Thursday, March 24, 2016

Barelang Re-visited ~ with a smell of the flowers to Galang

24th - 25th March 2016

This must go down in the history of evoLV as the most impromptu of cycling trips.  In less than a few days, after some crazy guys jio-ed, the group was formed and arrangements were made.
Amongst the 12 cyclists, some were Barelang veterans, while others were newly introduced to this mecca of local cyclists.

Click on the image above to see my Strava record
Click on the image above to see my Strava record of the trip

"Ok let's do this.  We will ferry ourselves in the evening of 24th March 2016 after work.  The next day is Good Friday, and we can all start cycling really early in the morning so that we can complete a longer distance and still have enough time for a nice shower and change, and a nice lunch before coming back home," the boss of GTravel declared.
And so, David resourcefully went ahead and booked the ferry for the 15 of us, including the three soigneurs.
The hotel we were staying was the Golden Fish Cottage and Restaurant after the second bridge, and for S$55 a night we got huge, spacious rooms with wifi and a most convenient location for cyclists to start off their quest along the Trans-Barelang Highway.

"Everybody report at 8:15pm sharp at the Cruise Centre at Harbour Front," the team leader instructed. Our ferry sets off for Sekupang at 9:45pm and we should arrive at our hotel just after 11pm Batam time."
Standard DL-issued SOP bike covers for the machines.

Many of us had just finished a tiring day of work and were looking forward to a good rest and good sleep in Golden Fish Cottage.  But some were excited about the next day's ride.  Others EVEN more excited because they have got extra gadgets brought along to test out.

Vincent had his secret weapon hidden inside the inconspicuous bag.
And Vincent was the first to show hands with yet another of his stealthy image-capturing gadgets with a first take of an excited Wai Meng.

[Photo: Vincent]

As usual, $48 per person for the to and fro ferry and $11 for bike handling, and the standard administrative procedures that required David to run up and down the escalator several times, and we were readied.

Stealthily snapped by who else but Vincent. [Photo: Vincent]
 Sekupang in the dark...

This was our first time arriving in Sekupang for a cycling trip after dark.
As always the immigration officers were still particular about noisy tourist stepping foot on their holy Batam tiles, as the shushing from the officers begun almost as soon as we raised our voices in laughter and animated conversations.

10pm Batam time.  Ah Zhai and his drivers were there waiting for us.  Quickly the bikes were loaded up onto the pickup and the tired passengers ushered into the single minibus, and we were off.

Post-Departure Minibus Briefing

Our trip briefing was as efficient as the way the trip was whipped up.  In that short 35mins of travelling time from Sekupang ferry terminal to Golden Fish Cottage, Gerard managed to finalised the route for the next day, convincing most of us to do the Galang route, and gotten the soigneurs all prepared.  Ann Kheen's beautifully printed colour maps were a great visual guide to every one, especially to the ladies who were helping out in the vehicular support, and to those of us who weren't exactly clear of the route.

Here was Vincent's take of Gerard's post-departure briefing...

Add caption
It didn't take much convincing.. All it took was this photo Gerard showed earlier of Galang, to make almost all decide to go the Galang way.  So it was the lure of the purple lavender and lush green grass with the promise of fresh fragrance that took our imaginations to a new height, that did the job.  Galang was our highlight for the trip.

An image posted by Gerard of the beautiful scenery en route to Galang.
Source unknown... but I highly suspect could be the work of David. Haha!

[Photo: Vincent]

Gerard wasted no time in reinforcing the fact that it was own time own target, and every one had to right to call for exercise-cut any time.

And so the decision was made.  5:30am we would gather to be ready to set off at the sight of first light.

Golden Fish Cottage and Restaurant

Like what Gerard said, it was not exactly five star.  But honestly at S$55 a night, it offered a massive spacious room with most of our rooms being able to sleep three persons - a double bed and a single bed - and hot water boiler, clean towels, and free wifi.

Sorry to disappoint you, Wai Meng.  The rooms indeed had NO toilet paper.  So if you were a person who could not use facial tissue to wipe your bottom, then please remember to bring your own toilet paper. 

Ah Zhai helpfully bought isotonic water and mineral water for the team, to save us the trouble of having to procure them the next day.  And the soigneurs busied themselves distributing the hydration.

