which had an association with Guinness.
Solo, Self-Supported: Gopi’s Preferred Cycling Style
The decision to go for a self-supported ride was not new for Gopikrishnan. “I did solo self-supported rides all the time,” he reveals. His penchant for solo adventures was evident in his annual December tradition of embarking on solo self-supported rides. In 2021, he toured his hometown from Chennai; in 2022, he covered Wayanad to Mysore to Coimbatore to Kanyakumari to Chennai, and in the previous year, he successfully completed the challenging Kashmir to Kanyakumari (K2K) route.
For Gopikrishnan, the appeal of solo self-supported riding lies in the freedom it offers. “Because whenever we need to rest, ride fast or slow, you can do it without having to consider anybody else’s requirements,” he explains. While he occasionally joined cycling groups during BRMs, these interactions were limited to short stretches, and he would often find himself returning to the solitude of solo riding.
The time constraint further reinforced his choice. With only 15 days of leave from his office, solo self-supported rides aligned seamlessly with his need for flexibility and independence on the road.
Rigorous Training Regimen
Gopikrishnan Kesavan’s journey towards breaking the Kashmir to Kanyakumari (K2K) cycling record was not just a matter of determination; it was a result of meticulous preparation and a series of demanding rides. In January 2023, a full eleven months before the epic ride, Gopikrishnan committed himself to the goal of conquering K2K by December. His preparation involved progressively intensifying rides throughout the year.
The challenges began early in the year with a grueling 12000 meters of elevation over a 1200 km stretch in Madurai. Unfortunately, he faced a DNF (Did Not Finish), but undeterred, he persisted. The next month saw him completing a 1200 km ride from Bangalore to Goa and back in an impressive 79 hours.
To ensure he was physically and mentally prepared for the arduous K2K journey, Gopikrishnan took on diverse challenges each month. This included a half-Everesting ride in Yellagiri with 4800 meters of elevation in March, followed by the Coorg 1000 in April, a ride encompassing 9500 meters of elevation in just 74 hours.
Not limiting himself to long-distance rides, Gopikrishnan also delved into road racing, participating in the Tamil Nadu Cycling League (TCL) as part of the Namma Chennai team. This venture into racing provided him with valuable insights into different aspects of cycling, offering a unique perspective on stamina and endurance.
By October, Gopikrishnan had achieved another milestone – a double Everesting in Yellagiri, making him the first Indian to accomplish this feat.
Facing the Challenges Head-On
When the time finally arrived for the K2K ride, Gopikrishnan encountered a series of challenges that tested his resolve. The first and perhaps most unexpected obstacle was the harsh weather. A south Indian who had never ventured beyond Karnataka, Gopi found himself in the freezing cold of Srinagar in December. A decision to avoid unpacking his warm wear from the check-in luggage led to frozen hands, highlighting the harsh reality of the northern climate.
Choosing December for the ride also meant contending with the cold and snowfall season in Kashmir, adding an extra layer of difficulty to the already ambitious journey.
Language and food presented additional hurdles. Gopikrishnan, not fluent in Hindi, had to resort to creative communication methods such as Google Translate and sign language. In the northern regions, he faced the challenge of adjusting to a different breakfast culture, with locals consuming a modest meal of a small roti and tea, a stark contrast to the hearty breakfasts he was accustomed to.
Adding to the list of challenges, Gopikrishnan had to navigate through a roadblock caused by an army convoy on the first day, delaying his progress by three hours.
Savouring the Flavours: A Culinary Expedition
For Gopi, the most cherished memory from his epic Kashmir to Kanyakumari (K2K) cycling adventure wasn’t just about conquering distances; it was the diverse culinary experiences he encountered along the way. Remarkably, despite covering a staggering 3700 km in 13 days, he humorously admits, “I did not lose a single kg. Everybody asked me how I am still the same after so much riding. Even the tyres around my belly didn’t reduce!”
In Nagpur, Gopi experienced a surreal encounter with dense fog. As early as 7 AM, thick fog enveloped the surroundings, reducing visibility to a mere two meters. Seeking respite from the bone-chilling cold, he would often stop at tea shops where fires were lit to stay warm. Bundled up in 3-4 layers of clothing, he faced temperatures as low as 4-5 degrees Celsius at the start of the day, with a maximum temperature reaching only 15 degrees – a stark contrast to the milder nights in the south.
