Friday, March 18, 2016

A road-ful of pot holes and pot-hole-ful of punctures

An Evolv Cycling recce trip to Desaru and Tanjung Balau

"I heard that the old, scenic coastal road from Tg Pengelih ferry terminal to Sungei Rengit has been closed for redevelopment," I said, when one day the guys started talking about doing a training ride to Desaru.
A shot before we set off at Changi Ferry terminal
"Yah, my friend says now there is a new road.  And he says try to avoid Road 92," Wai Meng added.
"Ok, let's do a recce ride then," agreed Darric and Gerard. 
"But we will plan to follow the old roads first. Then we will decide on the ground if there are any changes," decided Darric, who was leading this expedition
6:30am at mee pok stall at Changi Village hawker centre. [Photo: Kong Wan]

And that was that.  The recce route was planned, and alternative routes were explored and downloaded into our Garmin Edges.

The boys trying to do last minute downloading of the route to their Garmins.

And at 6:30am on the 18th March 2016, a Friday morning, seven of us gathered at Changi Ferry Terminal.  Some of the guys who hadn't the luxury of blended rolled oats at home grabbed an early breakfast at the mee pok stall at Changi Village hawker centre.
It wasn't the best mee pok, at the end Gerard concluded.  But ok lah, enough to just fuel up for the long ride.

[Photo: Kong Wan]

The originally planned route was around 109km, drawn out on Mapometer.   The papers reported that the weather was excruciatingly hot for these two weeks.
"Two water bottles should be enough lah," Gerard was confident.
The Elitist at the ferry terminal [Photo: Kong Wan]
"We will top up our water at Sungei Rengit and then at Tanjung Balau," was Darric's plan. "But guys, please keep tight together ok."
[Photo: David]

The main reason was there was some earlier report about cyclists being robbed by perpetrators on vehicles.  We were a little concerned.  As long as we had some extra cash in our pockets, that should be good enough to despatch any of these predators, should the unthinkable happen.

Changi Ferry Terminal

The usual bum boat takes 12 passengers.  But if we were in a rush we could top up a little bit and get the bum boat operator going.  Exactly that was what we did. A one-hour trip ahead of us, we were really relaxed and enjoying the hum of the motor.

Sea breeze in our hairs, noise of the motor in our ears, smell of salt in our olfactory nerves.  This was truly an adventure in the making, not knowing exactly how the route was going to turn out.

The only two persons who were still struggling to get things to work were Gerard and Kong Wan.  For some strange reasons, Gerard's Edge 1000 refused to download the GPX route.  Kong Wan's persistence paid off eventually.

I was surprised to find that when we arrived at Tanjung Pengelih ferry terminal, my handphone carrier still stated 'SGP-M1'. Wow M1's reach was really far and wide.

It was 8:52am.
"Hey I want to take a photo of you guys!" I shouted.
"Wei.. the mata here says cannot take photos one leh," warned David. "Better don't risk it."
But I bo chap and just shot.
Thankfully the mata was still sleeping in bed.

What more was, the customs officer was ALSO still in bed.

"I think the customs officers don't start work until 9am plus," someone offered.
And we waited and waited.  Until 9am something the lady dragged her sleepy head and walked into the counter.  And we got waved through.

The Set-off

The stage set, the flag off was literally non-elaborate, Gerard, Pei Lin, Darric, Wai Meng hitting the ground flying.  Kong Wan and myself in the middle.  I kept looking back because David was doing some last minute check and took off a little later but quickly he caught up.  And the seven of us were going along in a pack.
The scene was familiar - the police station, the school, some of the kampong houses, but suddenly at about 4km point, the road ahead was boarded up and an abrupt detour to the left opened up.
So this must be the new road.
The new road indeed it was.  Beautifully tarred surface and smooth and straight flat road welcomed us.  Very sparsely vehicled, we were able to fly at about 30-32km/hr.

Here was the Strava of my ride.  Click on the image below to go to the Strava record.

The morning was relatively... not that hot.  We were able to settle into our pace rapidly.  The new road was easy to follow, as we traversed the interior of the land adjacent to the coast, albeit at a further distance landward compared to what we used to do previously.
We could not see the sea any more on our right.  The only thing that was constant was a sprawling area of re-development that now stood where the old kampongs were.

I kinda missed the old charming seaside kampongs and roads, but for the sake of training, this new road was definitely a better alternative because of its almost perfect condition.  There was no difficulty with navigation - it was a straight forward road with little junctions.  Road signs were clear, pointing towards Sungei Rengit.
At 19km after the start, we came to the junction with Road 92.  The sign pointed right towards Sungei Rengit.  At 23km mark, we arrived at Sungei Rengit.

