Saturday, September 24, 2016

A 230km Epic Ride to Malacca...

Recently in life...

Somehow at this stage of my life, I kept realising that certain things were more important than others.  Flashy cars,  huge houses, showy clothes... so on and so forth, many of which I'd not been able to attain, all seemed to have lost their attraction, their grip on me during my younger years. And what overshadowed them in importance was my relationship with those in my life who I call friends.  And what better ways to define friends than those who had something in common - a shared hobby, a shared memory or even a common epic experience!

24th Sep 2016...

It was 12 midnight and the excitement of the ride kept waking me up. Repeated glances at my handphone showed that the time was merely a little past midnight. It was really going to be a long day ahead.
A week ago, during our EvoLV 4th birthday celebration dinner at Shashlik, Mike somehow managed to leverage on David's constant persuasion during our recent Italy trip (with David), and I was moved to jump onto the malacca bandwagon. Granted I had never done a 230km before. But that didn't stop many who hadn't done theirs too.
The planned route. [Picture: KC Tng]
Thus, one Locum and I was readied. Through the last few days in preparation, our constant chatter on the Telegram thread kept many awake at night and disturbed during client meetings, with handphones vibrating away. We deliberated Garmin GPS Group tracking, to rain coats, to bakzhang to bowel-opening...
Ann Kheen remarked that this was like the preparation going for a military exercise, which I kinda agree with him.  KC Tng was the constant leader, eyeing the group quietly and coming in when the discussion went the wrong way.  Andy was the one getting the Garmin groups connected whip Wai Kit enjoyed his daily Thai ice creams and Wai Meng just returned from his overseas trip.
"Man, I am not going to even have enough sleep," complained Wai Kit. Because his flight from Bangkok back to Singapore took off at 6:30pm Bangkok time and our taxi would come for him at 2:45am.
While Kong Wan and I still struggled with how to inform the rest when we went BO-Ing enroute, Jacalyn was busying herself acquiring bananas for the guys so that their digestive systems may be eased.
Quietly and stealthily watching from the side, Raymond prepared his Fly rear light for rear video taking, and Jeremy prepared his pump and extra tubes. It was resource delegation without words uttered.

Starting point at Marsiling
KC Tng's hard work - even illustrated the starting point on his pre-ride briefing.

"Rolling off at 4:45am is really early hor," I remarked.
"Yah, that's ok, cos it's good to start early.  But pickup at 2am from the East means I hardly slept," poor Andy the Ang Moh.  However, the truth was, not only didn't he have any sleep, Kong Wan, Mike, Wai Kit, myself and a few of the guys had very little of that much treasured entity called sleep on the night before the trip.
Mike, Wai Kit and Andy apparently wide awake at 3:45am when this shot was taken.
Mike was really resourceful in getting this Aloha Bicycle Pickup for those living in the East.  Despite the early pickup, it did save us quite some trouble.  $15 per person made it really really worth the early taxi ride carrying four of us Easterners with our bikes.  Some of the other boys are cycling from their homes to Marsiling, not for a want of transport early in the morning, but more for, I personally suspected, the sole purpose of adding more mileage to the planned 230km route.  Since we were already doing this epic ride, might as well make it as epic as possible.  And one by one the boys and girl arrived, some sweaty some in style.
Ann Kheen, Andy, Jeremy Quek (wow haven't seen Jeremy in ages) with Wai Kit still in half-dreamland on the left.
It was the first time I saw David all covered up like this (in ages). In fact he looked absolutely sexy, showing off his long slender legs, slender legs that belied the powerful mountain goat he was.
David all covered up and in sweat.
I saw Jacalyn arriving with sun-block all applied thickly on face and neck.
"Why need to slap on the sun-block so early meh?" I asked.
"Of course now lah," insisted the Queen. "If not when?"

So I guai guai applied.
Mike, Raymond, Jeremy and Vincent.
 KC Tng was a great platoon leader.  Everyone kept a close watch on his time and right on the dot at 4:45am, KC Tng fell everyone in.
"Ok, right on time. Let's go!"
Cheongster Wai Meng.
Until today I still didn't know how to navigate my way from this Block 20 Marsiling to the causeway.  It was pretty tricky, I must admit.  We had to make a few turns, and filter from the extreme left of one wide road to the right and as we turned right, we had to keep to the left and lift our bikes across the lane dividing blocks onto the motocycle lane.
"Be careful of the approaching motorbikes behind!" instructed KC Tng.   Indeed the motorbikes were coming fast and furious, having to share their dedicated lane with this bunch of crazy cyclists wasn't one of their favourite pastimes.
 "At the Malaysian customs, just before we reach the counter, there is a row of grills with wide spaces in between them.  Be careful.  Ride across at an angle so that your front tyre won't get caught in between," further illuminated the peloton leader.
Immediately right after the Singapore Customs, somewhere in the middle of the Causeway.
[Photo: Kong Wan]

