Briar MTB Challenge 2018: Tea and Trails

With all the hustling over the last few months, my cameras were starting to collect dust. Reading and assimilating research papers and transitioning back to India had occupied me for weeks. I was missing the energy of racing and photography. Briar MTB Challenge was coming up and I was not going to skip it. I had no idea it was going to be such a visual treat. I heard wonderful things, but the previous edition had a lot of rain, so I did not know what to expect. All I knew was that I would be there because I wanted to be there. 

The last time I was in the Nilgiris for a multi-day tour cycling tour was years ago and I have bitter memories of it for the lack of respect the organisers showed for the crew. I am very grateful that Briar, organised by friends who know what they are doing, is poles apart. The event was moved from August to September due to the floods in Kerala. 

This mountain biking race was in the most stunning mountains in South India and uniquely placed within a tea plantation in Valparai. It was not just another MTB race, but an Enduro style race. Cyclists race against themselves and the clock and have three opportunities with a short break between each round. The cyclist with the least time overall wins each category. Inspired by motorsport, it promised excitement.  

I am a part of the organising team and had the opportunity to facilitate an interaction that will be remembered for being heartfelt. Conversations were flowing like the river by the trail, high from the beauty of the place and positivity of the people. The floating clouds and the clear skies the next day were as dynamic as the participants. The trail was not easy it was designed for the challenge. For some of the riders it was their maiden race. Though the sun was bright and unforgiving, got better with each round and said they cannot wait to be back. 

Mountain biking races are also a challenge to shoot, especially in trails like this one which involved single track and limited access points. I wanted to make sure I had at least one image of every rider and I did that during the first round. For the second round, I was accompanied by friends on a walk to the trail and two of us were stuck in shallow quicksand and l lost shooting time, but we had great fun. As we made it to the start line, I could hop on to the FIV and walk parts of the trail and make more images and memories.  

As the prize distribution ended and everyone had lunch and packed their bikes, we were wrapping up the event. The bright sky turned dramatic almost as if it was wishing us a wonderful journey home. It was a beautiful drive back home to Coimbatore interrupted by a funny Sunday scene at a bakery. Here’s to the spirit of the mountains.  

I also enjoyed writing the event report 

Participants-wind-their-way-through-picturesque-Valparai which appeared in The Hindu.

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