If you’ve lived in Singapore for any length of time, ride road (or mountain) bikes and haven’t taken a day trip to Batam in Indonesia, then you are missing out. Just an hour on the ferry from Harbourfront terminal, Sengkupang is the start point for a variety of rides ranging from an all-day sufferfest to a gentle scenic ride or even take advantage of the several mountain bike parks.
On Saturday February 16th, 2019, (Iron) Mike Musing took around 40 ANZA roadies over to Batam to tackle the fabled 6-bridges route. It was a challenging 157km out and back ride raking over five of the Batam archipelago islands and rising 1400 metres in total along the way. While not a massive amount of climbing for this distance, the rollers kept on rolling, only giving respite on several flat sections along the way. As we rode on in our three (speed-tiered) groups, the promise of a cooler, overcast day gave way to a burst of rain that quickly dried into sun-blistering 33+ degree heat.
The road quality along the ride is generally good, but you do need to be alert to potholes and traffic. In the middle segment of the ride, there a few vehicles to contend with, but near the ferry terminal, it’s a different story so vigilance and calling out for hazards is important.
Out back in group 3, we had a mix of abilities that made it critical to find our rhythm and stick together. The bunch settled into a nice tempo and took on the early stages of the ride at a comfortable pace while watching the kms tick over.
Pete ran out of luck and we passed him at around the 30km mark with what looked like a mechanical. (Later on, we heard over the airwaves that his passport had dropped out of his back pocket on the road. Bad luck mate!)
As the groups turned around at the mid-way mark (55km for Group 3, 78km for Group 2 & 3), our wheels sliced into head winds and as we began to realise that the ride home wasn’t going to be as easy, a few groans started to emerge. Nevertheless, the riders hunkered down and helped each other out, spreading the effort against the wind out front.
Each group was also accompanied by a support van. Loaded with ice cold water, soft drinks and bananas, these became essential as each rider sucked down around 1L of liquid per hour, far outstripping what could be carried on the bike for a route of this distance. The vans also provided broom-wagon services for anyone who felt they couldn’t complete the ride in one-piece.
While the heat and rolling hills make this route a serious challenge, it is made easier by the scenery and the warm welcome from the locals. The route passes by many local townships and villages and as we flashed past them, there was always a smile and a wave to be had from the residents. Add to this the bright azure waters and panoramic views of the islands and inlets, and it makes for a very enjoyable day out.
A word of warning to all those going across in the future: do not mess with the Indonesia immigration. They are very serious about keeping quiet in the line for passport control, and whatever you do, don’t climb over the barriers to try and speed up the access to the front of the queue. This, as one unfortunate ANZAnian found, might land you in front of the duty-manager immigration officer, and force an embarrassing apology and subsequent scramble for the ferry…
6 am, after a 2 hour flight delay (thanks AirAsia), a 1am bike assembly, and a surprise-curry-bun for breakfast (I had purchased a coconut bun), I was in bleary, “peak” condition to start a long ride. We were a good group of 8; Strong reliable horses Mike Korenoff, Jason Dubois and Timmy Rix. So strong he has a tendency-to-accidentally-accelerate-and-drop-the-ladies Ben Crouch, dependable and steady Phil Galbraith, Lizzie Hodges who counts every animal we ride past, Laura Gordon and myself who were woefully under-prepared but willing to give it a go!
We managed to pack everything onto the pick-up-truck (pro tip: luggage/bike cases for 8 people is the absolute maximum to squeeze onto a truck), and Laura and I compared cycling strategies; I hadn’t ridden at all during November/December, Laura hadn’t really ridden for 4 months, but had ridden 600 kilometres over the holiday period #festive500 – both ideal preparation strategies (not).
We both casually noticed that with all the luggage on the truck, there was zero room to sit in the sag wagon. Hmmm, interesting… The rest of the riders looked pretty good though.
Once the truck was packed, off we set. After being informed we weren’t allowed to ride across the Penang Straits bridge (or we could be arrested), we rode 500 m to catch the ferry across the straits. It was a cool, blustery morning so the ferry ride was a nice, tranquil way to start the day, and everybody remembered to pause their Garmins except Ben Crouch 😛
On the other side we started the ride proper and crossed into red-light-Bukit-Mertjam. With about 20 red lights in the first hour, it was a little like we had never left Singapore. Finally, the traffic subsided and we started a nice tempo. 25 kilometres in, I was on the front and felt something a bit wrong. “Ben, do I have a flat back tyre?” Yes I did. “Mechanical!” and we all pulled over into a conveniently located car park.
I got busy trying to change my tyre, Timmy Rix held my bike and Phil Galbraith did all the hard bits – we were a good group. The truck turned up with a track pump, we finally found the offending tiny piece of glass and off we went again.
At about 100 kilometres in we were starting to get hungry. Laura hadn’t had breakfast and I was at the point of hangry. Riding through Kuala Kangsar, we pulled into various carparks, all past restaurants with their shutters down. We finally spotted a local eatery which was open (with a Domino’s Pizza a few doors down), parked are bikes alongside and after a quick look at the extensive menu (where the only thing actually available was nasi goreng) we ordered plates of nasi goreng with fried chicken all round. After trying to explain vegan food to them, Mike went off to get a takeaway vegan pizza from Domino’s and brought it back over – job done.
Much happier after lunch, we only had 70 kilometres to ride. Just a Kranji, no big deal. Mike was sharp with the directions and we rode like a well-oiled, slightly-full machine. As the day wore on I was glad to be on the wheel. We finally pulled into Ipoh around 3pm, cleaned up, went for first dinner and massages (where I got to explain to the massage-man that I didn’t want to share a massage room with either Phil OR Jason), followed by second dinner and beers.
