Monthly Archives: August 2017

KL – All Change

Gordon’s Getaways have gone away and our captive hotel GM escaped to Yangon, what will KL be like without them?

Friday – By New Frank

Gathering at 2pm at West Coast Highway McDonald’s and after ensuring all bikes were securely loaded, we boarded a very comfortable Malaysian bus. The ride to the Singapore Malaysian border hardly takes 30-45 min. Given the time of day, around 3pm, we cruised past the Singaporean side of the border in no time and set off to cross the border. Arriving at the Malaysian side, we had our passports checked once more and were ready to board the bus again, but not after re-assuring ourselves our precious road machines were still there. Sounds very smooth I hear you say! Indeed, but at that moment our Malaysian friends decided the whole bus had to be “scanned” for potential presence of drugs. True, cycling has been plagued by many doping scandals over the past decennia, but I guess Malaysian border control had other drugs in mind. As everybody knows, we are just happy ANZA folks interested in cycling (and our after-ride coffees and maybe the occasional beer). After an unsuccessful “scan”, that is nothing found, at 4.15pm we were finally on our way to our final destination: Kuala Lumpur!

I had the pleasure of doing several races this year for ANZA, Tour de Bintan, Tour de Phuket and Barelang Six Bridges, but this was my first social trip. From the start the atmosphere was relaxed and very friendly. At the first and only intermediate stop on the good quality Malaysian motorway, we all enjoyed ice creams and other healthy food. Hey, it’s a social trip, not a race!

By 8.15pm, we arrived in KL at the Parkroyal hotel. It took us in total just over 6 hours, which is pretty fast given the time spend at the border. We were treated as VIPs by the lovely people of the hotel and in no time had our road machines in the room. Given it was the first night and Saturday would have a tough ride in store, most of us made it back to the hotel in time for a good night sleep!

Saturday – By Less New Frank

Saturday morning, the day of 145km and around 2,000 meter of elevation, the ride to Genting Sempah, started with an excellent breakfast at 6.30am. We gathered around 7.45am for the inevitable group photo with everyone in the beautiful new kit showing off the names of our kind sponsors. At 8am sharp we were ready for our 15km parade out of Central KL. The ride out of town was smooth and it was surprising to see how considerate drivers are in this big city and leave sufficient distance. You can tell Malaysia has a cycling culture, of which the successful track team is the best example. The experts will recall Azizulhasni Awang claiming the gold medal in the keirin discipline at this year’s UCI Track Cycling World Championships! Unfortunately we missed the cycling disciplines of the South East Asia games which were kicked off on that Saturday.

Hardly warmed up we took on the first climb to the Ampang Look Out Point, a 3 km climb with an average gradient of 4%. The nice thing about a social trip is meeting people you normally don’t ride with given different shape, ambitions, etc. Here were rolled at a leisurely pace to the first hill and regrouped at the top of the hill. After just 20km we were all welcoming the cold refreshments from the 2 support vehicles carrying cold drinks and fruits.

After the descent, groups of similar capabilities and skills formed naturally and we took on several hills of varying gradients. The number of monkeys we’ve seen on the road were countless and it was a relief to Peter Archbold that climbing solo for the best part of the ride with bananas in his jersey pocket and a pace best described as a brisk walk on the hills, thankfully not one monkey seemed to notice the resemblance of Peter to a Deliveroo rider!

The route basically consists of 2 loops and near the end of the second loop as we were approaching lunch time and all stomachs were pretty empty from riding and enjoying the great scenery, only our group was rather unsure of the exact location were lunch was reserved. Our group consisting of around 10-12 riders decided it wise to call the driver of the support vehicle only to realise none of had a network signal. We started to doubt if we were on the right route and returning would imply taking a few hills again, which was not a nice prospect. Only than it occurred to us the restaurant was just around the corner and the driver was already waiving to us. Quite a relief!

The morning efforts had taken its toll on a several riders and in the afternoon multiple groups had formed again. The faster riders reached the Look Out point, basically the gateway to KL. Slowly but surely all riders reached the summit of the Look Out point, the last climb of the day. Some in somewhat better shape than others and together we descended for well-deserved ice cream before riding back to the hotel escorted by our friendly support vehicle.

The ride ended without a single puncture or other mechanical problem which is pretty amazing for a group of 26 riders. That seemed like a good prospect for Sunday’s ride!

After refreshing, we gathered at the Parkroyal lounge where we were pampered again by the hotel staff. Given the rugby game Australia – New Zealand was live at that time, it was a good moment to remind ourselves again what ANZA stands for. Discussing the result of the game is totally unnecessary for the country without black colours!

Around half of the group still went into town, while the rest was off to bed given the next day had some challenges as well. At FLAM’s, we enjoyed French thin crust pizza with a few beer towers. With a Man United game on TV, discussions quickly evolved to where real football is played. Given only Glenn and yours truly were able to defend “real” football, against a majority of Aussies it was clear it was a lost battle. So we will be looking forward to the next World Cup of Aussie-rules football, I mean footie!