The time was 11:15pm Batam time.  My brain was already starting to shut down, programmed to do so usually at this time, which was Singapore time 12:15am.  The other guys were also visibly tired.  And the thought of having to do a 131km the next day with little sleep was daunting.

So we parted way.  This hotel had lovely landscaping, lovely villa-like buildings.  And in the dark, it was really quite alluring.  The interior was massive, true to what I read from many of the reviews on the net.  And the beds were nice.
Shower water pressure wasn't the strongest, but good enough for a lowly cyclist like me.

Even my bike had its own parking space in the room.

"Dar Dar, I want a midnight carbo load before the ride tomorrow can?" I requested.  And Serene guai-guai obliged.

D-Day, H-Hour... 25th March 2016, Friday. 5:30am..

The peleton duly gathered at the foot of the block at the stipulated time, stomachs breakfasted, bowels evacuated, blood vessels hydrated... although sleep was still a rather deprived commodity to several of the members that fateful morning.  5:30am Batam time was 6:30am Singapore time. It was still dark.  So we just waited..

[Photo: Serene]
... until first light started sending its rays across the east part of the sky...

For me, I'd been off season for so long I hadn't done a long ride for the longest time, until just exactly a week ago when these crazy fellows got me to follow them for a ride to Desaru and Tanjung Balau.  And on this morning, I found my sleepy self standing on the road outside Golden Fish waiting for the start to what was going to be a nice rolling ride.
[Photo: Vincent]

 "OK, let's go!" the war cry roared and we were off at 5:48am!

Our previous rides at Barelang had always started at 10am.  And it was a fresh experience doing it in the nice cool of the dawn.  As we rode, to our left the red yolk of the rising sun was so beautiful.  I really wanted to stop and take a photo of it.  But decided against it as the boys and girl were going out at fairly good speed.

"Ok for the first part, we will all stop at the 23km (actually 24km) mark at the left turn into Galang and do a water refill and a short rest before we split - those who want to go straight right to the end, and those who choose to do the turn into Galang," said Gerard.

Wai Meng trying not to leak too much cardiac enzymes. [Photo: Serene. Click to enlarge]
Wai Meng trying not to leak too much cardiac enzymes. [Photo: Serene. Click to enlarge]

So how was the route today going to be like?

Simple.  It was going to be the usual to and fro along the Trans Barelang Highway, only thing was that we would start AFTER the second bridge this time instead of before the first bridge as usual.  

Vincent had bigger plans for today's ride as he came well-prepared. [Photo: Serene. Click to enlarge]
The half way designated rest point was at the turn about right at the end of the islands.
Included as a 25km extension was the detour into Galang, because good cycling friends said die die must do Galang.
So our route was like this, as illustrated in the three parts-map:


"I think let's give the Dragon Fruit Drink stall a miss lah," suggested David.  And everybody concurred.
"Yah lah, this Dragon Fruit drink is kinda overrated.  But it's just historical," agreed Gerard.
But thinking back, it was might as well, because when we rode past the Dragon Fruit Stall at 6am, they were still shut tight.

"Where is that Galang turn-in?" I kept asking myself.

The cheongsters were all the way in front, and I couldn't catch up with them- Lucas, Darric, KC Tng, Wai Meng, David, Gerard, Pei Lin and Vincent.  I was happily tagging behind Ann Kheen and cycling with Kong Wan and Jeral.

Kong Wan
Kong Wan was smiling all the way. [Photo: Serene. Click to enlarge]

Jeral too, smiling all the way.
Jeral too. Smiling all the way. [Photo: Serene. Click to enlarge]

"Don't let me hold you back," called out Ann Kheen as we rode. "Please overtake and go ahead."

Ann Kheen
Ann Kheen pulling me right from the beginning.  Another local rider came up and past us. [Photo: Serene. Click to enlarge]

This Ann Kheen really sees me too up lah.  Un-beknown to him, I secretly admired his training objectives.  This seasoned Ironman's training principle was strictly steady state.  No sudden bursts, no accelerations, nothing to bust the heart rate limits.  A true triathlete.

