Thursday, July 25, 2013

A pastoral visit to Uncle Ken in Mandurah, by bicycle of course!

In the olden days, the French Catholic priests used to visit their parish on their bicycles and they often ride handlebars that are arc shape. Priest handlebars are much much ergonomic then straight ones like MTB and one reason I have kept my 20 year old Bridgestone XO5 is because its one of the few bicycles in the world that comes standard with such a handlebar. For that, we have to give credit to Grant Peterson, the eccentric marketing guru of Bridgestone bicycles in the 1990s.

When I heard that Uncle Ken recently had a cataract operation, I proposed a pastoral visit to encourage him. The fact that he lived all the way down south in Mandurah made it even more appealing to go see good old Ken, on my trusty bicycle. Patrick who is always game for 100km rides tagged along and so did Philip, who joins us every now and then. Both of them rode racers with ultra skinny high pressure tires, while Rod the evergreen and I rode our cushy tyred hybrids. We felt like Lancaster bombers flying alongside with 2 Spitfires.

The ride down to Mandurah was helped by a nice light tailwind. It sprinkled the night before and that left the paths slightly wet but there was a sense of freshness in the air. We set off Bull Creek Station at 830am where we met Patrick who cycled down from Hammersley - 27km north. As expected, the 2 Spitfires took off from the word go.

Philip's Pinarello all painted with sexy red bits flew into the horizon with Pat's vintage Shogun racer nipping on its tail. Our bombers were just happy to cruise along merrily and I did enjoy a lovely chat with Rod until I sense something was amiss. I had forgotten my padded shorts and did not have my faithful Brooks B17 for this long ride!

The Spitfires were nice enough to wait for us and it was encouraging to know they did not have to wait too long. This stretch is about 60km and we stopped every 20km for a drink and some snacks which my Ortelib carried dutifully. It was nice to see people using this beautiful bike path that is so well made. We noticed one young Dad with a child trailer passed by with a flat tire. Pat, kind as always, jumped to the rescue with a pump but to no avail - the tube was busted and we could not offer one, at least in that size.

That marked the start of more tire problems for both the Spitfires. Pat had a leaking front wheel and so did Philip. It wasn't so bad as we had only a quarter of the trip left. We arrived at Mandurah Train station at 1145am, just a tad over 3 hours, rest stops included and rolled into Ken's front gate just after twelve.

Ken and his wife Barbara were very pleased to see us and made us a lovely chicken soup with plenty of rolls and butter. Famished, we polished the meal with much gusto and appreciation. It was good to see Uncle Ken making a good recovery and he was so excited to be able to see a whole new world, one of detail, colors and clarity and we rejoice with him. God's mercies are amazing.

Though my bottom was rather sore, the priest handlebars were supremely comfortable and I had no aches on my wrists, arms, shoulders or neck. We rode the hi speed train back home, feeling very glad that we could bring some cheer to dear old Ken and with 70km under my saddle. All in a day's work, I reckon.

Matthew 20:32-34 Jesus stopped and called them. 'What do you want Me to do for you?' He asked. 'Lord,' they answered, 'we want our sight.' Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed Him.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Tern-ing a miracle for Pete

Pete and his lovely wife Jann

I always love cycling with good ole Pete but this morning was extra special. 4 weeks ago, Pete underwent a very serious quadruple bypass open heart surgery and it was supposed to take at least 3 months before he could get on a bike. But here he was, fit as a fiddle on his Tern P24! I couldn't believe my eyes.

Pete began cycling seriously about a year ago when we met and joined us for our regular Wed rides. He was sufficiently poisoned then to buy his own foldie and wisely chose a Tern P24 as he wanted to tour with us. And he did in Jan this year for our Cambodia to Vietnam Adventure. Needless to say, Pete had a royal time there and enjoyed himself immensely.

Owning 2 Tern P24s entitles one to become the Sultan of Tern, at least for a day. Chau Doc, Vietnam.

Then, he didn't know his heart was 50% blocked but all the cycling through the months kept him ticking and he was really fit. In fact, he rode a total of 1700km in preparation for our 430km trip. Looking back, Pete did complain that he had suffered slight chest pains especially in the mornings but that went away and it was no worries.

