Many miles, many challenges, a single night… Chithra Priya is the first Indian woman biker to enter the Saddle Sore hall of fame
Her lips were chapped from sustained exposure to cold weather. Her eyes were swollen and bloodshot from sleeplessness. A constant backache had given her a hunch. Dead bugs were trapped in her helmet. Her clothes and riding gear were coated with dirt. Crowning it all was a frantic look on her face. Visiting a succession of petrol bunks on Tumkur Road, she was desperately trying to fill gas at one of them. Chithra Priya was on the way to notching up a unique record — the first Indian woman to cover 1000 miles (1609.3 kilometres) in less than 24 hours on a bike as part of Iron Butt Association's Saddle Sore challenge — when she suddenly began to grapple with the possibility of losing out to the challenge by a whisker.
It was around 6 a.m. on December 26, when she was looking for a petrol bunk on Tumkur Road (on the outskirts of Bangalore) to fill her tank, get an electronic sale slip and close her record-making Bangalore-Pune-Bangalore ride. “There was no fuel at the first bunk that I stopped at. I rode on and found another: no fuel there either. There was disappointment at the third one too,” recalls the 26-year-old adventure biker. “Now, I began to panic. I had set off from Tumkur on December 25 at 6.53 a.m., as recorded by an electronic fuel bill at a petrol bunk. In around 30 minutes, I had to find a bunk where I could have a transaction for fuel. The next bunk had petrol to sell,” she says.
When she received the payment slip — which bore the time 6.21 a.m — she was thrilled. She had covered around 1,650 km in under 24 hours. At her serviced apartment in Dumlor, Chithra rolled off her Honda CBR250 in total exhaustion. “I crashed out. It was another two days before I had the strength to celebrate the achievement with my friends and family.”
While Chithra had been mulling over this record for a long time, she attempted it on an impulse. With the 250cc Honda bike — given to her by the company for the record attempt — she decided to take off on Christmas day. “The planned route was Chennai-Vizag-Chennai. I am familiar with the road, but the six-lane conversion of this road meant I had to go elsewhere. Without a test ride, I decided to go down the unfamiliar Bangalore-Pune highway on December 25,” says Chithra.
Heavy streams of vehicles pouring down the city roads of Pune — probably because of Christmas festivities — upset her plans and it was dark when she turned back towards Bangalore. While leaving Pune, she lost her way and it took a friendly motorcyclist to guide her back to the highway.
“Surprise was writ large on his face when I asked him for directions to the highway. It was incredible for him that a woman would ride all alone through the night from Pune to Bangalore,” says Chithra. All through the night, Chithra was careful not to draw attention to herself. When a vehicle came close to her, she would zip away. Interesting sights — such as the burning of sugarcane chaff at Hubli — greeted her along the way, but Chithra did not stop for a closer look. At 2.30 a.m, when she was crossing Hubli, she received the first faint intimation that her body was protesting the ordeal it was being subjected to. “The cold was biting into my body. I played my iPod and tried to numb the discomfort with music,” she recalls. “However, things only began to get worse. My shoulders were uncooperative and my back ached considerably. A feeble voice urged me to give up.”
Chithra will always be happy she ignored it.