Thursday, November 6, 2014

Folding to Mersing Part 1 - 180km

Pic KC

Pic KC

Pic Heng

Pic KC

Pic KC

I had the privilege to have Heng stay with me in Perth in early Oct. He comes every 4 years for a specific purpose - the 1200km Audax Perth-Albany-Perth race. This is a gruelling race done in 90 hrs patterned after the acclaimed Paris-Brest-Paris.

Pic Heng

We met when we first bought Dahon Speed Pros way back in 2006 and started our passion for small wheel cycling together albeit in different directions.

Pic Heng

When I returned to Singapore 3 weeks back, Heng asked if we could do a "short" ride from Singapore to Mersing via Sedili, up the East Coast of Malaysia. Roped in with us was Uncle KC, whose muscular twin piston legs alone send shivers down the spine of many newbie cyclists, and us oldies too. He can literally fly!

Pic Eugene Wee

Since we were all returning from Mersing by bus, it was to be a foldie ride. It's always a challenge to decide which bike to use as being enthusiasts, we all have many bikes to choose from. At the Changi Ferry Terminal on Tues 0745, it was to be a team of 2 Fridays and a Dahon Speed Pro (ridden by Heng). This is the place to catch a boat to Penggerang in Johor and to clear immigration. As it only leaves when it has 12 people, and this being a quiet weekday, it was a long wait. At 9am, we only had 7 people but everyone agreed to top up the fares and $24 poorer ($4 extra for bikes), we were on our way.

Pic KC

It was raining when we landed and this was so welcome as it meant a cool and fast ride. We took 40 mins to reach Sungei Rengit, some 17km away. A quick lunch at Beautiful Seafood restaurant and we were on our way again.

It was wonderful to ride on quiet roads with a slight drizzle. What was daunting for me was riding with these 2 ace riders as I found myself the slowest especially when they rocket up them hills. But if you want to improve, you have to fly with the Eagles. We arrived at Desaru some 55km in no time and punched a bit more to Tg Balau where we had a refreshing ABC ice dessert as well as a most interesting lesson on the number 0 by Heng, the Mathematician.

The second leg to Tg Sedili or Jason's Bay proved a bit more challenging as it was getting hot and the hills were coming in fast and furious. The heat triggered my migraine and it made it harder to push on, but with the encouragement of the dynamic duo, we coasted down the hill with beautiful Jason Bay on the right with plenty of time left.

It was nice that the rains came again and that cooled us tremendously as we entered Sedili Besar. We were to check in at the Tg Sutera Resort but not before a nice freshly cooked dinner. It was great to have YC and his son Wayne join us for dinner. They drove a long way to meet us. They brought with them cold drinks, a bike pump and an all important bike rack which was gratefully used to send us and our bikes to our hotel some 5km away along dark roads.

Pic KC

Tg Sutera Resort has been around for a very long time and I last visited there some 20 years ago. It is owned by the Alkaff family and is getting on with age. Fortunately, there is now a swimming pool overlooking the beautiful sea and is located at a very prime position. We splurged and got room # 22 - which is the only one with seaview but also comes with a premium rate of RM400. It took 3 of us comfortably and had ice cold aircon that helped dry our hanging laundry quickly.

We spend the morning just enjoying the muted sunrise and spectacular scenery. KC took his bike all the down to the rocky beach while I was happy to swim in the pool.  We enjoyed a simple Nasi Lemak for breakfast which was surprisingly satisfying. Our first stop was to cycle 3km to the long bridge between Sedili town and our hotel to admire the peaceful Sedili Besar river.

Then it was a short doubling back and continuing along a route through the oil plantations, leading to Tg Leman and eventually back to the usual Highway 3 to Mersing. This was exciting as I have never been on this quiet road. Turned out that it was peppered with plenty of rolling hills but at least the roads were beautifully tarred.