However, these pains started to get worse in the first half of the year and a check up revealed the serious problem Pete had. Looking back, if his heart had acted up in Cambodia, he would have been done for in light of the limited medical facilities there. Indeed, Pete acknowledged that "someone up there is watching over him!" and I can't argue with that.

The lure of yet another trip next Jan to IndoChina motivated Pete to get the surgery done quickly. What amazed was that he went for the 5 hr surgery on Friday, stayed in ICU for just 3 days, transferred to a normal ward for a few more days and was back home. This remarkable recovery can largely be attributed to Pete's fitness and motivation to do more tours and I have only the highest respect for this dear friend.

In moments like this, we are reminded how short and fragile our lives are. Each day given to us by our Creator is a gift for us to open and enjoy. And because as Pete rightly experienced, that someone up there truly loves us and cares for us, we can face the days ahead with confidence and peace if we put our faith in Him.

Our ride this morning was a congregation of 4 Terns except for me on my faithful Bridgestone XO5. It was great to see Carolen on her brand new Tern C7 joining us, and Jann, Pete's wife and Yvonne all excited and happy to be riding on this cold but glorious winter's day.

We looped Kent St Weir and ended up having coffee and cake at the Canning River Cafe. I enjoyed my morning tea but somehow, the highlight for me was riding beside Pete, with big smiles and the fresh wind on our face. This evoked a sense of gratitude in my heart to Him who turned a miracle for Pete and gives us all good things to enjoy. Here's wishing a full and complete recovery to my mate, Pete!

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Psalm 34:8

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Discovering Singkep with the Fellas - Day 3

Pic Mike Khor

Pic KC

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After such a hard day of riding yesterday, we all deserved a later wake up. Our only appointment for the day was to visit Hardiono's bike shop at 10am so it was an easy morning. Unlike Lingga, Singkep is a bit more relax in Ramadan observations and we could find breakfast without much difficulty. Our favorite coffeeshop was thankfully opened but with half its doors shut for good gesture. Also, the noodle stall outside was not operating but most of the food and drink sold inside remained the same.

We ordered soft boil eggs (which seem to be how the locals like their eggs), Nasi Lemak packed in quaint banana leaf and had lovely local coconut jam on toast. Washed down with local coffee/tea and all at an unbelievable price of US$2 each. It was really special to observe that this was obviously more than just a coffeeshop, and was a regular meeting point for the local older men, many who came by vintage bicycles.

Our ride to Hardiono's was a short and pleasant one - 2km or so north of town. We rode leisurely soaking in the sights, riding pass Masjid Alzzufa and numerous old Dutch houses, standing proudly as reminders of its colonial past. Over 100 years of mining has left Singkep with very good infrastructure in the form of an airport, hospital, ports, good road etc.

One pleasant surprise was to see a Cuci Moto shop. This was where the local cowboys go to have their motorbikes washed and it is done with a high pressure jet spray, plenty of soap and then towel dry. They even had wax and tire shine included. As our bicycles were rather muddy from yesterday, I enquired if they would do bicycles and the answer was yes, at 5000 rp or 50 US cents. We were elated that our precious steeds were going for a much needed spa treatment and we enjoyed seeing the local lads pamper our steel sons. Mike on the other hand, preferred to do it himself and remarked, "Im paying him so that I can wash my bike!"

With our bicycles all sparkling and new, we rode to Hardiono to get them oiled. Once again, we were greeted warmly by the boss and his lovely fiancé Devi. I was looking at getting a front suspension fork but they only had a basic one. Very rarely do I leave bike shops empty handed, and today was no exception. Managed to get a puncture kit made by Rodalink for 40000rp and Finish Line Chain Dry Lube for 80000rp. Prices here are definitely cheaper than in Singapore. I was grateful to Hardi for fixing my bike computer too where the sensor got loose. They kindly made arrangements to take us our for dinner at a newly opened joint in town at 7pm.

Hardi recommended us to visit the Air Panas or Hot Springs and since we did the waterfall the last time, it sounded like a good idea. 10 km only - how bad can that be? As we rode round Singkep Island 6 months ago, we encountered very good roads. The infrastructure here is good because of the mining boom that Singkep experienced. Little did we know that we were in for another rough and muddy ride. At least part of this was because of the construction of new roads to the Hot Springs. So here we are again, shaking our way slowly. Negotiating our way through mud pools, the fear is always to loose your balance and fall into the brown waters. Fortunately, as in all things, it gets better with practice and we got lots.