David was shocked: "Wow, last time it seemed to take us so long to cycle to Sungei Rengit.  But this time wah, we arrive at Sungei Rengit so quickly. There, 23km.  And we are here already."
He was right.  The non-stop peloton of road bikes and the new straight flat roads simply meant a swift transition to the town famous for its seafood.
"Ok, any one want to replenish water?" asked Darric. "Everybody still ok? If no one wants to top up water we will go on to Tanjung Balau ok?"
It was a unanimous affirmative.  This 23km took little out of us, and relatively little out of our water bottles.  Gerard was the only superman with an extra 1.5litre water bottle stuffed right in the middle of his back under his jersey, in true blue first train fashion.
I hadn't cycled on the roads ever since August last year, only been training on my trainer.  This definitely meant that my road fitness was way down low.  With the events for the year impending, I'd better wake up my ideas and start training with the boys and girls more on the physical roads.

Road 90 to Desaru

The road up north from Sungei Rengit was Road 90.  This was the semi-coastal road that ran parallel to the coast, but not close enough for us to see the sea.   On both sides were just greenery and the occasional house.  Road 90 leading up from Sungei Rengit to Desaru had really nothing to offer in terms of replenishment.  So it was right.  Either we top up at Sungei Rengit, or we had to wait until we arrive either at Desaru or Tanjung Balau to get supplies.
Road 90 was still relatively flat until the 48km mark when the undulations started rolling in.
The group split into two - the faster break away in front consisting of the five cheongsters, and two of us puffing up the rolling hills a short distance behind.

Desaru finally came at 54km.  The guys were waiting for us at the road junction.  We caught up, and they sped off again, without even giving us a rest.  Desaru was thus relegated to merely a signboard that came and gone in a flash.

"Wah lau eh.. these guys - cheonged so fast!" I complained to Kong Wan.
And again along the ups and downs we went, with my speed sometimes slowing to about 16-17km/h when the gradient hit about 6 percent.  This Desaru - Tg Balau to and fro trip consisted only of 532m of elevation.  Not really as much as compared with some other routes elsewhere.  But by the time we arrived at Desaru, the heat was starting to feel smothering.
I had heard so much about Desaru and how this was a great training location for many a cyclist.  Despite the oldness of the road, the condition was surprisingly good.  We encountered very little pot holes along Road 90.
With good condition roads and clear signage, the only barriers were some mild undulations and the heat.
The front pack began to pull away and they became smaller and smaller figurines in the distance.  I kept studying my Garmin, just to make sure that Tanjung Balau was correctly in my radar and that Kong Wan and I were heading towards the correct direction.

Tanjung Balau (60km mark)

The guys and girl having a well-deserved break at Tanjung Balau

Tanjung Balau was precisely our half way mark.  This was another one of the popular local holiday destination, a small little town with run-down and poorly-maintained resorts.  Fortunately our mission today brought none of us near any of the local hospitality establishments.  We were just touching Tg Balau, enjoy her 100 Plus and benches for a few tens of minutes, and then make our way back.
That we did.
A few bottles of 100 Pluses at abour RM7 something per bottle, we set off again.
"Ok, let's go," said Gerard. "We got to make it back to Sungei Rengit in time for lunch, and then to be back to the ferry terminal."
"Let's try taking a short cut through the other route, Road number 92," suggested Gerard.
[Photo: Kong Wan. Courtesy of that young local stall assistant.]

So fate had it that we still encountered the infamous Road 92.  In retrospect, it was good that we did because this trip was still at the end of the day, meant to be a recce trip and we were out to test the feasibility of each possible route for the main body.
And what a short cut that was.

Road 92 and two punctures!

A left turn from Jalan Tanjung Balau into Road 92 brought us to a main thoroughfare that was made up of an old undulating road inundated with pot holes and uneven surfaces.  The traffic was heavy with huge trucks and plenty of cars and pickups, many of which were trying their best to give us as much berth as possible, to the extent that they slowed down and drove behind us until they were able to over take.

Apparently Road 92 was more undulating than Road 90.  But we were too busy trying to siam the pot holes that many of us probably did not realise that fact.  I knew I paid no attention to the rolling hills.  The front pack was pulling ahead, and eventually we lost them again.
Kong Wan and I were left trying to navigate the minefield of holes and tyring our hardest to warn each other of potential holey danger ahead.
By this time, I had consumed 3 gels and 3 bottles of 100 Plus.  Kong Wan was in front pulling me hard.  I distinctly remember myself congratulating ourselves for not running a puncture despite cycling for so long at the very moment when the accident happened.
"Pot hole!" called Kong Wan at the 70km mark.
I shouted a confirmatory reply, but stupidly my rear wheel went straight into the huge pot hole and 'PIAK!' went the tyre.  A puncture! Shit.
My CO2 pump head was faulty and the two CO2 canisters I used went wasted.  Fortunately Kong Wan's worked well and we had my rear tyre re-tubed and up and going.  Hot, tired, panting and mildly irritated by my own carelessness, as my rear tyre and inner tube were brand new having just been changed the night before, we went on.  The guys and girl were nowhere to be seen already