As we planned to leave at 6am, we decided that the best breakfast option was cold takeaway Pizza Hut (as everything else was closed) and then we ate half our planned-breakfast-pizza for third dinner on the way back to the hotel.
The group was well warmed up after the first days ride into Ipoh, and following some dubious rehydration strategies the previous evening, everybody was up bright and early at 6:30am and ready to hit the road again. Unusually, for this part of the world, breakfast in the hotel or nearby was not readily available due to the early hour, which resulted in numerous cold pizza’s, along with our roadside stable diet of bananas and banana cake being devoured in readiness for the big day of climbing ahead.
As today involved around 2500 m of climbing, there was a sense of urgency to get going as early as possible and take advantage of the cooler morning temperatures. We rolled in the dark through the busy morning city traffic of Ipoh and soon emerged out onto the highway leading into the nearby mountains to complete the 20 kilometre lead in to the first climb of the day, which consisted largely of the Cameron Highlands KOM Challenge route.
During the ride in, Mike K tried to highlight the climb ahead, however, and probably fortunately, the mountain peak ahead was completely shrouded in cloud and fog. We were quite happy with this as it was probably better not to visualise what the next couple of hours would hold in store for us. The group stayed together until the climb kicked in and everybody spent the first few kilometres finding their own pace and rhythm.
The initial 10 kilometres averaged between 5 to 10% and certainly warmed up the legs, plus the first mountain rain was encountered, however, the rain was almost perfect in keeping the temperature reasonable, whilst the road twisted and turned ever upwards through the heavily forested landscape.
Around 60 kilometres into the day, we regrouped with Hafiz and our support car, just before the top of the KOM Challenge finish. Everybody was in good spirits and after refuelling, we continued ever upwards becoming completely immersed in the cloud and fog, with around 50 m visibility for several kilometres.
Passing the Cameron Highlands entrance sign on the mountainside, we descended and turned right for the final push and climb to the top of the mountain and our destination for the night, the Smoke House Hotel.
With around 2 ½ hours of climbing already in the legs, this final 15 kilometres climb at around 7% kicked in and certainly tested everybody’s endurance and willpower. Finally, the first signs of the local town Binchang came into view and we crested the top of the climb and descended around 5 kilometres through the rainy conditions, which made the descent quite cold and everyone was glad to reach the hotel, change into a dry set of clothes and a few well earned beers were downed, but maybe not in that order!.
Day 3 saw a relatively late roll out at 8am, after our breakfast was served at 7am. We had selected breakfast off the menu the evening before, and were presented with a selection of fruit, juice, toast (with Jam or Bovril), hot oats and a hearty full breakfast.
Ben and I were a little disappointed with our scrambled egg selection as we both salivated at the perfectly cooked poached eggs others were served. We proceeded to pack bags in the support vehicle and do the final checks of the bikes, and were ready to set off. Everyone was in good spirits with fine weather, and despite a 170+ kilometre ride ahead and fatigued legs from the previous days climbing, we knew much of the first half of the ride was descending.
The first portion of the descent off the Cameron Highlands was quite technical with bumpy roads and all descended at our own pace. We regrouped at the first turn-off and continued on with the descent.
From here the roads became smoother and with very little traffic now, we were able to enjoy an exhilarating roller-coaster descent with amazing scenery. I tried to keep within eye-sight of Ben as he led us down the descent, with Jason and Phil not far behind.
Every so often Ben would slow down to take some video on his I-Phone, and he managed to get some fantastic footage.
After reaching almost 80-90 kilometres into the ride, having descended some 1200 metres, the four of us (Ben, Jase, Phil and myself) became a little concerned as we’d not seen the support vehicle or any of the others for a long time.
Our bidons were almost empty and the temperature heating up we were in need of hydration. A short while later we gladly found a small supermarket where we stocked up on supplies and rested, with the others following soon after.
We roll out in single file with relatively flat roads ahead until the foothills of Bukit Fraser. With fatigue setting in and temperatures rising we maintained a steady speed of 30-32 kph intent on keeping the group together, although the pace lifted in the last 5-10 kilometres with the thought of a pool, food and beer at the hotel.
After riding straight past our hotel the first time a few of us had to back track to gladly find the others on the side of the road outside the hotel. We were greeted by the friendly owner who didn’t speak much English, but thanks to Steph’s translation skills we were able to organize dinner for the evening.
After a shower and recovery shake I met most of the gang at the pool, and were happy to find our hotel, a “wellness centre” served beer and coconut water, which our gracious host would bring down to us upon request.
We recovered and compared tan lines and stories, before a late dinner at 7pm. The owner had ordered takeaway from the local town of Bentong, and we managed to devour a mix of fried rice, noodles, chicken, pork and vegetables.
It was an early night for most of us after a long day and knowing we had one more day of tough riding to come.
Miraculously, 16 banana-leaf wrapped packets of Nasi Lemak are placed on the long family table, ahead of our 6 am breakfast call. Sadly no Marmite, or Bovril to food pair here. White rice, boiled egg, anchovy and chili paste set up the morning nutrition nicely.
At 6.45am we roll. It’s dark, dodging the local cats and kittens scrimmaging for leftovers. Legs are super heavy, spinning on towards Fraser’s. The sky is dark grey, with the promise of rain.
We ride on the B-roads at a steady pace which are now undulating; day is breaking. The scenery is quite stunning, the hills of the Genting region ahead of us, and padi fields are undergoing irrigation. If I didn’t know better could have sworn there were fields of dry ice bubbling over. Clearly tired and somewhat delirious.
