A date with the Devil, Sri Lanka

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Early in 2014 I took a trip to Sri Lanka, it was my visit, and i was so taken by the mountains that 10 days pushed a month by the time I reluctantly left.

It was so vibrant and colurfull that naturally I chose to  document things in mono. Here's a selection of images and words from my online diary from this amazing place.

Wet, dark and deeply misty; that was the first impression Ella made on me, but then again it was night-time when I clambered off the long distance train to meet here, high up in the mountains of Sri Lanka.

Ella is of course a town and not a person, and I’d stumbled upon her by near pure chance, I say near, which means an educated guess and a small amount of research. I

It seemed like the ideal place to start my bike and train-hopping journey around the spice island of Sri Lanka, as it was almost as far as the train went into the mountains and light years away from the hustle and bustle of sub-continental city of Colombo.

I’d come very close to visiting Sri Lanka a couple of time, but this time around I’d actually managed to get here and had elected to do things in reverse to conventional logic, by staring high in the mountains and working my way back to the hot and flat coastal lands, thus avoiding the potential baptism of fire and spice that usually surrounds cities and resorts.

Road (touring) or mountain bike? My, final decision was only made hours before the off, and a rigid and knobbly tyre clad MTB seemed to be the best bet, and it was to prove to be the versatile all-rounder needed for the job.

As I had baggage and none cycling company hopping between potential great riding spots, and also riding prime rib cuts in some places was the loose plan, although with a distinct lack of info available I’d had to figure it out on the road, and Ella turned out to be not only perfect starting point, but the best riding destination of the trip so far, and so that those 2 planned days turned into 6, the trip became 10 days longer, and I wish I’d had even more time to play with, it’s simply an awesome place to ride and travel through.

With little more than Google Maps to guide me my first ride was a twisted out and back mountain killer through Ella’s Gap, which is one of the most stunning roads on this 600km long island.

Over the next few days I hit the less obvious routes; just seeking out those wiggly white lines that criss cross the mountains and clamber through the tea plantations, stepping well off the over beaten tourist trail.

There are plenty of tour company cycling itineraries posted online, but they mostly tend to follow the well trodden routes, although a simple turn right, or even left off this beaten track will lead you to places few foreigners ever see, and draw you into epic mini adventures and prize open the heart of the place.

Somewhat reluctantly I left Ella and hopped the train to the one cow outpost of Ohiya, where I’d booked a room in a remote tea planter’s bungalow - just because I wanted to head off-piste through these vibrantly carpeted green landscapes. Along the way I saw mention of the Devil’s Staircase, and it became the focus of my visit here.

As the early morning mist swirled around the mountains I dived deep into the valley bellow, though tiny Tamil tea pickers settlements and tea terraces. The scenery and the terrain were dauntingly alluring, and I just knew that I was in for a big day, and a date with the Devil.

Rocky and rutted was the flavour of the day, and it just got rougher and wilder with every grind of the granny ring, a small slice of aluminium which was set to see more wear than it has in years as baby sized rocks paved the way as the trail traversed the mountainside.

There were no foreigner here; just the bemused and excited tea pickers. I’d truly never anticipated on finding such wild and epic stuff in Sri Lanka, this was a big mountain day to match the very best.

All in there were 30 deeply steep switchbacks on the final scramble through the highly technical grunt up the staircase. The mist shrouded the way, and I suffered like a wild dog on a spit, and loved every damn minute of it, well, apart from the 1-hour killer blow that was the climb back out of the valley.

Ten days down, and the same to go; to say “so far so good” would be something of an under statement, but I do know that it can’t get much better than this. Ella and the Devil have lashed and bashed me, and maybe I even sold my soul to them along the way. Sri Lanka is one of the great un-sung destinations for all kinds of cycling, apart from silky smooth roading.

Meantime it’s back on the rails for a bare Knuckle’s fight and some lowland exploration.

Wheels of choice - I stuck with the old faithull option of a fully rigid titanium MTB, which was the right choice for the job.

Tech tack - I'd decided that by now I could rely on the Fuji XE1 for such missions, but did take the canon 5d3 and a 17-40mm lens as backup and a wide option, and boy was I ever gald I did, as the XE1 locked out part way through, and nobody could help, so images were a mixed bag.

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