It was really not too bad at 5am on a Saturday morning when we crossed the Singapore customs and then later at the Malaysia customs.  Not a long line of queue at the motorbike lane.  An uphill climb immediately after the Malaysian customs served as a reminder to cyclists 'come at thine own risk, for hills abound'

Regroup at JB Shell
[Photo: Kong Wan]

A short ride brought us to the JB Shell station on the left side.  This Shell station appeared remotely familiar.  I must have been here some years back when we last did our Kulai ride.
Illustration: Courtesy of KC Tng
Here we met our support 7-seater driver Kelvin and his white vehicle.   Pee breaks were taken with reminder to each other to help jaga our bikes, because we were now in Boleh land, where undulating roads abound, and where ruthless individuals might be so ever-constantly eyeing your Garmin Edge on the bike.
Yours truly. Mike, Andy, Jacalyn, Raymond, KC Tng, Kong Wan, Ann Kheen, Vincent, Wai Meng, Wai Kit, Mah Mun Kong, Darric, David, Guang Wei, Jeremy"
- all 16 of us, still fresh. [Photo: Kong Wan]
So off we went, again right on time at 5:30am from this JB Shell Station, and turned onto a road of gravels and rough cement patches.  The weather was nice and cool and the group was closely-pelotoned at this point in time.  KC Tng's 300 lumen front light was brightening the road in front for everyone.
"I remember the sticker you printed out showed that at 24.7km there is going to be a complicated flyover turn," I asked Mah Mun Kong.
"Yah, that one is a little complicated," Mah replied.
"The last time I think I missed that one and got lost," said KC Tng.
The beautiful and informative printed stick. [Photo: KC Tng]

So I'd better stick close.  These guys were experienced travellers here in Malaysia.  If I were to get lost, I believe despite the Garmin navigation map loaded onto my Edge, I would not be able to find my way even to the nearest toilet.
That complicated left turn onto the fly-over at 24.7km mark. [Photo: nicely captured by Kong Wan]

Fortunately for us, having to time and time again filter from a left-turning lane into a middle lane on ramps at this time of the day was made easier by the sparse traffic.  I would not enjoy having to do this on a road-ful of vehicles all coming at my jugular.

First checkpoint
Illustrations: KC Tng

I remembered the picture of that 7-Eleven very well.  It somehow got imprinted in my mind after running through KC Tng's briefing notes.  Another filter from the left most lane to the middle lane and right ahead at the 31km point immediately after a traffic light, was the Gelang Patah 7-Eleven.  Inside my heart I was secretly glad, for it meant that 31km was done, and 199km more to go only.  I hadn't lost much water, and I hadn't felt that hungry.  At 6:30am this lovely morning, every checkpoint deserved a pee.
Some good teammate pointed to a small alley beside the 7-Eleven building when I asked where the toilet was, and I ended up facing the side wall marking its paint with my fluid, together with a few other equally misled boys.

Serene monitoring my progess. 20 miles (31km) into the ride at Gelang Patah.

For the very first time I decided to make use of the Garmin's Live Tracking function on my 920XT to let Serene and the children at home monitor my progress, rather than using my GPS Tracker, mainly because I found that getting another SIM card for that GPS Tracker early in the wee hours of the morning over at Malaysia a little challenging.  It worked well.  And now I was very confident that the Garmin 920XT and the Garmin 800 both would last well into the 13 hours of journey even if they'd not been charged midway.

"Ok, who wants to go with the first train please follow closely behind Raymond," called out KC Tng as we set off from Gelang Patah 7-Eleven.  "Those who want to go easy, please follow the second train.  The sweeper will be Mike."
Just before setting off from the Gelang Patah 7-Eleven. [Photo: Kong Wan]

Well, looked like this was it.  I knew that this was merely the beginning and we had another 200km more to go.  The cyclist in me kept pushing me to go to the first train,  but the triathlete in me grabbed hold of my arms and pulled me back.  This was too early to cheong.  And I knew it in my heart.  So I stayed back.  As it turned out, I stayed back all the way for the whole ride.  Gladly.

Second checkpoint

The roads so far had a nice wide shoulder for us to cycle on.  And that made things safe.  The motorists on the roads were very tolerant of us cyclists.  KC Tng was telling us earlier on that there was one stretch where there were no shoulders and we had to hug the edge of the road closely.
We had left the undulating part on the first 40km of the ride and now we were on a roll - downhill all the way and relatively flattish until the 61km checkpoint.
The kampong road. [Photo: Kong Wan]
If anyone were to ask me at this point in time how the road conditions were, I'd have given a big thumbsup.  Nice smooth road surfaces, good road shoulders, relatively light traffic, fantastic street illumination - everything that was required of a good road ride.
KC Tng's illustration of the second checkpoint.
The road to the second checkpoint flew past just like that.  We were travelling at a good pace at 28-29km/hour.  It was a breeze.  And of course the breeze made if better.  The wind speed on this morning was about 3-5km/h, which was really nothing.  But some parts we did feel some slightly stronger wind.  The sleepy towns and villages were just starting to wake up and roosters crowed in the distance.  We were en route to the old coastal road.