A video by Serene from the pickup of Pei Lin, David and Darric.
On this morning, Kong Wan and Jeral had decided to enjoy Barelang to its fullest by cycling in a straight line - straight out and straight back.  Very smart decision.  They were also very careful in conserving themselves.  And so as it happened, four of us ended up cycling together in the rear group while the cheongster went ahead screaming their ways towards the 24km Galang turn in point.

Galang Turn-in at 24km point

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge. [Photo: Serene]
"Ah, the Golden arch of Galang!" the awed feeling upon beholding the structure.
The cheongster peleton was already having their sweet potatoes, banans and Pocari with their muscles almost frozen already, by the time I arrived.  I remembered telling Wai Meng that I would aim for an average speed of 25km/hr for the whole trip, considering the up and down rolls.  But from the look of things, the front boys and girl was going at far more than 30km/hr right from the word go.

David the photographer at work. [Photo: Vincent]

"Ok let's take a group picture!"
"Ok, I have an idea of a pose," instructed David. "All of us quickly make a curve under the arch, from tall to short and from short to tall."
Photo: Vincent
Click on the above image to see a bonus photo of what the boys and girl were laughing about... a shot by Darric.

How was Galang going to be like?  I remembered trying to check out the Strava elevation profile of Galang.  And it seemed rather undulating.  But the morning was still cool and our muscles and hearts were still fresh.  And we were eager to give Galang a go.  It was still, an adventure as we explored this part of the Barelang route for the first time.

[Photo: Vincent]
"Today is our Wedding Anniversary," said Viena. "Ann Kheen was thinking thinking originally perhaps we shouldn't come. But I told him - come lah! Let's enjoy it with the guys." This Viena was really the epitome of a free-spirited, fun-loving wife.  Lucky boy, this Ann Kheen.

So on this beautiful morning, the over-joyed lady did a classic jump at the Golden Arch of Galang to symbolise their unending love for each other.

The Drone at work

Photo: Serene

Thus on this morning while the rest was getting ready to set off, Vincent had an additional task of getting his drone ready for take off, before he himself took off after the guys along the Smell-Flower-ways of Galang.
Photo: Serene
And here was Vincent's test video of Barelang...

Barelang upin the Air
The Pilot in full control. [Photo: Serene]
The wonderful support crew.  [Photo: Vincent's Drone.]
So into Galang we went...

1km into Galang we suddenly saw Kc Tng stooped beside his bike.  
"You guys move along," he called out as Ann Kheen stopped to assist him. "I've got a puncture.  Will catch up with you guys."
So the Galang trail claimed its first inner tube of EvoLV.
The sun was still low, and the air crisp.  As our bikes parted through the air molecules in the midst of their Brownian movements, the cool breeze tore through our helmet vents.  There was no vehicular traffic along this road at this time of the day, and the scenery flew past us like in a dream.  
The rolling roads of Galang brought into and out of our views, small houses in the distance with lush greenery cushioning them.  For the first time, it felt like cycling through an Ang Moh countryside, but here in the Tropics.

Galang resort ba, it seemed.

No words could describe further the feeling of absolute bliss as I let go on the downhill and let gravity did its job on this heavy body of mine.  It was nice and smooth until somewhere in the middle of Galang we begun to encounter what it was famous for - its slopes.
One by one, one after another, one before the other, and one following several - they came and kept coming.  Our bodies were still fresh, and the temperature was still relatively cool.  Apart from racing my heart rate, the slopes were still an enjoyment in themselves.
I kept looking at my Garmin. 

Lucas must have had been waiting for centuries already, by the time I arrived at Galang seaside.
"Wah lau! A 14% gradient!" as I crested one... "Huh, wow this one is 11%!" another one... "My goodness, a 12% one!" my heart was going to jump out of my rib cage... "Hey, this one is 10%!" yet another one.

I made a mental note to keep my power as in control as possible for the uphills - trying to limit them to not more than 250W.  But when your legs were fresh and your heart was still energetic, it was too easy to let the wattage run wild.

I remembered Darric ever said before "How to keep your power low when you are climbing up the slope? Sure exceed one!"And he couldn't be further from the truth. 
In a perfectly blended (almost) Celeste surrounding was David.

Along this dreamland of Galang, I found myself tailing behind Gerard and Pei Lin and these two were speeding bullets.  There was once I managed to over take Gerard, only to have him shot past me as I heard the shush shush shush of his crank churning out massive amount of power.  This man is an incredible machine.  One of the several incredible machines on this trip.  Not to even mention his leading quality.