Do note how the camera changes hands on the move... Impressive don't you think?

At exactly 10.3km, the Hot Springs appeared but it felt like 30km as we had to ride gingerly. Being Ramandan, there was not a soul in sight and only a black dog sleeping in a hut was there to greet us. We wasted no time to have a rinse and then soak ourselves in the hot mineral waters.

Pic KC

It was not easy to get used to it and Mike just pretended it was a Japanese Onsen. It was fun hearing his stories of Onsen etiquette but here, it was free for all! This experience did Ravi wonders especially for his sore bottom as later, he was cycling like a TDF champion.

We just rested and enjoyed the tranquility of the place in our little hut, munching on buns, fish crackers and rice cakes until it started to rain. This was the usual afternoon downpour and we didn't mind it at all as we had no agenda for the day but to relax. It was special just sharing stories and experiences with each other, and getting to know new friends better.

When the rains cleared, we made our way back to Dabo town but this time, the trail was even more soggy and muddier. That meant our recently washed bikes all got another mud spa again and this was a real bummer. Nevertheless, the ride was rather cool thanks to many shady trees and cloudy skies and that made for an enjoyable ride until I foolishly rode on the side of the road and got bogged. That made me lose my balance and thank God I came out with only a sore shin.

Pic KC
All this while, only the 3 of us were riding together and Ravi was way ahead on my Bridgestone MB3. The soaking in hot mineral natural water did wonders for his soreness and he was like a brand new man. When we finally popped out into decent roads once again, our bikes looked like it went for a cross country mud race. It was good to see Ravi waiting for us, with big grins.

So it was back again to Cuci Moto shop and we wondered if we could tell the cleaners that they had to do it again for they missed a spot, or ten. The cleaning guys must wonder what crazy chaps we are to wash our bikes, then messed it up and return in 3 hours for another wash. But at 50c, we didn't mind at all and enjoyed playing with the water spray gun.

We went looking for lunch and it was already a late 3pm as we entered Dabo. It wasn't too difficult to find a Nasi Padang eatery surprisingly, and we settled for that. This is a famous Indonesian meal where they bring lots of dishes to your table and you are charged for what you eat. Hungry us enjoyed the lovely curries and spicy fish. To make the meal taste even better, we all ate native - and used our hands just like the locals do.

It was then coffee and local cakes at our usual coffeeshop before we spent the rest of afternoon in our hotel. Ravi and KC got some sleep but Mike and I were so excited sharing adventure stories and touring tips. One thing I've learned from him is to roll up your clothes - as it makes for easy and more compact packing.

Just before Hardi came to get us at 7pm, I went to settle the hotel bill.  I was shocked to learn that the hotel wanted another 100,000k for some sort of passport fee for the Police. I have been to Indonesia frequently and was disappointed as they tried that with me the last time too. This is simply a way of corrupted people trying to use the Police name to scare people for more cash. I gave the recep a piece of my mind and told them to go fly a kite. So please note that if you ever go to Armanda Hotel in Dabo, make sure its crystal clear to the recep that you won't stand for this nonsense! It was also very unfortunate that Mike lost his faithful GPS in this hotel, and that was another disappointment.

It was good to see Hardi coming so punctually and we went to The Best Food Court which had its opening ceremony that very evening. Mike, Hardi and I had cold beer finally and were happy as we ordered everything that could be ordered. One exotic dish that came was Terrapin Herbal Soup and I gave that a miss. We learned that Hardi and Devi were also going to Batam the next day, so Mike had the privilege of their company once again.

Pic KC

After dinner, Hardi brought us for an excursion in his SUV and it was indeed very privilege to enjoy the warm hospitality of our new friends. With a car, Dabo was even smaller than we imagine! One place he brought us that impressed was a nice beach resort just 2km out of town. They only had 3 villas but one that really stood out was perched literally right in the sea. At only US$20 per night, it is a steal. The owner told us how popular it is with Westerners and I can see why.

As we had to get up at 430am to catch our 7am morning ferry, we retired early for our last night of our adventure. It was hard to say goodbye to Hardi and Devi, and thanks to Facebook, we are connected and able to stay in touch. I learned that they are going to get married in September this year, and feel very happy for them indeed.

