Trying our hand at begging without much success! Pic KC.
We woke up this morning excited! I have done many tours which has challenging climbs and to be honest, the statistics of a 1000m climb over 45km or so indicates a rather gradual gradient. Nothing to be too worried about unlike climbing Wulin in Taiwan at 3275m over 60km. Still, it has been a long time since we got those climbing muscles working, so we had to ensure that we got a good breakfast. KC opted for fried rice while I had Roti Canai, a delicious Indian pancake with egg and onions.
We got off to a good start and in high spirits as we had planned to camp on the top of the mountain if it was possible. As we were not out to break any speed records and had the whole day to get to the top, we had time to stop along the road to sample the abundant Rambutans that waited to be plucked fresh from the trees.
Perhaps its something special about being able to eat free off the tree but these Rambutans were absolutely divine. Sweet, juicy with a small seed inside. Perfect for cycling I reckon!
This being a Saturday, traffic was surprisingly heavy but we were not in anyway unnerved as Highway 4 has a nice wide lane for bicycles, keeping us relatively safe.
We cycled passed an iconic landmark, the Melintang Rock, which looked so majestic and is a favourite subject to shoot among many photographers.
Continuing on at the 13km marker, we came across a Caltex petrol station. I thought it would be good to mark this for future reference and as I recalled, this is the only petrol station that is modern and opened on this East West Highway until very near to Gerik.
Our climbing continued and we took frequent breaks, every 45 mins or so. It was clear that KC was in a much better shape than I but climbing once again is about doing it at your own pace. My average speed was roughly between 8-12km/h at this stage and we could feel the benefits of getting up in altitude. Much much less humidity and cooler breezes. The first thing that needed to be consumed was some freshly made coconut cakes before it went bad, and we enjoyed that very much.
As we continued on the climb, the feeling that I had was "When will it end?" This was like carrying a 2kg dumb bell in the gym, which is quite easy if doing 10-15 reps but try it for 100 reps it feels like a tonne of bricks. I make no excuses for feeling this way as being in Perth with an exceptional cold winter this year, I did not ride as much as I would like to.
The key to climbing is to spin in the right gear at a cadence that you are comfortable with. Don't try to keep up with the fast rabbits or you will soon burn out. Also, to drink a lot as you don't realise how much you are perspiring. It is also in part, a mental game, very much like running a long marathon. What helped me is the little treats I give myself - a sweet, a piece of chocolate etc as we hit certain targets.
KC found a very nice place to have our lunch. An old run-down hotel that have seen better days. It seems like there are quite a few of these abandoned buildings along this EW Highway. There, we found a tap with fresh water just by a painted fish at probably the half way point. So if you run out of water, look for the life saving fish.
The packaged rice and chicken curry tasted so good despite it being a "budget" takeaway and I guess when one is hungry, everything and anything taste delicious. We rested there for a while as it was a good idea to wait a while for our food to settle.
Picking up the pace again was not easy as after eating and with the noon sun, the best thing to do was to catch some siesta. But we pressed on and not long after we started, we spotted a drink kiosk that had cold drinks! It didn't take too much persuasion for us to stop again so soon and we were rewarded by the exceptional hospitality of the kind staff. They put together for us complimentary mangosteens and rambutans and that was so nice.
Moving on, we finally reached the border of Kelantan and Perak but can't help noticing so many logged timber. Not sure if these were legal but it is sad that so many of these fine trees got lobbed off.
One of the annoying things that really disturb the peace of this climb were the constant and loud passing of hi-powered motorcycles that use the road here like a Motor GP. As much as I admire and like motorcycles, they are the exact opposites of bicycles which are quiet, green and barely noticeable. I supposed this being the weekend, it is understandable that these superbikes come out to play. So if I were to do this trip again, I will do the climb on a weekday.
That said, they kept a respectable distance and were very friendly to us, waving and honking to encourage us up. They must be wondering why we enjoy suffering and inflicting pain upon ourselves when their only effort is to twist the throttle. But this is a much more healthier and safer way to travel I reckon.
When we finally arrived at the peak, I felt a great sense of joy and fulfillment. What awaited us were spectacular views, hot food and cold drinks. Hentian Titiwangsa is a very popular stopover for anyone crossing the EW Highway and is in fact, the only stop. This resulted in a very busy carpark with lots of people, which was frankly most unexpected. Some of the motorcyclists who passed by us earlier came to say Hi! They were in awe of our achievement or foolishness, and one of them remarked that he wouldn't have survived even 10km on a bicycle up those slopes. I asked if he would like to exchange my Bike Friday Tikit with his BMW GS 1200 and he smiled.
We spend quite some time just drinking and eating at the restaurant and one thing that I noticed were the higher prices here which was understandable. I was so thirsty I had 2 drinks and took the opportunity to wash my face and just have a well deserved rest.
I had read about a couple from CGOAB, Wayne and Kristiana Carpenter, who came up here some 10 years ago and were allowed to pitch their tent here near the nursery. Indeed, it is a beautiful place to spend the night but modernity has arrived to what was once a quiet stopover. On this small piece of prime real estate, it had a mosque, a public toilet, a nursery, a big restaurant as well as a sheltered rest area where families gathered to have their picnics. Every inch of space was utilised! Where on earth are we going to pitch our tent?
We decided to just plonk ourselves in a little corner of the public rest area and just laid our our sleeping mats for now. Hopefully, nobody would mind. After all, many families with children were resting there too and though strangely dressed, we were still travellers like them technically.
The plan was to see if any authorities would disturb us and since we were left alone except for some curious onlookers, we decided to build our portable LTF HQ there. This was the first time we were setting up the tent as it was just bought at Kota Bharu and was really easy to do.
Camping purists would probably not approve at our not getting a 2 piece tent which offered better weather protection etc but this simple tent was perfect for this condition! The priority here was light weight and at 1.8kg, I didn't feel its weight climbing up the whole day.
Resting in the tent was surprisingly very comfortable and it was spacious too. This is the first time I have brought along a tent in my bicycle journeys in Asia and I must say it is a lot of fun. Gives us the option to go to places where hotels are scarce like here in Titiwangsa.
As expected, the sunset was brilliant and it was special to see the artistry of our Creator at its finest here at the peak. Cycle touring offers the benefit of getting really up close to nature and I found myself singing a song of praise in my heart.
Camping like this was also a little "bogus" as we had the privilege of a modern toilet just by the mosque and a restaurant that offered delicious food and drink. But we didn't mind it one bit. We chose to eat a little later as there were still a constant stream of people filling up the restaurant. It was interesting to observe the locals which were all steeped in their culture and religion. There were hardly any other tourists and we really stood out.
When the queues were finally shorter, I settled for a juicy beef hamburger that costs us a mere 3RM or S$1. That did not quite fill my tank and I had a cup of instant noodles too, washed down with some tea for dinner.
Though my legs were aching from all the climbing, I was very happy to be here at Hentian Titiwangsa and to spend a night in a tent. I felt like a school boy on his first field trip and both of us slept feeling a great sense of pure joy.
With the cool mountain air of 18c surrounding us, giving us the best natural airconditioning, we drifted into dreamland too easily here at the top of the Malaysian mountain range. It was indeed a very special night and memories are made of these.
Before the mountains were born or You gave birth to the earth and the world,
Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.