Sunday, January 28, 2007
Jan distance: 936 km
Thu 25 - Sun 28 Jan: Hearts on Wheels
To Malacca, Malaysia, 549 km.
Are we there yet?
Day 1: Thu 25 Jan, Singapore - Batu Pahat (Johore), 159 km. It's a bad start: it's raining when I get up just after 5 am. And I lose a contact lens in my eye. It (the lens, not the eye) finally pops out and I promptly lose it. I ride to Mandai to meet S. There's supposed to be three of us going north, now there's two. I'd have biked north even if it's just me. S and I are fully loaded, with backpacks. The agenda for S: to train for Ironman. My agenda is more mundane: to see if my new pedals are "expedition proven". Along the Johore roads, I see signs of flooding; the roads are dry but the drains have overflowed, sometimes stretching into homes. But over 50 cyclists have signed up for SWCT's charity ride in aid of Club Rainbow, which starts officially tomorrow (they ride to Malacca - in a bus).
It is cloudy; good cycling weather. We have three breaks (excluding a detour to see the Shimano factory; alas, there's no warehouse sale). Three breaks is a tad too little for a long, fully loaded ride. Dealing with the hills at the "entrance" to Batu Pahat after 150 km is tiresome. Also tiresome is the noise at night, no thanks to patrons at the coffee shop downstairs and at the karaoke across the street. Of course, I'm in a rumah tumpangan in a happening part of town.
Day 2: Fri 26 Jan, Batu Pahat to Malacca, 102 km. I have breakfast in bed. Why spend time and calories looking for food in town? We stop an hour later for breakfast, part 2, when we come across a decent place.
The weight of a backpack is a real pain in the butt. To liven things up, an overtaking lorry bears down on us. It flashes its headlights. Like a deer frozen in the lights, I just look - and keep riding. S swerves, commenting on the danger. I veer offroad too. The truck whizzes by. This might be my closest brush with death in over 30,000 km of riding.
Weekend warrior vs triathletes
Day 3: Sat 27 Jan, Malacca to Batu Pahat, 105 km. For months, I've been cycling once, at most twice a week. The triathletes train six days a week, sometimes twice a day. I stick to the lead peloton until most of them breakaway to draft a police car (we have police escort). I'm too slow in the head to figure out what's going on and too slow to catch up as the gap widens to 300m and beyond. The lead cyclists then split into three groups. Total time elapsed is about 3.5 hours; the only break my group has is at the traffic lights. I arrive about 10 minutes after the second group. My butt hurts less; the hard riding (max speed: 53.7 km/h) must've taken some weight off my rear. The triathletes arrive about 10 minutes after me. Weekend warrior wins, so I think, until I find out that the triathletes run and swim after arriving.
Bringing a rainbow
Day 4: Sun 27 Jan, Batu Pahat to Singapore, 183 km. The first leg is supposed to be free and easy. K and I set off at a brisk pace - but where is everybody? We stop at a bus stop. When the "bike bus" of riders in two columns comes by, we "board" it. I find myself braking too often. This is three hours of non-stop riding, in a 50-strong peloton. We stop for lunch at my favourite coffeeshop by the Straits of Malacca in Pontian. The food dropping into stomachs seems to affect cyclists in a strange way; they start dropping things when the ride starts: tools, light, food. I drop off too, for a toilet break, than scramble uphill to catch up. At a stop to regroup, a roadie warns me about the wind that topples bikes. No worries, my mountain bike is twice as heavy as his.
My white jersey has turned as grey as the drizzly sky. The sun comes out and I'm glad. I'm also glad when the toughest ride (going from Mandai to Club Rainbow, negotiating the traffic and stopping at the many traffic lights) is over. The closing ceremony is simply touching. The charity auction of paintings done by the seriously ill kids of Club Rainbow, and the sale of calendars (featuring biker babes) raises $30,000; I hear we raise another $30,000 through our pledge cards. The money goes to help the kids. The guest of honour and head of Club Rainbow thank us, and we thank N (who conceptualised, planned and led the ride), the support crew and sponsors.
Riding home, a jaywalking pedestrian waves me away like I'm a fly. A car turns a corner and stops abruptly. Welcome to Singapore ...