Abruptly, as we finally crested one last hill, the seaside of Galang appeared at a T-junction.  It was a sleepy village with a few scattered houses and a row of what appeared to be resorts on stilts.  A few village boys were running around barefoot and cycling on their small bicycles.  The sudden appearance of a group of cyclist in green must have piqued their interest as they inched further to study us closely.

In only a few minutes, Ann Kheen caught up with us here at the seaside.  KC Tng had finished changing his inner tube and both of them had braved the rolls and came to this land less-travelled.

"Ok, let's not rest too long!" the leader commanded. "Let's go!"
And up and down the rolls we went again, this time round heading towards more familiar territories as we would be traversing the Trans Barelang Highway again all the way to the end.  1.5km out of the seaside we saw KC Tng coming in the opposite direction.
"How far more?" he shouted.
"1.5km only," I replied.  This guy was fast, I remember thinking to myself.  If I had had a puncture I would have taken the whole day.
[Photo: Serene]

Onwards to the Turn-about!

Photo: Serene

Yes, it was only about 30km to the turn about right at the tip of the islands, as we were all reminded by Gerard.  From this point onwards it was kee-kee-ku-kee-kee, meaning one will conserve according to one's plan, to arrive at the turn about and call it a day, or conserve even more to make the U-turn and cycle all the way back the 52km back to the hotel.

[Photo: Serene]
Some of the fitter guys found their legs and hearts and were pulling strongly far ahead. Lucas was the one fit young man whose heart and legs could do nothing wrong but just pumping at their max.  Another one was Wai Meng.  Despite leaky heart cell membranes, his body functioned like a 19 year old.

Me cycled until my mouth wai-wai. [Photo: Serene]
So we surged forward towards the 5th and the 6th bridges.

The weather started turning hotter as the sun rose.  I was still sucking behind Pei Lin and Gerard on this outward stretch, trying my best not to be dropped.  9:15am, and we arrived at the fifth bridge after a nice flat stretch of straight road for flying.  At the exact time when I arrived at this fifth bridge, Kong Wan and Jeral had made it to the turn about at the 78.1km mark and were getting ready for a long rest.
Taking a well-deserved rest at the turn about were Kong Wan and Jeral. [Photo: Kong Wan]
... and while they sat down and rehydrated, their bikes snoozed in the shade of the solitary tree.

[Photo: Kong Wan]
Meanwhile, our Drone pilot Vincent was busy making sure his Quadcopter was navigating correctly.
Here with Ah Zhai, our driver. [Photo: Vincent]

I couldn't remember seeing any of the front guys.  They were too far ahead already.  Even Vincent couldn't capture a shot of Lucas on his aeroplane as he was way too far.

Wai Meng making his way to the turn about, just a short distance behind Lucas. [Photo: Vincent]
Darric and David watching each other closely to launch themselves for the sprint towards the solitary tree. [Photo: Vincent]
While the guys were fighting it out in front, Pei Lin, Gerard and I had a great time behind.

[Photo: Serene]
Memories came flooding back to me as I encountered uphills after uphills followed by downslopes after downslopes.  I could still remember vividly how much I suffered when I last took the same challenge and how Vincent in the support vehicle had to feed me plenty of water on the crest of one of these uphills when my heart rate was hitting 170/min.  That was a previous trip when I was pulling Kai Sing and Wai Kit.  But I really needed to thank my lucky star on this day to have these two good people pulling me instead and keeping my heart rate down.

After the sixth bridge and all the way liao. [Photo: Serene]
The fact that we started earlier didn't make the slopes any easier.  And I still found my speed grinding to a slow 9-10km/hr as I hit slopes of 8-9% gradients, especially after the sixth bridge.  My breakfast of rolled oats and protein powder, plus the 4 gels I had along the way, in addition to the few bottles of isotonic water certainly did help.
But what helped also, was the experience of having done this before, no longer the fear of the route, and an accumulated wisdom of what not to do in order not to burn the legs.
Darric almost reaching the turn about. [Photo: Serene. click to enlarge]
Darric almost reaching the turn about. [Photo: Serene. Click to enlarge]
So everything reamined fairly status quo until at around 70km right after a particularly steep climb and the downward free fall, I suddenly saw Pei Lin swerving to the side of the road onto a muddy patch in avoiding something, and Gerard too late to avoid it, but had to screech through the middle of the road. 
Here was one of the terrible gravel part of new road surface re-construction. [Photo: Serene]
By the time I reached this part, I realised that it was road works being done - resurfacing of the road, but it was full of sharp gravels.   I had to really brake hard, but not too hard to avoid skid.

