Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The 6 bridges of Barelang

Barelang - A Lesson of 'Failing to Conserve' for me.
The photos in this post are all courtesy of Richard Ng, Vincent Loh & Gerard Tan. T hanks to all of you good men for such lovely documentation!!

"Guys, Kaye and his gang of cyclists are going to organize a trip to ride the Six Bridges of Barelang," said Gerard one day. "Let's go with them."
"Yah, this Barelang must do one," noted Richard.
"Let's Go!"

The Mickey mice ready for check in
Most of us hadn't cycled with Kaye, Kee Chong Tat and their gang of riders. But we'd heard that they were a powerful bunch of cyclists who were unfazed by any terrain.
We had also heard so much about the Six Bridges of Barelang. Many of us had visited Batam, but not many had taken the Barelang Highway. This Barelang Highway was constructed to link up all the Riau islands with six bridges, a couple of them which were spectacular sights in their own rights. The word Barelang was actually taken by combining the names of all the islands that were linked up, the very first one being Batam island, thus the 'Ba' in Barelang.

All bikes ready for check in
A couple of years back, Serene and myself had been to Barelang Highway with SgTrekker once to take photo of the Barelang bridge. But we didn't realize we would return one day, but this time on bicycles. And it also didn't strike us that pedalling along the Barelang Highway was probably not the easiest thing to do, until we found ourselves on the highway itself.

Thus, with all arrangements made, evoLV gathered her brave men one Sunday morning at 5:30am to rendezvous with the warriors of Kaye and Kee at Habourfront ferry terminal.
"Boardin now!" announced over the
PA. We all dropped our nasi lemak
and ran!
Richard, Gerard, David, Francis, Kai Sing, Seng Keong, Kc Tng, Serene, Vincent, President Obama KC Liew and myself pushed our bikes into the harboufront centre. Some of us parked at the free Telok Blangah HDB carpark and cycled the short distance to Harbourfront, while others parked in the multi-storey carpark.

By then the prototype of David's bike protector had been replicated and all of us were using his ingenius design. This was, in my opinion, one of the best bike protectors around, and one of the easiest to use. Definitely important for an overseas trip like this where the bike handlers would give no care to our high-value carbon machines.
Ferry to Sekupang, Batam

Kaye was very experienced. He knew exactly where to go and what to do. And he gotten us to tag all our bikes and led us to check in our bikes at the counter on the ground floor, and took us to the second floor ferry terminal check-in area. A short breakfast, and we rushed to the boarding area. An uneventful 45 min ferry ride that departed at 7:30am, to Sekupang terminal in Batam, and we were out straight into the hot sunny morning.
Kai Sing, Kc Liew, Vincent, Gerard, Serene & I happy
in the ferry.
Impressively, our pickup and minivan were already waiting for us at the exit of the ferry terminal. Both the drivers were experienced with handling bicycles and they knew what to expect. Many previous cyclists to Barelang Highway started straight from the ferry terminal and cycled their way to the first bridge. But this was a little risky for the traffic condition at the centre of the city was less than ideal. And that 10km plus of route would often be heavily laden with vehicles.

The Aunty sleeping?!?!

"We will be taken to the Start point that is slightly out of the city, somewhere near the suburb and close to the first bridge. From there we will start cycling all the way to the end of the Barelang Highway, have lunch at the restaurant right at the end, and cycle back," said Kaye.
Our bikes being loaded up.
Sounded great.
We were all in our cycling jerseys and pants. Now as our bikes were being loaded onto the pickup, we all changed into our cycling shoes, and gotten our helmets and
King Kaye, Kee Chong Tat and fellow power rider.
Richard with his water-proof, shock-proof wide angle Sony cycling camera.
equipment ready. It was quite a squeeze in the minibus, but we were all in good spirit. The vehicles made their way slowly along the city road, and then a right turn, and we stopped at a road side stall for supplies - water, red bulls, isotonic drinks and whatever we could lay hands on.
Vincent, KC Liew and Gerard took orders and delivered.
Back in the minivan, many of us quickly prepared our energy drinks, mixed the powders, readied the gels.
Finally we arrived. A straight road with lesser traffic. And the van and pickup pulled up at the side.

