Friday, October 18, 2013

The Revenge on Barelang ~ completing the Unfinished Business

We had some Unfinished Business here on the Six Bridges of Barelang...

It was 18th April 2013.  A Friday.  There was some unfinished business down south of Singapore.
Hahaha.. yes yes, indeed.  For a few of us, we'd some uncompleted mission that urgently needed to be finished off.  For some others, it was a last true non-Mandai-miniature-hill training before Tour De Bintan, whereas for some others, it was purely a personal accomplishment to attain on this day.

So on that morning, we gathered at around 7am at the Cruise Centre at Harbourfront, all decked proudly in our stylo Pink Panther jerseys...

OK, OK... Come let's take a photo...

Vincent had a superficial scratch on his leg, which unfortunately rendered him unfit for cycling. So on this day, he become our soigneur.  Our official photographer, and vehicle commander.  And he did a superb job.  Here he was, at his usual sales pitch of his China-made goggles...
 "Very simple, you just give the spectacle shop guys your degree, go for a half an hour walk, and when you are back, the goggle would have been done up with your lao-hua, or short-sighted degrees all swee swee made.."

And the President MUST have wished a little too hard on this day...
 And Serene tried it out and ended up looking more like a Minion than a Tour De France cyclist.

 ... and so we were all here already.. Who else was missing?

Never mind.  Ok you guys go in and check in your bikes first.

The President was always so proud of his DavidLow Prototype Bike Cover...

 And FINALLY, Darric arrived.. with a story to tell...
Poor thing! What a way to start his Attack on Barelang.  But no problem. All was well.

Ok never mind, gao-dim-ed already, right? Come, let's all go check-in...

And let's go for breakfast upstairs at the second level...

Wait wait... be patient.. We are ordering them..
But I kinda cocked-up Kai Sing's egg.  Poor man, he had to wait a little longer. Haha..

It was an exciting morning of anticipation for Wai Kit, who would go on to become the Monster of the Group in time to come.  At this point of his cycling career, he was still searching for inner peace.

And so determined was he, that even with a terribly swollen eye that started the night before, he was ready for the ride.

Meanwhile, the President kept discussing Functional Threshold Power (FTP), FTP, FTP, and more FTP with Gerard and I.  Of course lah, the man had recently acquired himself a power meter on his bike.
"So it's very simple.  Whatever terrain it is going to be, I just keep to my FTP and I am safe, right?" asked the President of Gerard.

And Mr Yellow Jersey gave a pre-departure Briefing...

A Group photo at Harbourfront Ferry Terminal with my foot...

Photo: Vincent Loh
On this Friday morning, we were so lucky.  The whole ferry was literally almost like catered by us.  Empty!  Even our bikes had their own private seats.

45 minutes later, we arrived at Sekupang ferry terminal in Batam.

Alex Kaan: "Do we wear our shoes now, or later in the minibus?"
Erm.. I think we can wear them in the minibus lah.. Enough space to stretch our legs inside.. hopefully.. Haha...

Our good 'ol lorry and mini-bus setting us up for the drive to the
starting point out of the Batam Centre city.

Our soigneur Vincent was doing a great job.  And yes, for those who would be going to Batam, even if it were to be a one day cycling trip, the ride would bring us to Malaria-infested areas.  And we were bound to stop by the road side and we would certainly take rests along forested areas.  So do not forget to consume your Malaria pills a week before the arrival date, on the date of arrival, and for four consecutive weeks after return to Singapore.  Remember- buy your Mephaquine from the Pharmacy (no need doctor's prescription).

The mandatory visit to that road-side stall to stock up on hydration before the ride.

And CHEERS to a good ride... even before the start of the ride... LOL..

Let the Ride, BEGIN!!!
And so on this nice and not too hot morning, around 10am, we started our ride just outside of the city.  Here was my Strava record of this cycling trip.  Click on the picture photo to go to my Strava page.

Here was the GPS track of our ride on Google Earth, from the Starting point to the First Bridge and thereon to the Second Bridge.  The first and second bridges are one of the largest two bridges.  The other bridges are smaller.  As we continued our journey, the subsequent Google Earth maps will have annotated in them, the various terrains and remarks which would help anticipate the ride ahead.

