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, December 28, 2013

Ups and downs

Dec distance: 631 km

21-28 Dec, Medan to Singapore, 575 km

Red truck, red bicycle. The former has tyres even fatter than the latter!
This expedition involves land (the cycling), air (flying) and sea! Fly one-way to Medan, cycle south-east, then take two boat rides (eight hours in total) to get home. The world is 41,000 in circumference, I've cycled 1.5x that distance. Yet, on this ride, new things happen to me ...

Bye, beloved bicycle box,
veteran of six flights with me
Heavy metal
Day 1: 19 Dec, Medan to Tebing Tinggi, 65 km. As we unpack our bicycles at the airport, some guys watch, then ask for Rp100,000 to throw away the bicycle boxes as the dump is "far away". A few of us walk a few minutes to the dump. A friendly worker smiles and heaves our boxes into a lorry.

The road out of the airport is two lanes, but sometimes becomes four as vehicles overtake slower ones in front. R later says: "Good thing you don't have a rear view mirror to see how close traffic comes. I reply: "I don't need a mirror to see how close they come from the front!" We are run off the road once. 

The incessant roar of passing traffic, honking, smoke and grit that gets into my eyes and lungs is a noxious blend. We pass a crowd gathered by the roadside. Accident scene. A while later, an ambulance - a van - overtakes us.

Nightstop: Hotel Malibou. We pull into the first hotel we see. It is huge, we can park ten bicycles into each room if we wish. But it is crappy. Our showers, as R puts it, is like a little boy pissing.

Say hello, wave goodbye
The most expensive bicycle
in our group: a Moulton
Day 2: 20 Dec, to Kisaran, 87 km. I am run off the road trice, twice while I draft a guy with a kid in a motorcycle sidecar. The former is nonchalant about it as he swerves into the dusty road shoulder.

As I wait under a tree for the rest, a man motions me to shelter in a big shed. Sometimes, as I cycle past, kids and adults call out "hello mister". Sometimes, passengers in overtaking vehicles smile and wave, especially those in vans with sliding doors open.

We lunch at one of the most cyclist-friendly restaurants ever. Ample parking in a car shed with clear line of sight, ample seating in the cool shade, drinks with factory ice. And the music, an eclectic mix of rock, pop and Malay and Mandopop.

For dinner, I sit in a "beytor" - beytor motor or motorised trishaw - for the first time. It is like a roller coaster ride as we bump along broken roads to the Chinese restaurant. And for bedtime, I feed mosquitoes.

Nighstop: Hotel Bumi Asahan. We are surprised by breakfast brought to our rooms in the morning. If we'd left as scheduled - ride into the sunrise at 6 am - we'd have missed it by minutes. Hot sweet tea, bread with chocolate rice. Mmmm

Chain reaction
Day 3: 21 Dec, Labura, 69 km. It is drizzling at 6 am. Just before we set off, we have a surprise breakfast of butter and chocolate rice sandwiches and tea served to us by the hotel. By the time we finish, the rain has stopped.

As today is (supposed to be) a long day, I spend the first hour pulling people along. At our first stop, no one wants to eat; there is only one dish, lontong, to choose from anyway.

Among the six of us, one has an upset stomach and the other is recovering from a cold. Another has a brush with death, as a lorry slowly cuts in front of him. He slows but not enough, as he didn't think the lorry is that long. I too am run off the road once.

After lunch, I speed off. There is some weirdness in my chain after a chainsuck. I stop to check and find that a chainplate has come off at one end. For the first time ever, I use my chain breaker in the field. No more practice, this is for real. After some struggle, I get the plate back on. When my friends pass, the RSM (road side mechanic) tells me to remove the link as it is not safe. A few of them help; in his enthusiasm, one of them removes a pin entirely. Now my chain is even shorter than it should be. Use of the big chainring is banned.

They stop to eat and hold a "grand council" meeting. We're supposed to cover 119 km today but some want to stop here. I say I'm the rubber stamp. And so we put up in this big town that's not on the map.

The hotel is so grand, we're not allowed to sun our laundry outside the rooms. There are brownouts. The toilet has neither shower nor sink (at least, yesterday's hotel has a shower). And neither hotel has toilet paper.

The broken chain shakes me up. But then, I've never had a broken wheel before either.

Nightstop: Grans (sic, probably a typo since "d" is next to "s" on the keyboard) Hotel Labura

Riding the waves
Day 4: 24 Dec, Kota Pinang, 128 km. It is overcast, with tiny raindrops falling. It is cool cycling, pun intended. Cool, despite heavy traffic and bad air. We cycle 26 km before we stop for breakfast.

My shortened chain works ok but I don't dare use the big chainring. With the middle chainring, the fastest i can go on my own steam, without gravity's help, is 44 km/h.