13 kilometres in and we begin the climb to Fraser, typically we would approach the hill from the South (KL), in this instance we are cycling over the back of it from the East. I’m somewhat thrown by the first marker – 58 K.
A gradient of 3% with my average sitting at 12 kph was going to make for a long morning. I’m truly buggered, and thinking about packing it in. Steph and I get dropped almost immediately from the bunch, and I lose sight of Steph ahead not short after. Last. Again.
Still no rain, the ride is covered by tropical forest, and the road is quite sketchy in places. I keep my legs turning. Lots of rustling in the trees. A lone male macaque sits on the side of the road – Don’t stare at it! Don’t stare at it! – with premonitions of it launching at me. I’d barely out-ridden two dogs the day before, who clearly took a liking to my shiny Shimano’s.
The gravel road still winds, the weather cool, and gradually passing the 15, 20, 25 and 28 K markers. I turn a corner and hear loud whoops – the bunch, the van and the Fraser’s ‘welcome signboard’ is there! Bloody relieved, there wasn’t another ‘mystery’ 30 kilometres to go, my motivation was restored.
A quick photo-call, and armed with my new favourite cocktail – red Coke and Red Bull* – I quickly fill my bottles raring to roll. If you’re wondering what it tastes like, my teeth tell me it tastes furry.
We are now in the final stretch, relatively, with 85 kilometres to go – I mentally break this down as a ‘Changi’ – of which 30 clicks is downhill. Grateful for my new disc brakes, I score a few PRs on the descent, we ride through similar forestry and wildlife until the windy roads open up. This is a pretty cruisy way to pass the next hour, and further time to recover.
We regroup and refuel at the bottom. What follows is a flat and fast 25 kilometre – an eight-man train, led out by Iron Mike. I ride last wheel, not as efficient I’m told as third or forth but happy sitting in at 34kph watching the shadows of furious legs pedalling. Crouch, Rix and RdB, drop back occasionally and help me back on. I’ve been day-dreaming. Mike also drops back, recovering from his heavy pull. Lizzie and Phil, now on the front, solid efforts all round.
Two more climbs to go, the promise of rain was false, and the 37 degree sun was scorching as we climb up ‘Evian’ – a beautiful, but brutal climb – with a fresh water spring at the summit.
Five kilometers long and a gradient of 5% at the end of a 500 kilometre journey seemed cruel. We take our time, although some choosing to punish themselves. Why? Steph is in view, so maybe I am stronger than I think. That or my new concoction has been doing the heavy lifting.
With Evian complete, a final pit-stop, and only 30 kilometres to go including the short but punchy ‘The Wall’ – a 600m push at 7% – again, mean.
In the last effort JdB gets the second flat of the trip. Not a bad incident rate. We buddy-up again for the last 18 clicks into KL. Poor traffic means that it’s a slower grand-finale, but more chance to reflect on the four-day effort.
There are some seriously smiley faces as we get closer to Park Royal Hotel made much ‘betterer’, with the hot-showers and icy cold beers to round off the riding adventure.
For me personally, I’d ridden more in the last 12 days than I had in the last 6 months – a truly brilliant way to kick-start 2019. Thanks to Iron Mike K and #AnzaCycling for organizing such a wonderful team tour, I’d highly recommend participation in future trips.
Club ride report from Tanjung Pengelih via Desaru, Kota Tinggi, JB, Woodlands and beyond.
The team for the day consisted of Ben Crouch, Chris Bloch, Craig Martin, Jonas Trindler, Juliane Winzer, Michael Jones, Mike Koreneff, Roger Allingham and Tony Brown.
Eating breakfast and slathering on sunscreen at 4.30am is always tough. It was a very early start with the meet at Changi Point ferry arranged for 6am. Nothing a warm vending machine can of coffee won’t fix. So, after a few delays, we were underway by boat just after 7.30am. It was a perfect morning as we made our way on the short crossing to Malaysia, clear blue skies, flat ocean…. It was going to be a great day.
After the formalities on arrival in Tanjung Pengelih, we had a quick group snap and we were on the road and rolling by 8.30, later than we’d hoped for, but the mood was up. The bright skies looked set for the day, the opening 20km was amazing as we made our way east across the south coast towards Kampung Lepau. It was mostly rolling dual carriageway, very little traffic and the bunch chatted away as we made good time. It was a great day to be out on the bike.
We picked up highway 92 which took us south towards Sungai Rengit and the coastline. Without much effort we seemed to be rolling along at a great clip. This all came to abrupt halt once we joined highway 90 turning north east and following the coastline towards Tanjung Sepang. No, we weren’t all on a great day after all, we’d had a good tailwind that was now straight in our faces. The chatting stopped and we had to start working much harder, riding into a decent headwind for what turned out to be most of the morning. The group worked well together, heading north hugging the Desaru coastline through lots of villages, each with their own friendly waving and smiling locals, and series of unmarked speed humps.
By now, we were running low on water. After an unsuccessful detour off route around the new hotel developments of Desaru [ed. this was part of the route], the consensus was to keep following the highway and assumed we’d come across somewhere to buy water and maybe lunch. Just as it was looking like KFC would fill the void, there appeared a strip of shops and a great little supermarket. Ice creams and electrolytes were hastily consumed, and it was soon time to get back onboard. By now, we were back on highway 92 and headed towards Kota Tinggi.
This was probably the toughest sector of the day for all, it was another 50km to Kota Tinggi heading north west. The first thing I noticed was the traffic became much busier with lunchtime approaching, plus the road was narrower, riding two abreast wasn’t going to be safe. The second thing was that I was really struggling. To avoid potential hunger later in the day, I’d eaten way too much at lunch, my body was punishing me for the error.
