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 :)

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Friday, December 28, 2012

"Perfect" 10

Hai Van Pass
Dec distance: 652 km

21-28 Dec, Quang Tri Province, Vietnam, 507 km

Prologue
Among the Indochina countries I've cycled in, I've read the most about Vietnam. I've planned this trip for years, eg in 2008 I formed a group, giving as much as ten months' notice but people pulled out. After a few more attempts in subsequent years, I'm too embarrassed to say "I'm going Vietnam" but not go. To avoid further embarrassment, I ask only speedy B and even if he pulls out, I'd go solo.

Vietnam is the tenth country I've cycled in. I chose Quang Tri Province because of its historical significance and because Danang is far away from the manic traffic of Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. It is also my 13th expedition. And my first with catastrophic failure (I didn't invent this phrase!) - it was so bad that when it happened, I knew the ride was over for me and it's time to go home. Still, to paraphrase, a good "incident" is one you can walk away from.

Meanness and kindness
Day 1: 21 Dec, Danang environs, 72 km. The games begin when I walked out the airport. Taxi touts quote me the fare, saying the hotel is "very far". My (triangulated) research tells me this is double what it should be. Another guy appears later with a decent price. The driver wrestles with my bicycle box. I sit in front of the cab in a foetal position. It's only a few minutes to the hotel, which lets me put the bicycle in the room with no fuss.

And this is why I tour with fat tyres on MTB
Cycling in the city is an art. As the joke goes, Americans drive on the right, British on the left and Vietnamese on both sides of the road. Going round the traffic circus is, well, a circus. There are multiple near collisions, horns honk, but no one is frazzled. They literally go with the flow. The air isn't good. Lady scooterists wear masks, guys wear machismo.

On my orientation ride, I head away from the city. Six lanes of road end up as a country road. I go offroad, past rice fields and into a village. There are dogs but they leave me alone. I head back to the city. It gets dark around 5.30 pm. I am lost. A couple on a motorbike who speak some English (“what is your name, are you Korean“) ask me to follow them through the city. I'm now in rush hour traffic, and I keep  close to them to keep up my nerve. At the hotel, I wait for B to arrive from the airport and off to dinner we go.

Nightstop: Duy Anh Hotel 

Monkey business
Hoi An: view from lunch spot
Day 2: 22 Dec, Danang to Hoi An to Danang, 114 km. I have two close calls with motorcyclists in separate incidents; one stopped broadside in front of me in the middle of the road, while the other cut in in front of me.

At Hoi An, we lunch on a little island where local youths eat, and we order through sign language. The staff show us how to eat food we've not seen before. We return to Danang via scenic coastal route, instead of AH17.

As we make good time, we head for Son Tra Peninsula. B's iPhone GPS shows there's no road to the top of Monkey Mountain, while my map does. Since we can't find the road, we just take the road as it come. The end of the road is a high class hotel, which seems to have uniformed staff clad in polo t-shirts at every junction. They want us to park our bicycles in the carpark, out of sight. No thanks, we'd rather go hungry.

Boats, with Son Tra Peninsula in background
We stop for "dinner" at 4.30 pm, a simple meal of fried rice which takes half an hour to come, and comes with nothing fried. The vodka lady (she serves liquor, based on what she serves and what's printed on her clothes) says "shhh" and gives us another plate of rice, gratis. By 5.30, it is dark. I can barely read my map in the dark. B's phone has run out of juice. Some dead reckoning, compass reading (it's always "on"!) and asking for directions (including misdirection) gets us back to the hotel. It was a guy who came to help and have me a pat on the back who set me right. I'm glad to be back at the hotel. Things look different at night and dodging night traffic is an experience.

Nightstop: Duy Anh Hotel

Cold weather, warm hospitality
Day 3: 23 Dec, Danang to Hue, 114 km. We weave our way out of the city to the coast. The sea is angry, grey and frothing blow the grey sky. I get wet, is it from the rain, sea spray or both? It's uphill, then downhill at 8% gradient on the wet road, wet rims and cross winds. There are helpful road signs of cars hurtling into thin air.

Hai Van Pass fortifications: abandoned, except by tourists
We pass two duos of cyclotourists, all warmly dressed. I wave. We are in tropical clothes, no rain wear. At the 500m peak, I clamber up to take photos of the fortifications.

It is cold, especially going downhill. Ah, the familiar feeling of shivering cold and wet, cold feet. My fingers are numb and wrinkled; water can be squeezed out of the half-finger gloves. It is kinda scary going downhill on windy and winding mountain roads. Several times, I'm blinded as rain gets into my eyes, wrap-around glasses notwithstanding. Rain even seeps into my sealed map case. And how did moisture coat my phone, which is sealed in two ziploc bags? Is it condensation, which formed when I zoomed downhill from cool hill top at ear-popping speed into the plains?

Down the hill, we get fleeced. Shopkeeper points to Coke bottles, and delivers canned knock-offs in the same red and white livery. She asks us for a favour when she findsbout where we're from. She'd like us to change some money so she can get Dong back, but gives us a bad rate. She then charges double the price of the real thing Coke.

B's bicycle (with carbon frame, rims and pump) punctures. Later, I'm almost hit by a small truck which pulls out spitting distance away from me.

We manage to find the hotel in the maze that is Hue. Staff ask us to leave our bicycles outside the hotel; they'd take them in at night. "It's our responsibility", they say, feelings hurt, as we proceed to chain our magnificent machines together. They send cold lime juice and cut fruits (watermelon and mangoes) to our room. Boiling water and hot showers, we help ourselves to.

Hue is decked out for Christmas - shops, eating places have faux fir trees, Santa, fake snowflakes. Clearly, this place is geared towards tourists from the West.

Nightstop: Jade Hotel

Boat on the road
Ferry service on an underwater road
Day 4: 24 Dec, Hue to Dong Ha via Sia, 128 km. After the hotel breakfast (my choice was dessert-sized, which B topped up with the usual tasty baguette with pate), we're off to find another coastal route away from AH1 motorway madness - a road I looked for yesterday, but didn't find.

I turn off the highway on a hunch and end up on a picturesque village road. When I stop to ask directions, people crowd around to help. A stretch of bad, gravel road ends up underwater. Ooops! But there's a boat, which pulls back to "shore" for us. Early Christmas present!

Back on the above-water road, we pass tombs on little islands. It's only later that I realise it wasn't meant to be that way; the place is simply flooded. One tomb was the same size as a decent home for four. That's for the rich (dead). For the poor (alive), some live in the cemetery, including one on a boat.
It is cold, especially when we stop for lunch. I realise how cold it is when I cough out vapour, and it isn't steam from the noodle soup.

Ok, enough suffering. I break out my raincoat, on its baptism by water. On the road, my fat tyres whirr deeply, rain pitter patters lightly on my raincoat and wind roars in my ears.

"All together now, 'this is a road, not river'." Photo courtesy of B
I see a lady wading in water, and motorbikes stop at the high watermark. Is the road passable? I point where I'm going, lady nods and wades on. And so we roll, in faith. From road markers, I guess where the road ends and the fields begin. I hope there are no big holes in the road; my machine isn't equipped with sonar ...

It is cold. At a rest stop, a customer removes a pot from a wood-fire stove and gestures B to warm his hands over it.

This trip so far has brought the saying home: "you can say anything you want"
a. We didn't find the coastal road yesterday, but that meant we weren't whipped by the cold sea wind
b. I regretted (initially) using fat tyres instead of thin slicks trying to keep up with B, but on bad roads, I have peace of mind, even when B's aero wheels slice through water while my knobbies splash like a paddle boat
c. It's good to be back on the highway, after cycling through "causeways" which wind through flooded fields, and more flooded roads.

