Poch’s Farewell Ride


FRIDAY, July 19

     It was still very dark early Friday morning when black-clad silhouettes silently started to show up outside a condo on Newton road.  Not a word was spoken as the figures in black shirts quietly assembled.  No, this was not a group of ninja assassins gathering for an assault.  Closer inspection of their black shirts revealed a more fun-loving purpose, “Joyriders.”  Their tools of joy—bicycles.  Closer inspection also revealed that while everyone was in uniform black shirts, their footwear was of independent choice.  Some came in flipflops, some in sneakers, and some, remarkably, arrived already in full riding attire complete with cleated cycling shoes.  Talk about arriving ready to do battle.  That cyclist should get the “Excited Rider Award.”

     Soon enough the bus was loaded full of bikes from the 27 cyclists.  There were so many expensive bikes crammed into the belly of the bus that the value of the cargo could have been more expensive than the bus itself.  What I found amusing was this uber-expensive cargo of carbon-fibre bikes was securely held in place simply by a single, humble, used inner tube.  Imagine that—a scrap $10 tube securing all those expensive bikes.  Then again these cyclists putting their trust on that single used tube is not surprising given they do the very same thing every time they ride fast on tarmac—trusting the humble inner tube to do its job reliably.

     Everyone knew it was time for the bus to get rolling when the quiet morning was broken by Joyce’ loud cackling from inside the bus, “Eyyy!  Time to go!”  That command prompted everyone to action.  There was almost a cloud of dust as cyclists rushed to get in the bus and get seated.  Joyce’ voice quality and tone has an amazing ability to make you feel immediately concerned that you’ve done something wrong.  Even when you’re pretty sure you’ve done nothing wrong.   :)    (peace, Joyce, just kidding for assigning me to write the race report.  Also by the time Joyce reads this I will already be safely away in another country far away).

     There was no doubt that Joyce was the MC—master of ceremony for this bike trip.  This was evidenced when  the bus got going and the bus tour guide then turned on the microphone to announce something.  What that poor tour guide wanted to announce she never really had a chance to reveal because no sooner had she opened her mouth when Joyce took the mic from her as if her favorite song was playing on karaoke.  (kidding again).  To Joyce’ credit she then started a more interesting topic—self-introductions by everyone.   It’s amazing how humble everyone gets during the self-introductions.  When you ask them about their bike or their training they talk for hours.  But ask them for their introduction and suddenly it’s 2 lines or less.  Remarkably though, Joyce knew so much about her Joyriders and would thus embellish the self-introductions appropriately.  Thus, with the embellishments it was revealed that there were three (3) medical professionals  with us on this trip.  Aside from our doctor on wheels, Wee How, we also had Andrew Liaw, physiotherapy, and also Gerard Tan, beauty surgeon (who humbly introduced himself as a beautician).  So with those 3 medical skills on board, if you happened to fall during the ride you could be confident that not only will you get patched up and then physio-therapied, you will even get beautified and likely look even better than before the accident.

     During the self-introductions Joyce revealed another special feature of the bike trip— eating.  After each self-introduction, each was rewarded with an Indonesia bakwan or two.   This was a foreshadowing of more eating to follow throughout the trip.  No sooner had we crossed into Johore when the bus pulled over into some hawker stalls for breakfast at Gelang Patah.  Then for lunch we stopped for reputedly the best nasi lemak in KL.  My favorite stop of the day was at the end of Friday’s ride after we had descended from Genting Sempah into Bentong—delicious ice kacang.  More than just Joyriders, these were Foodriders.  Enough talk about food though and more about the 1st day’s ride.


