Cycling is like life. Cycling with no goal is meaningless. What meaning is there cycling in circles? Or living aimlessly? Meaning comes from direction and destination. Join me in my life's journey on a mountain bike :)

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Friday, February 05, 2016

Long winded

1-5 Feb, Sri Lanka, 414 km

This isn't a particularly long ride, but it was harder than I'd expected. While the coast is flat, I didn't figure the headwinds would be so strong. Or so long winded. They blow all day, perhaps 10 km/h. No need to calculate the vector; I head north, the wind blows south. Most of the time, I go below 20 km/h, at its worse, 14 km/h. The weather is hot but not humid; a good thing about the wind is, the wind blows sweat and heat away.

Headwinds aren't new to me; I've faced them in the Outback. So I've learned to grit my teeth and grind on. While I've cycled over 68,000 km, Sri Lanka brought new experiences. I've:
  • been chased by dogs, but not a three-legged one.
  • raced before, but not while touring
  • gone hungry, but not had a liquid lunch of ginger beer
  • wondered how to keep my bicycle safe while I sleep, but not used two bedrooms before.
Beach Road: I like it a lot, because there's a lot of it
1 Feb fly there, nightstop Negombo Village Guesthouse
2 Feb Negombo to Kalpitiya, 129 km, nightstop Randam Hotel fka Windy Lanka
3 Feb Kalpitiya and its environs, 141 km
4 Feb Kalpitiya to Negombo, 144 km
5 Feb fly back

I do some off road, single track, double track, dirt roads and roads. I know I'm lost when the trail peters out. To get back on track, I track like a hunter, looking not for footprints but tyre tracks.

Night riding: to clock more miles, I do some riding at night. It's not really safe. Cows, dogs and pedestrians don't have blinking lights at night. And the glare of oncoming headlights is blinding. Once, the timing of the passing vehicle was such that I saw pedestrians walking abreast by the roadside: just enough time to see them but too little time to avoid collision if they were near enough. A near miss.

Over 400 km, I see three other cyclo tourists. One of them was solo like me. We wave to each other / exchange thumbs up.

Roads, traffic and other hazards

I like watch dogs ie dogs who sit there and watch
Traffic is heavy along the A3, which refers not to paper size but the road connecting Colombo to Negombo and much else. I ride along the road shoulder, because, as one guidebook put it, bus and truck drivers "consider cyclists a waste of valuable tarmac ... get out of the way quickly". You're "at risk not only from traffic coming from behind, but also from oncoming vehicles overtaking another vehicle". The good news is, traffic thins out north of Negombo.

I never really felt menaced; I've felt more menaced cycling in a carpark back home.

Roads are generally ok, though a guidebook mentions cycling is "eyes down", to negotiate potholes and chickens. There are poor road surfaces sometimes, but that's off road; in my experience, the main roads are ok.

I get frazzled on my last day of cycling, when I go to the beach at Negombo. It was harrowing as the road to the beach is narrow: it's jammed with traffic and a wedding procession. To win the race against the sun, I squeeze past whatever gap I see, including on the pavement, to get there and back to my hotel to box up my bike and wash up.

Dogs are are all over the place, usually sleeping by the roadside, sometimes trotting about, almost always in packs. Almost all the time, they ignore passersby, but I am chased twice, once by a three legged dog.

Locals are friendly (at least, I've not met any unfriendly ones). It's not just kids who're pleased to see a cyclist. Even adults go "hello", "hi", "good morning". One waiter in an eatery asks personal questions, not just "what is your name, where are you from" but also age and family status. And I got one question about how much my bicycle costs.

Once in a while, there are lycra-clad roadies.
Most of the time, locals are on steel, singlespeed bikes.

A worker sitting by a hut offers me food as I cycle past. A student going for night class chats with me as he cycles alongside. A guy with crutches rides his motorcycle alongside me, his sweepstake tickets riffling in the wind. He offers a hand. I realise later he wants to pull me along, when I see the student's father do just that.

Most of the time, I cycle below 20 km/h, because of headwinds and my load. One afternoon, two guys on a singlespeed bicycle pull alongside me. The passenger is sitting on the top tube. " Race", the  cyclist says, and he pulls away. The race is over in seconds, when one of them drops his phone onto the road. The cyclist catches up after he ditched his passenger then zooms off at 35 km/h. Instead of racing him, I draft him instead, to his disappointment.

Fried roots? 

Refueling aka food and beverage
Short eats are aplenty, in "hotels" (even small shops call themselves that).  Meals that fill are less available. Except in tourist areas, most people dine at home, so there's little demand for filling food. I eat what I bring: cereal bars.

One night I have rice and curry. Another time, I have what seems like fried roots. There are also scattered bakeries. Most of the time, it's short eats and provision shops.

At a "hotel" (eating place).
The ad above, EGB, is for ginger beer
Food stalls usually serve drinking water. If you're squeamish about hygiene, well ... No tongs or gloves are used when handling food - more likely, the food handler handles grubby money then food. Customers may eat with their hands; if you do, use the pitcher of water available for that purpose: don't drink from that!

An alternative to short eats is ginger beer; I quaff the 1 litre version. It's refreshing, calorie rich and not sickly sweet unlike some short eats.


Mosquitoes (Anopheles type, 1 cm long), are everywhere in the hotels. Mosquito nets are standard issue in the places I stayed.

In all my travels (over 68,000 km by bicycle, I've never encountered the desperate situation of being unable to find my hotel despite repeated attempts. Until this trip, at Kalpitiya. 

Randam Hotel. On the second night, I use the upstairs room
while my bicycle is in the ground floor, courtesy of housekeeper
It's getting dark. I ask some bystanders but they don't know. At a random hotel by the road called Randam Hotel, the staff say it's the hotel I'm looking for, though the name is different. Even the phone number is different. I have dinner instead and as I'm eating, a guy shows up and says he's from the hotel I'm looking for ie Windy Lanka. He leads me to ... Randam Hotel. Ok, whatever.

The room is dingy and kind of dirty. The lights flicker too, so I ask for a room change the next day. But different people give me different prices for the room. I end up paying a higher price after some bargaining. It's clean and bright but when I get up in the night, I have a feeling. Spooky. 

The next morning, I get up early to ride. It turns out I'm alone in the hotel, locked in. Exit via window, then the housekeeper comes, unlocks the door and makes nice Ceylon tea for me.

The other hotel I stay in, at Negombo, is hard to find as it's in a residential estate that twists and turns 3 km from the main road. The housekeeper there is fascinated by my bike packing. He lets me take a shower and serves me a drink as I wait for my night flight. 


It's been said once you learn to ride a bicycle, you don't forget how to do it. That's procedural memory I guess. As for other details, that's declarative memory. What does 50 psi feel like without a tyre pressure gauge? How do you remove this rack?  I needed to refresh my memory. Which means, I haven't been touring enough.

I didn't expect this ride to be tough. It's flat, as expected but I didn't expect incessant headwinds that cut my speed by 30%, which means I work 30% harder. Of course, I should've realised that when a hotel is called Windy Lanka, that's what it means. But then, the hotel changed name too so it wasn't windy!? As if this ride isn't hard enough, there isn't much food to be had. My "lunch" comprises "short eats", ie, sweet snacks and became a race against the sun. I did enjoy the ginger beer though :)

When I came home from Indochina, bread became part of my diet, because of the magnificent French bread. And now, I take ginger with my tea.


Visas may be required, may be on arrival. See
Weather varies, depending on which part of the island you're on and when. See

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