Serene's tracking of my ride up to the 61km checkpoint (38 miles).
So, with flat road all laid out ahead of us, we simply just spinned effortlessly.  Really.  No joke.  I could imagine the Bullet train in front cheong-ing at top speed from the first to the second checkpoint.  Inside my heart I longed to see the old kampong roads of the coast, the road which I remembered travelling up to Malacca as a young child in my Father's Datsun 120Y, whole family in tow, enjoying the wind from the wound-down car windows and the makan at stops along the way.  I hadn't come up this road for decades.

"8:18am," announced KC Tng beamingly as we all got nicely watered-down. "We are right on time.  Two more minutes, 8:20am and we will set off from the second checkpoint." This KC Tng hor... he worked every step up to such detail precision, it was difficult not to be on time with him at the helm.
A jubilant Vincent [Photo: Vincent]

Checkpoint 3

100km.  We arrived zhun zhun at the Shell Station.  Somehow the Shell Station convenient stores had been making most of our monies.  KC Tng was not only a good peloton leader cum navigator, he was also a good finance manager.  His calculations of the cost was so precise that at every station, his ziploc bag of Malaysian ringgits and coins would miraculously come out and the 100 Pluses, mineral waters, Magnum ice creams and what-nots were procured at Ah Gong's expenses.
[Illustrations: KC Tng]

9:50am on my Garmin as I rolled into this station.  The first train boys were already sprawled on the ground relaxing and enjoying their rest, after being fully fuelled and rehydrated.  At every checkpoint, we rested about 20 minutes, sometimes more.  Well, yeah.. the purists would create an uproar on that.  But hey, this was a road trip, and what was important was to take it at a sustainable pace and made sure everyone was fulled and rested adequately at intervals.  And the checkpoints were very well planned out, with intervals of every 30km.  I couldn't ask for more.

At this point in time when I arrived at the 100km mark, Serene was busying herself
with patients in the clinic.

Alpen Muesli bars, Elo water and BCAA...

But truly at the 100km mark my legs WERE feeling a little bit of something, even if this little bit of something was a twinge of something in the remote abyss of my muscle neurons.  I had been really disciplined and focussed up to this stage, ensuring that I had at least two Alpen muesli bars delivering 260Cal of energy per hour and had 1.5 litres of fluid every 30km.  The wonderful thing about no longer being young was that I could make full use of whatever advantage anything orally could offer.  I had 4 litres of Elo water for this trip, and I would finish up 2 litres before lunch break at 136km, and I had 9 packets of 6grams of Branched-chain Amino Acids, in addition to those that were already inside my water bottles, mixed with my drinks.  BCAA was important for me, as it prevented muscles from breaking down and it helped in protein synthesis.  On top of that, the BCAA helped in steady gluconeogenesis (production of glucose) which was important in such an extended ride.
These guys were still smiling at 100km.  I couldn't believe it. I was feeling a little shagged already.

"Wah lau, you eat beh-hoon (white powder, aka heroin) ah!?!" laughed Ann Kheen when I pushed packets of BCAA into my mouth and watered it down.  And David, Jeremy all stared at the crazy sight astounded
I knew I must have been quite a sight with powder foaming around my lips.  But I couldn't care less.  What was important was, I didn't want my preciously built-up muscles to be wasted. Well, 100km already.  This strategy must have worked so far.
Before moving out from the 100km Checkpoint.
[Photo: Kong Wan]

And so we moved out.

Conserve, conserve and conserve... and the meaning of life.

So far, a 100km is like the usual Eastern loop.  Truth to be told, this was really no sweat for the boys and girl.  But to me, I sweat buckets and thus every drop should be taken into the equation.  I really hadn't been doing long distances on the roads for the longest period.  Thus I was really not conditioned for long rides like this.
A few days before the ride, Mike was asking everyone: "So it all depends on you objective.  What's your own objective for the ride?"
And I knew on this morning that I had to ride like an off-season, unconditioned triathlete - conserve conserve and conserve.  I would love to chase after the wind like those boys in front, but no that would have to come another day.  I'd rather live to fight another battle.  Today just wasn't the day.   So, a little after 10am on this Saturday morning, the second train was going at our own pace of 25-26km/h, taking turns to draft and rotating among ourselves.   Right in our midst was the Queen bee Jacalyn.  She was really a champ.  Deciding on at the very last minute to join the ride, she was doing it to challenge herself and to determine that she could easily complete at least 100km for her subsequent Taiwan ride.  So with a squashed banana soaking through her right rear pocket and showing all the dampness through a darkened moist patch on the back of her jersey, she kept pumping the pedal while we kept a look out for obstacles.