All good things must come to an end and our little excursion down at the equator was fun filled as expected. I felt so grateful to God for giving me such wonderful friends to enjoy our passion together, especially in exploring new exotic places. And of course, for His protection and divine provision as always.

Till our next trip, its adios for now from the jolly good fellas - KC, Mike, Ravi and Al! May the good Lord guide you in your own travels and adventures.

The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.
    I will advise you and watch over you.  Psalm 32:8

Monday, July 15, 2013

Discovering Lingga with the Fellas - Day 2

Cheeky Sol with a traditional mouse trap...

Pic KC

We slept well! Although it was a very basic aircon room with an ensuite (no wash basin though), we all had a good rest and woke up early. This was despite falling asleep a little later the night before. It was great getting to know my room mate Ravi better and how he found God after his near death motorcycle accident where he made a miraculous recovery. Uncle KC wrote this on his Facebook, "it's so great to witness the rebirth & be in the company of a young man having recovered from the brink of some dark place"...

Being Ramandan, the season of fasting for the Muslims, it was a challenge to find breakfast in small town Daik. It is mandatory for all food establishments to remain close. Some more enterprising ones remain open discretely. We were advised to knock on a particular shop just a few doors away, but to no avail. We asked some shopkeepers for help and one kind lady made a call and spoke in Teochew, a Chinese dialect. Lo and behold, the unlock doors opened and we were welcomed inside. I felt like we were doing some drug deal and what an exciting start to a brand new day.

This eatery is hidden behind a shop selling furniture and knick knacks in the front part. In this "den", there were 4 tables inside the kitchen and we enjoyed a simple breakfast of fried noodles, soft boiled eggs and coffee. We were joined a little later by other "illegal" customers, and that added only to the thrill of eating like this.

I was struck by the friendliness of the shopkeepers and took the opportunity to get to know 2 elderly Chinese ladies. Mdm Chng Neng Eng is very spritely at 83 and Mdm Quek Swee Tiang, much younger at 70. Neng Eng proudly told me that she has 4 children and all moved to Singapore but since she was born in Daik, she preferred staying in this friendly "kampong".  Swee Tiang has 7 children!

It was fascinating to learn that the Japanese Army occupied Lingga/Singkep during WW2. In July 1944, the Japanese Navy led by the battleship Musashi (one of the largest then together with Yamato) with over 3000 soldiers landed in Lingga, before fighting the Americans in the Philippines.

Our plans for today were ambitious - to explore the east of Lingga in the morning and the western part after lunch. The sealed roads on flat grounds were relatively good for 10km , passing by tranquil villages along rivers.

Pic MKhor

The 4 of us headed east until a T-junction appeared and then, it was a tough slog through dirt trails and many steep hills towards Centeng.

I was glad my Bridgestone MB3 handled these rough terrain with aplomb but the 2 foldies, the Tern P24 as well as the Speed Pro with skinny 1.1 Durano tires struggled. I felt very sorry for Ravi as I had promised him an easy ride but this was torture, especially for a newbie cyclist. It was no shame to push our bikes up and even the legends KC and Mike found the going a bit of a challenge.

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I was surprised when one of the legends proposed turning back but I said, lets at least go on till we hit a village. At 18km, we managed to hit one at Bukit Langkap, the turn off to Kerandin and collapsed at a coffee shop hoping for cold drinks. There were drinks but none cold as there was no refrigerator, much to our disappointment.

After a bit of a rest and some munchies, we were ready to turn back. We had to as dark clouds were looming behind. It seemed much easier making our way back but what was dicey was coming down those steep slopes with loose gravel. One slip of the front wheel and its game over. Doing so on skinny 20" proved even more hair raising.

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We were so glad when we finally reached sealed roads and we arrived Daik at noon. First order of business was lunch and once again, we had to find those illegal eateries. We struck gold at one Chinese seafood place in an inconspicuous wooden hut. Ravenous from the hard ride, we ordered 5 dishes of fish and vegetables with hot rice eaten in a large room with curtains drawn.

While waiting for our food, an Indonesia guy leading a work crew installing TV cables came to our table to chat with us. Herbert, like 99% of Indonesian men, smoked non stop much to our annoyance. But he was a very nice and friendly guy and a Catholic lay leader who does pastoral visitation during his spare time. Smoking, which is frown upon where we come from, seems ok even for church leaders.