The Journey of Rest: Accommodation, Food, and Hydration
Accommodations during the K2K journey varied widely for Gopi. Whether securing a hotel or finding makeshift shelter, he adapted to whatever was available. His resourcefulness led him to spend a night in the unexpected surroundings of a warehouse attached to a liquor shop. Recounting the amusing incident, he laughs, “I had already undressed before I even realized what it was.”
Communicating with locals posed a challenge, leading to instances where Gopi would reply with a simple “okay” to everything.
The journey’s rhythm shifted as he navigated through different terrains and climates. Until Nagpur, he rested at night and rode during the day, starting around 5 AM. The scorching heat beyond Nagpur prompted a change in strategy. Thereon, he slept between 12 to 5 during the day and rode through the night, a spontaneous decision influenced by fatigue that surprisingly worked out well.
His lodgings included diverse places such as a Church, a petrol bunk, and even a warehouse. Despite the challenges, he maintained a disciplined sleep schedule, sleeping 5-6 hours each night. However, in the final days of the journey, sleep dwindled to a mere 3 hours per day.
His ambitious goal was to complete the entire journey within 13 days. Despite challenges in the north that made pushing harder, Gopikrishnan achieved his target with incredible precision. “I ended exactly 13 days, not one minute more or less,” he marvels, highlighting the meticulous planning and resilience that fuelled his triumphant journey from the northern reaches of Kashmir to the southern tip of Kanyakumari.
Right Moves and Regrets: Reflecting on the Journey
In hindsight, Gopi evaluates the successes and missteps of his epic WUCA Kashmir to Kanyakumari Record cycling expedition. Among the triumphs, he emphasizes the importance of thorough bike maintenance and proactive health measures. “Right was doing a proper service for the bike. I was carrying medicines as well, so before any illness could flare up, I would have medicine.“
However, he candidly admits to a miscalculation in packing. “The mistake I made was carrying very little winter clothes. I should have carried more winter wear.” Choosing December for the ride added to the challenge, and Gopi acknowledges that a September or October timeframe would have been more favourable with longer daylight hours and less exhaustion from the cold.
The Steed and the Gear: Tools of the Trade
Gopi’s trusty companion for this monumental journey was a Scolarian steel bike equipped with a Tiagra groupset and 28 mm Continental tyres. His choice of bags included a Geosmina Tail bag, a Trek N Ride handlebar bag, a Geosmina top tube bag, and a Decathlon bag.
For illumination, he relied on two Magicshine 10000 headlights, a Cateye headlight, and a Niterider battery light. The tail was adorned with a Cateye and Fenix tail light. Power needs were met with a 20000 mAh and a 10000 mAh power bank, the latter remaining untouched throughout the ride.
Navigation was facilitated by a Garmin 830, a crucial tool for Gopi. “Without Garmin, I would never have imagined doing this ride,” he emphasizes. The device not only provided maps but also displayed heart rate, cadence, and speed. However, a glitch with the Garmin caused a temporary setback, highlighting the reliance on technology in navigating unfamiliar terrains.
Sharing insights into his navigation strategy, he mentions using RidewithGPS to create a route that he followed on the Garmin. This allowed him to bypass potential confusion with road signs, ensuring a smoother journey through cities like Delhi, Hyderabad, and Bangalore, where cycling on certain roads is restricted.
Future Adventures: Gates of Heaven 2024
With the K2K triumph still fresh, Gopikrishnan Kesavan is already gearing up for his next cycling endeavor. “My next ride is Gates of Heaven 2024 in January,” he reveals, hinting at the continuous pursuit of challenges and the unquenchable thirst for exploring new horizons.
As he stands on the cusp of another cycling adventure, Gopikrishnan’s journey serves as an inspiration for aspiring cyclists and a testament to the transformative power of passion and determination.
You can check out his WUCA Kashmir to Kanyakumari Record details on the WUCA website.
Photos: Gopikrishnan Kesavan