What an EPIC ride at PCC Interstate 2013
495km? Isn’t that half the length of Peninsular Malaysia?
People unfamiliar with Pedalholics Cycling Club’s (PCC) annual Interstate event held over three days spanning 495km starting from Temerloh, Pahang and crossing into Desaru, Johor would definitely think I must be crazy to even attempt that feat!
PCC’s Interstate is the most anticipated event of the year, where it’s (almost) fully registered before registration can begin, because all the past participants want to return to another taste of the grueling distance. Each year, 350 cyclists and 50 support drivers come from far and wide to reunite and form new fellowships on wheels along the roads of Malaysia.[pullquote-right]
Since 2010, this year marked my 3rd Interstate although I’ve only been cycling for 4 years. This 17th edition was the longest Interstate in terms of distance and it brought a different challenge instead. As they say, “It doesn’t get easier, it only gets faster!”
Every Sunday in August, PCC Ride Director Don Chan and his other ride leaders prepared a training schedule which included a 200km ride through the paddy fields of Kuala Selangor facing strong coastal winds and a tough hilly 160km century ride up and down the hills of Frasers-Gap. There was no tapering allowed on the last Sunday leading up to Interstate which started on a Friday, apparently tapering is for whimps!
If that doesn’t prepare mentally and physically, I don’t know what else will. On the Day Zero, I packed up my group consisting of my faithful support driver Chong Siak Mei and her photographer son Yeoh Chin Hoe, strong-as-steel-at-60 Uncle Tony Rabindran and my loyal domestique, Richard Lee. The X-Trail is decked with 4 bicycle racks, a Coleman stocked with water, bananas, first aid kit, bicycle maintanence tools as we set out to Temerloh, Pahang.
Day 1 – Starting at Temerloh, the terrain was undulating towards Kuantan. Our mission for today, was to cycle 142km to a lunch sponsored by Volkswagen (VW) Kuantan at their showroom between 12.30-2pm. Easy? Hardly! After the controlled lead out by the Marshall’s car sponsored by VW, I joined a peloton (main group of riders in a road bicycle race) formed by the PCC regulars in a double paceline riding at an average of 33-35km/h, the speed of a cruising motorcycle! Mine you, I don’t have any engine on my bicycle frame.
Enthusiasm and spirits were running high, and everyone in the peloton was still chatting and catching up with each other despite cycling at high speeds. In fact, once we were all warmed up, the peloton felt like a well-oiled machine, rotating pacelines with good discipline, humming along the trunks roads towards Maran town.
Huffing and puffing to keep up, my body’s not warmed up and yet we’re pushing such high speeds. Riding in a peloton will help in conserving energy, as the slipstream reduces drag as much as 40%. Thus, I would be able to perform better and arrive on time for lunch perhaps. My backup plan was to send my support driver ahead to pack lunch up in a box!
We decided to stop for breakfast at 50km although we were not tired, but desperately hungry! As usual, somehow cyclists always manages to find a local Malaysian favourite, Wan Tan Mee. Breakfast of choice!
“Our next stop would be around the 90-100km mark. I’ll try to keep up with this peloton for as long as I can. Come save me if I drop behind, please!”, I told my support driver, Siak Mei.
As the peloton grows too big, it becomes dangerous on the trunk roads as it becomes difficult for cars to overtake us. The peloton can be as long a 12 wheel trailer, and impatient or careless drivers might make a mistake which can take out everyone in the peloton.
One ride leader decided to break up the peloton, which left me in the trailing part of the peloton. Once he slowed down to check on the rear of the peloton, those following behind him had cut out to the right instead of braking.[pullquote-left]
Before I knew it, I saw the back wheel of my loyal domestique touch my front wheel, got stuck for a few seconds before I went sprawling onto the middle of the road! Fortunately, a fellow cyclist behind me managed to avoid running over me, and a fellow support driver behind him managed to brake in time.
“My helmet saved my life”[/pullquote-left]
It all happened in a split second, and I got up, found myself unscathed except for minor road rashes on my elbow, wrist and knee. I had felt my head hit the ground, so thankfully my helmet absorbed the impact yet didn’t break. Talk about being lucky! I picked up my precious Pinarello bike and found that it too had survived except for the handlebar tape which ripped open on the right, a slight misalignment between my wheel and handlebar, and my chain which got stuck awkwardly. Once I brushed the sand off myself, unstuck my chain, I was good to roll!
Upset such an amateur mistake had happened within the peloton although I was keeping a safe distance, yet I put it all behind me and focused on lunch! When the hills started rolling towards Bukit Gambang, I lost pursuit of the peloton but kept my spirits high, still keeping good pace with a slight tail wind. Once I caught up with my support driver, I was good for the next 30+km towards Kuantan for lunch. It was getting windier, traffic was getting heavier towards high noon but eventually we got into lunch on time. Marvellous!
After lunch, we reluctantly rolled another 9km to Swiss Garden Kuantan. Wished I was staying the weekend instead of just the night, such luxury! 142km done, checked!
Day 2 – VW Kuantan had a group of drivers and their bosses join us on a 30km Fun Ride to the beach. Some of them rode on foldies, while others were on Mountain Bikes.
