Tuesday, October 11, 2016

EWAR Day 4 - A mostly downhill finish. HT to Gerik. 70km.

Pic KC

Pic KC

Pic KC

Pic KC

Pic KC

Sunrises are amazing moments as they are not just spectacularly beautiful, but they symbolise the start of another brand new day given to us by our Creator. We had a surprisingly good sleep in our tent and we both woke up early, all fresh and rested. Watching the dawning of a new day, high up in the mountain range of Titiwangsa is something not many people get to do, and we wanted first class seats.

We packed our stuff and went to the best vantage point to await the coming artistic performance of the brightest star. The air was a cool 18c and crisp, with not a hint of pollution and we filled out lungs satisfyingly. There was a certain stillness, quiet and peace - almost like a sacred moment with just a few like minded souls around. Then hints of golden light started to cut into the darkness, allowing a glimpse of the vast mountain ranges as far as our eyes can see and the show began.

What we saw stirred something in our souls and we counted in a great privilege to be able to witness and experience such a special moment. It was almost a National Geographic opportunity and we brought our tent here to shoot some photographs that we hoped will capture this visual gift better.

Pic KC

Getting everything packed and loaded on our Fridays, we were ready to begin our last leg of the EWAR tour. Compared to yesterday's hard climb, today we reap the rewards of a beautiful 30km descent to the lakes. Then another 40km or so to Gerik.

At 7-ish in the morning, the busy eatery was still closed and we found out from some lorry drivers who were hanging around that it won't be opened till 10am. Thus, it was to be a start without breakfast but because it was going to be an effortless descent, we were not too worried. Rugging up to tackle the cold , we said goodbye to Hentian Titiwangsa and began our freefall quietly down the mountain road.

It was amazing to be flying at 40+ km/h after yesterday's crawl up the peak and I controlled the descent as I wanted it to last as long as possible. With the cold wind biting at our faces, it was truly exhilarating. We could see clouds covering the mountain tops and we were actually higher than them.

While downhills are amazingly fun, it is always important not to exceed your bicycle's capabilities and yours. Travelling on a 16" foldy, high speed descends are not one of its strengths compared to a bigger wheel 26 or 700 one. Tests have proven that up to 26km/h, small wheels have the advantage as they have less mass. However, downhills at 40km/h and more, the stability is not as good as big wheels especially when there are irregularities on the road. Therefore, I descended carefully and safely - controlling my speed to be about 35-40km/h. Furthermore, we are really not in a hurry as we had the whole day ahead of us. Having a spill at high speed can be disastrous when there is no medical help available in such a remote place like this.

Though it was largely a beautiful descend, there were some short climbs and we took the opportunity to remove our layers. The humidity was also starting to make its presence felt and that was most unwelcoming as we approached sea level.

All too soon, we found ourselves at the beautiful Temaggor Lake area and obviously, this is a very popular area for holiday makers who seek fishing, boating and all sorts of outdoor activities. We crossed the bridge into Pulau Banding and admired the vast expanse of water all around us.

We took about 1.5 hrs to get down here and our stomachs were rumbling. Hence, the first order of the day was to seek breakfast but there were no restaurants or cafes in sight. A quick right turn into a small road at Pulau Banding, I stopped a silver Mercedes who was pulling out and asked if there were any food around. The kind gentleman told us to ride in a bit more and take a turn that led to the lake.

Our obedience paid off and at the bottom of the steep slope was a cafe that catered for the boaters. Though nothing grand, they had hot coffee/tea as well as the ubiquitous Nasi Lemak, which I loved, and fried noodles as well. One thing that has to be said about the humble Nasi Lemak is that I have yet to find a bad one in Malaysia. KC and I ate and drank our fill, and we enjoyed the beautiful scenery before us right down at the lakeside.

Crossing the small island back into the mainland, we stopped to check out the very expensive Belum Rainforest Resort where a basic room starts off at 400rm per night. It looked very posh and nice with golf buggies all ready to take you to your room. Perhaps we will stop here next time when our women folk comes along but for us two "hobo" tourers, we were more than happy to sleep in a tent.

