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, 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.


Sunday, June 03, 2012

From exhaustion to epiphany

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

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

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.