Ben Hai River. Once, people here were sitting ducks
At the hotel, B asks to put our bicycles in the room. The hotel staff wheel our filthy machines in, no questions asked. I dump my baggage there and head for the historic Ben Hai River.
It is further than I estimate, and this turns out to be a race against the dark. On the way back, as I head downhill, a motorcyclist pulls out. There's no way I can avoid colllision. I bellow. He must've heard the desperation in my voice, and stops. I shoot past. This madness is like East Coast Park, expressway version.

Back at the hotel, I check my machine, and replace my rear brake pads, which have worn thin. Little do I know what that portends.

Nightstop: Phung Hoang Hotel

The rim reaper
Day 5: 25 Dec, Dong Ha to Lao Bao, 79 km. I wonder what Vietnamese make of Christmas. Why is a fat guy in red and white (and I've not seen fat people here at all) give away things for nothing? If he needs to pee, does he stop on the road without pulling his reindeer and sleigh to the roadside, just as some cars and buses don't pull to the side when people get off to pee?

No panniers required
Does he pull out without looking for oncoming traffic too? I notice that when cars, trucks and buses pass motorbikes and cyclists, the bigger machines toot maniacally, to deter the smaller machines, which seem to say "if I don't hear you, you're not there, because I use my ears to detect you, not my eyes". And as Santa slices through the air, does he greet kids with "hellowhat'syourname"?

As I cycle, I realise I no longer need songs in my head. Cycling, and being in the here and now, is enough. And here is Highway 9. For about a decade last century, people died in these hills. Some hills have names, others just numbers. Everyone who died here, has names. Some bodies were never found. Some were blown to bits, or became red mist.

Khe Sanh
B's tyre punctures; side wall torn. I inflate my tyres so I can go faster; they've become squishy. Cycling here is harder than I thought. This is not as high as Hai Van Pass, but these are hills, nonetheless, with roads at 7-8% gradients. But of course. Why else would this have become a war zone?

Downhill I go at up to 59.3 km/h. No holds barred, no brakes, no pedaling, just gravity. As I level up, my rear tyre feels weird. I look down, slow down. Puncture? I've just about stopped when BANG! My rear wheel locks.

My Made in France rim has met its Dien Bien Phu. The rim has exploded, it tears over 40 cm, like paper. The water torture yesterday, the high tyre pressure and the stress of today's downhill and past journeys have taken their toll.

People hear the explosion. Those across the road, point to a motorbike repair shop just metres away. B, who is ahead of me, returns in moments. A motorcyclist had overtaken him and pointed in my direction. At the shop, I say "taxi". Someone fiddles with his phone, uses sign language to say "expensive" then suddenly flags down a van. Which turns out to be a public bus. I would never have known. There's room enough for my broken bicycle, among the passengers and cargo. This is not just a passenger bus, it is a delivery van. What a string of fortuitous coincidences.

Oh wheel, you let me down
More like, the other way round
What if my wheel had blown while I was going downhill? Why am I so calm? I should be lamenting my fate, instead of accepting that my ride is over. I'm just a few km from Laos. And perhaps another 300 km left to cycle before I go home. Now, it's all over.

The bus driver stops at my hotel. He hands me my broken bicycle and looks at me, as if to see if I'm ok, before he boards his van.

In my haste and perhaps shock, I realise I've not thanked the kind people who, individually through simple acts like pointing and flagging down a bus, collectively got me back safely. This is the first time I've encountered catastrophic failure. The first time I've aborted an expedition. If my tyre punctures, I'll be back on the road in minutes. If the frame breaks, I have stuff that might fix it. If there's some bloodshed, I've got a first aid kit. And emergency medical evacuation. But a broken wheel? Game over. I check the airline schedule and make several calls to Danang, so I can go home early. Fortunately, there's someone at the hotel who speaks English.

B returns from the Lao border crossing. It's good cycling weather today. I brief him on route details and pass him the maps he'll need to cycle back to Danang.

Nightstop: Phung Hoang Hotel

Walk on the wild side
(non-cycling days henceforth)
Day 6: 26 Dec, Dong Ha to Danang (by bus). Today is no alarm clock day. It's 60 km for B, 0 for me. I zip tie and tape my rim to avoid gashes. I push broken bicycle to the bus station, pay half a million(!) to board it. The bicycle goes into the back of the bus: bag, front wheel and all. No need to remove anything. The bus crawls to pick up more passengers; I'm glad it isn't as crowded with people and cargo, unlike yesterday.

Hai Van Tunnel
The journey takes about 4 hours, including ten minutes in the Hai Van Tunnel (I later find out this is the longest road tunnel in Southeast Asia). At Danang, the bus station is perhaps 1 km away from my hotel according to one map. Another states the distance is over 2 km. I choose to be an optimist and walk. It turns out to be an hour's walk away. Several people laugh as they see my 'naked' rim. Others point somewhere, presumably to bicycle shops. I see a couple of bicycle shops; that kind of shop that sells tricycles, bicycles and motorbikes. The tape and zip tie break somewhere along the way.

Cycling around a traffic circus is an experience. Pushing a laden bike even more so, as traffic whizzes about from multiple directions. At the hotel, I park bicycle in hotel room and skip lunch. Sheer single-mindedness. Not hungry until the job is done. Then I visit some shops I'd passed. At a supermarket checkout, the cashier counts the change carefully, more for my sake than hers. Each counter has a securify card who looks at the grocery bill.

Nightstop: Duy Anh Hotel (for subsequent nights too)

No entry
Day 7: 27 Dec, Danang. Since I'm here without a seviceable bicycle, I go into pedestrian mode to see the sights. There is a highly-recommended military museum. I have the correct address but am shooed away by rifle-toting guards. The address is correct, but the place is wrong.

Danang Cathedral
The museum is further down the road, but no entry. The helpful sign in English says there is a minimum group size. I wait for a group to appear but go away disappointed after waiting about an hour. There are two other visitors, plus me which makes three but the guard takes delight in saying "no", with a smirk. Two locals plus a foreigner doesn't count; it seems everyone must be a foreigner; no mixing of locals with foreigners.

I head for Danang Cathedral then, to give thanks for being safe. So, military museum is open for visitors, I'm prepared to pay entry fee but am denied entry into the compound although the place is busy with people in uniforms. The church is closed, I don't have to pay any fee and there is no one about, but I'm allowed into the compound. A caretaker appears, closes the main gate with me (and another tourist) inside! When I approach the caretaker, he motions me to exit via the back entrance, then disappears, leaving me and the other tourist to leave whenever we want.

Breakfast in bed
Day 8 28 Dec. I buy baguettes for breakfast and make coffee for breakfast in bed. This is B's first unsupported solo ride on foreign soil and we go our separate ways home today. I pass him my Danang city map and tell him how to go to market before his flight. We have a quick debrief before we part ways.

Epilogue

What I liked most about this trip
  • Up Hai Van Pass 
  • Cycling on country roads and bad roads on my dear Little Red Tank 
  • The kind people who showed me the way, including those who flagged down the bus to Dong Ha Baguettes 
  • Nice hotels (Duy Anh, Jade) 
What I disliked: the rules/guard at Danang military museum

What I found interesting
  • Cycling on underwater roads 
  • Wheel explosion. It doesn't consume me with regret; I'm grateful all I have is a little scratch to remind me of my mortality. It's given me some perspective and I did get driven through Hai Van Tunnel. B cycled in the drizzle and had his legs coated black with dirt. I also got to walk and wheel bicycle through Vietnam city traffic safely, and gave some entertainment to gawkers along the way.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Concentration not distraction

Mandai, 44 km. A phone call means I have less time and distance to train. So I pack more intensity into the time I have. And cycle on a more-inclined, more dangerous route, with monkeys and cars parked in the middle of the road. The monkeys beg for food, the drivers ask for trouble on this road with runners, cyclists, blind corners, monkeys and, yes, other drivers out on a lark. Besides training intensity, even danger is concentrated.