Right from the word go, the boys all went screaming ahead, leaving only a few of us at the back.  Even right at the back, the weak was getting dropped... gradually.

And it was obvious right from the beginning that The President's FTP was certainly not 130W.

The First Bridge
5km into the ride, we finally could see the first bridge.  Such deja vu! Hadn't seen this lovely metallic structure for... months!

And of course, who could forget that the first up-slope up this bridge, was rather steep a climb...

And finally, we arrived at the top.  Time for a solo photo, and a group photo.  Poor Serene, right at this 5.2km mark, her shagged face was so apparent.  How was she going to make it through to the sixth and last bridge and beyond?
"Dar,"  I told her. "All I need is for you to do two out of the six bridges.  The last time you were here, you did only one bridge.  So if you can do two, it would be a great improvement already."

And here a Group photo, courtesy of Vincent Loh...

"OK, boys... Are we ready to move out?" called out Gerard.
Quite a disciplined fellow, this Gerard.  He had always emphasized on not spending too much unnecessary time resting for too long.  Yes, a little bit of rest at intervals.  But make them short.  And move off quick.

This young girl seemed to be quite encouraged by her not feeling too bad at this point in time, and thus was determined to keep going.

The Second Bridge...

And we moved off the first bridge, gliding down the downward slope.  Soon, we come to the second bridge.  And this time round, we didn't really stop there.  And very quickly we moved off.

The time was 11am Indonesian time.  And the sun was fully beating down from directly above.  It was starting to get hot, if it already hadn't been a little earlier.  And we were feeling the effect of the heat.  Serene was blowing hard (her usual breathing style whenever the going got tough) as she cycled behind me.  I tried to keep her drafting as close to me as I could.  But that little girl was too scared to come too close, always employing the excuse that she feared she couldn't brake in time and crashed into me.

The Third Bridge
And it WAS getting hot.. as we approached and arrived at the third bridge, 7.5km into the ride.  There was already quite a few rolling hills in this first 7.5km.  But for those who had been here, the knowledge that the subsequent rolls were more dramatic, was not exactly a comforting one.

Still we grind on.

Photo: Vincent Loh
Gerard came a close second, right behind Darric.
Photo: Vincent Loh
Photo: Vincent Loh
Photo: Vincent Loh
Photo: Vincent Loh
Photo: Vincent Loh
Everyone was lost in his and her own thoughts.. some more pleasant than others.  But one thing was for sure... it was getting hotter and hotter.  The Garmin Edge registered a 35 degree Celsius.  Well, that was about right.  It was still not that suffering at this point yet, for we were all relatively still fresh.  Yes, indeed. Up till now whatever rolls we encountered were, in retrospect, pretty mild as compared with what was to come AFTER the forth bridge.  So we just pedalled on and enjoyed the sights.

Second Bridge to Forth Bridge... A primer to MORE rolls...
After the Second bridge, was where some small little rolls started coming.  But yet, these were still baby hills. I remembered after the third bridge was where the fun started.  Looking back, this was where we all started gasping when we saw the rolls, and many of us would start to change to the lightest of gears to spin up these little baby hills. This was also where the long rolls began to surface, those rolls so characteristic of Barelang.

The small little islet between the second and third bridges was of a very short distance.  The parts between the third and the forth bridge was slightly longer, and slightly more rolling.  On and off we would pass by small little wooden huts that was either meant for siesta or for selling fruits during the seasons.

The President inspecting the wooden huts.
And nice routes like these were very conducive to bonding and love, as one cycled with his/her loved ones side by side, whispering soft nothing into each other's ears.
"Dar, you are doing very very well," I told Serene. "I really am surprised to see you doing the ride all the way through the third bridge, and now going to arrive at the forth bridge." I was so proud of this young lady.
Photo: Vincent Loh
Whoever designed the Barelang Highway (we heard it was that President Habibie who commissioned the building of this Highway because he had a deep love for motorbikes and loved to cruise them on these highways) must have been very in tuned with cycling.  For he purposely made the first parts relatively easy to ride, all the way up till the forth bridge.

Here was that Google Earth map showing that big nice round curve from the third to the forth bridge...

