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, January 02, 2015

Down to the waterline

Mersing to Pekan
Dec distance: 916 km (includes Malaysia trip)

25 Dec - 2 Jan, Singapore to Pekan, Pahang, Malaysia, 810 km

I wonder if I should count this trip as an "epic" one since I did most of this route in 2003, so it's not some uncharted territory for me, unlike my other trips. Still, it is 810 km long and so it counts for something.

Exit (U2)
Day 1, 25 Dec,  to Kota Tinggi, 68 km. As I head to the border, I see many cyclists, some of them in Santa hats. For this trip, its just the three of us, and both of them are half an hour late.

Bak kut teh (pork rib soup)
The causeway is jammed. It doesn't help that some cars have broken down. After I get my passport back from immigration, the exit barrier doesn't move. I knock on the thick (bullet proof?) glass. The officer presses a button. Nothing else happens. She comes out and asks me: "What did you do to the barrier?" I duck under it with my bicycle and cycle away.

It takes us half an hour to clear both immigration checkpoints.

We're supposed to lunch at Mawai but I cheekily suggest Kota Tinggi, and that's where we end up for the night, instead of Mersing.

I happily dine on pork rib soup, which I first sampled over 10 years ago, in 2003. Even the friendly drink stall owner is there. He tells me his family is driving up today for Christmas dinner.

Morning has broken (Cat Stevens)

Rolling over rolling hills
Day 2, to Mersing, 95 km. 6.03 am and we're rolling. Outside of town, with no street lights, it is dark.
My light cuts through the darkness. The beam is faint until it splatters on the road into a blinking blob.

In the dark, it's hard to see if the road is rising or falling. It's hard to see the side of the road, but for the little white line by the roadside. Sometimes, the line is a foot away from the roadside. At other times, it's the width of a car. When my knobby tires scrabble to bite the asphalt, I know I've veered off the road because the distance of the white line from the edge varies. And when traffic comes towards me, their lights blind. I'm glad when dawn breaks.

The road to Mersing, with its rolling hills, is tedious. This time, there is little roadkill (just the occasional tiny snake or bird) to distract, unlike in previous Bike n Blade charity rides (when I saw pythons, monitor lizards and cats. The charity organisers got so bored with the route, they switched to Cameron Highlands this year).

The incessant drizzle becomes heavier. It's as if an angry man is jabbing me all over. I'm glad when we get to the hotel for a warm shower.

Nightstop: Embassy Hotel

Against the wind (Bob Seger)
Day 3, 27 Dec, to Pekan, 169 km. We cycle 30 km along a pleasant coastal road before we breakfast. Near Kuala Rompin, D breaks two spokes and has them replaced at a bicycle shop for RM10 including labour. The spokes are cut to length and bent to fit. D takes a taxi while the two of us press on to Pekan, a town called "town".

The sun is out. Dry from rain, wet from sweat. Cycling north in the northeast monsoon is no joke: we're cycling against the wind. Out of the blue, I see a small sign that holds out big hope: petrol kiosk, 15 km ahead. When I finally get there I have ice cream and 100Plus.

There are signs of flooding. One house off the road has water up to its windows. Kids make use of the "swimming pool" at their doorstep. At another house, a lady sits by the road, looking forlornly at her waterlogged home.

Hotel fit for royalty
The road is long. I can moan, or suck it up. Or even enjoy it. Since there's no escape clause, I look forward to a break every hour or so, preferably in a scenic spot.

I come across a flooded road. I pedal to "paddle" across. My reward after that: vanilla Coke. The shopkeepers offer us free samples of their preserved fruits. Such kindness to strangers.

We dine at KFC. We've heard the chicken is better than back home. Indeed, the servings are meatier and juicier.

Nightstop: An Casa Royale.

Holiday (Nazareth)
Day 4-5, 28-29 Dec, non-cycling days. Pekan. We're supposed to ride these two days. They do. They cycle in the rain, along the swollen Pahang River and part of  the flooded town. It is so bad, even KFC is closed.

There are 11 states in Peninsula Malaysia and seven are flooded, with over 200,000 evacuees (in one report, a quarter million people).

I have a cycling holiday instead, ie, a holiday from cycling. On my holiday, I drink tea, read the newspapers on my dry and comfortable room, watch movies, snooze and run for an hour in the gym while watching running videos. Being the sole person who signed in at the gym today, the attendant lets me use it though I don't have running attire. I'm in cyclist mode, you see.

