I don't think she's going to make it. When she starts this weekend's National Police Cadet Corp / Police round island trip (round island#3 for me) from National Stadium at 6 pm, C wobbles down Nicoll Highway. She pedals and coasts, pedals and coasts - and this is a flat road. Barely minutes after leaving the start point at National Stadium. I race after the other 19 riders in Team Alpha and tell the next cyclist (already several hundred metres away) to slow down. C's friend, J, stays behind to accompany her while I start the first of my "race ahead, wait for the laggards" tactics. When C starts coasting, I tell her to keep pedalling. It's going to be a long, long night.
I expect C to drop out at the first rest point, at West Coast. But she wants to go on. And so she does. She doesn't wail, whine or whimper to me (though I overhear her saying to J in Jurong that she's frustrated). The further she rides, the quieter she becomes. As I cycle from behind her to beside her to ask if she's OK, she just nods slightly, as if to save energy. At the rolling hills of Mandai, she stops to push. If she has problems at Mandai, she'll have problems at Tampines. I manage to persuade her to ride in the safety vehicle to Pasir Ris to resume the ride. At Pasir Ris, C rides towards Changi.
At East Coast, she's too tired to cycle on the dirt track leading to the park. We push our bikes in the darkness. She's so tired, she stumbles against her pedals again and again. I offer to push her bicycle, and she passes it to me in a flash. She sees me having problems pushing two bikes and turns back to help, tired though she is. I wave her away.
She's only 15. She hardly cycles and even when she does, it's just short rides. And she signs up for this round island ride on a rental bike. And she keeps on going! She'll go far in life (and I don't mean more long distance cycling).
Another rider, T, has multiple attacks of the cramps. Even after a rub down by medics, he has problems. He tries, but rightly recognises his limitations and chooses to abandon the ride totally at Hougang. He didn't train for the ride at all. There are other riders who have cramps - whenever there's a hill to climb. One cyclist went down at the first hill as we went west towards Jurong. I discover these chaps haven't discovered how to use their gears. So I start cycling beside them, trying to see where their chains are on their freewheels and then telling them whether to use the left or right thumb shifters. One guy who doesn't have any problem at all - no cramps, no struggling with heavy backpacks - is a fat kid. He's bubbly from start to finish.
More significant moments about the ride:
- Fastest moment: from Hougang to the end of Tampines Road. When T chooses to abandon the ride, we wait quite a while for the safety vehicle to pick him up after I used my walkie talkie to call the command post for help. Two groups of cyclists pass us by. When the vehicle arrives, I race after Team Alpha, overtaking the two groups in the process. Heh heh. I love tearing up and down hills like Tampines and Mandai.
- Slowest moment: Walking with C on the East Coast dirt track - probably around 2-3 km/h. At East Coast Park, we cycle at 10 km/h.
- Painful moment: watching C agonising at Changi Coast Road. Though I'm with her, she's alone in her pain. Also, my fingers hurt after fixing so many bikes: jammed rear derailleurs and chains that fall off chain rings (these chaps don't know how to switch gears) and adjusting seat heights.
- Happy moment: watching C come back to life at the end point, at National Stadium around 6 am. There's energy in her movements and she talks again, while some of the other cyclists have collapsed into silence.
- Grateful moment: to be the one holding onto the walkie talkie. At first, I didn't want it because it adds to the weight I have to carry, and having an earpiece in my ear all night long isn't fun. But hearing what's going on elsewhere during the ride involving 200 cyclists keeps me awake. It's really punishing to cycle soooo slowly - there's a tendency to fall asleep or fall off the bicycle. I'm also grateful I remember most of the route - as the sweeper, I discover that I end up leading from behind when the rest of the riders are nowhere in sight. Also to be grateful for: the bananas, bread and powdered energy drink powder at some of the rest points.
- Embarrasing moment: trying to fix V-brakes for the first time in my life. One cyclist's brake is hanging on by just one strand. I'm know caliper and cantilever brakes, but brakes without a "c" in it are too high tech for me. Anyway I manage to fix it after some struggle. Also, I feel inadequate at East Coast Park. I hate the place, because people there walk, ride and blade regardless of race, language and collision.
- Anxious moment: at the end of Mandai, when a fast-changing traffic light cuts Team Alpha into four groups, with me alone in the last group. As group 1 follows bike leader M, stragglers form groups 2 and 3 - all of whom miss a turning. Group 3 is within yelling distance. I yell at them to stop and wait, while I race after group 3. When group 3 reaches the turning point, group 2 has disappeared. I should've removed the bike chains and chained them to the nearest lamp-post. As it turns out, group 2 somehow made their own way to the rest point. Well, that saved me the trouble of reporting they'd been abducted by aliens.
- Proud moment: no bloodshed. Sure, people had cramps and some fell, but there was no blood. And I lost no bike through mechanical failure. And only one rider (T) dropped out of the ride. Another proud moment was when the bike leader of another group said to her group: "Look how Alpha rides in single file." That discipline didn't happen naturally. I chewed out the team at Kranji after they meandered all over the narrow roads there.
- Honoured moment: bike leader M tells me, before the ride starts, that she's honoured to ride with me. I wonder why.
- Ironic moment: riding with the cops. Now and then, a police van (the safety vehicle) would follow behind us. After midnight, a traffic policeman rides with us to block traffic at some junctions. Ooh, see how well behaved the drivers are. Most of them anyway; the policeman yells at one of them. Cops make me nervous (must be a hang-up from my childhood when I was pulled over by a cop while cycling around my home), and here I am cycling in a police event.
- Unexpected moment: when someone pushed my bicycle over at the start point! Horse's bar end got scratched. Guess it must be hard allow as it wasn't dented. I also didn't expect that this horse rider would get hoarse riding a bike, with all that yelling and pep talks. So, a sweeper = bike mechanic + safety officer + communications officer + disciplinarian + motivator.