With the busy traffic, the heat and the speed of the strung-out group, it made sense to split into two. Special mention here to Chris Bloch for towing my group virtually the entire way to Kota Tinggi. Chris got us to the turn onto highway 3, and we were now heading south towards JB and the wind was now mostly at our backs.
After another ice-cream and electrolyte fix at one of the lovely service stations, we were en route home. I’d ticked off a tough section and it felt like it was the home straight. Another 45km to the border checkpoint. We can do it!
Unsurprisingly, highway 3 was the busiest of the roads we travelled on. Riding single file most of the way, dodging pot holes and road debris became paramount. By this time, it was well after midday at the hottest point of the ride. My Garmin told me it was 40C, each set of lights we stopped at, felt like stepping into a sauna. We were making good time, weaving our way through endless traffic queues, getting close to the border. Again, low on water, there was one final pit-stop to fuel up on ice creams and take on water. The border wasn’t too busy, there wasn’t a queue and we sailed through to the Singapore side. Well, some of us did. Craig Martin might be the only person, ever to have punctured on the bridge. Eventually, all 9 of us were safely back in Singapore.
On tired legs we rolled down Woodlands and Bukit Timah roads. Some doing more pulling than others. We said our goodbyes and peeled off as we neared home. Some of the hardcore went for a thirst-quenching beer. What had been a blisteringly hot day, was finished in true Singapore style by a downpour within 5km of home.
It was my first ride into Malaysia. It was very challenging, but it was awesome fun. As soon as the pain subsides, I’m sure I’ll want to do it again. Well done to all taking part, it was a great bunch, with good humour and camaraderie.
We must give thanks to Mike Koreneff for taking charge with navigation and always making the time to check the bunch were safe and travelling OK. Finally, thanks to Anza Cycling!
Wonderful to see so many members, friends and family last night for our Christmas Party and 2018 Club Awards!
There were so many nominations this year. The club is, and continues to be such a great place because of our members. You all make the club a fantastic place to be, and we are super proud to have such a great group of riders.
Congratulations to all our nominees! We are all looking forward to an even bigger and better year on and off the road in 2019!
Without further adieu the 2018 Club Award winners are:
Peter Williamson – Off Road
Trent Standen – Triathlon
Pierre-Alain Scherwey – Road
Vicki Goodwin – Road
Roger Allingham – Road
Achievement & Inspiration
Yin Xiao Wu – “Spirit”
Andrea Trindler – “Dynamo”
Jeremy Hodges – “Newcomer”
Gaelle Mogabure – “Skyrocket”
Don Humphrey – “Dark Horse”
Per Arne Bergman – “Steadfast”
Sean Willems van Beveren – “Flair”
Outstanding Contribution to the Club
Club Member of the Year
If you missed out on a calendar please contact a committee member and we can get one to you, if there are any left.
So none of us had explored the place before but we had heard good things… so lets find out…
Let’s just say we weren’t disappointed and some eyes were opened …
Driven by our MTB Matriarch.. Liesbeth Kanis .. we got our shyte together .. found a date … finally got to understand why Wilson Low is the man if you want to learn how to MTB in the region and did it…
One day.. 6.15 am at Harborfront.. home about 4.30 – 5.00 but there is not one of us that regrets that…
Real countryside.. out of the city .. just do it enjoyment…
Obviously we were not locals .. so our attempted team photo at the entrance to Brak Bike Park was photo bombed a smidge … (the XC (Cross Country .. i.e. less technical) park in Batam … not to be confused with the Enduro Park very popular with locals called Dangas)
.. which kinda sets the scene for riding in this region on MTB… you gotta just go with the flow…
So.. into the flow we go… what a superb bike park to hone your MTB skills… if you want to learn or get confident on your bike this is the place.. sorry Singapore.. there is nowhere in this league here…
A day or too here and Singapores tree roots and technical trails will change for you.. this is the land of gaining your mojo..
Not a lot of words needed… we were under a forest canopy cruising beside water when the outside temperature was hitting mid 30’s or more.. just that little breeze…
What was critical to the success of this jaunt was the guidance and technical on the job coaching provided by Wilson Low…
To give you and idea of the value.. so ok, I might be a competitively natured old uncle .. but I ain’t no Mountain Biker when it comes to technical skills.. but I went from yesterday trailing this group and carrying the last man walkie talkie to today ..staying over and scoring 6 strava cups (4th to 7th) over the same trails thanks to the little tips that Wilson and this little group of riders gave me yesterday…
It was my first overseas cycling trip with Anza and it was an absolutely great trip. Great mountains, great roads, great team and great organisation. Thank you, Mike and all who contributed.
Being in Singapore for more than 10 years and having cycled the Kranji route more than 500 times, I decided to join the KL Climbing Challenge: Day 1 was 135 Km with 2500 m of altitude gain.
As you know well, Singapore is flat, really flat, and to enjoy a new and different ride and to survive the unaccustomed climbing experience, as I thought good preparation is crucial. I started with Yoga sessions, some mental preparation, and obviously I also tuned my bike by changing the chain ring in the front to 36 dents, mounted a light wheel set, got sleeves extenders and a skull cap to block the burning sun (layer one for people with less hair). Finally, I bought the Transition Bag for going by bike from home to the bus station. The Transition Bag was the subject for the entire bus ride to KL.
We left Singapore sharp at 2pm from West Coast Park and after a few hours bus ride with a lot of fun and some philosophical discussions about said “Transition Bags”, finally we all arrived happily in KL. After a quick carb and protein loading we all went early to sleep, the alarm clock was set at 5:45am.
