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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Saturday, March 26, 2016

North, south, east, west

Forget about Fraser's Hill, Cameron and Genting Highlands.
The most serious climbs are in the land of Gunong Kinabalu
21-26 Mar, Sabah, Malaysia, 517 km

I've cycled in every Malaysian state, from Johor in the south to the East-West Highway in the north of West Malaysia), and Sarawak in East Malaysia. But I've never been to Sabah, much less cycled there. Until now.

21 Mar: Kota Kinabalu to Tuaran vv, 75 km

My flight arrives around noon. Where is my hotel transport? A tour guide offers to call the hotel for me. A car* shows up. In my hotel booking, I'd specifically asked for a vehicle that can transport my 140 cm bicycle box. Can you fit a box that size into the boot of a car? Yes! If the car seats fold down. I assemble the bike and am off for an orientation ride and tour.

Rumah Terbalik
Rumah Terbalik, the "upside down" house, isn't really in Tuaran, but the outskirts. Photography
inside the house is prohibited. Most things are upside down: the floor is the ceiling and even the bed is upside down. Some details are off: fans to cool visitors aren't upside down, and typewriter paper hangs ue wrong way. Money on the floor sticks to the floor though.

I run out of daylight, no thanks to the late pickup from the airport. The sun sets around 1830. Roads within Kota Kinabalu are lit and wider than the main routes leading to towns outside it.

*If you're travelling by taxi, buy a coupon at the taxi kiosk in the airport. Ask for Avanza or Inova taxis; according to my sources, bike boxes fit into these models.

22 Mar: Kota Kinabalu to Kota Belud, 100 km

As Kota Belud is "only" 78 km away, I take a longer, scenic route to avoid the heavy metal mayhem that is morning rush hour. I swing by Universiti Sabah Malaysia, where some roads are signposted "10%" gradient. I guess that's why universities are called institutions of higher learning.

The road from Tuaran to Kota Belud is barren. Traffic is abundant and roars like an angry sea, but water and cooked food is hard to come by. I lunch on bananas from a roadside stall. For protein, there's a roach from the vendor's knife that crawled into my food, but I pass. When I see a shop named "Melody" it's music to my ears. It turns out to be in the outskirts of town. Town is so near, yet so far. My ears pop with the effort, or does that reflect the altitude?

To cope with the climbs, I max out my gears and wish I had more.  There's no place to sit in the shade, so I get off at one point and push to rest. If the gradient at  USM is undergraduate, then the climbs to Kota Belud are post graduate, and Laotian climbs are post doctoral fellows.

At one downhill, I ride my brakes down, slowing from 61 km/h to 52 km/h. I overtake a lorry, as I think that's safer than overheating my brakes.

It's hot, so hot in Sabah that I pass grass fires, some smoking when I pass by. When I check in, I find the heat has warmed up the contents of containers in my bag.

"Ki" + "Nabalu" = "Kinabalu", as in Gunung Kinabalu
23 Mar: Kota Belud to Nabalu vv, 99 km

Serious climbing starts about 20 km from Kota Belud. The route is barren. Happiness, or at least contentment, is when a food stall suddenly appears at the point of desperation. There's shade, music from the radio and friendly banter from the locals - not that I understand most of what they're saying.

The ride is a real grind. Traffic is sparse (but picks up after the junction to Tuaran), the climbs interminable. When my speed drops to around 4 km/h, I get off to walk, then climb back to ride as walking and pushing the bike sucks more.  I stop at a shop perched by the hillside. It has lukewarm "cold" drinks in an ice box; all the ice has melted. Stuff costs more up here. Trucks labour uphill, grinding gears and belching smoke as if panting.

There are some downhills but my heart sinks as I know I have to ride up on the way back. I think about turning back. After all, I don't have to do this. One thought stops me from stopping: if I turn back, it'll be temporary relief. How will I feel later, knowing I gave up? So I ride on, drenched in sweat. Where's the cool mountain air? I also break out my last resort: energy gel.

I'm also troubled by a knocking sound. Pedal? Cleat? At Nabalu, as I stop for lunch, I see that my sole is coming off. It's been flapping whenever I pedal below 6 km/h. This is the first time my cycling shoe sole has detached. Usually, they just disintegrate. They don't make them like they used to? I tie it with raffia and hope.