We all were simply just aiming and aiming for Bridge no. 4 to come.  Why aiming so eagerly?  Well, don't be mistaken, I reminded myself, although the rolls were small and were nowhere as agonizing as what was to come, they were no easy cookies.  This was one of the 'warm-up' hills between the third and the forth bridge.  Made Mandai looked like a tiny piece of cheese cake.
Photo: Vincent Loh

The Dragon Fruit Drink Stall (at 15km mark, after the forth bridge)

The designer of the Highway also conveniently plonked a Dragon Fruit Drink Stall at the 15km mark, right after the forth bridge, where tired cyclists could sit down in a nice shade and enjoy a cool, pink, drink.  Well, this must have been some kind of tradition laid down from years ago.  Whenever cyclists passed by here, soon after the forth bridge, their eyes would start scanning the right side of the road for this famous but inconspicuous stall, knowing well that after this, it would be a point of no return all the way on the Highway of Suffering.

Here, this group of slightly thirty, but not exactly tired cyclists had a nice refreshing drink.

Let's go kick some hills, soldiers!
I still remembered, way back then in April (Here... click here for the previous trip in April), when we first did the Six Bridges of Barelang, we started suffering from right after the Dragon Fruit Stall due to the torrential rain, and fighting through the rain in the undulating terrain, not being familiar with this kind of road at all.
Now, with that little bit of experience behind us, we were a little bit more prepared.  And the weather certainly helped aplenty - nice and sunny.  Hopefully the weather held.

On this day, the battle for Barelang was enough for Serene.  She was so happy to have completed four bridges out of six, that she declared 'Exercise-cut' right here at the Dragon Fruit Stall.
"Well done, Dar!" I told her. "You have done more than I needed you to.  The next time, I am sure you will complete all the six bridges and go all the way to the end of the island."
 So she joined Vincent in the support vehicle as photographer, drink distributor and Ra-Ra-team... and the first thing she did was to take off her cycling shoes and put up her feet.

The Elusive Gerard was way ahead with Darric, taking turns to lead.  The support vehicle couldn't catch too many shots of this extremely fast rider for he would be way in front of the minibus for most of the ride.

Gerard in his elements.  Photo: Serene Gan

And here, those who did the Rempang Island would remember it as a unending, unrelenting waves of ups and downs, pretty tough right after the Dragon Fruit Stall at the 15km mark, tapering off to a more forgiving stretch with more scattered rolls, but no less intense, from the 22km mark to the 30km mark.
Here was a picture of how a gentle and long roll on Barelang looked like, taken by Serene in her new-found role as a photographer, after her 4-bridges-stint.

Photo: Serene Gan

And hey! That was Darric cheong up the roll...  He was the true IRONMAN, showing the correct way in tackling the long rolls of Barelang.
Gerard was no where to be seen.  He was either in front of Darric or slightly behind Darric.  These two power horses were playing hide and seek with each other, over-taking and lapping each other along the whole way.

Photo: Serene Gan

And the support vehicle spotted three of us - me, Kai Sing and Wai Kit speeding like bullets on the rolls...
Photo: Serene Gan

And finally arriving at the crest, face all contorted and panting like a dog...
Photo: Serene Gan
Our Towkay Alex Kaan had a busy busy day on his Titanium bike, trying to ward off the hundreds of calls from his office...

Photo: Serene Gan
Perhaps it was timely, for the phone calls allowed the much-awaited rest at the top of the hill.  The President took the chance to grab some refills...

Photo: Serene Gan

... and the boys were ready to cheong again!

 Suffering on the relatively flatter stretch, and suffering on the higher rolls after that...

The start of the run where I called out for Wait Kit
to follow. Photo: Serene Gan from inside vehicle
As we went into a nice steady speed, Kai Sing and I came to Wai Kit.
"Wai Kit, come, follow us!" was exactly what I called out to him.  And he did.
I studied my Strava and realised that my heart rate was constantly elevated around 170-180/min very soon after the Dragon Fruit Stall at the 18km mark, for a full distance of 18km plus, all the way to the beginning of the fifth bridge at the 36.6km mark.  This was in part due to a relatively faster run for a good 10+km from about the 20km point to the 33km mark, where the severe rolls started again.  I thought I could do everyone a favour by pulling  at an average speed of around 30km/h.  But I suffered terribly.