This Banana Queen really knew how to conserve.  And as I reflected over this ride, I begun to smile in appreciation how similar many things in life were.   It was all about completing the journey, like lifting up the banner at the end of an Ironman race, crossing the finishing line in a Marathon, or setting foot on Kala Patar at Everest Base Camp peering up at Everest's peak, happy in the thought that the journey was accomplished.

Everyone conserved in his own ways.  Pulling at a speed of 34-35km/h may mean a steady conservative pace for a strong rider like Jeremy, while for me anything more than 30km/h was unsustainable for more than 5km.
"I just want to do the whole race in a steady fashion," said Andy before the start of the ride. "The surges right at the beginning up till the first checkpoint was a little uncomfortable.  The peloton would open up and then close in again."  I knew what he meant. 
The philosophical Ang Moh, Andy.  [Photo: Raymond]

This Andy he really enjoyed riding.  Despite his ripe 'ol age of 61, he cycled like he was hardly a day older than 25.  He used to run hundreds of miles a week when he was doing Marathon during his younger days, but now riding was his thing.
"I told my wife, heck I was going to just come for this ride and clear my mind," mused this delightful Ang Moh, who spoke with such a strong midlands accent that I had to cock my ears many a times just to understand what he was talking about.   But what was clear to me was, nothing was going to beat this tough guy.  He would ride out any rough times like a real champion.

Of pleasant people and dead animals...

We were on single file most of the way, as the roads were single-laned.  The vehicles were gentle on us, giving us wide berth as the passed.  Many of the cars on the side lanes turning out would wait patiently for us to pass.  As we waved and smiled at them, the drivers invariably smiled back.
"You know something?" Kc Tng made a remark later. "Only the Malays smiled back at us when we waved and smile at them.  The local Chinese people don't."
"Yes, you are right!" I concurred with him as I personally made that same observation, wondering deep down inside why was there such a divergence in behaviour.
Raymond and Jeremy pulling at what must have been an obscene speed.  But apparently not obscene enough for Wai Meng.
[Photo: Raymond]
"Holes!" shouted Kong Wan in front, and woke me up from my reverie, and I echoed the warning to those behind. 
The roads had been a little bit more holey from the second checkpoint onward.   But still, it was nothing compared to that damned Road 95 through Desaru which was potholed like it was just bombed the night before.  What we found instead, was plenty of road kills.
"LIZARD!" shouted Kong Wan in front of me, as he swerved left.
"Lizard!" I echoed.  SHIT! By the time the last syllabus escaped my lips, my front wheel had already rolled over the bloated stomach of the roughly one metre long dead monitor lizard. "Aiyah! Hahahahaha!" I could not help but laughed my ass off, imagining how silly I must have been, calling out the obstacle but not being able to avoid it.
The guys were counting the number of road kills.  "There was two cats, a monkey, and a chicken somewhere on the other side of the road," said Mike.
"Yah, that poor kitten," reflected Wai Kit, probably mulling over how fragile life was. 
Well, if anyone were to mull over the impermanence of life, Wai Kit should.  In the short span of a few months, he had more than a couple of associates succumbed to heart attacks and he was losing more men in his company from heart conditions than from the economic downturn.  That was probably one of the many reasons why we all embarked on a journey of exercise.  I surely didn't know that my decision to hop onto a bike a few years ago would take me down this path, and to find myself spinning on the pedals on a hot day in September along the road to Malacca.

David, Kong Wan, Mah and I leapt-frogged each other to take the front and pull.  This was the only way we could hope to complete the ride.  The front train had totally disappeared out of sight. MAN, these boys were fast!  I didn't know where their energies came from.  We pulled a few km at a time.  I was glad I left my aero-bars on for they were really a great help under such straight flat road condition.  Whenever I got tired, I'd just rest my elbows on the bars and my speed instantly went up by at least 1-2km/h, even through some of the headwinds.
I was quietly pulling at one stretch at about 29-30km/h.  Mah was behind me. "Good good! Yes yes. Good! Ok. Good!" shouted Mah.  And I continued pushing at this speed, oblivious to Mike's constant horning in protest at the back.
Later when we stopped, Mike and Kong Wan kao-beh-ed. I was so tickled.  Because I really thought Mah was telling me good good to continue pulling at that speed.  That was unforgettable.  But it demonstrated the efficacy of the aerobars.  Really so.

Checkpoint 4 - Batu Pahat lunch point!