Day One: Saturday morning, after the team photos were taken, we waited for Andrew, he decided to sleep longer and eventually catught up later. We also had a concise briefing from Mike (Mike: “it is all in the emails – didn’t you read your emails!”), we started with a delay of 20 min…
We had split the tour into a few sections.
The first section was a 15 km easy warm up, flat ride through KL. We had little traffic as the city was still asleep. It started very nice, people waving and showing thumbs up when our 21 well-dressed Anza team members passed through the roads.
The 2nd section got slowly but surely serious, it was a 15km climb up Genting Sempah, still an agreeable steady climbing with about 3 – 4% ascent. The nice panorama views and the considerate companionship helped me to reach on the top of the Genting Hill where the faster ones waiting and motivating others to reach the top.
“La Voiture Balai” (English: supporting vehicle) with food, drinks and spares was already waiting on the top of the hill.
A quick break, refill bottles, took few photos and we jumped into a downhill slope going for the tough 3rd section, the master piece, climbing up to the famous Bukit Tinggi (English: high mountain).
An 8-10% end-less climb, one serpentine curve after the other, sweating, with muscles hurting, cramping… and then finally, the reward of this trip: a French village appeared in front of us on the summit of the climb.
With impressive half-timbered houses and a castle from King Louis 14th. Wow. So nice. While re-grouping, we noticed that some of our strong riders decided, unintentionally, to make an extra round as they overshot on the downhill slope and missed the important left turn to Bukit Tinggi.
Chicken was on the menu for lunch, few more photos were taken and then we started the return section. People got quiet, stopped talking as full concentration was required to manage a very steep climb of 14% ascent – only deep breathing was echoed in the valley.
For the return, we split the team in fast and semi-fast riders, the first ones added an extra loop of 20km and the others going home directly guided by Laura, who knew the way back with a stop at the ice cream shop for a Magnum. Yummy.
And the last section, a 15 km flat ride through the rush hour back into KL, smiles on all the faces when we reached the Park Royal Hotel Lobby. A big breath and “we did it” faces could be seen all over. After this exhausting day, with empty water bottles and still very thirsty we went straight to the hotel bar for a fresh cold pint of Carlsberg followed by some yoga, and a shower, the bike cleaning could wait.
I copied Jacob’s message who joined the tour as well. Quote:” Hello Mike, I speak on behalf of everyone in the KL team. Thank you very much for your leadership and organisation. It really made for a safe, fun and excruciating experience. I also want to thank everyone who participated. The team dynamic, consideration for other’s well-being, and positive attitude exemplified by everybody was fantastic.”
You love cycling? Join us next time!
Day 2 Genting Perez
Words by Joanne
The second day of the ANZA KL riding trip was always going to be a bit of a challenge for most of us. For most it was because we had already put 135km or so on our bodies the day before. For others it was that plus the combination of dubious rehydration strategies the night before!
It certainly felt hotter than yesterday and more humid as we rolled out around 7:30am. Luckily the plan was to ride a “mere” 94km compared to the previous day. Three big climbs in there still and with the sun coming out from behind the clouds much earlier than yesterday, it certainly added to the pain.
There was an optional 7km out and back which took us a nice “easy” undulation up Genting Peras before we could roll back nicely down and continue our trip back which I’m pretty sure we all took. The last climb of the day was in the full heat of the sun which certainly made it feel a lot tougher than what it was and I’m pretty sure that by the time we got back to the hotel around 12:30pm we were all very, very happy people!
A quick wash up and we finished off the weekend with lunch by the pool and recounts of the weekend through various experiences. No doubt there were more stories added on the bus ride back!!! A fantastic weekend and very well organised. As a complete outsider, I’m very, very glad I took the risk to join in on the fun.
This is incredibly late, as I am still very much alive albeit in Singapore. But please be grateful that I spared you the earlier drafts that were far duller than this one (hopefully this is not hard to believe). This account is awash with place names that will probably mean little but basically this edition starts in Tajikistan and ends in Kyrgyzstan (a country that I still struggle both to pronounce and spell).
From my initial research and through discussions with the cyclists that we passed along the way through Central Asia, I was convinced that Tajikistan was going to be the cycling highlight of our trip. So convinced was I, that even when Jonathan expressed hesitation due to its proximity to Afghanistan and appearance in the Australian government’s cautionary travel warnings I was not dissuaded.
The reason for my Tajikistan enthusiasm was the Pamir Highway. The road that winds its way through the spectacular Pamir mountains and forms part of the Silk Road connecting Tajikistan to Kyrgyzstan. With a promise of challenging climbs and incredible mountainous scenery, I had decided that it could not be missed; even if it meant that I no longer had a travel buddy! (Jonathan went to Korea instead so we’re still trying to establish exactly who abandoned who….)
So, having farewelled/been abandoned by Jonathan, I set off from Tashkent, Uzbekistan alone in the hope that I would find some other cyclists along the way. Crossing the border from Uzbekistan into Tajikistan this hope became closer to reality when the border guards failed to react to my present with much surprise. Instead indicating that they had seen a cyclist earlier that day (or at least that’s what I could ascertain with my VERY limited understanding of Russian!)
With this knowledge in mind, I increased my cycling pace and was rewarded when I caught a glimpse of a fluro clad cyclist ahead the following day. As it transpired, Eric a Frenchman had also been ‘abandoned’ by his cycling partner in Tashkent and was heading in the same direction as I. While communication would prove somewhat of a problem due to the addition of yet another foreign language I didn’t speak, I was definitely relieved to have someone to talk to!