David giving his new bike fit a run for its money. [Photo: Serene]
It was later when we met up with David and Darric again that they kao-beh-ed about themselves almost skidding when they had to zham-brake.  Wai Meng said he stopped and carried his bike and started running across the gravel patch of bad road.

Meanwhile, three of us at the back gingerly made our way through the land mines.
"Wah lau, I started praying once I hit the gravels," later Gerard revealed.  Oh wow.. such a coincidence, I also started praying once I rolled onto the gravel, praying hard that I don't puncture a tyre.

There were two of such patches, each stretching a couple of hundred metres. After the second patch at around 71.6km mark, Gerard's rear tyre finally gave way.  The second puncture of the ride.

At the Turn about...
And so, we all made it to the turn about with no more leaking rubbers.
Almost all.  Except the air-conditioned minius whose driver was apparently pretty upset about having to follow the riders to the turn about, according to Serene, as he was running low on fuel.  We had been engaging the service of Ah Zhai for so long and he has served us well.  But this time round, his local Indonesian driver failed us, and failed us with a black face some more.
Well, I believed Gerard wouldn't give Ah Zhai face during the debrief.

Here was Vincent's video of the guys at the turn.
The Garang Evolv Riders

Photo: Serene
So the boys had been resting under the shade for a long while.  By the time I arrived, they were ready to set off.  I could only grab a bottle of isotonic from Ah Zhai sitting on the pickup and gulped it down quickly before I moved on with the group.

It was about 9:30am when we made our journey back towards the start.  The bare land offered no shelter, as always.  And the sun beat upon us.  I learned from previous experience that for me, I could not over-hydrate on the actual ride day, as I would feel nausea.  I could only drink up to a certain level... just slightly short of complete replacement level. 

Photo: Serene

It was a spectacular sight, the guys and girl moving off from the turn about towards the satellite tower and heading back.  I quickly gestured to Serene to take a shot of this.

Photo: Serene
Yah lah yah lah.  Complained also no use.  I still had to make my way back.  It was 78km at this point.  And I kept consoling myself, it was only another 53km more to go.

Photo: Serene
Here was the lovely video by Vincent on his Drone.

Barelang Pelaton Clip

Meanwhile, the lucky ones had some friendly support.

Photo: Vincent

And the unlucky one who punctured his tyre at the wrong time arrived only a couple of minutes too late, to find everyone gone.  KC Tng was so cute, he almost wanted to go up the lorry, but he was refused entry by the Chiet Soigneur Serene.  So he LL continued.

Photo: Vincent

The return route, from what I remembered, was supposed to be easier because of the way the gradients were distributed.  But strangely on this day, it seemed just as difficult for me.  In the distance, I could see Darric in front.  Lucas and Wai Meng were no longer visible.  I was trying my utmost to keep pace with Gerard and Pei Lin.

Photo: Serene

... until I suddenly felt a loosening.  Shit! Don't tell me I suffered a puncture!
I looked down and was relieved to find only a dropped chain.  See beh heng ah!  Wasting no time, I pulled the offending piece of metal back into its proper place and leapt back onto my saddle.

Photo: Serene

It was hot.  And I was blowing and blowing.
The odometer showed 100km.  My thighs were aching and I was beginning to experience spasms of cramps on my calves and my abductor muscles despite my compression socks and compression pants.  I could only blame myself for not being more conditioned.  But the corrective measures would need to come later.  For now, I just had to spin and relieve the pressure from the fatigued muscles and hope that the cramps would not incapacitate me.
My gels were the only thing that kept me from bonking.  Truth to be told, I could feel myself bonking already.

Photo: Serene

The support crew was fantastic.  Aileen, Viena and Serene's enthusiasm and promptness in passing me bottles after bottles of isotonic water made the difference between me being able to go on and failing to do so.  Their cheerfulness rubbed off on me, especially Aileen and Viena's smile.
My Dar of course kept giving me encouragement "Keep going!"