President buying & carrying drinks for us.

Kc Tng & Vincent SQUEEZE!!
"Ok let's get down."
It was about 10:30am Batam time by then.
The mid morning sun was starting to be a little unkind.
"Hmmm… many people have said that the weather in Barelang is bad," I thought to myself as I busily prepared Serene's bicycle, her nutritions, and made sure she was ok. "Man, it looks like it is going to be another super hot day."
Kaye & his good men, David, Seng Keong, Vincent,, and those of us hiding in the shadow of the tree.
All getting ready to set off at the start point. [Photo: Richard Ng]

Richard's shot of the bridge.
Gerard gave a last instruction: "Ok guys, we will cycle from here all the way to the first bridge. It's not far from here. When we arrive at the first bridge, please all stop there to regroup, and we will take a group photo there. And then we will continue."
With that, we set off, without any fanfare.

Many would wonder how was the road conditions in Barelang. The actual answer was, it was surprisingly quite good. Aside form the occasional pot holes further down the highway, the tarmac was mostly smooth. There wasn't as much of those highly-feared sandy sediments on the side as say, Penggerang., so we could often cycle close to the edge of the road to keep ourselves safe.
Richard Ng's shot of the approach to the first bridge. Nice!

This first 5km to the first bridge was nice and flat.
The boys were right in front, and Serene and I were keeping close to them at the back.
I took a look at Serene. She didn't look well.
"Dar, are you ok?"
"No, I am having menses. And it is very painful down there when I cycle."
"Ok, you tahan a bit first. And we try to see how you are when we reach the first bridge ok?"
David & Kc Liew enjoying the breeze while
waiting for that young lady and I to approach
the bridge.
"Ok lor."

So she struggled on with the discomfort.
Soon, the first bridge appeared in the distance. Wow, it was a beautiful huge bridge, and the road leading in was also lovely, in a steep way. Serene and I slowed to a crawl.
The guys were already stopped and resting at the top of the bridge waving at us.
Slowly we approached them.

"Dar I cannot already. I cannot. It's really uncomfortable. I cannot continue any more," complained Serene.
Shit. Ok Ok, what more could I do? When the mind is not willing, no amount of cajoling would be effective.
"Ok, Dar. You stop lah. Get the driver to load up your bicycle and you go up the minivan."
Vincent ready to cheong!

Happily she did that, but not before we all took a group photo. The view from this bridge was very nice. We looked over it to see the straits between the two islands, and afar the other Riau islands were in sight. Many road vendors were parked on top of this bridge, and many of the locals were enjoying a nice picnic and stroll along the side pavement. Seemed like this bridge is quite a popular Sunday outing destination for the locals.

"Ok, come, let's go!" called Kaye. "We will keep going until later soon after the second bridge, there will be a dragon fruit drink stall on the right side. The pickup and the van will be waiting for us there. We will take a rest there, have a nice Dragon fruit drink before we move out again."

And now it's finally the all-boys team going at it liao. No more excuse for me to cycle slowly already. The road begun to present a little bit of rolls, and introduction by the notorious Barelang, as if she was teasing us
little by little. I found myself pushing hard grinding up the slopes. Boy, were the slopes long!
For this ride, I had acquired the Cycleops power meter, hoping to make use of the power meter's reading to make it easier for me. I was really new to the power meter and I hadn't really had many rides with it. But proudly I still brought it along, mistakenly thinking that with it I would be ok. Was I wrong. But that part of the story would come later.

Up and down we went after the first huge bridge.
I was cycling closely with Richard, Kc Tng, Gerard, David and Kaye and his riders.
We were still fresh and I was still able to keep up. We took turns over taking. And although I found myself breathless as I grind up the slopes, the downhill was nice and fast and I could let go and free wheel down.
The pace picked up a bit, and Richard, Kc Tng, Gerard and Kaye and his boys raced ahead.
"Man, I cannot lose them. Gotta draft them to reduce the strain on myself," I thought. And I shifted to a heavier gear and took off. But they were too fast. Tried as I did, I could see the gap widening.