120km.  And the watched showed 11am.  Our plan was to arrive at Batu Pahat at 11:30am for a one hour lunch.  16km left.  But my, what a 16km it was.  The roads began to roll, and the gradients began to rise.
"Wah 6% leh!" called out David on one of the upslopes as we both slowed down to 11km/hr.  This David was so cute.  He was the unanimously acclaimed mountain goat in the team.  And he devoured mountains for supper.  On this day the monotony of the flat roads must have bored his thigh muscles to sleep. "Aiyah, last night I tried to sleep but I couldn't," so David was another one of the victims of sleepless night before the Malacca ride.  That probably explained why his legs were so sleepy on this day.
Kong Wan complained: "Wah lau, last night I hardly slept. I woke up at 12 midnight and couldn't sleep any more already."
Photo: Kong Wan

David, Kong Wan, Mah and I were making our ways up and down the rolling last 16km to lunch point.  Mah already pre-warned us that the part going into town would be rolling.  But Mah was no sloth when it came to the hills.  And he would mash hard up the slope each time he sees one, leaving us in his trail.
"Wah, Mah is so strong ah!" exclaimed David as he and I panted our ascent up one of the slopes.  I nodded my agreement. "Look at the way he goes.  He just goes like that one! Damn good lah, he!" said David.
I knew that Mah was good.  He had advanced by leaps and bounds ever since our early days cycling up Fraser's Hills.  Nowadays he can hold his horses against any cyclist and show them what a real 'Horse' can do.  Such was the prowess of Mr Mah.  He was no longer the 'Lost Horse', but a true blue mountain horse.

Renggit Coffee at Batu Pahat

The time was 11:37pm.  If I said I didn't suffer tremendously coming into Batu Pahat town, I would be telling a big lie.  Truth was, the scorching heat at this time of the late morning was taking a toll on me, and coupled to that the rolling terrain, I was really ready for a good cold drink and some nice food.  The rolling roads finally opened into scattered houses, and gradually the buildings became closer.  The traffic built up correspondingly as I entered town.  I passed by the park on the left, and I could find none of the boys even though my odometer said 133km.  A message and a reply from KC Tng and a tally with Google map directed David and I to the Renggit Coffee on the right side of the road about 200m down from where we stopped.

Recharging batteries and cramped muscles...

My 920XT had 52% of battery life left, despite being on Bluetooth all the while.  But my handphone had only 13% battery life left.  The cheapo $3 Valore charging cable was already failing me.  But what was threatening to fail me if I didn't take any corrective measure were my poor trembling thigh muscles.
"DAVID! Here here!" shouted Wai Meng from the Cafe, when I pointed out to him that David had gone too far ahead but I had no energy left to chase after him.  "Wah! My voice so loud one ah!" remarked Wai Meng, when about 200m down the road David turned his head and U-turned back.
KC Tng's instruction was to order whatever we wanted.  Ah Gong got money.  All I wanted was two coca cola, following after Mah seated on my left, who ordered his Coke.  The other boys and girl had their fun with the local fruit juices and whatever concoction.  But for me Coke would do just nice.  My packets of BCAA were already mixed well into my Coke before long, and I had my water bottles topped up with Elo water for the remaining 100km of the journey.  Our support driver Kelvin was really good with his car, as he followed us right to the spot and opened up the car in time for us to grab our stuff.

I had to pop an Arcoxia to help relieve mine own muscle cramps.  Some of the boys and girl follow suit, as a last resort to maximised their chances of completing the ride.  The air-conditioned restaurant was a nice respite from the heat outside.  As the guys charged up their muscles, everyone's handphone got a recharge from the many power banks each brought.
Lunch at The Renggit Cafe at Batu Pahat.
[Photo: Vincent]

"OK lah, I follow you.  Dory fish pasta!" said Mah, after I decided that this looked good.
"Can your Arcoxia help sore ka-chng?" asked Darric.  As I nodded an affirmative and passed him a pill, Ann Kheen shot a disapproving look at the giant.
"You shouldn't take the pills lah.  You should take this as a training.  FEEL the pain mah," said Ann Kheen.
Darric and I looked at each other and laughed.  "Wei cannot lah," I replied. "To you this is training leh, Ann Kheen.  But to us, we just needed to complete the ride."
However, in retrospect, what Ann Kheen said made perfect sense.  If I hadn't suffered as much, I would have skipped the pill and let my body learn to hold the pain and adapt my riding style to circumvent the discomfort.  But that, would have to come another day, another ride, when my body was more seasoned.  For now, this would have to do.
Jacalyn and Wai Kit DEAD sleepy. [Photo: Mike]
Wai Kit looked dead sleepy.
"I feel so sleepy.  So tired." said the man-who-hadn't-slept-for-days.  But miraculously, after Kong Wan passed him 3 salt stick tablets, his cramp went away very quickly.
This salt stick tablet Kong Wan had was really so good, I had to ask him for the salt capsule twice during the ride.  I was sure it saved me from worsening cramps of my hamstrings, as much as Kong Wan was certain the Arcoxia saved him from deteriorating spasms of his quadriceps.
Before moving out from lunch point.. topping up 100 Plus from 7-Eleven.
[Photo: Kong Wan]
OK, our timing was still quite good.  Not long after 12:30pm we set off from Batu Pahat, with crampy quadriceps and sleepy eyes.
I couldn't eat much for lunch, and I was eventually glad I didn't order too much.  So far up till lunch time, I had consumed 11 Alpen muesli bars, delivering a total of 1353Cal.  The lunch probably gave me another 500Cal of energy.  For the second leg of the remaining 100km I would eventually finish off another 10 muesli bars for another 1230 Cal.  The BCAA would have to suffice in doing their best in protecting my muscles.  Meanwhile, I left everything else in the good hands of Elo water.