My rear shifting has "shifted" somewhat. After years of smoothly sliding out the cable housing to lube the shifter cable, I got distracted while servicing it earlier. And miss out a step. The consequence of lack of concentration: I almost kink the cable in my haste (that phone call) as I force it in. I must've stretched the steel cable with my steely fingers :o

My chain slips now and then too. This can't have anything to do with the cable, can it?

I wonder what the next few hundred km will do. With good (or bad) fortune, I might even hit a thousand. Will keep you posted.

Meanwhile, may 2013 bring you more good tidings and riding than 2012, which has been such a horrid year for me.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Inertia in motion

Woodlands, 51 km. It's been raining. Life's been draining. Even my ceiling's weeping. An old problem that was gone, has returned.

It's so easy to just lie down and vegetate. But I get up anyway to clear the cobwebs from my mind and dust from my body. So I cycle.

Same route, same distance, for so long. But still refreshing.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Rhyme and rhythm

Woodlands, 50 km. On and off, I sleep perhaps four hours. I awake with a poem in my heart, perhaps five stanzas long. Since sleep is elusive, I think about cycling. Actually, I thought about that last night too, but was too tired to roll out the tyres. I read for an hour, go back to bed and when I get up and write, the number of stanzas has more than doubled.

I finish reading the Wall Street Journal, then turn to an old book which I last read perhaps a decade ago, as I recall it might help me solve a major work problem.

I cook lunch, wait till it is cooler, then on the road I go. I recall bikeshop man saying last week that my bottom bracket has started to oxidise. Can't be, it's just a few weeks old. Yes, something's eating it up, and it's eating me too.

By the time I get home, the poem has grown to 16 stanzas of five lines each. They have rhyme, they have rhythm.

When something's eating you, you can get destructive - or creative.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Same shop, different world

Nov distance: 283 km

Woodlands, 51 km. According to my log, chain change is overdue. Yesterday, I returned to the shop where I'd been scolded. The scolder isn't there, but mechanic A is. He installs the chain one way. I show him the manufacturer's instruction I'd brought along and he cheerfully installs the chain the other way after failing to persuade me it made no difference.

I complained about chain suck too. He said the chainring was worn. To replace it, he removed the crank without any fuss, though I said it wasn't necessary (he said he gets better leverage when the crank is off the bicycle). He finds that chainring bolts are a bit too long and files one bolt by hand at first, then all by machine. Without me asking him to, he cleans the jockey wheels. He washes the crank so much till it gleamed, I didn't recognise it at first. He tuned my front and rear gears until, as he says, shifting is "crispy". As I waited, another mechanic offered me a cold canned drink.

I enjoy the fruits of his labour today. No more spongy shifter. It's the same bicycle I cycle, but it feels different with a new chain and chainring, and crispy shifting. Same shop, different mechanic, different experience. Give life a chance too; most things may not change, but one person can make the difference.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

HC ride

17-18 Nov, Teluk Ramunia, Johor, Malaysia,125 km

Day 1
On a slow boat to Pengarang, I try to catch on some sleep. When I get off the boat, it's as if I've landed in another land. The last time I was here was in 2006. The place looks different now. Where we once gathered outside a little door to get passports stamped, there's now a big building where we queue inside. We ride to a hotel, lunch, and I chill out in the air-conditioned room, which feels a tad better than the burning outdoors. The rest chill out outdoors - they visit a barber and eat.

Evening comes, the plan is to cycle again when it's cooler. But it is not so; I'm told they have "no mood to cycle". What?! I don't get my passport stamped just to cycle 40 km. I grab my bike. I'm told that yonder is danger. OK, I'll cycle to the most peaceful place I know in the area, where tall grass bend in the wind and waves caress the shore. I even do some off-road, on a Mars-like landscape. After all, men are from Mars ...

As I cycle, they eat. And eat. Four more meals or more, I'm told, between 3-8 pm. I only have two, and I'm the one who's gone the extra mile! I tell them where I cycled, and it turns out where the tall grass bend in the wind, have lurked robbers. With big knives ...

So, the most peaceful place I know, turns out to be the most dangerous. "You're lucky," one of the eaters say. And to think I stopped a few times to shoot, not with a gun, but a camera. To think that the little picturesque road I was on ends in a cul-de-sac too. Ooh.

Nightstop: Sin Hin Hotel

Day 2
Uh, where shall we cycle today? To the jetty, after breakfast of course. On the way back to the jetty, we stop. For durians. So, this is an HC ride: Hair Cut, High Calories and (for me) a bit of Hazardous Cycling.

griefk

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Fiddling or fixing?

Woodlands, 56 km. My front derailleur shifter has been spongy and I've wanted to change it. Still, that would mean downtime and money. As I cycle, I fiddle with the barrel adjuster. Performance markedly improves. Which reminds me of a photo of an old couple and its caption: we come from a generation where if something is broken we fix it instead of throwing it away.

The adjustment came about as, after changing the bottom bracket, the chain ground against metal when I shift gears. The front derailleur hasn't shifted, perhaps the new spacers for the bottom bracket are thicker than the slimmed-by-age old spacers, and changed the chain alignment. Fixing one problem (the chain) might have solved another problem (spongy shifter).

So, I've saved money, time and a wee bit of the Earth. I wonder if the repair will last. Wouldn't that be nice: instead of one problem leading to another, one solution led to another.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Sore in the life, soar in the sky

Woodlands, 51km. It rains at the time I want to cycle. I wait. By the time I'm on the road, it is past 10 pm. Usually, I dislike wet roads. Dirt gets sprayed up and clings to the bike, jersey turns dirty. And oil stains, stain. But tonight, I like. The days have been bad, so tonight I must ride. Who knows if the sun will shine tomorrow?

My new bottom bracket performs like a dream. The crank no longer creaks. It is smooth and I glide over the puddle-strewn road. Riding in the damp, cool night air, on water that came from the sky, is like soaring in the sky.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Bye bye BB, bye bye money

From black to brown. How did dirt get in?
Non-cycling day. I guess the creak is from my bottom bracket. It's over 40,000 km old, which means it would've circumnavigated the world. I get a quote for a new BB from a bicycle shop, bring my bike there a few hours later, ask the price again and am quoted a higher price by another guy. I get scolded (well, excuse me for checking before you installed it!) and sort out the price with a phone call to a senior guy.

BB is changed (with a dent in the crank axle in the process). I ask the scolder to check my chainring bolts, since they seem loose and get told off again. Other mechanics tighten bolts without removing the cranks but this guy says he doesn't do it that. He wants to remove the crank and charge me extra for it. (In the end, he doesn't charge extra, after asking the senior guy.)

He says the bolts are loose since they don't stop turning, removes the crank (by bashing it out again), tells me a chainring is the wrong way round (guess he knows he's wrong, as he doesn't flip it round). Then he says the chainring bolts are too long and sells me new ones which cost half the price of the BB! The new bolts turn too after tightening. Well well well.

Well, with the design of the new bolts, i don't need special tools to tighten them. They are aluminium, not steel like the old ones, so they must have less rotational mass, and lighter. My wallet is lighter too, but it's better to have a little light moment than rue the deal and be all glum. Oh, i now have spare bolts too.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Impossible?