I was finally saved when indeed soon after the second smaller bridge, I saw the driver waving to me on the right side of the road. It was the Dragon Fruit drink stall!
"Heng ah!" I thought.
"Wee How, come in." they called out to me from the wooden hut.
Gerard had already ordered a round of the bright pink concoction. I made my way gingerly through the gravel front yard and sat down, glad to have a breather. The dragon fruit drink was indeed refreshing. No wonder Kaye so highly recommended it.
So far we had only completed 15km. And I must admit I was feeling the strain of the ride.
Some of the boys were one by one arriving at the stall and I could see that they were as glad as myself to steal a break here. Francis was happily sipping his pink drink, Gerard was exclaiming in the background how delicious it was, Kaye and the boys were quietly smiling at their seats. Serene was happily enjoying herself, free from the burden of cycling.
Someone was remarking that from this point onwards the rolling terrain was going to get worse.

The entrance of the Dragon Fruit stall. It started raining.
This must have been taken after most of the riders
moved off from the stall.
"Siao liao lah," I said. "This is supposed to be a 65km out and a 65km back in route. We only done 15km leh. Jiaklat. More to come?!"
Francis: "Ok guys you all enjoy. I am going to hit the road first. I would rather slowly and steadily cycle." And off he went.
Soon after that Seng Keong, Gerard, Richard and I also set off.
As we mounted our bikes, the clouds suddenly gathered. Looking up, we could see the sky literally turned black.
"Quick, let's go!"
Our cleats were clicked in, and we pushed out bikes out onto the road and started pedalling. But it was in vain. Black dots appeared on the dusty tarmac and more and more black dots scattered all over the road as big drops of rain began to hurl earthwards. Gerard was in front, Richard was in front, Seng Keong was in front, David, KC Tng and Kai Sing were slightly behind. I hadn't seen President Obama KC nor Vincent  yet. They must had been still on their way to the Dragon fruit stall.
Within a matter of minutes, the rain changed from a slight shower to heavy sheets of water. From my water-droplet-laden glasses, I could make out Francis stopping at the left side.
"Francis!!" I called out to him. He waved me on.
Not far ahead, I could see Seng Keong getting off his bike. "Seng Keong, OK?!" I called out.
"Ok!" he replied.

I knew I usually suffered when the sun was scorching hot. But this was the first time I found out something new about myself ~ I hated riding in the heavy rain even more than the hot sun. I couldn't see a thing as my glasses got blurred out. The rain drenched me and it became freezing cold, even more so as I sped down the slopes with the wind tearing at my jersey. But what was worst was that this heavy sheet of rain simply dragged me down, slowed me down, and I had to exert doubly if not triply just so to fight against it. It was as if it were a kind of head-wind. Just that it was a head-wind of water. Shucks.

"OK, steady, man. Just keep going. Try to get to Richard or Gerard or Kaye so that I can draft off them. There is still another 100 plus kilometers more to go. I am not going to give up just like this," again some self-encouraging going on in my mind.
Out in the distant rain, I started to see some movement. It was Richard!
My heart raced. Ok, this was it. I hasten my cadence and raced towards him. As I drew nearer, I began to see the group. Richard, Gerard, Kaye, Kee Chong Tat and their boys were making their way up a crest.
Closing the distance to Richard was painfully slow. And now as the terrain developed into steeper and longer up-slopes, my task became tougher. I peered into my Garmin. My power reading read 350W and 400W. Wow, this was really taking a toll on my thighs and my lungs.

Serene watching the rest of the boys from the van.
[Photo: Vincent Loh]
Richard was truly in his elements as he followed the front boys tightly. I am impressed by his sheer grit and determination as he defied Power/weight ratio to propel himself upwards.
"Richard," I called out to him as I neared him. "I draft behind you." That was all I could say.
He nodded and both of us kept going. The slopes were really getting quite bad at this stage, and the rain did not abate a single bit. Gradients were hitting 10% and more and one would be at the trough of the roll and looked up to a huge looming upslope, the sight of which sent the heart dropping.
To and fro Richard and I went. But there was still a gap of about 20-30m between both of us and Gerard and the Kaye's boys. I had lost count of the distance.