Our mission today was different. We had to brave strong coastal winds for 156km through undulating terrain towards Rompin. Easier said than done, as always. I had iced my knee which swelled after yesterday’s fall, and it seemed good to go for today.
Before the beach, we assembled our strong “horses” to lead the peloton on a galloping speed of 33-35km/h once again. We passed a few bridges crossing lovely riverine scenery of Sungai Pahang.
Fellow cyclist Lie Wei yelled out, “Nice bridge!”, but I was still trying to get into the rhythm and could not get my gaze off the wheel in front of me, a little phobic after yesterday’s fall. When I could find a few seconds for a glance, the scenery was indeed beautiful with the blue skies reflecting on the river. It’s going to be a hot day ahead!
There was a convoy from a car club which has parked themselves on the other side of the bridge in the spirit of Merdeka. They waved enthusiastically and looked like they were having a good time.
Sooner than you think, 65km had passed as we rolled into Pekan town, bustling with morning market action on Merdeka Day. Sadly there wasn’t much food available for 50 hungry cyclists so we ended up buying bananas from the market. My support car had stopped at McDonald’s just outside the town, perhaps we should’ve too! No Wan Tan Mee power today? This is going to be a problem![/column] [column size=”one-half” last=”true”]
As we rolled along the coastal road, the winds blew stronger with each turn. Fortunately I was still cycling with the peloton, otherwise I’d be blown away like Mary Poppins! I kept both hands on the handlebar and was wary each time I had to release one hand to reach for my water bottle.
As we rotated through the peloton paceline, I found it difficult to maintain speed as I neared the front, even with 2-3 riders shielding the wind. When it was my turn at the front, I was struggling to keep up for one minute, and was instantly relieved when I could move to the back of the pack again.
Sadly there were no towns nor a sponsored lunch awaiting us today. We only had quick refills of water, electrolytes and bananas for the next punishing 100km under the hot sun. The pace was relentless, the winds were unforgiving, and I finally dropped from the peloton after they made a quick and swift move to overtake another peloton at an even higher speed.[/column]
“I’m not solar powered”
If only I could harness the energy from our strong tropical sun to power on! A few of us stopped at a bus stop nearby for respite from the heat before continuing on the last 7km towards our hotel in Rompin Beach Resort.
I might not have had my choice of brunch today, but my support driver had bought me KFC to resolve my extreme hunger. Such love! 156km added, checked!
Day 3 – “So what’s the game plan for today’s 197km towards Desaru?”, I asked my loyal domestique, Richard. He replied, we should try and hang on to the peloton for as long as possible to save energy and shield from the coastal winds. I was apprehensive and wondered how long I’d last at top speeds for the third day running. There’s only one way to find out!
It was only 6.30am, the sun had not risen, yet everyone was buzzing with excitement. It was a very cloudy morning, and some lightning was spotted a distance away. We rolled through a quiet Sunday morning in Rompin before the familiar peloton had formed and picked up the pace yet again, however the hills came sooner and steeper than expected.
With a huff and a puff, I tried to climb the hills as fast as possible, but I could not keep up with the peloton. The hills were rolling endlessly until I reached Mersing Kanan town and regrouped with Richard and others whom were dropped as well. I’ve never been happier to find “Wan Tan Mee” after 60km, time to power up!
As we restarted our journey, we managed to join another peloton formed by friends of team Independent Racers. They were holding a comfortable pace so I managed to hang on.
“Holy cow! Look at that rolling carpet!”
If you thought the hills at the start were bad, the terrain before us rolled up and down for as far as the eyes could see. *Gulp* I just put my head down, and changed to an easier gear to spin up each time we hit an incline. The descend was a speedy roll down, only for you to climb yet another hill, again and again for the next 140km.
Soon enough, Zeus decided to show his might and showered us with rain, hail and all that he could muster three times over. Completely soaking wet, socks became squishy and I could barely see out of my shades.
I was barely keeping track of the wheel in front of me, yet trying to keep a safe braking distance. The road surface was rough and ridden with potholes and some stretches were narrow switchbacks. It would’ve been smoother riding through Bukit Kiara on a mountain bike!
We saw a signboard that said “Awas! Jalan Rosak” (Caution! Damaged Road) and no kidding, the road was ridden with potholes which forced us into the middle of the road, blocking other cars or road users! Mind you, it was still pouring with rain, so I could barely tell if there was a pothole as it would appear only as a puddle. Needless to say, we had some close calls too.
As the rain poured on, we looked for a place to quickly meet up with our support cars for fuel and sustenance. I might not have been thirsty, but it’s foolish to ignore refuelling yourself with bananas and electrolytes to keep your muscles going strong and prevent cramps. There was still some 50km of relentless hills to pursue which would take slightly less than 2 hours.
Boy, was I glad to see the sign which read 11km to Desaru. Finally, we are almost there! Alas, the steepest slope was kept for last, as I mustered all my strength to spin all the way up and was rewarded with a mighty fast and furious downhill run!
As we slowly rolled into Pulai Desaru Resort, I could not believe what an epic ride I had today over 197km. In the toughest of situations, when the tough gets going, the rain kept pouring and the cyclists kept cycling. This is why I love cycling the annual PCC Interstate and would do it all over again!
Photos by Mahizzan Mohd Fadzil, Yeoh Chin Hoe and Yeow Mei Jyn