Oct distance: 151 km

Woodlands, 51 km. He's on a full suspension bicycle. I'm on a rigid. He's got platform pedals and thick-soled shoes. I'm with clipless pedals and cycling shoes. He's got tyres fatter than my 2 inch ones. And he's going faster than me!?

At a junction, a couple on a tandem bicycle run a red light. I stop pedaling to avoid collision, then crank it up. They've got a pannier bag; I suppose they're back from a tour. They're going at 35 km/h. Uphill. They pull further and further away as we head downhill. I never catch up with them.

I'd not have believed these until I see them with my own eyes. Seeing is believing, but then, there's none so blind that will not see.

If you believe, you might be disappointed. But if you don't believe, you won't do. And if you don't do, nothing happens. Except disappointment.


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Acceptance without explanation

Sembawang, 49 km. My crank does what it's designed to do: crank. It also creaks, which sounds like trouble. I'm told the bearings are on their way out. A few km later, the creak goes away. Why? Do the bearings warm up then bear up to the pressure? Whatever the explanation is, the sound goes away. I know it'll come back. And, it'll go away.

Good things come in life. And they'll go away eventually, some sooner, some later. Bad things come in life. I know some will go away. Or, at least, the memory will fade away. Accept the good. Accept the bad. No exceptions.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Down memory lane

File photo
Punggol, 51 km. I return to cycle along my ultra marathon bicycle patrol route, which was two weekends ago. Along the way, I go further back in time, when, across the road, someone shouts "hey!"

 Two cyclists, members of the now-but-a-memory "Fellowship of the Spins". Starting in 2003, we used to cycle in Singapore and Malaysia. They met on bicycles, fell in love and got married. Still cycling together.

 Good things happen when cycling.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

On call

Sep distance: 572 km

Tanjong Rhu, 35 km. In the morning, I attend a lecture in hospital. The speakers include a trauma surgeon and a traffic policeman. They're not just experts in their jobs, they're experts in black humour too. Those long, scratch-like marks on a torso? Tyre tracks. Under the skin, see the kidney / liver / spleen torn into pieces. And here is an x-ray of a normal pelvis. Beside it is an x-ray of a broken pelvis. And here is a photo of a mascerated limb, probably going to be amputated. Now, close your eyes and forget the images. So, do you still want to cycle?

In the afternoon, I do an urban version of a cyclocross, as if I'm on call, to help a newbie go up and down pedestrian bridges that link park connectors. "Other than fearing to cycle on the road, fearless", is the description of the newbie. Before the ride is over, I respond to another call for support. Time to go. At one point, somehow, I do 38 km/h on my fat tyres and soon-to-die bottom bracket.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Miss a turn

Woodlands, 52 km. I'm so fascinated by last week's ultramarathon that I want to revisit my bicycle patrol area. The most direct route turns out to be the most dangerous way, where an expressway exit merges into a road. Cycling on the latter where there is pavement on my left leads to traffic whizzing past me not just on the right, but the left where pavement ends and expressway exit begins. My life is on the (white) line.

A motorcyclist leaving the expressway slows down to block traffic behind him. I look back and see him waving me to filter to the side and out of the madness. Thanks, dude.

I'm wasn't in the wrong place, but being right doesn't make me safe.

And doing what you're designed to do doesn't last forever. Ask my crank. It's loose. Not the "sleep around" kind of loose. I go to a bikeshop and am told the bearings aren't able to bear much more. Just a bit more life left, then it's time to go. He tightens the crank and tells me I'll know when it's over. Service and advice for free. Thanks, dude.

My poor Little Red Tank. You've gone through so much, seven years and over 35,000 km. Your parts are wearing out, and at different rates too. Which means, you'll be going for repair more frequently, because I don't have the means to give you that kind of care at home. Unless, I send you for an overhaul, so that whatever needs to be replaced, is replaced all at one go. My wallet sighs in anticipation.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Run like crazy

Lorong Halus, 154 km. Having allowed myself to be talked out of an ultra marathon run, I decide to help others make their dreams come true. I sign up for bicycle patrol at Craze Ultra (or should that be ultra crazy?), where choice of distances include 101 km and 100 miles (160 km).

The job? An 11-hour shift to see that no runner is down and, if so, call for help. I also end up replacing stolen/blown away signage. And giving the thumbs up to runners as I cycle past, to shyly and silently cheer them on. Some smile. Others wave. Some do both. Some do none, they look ahead and keep going.

One-legged hero
On one of my patrols, I see a runner down. Cramps. In both legs. And in his gut. He doesn't even want to crawl into the shade. A few runners surround him. One gives him a towel (perhaps the only towel she has) to shield his face from the sun. Another phones for help. "I'll stay with him," I offer. The runners are relieved as the clock is ticking. A girl asks me where to get water. I empty one of my bottles into her bag and tell her where the nearest 7-Eleven is. Blade Runner and medics on wheels pass by, who adminster first aid to the collapsed runner.

I continue my patrols. At a junction where people have reportedly turned the wrong way, I sweep the area for several km, looking for lost runners, then resume patrol on the official route.

A girl passes a runner. She must've done about 60 km already."Well done," she says. "All the way," he replies. I pass an old man. His wispy white hair stands out from under his hat. I ask him if he needs anything. He wants a sip of water, so I squirt from my water bottle into his mouth. I look at his bib, he's signed up for the 100 mile run. He has over 100 km more to go. I later find out he's 70 years old.

At checkpoint 4, which I adopt as my refueling base, there's an aunty who volunteers because she is free. And a girl clocking community involvement hours - a school requirement. They prepare sandwiches, watermelon and liquid meals for runners. A thoughtful volunteer puts ice into a container, which we use to spray onto runners who want to wash their faces and/or cool down. When runners stop for food and drink, they reek of sweat and valour. None of the ladies at the checkpoint have proper meals for lunch, just biscuits and stuff. They decline my offer to buy dinner for them. Mosquitoes feast on them - the volunteers, not the biscuits and stuff.

One-armed hero
The sun sets. It is dark. Shadows are long. I peer into them as I cycle past, to see if any runners are lying down in pain. I see two runners standing, waiting for ambulance. One has bad blisters and a bad ankle. An ambulance stops to give treatment. I shine my torch to shed light. Another Good Samaritan runner comes by and whips out his far-brighter light. Conscious that the clock is ticking, I tell him I'm staying with Blister Man, but Mr Samaritan insists on staying put until Blister Man takes an ambulance ride.

Over 200 people have signed up for the ultra, including about 80 for 100 km and about 60 for 100 miles. While others have organised 100 km runs before, no one, as far as I know, has organised a 100 mile run on this little island that's about 40 km at its widest point.

I'm so inspired, I've done several marathons and, seeing ultra marathoners, I know they're a breed apart. They dress differently and behave differently. Some wear caps with flaps, and carry phones, light, food and water. Some grit, some grin and show a whole lot of heart. I'm touched some won't leave strangers behind.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Taking stock

Woodlands, 50 km. This year is horrible, horrible. There's only one year in my entire life that's worse than this. And I was born last century. That year, the two most important areas of my life went downhill. This year is pretty much the same, just that it's ranked second.

Still, this year so far, I cycled in Australia. And Malaysia. And Indonesia. And that's not all. I've got my air ticket for another long ride at the end of the year.

Today, I see a car - a big, black car - drive across a pedestrian crossing. While a blind man is crossing it. Clear as day, he sticks his white cane out as he crosses. Why did you not stop, Mr Driver? Are you blind? Have you no heart?!