Huh!?? The President also upped the lorry???
[Photo: Vincent Loh]
Vehicular traffic was almost non-existence along this part of the Barelang Highway, safe for the very occasional truck or car. The sight of a bunch of crazy cyclists pedalling their hearts out in the heavy rain must be quite funny to behold. The third bridge came and went. And then the forth bridge. Both small little ones. And then the big rolls started again. By this time, the rain had settled a little. In between gasps of breath and pumping heart rates, we managed to catch up with Gerard.

"Gerard!" I called.
"How's it going?" This man really is the can ah, he. How good could I be 'going'? I almost died-ed liao.
"Hey wah lau eh.. I tried to read my power readings but something is not right let.." I said.
"What power are you hitting?" he asked.
"Erm.. about 200W.. 250W.." I muttered.
"Ok, try to keep your power about 180W to 200W. Don't go up too high," advised Gerard.
"Yah, I did. I kept to about 250W and below," I insisted. "But my heart rate was so high. I am constantly at a heart rate of 170/min!"
"You cannot cheong," he continued as he cycled beside me. "When you go up a slope, you have to slow down and keep your power at about 120% of your Functional Threshold Power. But when you ride down a slope, you must keep pedalling at about 80% of your FTP."
Now this fellow is beginning to make some sense.
"You see, " he continued. "When I go downslope, I never free-wheel one. I make sure I keep pedalling and I keep a watch on my power to make sure I don't exceed that 80% FTP. By this way, although I may lose ground when I cycle up a slope, but when I come down a slope, I will always be able to catch up with Kaye and his boys. And more importantly, I don't tire myself out."

Words of wisdom, in retrospect. But at that point in time, these made a little bit of sense to me, but not a whole lot. It took me a few more weeks before I understood how to make use of these principles.

The kelong at the tip of the Riau islands.
There came a stretch of relatively flat road. And then the HUGE rolls came again as we reached about 55km into the ride. And suddenly the rain came hitting hard on us again.
"Wah lau!" cried Gerard. "The rain hitting on my face is painful!"
"Yes, it is painful," I replied. But I knew the pain on my face is nothing like the pain in my lungs and my thighs.
Soon after that Gerard started to pull away from me and gradually he became smaller and smaller until even as a small dot, he disappeared from my sight. And I was all alone. And out of a sudden I heard a call from behind me.
"Hey Wee How!!" It was KC Tng!
Boy was I glad to see him. But Kc Tng was very fast. He literally sped past me, at around 30km/h I was very sure, and followed the right turn of the road. And as quickly as I was with company, I was once more alone.

At this stage, about 10km from the end, I could see in the distant on my right the end of the island. And I knew I was close to the finishing point. Actually, suffering aside, the scenery here was really quite nice - serene and beautiful. Good road, nice greenery. But still rolling hills up and down. The rain had petered off to

The plank towards the kelong
at the end of the world. LOL!
a light drizzle, and I kept a constant watch on my distance on the Garmin, for fear of missing a turn or the end point. But I needn't had worried, for another last right turn and I saw 200m ahead, a small gravel round-about and standing there was Gerard and Kc Tng waiting for me, making sure I didn't get lost.

Man, was I glad to see them, that I could have hugged the boys and cried.
Me.  Totally hit the wall. At the end of the 'To' leg.
[Photo: Gerard Tan]
Gerard and Kc Tng took one look at me and laughed themselves crazy. "Eh wah lau eh, you! Why you look so shagged?!?!" Gerard asked.
I really was spent. So tired I was I almost fell while un-cleating myself. My thighs trembled uncontrollably.
I managed to squeeze a smile out of my face. The rain ended, just like the highway ended here.
Both of them slowly guided me as we walked through a wet, gravelly path about 100m inwards to a kelong, where Serene, Vincent, David, Kai Sing, Francis, Seng Keong and President Obama KC were comfortably sitting and enjoying their nice drinks.

