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 :)

Blogging since 2003. Thank you for reading :))

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Riding with Extremists

Sat 3 - Sun 4 Mar

To Tanjong Piai, Johore, Malaysia, 240 km. MSH says it's brave of me to lead cyclists I've never met before. She's mistaken. I'm braver, to offer help to someone who had mountain biked in the Himalayas. She makes one post in, I offer advice like a few others. She asks me for help and I agree, thinking she's a newbie. Then the story about her Himalaya ride last year is published last month in The Business Times. Too late for me to back out!

Deprived of sleep and speed
Day 1: Sat 3 Mar, Singapore - Tanjong Piai (Johore), 136 km. The alarm clock chirps at 4 am. But I'm awake even before that. Too much work, little sleep, too little cycling. To fix the riding (or rather, to get my cycling fix), I start riding to Woodlands at 4.45 am to meet four Singapore Management University (SMU) undergraduates for their recce ride to Kukup. It's organised by MSH, president of the SMU's "Extremist" outdoor activities club (cycling chapter) - and the only gal in this ride. I'm the tour guide. I put on my racing shoes to spare myself embarrassment.

It turns out to be a slow ride. One of them is on his first century ride. Another has cramps. Both soldier on. Traffic is heavy. And, after thousands of km over a few years, I meet the most unfriendly driver in Malaysia today, who leans on the car horn when passing us by.

I take the students to Tanjong Piai, the southernmost point of mainland Asia. A friendly official persuades them to enter the nature reserve. And I see that not all progress is good. When I was first there in 2004, I saw a post stuck in the ground with directions and distances of far away countries. And I don't recall seeing any land. Today, the pole is gone. In its place is a huge concrete platform. And, as the platform juts beyond the mangroves, the view of Singapore isn't obscured anymore. Man has extended the the southernmost point artificially.

We stop in Kukup and dine on seafood barbecue. MSH notices someone doesn't touch the prawns and proceeds to peel them. My jaw drops, not because of the prawns but because I did read about the scarcity of prawn-peeling females in Singapore. I retire with a headache. Was it the heat of the sun all day, or the punishing slow pace of just over 20 km/h?

Crap and puke
Day 2: Sun 4 Mar, Kukup (Johore) - Singapore, 104 km. I wake up with a headache. It's another rough nite. Sleeping on a mattress on the floor doesn't bother me. But some light snoring and monosyllabic talking in sleep and roosters crowing, do.

The house we stay in, like others in the area, is built over the sea. The toilet is a hole in the floor. When it's low tide, you can see the crap. Forget about flushing, wait for the tide to come in. The proprietor says tourism now accounts for about 30% of the village economy (a drop from its heyday). The rest comes from fish farming and restaurants.

The sun is up. It is hot. And boring to cycle the straight road out of Kukup. To keep myself going, the music in my head is anime and Scorpions (does that make me an eclectic eccentric?). It gets more interesting when the headwind starts to blow. And the road starts to rise and fall instead of monotonously flat. The best things in life aren't flat. Think durians, dollops of ice cream ...

Looking back over my shoulders (and, for variety, under my armpit) to see if the last rider is cycling is rather dangerous on a narrow road. I sprint, drafting cars and motorbikes, then stop to wait. Nearer Johore Bahru, I behave myself again as the traffic gets heavier. Someone tells me to stop as the last rider can't make it. We stop, we pukes. He'd never gone more than 50 km before, yet this weekend, he does two century rides. I've never had anyone puke on my ride before. He gamely rides on, refusing taxis. That's national character, indicating how the Vietnamese (for he is one) booted out the French and Americans.

Back home, I notice I'd left behind something: a soap bottle that doesn't leak. Drat. That's another first, leaving something behind during a ride (blood and flesh excepted; I've lost those before).

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