 The ups and downs continued, and pot holes after pot holes materialised to test the sharpness of our eye sights and our reflexes.  We did well by going on at a steady pace.  At least steady enough until the 86km mark.  It was my turn pulling Kong Wan, and I pointed out a pot hole. But it was too late.  His rear wheel slammed into the depression.
"Hey wait! I got to check my tyre!" shouted Kong Wan.  And it WAS a puncture. 
A quick flip and he replaced the inner tube already.  Somehow his CO2 head got detached when I was trying to pump his tyre, and we wasted all the CO2 canisters he had left.  That was a cyclist's nightmare.  But somehow luck was on our side today for the night before I decided to mount my mini-hand pump onto my bike.  That was the solitary reassurance that kept us cool, and kept our journey alive.

While Kong Wan and I were struggling to marry up, the food had arrived [Photo: Gerard]

Soon, we were on our way, after I SMS-ed the guys of our punctures.  They were already enjoying the aircon restaurant at Jade Garden Resort in Sungei Rengit (at the 100km mark)when we set off from the 86km mark.  Demoralising it was, but we had little choice but to keep pushing on in order to arrive at Sungei Rengit to rendezvous with the front peleton.  I was glad deep inside that I had Kong Wan with me because trips like these without support vehicle meant that we had to kee-kee-ku-kee-kee.

[Photo: Gerard]

Click on the image below to see the Flyby for our this trip.

Jade Garden Restaurant at Sungei Rengit

[Photo: Gerard]

"Look for us at Jade Restaurant," SMS-ed Gerard. "It should be easy to find."
[Photo: Gerard]
It was indeed easy.  A right turn at the traffic junction and Kong Wan and I were finally cruising into Sungei Rengit.  Jade Garden Resort was somewhere on the left side.  And small lane led into the car park and the resort building.  Pushing our bikes and our tired bodies to the rear, we found all the guys there.
[Photo: Gerard]
"You are just on time," reassured Gerard. "Food has just arrived only."
[Photo: Gerard]

To most of our good people, the seafood in Sungei Rengit was the highlight of the trip.  To those of us who were watching our LDLs, the vegetables and rice were more attractive.  I must personally say, that the crabs, lobsters, prawns, eggs and kangkong were superbly delicious.  At RM1150 for the whole table, which came up to S$55 per head, it was really worth it.  I would state for sure, to seafood lovers, this is a must not miss.

The Mad Rush back to Tg Pengelih ferry terminal 

The time was 2:35pm.  And Darric was urging the waiter to bring us our bill while the rest of us were frantically trying to gulp down the last of the tofu.
"Quick! Quick! The ferry terminal customs closes at 3pm," said Darric. "We need to rush back.  It's 23km back to the ferry terminal from here!"
And we went scampering.  The more we were kan cheong, the more we garang gabo.  We had to stop a couple of times and ask for directions before we gotten the correct route.  We cycled up along Road 92, with Darric and Wai Meng leading the cheong.
At the left turn into the new road, Darric barked an order to Wai Meng to give his all and cheong all the way back to the ferry terminal to halt the departing boat and to urge the customs officer to wait for us.
And Wai Meng obediently followed the instruction to the dot.  Like the seasoned marathon runner he is, he really blew his heart rate sky high in accomplishing the mission impossible.

Wai Meng the champion. [Photo: Darric]
"I was so worried that we have to stay here for the night," said Wai Meng. "That was what I was thinking about as I sped all the way back."
A 3D reflection of our jerseys. [Photo: David]

And it so happened that the 3pm cut off time was a myth.  When we all arrived at the ferry terminal at 3:40pm, there were still plenty of passengers sitting relaxly waiting for their ferries to arrive.
Our bum boat had deserted us, when the operator did not see us appearing at 3pm.

The above is a video taken by David.

An animated discussion of what was a safe airline to fly, and perhaps a touch on the LDLs. [Photo: Darric]
Darric was not called the team leader for nothing, as he wasted no time in arranging for a speed boat to come to our rescue.  For S$22 a person, this speed boat was twice the speed, arriving back home in only 30minutes.  Impressive.


5pm.  We safely set foot on the soils of homeland.
We enjoyed the day adventure. A simple, unencumbered adventure that required no heavy luggage, no change of clothing, but just ourselves, our bikes and our water bottles.
What was most important was, our objective was accomplished.
We had recced-ed and familiarised ourselves with the current route and the stage was readied for the main body's trip.  Any time now.