The water is wide (James Taylor)
Day 6, 30 Dec, around Pekan, 98 km. It's stopped raining after two days. We cycle, off the main road
into flooded country roads until the water ahead appears to be top tube height (based on the height of the water reaching up a distant road sign).

Taking a boat to visit a home
I film my escapade until it the cross current makes steering too hard. The bicycle is like a boat, with the rudder in front. The road is impassable to cars.

At a coffeeshop, there is no coffee. At the hotel, no newspapers: no deliveries due to flood.

D and A head back to the hotel. As it's barely raining, I ride towards Kuantan. The northbound road is closed. Half of the southbound becomes northbound. I u-turn when I see cars parked by the road side. Only heavy vehicles plough through the water. I head to Tanjong Selangor instead and see the raging sea.

We dine at the hotel. Whether it's lunch or dinner, we're usually the sole diners. Each time, we get complimentary fruits and today, complimentary fries. The chef even came out once to shake our hands.

Blowing in the wind (Bob Dylan)
One joy of cyclo-touring: rest in picturesque cafes
Day 7, 31 Dec, to Mersing, 160 km. I've never spent four nights in a row in the same hotel before. We're supposed to cycle from Pekan to Segamat, then Kluang, Kota Tinggi, Telok Sengat then back home. Instead, we retrace our route, reducing distance cycled. The difference is, what was headwinds are now tailwinds as we head south instead of north. I think about the big comfy room as I cycle the barren road to Rompin.

The sun burns. We apply re-sunblock. We cycle into dark clouds overhead. It pours. The rain roars onto the trees beside the road. At my speed of up to 30 km/h, the rain, with its own velocity, stings.

Don't start too late (Black Sabbath)
Day 8, to Kota Tinggi, 94 km. New Year's Day. Up from a warm bed into cold damp clothes and socks. On the road at 6.10 am. We ride for an hour on rolling hills before breakfast at Jemaluang. It's not that there's no breakfast at Mersing, a much bigger town than Jemaluang. The wanton noodles here are reputed to be great. The shop (open from 0630 to 1630) is full and we share a table with a chain smoking local. It's not a public holiday in Johor.

Simply Red
My thumb hurts. Now I know why gears involve "thumb shifters". This is also "index shifting", so I use the knuckle of my index finger.

Lunch at a roadside shop that has over 30 cars parked around it. Business at Kang Kee Bak Kut Teh is so good, staff don't come to your table to place an order. Our table is 61 and that might not be the biggest number. Servers are from places including Myanmar.

A heads for home after lunch as he's got to work tomorrow. I'm tempted to follow A but it's a long way home for me; an American century away.

D and I head for Kota Tinggi. We're in before 2 pm. This is the way cyclo-touring should be. Some hours of cycling, 100 or so km with or without rolling hills (today's route is the former), then some daylight hours at our destination to do laundry, check bicycle and whatever we please.

Torn and frayed (The Rolling Stones)
Day 9, to Singapore, 126 km. After waiting a few years, I finally get to see Johor Lama, the old capital of Johor. In the 1500s, it fell due to superpower rivalry involving Aceh and Portugal and a sea-borne invasion.

Johor Lama
It is cool, windy and quiet on the ruins of the fort.

By this time, my front deraileur cable has frayed, since I hardly shift with my left thumb. With my right thumb in pain and my left shifter useless, my 27-speed MTB is now, well, pretty much single-speed.

At Telok Sengat, we sit for a couple of hours, shooting the breeze. Then we split. I cycle for home solo. I miss a turn and end up where I don't want to be: breathing the miasma and riding the pitted roads of Pasir Gudang. Traffic is heavy, with heavy traffic. Trucks pass so close to me, the slipstream first pushes me away, then pulls me along.

How did I end up in Pasir Gudang? I wanted to go west but to go west, I should've turned east ... Not intuitive. I hesitated, and took what seemed to be the safe, logical option. Which turned out to be wrong. But I made it anyway. Which sums up 2014.

PS: The title of this blog post is a song by Dire Straits.


- said...

Very nice. I am cycling from Singapore to Sengat a lot... thanks for the post.

Horseman said...