"Very slippery on the planks!" cried Serene.
"come lah. Let me help you over," offered the helpful Francis.

"Wee How," cried Francis. "You look like shit!"
My hands almost couldn't stabilise my bike as I leaned it against one of the wooden pillar.
I shook my head at the group of laughing boys. Serene ran up and held my hands. "Aiyoh you so poor thing," she said.
Me.  Blur like a frog liao... at the kelong.
[Photo: Vincent]
And this point, Richard the power horse also arrived at the kelong. He took one look at me and cried: "Wah lau eh.. you ok or not? You are as pale as a sheet! Hey you better stop and don't continue riding!"

I was really spent. I didn't believe it, but my thigh muscles were no longer under my command. There was a deep sense of tiredness. I couldn't talk, I couldn't eat, and I almost couldn't drink. In retrospect I could only describe it as a total exhaustion.
King Kaye & his men at the kelong.

Front: Richard, Kee Chong Tat, Kaye
Back: Kai Sing, David, Vincent, KC Liew, Francis, Serene, Gerard, me, KC Tng, Seng Keong
At the kelong.

The fried rice, the vegetables, the coconut drinks.. and all the lovely food held no attraction for me.  I just sat there and smiled and tried to take small sips of the isotonic water.  Words around me sounded like just ringing tones.  A strange and surreal feeling.

I did not continue the return leg back. Serene and I hopped on the van after lunch, the rest of the boys having started off earlier.
Gradually I regained my breath and began to enjoy the sight of suffering teammates out there.
The van and the pickup had lost the peloton. The driver inched the van forward until we came to Vincent and KC Liew both very obviously enjoying a nice and scenic ride, unhurriedly cycling up and down the slopes on the return route. It was afternoon by then. The rain had stopped but the sky was still cloudy. And huge puddles of water were on the road. So conducive to cycling was the cool weather that I could swear KC Liew and Vincent were even enjoying the gradients out there.

From inside the van, I could see KC Liew and Vincent negotiating the slopes.  "Man, these slopes of Barelang are tough!" I kept thinking to myself.

Here, this is a video Serene took of Kc Liew and Vincent cycling up and down the slopes on the return leg.  The last few tens of second showed how the President overcame a particularly tough up-slope:


 The return leg I was sure was no less tough than the outward leg.  But Kai Sing said, after the ride, that this return leg wasn't so bad, and some more he was on standard 53/39 chainring and standard 11-25 rear cassette! Truly powerful, this Kai Sing.  I remembered seeing Richard and Seng Keong also pedalling steadily towards the end.
This Richard was another power horse.  He chased the hills with Kaye and his boys, arrived at the Kelong, and still made it back to the end of the return leg. My total respect!

The ride ended finally just before the last bridge, where Kaye broke his chain.  It was getting late.
The sky was turning dark, and we had to rush for dinner, for massage and to make our way back to Sekupang for the ferry back.
So I believed at the bridge, Kay called for exercise cut.
 I got down from the van.  Everyone was in good spirit.  Seeing them suddenly sent a pang of guilt through me. 
"Should I have continued?" was the question I asked myself.
Thinking back, it was still wise not to. For I would have bonked again.  And probably worse.
Never mind.  One lived to fight another day.

The drivers were very efficient in getting the bikes up and soon we were on our way to Batam Centre again.

It took us close to 45 minutes to reach Batam Centre.  And we found a massage centre and we all cheonged in for a good two hour rub down.  Unknown to me, poor Richard and David were quietly sitting outside at the lobby waiting for us for they weren't massage folks. Aiyo.. yam gong ah.

But hopefully their patience were rewarded when Chef Francis ordered a feast at the outdoor makan place.  We really ate and ate.
Until today I still didn't know where this place was.  Maybe one day I would find out.


The Six Bridges of Barelang was tough. But what was more important, the lesson I learned was, never out-run oneself by trying to be smart and chase after faster riders.  If it's a long, drawn-out ride, particularly one with loooooooong slopes, never try to be a hero.

Here was my Strava of Barelang.  Sadly, unfinished business remained. Click on it to see how stupidly I suffered: Owed Barelang 45km