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Sun drenched, rain dropped

8-9 Sep, Bintan, Indonesia, 225 km

An act of kindness 
Day 1, Sat 8 Sep, 110 km. Singapore-Trikora. What's that sound? Oh, it's the alarm clock going off hours before dawn. I cycle 1.5 hours to the ferry teminal and pass the spot where three cyclists had been hit weeks ago. One died. Someone has laid a basket of flowers on the kerb. Under the street lights, the dew-laden air melds into the light grey road. At the ferry terminal, I wait. The last rider is almost an hour late. The check-in staff tells us to remove our bicycle accessories. "Say goodbye to your bike," he tells me with a laugh.

Our group of eight has two veterans from Laos and Taiwan. The rest are mostly newbies. Bike leader briefs them, then points at me and says, "If you can get ahead of him, you deserve to stay there." After an hour's riding to get out of "Bintanpore" (where prices are in SGD and as high) to the real Bintan, one of them pukes. He hurls. The locals watch, amazed. It's going to be a long day. After breakfast part 2, we cycle off. Kids wave and cheer. A motorcyclist gives me the thumbs up. I cycle ahead, mulling over work, head and heart matters. I somehow miss a turn, but don't realise this yet.

Have ice cream, will travel
I wait at a tiny, dusty shop. I figure I'm half an hour ahead. The shopkeeper chats with me. I finish my room-temperature drink. The sun burns. An ice-cream vendor rattles up on his motorbike. I ask for chocolate. It's RP3,000. He has no change for my RP50,000 note, which is the smallest I got from the money changer. I apologise. He smiles and thrusts the ice cream at me. I shake my head again, he insists again. I am amazed. I thank him in his language and he thanks me in mine. 

After an hour's wait, I call bike leader. Turns out he's just a few minutes away, having a break. He's sent the newbies ahead so that we get to the hotel during daylight. And we do. They celebrate with beer. I toast them, with ice cream. Some newbies decide to skip the ride tomorrow, including the ride treasurer. And I somehow end up being appointed treasurer - the one who handles the cash and pays the bills. My first such appointment.

Nightstop: Ocean Bay Resort

A wrong turn 
Day 2 Sun 9 Sep, 115 km. For breakfast, I have eight slices of toast, four cups of tea and two eggs. Who knows what the food and beverage situation is on the road? Near Tanjong Pinang, bike leader's sixth sense tingles. We've missed a turn. I speed back to save the others from wasted calories.

As we regroup, I tell bike leader there seems to be a shop that sells cold drinks. "I didn't say cold beer," I stress. "You seem to be right," he says after I lead them there. There is a fridge with cold drinks. I ask for ice and glasses. Bike leader says, "This is a shop, not a restaurant." He's right. I try to cancel my request. Glasses of ice appear. Sorry to impose and thank you so much for your hospitality. It's hot and sunny.

Like yesterday, kids say hello. A motorcyclist on the other side of the road beeps me. A passenger in a car give me a thumbs up. Passing vehicles give me a wide berth. Ahead, I see two Caucasians by the roadside looking at a big unfolded map. I give them directions. "Is it hilly?" one asks. I ask, "Where are you from, are you from Holland?" They reply, "Singapore". "There's nothing like that over there," I say. They have a long way to go.

Thunder rumbles, like the unhappy belly of Thor. I want to keep ahead of the rain clouds, to no avail. Rain falls. I'm wet but it's not the kind of rain that wets tyre rims. There is no time for lunch. I reach for my energy powder but it's gone, together with my reflective strip, which is the shiniest I've seen. They must have bounced out of my velcroed pocket. Bike leader pats his girth and says he has reserves but I'll die. To comfort me, he says he'll burn me hell money every Seventh Month. Thanks.

At the ferry terminal, I find out how true is the saying that it's in "Bintanpore". Prices are in Singapore dollars and Singapore rates. A couple occupy three chairs, with their bag taking up the third seat. I'm told only one seat is available. A second couple remove their bag for us. Seconds later, the first couple pay the bill and walk away. Guess you're not kind Indonesians, are you?

griefk

Sunday, September 02, 2012

The only one

Tanah Merah, 56 km. I go west to see how long it takes to cycle to a certain ferry terminal. There are three in the area, excluding the military one. And the naval base. At Changi Coast Road, the road ahead and behind me is devoid of cyclists. Where is everyone? Yes, there are many cyclists along the park connector, but they're all heading the other way. And I'm the only cyclist on the road.

When there's only one (whether person or thing), and it's gone, it's hard. Will there ever be another one? Maybe, but unlikely. And, sometimes, never.

Or perhaps, we don't know. It looks like I'm the only cyclist on the road, as far as I can see ahead or behind me. But, perhaps, out of sight, there are others on the road?

Round the bend, I see a faint, blinking blue light. What's this, blue light special at Kmart? Turns out to be a roadie. I "reel" him in on my knobbies. He overtakes and gets ahead, but not for long. At 40 km/h hour, I pass him and he catches up at a stop light. "Alone?" he asks. Yeah.  Turns out he's with some friends, who drop him. He's cycling alone to meet them several km away. When the light turns green, I drop him.

Along a busy road, a dog crosses. "Leave me alone," I scream silently at it. As I near it, it crosses again, towards me. Yikes! With traffic passing me, there's no room for evasive action. But it doesn't even look at me. I look where it's looking. A puppy, the only one. It's scared to follow mama across the road. And that's why mama (I guess it's a mama) came back. Aw, so sweet.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Messages on the road

Aug distance: 667 km

24-26 Aug, Kuantan, Malaysia, 327 km

Prologue
View from inside the peloton
Bike n Blade #7, Singapore-Kuantan-Lanjut. The seventh in the fundraising series, this is furthest we travel to start the charity ride and the highest fundraising target per cyclist. This year, we raise over SGD460,000. Total funds raised in the series since #1 in 2005 is over SGD2m. 

The omens 
Day 1, Fri 24 Aug, Singapore-Kuantan, non-cycling day. I'm trying to do a good thing, burning calories to raise funds for a hospital and eldercare centre. That's no guarantee that good things will happen. I checked my tyres a few days ago and decide to discard one. A big bicycle shop I go to doesn't have 1.25" tyres. As there's no assurance other shops would have them (not that I have time to shop), I go with 1.5" ie mismatched tyres. I pump it up, only to find the front tyre deflated overnight. Old tube. I replace it with a new tube. The tyre deflates again overnight. How can new tube be punctured indoors? I check the tyre, it seems to be in order, no debris found. I put in another tube, sprint the 10 km in the dark to the rendezvous point and am among the last to arrive. 

DHL volunteers cheerily and quickly cling-wrap my frame. The bus cargo hold is full of bicycles. The president of the organising committee kindly shifts some bicycles for me. Somehow, I board the wrong bus. On the bus, I see the zip of my pouch has failed and my keys almost fall out. I endure the 8-hour journey to Kuantan. As I help unload the bicycles at the hotel, I see a name tag: a name similar to someone I massively miss. What are the odds of that, this name on this bicycle on my bus, with me unloading it? 
Attention to detail; lots marked out according to bus numbers

In need of cheer, I turn on the TV in my hotel room. Spongebob Squarepants is on, but it isn't in English. What's going on? Perhaps, the events of today and reminder of someone aren't meant to taunt. Perhaps it's God's way of saying, "Bad things happened, but you didn't miss the bus, you didn't lose your keys and you're still functioning."

And it is a nice hotel room, the best ever to date in the Bike n Blade series. The hotel is so fancy, bicycles are not allowed in the rooms. We park them in the exhibition hall instead. It is so big, we cycle in it to test our machines.