Many thanks to Vincent and Serene who documented this stretch, I could really see myself suffering.  In retrospect, I believed it would have been so much more tolerable had I slowed down a little bit.  But with Kai Sing and Wai Kit chasing my tail so tightly, I just had to keep spinning.

Here, in this shot below taken by Vincent, Kai Sing and Wai Kit were smiling away while I was suffering in front.  It was after everything when Wai Kit would come to me and told me this:
"Wee How, you know... being behind really made it easier.  I could see that you only managed to let your momentum carry you about a certain distance up the hill and then you had to start peddling like mad.  But because I was behind, I could free-wheel for an even longer distance up the hill before I needed to pedal."
Clever boy lah, this Wai Kit.
Photo: Vincent Loh
 Just before the fifth bridge ~ the severe series of rolls...

 Yah, I would never forget this part of the ride.  33km into the ride.  Immediately after that 13km of hard run with the boys, my heart was still galloping away, we hit it.  The series of rolls again, this time even longer and sharper.  And Vincent was very clever to have instructed the driver to stop at the side right in the middle of a slope, just before the top.  And positioned himself to shoot.
Somehow I cheong-ed down the slope before me, and took my bike up.  Managed to shake the boys off.. Haha.. but only for a short while.

Photo: Vincent Loh

At this point in time, the moment Vincent Loh took my shot.  I was already Welcoming To Facebook multiple times in my heart.  I was panting, I was really tired and my thighs were burning.  The scorching sun did little to help.  Thankfully, Vincent and Serene were at hand to distribute drinks and refill our water bottles. Kudos!
My mind was all muddled up.  And I kinda lost count of the distance and how long more.  By this time, every hill looked the same as the one before, and the one after.  And every time we descended a hill, we would gasp at the magnitude of the roll of the looming hill in front of us.  Only up there knew how we managed to reach the fifth bridge.  Painfully, was what I could remember.
This was that painful moment. Photo: Vincent Loh
Right after the Fifth Bridge...

There was a short respite right after the siong rolls of the fifth bridge.  Right after that the terrain became a little gentler as we cycled on the small island of Pulau Galang.  And the boys breathed easier, albeit for a while only.

Kai Sing was really impressive.  With a front cog of 54/39T and a standard rear cog of 11-25T, he took to the hills like a muscleman he was famous for being.  Nary a word of complain, and full of smiles, this impressive specimen of the human species.

Wai Kit was another impressive one.  Less than four months since he first landed his bums on a road bike saddle, he was taking to the hills of the Six Bridge of Barelang like a true veteran.  Undaunted, never-say-die, and never-give-up were his motto.  And we all believed he gained plenty of inner peace that day.

Our Mr President was his perpetual relaxed self.  Unfazed by whatever terrain.  He only needed to know one thing - just keep the figures around his FTP, and he could pedal non-stop the whole day.  This was literally true, and especially important for rides like this where one could easier over-exert oneself.

Our Mr Yellow Jersey embodied an all-encompassing, well-planned, well-calculated, and well-executed cyclist who knew exactly how to tackle a terrain like this.  He would never over-pushed himself, and would only let his machine run a tad faster when the situation was favourable.  A true strategist, Gerard the man himself.

Alex Kaan, was really impressive too.  Only not too long ago, whenever he cycled till 50km, his thighs would go into severe cramp, exactly at that distance, and no one metre more.  He had since overcame that, and now had become cramp-less no matter what kind of distance.  Perhaps the Cramp-fix had helped.  But I believed his hard work had paid off.  And his Rolls Royce of a Lynskey really made his ride so much more enjoyable.

And of course, Mr Ironman himself, Darric.  This wonderful chunk of muscle really showed us what raw power was.  He never shied away from giving the slopes a good burst of his horse powers.  And he never let whatever he saw ahead of him discourage his heart.  Not many had the will power as him, naturally as an Ironman he would be hardened to the max.