From our first meeting we cycled together, climbing the first serious mountain pass I would encounter and managing to navigate two 5km tunnels (fortunately no longer unlit and filled with water as previous cyclists had encountered).
While a passing motorist that we would later meet in the hostel in Dushanbe described me as looking ‘very determined’ as we cycled up this pass, I was already beginning to have doubts. I had started to question exactly what I had committed to, given the incredibly steep gradient, heat and promise of many (many) more climbs! However, these thoughts were quickly dismissed (as they always are) during a long and winding descent.
Tashkent to Dushanbe, Tajikistan
Dushanbe to Khorog
Dushanbe to Khorog, Tajikistan
Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan and a name that I still struggle to pronounce, proved a fairly unremarkable city. Boasting what is apparently the world’s second tallest flagpole (Saudi Arabia stole the title in 2014), it is perhaps only memorable to me for being the place where I encountered a large group of Australians- the first for the trip. Who, upon recognizing my presence tried to draw me into a discussion of Australian house prices. Horrified, I fled the room, my tenuous break from reality well and truly shattered!
So, after several rest days in which I avoided aforementioned Australians, searched fruitlessly for cafes and interrogated other cyclists heading in the opposite direction about the route, we headed to Khorog. The starting point of the Pamir Highway (M41) and possibly the last chance to stock up on supplies and glean information from other cyclists about the conditions ahead of us.
First mountain pass of the Pamir Highway, Tajikistan
On the unmaintained roads it took seven days to cycle the 500 kilometres from Dushanbe to Khorog. It was hot (no surprises there) but this provided a good excuse to stop and chat with the other cyclists and locals that we encountered and to take post lunch naps in the shady gardens of restaurants. Initially we cycled through green fields and we were greeted with the first glimpses of snow capped mountains as we neared the top of the first mountain pass at an altitude of a mere 3253m. (In comparison Mt Kosciusko, Australia’s highest peak is 2228m and Singapore’s Bukit Timah Hill is 163m!!) After a rather terrifying steep and patchy descent we arrived in Qalai Khumb, a small town that is most memorable for the beers that it provided, the deafening roar of the Panj River that flows through it and for my realization that I could see Afghanistan from my bedroom window!
After Qalai Khumb, Tajikistan
After fixing the first of what would be innumerable flat tyres we departed the following morning. The route took us along the dusty and rocky road that winds its way along the Panj River, a river that separates Afghanistan and Tajikistan. From this vantage point we were able to watch the Afghani villages go about their lives on the other side of the river (when we were not struggling to stay upright among the rocks of gravel!) This part of the route was also scattered with small villages and communities. Resulting in shouts of “hello, hello, what is your name? Where are you from?” from the hoards of children who seemed to know just when to appear. Stopping to drink yet more Coca Cola or consume a mostly elusive ice cream, we would soon discover that these two ubiquitous questions, delivered in perfect English were as far as the conversation could progress.
While the river itself was mesmerizing and these greetings a joy, the road conditions proved to be some of the most difficult I had encountered. As we negotiated rocky ascents more suited to mountain goats than a touring bike with fully loaded panniers, I did again wonder whether this was something that I was actually capable of! I also wondered if it would be useful to engage the services of donkey….But, on a positive note, I did become much better at getting my feet out of my cleats each time I found myself teetering between large rocks or the edge of the mountain!
The road from Dushanbe to Khorog
Finally, after a welcoming sand storm on the edges of the town we arrived in Khorog. While not a beautiful town by any standard, filled with cyclists, hiking boot clad backpackers and the ubiquitous white land cruisers of the various NGO workers who ply the region, Khorog contained a sense of energy, the promise of interesting company and information about what was ahead.
Khorog to the Wakhan Corridor
After two days in Khorog, I set off with a Turkish cyclist for the Wakhan valley. Leaving Eric, the Frenchman, as he required weeks of rest due to a saddle related injury that I was far too squeamish to discuss. The Wakhan valley/corridor is narrow strip of land that follows the river between Afghanistan and Tajikistan. And while I had been hesitant about taking this route at first, the cyclists traveling in the other direction reassured us about its safety and gave high recommendations or perhaps were unwilling to admit that it had been a terrible, terrible mistake.
‘Cycling’ in Wakhan valley
That said, the Wakhan valley was indeed spectacular; even just for its remoteness and plethora of ever changing landscapes. This sense of isolation was reinforced by the lack of shops and villages- requiring us in some areas to carry enough food for two to three days. Even when we came across villages their single shops often contained nothing more than stale biscuits, noodles, pasta, tomato paste and the occasional old snicker bar.
While we did have to battle yet more unpaved roads with various surfaces not limited to sand, gravel and rocks the scenery itself was truly spectacular. I really did feel that I was ‘in the wild.’ And while the road surfaces made the 300km route into what felt like a six day test of endurance, the challenge itself was not so much physical as it was mental. It was (and still is) difficult to push my bike up yet another rocky slope or through sand and not feel very very embarrassed! So, the cycletouring became not about the distance that we could cover each day but simply about appreciating where we were and how fortunate we were to be there. Although to avoid sounding too noble I should admit that I also spent a significant amount of time mulling over whether I would take the train or another mode of transport if it were an option.
Cycling through the Wakhan Valley, Tajikistan
Alichur to Murghab
Eventually the ‘road’ through the Wakhan valley rejoined the Pamir Highway. This brought with it asphalt, a restaurant and a warm yurt to stay in for the night courtesy of Alichur. While expecting myself to be overjoyed or at least a little proud of what I had achieved by this point in time I just felt exhausted! But, the next day brought with it the realization that despite facing yet another mountain pass the now (almost) continuous asphalt would enable me to cycle the last 100km in one day to Murghab, the next major town and rest point.
