Merdeka spirit tested on wheels through hills and highlands
Over Merdeka weekend, 500 cycling enthusiasts from Pedalholics Cycling Club’s (PCC) once again embarked on their annual Interstate event spanning from Selangor to Pahang ending in Perak.
This Mother of all Climbs edition saw them start in Kota Damansara and climbed up to Frasers Hills on Day 1, followed by a long scenic up Camerons Highlands via Sungai Koyan on Day 2, and a cold thrilling high speed descent towards Lumut on Day 3 covering 525km. Friends and families driving Support Cars too felt tired driving the route in comfortable, air conditioned cars what more looking at their cyclists braving the hills, the heat, the cold and the rain.
Every year, 450 cyclists and 50 Support Drivers look forward to PCC’s Interstate as the highlight of their cycling year, akin to a reunion on wheels along Malaysian roads. No matter the gruelling distance and climbs, the camaderie and company far outweighs the ‘Torture of the Day’.
Even before the sun rose on Day 1, the Tune Hotel in Kota Damansara was buzzing with enthusiasm and shone brightly from the smiling faces of the PCC clan. Some were already showing off their new bikes, or bragging about their latest upgrades on their road bikes fitted with the latest, lightest and more aero wheels or other bits of equipment. Friends whom weren’t joining us on the journey also dropped by for the flag off. Such was the camaderie and support that you’d feel from fellow East and West Malaysians, foreign counterparts from Jakarta and all walks of life throughout the weekend. This goes a few steps beyond the “Merdeka” feel come this weekend.[/column] [column size=”one-half” last=”true”]
The hills beckon right from the flag-off even as the morning greetings and salutations began on the bike. I could hear all sorts of chatter going on around me in multiple languages. After all, Malaysia is about the only country where you could fit four languages in the same sentence and yet be understood by everyone around you.
Good news first, when we hit the dragon-back like Puncak Alam, that was only the warm-up leading to the undulating Fruit Valley before rolling up to Kuala Kubu Baru under the scorching mid-day sun. Bad news, that was only the first 120km and there was still 40km remaining. Sounds easy, except that the last 9km will have us tapping every ounce of our leg muscles. We literally loaded up every Kit Kat and powerful bananas and rocked up the steep gradient to the sound of The Eye of the Tiger playing in our heads.[/column]
Point to note, try not to fall into the ditch like I did. As the road slopes to the right and fatigue runs through your body, I lost balance and even though the whole process was very slow, I couldnt prevent myself from riding into the ditch. Quite hilarious, really!
When the infamous Frasers Hill clock tower beckons, a jubilant selfie is a must for everyone who rode 160km from Kota Damansara today. Indeed one of the most difficult Century Ride (100 miles) I’ve ever done. Never again, I heard some say.
Support Drivers were crucial in saving the day in the tough terrain and relentless sun. My cousin, Lydia Yeow travelled from Ipoh on her maiden experience in providing my personal support. Armed with a walkie talkie, lots of food, electrolytes and chocolates to keep herself happy, she had to rendezvous with us to refill our empty water bottles and refuel our tired souls.
The highlight of this year’s Mother of all Interstates has yet to come. Come Day 2, you have been warned to load up on all the elixirs, tongkat ali, choose your poison to start the Queen Stage with a chilling long but easy descend down Frasers Hill before a brief respite in Raub. Do not be deceived into indulging in Raub’s famed Fried Lamb or Lamb curry.
Today shall be the day Sungai Koyan highway to Camerons Highlands shall be renamed Sungai ‘Koyak’ to reflect torn and tormented souls with the 90km climb to Brinchang first in the searing mid-day heat followed by endless thunderstorms. The long climbs are indeed scenic if you could muster energy to lift your head to look left and right. The majestic ranges of Titiwangsa beckons, layer upon layer like a picturesque watercolour painting.
Alas, this is not a race. Feel free to stop and chat up Support Car drivers (even though they are not yours) and I’m sure they would not hesitate to offer you some refreshments free of charge, contrary to the popular believe that everything in the highlands costs more. After all, we are all sociable and hospitable Malaysians playing host to others especially on this special Independence Day weekend.
Video caption: Peter ‘Afsar’ Sagan in green, and Richard Lee on the Sungai Koyan – Cameron route
Ringlet, is the little town at the foothills of Camerons, where you want to fill up with your last choice of energy giving methods, before climbing up the last 20km to Brinchang by night fall. I had cycled this route before in 2011 as a newbie and it was a mean feat.
Press play on the Rocky theme song (in your mind) and brace yourself to face the short, steep switchbacks while imagining this is how Tour de France 2013 winner Chris Froome taunted young Quintana on the Queen stage.
Merdeka weekend could only be the most peak season to be at Cameron Highlands. We spotted wedding convoy going up and with the Night Market being a popular feature in Brinchang, the drivers in comfortable cars were stuck in a traffic jam for no less than an hour on end. Even the slowest and most weary cyclist easily weaved their way through and beat the Support Drivers to the hotel.[/column] [column size=”one-half” last=”true”]
In the cool cool night up on Camerons Highlands, it is only befitting a Steamboat victory dinner would be next in the agenda. After all, this is when you would start claiming bragging rights in good company and glorious food. All the pain and suffering had been quickly dismissed and we only looked forward to the finish line tomorrow. As the clock struck midnight, loud shouts of “Merdeka” were heard on the streets below us and fireworks showed it’s magical colours in the distance.
One highly guarded secret of the PCC Interstate is that nobody in the 500 participants would ever admit that the most difficult part of participating in the Interstate, is indeed waking up the morning after and doing it all over again. Just when you think you’ve conquered two major mountains over the last two days, it’s time to get back on the saddle yet again and “Hi-Yo Silver!”, descend Camerons towards Simpang Pulai.
However, lying in wait was another surprise was in store and before you could enjoy the 50km descent, you first had to climb 15km upon your first pedal stroke. Fret not, you will soon be rewarded with bone-chilling high speed descents of up to 70-80km/h, so choose your slipstream, get into your best aero position and enjoy![/column] [column size=”one-half” last=”true”]
The best of the day’s ride was already in the pocket upon reaching the flat plains of Simpang Pulai and the day was getting hot. I was ready to pack it all up and get into the cool comforts of my Support Car, but when my bunch of misfits decided to continue on, I didn’t want to get left out. We soon found the peloton from a Penang team so we tagged along behind comfortably till lunch time.
The undulating Ipoh – Lumut highway was scorching in the mid day sun, and I imagined myself melting like a burning candle, dripping wax onto the tarmac as I pedal wearily along. As soon as you had to stop at traffic lights, you could feel the searing heat from the road beneath you, this is how a Sunday Roast feels like, quite literarily.
Every cyclist would know that Petronas is inevitably the oasis of all cycling routes where many a ice cream club and mass assemblies in cold air-conditioned Mesra Marts are formed. I had been riding along side a couple on their first Interstate, but hadn’t had the chance to exchange salutations, so an ice cream club was formed, names exchanged and some selfies were taken.
Just like it was year 2011, I remember the last mile to the Damai Laut hotel was a mystifying long maze which took forever and a day to get to. However, upon reaching the hotel, the beautiful infinity edge pool beckons and all your troubles will be forgotten. The only consolation at the end of a hard-earned 525km over 3 days, is that tomorrow, you won’t have to get up and ride, I promise.