Friday, September 27, 2013

Thin Air and not so Fat Tires - Bromo Day 2, "A long walk in the sand..."

Pic - Joni

Pic KC
Pic KC

Pic CW

Pic Joni

It was a hard battle to get up from a warm and cosy bed especially when the temperature was a coldish 10c. Yet, all of the gang did it to catch the spectacular sunrise except for Christoph and I. We lingered on in dreamland until laughter and chatter filled our once quiet room. After all, we could always “borrow” their pics.

The Bromo Permai breakfast was buffet style and I learned that this depended on how many guests they had. When it was quiet, it conveniently became ala carte. It was decent enough but it helped that our expectations were drastically lowered. After all, we were in the land of largely Mee Goreng and Nasi Goreng.

It was important to fill up as the day was going to be physically demanding. The plan was to ride across the 10km crater filled with soft sand, ride 4km up the steep ridge to Jemplang and then whizz 7km downhill to Ranu Pani - the base camp for trekkers to Mt Semeru.

As I rode my eager MB3 out of the hotel, I was puzzled at how much I was panting and wheezing. I had to force in the air very hard but somehow, my body could not get enough oxygen due to the thin air. It was a miserable start as the others seemed fine. It was exhilarating to exit the hotel and dive deeply down the steep road that led to the crater. Our brakes were all squealing and heating up fast. My heart was pounding as we cut quickly through the cold wind but this all ended too soon.

Now before us, lay sand and more sand. It was literally like being in a desert. I have not had much experience riding through sand and it was tricky. When the surface is compact, the wheels seem to glide through but when it wasn’t, it sucked our bike in and it was easy to lose balance.  Most times, we labored in granny gear and it was hard work cranking through this humongous sand pit. Here, the boys were separated from the men as the key was to maintain momentum but this required sheer brute strength. There were as expected some spills but nothing major except for the bruised egos.

I was so relieved when we finally hit the concrete slab road that took us out of the crater.  But this happiness was short lived as the hard path was badly maintained and our bikes vibrated unceasingly.

The gradient started decently enough but we soon found ourselves in granny gear and at some stages, even the Legends were pushing. Much of the road was broken and one section forced Chris to do a strategic ejection from his MTB. Unfortunately, his SPDs got stuck!

It seemed that the only vehicles who could handle this terrain well were wide tired 4000cc 4WD Landcruisers but they too had to muster their low range gears. When we finally hit Jemplang, perched right on the rim edge, I never felt so exhausted and the intensity of the ride caught me off guard. Although we have only done 14km or so, it felt like a marathon. Salvation came in the form of power gels and Sonny our mountain goat was the only one who could still prance around chirpily. I found out his secret was to consume honey and not to smoke. In fact, he was probably the only local guy in this part of the universe who didn’t smoke.

Sonny promised that the next 7km was downhill and that was to be. We stopped to savour the breathtaking views of the crater valley and felt a deep sense of satisfaction. It was fun snapping pics with such beauty all around us. Knowing that we traverse though the valley of the shadow of death and came out alive, put a song in my heart.

Pic KC

As I danced down the curvy mountain roads at 40-50km/h with my mates, we felt like a group of fighter planes on a mission except our mission was lunch. With broken roads and loose rocks, it took a lot of concentration to track down safely and I really wished for a suspension fork as my rigid front meant I felt every single pot hole. 

The hamlet of Ranu Pani was in full swing for some sort of a rock festival and there, many bright eye uni students with 20kg back packs gathered before their 4 day pilgrimage hike to Mt Semeru. What disappointed was despite the crowds, the few warungs (cafes) were somewhat pathetic.

Lunch was none other than the ubiquitous instant mee goreng and nasi goreng. As beggars cannot be choosers, we ate it thankful that at least, it was a hot meal and downed it with instant 3 in 1 coffee. There, I would pay a prince ransom for a juicy hamburger or a hot bowl of Laksa. Despite the meager lunch, our spirits were rich and laughter was aplenty as we exchanged notes on the ride so far and the performance of our bicycles. 

Sonny led us to the Lake and it was disappointing as it was covered in fog. Still, we can imagine how beautiful it is on a better day. No one was in a hurry to begin the ride back as 7km of steep uphill awaited us, but it had to be done.