So, leaving my fellow cyclist to complete yet another isolated (and in my view unnecessary) route through the Pamir mountains I set off alone. The morning provided sun, a mild headwind and an opportunity to admire the mountains on the other side of the border with China. In contrast, the afternoon brought rain and wind as I neared the pass. And to make matters worse, unable to find my rain jacket quickly, the poncho I donned soon became a sail. But my initial concerns about how silly I looked to passing trucks were quickly overtaken by the fear that I would be found days later, frozen on a mountain top! A passing 4WD, carrying the bikes of those who had presumably given up/been too sensible to continue woke me from these overly doom laden thoughts. So, filled with what could have only been a slightly misguided sense of superiority to anyone who didn’t believe that cycling was the best mode of transport, I propelled myself across the pass from where I seemingly sailed, grinning, down the other side to Murghab. Where dinner, a shower (albeit from a bucket), partial electricity and a warm bed awaited.
Murghab to Lake Karakul
Comprising of a series of mud brick houses perched on a dusty hillside and a bazaar assembled from shipping containers; Murghab is not exactly picturesque. However the ‘homestay’ (basic accommodation, usually with a family where dinner, breakfast and copious amounts of tea are included) provided the perfect rest spot- even if I did have to sneak my bicycle inside so that I didn’t have to go outside to check on it during the night!
From Murghab I cycled over the Ak-Baital pass, which at 4655m is the highest point of the Pamir highway. This rather rocky ascent was followed by a rather rocky descent that was then followed by a rather freezing night camping on the side of the mountainside.
In between the shivers I did wonder whether I was over reacting, but the ice I found in my drink bottles the next morning confirmed that it had been a rather chilly night! Insult was added to injury the following morning upon my discovery of a homestay, just 200 metres away!
Having learnt my lesson, after a full day of cycling, I spent the next night at a homestay on Lake Karakul. Seemingly devoid of other tourists or for that other people, I spent the afternoon admiring the startlingly blue lake ringed by snowcapped mountains. And while I was tempted to swim, the lake’s 3900m elevation had created some seriously chilly water!
Lake Karakul, Kyrgyzstan
The next day brought with it the last two unpaved mountain passes with the latter marking the border to Kyrgyzstan. Reaching the top of the final pass I was ecstatic and definitely a little pleased by the looks of incredulity on the faces of a group of mountain bikers who stood at the top, waiting to descend! Finally I was in Kyrgyzstan, well I thought I was, but as it transpired I still had 20km of ‘no-man’s land’ to cross to reach the checkpoint. This situation gave me more than enough time to start wondering if I had somehow missed the guardhouse. So I was more than a little relieved when a small cluster of buildings made their appearance!
The final pass before Kyrgyzstan
Busy with a carload of backpackers, the guards gave my passport only a cursory glance before stamping it and sending me on my way. Soon, I was riding through picturesque farmland dotted with goat herders and numerous yurts. As dusk descended and the wind increased I arrived in Sary-Tash, the first town across the border. I then spent the night in a hastily chosen guesthouse; eager to get out of the cold. Filled with watermelons and children it definitely wasn’t the best choice of accommodation but I was happy to be inside!
The following days brought with them more mountain passes although they were rendered far less daunting due to the drastic improvement in road surfaces that Kyrgyzstan provided. It was then with much excitement that I arrived in Osh, the end of the Pamir Highway, the second largest city in Kyrgyzstan and the home of at least one decent coffee shop!
Bintan Ride, Indonesia Febuary 11th, 2018 By Alan Jones
The thing about memory and the way life works is that even though we experience life forwards in time, we remember everything better backwards. The things which mark our lasting experiences in life are mostly the freshest: our lasting memories are our last.
And so, it is with my ‘mini-tour’ or Bintan report
“Here, you can have mine”, Stephanie Lim shouted over the road buzz and wind of yet another little roller descent, waving her mostly empty bidon in my general direction. Now we were isolated from the support van, the hot dry wind whipping over my salt encrusted arms, I was hopefully re-checking both my bidons for any sign of water. “Empty as a gyspy’s bank account”, I noted. Diverting my dejected glaze from the heat haze of next little ‘kicker’, I turned to Seph “Isn’t that all you have?”. Stephanie, smiled. “I have a little left in the other – you can share what I have. And with that shared gesture, the kernel of friendship was formed”.
Of course, I wasn’t supposed to be there: In the heat. Fighting off cramps. In the rolling hills. With Sephanie Lim. Dyhydrated. I was supposed to be with Juliane Wizner. You see, I was a “ring in”. A late entry. New to ANZA. I didn’t even know what Bintan was until the week before.
The ping of whatsapp heralded a message from Juliane Winzer just days earlier. That sweet young German temptress of cycling who always finds a way of cajoling me (and just about anyone else) into any ride. “Please! Please! Please! Join me on a slow ride around Bintan?“, she said in a sweetly persuasive eastern German accent. Hmm, we had both enrolled in the Tour de Phuket in March and needed a training ride. Bintan! No preparation? No planning? No idea! What could possibly go wrong? I said “Yes, of course! – now again how far is this ride and where is this Bintan place?”.
Just how much Fun can two people have: Alan Jones and Juliane Winzer Tackle the start of Bintan
About the Bintan Ride:
The ride itself was a fully supported ride of about 160klm in a loop around the island. Wonderfully organised by ANZA and carried out in a casual way – wonderfully Indonesian, helpful, well intended, but slightly chaotic.
The day began from the ferry terminal at Tanah Merah with the ferry departing about 8am. After an hour-long ferry ride and a journey through customs, the group assembled for our farewell photo.