The sun hung directly over us as we cycled off.  The terrain was no longer undulating, but was of a gentle but loooooooooong upslope, almost imperceptible but a definitely upslope.

See this elevation chart.  No bluff one.  A really gradual uphill from 133km onward.

The earlier parts right after lunch was suffering.
"The next 30km will be suffering one," Kong Wan was very sure during lunch.
"No, I think the last 60km then will be suffering," my personal opinion.
It turned out we were both correct.  The sun beat down unrelenting right after lunch and we all were starting to show signs of sun-itis.
The scorching midday sun right after lunch.
[Photo: Jacalyn]

Air-conditioned road

By a stroke of good luck, we suddenly coasted into an air-conditioned environment - the ample shades of the road side trees.  Truly, the shades that these provided was a welcome relief and the temporary shelter from the sun felt literally like we just walked into an air-con room.
"Air-con! Air-con ahead!" shouted Kong Wan as he led the rear peloton.  With each of his call, we picked ourselves up, ready to receive the air-coned coolness.
"The next stretch is going to be air-con like this for a long while," reassured Mah, who had prior experience on these roads.  Boy was I glad to hear those words.
The air-conditioned shades by the roadside trees right after lunch.
[Photo: Jacalyn]

"OK. I think from 133km to 185km is going to be a little too far, altogether 50km," announced KC Tng. "We will break it up into two parts.  At about 163km mark we will try to look for a petrol station to stop and take a rest." That was reassuring.
After that, the front peloton sped off, leaving us to circumnavigate potholes and dead animals.  The rest during lunch time was good.  It rejuvenated our legs a bit.  And the food and drinks really refreshed us.  Riding after lunch always saw a renewed energy.
Our ride took us through the small little villages and small little towns along the old road.  I hadn't come by this part for decades.  All the towns that I was seeing as I rode, now no longer looked familiar to me.  In the deep abyss of my memory laid images of the flavourful kampongs with small little rows of shops of food stalls, provision shops, motorbike workshops, hardware shops, all side by side each other.  Dirty walls and dirt roads, lined on the side by swaying coconut trees completed the painting.  Things had indeed changed. Newer double-storey shop buildings with swanky restaurants replaced the old marble-tabled kopi tiams.

Well, so much for reminiscence.

Checkpoint 4.5

Cycling in air-con...

The impromptu checkpoint 4.5, 30km from lunch point of 133km proved to be elusive.  Those of us in the rear group kept peering into our Garmin as 160km came.  One km by one km we drew nearer to 163km, but time and time again we were disappointed by road signs on the left that, upon riding closer, turned out not to be petrol stations.

"Jiaklat. Maybe we have to cycle all the way to 180km liao," said Kong Wan
"No lah.  Don't lah, don't lah.  Please let us have a rest lah," I replied, spinning furiously away.
Taking an aircon break. [Photo: Kong Wan]

True to his promise, KC Tng waved us down at 163km from a really nice Malay kopi stall  at the side.  Oh how I loved the roadside stall, especially a kampong style one like this, run by a very nice Malay lady, who acceded to our request for many glasses of ice cubes.  By this time the heat was a major issue.  I'd been rehydrating but I longed for the feeling of ice on skin.
"You can have my glass of cold water," offered Ann Kheen.  My tears flowed.  I must have looked damn shagged for him to offer his only glass of ice water.
 We only had a short moment of rest here.  The front train had been resting for too long already, and we needed to get a-moving.  Before we set off, I dumped half a glass of ice cube into my cycling cap, one glass of ice cubes into the front of my jersey and another glass of ice into the back of my jersey.  For a very brief moment, it created an intense sensation of pain, like ice-burning on the skin as the receptors struggled to come to grip with a sudden drastic change in temperature.  But once one started running or cycling, the ice offered a constant coolness, as though one was cycling in an air-conditioned room.
"Huh? Like that also can one meh?" David was flabergasted. 
"Hey, I want some ice too.  I going to ask for a glass," this Darric was in the know one. He was ready to load those ice into his scarf and have them around his neck.  Clever man.
"Wah lau.. the ice burnt my scalp," complained Ann Kheen.  It was later that KC Tng explained to him that the ice-on-head thing would definitely cause some pain, especially for those with a paucity of active hair follicles on the head.
And from thence onward, and for the next 10km, I was cycling in aircon.  Every drip of melting ice that dropped onto my face was cold, and my body was basked in the embrace of cold.  The feeling was heavenly.