25 Mar: Kota Belud to Kota Kinabalu and its environs, 125 km

Traffic is relatively light. The sky, cloudy. Some moisture falls even, and it's not my sweat. Is this because it's Good Friday?

After Nabalu, I thought the last day of my ride woukd be a breeze. I forgot. There still are serious climbs, as a "10%" sign helpfully reminds. Someone has dropped small silver fish on the road. By now, most are dried fish that make interesting light brown fish imprints on the road. I was tempted to stop to photograph this accidental art, but the smell dissuaded me. As does the climb. If I stop amidst the toxic mess, I'd be hard pressed to roll uphill.

Some traffic passes me. A car overtakes and comes headlong towards me. Other drivers follow. It was close. I'd rather have traffic tail me; when they do so, they're my impromptu safety vehicles: they block traffic overtaking from behind and deter oncoming traffic. They then give me a wide berth when overtaking from behind. It nice not to be scattered over the road like fish.

After two hours of riding, I am hungry. So it's true: glycogen depletion kicks in at the two hour mark.

I take some Horlicks Malties: one pack if nine tablets has 56 kcal. I'm glad to roll into Kota Kinabalu. I drop my bag off, then ride about town, looking for bikeshops and the coast.

Traffic can be heavy on the road R1 that links Kota Kinabalu to Tuaran. The road is dual carriageway,

At times, traffic is hazardous.

Black Death, a black sedan, hurtles towards me. The driver either doesn't see me, or doesn't care. He neither swerves not slows. So, even if the road appears empty, the situation may change in a moment, as traffic can appear suddenly.

There's nothing to draft. Everything, except the rare pedestrian, goes faster. Even petrol tankers and trucks go fast.

Leana Niemand writes about looking into her rear view mirror as she rides in Sabah. Eyes at the back of the head would help too; otherwise, keeping one's  ears open would have to do. A container truck thunders past me. The road shoulder is barely a foot wide. It's a close shave, the kind without shaving cream!
but mostly without a road shoulder. Drivers are generally patient. A blue behemoth lumbers behind me, then overtakes only when it's safe. At first I thought it's going slowly and I try to draft it when it passes, but the driver really was waiting for a safe time to pass, then it thunders out of sight.

Other hazards
Besides traffic, there is, at times, broken glass by the roadside. There are occasional dogs, but the ones I see are almost always no bark, no bite. The mutts between Kota Kinabalu and Kota Belud are mute. But there are some mean mutts, between Kota Belud and Nabulan. One dog crosses the road to chase me half-heartedly. Further on, more mutts menace me. It's not funny, being chased uphill.

Like in Peninsula Malaysia, people are helpful, such as with directions. They ask the usual questions: ”Where are you from, where are you going?"

Aston Boutec, Kota Kinabalu. Before my trip, I'd asked three hotels for help with
my 140 cm bike box. One never replied me. Another suggested taxi, including models (Avanza, Inova). The third offered complimentary transfer, and this is the one I booked. The hotel mixed up my arrival time, but a tour guide at the airport called the hotel for me (two thumbs up!) and a car showed up. How does a big box go into the car? Into the boot, with seats folded down. I've never seen this before.

Aston Boutec is cycling friendly, except for the absence of a lift. Air con, WiFi, sink and stopper (good for laundry) all work. My room was big enough for my conveyance. Food and convenience stores are a stroll away, and the hotel is relatively easy to find even at night.

Tang Dynasty Lodge Kota Belud is a "big" hotel in a small town. The room I have, Deluxe King, can fit five bicycles and still leave room to walk. Rack rate: MYR89 per night. It's not that hard to fimd, as its a small town but it helps to know first that the hotel sign is "TDL". But the aircon goes "piak" in the night and it's not cool anymore. The repairman washes the filter, then says he'll be back to top up coolant. I never see him again (well, it past 6 pm). I ask for a room change. I get a smaller room, but hotel receptionist says I pay the same price. I'd pay less if I'd walked in, but I used In my new room, I kill six mosquitoes (and three the next day). Changing room at night eats into my bedtime.

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