Here was Vincent's video of our fantastic support crew of Viena, Aileen and Serene standing at the roadside making sure everyone was accounted for.

Here at the 6th bridge on the return route at 92km mark. Photo: Serene

Jeral Lai was very happy with his distance. Job done! Photo: Vincent.
In the meantime, the rest of the guys slogged on.  Grinding and grinding and spinning and spinning.
I couldn't mount my power any more.  On my Garmin, I could see my power dropping and I could hardly hit 110W.  Even going uphill my speed dropped to 7-8km/hr.  I knew I was failing and failing fast.
I was desperate, and I grabbed the opportunity during a rest point to kept tight behind Darric.  But sadly that didn't last long, as this strong man was too powerful.  He opened the distance between us very soon after that and I lost him.

Photo: Vincent

With every passing kilometre, I kept my hopes up by rewarding myself with a sip of whatever was left of the Pocari in my water bottles.  On one of the down slope, I could see Gerard and Pei Lin resting at the side of the road, but in my extremely tired state, I couldn't stop to join them, but to just let my bike continue rolling on, making full use of every bit of momentum I could.

Photo: Vincent
And then like a miracle, the Green Scappa came beside me.  It was Kong Wan!
Man, this was great news.  Finally I had someone to pull me again.  And a great job Kong Wan did to keep my engine going.  My heart rate by then was a constant 150 plus.  This kind of heart rate cannot last long.  I needed to drop it, and Kong Wan's arrival was just in time.  I slipped into his slipstream and we went along.  100km, 110km, 120km... I could feel the last bit of my energy leaving my body.
We had been on the move for more than 5 hours.  And I could no longer keep up with Kong Wan as he mounted each uphill.  I didn't care any more...

At the 122km mark, the minibus gave us our last rest point and water refill.
"Dar, only 8km more to go!" encouraged Serene. "Just keep going. At the turn in, the pickup will be there to show you all the way into the hotel."
Hahaha... I didn't know how much of that went into my ears and got comprehended by my numbed brain.  But my gluteus and quads, though screaming for oxygen, were still able to squeeze out some remaining ATPs of energies.  The sight of Kong Wan in front of me made the last bit of the journey so much more comforting.  When he slowed down, I slowed down.  When he drank from his bottle, I drank.  When he changed to a lighter gear, I followed suit.  And then out of a sudden, both of us heard a rush of air on our right, to find Pei Lin speeding past us on her way to the end point.  My goodness, this girl was really marvellous - her supply of power endless.

Adileen and Viena were the most important persons at this point in time. [Photo: Vincent]
The odometer hit 130km.  I was wondering through my misty glasses where the hotel was.  It didn't take long.  One more km down the road and Ah Zhai was there in the pickup.  He waved us both in.  Kong Wan and I, with our last burst of energy, pedalled up the last slope to the hotel and we gave ourselves a pat on the shoulder - JOB DONE!!!

This Lucas was really something.  By the time we arrived at the hotel, he had already showed and changed.
 I couldn't complain.  It was not an easy ride because I had been really lazy.  I must say this ride woke up my ideas quite a bit, especially after seeing how powerful and how strong my friends were.  They were all simply inspiring.  And I needed just that to kick myself out of the malaise.

Photo: Serene

Click on the following image to see the Flyby of our ride on this day:

Lunch at Golden Fish Cottage

Photo: Kong Wan

So it was set.  Everything went on smoothly.  We checked out of our rooms at 12:30pm and went up the veranda for a lunch together.

It was a quick meal, because we needed to leave the hotel by 1:45pm.  Still, we enjoyed ourselves.

The garlic chicken was lovely.  And the coconuts were humongous.

It would have been nice to have a little more time.  But that was ok.  This was good enough for us already.

It was simply a great trip.
And we have all learned a few things on this cycling outing - it would be best to stay over night at one of the hotels along Barelang to start off early the next morning.  An earlier check in in the evening would be ideal.
And importantly, Galang is a wonderful extension and an added dimension to Barelang.  A trip to Barelang without Galang would be like eating kang kong without sambal chilli.
Well, till the next time!