Checkpoint 5

It was about 3:30pm.  We pulled into Muar, and smack right into the buzzling traffic of this town.  Cars were reversing from diagonal parking slots on the left, and some were double parked on the side, and on our right the vehicles streamed past.
"Where ah? Where is the checkpoint ah?" wondered Kong Wan.  We pulled to one side of the road.
"Wait, I check," said Mike."Ok it's right ahead.  Turn left at the roundabout."
"Correct, yes yes. I remember it is there," confirmed Mah.
185km. Ice, ice and more ice...

Thighs and hamstrings aching, muscles in spasm, I limped into the Shell petrol station.  Walking around in good spirit were those who suffered none of these.  Some of us were really plagued by the muscle cramp bug and had depressions appearing where thigh muscles used to exist.  And some lucky ones who had hitched a short ride in the support vehicle earlier, were now ready to hop on the bike for the last burst of fire.
"Mike says it's the last stretch.  So ok lah! I will give it my best shot and just cycle lah." declared Jacalyn.
Despite the heat and fatigue, we were all smiles at the Muar Shell station.  My helmet wasn't sitting properly because it was stuffed full of ice.
Photo: Kong Wan
At this distance, some of the boys could have just dumped their bikes and start a 42km run to complete a full ironman event.  That was the joke circulating around the petrol station at this point in time.  For me, the remaining 45km on bicycle to the end point would suffice.  But before I did that I needed something urgently - ice.
So I went into the convenient shop and looked for ayer batu, and promptly grabbed a pack.  Smashing it on the floor, the ice blocks shattered into tinier, manageable pieces.  I began to stuff them under my cycling cap, in front and behind my jersey, and down my groin.
The guys were even more dumbfounded by now.  And some even started doing that for themselves.
"SHIOK!" said Darric, as he inserted one huge piece next to his member.
"Wah, good ah! Good!" shouted David, as I helped him pour whatever remaining ice down his back.
David enjoying the new-found pleasures of ice. [Photo: Jacalyn]

Riding into the Sunset...

All iced up, and watered down.  We were ready for the last 45km.
This last 45km turned out to be one heck of a beautiful ride.  It was just after mid afternoon,  The sun was lower in the sky, and the road opened up into a 'pseudo' highway that ran straight into the city of Malacca, far far away.  The gradient was still a gentle uphill, averaging about 1.5%.  But it was comfortable.  The cheongster peloton had spun off and Wai Kit and Darric couldn't set off in time to catch that train.  So these two speedsters stayed back to pull the slower train.  David was so revitalised by the ice that he started pulling the whole train at more than 29km/h for a significant distance.  Marvellous was the effect of having one's inguinal region refrigerated.
Wai Kit was just as amazing.  Totally deprived of sleep, he was pulling at great speed for a great distance, followed by Darric, and then David.  I just stayed behind and sucked their aircon.

A stretch like this was totally deserving of the aerobars, and I enjoyed it so much resting on the bars and letting just my legs do the job.  Granted I would never be as fast as though front peloton.  But for me this was sufficient.  On my left milestone after milestone marked the countdown to Malacca - 17km, 16km, 15km....

The highway was beautiful.  In all honesty, I personally felt that this stretch was the most enjoyable part of the whole ride.  Possibly because of the ice, partly because the road was wide and long, with good road shoulder, and also because the sun was hung low in the sky right in front of us as we cycled towards it. Everything was basked in golden light, and the cars and trees became silhouette.  Romantic was the only way I could describe this, a romantic scene that coloured the riders and our bikes a hue of deep orange as we started to pick up speed slightly with 10km to go.
Raymond pulling the bullet train right in front. [Photo: Raymond]

Checkpoint 6

Thighs numbed by this time, and legs just pedalling, in auto-pilot mode, I just shut off my mind and enjoyed being totally immersed in the ride, breathing in the same air as my buddies around me.  This was bonding at its best.
As always, Darric would come to my rescue.  And like Barelang, he pulled me all the way to the 224km Shell station.  After all the excitement, arriving at the Shell station was kind of an anti-climax to me.  I was half expecting ourselves to arrive triumphantly in town.  But we merely landed on the outskirt.
At Checkpoint 6.  Photo: Darric
Jacalyn, Mike, Kong Wan, Mah all zoomed in closely behind us, as the whole group reorganised for the last part - the leisure ride to the Red House.
Almost there. [Photo: Kong Wan]
"Another 5km more to the Red House, that famous landmark for our official group photo," Kc Tng said
好咯... what to do?  I already sianz one half thinking about the next 5km.  I didn't know why but that last 5km was rather demoralising to me.  I just wanted to get off my bike and go take a nice shower and change up.  Everyone was in jubilant mood, knowing the end was near.
At Petron petrol station. Home run liao. All so happy. [Photo: Kong Wan]

The Red House in Malacca!

