Sat 4 Sep - Sun 5 Sep
Kota Tinggi to Kuala Rompin to Kota Tinggi, Johore, Malaysia 361 km.
Different cyclists, same results
"But this time it's different," I tell myself. I don't know the lead riders, maybe I can keep up. And I do. For a while. Then, I drop back like a kite with a cut string. I end up cycling alone. The support crew drive by to check on me once in a while, to see if I'm alive or a zombie. To help me save calories, one of them, from sponsor Equinix, even tops up my water bottle and peels bananas for me. From what he tells me, I gather I'm in the 40-50th percentile. I'm fast, but not as fast Father Time, who's fast catching up with me. To keep up with the young triathletes on tri-bikes, I rest less frequently - just a few minutes at water points and I'm off.
This Charity Bike & Blade (the 5th in the series) is mind-numbing. It used to be just to Mersing, with one long stretch of rolling hills. Now, there's those hills, plus those at Endau. It take too much energy to even play songs in my head. So I just aim for the crest of each hill and focus on my form, including my breathing. That's living in the moment. No more music in the head, that's too tiring.
One breath at a time
As cyclists pass, I see compression leggings, aero-bars, high-end full carbon bicycles. Shorts are in different colours, but we wear identical white Uvex helmets and lilac jerseys - the official colour of St Luke’s Eldercare. There are 98 or so cyclists, we raise about $360,000 for charity, the highest ever.
Unlike in the initial 3 years of Bike n Blade, where there were more people on mountain bikes, the numbers dwindle in the subsequent two years. This year, there are only 2 mountain bikes. My small wheels and small crank churn to keep up. At one point, I end up pulling a peloton along as no one wants to take the lead. I soon end up cycling solo; spent after pulling people along and I can’t keep up thereafter. What a difference a few km/h makes.
Few people stop to eat, except for lunch. This is a high performance crowd, stops are only at support vehicles - especially the 100-Plus truck that comes with ice-box. someone asks if he can have a few cans to put on his burning butt.
This year’s Bike n Blade is toughest. Besides the rolling hills to Mersing, there's the Endau hills. My heart falls when I am at a crest and see a series of rolling hills ahead. As I cycle, I think of Laos - if I can make it up those 1,500m mountains, i can make it here. Near the end, I think of my marathon run. If i can finish that, i can finish this.
I see road kill, grotesque in death. If it’s too mangled, I look away. Otherwise, I identify it - to keep my mind off the ride. There are snakes, cats, dogs. Sometimes, birds peck away at scraps on the road. If the road kill is fresh, I hold my breath. I also see hills, denuded of oil palm, with trails snaking up. How I want to ride there instead of on the road.
I hurry to catch the 3pm bus ride back to Singapore. Bicycles are gingerly placed in luggage compartments or on passenger seats, with cling-wrap or bubble wrap. When we disembark, I choose to cycle home, the same way I start the ride.
Tips: when tired, moaning doesn't make the climbs easier. Instead, focus on form, live in the present - how to pedal, how to breathe. All that's needed is to cycle up this crest, and the next, one at a time. Break time up into 15 minute chunks, with a sip of drink as a treat. Don't have to last hours, just last 15 minutes, and the next, one chunk at a time.