We went back to Hotel Persona for a quick shower, packed our stuff and headed for Pt 2 of our adventure, westwards towards the Resun Waterfall - 13km away. Once again, the road there was good until the 3km mark where road works were underway and big trucks were plying up and down doing road works. Bad roads seem to be the order of the day here at Lingga, but there is some progress. We had to pass through 2 villages before we arrived at the turn off to Resun Waterfall, and there, it was another 1.5km straight up on surprisingly great roads.  The last hill was so steep that even Uncle KC on his low geared titanium MTB, pushed and that was the first time I saw this Legend pushed a bike!

Pic KC

Our hard work was worth it as the waterfall was absolutely delightful. An Indonesian family holidaying there was intrigued with us crazy guys on our bikes and asked us to pose with them for photos. It was really fun to soak our tired feet in cold, fresh mountain water and enjoying the greeneries surrounding us. We took lots of photos and even Sol Sol and Ollie, our lego companions were in the picture.

Unfortunately, we overstayed and could not make the 4pm boat pickup as it was already 330pm. It was a good thing that Mike had bought an Indo mobile package and could text the boat man that we were going to be a bit late. It was a good 18km to the ferry terminal and we had to hurry scurry. To add to the adventure, the dark skies burst and we bore the full brunt of a tropical monsoon shower.

It did not help that I forgot to fit the mudguards on my MTB and as a result, had a complimentary mud bath especially on my back. Our panniers also started to turn brown and it was really an experience like never before - riding through muddy roads, shivering from the cold and we can hardly see despite our Da Brim hats on.

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We had to re-grouped often and finally decided to wait out at a shelter as we were totally and completely drenched. It was already 5pm when we had had to press on, hoping our chartered speed boat was still waiting. While riding, a motorcycle stopped us to enquire if we were going to Singkep. He was sent by the boatman to find out what happened to us. That was much appreciated and we doubled up and zoomed to the ferry terminal, aided by easing showers. We arrived at the coast to clear skies and a beautiful setting sun. That really lifted our spirits.

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The boatman was very patient with us and wasted no time to load our dirty bikes into his boat. We felt bad entering his clean boat all wet and muddy, and felt really bad we were 1hr 20 mins late. I supposed he wanted to land in Singkep before sunset and we did at 550pm.

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At the long and familiar jetty, we were greeted with evening prayers coming from the nearby mosque and this one really busted our ears. It is really inspiring to see their devotion to their God but we had to saddle up quickly as it was still a 20km ride in the dark to the capital town of Dabo. Though we were all pretty worn down by now, Uncle KC still had enough energy to clown around especially when we passed by this sign "Jual Semen", which translated means Cement for Sale. 

Pic KC

It was tough riding in pitch darkness towards Dabo and poor Ravi by now was on his last legs. 90km over tough hills and bad roads is not exactly a good introduction for a newbie but Ravi soldiered on bravely with pain written all over his face, and even more pain on his bottom. We made many stops and took our time to make sure he didn't collapsed and stopped by to say hello to our old friend, Harry who ran a grocery shop with wife and his 2 young boys. Even though there were no cold drinks, his sugared drinks refreshed us!

Pic KC

We arrived at Dabo town about 8pm and checked into the brand new Armanda Hotel, which is like an oasis in the desert of old wooden buildings. For just US16 per night, their rooms even had a bidet and were spotlessly clean. Flat screen TV included too. It helped that they were bike friendly too. We showered, cleaned up all the mud and gung off our clothes and panniers before proceeding for dinner.

While exploring what to eat on foot, we stumbled upon a restaurant selling delicious grilled fish. But what was more surprising was meeting Hardiono and Devi, a lovely couple we got to know on our last trip. They run the local bicycle shop as well as the Honda dealership. We made plans to have dinner the next day and he told us about a brand new food court that was having their opening ceremony then! 

After our most enjoyable spicy grill fish dinner, round 2 was Char Kway Teow or fried noodles. Just looking at how it was prepared with a flaming wok and the rhythmic clanging of the Chef's hand  got us succumbing to its call.

Ravi was the most hungry and he ate like there was no tomorrow - fully understandable considering the energy he expanded today.  Dessert was Magnum ice creams and that was the perfect finish to a long and hard day.

It didn't take much for us to disappear into dream-land in our comfortable rooms, having burnt at least 4000 calories today. I think we are going to take it easy tomorrow.