Cycling onto Pulau Galang-baru, the last island of the Highway...
In my opinion, the toughest part of the terrain would be right after the sixth bridge, when we finally arrived at the last island called Pulau Galang-baru.  Here was where the much-dreaded double-climb was, and again plenty of rolls.  It would have been tough already, with a clear and dry weather.  But somehow the gods of Barelang had been playing tricks on us, and seemed determined not to let us go to lunch with a set of dry jerseys...

Vincent was right on our tail, shooting and shooting and making sure he captured all the classic angles.  Here he did one beautiful shot of Kai Sing on his aero position.
Again, I remembered this exact moment when Vincent took this shot.  I was cycling side by side with Wai Kit.  He cycled up to beside me, took a look at me struggling with my Garmin and asked:
"Hey, what's happening?"
I answered: "My Garmin is not recording.  It is not receiving GPS signals."
"Ok, you ok? Let me lead," he offered and went pulling in front.
Great man, this Wai Kit.  I gave up on adjusting my Garmin and followed behind him, Kai Sing right behind us.

We were nearing the end by then.  And we could occasionally see some of the fishing kampongs to the left side of the road.
Photo: Serene Gan
The sky was threatening with thick, dark clouds gathered not more than 2000m above us.  Gerard and Darric were already way ahead, probably reaching the end point soon.  Wai Kit, Kai Sing and I were still struggling somewhere in the middle.  Cleverly, Alex and KC Liew saw the clouds and decided that they could do without the last stretch.  And they flagged down the minibus.  Very very clever, these two boys.  This was a good example to all to remember, when at Barelang, one could always call for Exercise-cut any time, any where. 

Here was the GPS track of our last stretch to the end point at the Kelong Lunch Point.  After the Double Climb, and the descent (which was the part Vincent took photos of Wai Kit, Kai Sing and I zooming down below), the remaining parts were relatively easier.   A good way to finish off the out-leg.

Our end point was located at the 56-57km mark. And there was about 7km more to go.  We had just overcame the double-climb and were taking on a particularly steep hill when we saw the deep and long dive downwards.  Instinctively all of us went for it, letting go and giving gravity free reign.  We were fortunate to have Vincent strategically positioned to shoot this series of shots as we descended.

Me, and Kai Sing coming down the descent. Photo: Vincent Loh
Me and Kai Sing at the end of our descent, and getting ready to climb towards where our minibus was. Photo: Vincent Loh.
Right on our tail was Wai Kit...
Photo: Vincent Loh
We rounded the corner and took the crest and took a look at the sky.  Boy, it WAS going to rain.
"Shit," I told myself. "Only less than 10km more to go, and it had to rain?"
I didn't care.  Neither did Kai Sing and Wai Kit.  We just went on.  It was home run already.  And we just wanted to finish it.

Not long after round this corner shown above, the sky finally opened up.  Torrential.  And all the memories of my previous ride with painful raindrops pelting down on my face came back.  It was truly deja vu.  Just a few more kilometres to go and the gods of Barelang had to punish us.
We just grit our teeth and continued on.  No point stopping now already for any way we were already wet.
It was later that Kai Sing shared with us:
"Wah luckily it rained.  It was so hot, I could not tahan already.  Had it not rained and the weather cooled down so much, I would have given up due to the heat."
Aiyah.. Kai Sing he was modest lah.  He always used heat as an excuse, although he is as fit as a fiddle.  But he was right.  The rain brought the temperature down by a good 12-13 degree Celsius.  Just before the rain, the Garmin was registering a 38 degrees, and immediately after the rain, it dropped to 26 degrees.  What a great difference!
But I must still say - I hated cycling in the rain!

The Kelong at the End of the World
We pushed through the last few kilometres, and a few more tolling climbs.
Thus at 2:11pm, we arrived at the end of our journey.  The Kelong at the End of the World.
Kai Sing, and myself coming to the Kelong for lunch.  Photo: Serene Gan
A few seconds later, Wai Kit walked right in, hungry like a dog.
Photo: Serene Gan
Lunch at the Kelong...
This was the second time we had lunch here, the first being 6 months ago when we first came.  It took quite some wait - about one hour, for a dish of fried rice, vegetables, noodles and such.  After this meal, we decided that if we ever went back to Barelang, we will skip ordering lunch here.  Instead we will da-bao our own and eat outside.  It would be significantly cheaper, and also it would allow us to quickly finish lunch and start cycling back before our muscles cool down too much.
Anyway here was the series of pictures of the obligatory lunch.