Night stop: Zenith Hotel 

Seconds from disaster 
Day 2, Sat 25 Aug, Kuantan to Lanjut, 134 km. I have a big breakfast, not the McDonalds kind. Judging from their t-shirts, some cyclists are marathoners and there's an ultramarathoner.

Lanjut Beach
When we flag off, I hold back (unlike past years) and join Group 3 - which turns out to be a group of  triathletes. All is well, at just over 30 km/h until we spy another group ahead. Some breakaway. I follow. Mistake. The group ahead goes about 10 km/h faster. I drop out and cycle solo the rest of the way. At one water point, I quaff 100 plus, Red Bull and eat some bananas to see what happens. I have a gut feeling: bad idea.

Some super bikes overtake me. Their throaty roar spooks some cows, which charge cross the road - just seconds ahead of me. One cow tries to jump over a bike, which veers off the road in a cloud of brown dust, hits a metal pole and falls to bits on the grass. The pillion rider is able to sit up but the rider lies still. One of our support crew, a family, springs into action. I cycle to a fire station and ask for help.

I was just seconds away, perhaps 50m away, from the mad cows. I've had nine pieces of bad news in eight months. Being tenderized by cows isn't the 10th piece of bad news. I've been spared this time. I'm grateful. If I didn't see the crash, I would've taken for granted my road safety. As for those in my life who have moved on, the pain of saying goodbye is directly proportional to how precious they are. Better to have known and lament, than to not know them - or worse, to know them and not care.

So I had a painless ride on the road. At the hotel, staff serve cold drinks with cold towels. Posh eh? Little did I know that's to prepare me for the three-storey climb with bicycle up to my room.

Night stop: Lanjut Beach Resort

Double blessings
Day 3, 26 Aug, Lanjut-Kota Tinggi, 173 km. Flag off at 6 am. The road is dark, with potholes aplenty. Bicycle lights front and rear are ablaze. We move off in batches. I start with Group 3, who ride cautiously in the dark. Carbon wheelsets perhaps? On my mountain bike, I cycle ahead. When I look back, the lights are far behind, twinkling like distant stars.

Cardboard care, bubble wrap 
I end up behind the the safety vehicle of the group in front. I draft them but eventually I'm solo again. When more roadies pass me, I try to keep up as long as I can. Once, I even pull them along but  by the time someone takes over, I am spent. At 1.30 pm, the sweeper bus at the 160 km mark will start to sweep up cyclists. I've done the maths; if I stop to have a proper lunch, I might not make it.

So I press on. For the first time ever, I skip a proper lunch. Instead, I subsist on bananas, 100plus, energy powder (which I've not tried before) and gels. Thank you, guts, for putting up with the abuse. The stuff works; despite the calories burnt, I don't feel hungry. A few km from the end point, it starts to pour. It's the first time in Bike n Blade that it's poured like this. I later hear that cyclists are picked by safety cars.up as it's not safe to ride. So I'm doubly-blessed; I avoid the sweeper bus and the safety cars. I've been on the road almost eight hours. By the time I get in, the lead riders have showered and lunched. As before at the start of the ride, DHL clingwraps our wheels and frames for the trip home by bus (and unloads them at our destination).

It's anti-climactic as our buses arrive and we head home separately: some by taxi, some by personal transport. I cycle home.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Tearing about

Woodlands, 86 km. I help a friend with a park connector ride in the north, this time with no rental bicycles. But some bikes need care, no thanks to cheap, poorly-designed cyclocomputer attachments. At the end of the group ride, I recce the rendezvous point in the south for next week's charity ride. Then, as the day is young, I cycle down memory lane, to where I'd spent my early childhood.

Everything looks new. I ask an old man how old the apartments are. They are decades old. I cycle around; the apartment block where I used to live seems to have disappeared but there are vestigial traces of what used to be. I tell the old man I grew up here and he perks up. I wave goodbye to him, he nods. I also pass the block of someone I used to see year in year out, but no more. By this time, I'm tired and my speed has dropped by 10 km/h.

Back home, I shower and prepare to vegetate, then find out that a visit to a cancer patient - her misfortune is one of the nine bad things that happen in my life this year - has been arranged. And off I go, this time by public transport.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A little sunshine

File photo
Lim Chu Kang, 75 km. This year has been bad. One piece of bad news each month? There are nine pieces so far, and it's only August. Still, there's a tough charity ride next week and training to do.

I wipe on sun block, put on sunglasses and head out. I hear thunder. Lightning flashes. You got to be kidding, right?

Water from the road sprays up. I realise the rain clouds have passed me by as I head north. I avoid a fist-sized rock that could've thrown me into passing traffic. There's broken glass on two parts of the road, but no puncture. I evade a nail sticking up from a piece of wood on the road. Some drivers cut it fine as they pass me. Instead of being upset, I see the hand of God. Something cracks against my helmet; I look behind, and see part of a branch that fell on my head.

And, as the sun goes down, some sunshine warms the road.

I drink the fuel that a sponsor gave us for the ride, to test how my body reacts to it. It tastes good. But since I didn't have breakfast or an adequate lunch, hunger pangs hit me. No easy way out, no stopping till the end is near. I end the ride with dinner at a shop I've never dined in before. It is bicycle-parking friendly. With the bicycle beside me, I don't even have to place my order; someone comes up and takes it from me.

At home, I shower, feel clean and comfy on the sofa. Small blessings are a big deal.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Stay balanced

Woodlands, 53 km. This country is a small island. Traffic lanes are usually wide enough for cars, but when there are trucks, their waist-high wheels tend to roll near the kerb. Add gravel, drainage holes and the fall-off where inch-high asphalt meets concrete, and you have mountain-bike territory in urban landscape.

Rather than wind my way into traffic, I plunge into the gap between big truck tyres and the kerb. If I fall, I hope I fall on away from the big tyres. My fat tyres grip into the assortment of things on the surface. So long as I keep pedaling, I keep upright, alive and unhurt.

No matter what life throws, keep looking forward, keep pedaling. And, like C says, suck it up!

Thursday, August 09, 2012

3-in-1

Kranji, 78 km. Three things happen today on my bicycle.

1. Tour guide - ask for opinions about where to go, explain the route and traffic hazards, lead the way, show the sites. What's that? You didn't fix the wheel like I told you to last time? OK, add repairman to the mix. My heart sinks when I see "mineral oil". I know caliper, cantilever and V-brakes. I've not had to adjust hydraulic brakes before, but I manage to.

2. Train - well, kind of. I do a few sprints upslope. With my fat, low pressure tyres, I can feel the burn.

3. Fix bicycle (mine) - the usual shop I go to is closed, so I go another one nearby. We argue; he first says my shifter is broken, because I hardly ride(?!). Then he says it's the tension. OK i suspected that, though my earlier fiddling didn't make much difference. Then I borrow a tool, and he raises his voice. He grabs another tool and tries, then exclaims, "oh, yours is different". Yeah, I know. Different. Well, at least I'm satisfied my chainring bolts are secure, though they seem to be freewheeling.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Blowing in the wind

File photo. Now, a spanking new bridge stands here

Seletar, 48 km. Waiting for the blues to go away doesn't happen. Eager to try something different - note I didn't use the word "new" - I cycle to Seletar, one of my old haunts years ago.

Others too have poignant memories of this place. They used to live here, grew up here, made their lives here. But they were forced to move. What used to count here, now counts for naught. It's time to go. The bulldozers have come and gone, the landscape obliterated. Bits of the past remain, but it's not the same anymore.