Doing so with a full stomach is tough and we just soldiered on, one crank at a time. We took breaks when it was needed and managed to make it to the ridge once again. We were so relieved that the climb was finally over. Coming down gingerly with Christoph on my tail, I heard a voice behind shouting to make way so we obediently veered to the left only to see a very enthusiastic Joni whizzing by at full speed downhill on a very broken road. The next I knew, she hit a rock and went airborne, landing spectacularly on the ground. It was a good thing nothing was broken and though she was visibly shaken, no injuries were sustained and we can only thank God for that.

The rest of the gang were waiting for us at the junction and we took a welcome tea break at the warung. Going back down again to the sand lake was easier but the bad roads really gave us a shaking down. I had to make sure my fillings were still intact. At least the scenery unfolding before our eyes was incomparable and I savored every minute until we once again, hit the sand. By this time, I was not looking forward to it as it became more pushing than riding. The evening seem to loosen the sand even more. One way out of getting sucked by the sand is to pop a wheelie, but how many wheelies can one pop before exhaustion sets in? In the end, this was going to be one long walk. It was a case of when the going gets truly tough, the tough starts pushing. And when our strongest rider veteran Ironman George with the Rohloff hub is shuffling sand, what hope was there for us mere mortals?

After what seemed like eternity, we managed to reach the other side of the crater and the sun was going down resulting in beautiful long shadows. At least our cameras were happy and it was like being on the moon with the beautiful dunes and all. I was particularly touched when Sonny saw me struggling with my bike and came running to help me push my bike so I can walk unhindered. It really lifted my spirits! Such was his kindness and care for all of us, and if ever there was a saviour for the day, Sonny was ours.

I was so exhausted that at dinner, I could not eat anything. Uncle KC was starting to run a fever too and    he is one of the most respected riders in our bike club. What a tiring day it has been. So when there was a call to have 2 volunteers to accompany our luggage on a hired Landcruiser, both of us sacrificed ourselves willingly for the noble task.

It was to be an easy sleep that night as we were all so tired. I was probably the first to slip into coma and the rest followed suit. We slept with the stunning beauty of Bromo etched permanently into our minds.

 Pic KC

Monday, September 2, 2013

Thin Air & not so Fat Tires - Bromo Day 1

Mountain biking is something I was very fond of 25 years ago and my Marin and Bridgestone brought me much joy and to many off beaten places around Malaysia, Australia, Singapore and the Riaus. It has been largely neglected so when Chris Wee suggested a trip to Mt Bromo Indonesia some months back, I put my hand up immediately not knowing what I have signed up for.

It was fun planning for it and we had the privilege to have Sonny, an MTB expert from Malang join us for a lunch some time back to stitch a possible route together.

The 6 brave souls who joined me are all "legends" in their own regard and well respected cyclists or adventure sportsmen.  We had AMG Ironman George Lim, Uncle KC with his 1200cc twin piston legs, BMW Christoph from Germany, Chris Wee the MTB guru and photographer par excellence, "Johnny" Wong (Joni dives and paraglides not too long ago), a very tough and determined adventurette and yours truly taking up the tail. Of course, we had the late Bro Paul who joined us in spirit too.

Our Jetstar flights were booked months earlier to Surabaya and with a deal of less that US$150 return with 25kg check in luggage, this is as good as it gets. Joni couldn't wait and scooted off 2 weeks early for secret training and met us with Sonny at Juanda International Airport, with 2 vans and the Igen Cycling Club Ute.

It took us 5 hours, braving heavy traffic and curvy, steep roads to get to the top of Bromo at the village of Cemoro Lawang. With the screaming engines of the Suzuki APV Vans struggling up the narrow mountain roads, I can only imagine and shuddered at what laid before us.

The cold 10c mountain air was refreshing and the first thing we did was to assemble our bikes of course. I discovered I had the skinniest tires - 1.75 rear and 2.0 front, and being fat is not a bad thing here. Everyone was in the highest of spirits despite our travel fatigue but a nice hot dinner set things right in no time. The Bromo Permai Hotel has an atmosphere of a ski resort with only one exception - everyone smokes here. Everyone! Also, volcanic ash and sand is the "snow" and we will experience lots of that tomorrow.

It was to be an early start the next day but we were all too excited to sleep. It took us a whole day to get here but just looking at the night sky filled with a million twinkling stars, shivering a little in the thin cold air with tranquil silence 2100m up in the mountains, I knew this was going to be no ordinary adventure ride.

*Blog title is somewhat named after the trip "Thin Air & Fat Tires" by Chris Wee...