The Bintan Group. Yep that’s me the orange one NOT wearing his ANZA kit.
Bintan is an Indonesian island directly off the south-east of Singapore. Noted for its dryer climate, lack of shade and rolling hills and a sufficient size to log a longish Strava loop. 160Klm on Bintan is a real test for any cyclist.
The Bintan Route 11/2/2018
The Bintan Route Topology – lots of rolling hills
We started as unified group from the ferry resort terminal on Bintan. A long rolling flat of about 5 k’s greeted our enthusiasm before the first hills broke up the peleton as the faster riders showed their form. At the first regroup point about 10ks into the ride, we then divided into two groups: the fast group and the slow group. No guesses as to which group this 52 year old was riding in!
Each group had its own support van to carry drinks and to transport rider’s backpacks and nutrition. Cheerfully piloted and supported by a great ANZA organised Indonesian crew. Plenty of ‘Pocari Sweat’ and water at each stop.
The first stop and a needed refuelling and water refill
The route saw us push through rolling hills with some sharper rises directing us to the coast before the first stop. The route was taken at a faster pace, as the adrenaline was being worn from the group. The many legs pushing at this early stage would have something to say to their owners later in the day.
The first of many stops was a typical Indonesian fishing village with motor bikes, scooters and silent sedentary activity of the locals puzzled by the lycra clad appearance of we cycling sojourners.
A steady pace of 35-37kph in the slow group was hardly sluggish, as we enjoyed the sea breezes as the route headed south across to enjoy the coastal roads and cool sea breezes.
“Damn Chain”, I cursed as Stephanie passed me. The third dropped chain of the ride, reminded me again to send my beloved Giant TCR for a service. About 40ks left and I was fading. It was hot and getting hotter. A dry parching heat getting dryer. Cramps were just tweaking my hamstrings. In fatigue, I could only but wait as my grease blackened hands struggled, fumbling to free that damned jammed chain.”
At last moving again, our ‘slow’ group was now fractured, distant and scattered over shimmering road ahead of me. Cramping riders being picked up in the support wagon as the price was being paid for early exuberance. Riders now like scattered masts of departing yachts- appearing briefly only to sink under the next rolling wave of a hill. Legs gone, I had now fallen behind. I wasn’t last, but I wasn’t far from it.”
The route headed in land as the heat of the day started. The first casualties of the fast group began to drop back to our slower group and we worked together to look after everyone. The cool breezes of the morning were replaced with a dry hot wind and a harsh sun, as the shady lanes of the coastal route were replaced with baked tarmac.
I was alone. “Okay time to focus on my average ‘watts’ over these hills”, I thought. No youthful sprinter, my technique relies on constant but constrained pressing. “This is just a long hill”, I try, unsuccessfully, to convince myself. “Like Mount Nebo back home in Brisbane.” A distant rider finally appears. Ah ha! A motivating target!
Stephanie’s pony tail flick gave her away long before I could make out her physical form. Fifteen minutes after I was dropped, I had caught someone. “Well, done Alan. Welcome back!”, Stephanie encouraged.
The route then headed north into the heat of the day. Roads were generally good, with only one nasty pothole causing a double pinch flat and a retirement later in the day. Rolling pelotons helped share the load as a wind picked up.
As we headed further north into rolling hills the peloton finally fell apart as fatigue and pinching hills separated the groups rides by their strength and stamina. The support van was busy catering for retiring riders and the heat began to take the toll on even the faster riders.
Passing a few struggling riders, Stephanie and I found some form together. Feeling a little stronger, I led and gave Stephanie a break, but she kept coming around to lead and to share the work load. “Jump on” I yelled as we passed and then picked up another rider. Being new to ANZA, I didn’t get his name. He tucked in and we became a troika of prisoners in the gulag of that punishing afternoon Bintan sun.”
Strong and fast all day, Stephanie was now fading. A slow leak on a rear tyre of our new companion had reduced the troika back again to just a pair of survivors. These rolling hills were clearly affecting Steph. I let her lead and set the pace at her speed – as much as a mental break for me as it was to keep her from being dropped. We were slowing, but still moving onwards. Forwards. The cramps had subsided. “Steph! How much further?”, I mumble as I squinted toward my Garmin trying to read it’s digital map. “Another 15kms still, Alan ” reported Steph. “What again!?”, I chuckled. Stephanie had earnestly and erroneously reported 15kms to go for the last hour. We both laughed.
By this time, it began to become hard and unpleasant – a challenge for all involved. The last 50km of hot rolling hills were undertaken by individual riders or groups of one or two.
The finish line and Stephanie and I are just glad to be there.
“ ’Check Point Charlie’ marked the entry to the resort and the last 7 klm. Guiltily deciding not to wait to regroup with the last few fellow stragglers lest cramps render us immobile, we pressed on. Juliane was somewhere back there hopefully ok. Sorry fahrradfrau. Stephanie, completely spent, was struggling to keep in contact. “No, we would finish this damned thing together”, I vowed as I thankfully emptied Stephanie’s gift of her bidon. I slowed and rode next to my new friend, Stephanie Lim. We crossed the finish line in unison, fellow ANZA riders, and now, two who are bonded with a shared Bintan memory of travail and triumph!”.
The last 40klm were along the same route we started the ride, with the sharp hills, but now with a hot dry wind and full midday sun.
At the end of the ride enjoying a well earned beer, I learned the following lessons: Bring a change of clothes and some food to eat at the end of the ride.
All up for me it was 200klm on the day, with two and from ferry terminal and the 160klm on the day. However, it was a remarkable day, and one to begin new friendships with shared memories of achieving a great ride.