R rides on the traffic side of the "waves"
Part of the road is deformed, like waves frozen before they crash onto the sandy road shoulder. With heavy traffic on the right, this is like single track, in an urban setting. Bumping along the "waves" might throw me into passing traffic if I misjudge the terrain.

There are two near misses. I don't mean I got run off the road. On these occasions, traffic comes at right angles to me. I have no where to run.

Lunch is at Rantauprapat, where we were supposed to be last night. The restaurant is clean, the food is good - and the toilet even has a sink!

The sun comes out, sighs, then cowers under a blanket of clouds. In the cool weather, everyone is good form and cycle the last 40 km without break.

We stop at a hotel that is so high class, we have to park our bicycles in the carpark. We splurge, since this is Christmas eve, and dine in the hotel restaurant.

Nightstop: Royal Permata Hotel. There is wifi - but still no sink and no toilet paper. The room is clean but small, no room even for a cupboard.

A fridge, with cold drinks? And places to sit? Stop!
Christmas lights
Day 5: 25 Dec, Balam, 96 km. As it is Christmas, bike leader D gives us an hour more to sleep. Wake up at 7
am! We breakfast at the hotel - a buffet, good for hungry cyclists.

On the road, I see a lorry come into my lane, overtaking a stream of vehicles. I don't see the driver veer back into lane nor slow down. I go offroad onto the road shoulder. Later, when the same thing happens, I simply stop and wait by the side of the road as a train of overtaking vehicles going against traffic flow roar past me.

We lunch at Bagan Batu, where we were supposed to be last night. I don't eat much now, to the extent I feel hungry. And weary. I can see the road stretch ahead, a strip of grey that rolls up and down as far as I can see. But I pedal on; this is what I came for.

What goes down, must go up
Nightstop: Hotel Arkeno Bangko. My room has rubbish left behind from previous occupants and a smell. A tells me to lie on a towel but as it is too small, she lends me her shawl. Around midnight, the poer goes out and doesn't come back. Only a few rooms are affected, mine included. Hotel gives me another room and asks me to pay more.

Cold fried bananas
Day 6: 26 Dec, Dumai, 108 km. It's another day of good riding, with 26 km done before we stop for breakfast. We leave the heavy metal of the Medan-Pekanbaru road and head north, where tarred road turns to concrete with some patches of dirt and gravel. The sand flying about reminds me of a John Travolta song that goes: "Sandy, can't you see".

It is lunch time. We stop for coconut and cold fried bananas. I don't know if it's safe to eat but I know that if I ride on empty I'm going to slow to a halt. A girl in tudung walks up to me to practice English. "What is your name? My name is (sounds like) Risky (she extends a handshake). Where are you from? Are they your friends? Have you had lunch? I talk to her in a mix of English and Malay: "Do you live here?" She's from Medan.

Hi! I'm glad to see you too!
At the end of the ride, we pick the best-looking hotel and splurge on a hotel lunch.

Nightstop: "the first international hotel hotel in Dumai" - Comfort Hotel. It has secure wifi, keycards, gym ... and toilets with sink, toilet paper and soap dispensers with soap! The toilet is cleaner than my room yesterday. Around midnight, my room mate wakes me up. Bed bugs. I have lost blood; the bugs he squishes are blood free. For the second night in a row, I am sleep deprived and have to lug my stuff to another room.

Non-touring days
Day 7: 27 Dec, 4 km, cycling to and from ferry jetties: Dumai to Tanjong Balai, Karimun. During the six hour boat ride, three movies are screened. One has to do with piracy at seas - Captain Phillips - and the other a shipwrecked boy - Life of Pi.

Nightstop: Hotel Himalaya. I get nine hours of sleep to make up for the two consecutive nights of interrupted sleep.

Day 8: 28 Dec, 18 km. A two-hour boat ride (we speculate what movie will be shown; Titanic? But none are shown. Without lunch we cycle home from Harbourfront home.

When the traffic is on your side, it's safe.
But when they overtake from the other side, watch out!
I've cycled over 60,000 km over the years, but there's a first time for everything. My firsts on this ride:

  • Javanese traditional massage
  • Bitten by bed bugs. Now I literally know what "don't bug me" means
  • Broken chain
  • Sit in a "beytor" (motorcycle trishaw)
  • Got toasted with drinks, not just once, but twice

My chain broke, the repair job was less than ideal, but I don't miss a beat. I'm run off the road three times but have no brushes with death. It is supposed to rain 50% of the time but if it rains, it is when we are off the road at night. Our ride is cut short, we cycle less than initially planned, but I am glad to be home early. And good cycling companions including a new friend.

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