Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Part 1 - Tripping on Two Wheels: Pengarang to Desaru, and Back Again:Cycling Adventure 29 - 30 Mar 2013

Total time on the bicycle: 10 hours, thereabouts.

Total distance covered: about 112km over 2 days (51km each way).

Total energy burned: pretty sure it's 1,800 calories at least (extrapolating from my own 40 km rides in Singapore).

Total energy consumed: Won't be surprised if it's more than what I burned, so I don't really want to know.

[Image credit: Kenneth Pinto, CC-BY-NC)

My first post for 2013 would be a post about my first real ride for the year. Quite apt.

This post is a recap of the 1.5 day ride.

The "Good Friday" some two weeks ago was literally great for me, as 10 of us embarked on a day-and-a-half, Out-of-Singapore cycling adventure. From Tanjung Pengelih to this resort in Desaru, and back.

We were a motley mix comprising of 20 year-olds to mid-40s, on Foldies and mountain bikes.

The day's adventure started at Changi Village. The jetty was packed, given it was a holiday. While we waited for our turn to get a boat and to clear customs, Kevin's super-sized Pugsley earned easy conversations from strangers. He's the original Aunty-Killer. "Got motor or not?" must be the most frequently asked question about his Fatbike.
[Image credit: sivasothi, CC-BY-NC-SA]

When my friends first planned for the trip, I thought Pengarang sounded familiar. Then I remembered it was in the news in late 2011 over the Malaysian government's plans to build petrochemical projects there.

On our way to Tanjung Pengelih, we saw Singapore's attempt to create more land. Our bumboat chugged past silent monster rigs, some in the process of turning sea into land. We passed stretches of massive sand banks on both sides, stable enough to support several heavy vehicles on them.

ZenDogs Desaru Adventure (112km, 29-30 March 2013) - 018
[image credit: Kevin Lim, CC-BY-NC-SA]

ZenDogs Desaru Adventure (112km, 29-30 March 2013) - 016
[image credit: Kevin Lim, CC-BY-NC-SA]

2013-03-30 15.02.34
[image credit: Kenneth Pinto, CC-BY-NC]

When we reached Tanjung Pengelih, things felt slower and more idyllic. Probably the absence of human traffic at the jetty. We were the only ones clearing customs.

As we geared up to start our ride, Dinesh provided timely advice on general safety. He also prepared a set of walkie-talkies for the lead rider (him) and last Outrider (Kevin). I was quietly impressed. Talk about being professional.

Being a naturally cautious (i.e. overly pessimistic) person, I kinda surprised myself by feeling rather calm when we set off. I'm chicken-crap when it comes to new places. But this group had plenty of experienced and steady riders. Plus, I trusted my bike and that helped a lot. I'd stopped cycling for about three months, and only put in maybe 5 km worth of riding time a few days before the trip. It was enough to assure me of the ride-worthiness of my foldable bike though. Would have wanted to put in more kilometres for physical fitness (but maybe that turned out to be a blessing -- more of this in Part 2).

We rode through quiet paths with uncut grass waving on either sides; past houses at one stretch, and then hitting open roads with relatively few cars.

ZenDogs Desaru Adventure (112km, 29-30 March 2013) - 032
[image credit: Kevin Lim, CC-BY-NC-SA]

ZenDogs Desaru Adventure (112km, 29-30 March 2013) - 027
[image credit: Kevin Lim, CC-BY-NC-SA]

[image credit: sivasothi, CC-BY-NC-SA]

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[image credit: Kevin Lim, CC-BY-NC-SA]

Along the expressway to Desaru,  a few of us were mystified by this scene we rolled by. What we thought was a trained monkey was actually a child in brown clothing being directed by his father to pick up something from the roadside. What that be?
[image credit: Kevin Lim, CC-BY-NC-SA]

There's a certain zen when one rides under one's own power: hearing the hum and whirs of the bicycle, our own breathing, the wind in our faces.

This was a leisurely ride. The 20-somethings in our group had the benefit of youth. They easily kept up on their bikes. Actually the second (maybe third) oldest guy in our group used to run triathlons.

The Pengarang highways, perhaps being such long stretches, had the inevitable potholes. A few of us had bottles pop out of their bottle cages when they went through deeper potholes.

I had trepidations taking my foldie over a path with sharp chunky gravel. It was one of those "mind-over-matter" moments: tell yourself you might lose balance and you would. I had split microseconds of doubts when traversing the rough patch, but told myself to keep focused and stay balanced. And I did.

The sharp gravel probably got my front tire wall torn (see Part 3). But no puncture.