The Friday ride was 51k with a 15k climb up to Genting Sempah followed by a 15k descent and 21k flats into Bentong.    We were blessed with good weather—no rain and somewhat cloudy.  As soon as the climb started it was immediately clear who were the strong riders and who were the mere mortals.  Definitely I was in the mere mortal classification because I could see a small group ahead steadily pulling away as if they were on a flat road while I was laboring uphill.  It’s a good thing there were many riders also in the mere-mortal category with whom I could share the misery of climbing the long climb.  It was a beautiful climb amidst beautiful tropical forests.  While not as tough as the day 2 climb, with the unfamiliarity of the terrain and what was to come later in the climb, I decided not to rush and get wasted early in the climb.  I also made mental notes of who were the riders in my vicinity and their pace/energy levels during the long climb.  I knew I would need this information when the going got tough on Day 2 and figuring out which riders to match uphill would be helpful.  The difficulty of the climb was evident because there was no more jovial chatting and bantering.  Each rider was reduced to focus on his/her own thoughts and efforts.  Even the music that was playing from a couple of bikes could no longer be heard.  Somewhere in the fog of my mind as I slogged up the hill I recalled Joyce saying the end of the climb would be at a T-junction.  As the climb painfully dragged on, I started to imagine there was a T-junction at the end of each switchback uphill.  Unfortunately, it was all a mirage.  Just when I thought the climb would never end though I saw a sight which was both good news and bad news.  There was the strongest rider of the group, Fan, flying down the hill towards me with a big grin on his face.  The bad news was I felt so slow he actually had time to circle back to me.  The good news was I realized the end of the climb couldn’t be that far longer.  Soon Michael, Bobot, Norman and Sven also doubled back to me.  Then finally I could see the elusive T-junction that signalled the end of the tough exertion for the day and joined Sean and Gerard and a few others to rest and wait for the rest.  At the top there was time for pictures, a pee in the grass, and some power bars while we waited for everyone to show up.   As soon as the group consolidated it was time for the fun part of the ride—the 30k descent and rolling into Bentong. No sooner had we consolidated that the group then disintegrated again as the strong riders pushed the pace and there were riders strung out across the descent.  Somehow the 30k went by pretty quickly except for an exciting moment with 2 dogs staunchly standing their ground on the road and not giving way.   Soon enough I  found myself with a small group in Bentong wondering where the stop was.  It was obvious no one remembered (or listened to) Joyce’ detailed instructions where to stop/regroup.  So the group had a discussion what the instructions were.  Some had helpful memories—“Joyce said stop at Kow Po ice kacang.”  Some had vague inputs, “Joyce said stop at the traffic light at Bentong.”   Ahhh, dude, there are so many traffic lights in this town.  Eventually Joyce showed up and showed us the right way to Kow Po ice kacang.  And that is where we cooled down with the excellent ice kacang (mine had a scoop of sweet corn ice cream).

     Dinner was delicious with Joyce doing the ordering for everyone.  Beer was available so our table made sure we had a good share of drinks to celebrate that day’s fun ride.  Then it was off to our hotel.  Four people to a room.  Luckily none of us snored.  The room was airconditioned.  Surprisingly though, the early morning was much cooler outside than inside the room.



     The Saturday ride was a brute.  180km with 2 major climbs up Frasers then up Genting.  And it was hot.  The sun, which was so kind the day before, apparently was waiting for the toughest day to unleash its full arsenal of heat and radiation.  You know it’s hot when you see a cyclist shaking his water bottle onto his tongue trying to get that last drop of water.  Ultimately, only 2 cyclists out of the 27 who started out made it up Genting.

     The ride started with the 35km ride to Bentong and again it was a mad dash like bats out of hell for the cyclists eager to get the day started.  My initial thoughts of conserving energy in the first hour was quickly thrown out the window as I got sucked into the excitement of the undulating roads to Bentong.  After regrouping in Bentong it was a more civilized pace as the riders were unfamiliar with the route to the start of the climb to Frasers.  At about the 76km mark the climb up Frasers started and the group was quickly split apart—way apart.  The climb was tougher than the previous day’s climb and also longer.  How long was the climb?  Good question.  I was surprised to realize that cyclists’ mathematical skills get seriously impaired when huffing and puffing up a mountain.  Midway up the climb I asked a rider how much further to the top and he said 5km more.  Just a kilometer later as I passed another rider I asked the same question and he said 14km more.  Great.  It must have been the thin mountain air messing with people’s ability to add/subtract.