It was almost 5:30pm.  Kc Tng was truly a Malaysia expert, weaving through the heavy traffic of the streets of Malacca with the rest of us following closely behind.
Illustration: KC Tng
The Red House was full of tourists, many of them our friendly neighbour from far far up north.  A very nice lady from that far far up north neighbour helped us take a shot.  Nice shot, I must say.  She captured the tiredness in all of us.
The RED House! [Photo: Kong Wan]

"Birthday boy! Carry up your bike!" someone called out.  And Mike guai guai obliged.  Though his birthday was not until next weekend.  This Mike was another champion.  For fear of having wet squishy socks inside his cycling shoes in case it rained, he opted to cycle with sandals.  Sandals with green socks.  And that did the job just as well.
[Photo: Kong Wan]

Hotel Equatorial Melaka

6:30pm.  We finally arrived at Hotel Equatorial, and we could press 'STOP' on our Garmins. The service staffs were very efficient, clearing us and checking us in very quickly, and ushered us up in the cargo lift to our rooms in the 11th and 12th floors.
Photo: Kong Wan
The rooms were spacious and nice.   The last time I was here was about 12-13 years ago, and Hotel Equatorial was still as good.
Nice spacious room with a nice view.  Hmmm... I love it!

Night out in Malacca

"7:30pm meet at lobby for Malacca Nonya dinner!" again KC Tng's job was never done until everyone reached home.  Even at this point, he needed to make sure everyone was fed.  And fed well.
Meeting at the lobby for dinner. [Photo: Kong Wan]
"Wah I am damn hungry man," said Darric.  A sentiment that I shared.
"We need a beer, man!  Someone order a couple of beers please!" both Andy and David were severely deprived of their daily beverage, and were eagerly looking forward to the golden brew.  But the halal Nonya joint prolonged their deprivation.
Ready to party, was this Jacalyn. [Photo: Kong Wan]
The Nonya restaurant was recommended by Vincent.  He had plenty of relatives in Malacca and he knew many kang-tao in Malacca, including the Nonya bakzhang we pre-ordered for take home the next day.
"Wah I love the chilli, man!" exclaimed Wai Meng. "And I love the sambal kang kong!" said the super healthy eater.
These two big boys missing their own bears at home. [Photo: Kong Wan]
Shagged lah, this Guang Wei. [Photo: Kong Wan]
For me, I was partial to the chendol, spelled cendol in Bahasa Malay.

Photo: Jacalyn.
Post dinner, it was probably slightly over half past eight.  Some of the boys wanted to go for a beer.  Some of the boys and girl wanted to go for massage.  Me? My eyes couldn't keep opened.  I needed desperately to sleep.  I stumbled into my room and laid down for a moment. 

The next thing I knew it was 3am and the lights were all still on, and I hadn't brushed my teeth.  I couldn't bring myself to get up to turn off the lights, not to mention brush my teeth.  And so I just continued to sleep until 8:30am the next morning.
These two good men left standing at the end of the night, singing along with the band. [Photo: Andy]
Band? What band? Oh.. the one behind this image lah!

Going Home!
Sunday, 25th September 2016

Bikes all loaded up. [Photo: Darric]

11:15am.  We checked out, loaded out bikes on the coach by our regular bus driver Ah Soon.  And soon were on our way to Yong Peng, and then to the second link.

Me, my bike, and all my Bakzhang. [Photo: Darric]
4pm.  We arrived at West Coast Highway McDonald's.   How smooth could things be?  Apart from a little bit of wait for our coach at the Singapore's customs, we literally breezed through the journey home.  I didn't even have time to catch a wink.
West Coast Highway McDonald's. [Photo: Kong Wan]


There was nothing else that needed to be said.  This ride was one of the best rides ever, for me.  The company was great.  The roads and the ride was lovely.  The accommodation was tip top.  The Nonya bakzhang was loved by the whole family.

As I already mentioned.  At the end of the day,  I realised I would forever remember this ride for the companionship and the bonding I had with all my good friends.  As I always maintained, we lived on borrowed time.  The time was not ours, but the deeds were.  So what we did, and how we did it, with whom we did it, would determine the final outcome.

Till the next ride!