Pic KC

Unfortunately, while coming out of Sutera Resort along stony unpaved roads, Heng's rear Kojak tire got a nasty cut. It was at first not apparent until it started to swell and riding became a rather pregnant affair. Closer inspection revealed that a change of tire was needed, a rather simple job considering that Heng brought along a spare. However, the Speed Pro with its SRAM IGH system required a 15mm spanner to remove the wheel nuts, a very critical tool that we all somehow failed to take along. It was good to know that another legend in KL also experienced this problem. A case of having too many bicycles I reckoned! His innovation is what makes him a legend.

Pic MK

KC's ingenious solution was to hold the tire and tube with black tape. Luckily, it could be done without tools. The stop gap solution held on for another 20km or so until I heard a loud gun shot sound ahead of me. That was really the end of the road for the Speed Pro as we were in the middle of the boon docks.

We tried hailing down some kind soul on the road to take us to the next town, and although more than 10 vehicles passed, none stopped much to our disappointment. So I suggested pushing our bikes back as there were some shops 2-3km. At a junction, a driver stopped to tell us that there was a Felda housing estate that may have tools. He was right! I chanced upon a kind chubby young man who was thinkering outside his terrace house and asked if I could borrow some tools. He very kindly obliged and we jumped for joy. 20 mins later, we were on our way again.

It was good to be speeding along and with the high performance Stelvio tire, Heng was flying along with KC on his heels. I could only watch them slowly disappear into the horizon. It started to rain quite heavily too and I found myself slogging alone in the wet. I was however grateful for the wonderful opportunity to do this in relatively good health and burst out singing in the rain literally.

My solitude did not last too long as Heng and KC were waiting for me patiently and we continued on together until we arrived at Highway 3, the main trunk road. By this time, all the breakfast was well and truly spent and we needed a good feed. KC suggested going to their favourite eatery and we had delicious Malay rice with spicy dishes, washed down with cold drinks. We took a long break here hoping for the rain to take a break, but that was not to be.

So with lights on, we took off along this busy highway. It is a good thing that they have wide shoulders for cycling and that made it very safe. Cycling in pouring rain should be easy with a Da Brim. But my shower cap flew off mysteriously when I was flying down a hill at full speed and water was dripping into my eyes, making it very hard to see. However, I still much prefer this than to ride in 40c heat.

We stopped at a shelter just 5km from Jemualang to regroup and to warm up a bit. Heng had his special PAP blanket and I learned how important this is when cold strikes. It was fun just having a chat and sharing our food, enjoying warm fellowship with not a care in the world. This is what touring is all about and moments like this are truly special.

The lure of a good wanton mee in Jemualang got us braving the rain and we arrived there in no time. Unfortunately this being about 4pm, the stall sold out but the kind man pointed us to another coffeeshop located at one of the back lanes. Turned out to be even better as the aroma of garlic in a hot wok caught our immediate attention and we were soon enjoying piping hot fried noodles.

The ride into Mersing was relatively easy, just 20km to go. We had plenty of day light left and took our time. When we set off, it was still wet though the rain had peltered down. It was great to finally enter the outskirts of Mersing and soon, the familiar roundabout was in sight. There are quite a few hotels in Mersing but most cyclists would aim straight for the Embassy and for good reason. At US$20 for an aircon room with attached shower and 3 single beds, it was a no brainer. Couple that with their bike friendly attitude and located right in the heart of town, Embassy is a winner.

We enjoyed an average Chinese dinner after a session of a well-deserved massage. The PRCs have set up shop here some 2 years ago (50m before roundabout) but we cannot recommend it as the service was rather poor and annoying. It was clear that they were only keen on servicing their purses. But what is more important is that we had arrived safely, and in one piece after 2 days and 180km of riding in the wet.

It was nice to hang around the coffeeshop at Embassy to enjoy an after dinner hot drink. Time seems to stand still here and apart from some tourists chatting over beers, the locals were happy to just watch Chinese serials on TV. 

As this was not exactly our cup of tea, we opted to watch our own dramas in our dreams. Needless to say, we slept like babies, excited at a little exploration north of Mersing tomorrow.

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