Before we leave for our return leg, a snap shot photo...
 Where was Kai Sing, Wai Kit and Vincent ah?

Photo: Vincent Loh

 Return Leg back
The rain had stopped by the time we finished out lunch and our leg muscles had become frozen from inactivity.  We walked that muddy, gravelly, watery path out from the Keong to the main road.  And soon we were frantically pedalling to warm up our system for the 60km ride back.
The road was wet, but the cool weather made it so much more comfortable.

Alex Kaan pushed his Titanium Lynskey to its extreme again.
Photo: Serene Gan
Photo: Serene Gan

Gerard took the lead very early and was never seen again... until close to the end. (Figuratively lah!)
Photo: Serene Gan

Photo: Serene Gan
This Darric was my sole emotional support on this leg back.  Many times I almost wanted to give up, my thighs and legs in cramp, my energy waning, but seeing him in front, I just had to keep pedalling to follow as closely as I could.  Without him, I wouldn't have made it back to the first bridge.

 And as for me, I ditched my arm warmer, even my wet gloves.  There was no sun to burn my skin, and my wet gloves were more uncomfortable.  So I cycled with naked arms.  But boy, the return route was really tiring!  I was breathless very very early.  But interestingly, what I realised was, the cool weather really made it easier for me - my heart rate was on an average 10 beats slower than the way out.

Photo: Serene Gan
Photo: Serene Gan

It was a damn lonely journey.. At one stage, I lost Gerard and Darric in front and I had to just grit my teeth and grind on. 

By now, I was feeling blase about the rolls.  The cool weather (without rain) made tackling them much easier.  And somehow I didn't pay so much attention to the hills any more.  Perhaps I was numb to them already.  But my thighs and my legs were all beginning to feel a sense of tiredness that I could not shake off.

Photo: Vincent Loh

The 'Don't-know-which-numbered' bridge...
Vincent and Serene got their positions here at the nth bridge.  And managed to capture the boys coming in.  This wasn't the end yet.  There was still a long way to go to the end.

Photo: Serene Gan
Photo: Serene Gan
Photo: Serene Gan
Photo: Vincent Loh
The view on the way back was even nicer.  Fishing kampong, kelongs, the sea and more rivers.. and plenty of greenery.
Photo: Serene Gan
 Serene, Wai Kit and Kai Sing enjoying the real sights of Barelang...

The LAST Stretch...

 By the time my odometer read 90km, I was feeling REALLY shagged. In front of me, Darric was cycling a little, free-wheeling a little.  And after pedalling for a while, he would stand up and stretch his legs a little, and sat down and drank a little.  I followed him in exactly every move.  Because at this stage, I needed the picture of the Ironman in front of me to spur me on.  The odometer kept count, but the bridges remained elusive.

The time was 4:22pm.  Gerard arrived at the end point.  He admitted that he was very tired.  But somehow I didn't believe him.

The time was 5:28pm.  I still remember this scene.  Darric and I made that last turn and we came to the first bridge, and the minibus, pickups and the boys and girl were all there cheering us on.
Vincent called out to us to lift up our hands.. but I didn't have the core muscle power to punch into the air with both fists.

Photo: Vincent Loh
And at the end, I just sat down on the floor, panting... a sigh of relief.

Post-ride Recreational Activities...
An one hour minibus ride back to Batam Centre and our R&R began!


 Ayam Penyet at Nagoya Hill
Relatively cheap Ayam Penyet, Mee Soto, Gado Gado.. about S$1.80 per serving.

 Buying Kueh Lapis..


This second cycling trip to the Six Bridges of Barelang completed all the distance I owed her on my very first attempt.  And I had learned on this second trip, to be careful in conserving my energy for a long, rolling ride like this.  Granted, my physical fitness might have been better.  But experience, I felt, was something that could not be substituted.  Training, and exposure to different terrains maketh a good cyclist.