Sat 9 - Sat 16 Oct
This is my longest charity ride yet, with BikeAid (Singapore), in conjunction with Lions Clubs in Singapore and Sarawak. Quite apart from the fact that I could confirm my participation in this ride only three weeks before its start, there are three ominous omens: official bicycle charity ride jersey does not fit, there is a problem with my airline booking (eventually solved) and a few days before take off I discover a problem with my drive train (eventually mostly solved). This would be my 10th major expedition.
Day 1: Sat 9 Oct, Singapore to Kuching, non-cycling day. Baggage boys seem to delight in finding new bicycle boxes to bash. My immaculately undented box picks up two ghastly foot-long gashes in just one flight. Another guy has his bicycle hard case bashed so badly it loses a wheel. The Customs officials take an interest in our boxes. I wouldn't say we were detained; we certainly weren't herded into a room for interrogation. We mill about as a phone call is made so that the paperwork (proving we weren't crazy, we were indeed in town for a charity ride) is produced. Fortune takes a turn for the better. It turns out my room mate has all the bicycle jerseys. I trade my S for his L, which is too small for him. He'll give my S to his 6-year old kid. And why did I order an S? Because, being a Small Asian Dude, my jerseys are either S or even XS. As it turns out, just about everyone else finds their official jerseys too small.
Nightstop: Four Points
Day 2: Sun 10 Oct, Kuching to Seri Aman, 190 km. Lions Club dignitaries turn up in force to pray for our safety and send us 15 cyclists off. The first few hills lead me to ask myself, "Is this it?" Of course not. Soon after, I'm trundling uphill at below 5 km/h. And it rains. I worry about going downhill. What lurks beneath those puddles - a pinch flat? high speed blowout? ticket to judgement day? Nah, just spray. My chain keeps shifting on its own; from the smallest cog to the next and vice versa. When it shifts, I click instead of the other way round. To remove the confusion, I fiddle with the barrel adjuster by feel as I cycle, until automatic transmission becomes manual. I arrive at the hotel at 6pm. That's 10 hours on the road including breaks. Two others are ahead of me, one on a Trek carbon roadbike and the other on a Conalgo hybrid. I log 64.7 km/h going downhill, I wonder how they did.
Nightstop: Regent Inn
Day 3: Mon 11 Oct, Seri Aman to Sarikei, 167 km. Six hours of sleep after accumulated sleep deficit is barely enough for me. There's barely a cloud in the clear blue sky. In the blazing heat, I blaze ahead, being the second to reach the lunch point, behind Conalgo dude who has a blistered toe and carbon crank arms. After lunch, I lie down (beneath a ceiling that looks like hub and spokes) as there is time for a siesta. Others join my lead ... When I get up, I overdose on isotonic drink and have a rumbly in my tummy. I send down a combo of 2 tablets and a capsule to sort things out and I cycle again.
As the road crosses rivers, the bridges remind me of Timor Leste. This ride sure feels like Tour de Timor - race against time, sometimes skipping rest points. These mobile rest points (support vehicles) are spaced out every 10 km. This doesn't sound far, but the rolling hills sure make sweat roll fast and the km slow.
All our bicycles go up the support vehicles so we can ride - in the cars - nearer to town. There, with traffic police escort, we cycle into town. Some people breakaway. "Would you like me to chase them down?" I ask Chief Cyclist. "How are you going to do that?" By sprinting ahead then slowing down to 15 km/h. Why was our distance cut short? a) the ride took longer than anticipated and there is an official dinner. b) thee is a steep downhill with a elbow bend which, if mishandled, may lead to more than scraped bloody elbows.
Night stop: Dragon Inn
Cycling on ceremony
We cycle at a controlled pace, first to a spectacle shop which offers free eye tests and spectacles to poor school kids, who go for means test and eye test. I hear some spectacles have come from Singapore opticians. We make such a spectacle of ourselves, we end up as a full page story in the next day's Chinese newspaper.
Things are back to 'normal' after that: us Fearsome Four blaze the way to Agape Centre in Sibu, which houses several non-profits eg Association for Children with Special Needs, then to Sarawak Society for the Blind and Methodist Children's Home (for the latter, there are gifts of stationery).
Our hotel is so high class, bicycles aren't allowed into the rooms :o I sure miss it; I can't use it as a clothes rack. High-end hotels have hangers that hang only in cupboards, and I can't hang just-washed-in-the-sink bicycle clothes in there, can I? Still, it's a nice room, and we get one in the corner.
Ceremonies continue with a formal dinner, where Lions are dressed to kill. There is food, speeches, District Governor as guest of honour, violin solo, a Chinese guy singing Italian opera, and dancing girls - not that kind of dancing girls for this is a dignified dinner - I refer to a fan dance.