Sand blows into my eyes, the closest I come to tears. I see two cyclists on the windswept road. And two Apaches, throbbing olive-green platforms of death (or life, depending on which side of the weapons you are on). And a Chinook too.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Softly, softly

Jul distance: 447 km

Woodlands, 50 km. I start my journey to address one of the seven problems that have afflicted me so far in the seven months of this year. Today's mission is a fact-finding, bridge-building visit, to understand the situation before offering any solution. Softly softly, friendly friendly. Even if no solution is in sight (yet), at least, I hope to see why things have turned out the way they have, just by seeing how one side of the argument lives.

Softly, softly, the way a well-tuned bicycle moves: smooth, no rattle, no jerk. And, as it turns out, my bicycle is part of the conversation piece. This is a new role for me; I've done cycling meditation, but not cycling mediation.

What seems to be working: be a friend first; only then can advice be seen as friendly, acceptable advice

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The big C

Woodlands, 50 km. Cancer. It came as a shock to her, and to us. What started as a nagging cough at the end of last year turns out to be the final stage of the big C. We've worked together for ten years. Now, she's got a few months left. Unless, a miracle happens.

Do I believe in miracles? This is the seventh month of the year, which has inflicted me with seven pieces of bad news. Three of them this month, which have to do with comradeship, career and the big C. C'mon, enough already!

 To cope, I cycle. As I cycle, I contemplate life. Even if there are no miracles, there can be courage. As the Brits would say, "keep Calm and Carry on". Km by km, hour by hour, day by day, till the last breath.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Twilight time

Woodlands, 51 km. To ride or not to ride? There are reasons for and against. Since I didn't run this week, I might as well rest my legs from cycling too. In the end, I mount my bicycle. My heart is still heavy. After 1,000 km cycling overseas, I thought I'd figured out why the loss happened and what it means. Then, I realise the loss arose more from an error a question of judgement than anything else. But so what? What's happened, has happened.

Back to the present: a dog chases me. I see a wild boar, which bolts when i ride past. And drivers who stop their cars at blind corners. The air is cool. Wind roars in my ears. My bicycle slices through the dusk, silent apart from the occasional clink. The gears shift like they should, the machine surges forward as I pedal with power and form. For a while, all is right in my world.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Ride for Rations

6-8 Jul, Malacca, Malaysia, 296 km

Hope in hope
Day 1, Fri 6 Jul, Malacca, non-cycling day. Usually, for any charity ride, I'd take a day's leave. This time, I cycle to office (16 km) and work half a day. My friends have the pleasure of cycling to and fro, while I bus north from Singato Malacca with the main party. I see some familiar faces from a Sarawak charity ride, I've not seen most of them in two years. Coming along for the ride are some magnificent machines, including mountain bikes with titanium, carbon and exotic parts. I'm the only one on fat tyres. Fat, knobby tyres.

I think about yet another piece of bad news, which I get today. Looks like my life isn't going to change. Still, many would say: "Are you crazy? I'd like to have your problems". I, for one, don't need anyone to raise funds for me so I have food. My problems are higher up Maslow's hierarchy, but they are problems, and they are mine. I can only hope in hope. Well-placed hope, I hope. I receive a message from a donor, who wishes me well for the ride. Sweet.

Nightstop: Emperor Hotel

Personal best
Day 2, Sat 7 Jul. Batu Pahat, 106 km. The heavy storm peters to a drizzle by the time we set off. I go with the lead riders, led by an Ironman. I drop behind within half an hour, cycle solo and catch up with some of them at the lunch point. They don't lunch; they're off after some bananas and drinks. I cycle solo again until the outskirts of Batu Pahat, where i stop to have iced coconut drink. The lady sees me pour ice into a water bottle and gives me a free glass of ice.

Some cyclists pass by and give me directions to the hotel. I'm the seventh cyclist in, I reckon. This is not a race but I'm glad to have done my personal best. In around 1.10 pm, I wait almost two hours for my bag in the support vehicle. Note to myself: put bag in car #1.

While waiting, I talk to cyclist #6, who says he broke a collar bone earlier this year. He lost control after cycling over a dip in the road. A few months later, he broke the other collarbone on a motorbike accident. He broke his toe too, and can't run fast. Tough for a triathlete.

Nightstop: Pinetree Hotel 

Not how you start but how you finish
Day 3, Sun 8 Jul, Singapore, 174 km. Yesterday, my solar-powered watch, veteran of several expeditions, resets to Y2K. I fix it, but this morning, it goes back in time. As I push my bicycle out the door, I'm dismayed to find the rear tyre flat. Ridiculous: fat, knobby tyres getting punctures cycling on the road instead of offroad?! If I wanted flats, I'd have used my road tyres. There's breakfast and flag off ahead of me. I go into a frenzy to find the leak and the cause: a 5 mm long intruder, which I pull out.

After flag off, I catch the tailwind of an excavator and draft it at 40 km/h, leaving everyone behind until I'm winded. A middle-aged lady on a motorbike rides alongside to chat, asking where I'm from, where I've been ...

Peloton #1 overtakes and the only way I see them again is when they stop to check directions; we're ahead of the support crew and "supply lines". We stop for a break; the only one between breakfast and lunch. The chief organiser, who'd strongly advised everyone to use road tyres, asks if I'm giving people a handicap with my fat tyres. Well, I do feel disadvantaged.

We lunch at Pekan Nanas. We park our bicycles in the sun. When I put them back on, my gloves, helmet and sunglasses are sun-dried and hot. From this point on, no more breakaways. With all the junctions ahead, we ride in packs so there're enough support crew to space out among support vehicles and junctions. Our pace drops from over 30 km/h to 25 km/h so others can keep up. Mountain bike speed, I like :) and I pull so long, others ask if I'd like to drop back. My odometer records average speed of 26.5 km/h. Which is just as well, since some roadies go down in  a crash, one of them ends up with fist-sized road rash.

At the end of the ride (at the charity we're raising funds for), I've just one puncture but not a scratch on me. And I declare my new shoes "expedition proven tested for expedition" :) While others board taxis home, I continue on my Little Red Tank.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Seek and you shall find?

Jun distance: 776 km

Woodlands, 50 Km. I try out my new shoes today, and find out how accurate my "cleat template" is. The template is an outline of cleat positions traced on clear firm plastic, one for the left shoe and one for the right. On the road, I just need to stop once and make a tiny adjustment; it takes less than a minute.

Finding the shoes took much longer, at the sixth bicycle shop. Some shops have road shoes, not mountain bike. Some have a handful of boxes. One has only one pair of MTB shoes. Another has MTB shoes at half price: probably old stock, as I've seen this brand on sale elsewhere. They don't look like they'll stand up to hard use.

At the sixth shop, I ask for MTB shoes. "Platform or cleats?" is the reply. And I have a choice of three brands! To find something, know what it looks like. It helps to go where there is a concentration of those things. And don't stop believing. Keep looking.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Other people's problems

Woodlands, 55 km. I attend a charity ride briefing today. The destinations aren't new to me. What to bring, what to expect: been there, done that. I even see some old faces. I haven't seen some of them for years.

What bears remembering is, the problems other people have. Why does this charity ride exist? To give some people the option of having more than one meal a day ...

Which reminds me of another charity briefing, last year: "If you think you have problems, wait till you come here". Here being the dementia ward in a hospital.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

All in the head

16-17 Jun, Batu Pahat, Johore, Malaysia, 354 km

Sluggish headset
Waiting till the cows come home
Day 1: 16 Jun, Batu Pahat, 169 km. I have a feeling of deja vu. Two weeks ago, I headed towards the causeway: same time, same place, same feelings. Again, someone (S) is late, but this time it's for almost two hours. As I wait, I tell myself I've to remind myself, until I am unconsciously able, to look on the bright side. The two things that happened this year are bad, but there is also some good. Rinse and repeat, that's how to wash away sad thoughts.

