Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Our death march towards Ranau

I did not sleep well. The thought of today's ride got me worried as we were not sure of the actual distance from Tembunan to Ranau. Information on the net for this route was scarce and by our estimation using google maps, it came up to about 100km alongside, sometimes through the undulating Crocker Mountain Range. Throw in bad roads, with warnings of very little shops along the way meant possible dehydration. This was a bad dream waiting to pounce on us.

A forummer wrote these words of assurance... "Personally, this road is not that dangerous except for the occasional landslide and road collapse during rainy season." Problem was we came in the rainy season!

We started off at first light after a simple breakfast of instant noodles and eggs.

The morning rain only served to dampened my spirits but I put on a brave and chirpy front for the sake of my ride buddies. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss and I wanted as much bliss as possible before the onslaught began. It started as a tranquil ride, passing through lush green rice fields and quiet streams. We were tempted to stop at the Mat Salleh monument but time was precious and it as not until 9km into the ride that the first hills began.

It started quite gradually but it was like a slow and long torture. One by one the gang started to get off the foldies and began the "march". The reward after all the hard work was speedy descents and this was very much the order of the day. Cycle up until your legs gave up, get off to push uphill sometimes for kms on end, then fly down.

It was worrying that our average speed was a mere 10km/h! Not having a Granny Gear on our foldies is certainly a BIG disadvantage but even Kevin's Dahon Speed TR with a 19" climbing gearing could not save him from getting off the saddle.

My tikit with a specially designed 44t chain ring could spin up most hills but was found wanting past 30km/h sadly. Much as our pride can muster, I concede that there are some hills that demand our absolute surrender.

The saving grace was that the useful road markers indicated that our ride distance was a mere 63km and not 100km as we originally planned. That really lifted our morale and our spirit. It was also good to know that there were at least 3 Kedais (shops) and the first one after about 15km brought us much relieved as we watered ourselves with 100+ Isotonic drinks. Mike single-handedly nearly finished a 1.5litre bottle all by himself after tackling those hills.

Refreshed, we continued on for more saddle torture on the climbing routine - as high as 1500m and descending to 700m at times. At about noon, barely surviving and on the verge of hallucinating, the nicely paved road gave way to broken rubble. "How long is this bad road going on for?", I wondered. We did not know. It was quite impossible to ride as even pushing the loaded bikes uphill was tough.

Slipping and sliding, we pushed on as far as we could and then collapsed in sheer exhaustion and misery by the gravel road side, with dust floating everywhere. We needed energy replenishment and we devoured our bread and tinned chicken curry hungrily. Yet, it is through times like these that forge us together.

Pressing on another 5km, we came across another Kedai where we received much kindness from a Dusun matriach. Her delicious fried noodles and ice cold drinks brought much gladness to our overheated bodies. When we lay down on the wooden planks, she brought up some pillows for us. Her generousity overwhelmed us to the point that we joked with her, that both Mike and Kevin made really good son-in-laws for her young daughters.

It seemed that the last 20km proved easiest. Perhaps we were all so numbed that pain didn't matter much anymore. This was also where the downhills were breathtaking, with one particular one panning the side of the fame Mount Kinabalu.

But with all downhills, the punishing uphills came again too soon and it was rather opportune that we passed by the Ranau War Memorial. Here is the site where all the emanciated POWs from Britain and Australia are remembered. Out of 2000 soldiers forced marched out of Sandakan by the Japanese Army, only 6 survived and this was the worse single attrocity that Australia ever suffered. We felt a sense of solemness and humility as we rode past such a tragic chapter of human history.

We made it finally into Ranau about 330pm but there was still this last steep hill we needed to conquer before we could reach the town centre. Pushing slowly totally exhausted, we felt a great sense of achievement. We had lived to tell the tale of this most difficult "death" march/ride... and I slept too well that night.

CGOAB has an account of this "toughest ride" backwards and its comforting to know we are not the only ones to find it extremely gruelling...

Tembunan to Ranau - 63km (tough ride with 3-4km of broken roads at time of writing).

1 comment:

Michael Khor said...

Al, you guys were very lucky...I don't think we saw more than a couple of warongs when we did it.

BTW, in spite of your misgivings, you seemed to be enjoying it all the same haha ...