Nightstop: RH Hotel
Slipping into slipstream
Day 5: Wed 13 Oct, Sibu to Bintulu, 246 km. Morning call 4.30 am. Breakfast 5 am. Flag off at 6 am. Ok, 20 minutes later than that. This is the longest day. I so want to finish the ride. Lunch at 10 am. Half an hour later, I'm off. Speeding downhill, dodging potholes. Nice, on a nippy mountain bike. I also have fun chasing the slipstream of passing timber truck with long loads of sawn timber. At a rest stop, I hear a cyclist has crashed: a rear wheel has knocked a front wheel off balance. I ask the medic for news, he says face plant with multiple abrasions, victim is hospitalised for observation. The Fearsome Four become the Three Terrors, one of whom cycles so light, he doesn't even carry sunblock. I'm told it can get as hot as 42 degrees Celsius, I'm glad I didn't know that then.
Back on the road, I see a man in a conical straw hat with diving mask in one hand and spear gun in the other. Later on, I see a hunter with a straw basket and rifle. I also see death metal hurtle towards me, as a vehicle goes the wrong way in my lane while overtaking traffic. I wave it away; like magic, it goes away.
At a stop point, I hear a crew member talk to another cyclist about me. "Ah, I see, it's smaller so he has to work harder." They could be talking about my wheels or cranial capacity.
Laos where the climb is long and Timor Leste where the roads are rough. Most cyclists are in the support vehicles. There is some talk that all of us have to ride in cars. A senior support crew member says, "ride on". Even when I'm stopped later by another crew member, senior dude tells me, "Ride on." So I get back on my bicycle and oblige. Only three of make make it all the way to Bintulu, where local mountain bikers and a police car escort us to a stage for another ceremony, where sponsors are honoured and we're garlanded on arrival and thoughtfully plied with drink and cake before a late dinner. A guy shakes my hand, "Congratulations, Hamster." Another asks for a group photo of us Three Terrors. I've finally broken my personal best distance, which was 225 km in one day.
Nightstop: Li Hua Hotel
Easy day is hardest day
Day 6: Thu 14 Oct, Bintulu to Miri, 128 km. Morning call 4.30 am, breakfast at 5, flag off at 5.45 going on 6.20. Today's distance is merely hundred plus. I am so slow, W asks if I'm ok before overtaking me. At a rest stop, A asks what I'm doing back there; I usually whizz past the first rest stops and few cyclists see me except at the start and finish. Yesterday was my best day, I do overtime so today my body is off. Or did it help that yesterday I wore a jersey that reads "Borneo Motors"?
I get up and go, to make the next food point an hour away. Alas, that's not to be. I come across W who tells me "change in plans". Cyclists are being rounded up and driven to lunch point. So there you have it, a veteran who's completed all of Tour de Timor is in the broom wagon for Sarawak. It seems only four cyclists make it all the way today (and for the entire expedition, only two made it all the way past 800 km, one on a Trek the other on Cervelo). After lunch, we're driven to the outskirts of town under police escort to Pusat FDK Miri for more photo opportunities like cheque presentations. The cycling is over. At the grandest dinner of all - about 20 tables - people go on stage to be thanked. About RM80,000 raised for eight charities, I hear.
Nightstop: Eastwood Valley Golf and Country Club
The seat of the problem
Day 7: Fri 15 Oct, Miri to Kuching, non-cycling day. My bicycle box takes another two hits from the airport baggage bullies. That's way too many; my previous box (which I bought in Thailand) survived seven flights to Cambodia, Timor Leste and Brunei, and retired after the cardboard got too "floppy". I patch up the box then get help for myself - massage for my legs. I scream like a girl - actually, worse - as the girl next to me looks at me bemused since the worst she goes is a soft "ouch".
The injured rider is out of hospital. I tell him his battle scars are more honourable than mine, he tells me not to make him laugh as his mouth hurts.
Dinner is at a Lion dignitary's home. Ten cars driven by Lions take us to the multi-millionaire's home. The fleet of cars parks in the driveway with room to spare. We run out of space in our tummies as we gorge on local delicacies.
I reflect on why I'd a bad ride yesterday (crewman tells me I've done 95% of the ride; to me, anything less than 100% is "fail"). The answer is too little sleep, too much confidence. There's a rhyme, there's a reason. Things I relearnt in the last hundred km of a 800 km ride: 1-2 buckle my shoe, 3-4 eat lots more, 5-6 lubricate, 7-8 tyres inflate, 9-10 contingency plan ... If only I'd eaten more of that less than appetising breakfast, pumped up my tyres and not counted on that supposed foodstop at 80 km. Worst of all is the pain in the butt; even coasting was a sore affair.
Baggage bullies bounce bikes
Day 8: Kuching to Singapore, non-cycling day. I wonder how our bicycle boxes get so bashed up. Today, I have the good (or bad) fortune to see for myself. Why stand on ceremony when baggage loaders stand on bicycle boxes and pass the buck / box to another guy in the belly of the aircraft. All the "fragile" stickers are for decoration. Ok, they are more useful than that; fragile stickers help hold box together after it gets bashed.
My thanks to the Lions. They provide the support vehicles, turning up at wee hours of the morning and driving us to and from dinner. In cars that start and stop, they ride and jump out into the blazing sunlight, bearing bananas, bread, water, isotonic drink. They cheer us on, give us directions. At lunch stops, they sometimes pay for us, or someone has supplied the food. They gave their energy and money. Thank you so much.