This climb was interminable.  20km of slogging uphill.  20km of not knowing which pain was worse—the pain in your leg muscles, the pain in your lungs, or the pain in your ass.  Thankfully the climb was set in beautiful forest scenery with lots of switchbacks to keep one occupied.  Also, there were no riders passed out or vomiting by the side of the road so I knew it was doable.  Finally, after the finish line in my own warped mathematics had passed 2 km earlier along with my last drop of water, I saw the big sign up on the hill, “Frasers Hill.”  Gerard was in front of me so I followed him to the bus to replenish water and a gel.  But where were the other riders?  Apparently, that tough climb was not enough for the faster riders and they decided to climb another 8km into the town of Frasers itself—Fan, Michael, Norman, Bobot, Sven, Sean were the ones I remember.  We stayed and instead had a coffee at a roadside stall while waiting for the other riders to show up.


After the tough climb we were rewarded with 30km of downhill down the other side.  I couldn’t resist stopping several times to capture pictures of beautiful scenery.  I wanted to supplement the wonderful mental images of this mountain with digital images, as well.  All in all, after the summit at Frasers it was another 51km of riding down to Batang Kali.  On a HOT day.  By the time we were done with lunch we had ridden hard for 130+km already.  The wear and tear was clearly showing on many of the riders.  Before the ride into Batang Kali most boarded the bus and called it a day.  It was just too hot for many of the riders and lunch was not able to replenish the energy stores quickly enough.

     Thus, on the ride into Batang Kali itself just before tackling the Genting slopes, the group was down to 7 brave riders—Fan, Michael, Norman, Bobot, Sven, Matty, and me if I recall correctly.  While riding thru Batang Kali I felt my lunch not settling well in my stomach and also realized that I was quite low on energy.  While thinking whether to stop riding at that point, I spotted something that made my decision easier—a foot massage spa.  Visions of a glorious foot massage easily beat thoughts of doing 15km more tough climbing up Genting.  So after a quick word informing Norman and Bobot, I peeled off and headed to the waiting foot massage.

     The images of a relaxing foot massage were quickly erased when a solidly-built woman from Mainland China sat down in front of me.  She flexed her hand and fingers.  She cracked her knuckles.   That’s when I saw that her knuckles looked menacingly well-used—shiny skin on protruding, oversized knuckles.  Then she launched the full force of those knuckles into the arches of my foot.  I couldn’t remember anything else after the first wave of pain swept through my foot and exploded in my brain.  Only memory I had was  wondering whether the climb up Genting might have been less painful than this.  It was a great massage.

     Meanwhile, the last remaining 6 riders bravely soldiered on to tackle Genting.  I wasn’t there so all this now is what I heard from their war stories after the ride.  They were unanimous in saying that the gradient of the climb was brutal.  So much pain in the legs yet moving so slowly.  No shade from any tree as respite from the heat—just the terrible heat beating down from the sun and also radiating from the road.  To make the climb more agonizing, there were no switchbacks nor any levelling off.  The climb was just a long, straight, brutally steep gradient up the mountain.  You either kept grinding upwards or you turned around and went home.  UItimately, 4 riders ran out of energy or water or both and turned back down towards the bus.  Michael felt something not right in his lungs and turned back.  Fan found himself all alone up ahead with dwindling water supply and turned back, too.  Only Norman and Bobot decided to keep going.  Being the best bike buddies going back many years, they were able to reinforce each other’s willpower to just keep grinding the gears and keep the legs moving.  Finally, they both summited Genting—with big smiles in the photos to prove it.  Well done, brave riders.


SUNDAY, July 21

     The Sunday ride was a treat compared to Saturday’s brutality.  This time it was a slight rising road from Bentong 36km plus one very short, very steep climb back to Genting Sempah followed by 17 km of pure downhill fun.  The peloton even stopped twice to take pictures by the side of the road.  Just before the 17km downhill, 3 of us got delayed behind the bus for 2-3 minutes before finally managing to overtake.  It was a thrill to zip down those slopes because visibility of the upcoming curves and vehicles was good.  This time I didn’t stop to take pictures.  Rather, I sped down the slopes as fast as I could, and the rush felt great.  Every Joyrider should do this ride.  No matter your fitness level, you will definitely enjoy this ride.  Thank you, Joyce, for organizing a glorious ride.