As we crossed bridge #2, we spotted Banding Lakeside Inn which was the place that we initially wanted to stay in. I am very grateful to someone who wrote on my FB post to notify that the hotel is closed for renovation. Hence, that led to our idea of camping which worked out so well.

Getting out of the lake, we began our climb but just as we passed the Inn, there was a military memorial which beckoned us to check it out. This was put up to honour those in the Malaysian Army who gave their lives while fighting the communists in the 60s and 70s. As we were taking pics with the armoured vehicle, a soldier came to us and asked for our particulars. He was friendly and was just doing his job. We were very moved to read about the bravery of these soldiers, particularly their CO Cpt Mohan Chandran. 

Though the climb was a short 8km, the gradients seemed to be steeper than yesterday for some reason. What a contrast from whizzing effortlessly downhill a little while ago to now huffing and puffing the pedals on a low climbing gear.  The superbikes were also out in full force and provided the necessary entertainment for me as I made my way up slowly.

Pic KC

Once the climb was over, it was pretty easy as the route began downhills again before flattening out. As we were coming to the end of the East West Highway, I was wondering where the Highway Monument was. This was erected to honour those who gave their lives in the constructing of this highway.  Besides the harsh conditions and animals, they got sabotaged and attacked by the Communist Guerrillas as well.

Fortunately I saw it on our right and yelled to KC to stop. But he was too far in front and kept on going. I decided to just do a quick stop and check it out. It was moving to read about how difficult it was to build this highway and I felt a real sense of gratitude to be able to ride it.

At this stage, it was really getting hot and the last 12km to Gerik was a sweat fest. It was really good to finally pull into a petrol station, sit in the aircon and down a cold drink. As I was coming in, I really wanted a Sprite and not only did I get my wish, but it was on sale on promotion at an incredible 1RM!

Continuing onto Gerik, the ride after all that we have gone through over the mountains and valleys, felt a wee bit ordinary and flat, pun intended.

We were in Gerik some 2 years ago on our way to Betong and coming in from the opposite direction caught us a bit off guard as things looked unfamiliar. Gerik serves as a crossroad to the east of Malaysia, south to Gua Musang and Kuala Kangsar, and north to Thailand and hence, should have some buzz but this was not to be. Being a Sunday, somehow everything was closed. Everything! There was absolutely no buzz and we could not find a decent eatery which was frustrating as we were starving! We had hope to eat at a delicious coffee shop which impressed us before but alas, that too was closed. We finally found a Chinese restaurant which served rice and dishes. However, that looked like they were cooked in the morning but beggars can't be choosers, as the saying goes. Demoralise was probably a very apt word to describe how we felt after this epic ride and eating semi leftovers for lunch.

As we sat in the coffee shop, we spoke to a couple of old guys who were fascinated with our adventure. We asked if there was somewhere we could go for a foot massage for our aching legs and they looked at us and exclaimed in their dialect, "You gotta be kidding! This is Gerik." They suggested going to Betong for it was an easy 50km only.

At this stage in a hot afternoon, we were in no mood to cycle and Betong Thailand with its great food and vibrancy sounded brilliant. That got us really excited! We had just missed the daily bus so we went to check out our transport option at the taxi stand. My fear with taxis are that they are all about sharking tourists but the boys at Gerik Taxi stand were really nice. They pointed us to the price list and it said 55RM to the border. That's it, bicycles no charge. Hence, it was a done deal!

We soon saw ourselves speeding at 140km/h with our friendly taxi driver and the trip took a mere 40 mins with his driving prowess. He was so kind to not drop us like a sack of potatoes but instead, made sure we were driven pass the Malaysian customs and right up to the Thai customs. Such amazing service!

Clearing customs was really easy and it was a mere 7km ride from the customs to Betong town. We checked into Modern Thai Hotel and we could not believe this unexpected visit here. In touring, I love how things break away from plans and turn out so beautifully.

What a fitting end to our EWAR trip to be in Betong. Thailand has always been my favourite country with its warm and friendly people, spicy and delicious food and we even got our much appreciated foot massage! 

Pic KC

We spent 2 nights in Betong, then went on to Penang before taking a VIP coach back to Singapore.

Thank you once again for following our EWAR trip on LTF! There were many highlights on this trip but this video probably takes the cake. I hope it inspires you to try this beautiful route one day.

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