The SLA and LSR Adventure; Day 6, Cycling to Gampola

During 2014 the Trek and Run team joined others to cycle and trek over 650kms, coast to coast across Sri Lanka. We were supported on our journey by the following companies, who provided the resources we needed to make the best of our time there.

Rain fell as we began this huge day of cycling at around 8am. I was relieved, I knew we had a testing climb and about 50kms of distance before us and it would’ve been that much tougher if the sun was to be out all the way. None of us were that experienced on bikes so although 50kms and over 2,000 foot of ascent isn’t much for those who are used to it, it was going to be a lot for us!

We hadn’t gone more than a km when we met a column of school children all dressed in white on their way to a monastery.

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None of them were too cool to smile or say hello, or just express what they felt inside. Most kids of this same age in the UK are so hemmed in already by how they should be acting that they’ll rarely give you this level of honesty (que outraged reader shouting about pedophilia). Later we were to pass a school just as the children left lessons; they hadn’t seen tourists on bikes before, only passing quickly in vans, so they went wild as we slowed down to say hello, cheering and offering high five’s to us all. It’s very satisfying to be seen, to be actually seen, and one of the many joys of being in Sri Lanka is that most people are very open to registering what is before their eyes, and acting true to their heart upon the information.

The climb came quickly and before we began it we stopped for a snack of bananas and cake.

“You’re going to need the energy,” said L.H., our guide. Lamia decided that it all sounded a little too daunting for her so she packed up her bike and loaded it into the van. One of the plus points of the tour was that people could cycle as much as they liked each day, there was no requirement to finish the ride if you were too tired, or thought it beyond your ability.

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Halfway up the mountain we stopped at a tea stall. The owner was a kind man, pouring the tea from glass to glass to cool it and smiling with a genuine friendliness. He, his wife and his other customer were open in nature and without a hint of the sort of envy that western tourists often encounter as they pass through less developed countries. Nobody was looking for a way out here and it showed very clearly. I didn’t feel much like tea – we had plenty of water in the van and a water bottle each on the bikes and I’d been drinking liberally all morning – so instead I got the camera out and had a bit of fun making memories.

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Half an hour and we were on our way again. The tree cover fell away from the road edge as we climbed and the sun broke through. Traffic was light, a few buses and tuk tuks and people carrying large loads of greenery on this heads, and the views back over jungle to Bible Rock, beyond which had been our starting point that morning, were immense.

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I didn’t need to get out of the saddle until the very end of the 2,000 foot climb, the road surface was mostly good and the gradient manageable, it was a satisfying level of difficulty. Enough to make you feel like you’ve done something tough but completely achievable for the average person. And the downhill that was our reward was brilliant, fifteen minutes of freewheeling to Gampola town!

A wedding party was in full swing as we arrived at the Bin Vino Hotel, there was a lot of singing, drinking and dancing going on next to reception…

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“Don’t worry,” said the receptionist, “the noise will stop soon, the party ends in an hour.”

She was right. Soon ‘La Vida Loca’ gave way to the chirp of cicadas and the call to prayer from a distant mosque. Our room view was magnificent, the sunset was an amazing orange-yellow.

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The fireflies emerged as darkness enveloped us. The night wasn’t quiet, it was full of sounds – birds, bugs, mammals – that were as loud as any car. We sat in our room and edited the photos of the day. There had been many photo opportunities, as usual, but we deleted most of the portraits. Portraits that would feature as prize photos on many other holidays but here in Sri Lanka were just everyday snaps, so frequent are the chances of getting a good photo in the country. Then we researched the next day’s ride – another 50kms across the lush mountains and backroads to Kithugala – a place we’d seen on the big screen as the location for the classic film ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’.

My legs were aching and now, a few days into the journey, I was starting to get saddle sore. I had the best cycling kit available yet still conditions were hot and tough and I hadn’t been on a bike for a year or more so it was inevitable that issues would arise from chafing and time in the saddle. I needed to rest but my mind was full of the excitement of the day and sleep didn’t come easy. When your mind is as stimulated as it is when faced with so many photo opportunities, new experiences and kind people and your body worked hard with the most enjoyable sort of exercise it’s a struggle to come down to earth and get the rest you need. I didn’t mind, though, I was prepared, it was going to be like this for the next few weeks until we reached Passikudah. The adventure was upon us, all around us, and a decent night’s sleep could wait until the east coast had been reached.

Here’s a timelapse video I made from our balcony…

If you’d like to know more about LSR, please visit www.lsr-srilanka.com

If you’d like to discover more about the service offered by Sri Lankan Airlines - www.srilankan.com

And if you’d like to view the film of our entire bikeride across Sri Lanka, here it is.

This is the edited, half hour long version…

…and this is the hour long version.

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