What's the point of a journey if you return to where you started and feel the same? At least, have fun on the trip. And when the trip is over, don't lament that it's over. So, when an era ends, remember how good it was, not just that it's over. There's nothing I can do about the latter anyway. Which is not to say, I didn't try my best. For hundreds and hundreds of km, I've thought about it and I know there wasn't much else I could do. "Everything has a beginning and an end ..."

On the road, I am disorientated. Old roads and villages, so picturesque then, are gone. It's like a different world now. My headset feels pitted and sluggish. And I've got over 100 km to go.

Seeing double: two Simple Ones

At Pekan Nanas, I buy a new headset. This is the first time I buy a major component while on a trip. Bikeshop man says my steerer tube has been cut dangerously short (uh, I did two double black diamonds, and cycled 30,000 km with that). He fits a different spacer and adjusts my brakes too. He charges me just for the headset. I pay with a mixture of local and foreign currency, and he gives me a discount without me even asking. This is Malaysia, where even in the state capital of Johore, drivers slow down so I can filter across two lanes, without even waiting for my hand signal.

The sun and temperature peak. At a junction, I holler. My friend nods and goes on, missing the turn. He doesn't come back, so I chase him down. Besides a bad headset, my head is faulty too. For some reason, I order a 1.5 litre bottle of Pepsi at a rest stop. For many km after that I drink it, even when warm. Because of our late start, we reach our hotel past 8 pm, and have dinner after 10.

Nightstop: Pinetree Hotel

Lost in the dark
Not what it's cracked up to be
Day 2: 17 Jun, Singapore, 185 km. I'm awake just after 5 am, when the call to prayer wakes up the predawn sky. I watch snatches of a documentary on US Marines Recon training. "Recon: not for the weak or faint-hearted". Today, we are on recon too, for a charity ride next month. Some of us track km, others photograph key junctions. We start late, because we got in late. We still blame S for the mess.

Someone dear to me once talked about being a useful person. So I pull the peloton along for what feels like an hour, against the wind. I slow down whenever I am ahead so they can catch up. This means keeping an eye on the road, on the speedometer and whether they are near enough to my tail. I'm asking for trouble as I haven't cycled for two weeks. And now I am on a fully-loaded, double century ride over hill and against the wind.

I hear repeated clicking. At first, I think it's just my knee. Then realise what's worse than a screw loose; several loose chainring bolts. Roadside repair is makeshift; I don't have the right tools. I rush for Pekan Nanas, but all bicycle shops are closed.

Please, light up my life
I see a monitor lizard tentatively crossing the road. A car runs over it. It's as if a tyre bursts, bang. M and I too are in trouble. We're separate from the rest. We wait, thinking they're behind us, when they're ahead of us. By the time the situation is clear. It is dark. Being lost in the dark is no fun.

M has a GPS, I have a compass. GPS is not foolproof if the map is out of date. And, in a city, knowing where you are doesn't necessarily mean you easily know the series of turns to make, in the right order, in the maze of twists and turns.

I have a feeling of deja vu: a long way from home, in the dark, low on lights and fuel, high anxiety that I'll be hit from behind and scattered over the road.

Sometimes, the way out isn't clear. There's too much detail: too many twists and turns, too many choices. You know you are here, but how do you get there? A compass has no map, but it tells you if you're directionally right. I track progress with the compass; so long as we head south and east, we get closer to home. If we go north, we'll end up in the wrong place, no matter how nice and tempting that road is.

By the time I get home, I've been on the road for 14 hours, and zero rest stops for 3.5 hours.

griefk

Sunday, June 03, 2012

From exhaustion to epiphany

2-3 Jun, Kluang, Johore, Malaysia, 317 km

Exhaustion
Day 1: Kluang, 169 km. I am up before dawn after about four hours of sleep. The roadies are rolling. I am the only one on fat tyres and a tube bag. I am trying out my new traveling rig. Which breaks the rule: never try anything new on a long ride. But I tell myself, this is a short ride. I use 2x600 ml bottles instead of the usual 700, and thin gloves. This is a recovery ride for me, real cycletherapy.

31 May marked the last day of an era. On top of that, 1 Jun is the third - and final - part of a year-long, sorry saga (well, it'd have more parts if the preceding year was counted too). With the culmination of these, something died inside me - or was something born?

Rough journey ahead. So fun!
So, I am glad to be on this ride, despite my heavy heart and heavy tyres. Can healing be hurried? If outer self (skin) hurts, use aloe vera. Cycling is aloe vera for inner self (spirit) hurts. My bicycle buddies, cycling chums are well-dressed as usual, in shirts even. They don't know what's eating me up inside, but cycling with them is therapy. V hasn't seen me for a year, he says I've lost weight. Heavy burdens tend to do that. Anyway, both of us have LX components. "Great minds think alike," he says, and adds, "Fools seldom differ."

As the kilometres pass beneath my wheels, clicks rise up. I dismount and tighten some bolts. The clicks continue. It can't be my middle chain ring, not when the Lord of the Rings has fixed it. Perhaps it's from the hole in my soul? It turns out, the clicking isn't metallic, but organic. It's my knee. I know, because I can feel it when I touch my right kneecap.

To add to the disorientation, I see fragments of familiar scenes, interspersed with the unfamiliar. Johore used to be my playground. Now, it looks so different. According to V's GPS, there's no road where we're cycling. Sure enough, the tarred road disappears. I stir from my stupor. On the wide, long swathe of dirt road, I jolt about at 28 km/h, overtaking a couple of cars. The drivers wish to protect their suspension, my bicycle has none to protect.
Darkness falls. So pretty ...

At Kluang, there's no room at the inn. We visit half a dozen before we find a place for the eight of us and our magnificent machines.

Now, I'm exhausted in body and soul. I want to sleep during dinner, but sleep eludes me. The thinking and feeling I'm cycling away from return with a vengeance. What's the point of going away if you feel the same? Low frequency vibrations permeate the room. I plug my ears up, but ear plugs don't quieten my heart nor silence the reverberations from karaoke. Now I know why there's room in this inn ...

Nightstop: Milano Hotel

Epiphany
Day 2: Singapore, 148 km. I hardly slept. I'm barely awake. I'm slow today. My knee clicks, my heart is heavy. Or is it the headwind? Rather than get emotional, I get technical. I cycle offroad, parallel to the road. I do compensatory gear shifts. I pedal circles and note there's less strain on my knees.

Road ahead. What lies beyond?
Life is about choices, not just accepting what it hands to you. Someone once told me, the glass is not half full. It is not half empty. It is both. Looking at the half full side, I recall how I end up cycling with these people: years ago, a "chance" meeting at a charity event. And it was "chance" that triggered the chain of events that led me into this funk.

It's hard to forget. As I removed my slippers last night, the plastic bag reminded me of that which was once pleasant, now painful. Then, I pass "Klinik Australia", which reminds me why I fled to Australia.

Cycling, especially over hundreds of km, does something. Somewhere over the rolling hills, over 200 km into the ride, over a garbage-juice soaked road strewn with trash, I realise that amidst loss, there is a glimmer of a new future. The way it was, was the way it would've stayed, just more of the same. Now, maybe, there may be a different, better future. Not immediately, of course, but someday. I can imagine what that future is, I'll need to work at it. As John Macarthur said, you can't control the results, but you can control the effort. There's nothing to say that things can't get better. So, that's how to deal with "what now" problems, where something has happened and there's nothing to be done about the past, just the future. Which leaves me to deal with the "now" problem, which is the present, that which is still happening. 

Then I realise what a nice day today is, cool and cloudy, perfect for cycling.

griefk