Riding in Pengarang was vastly different from cycling on Singapore's PCNs. The lack of urban noises created a different experience. In Singapore, there is no escaping the signs of urban constructs -- pedestrian paths, roads, traffic lights, street lamps. But that's just a fact. I suppose if one craved for open spaces, then a place like Pengarang would be superior to the cityscape of Singapore.

As we rode through kampungs (do they refer to their collective homes as kampungs in Pengarang?) the kids seem to be quicker to say Hello, and the adults more generous with their smiles.

Well, we didn't meet that many kids or adults, to be fair. But I've to say the drivers we passed by in Pengarang tended to wait for you to ride past before they made that turn. I sped up to make sure I didn't waste their time, but I didn't feel panicky. It was nice to wave them an acknowledgement, and seeing them wave back in return. Cars went fast on the highways, but most provided a wide berth between their cars and us.

Fact of life, I suppose: having ample space tend to create an air of generosity. It's the place that affect the vibes. Now THAT, I am envious -- of the vast land that Malaysians have.

Speaking of vibes, Siva blogged that he found it depressing in seeing large tracts of land cleared for timber, and basically left bare with no plans for development.

ZenDogs Desaru Adventure (112km, 29-30 March 2013) - 072
[Image credit: Kevin Lim (CC-BY-NC-SA]

Siva observed that traffic conditions will change and will affect some of the village detours. Meaning, the rides may become less idyllic and there will be an increase in traffic.

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[Image credit: Kevin Lim (CC-BY-NC-SA]

Ah, meals.

The favourable currency exchange rates for Singapore dollar meant we ate like 'royalty' there.

Lunch, on both days, was in the town centre called Pulai Sungei Ringgit ("money town"?).

ZenDogs Desaru Adventure (112km, 29-30 March 2013) - 052
[Image credit: Kevin Lim (CC-BY-NC-SA]

They still have old-style hawker carts plying the town, like this beancurd seller who came by on our return leg. But her product has been modernised. She offered Hong Kong-styled beancurd pudding rather than the traditional type (much to the disappointment of one young rider in our group):
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[Image credit: Kevin Lim (CC-BY-NC-SA]

The entire trip was largely problem-free. Maybe Kenneth (who opted for his Foldie rather than a MTB for this trip) would disagree. His foldie had a flat on day-one. But I thought the flat was resolved rather easily and in relative comfort. Understandably, he was frustrated with getting a puncture (seemed every ride to Pengarang he would get a flat). Still, the flat was discovered just as we set off after lunch. It would have been worse if the flat happened on an open road.

And then Kenneth discovered his spare inner tube had an inherent flat! I was glad I could help by giving one of my spare (the advantage of having similar sized tires, woo-hoo). Kevin even found a bicycle shop that sold tubes a few metres down the coffeeshop. Good to note for future rides.

Kenneth managed to fix the problem in the shade at a kopi tiam. The iced coffee was pretty good too.

ZenDogs Desaru Adventure (112km, 29-30 March 2013) - 057
[Image credit: Kevin Lim (CC-BY-NC-SA]

Several Firsts for me in this trip:

  • Bringing my own bicycle on a boat
  • Travelling out of Singapore with it
  • Visiting Pengarang and Desaru

My last visit to Malaysia was about 10 years ago. It was quite telling because on Day 2, when I passed a Five Ringgit note to a shopkeeper, he didn't accept the note instantly. He looked at me and said, "Ringgit". I thought I'd brought Indonesia Rupiah by mistake. But no, the note said Ringgit and I pointed that out to him. The guy did a double take, as if he'd never seen the note before. Maybe he hadn't. The note has been out of circulation for years, I was later told.

The pace the group set was comfortable. Properly prepared (e.g. individual strategies to stay hydrated; physical preparation before the trip) this was/ would have been an easy ride.

Distance-wise, each day's ride was about 10km longer than my Yishun-Woodlands Waterfront PCN rides. One big difference was the hills in the last 20 km to the resort. They weren't the Killer Slopes that I thought they would be. I've found the NTU slopes were a lot more challenging. But I suspect my relatively lack of cycling fitness, with the 3-litres of water on me, gave rise to an inflamed tendon near the knee (I'll blog about that in Part 2).

I had looked forward to this cycling trip with the ZenDogs. I wasn't disappointed, even with the sore tendons. Very glad I went. Next time, I shall have to sacrifice the welfare of my dog and get my wife to join me (if you're a dog owner with a namby-pamby dog, you'l know what I'm talking about).

ZenDogs Desaru Adventure (112km, 29-30 March 2013) - 156
[image credit: Kevin Lim, CC-BY-NC-SA]

Kevin's photoset | Kenneth's photoset | Siva's photoset

Part 1 - Tripping on Two Wheels [This post]
Part 2 - Physical Prep & Post-Mortem
Part 3 - Post-ride Bike Upgrades

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