Most of us still wanted a good night of sleep, while other were busy “simulating long endurance race efforts” where sleep deprivation is a factor in the race, including sufficient intake of liquids of course. Luckily they made it safe and sound back to the hotel at 3.30am.

Special credits go to Mary Scot and Mark O. for pushing their boundaries with their longest rides ever without getting into the support van (or maybe for 1.5km). And yes, every time Mark asked the driver of the sag wagon how far still to the top, he answered “it’s just around the corner!”

Sunday – By Julianne

Rolling!

The lovely ride up to Genting Sempah was on the menu for today. Not many suffered from any hangovers of last night, so we started bright eyed and bushy tailed our climb sharp at 8’o clock from the hotel.

22 ambitious riders were on the start today. The climb was decent and steady with some new QOMs and no big surprises.

Glen Raoul and Mike took off from the front of the group at the overhead bridge which caused some splits to the pack.

Everyone made it up the climb which was a monumental effort considering the long ride on Saturday.

Other than the way back down where Steven decided to descent with one spoke less, just for the fun and to have some drama. The drama got luckily fixed thanks to Stephanie’s Ringgit donation and we were on our way (after an ice cream stop).

The only drawback was that our well deserved pool time got cut short by a few minutes.

Our KL trip ended with traditional beef burgers at the pool, followed by an almost sharp departure at 2 pm back home to Singapore.

The return drive was uneventful and with a super duper speedy crossing through Malaysia and Singapore boarders we even beat those who flew back into Singapore.

Many thanks to Mike who organised the trip, great job as usual!

Thanks for the ride guys!

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Gillian’s cycling adventure| pt 2

Gillian and her friend Jonathan may or may not make it out of Iran

If you missed part 1 it’s here Gillian’s Cycling Adventure

From Tehran the (overly) ambitious nature of my planning became obvious as we cycled down to Shiraz (where we consequently found no Shiraz, or any other type of wine for that matter) and then onto Isfahan.  Whilst both cities were magnificent and beautiful, the 40 plus temperatures made appreciating their sights a challenge.

Cycling in Ramadan created another layer of difficulty, as many restaurants and shops were closed during the day. I also felt uncomfortable eating and drinking in public thinking that we were breaking the law.  We later discovered (much too late) that travellers were exempt from these restrictions!

From Isfahan we stopped at Persepolis where were allowed to camp next to the guard house for the night. The night of our arrival the guards quickly found an English speaking guide who arrived at our campsite with tea and stories of his work as an archaeologist during the original dig.

We then began the trek across the desert to Yadz.  While this part of the trip involved long stretches without towns or people, being able to watch the landscape constantly change proved fascinating.  All the podcasts that I had subscribed to in an attempt to stave off boredom went unlistened to as I focused on the road ahead.

I have heard cycling being described as being about the passing of time,
and with the wheels continuously turning, sometimes fast and other times painfully slow, it definitely felt this way. During these stretches of desert in 30-40 degree temperatures the focus became about getting to the next sign, the next hill, to the first 30km and then over the 100km mark.  There has obviously also much time spent watching my Garmin waiting for the kilometers to tick over! (Much to Jonathan’s disgust!)

When we finally did arrive, Yadz turned out to be just as enchanting as expected with its desert coloured buildings and blue tiled domes.

From Yadz we attempted to cycle across the last stretch of desert to Mashad, the city considered by Muslims to be the holiest city in Iran  (i.e. The Iranian equivalent of Mecca) and our border crossing point into Turkmenistan.
The highlight of this 900km dusty and hot bicycle journey turned out to be camping next to the site of the remnants of a helicopter and plane crash, an ill fated attempt to end the US hostage crisis.  There, we were hosted by the Red Crescent staff who made us dinner and breakfast before providing us water for the next part of our trip!

We then managed to cycle another 120km through the searing heat and wind before Jonathan realised the stupidity of the endeavor and took the bus.  I stubbornly cycled another 270km before I was waved down by a passing motorist, invited into her home for lunch and dinner and then I was bought a bus ticket for the next day!

Watching yet more desert roll by from the bus window I definitely realised that I wasn’t missing out!

While a great place to see the finish of Ramadan, Mashhad proved to be the least exciting of the Iranian cities that we visited. So after a very long tour of the mosque, involving me wearing an extra long borrowed chador that was not dissimilar to a bed sheet; we were glad to receive our Turkmenistan transit visas. This event was somewhat of a lottery win as many people are rejected with no explanation. The irony of wanting to visit a country that did not want us was not lost on me!

Arguably the strangest and least visited ‘stan, Turkmenistan gained nortoriety through the dictatorship of former President Saparmyrat Niyazov.  In this role, Niyazov covered the country in golden statues of himself and ruled as ‘Turkmenbashi,’ leader of the Turkmen until his death in 2016. So, it was with much anticipation and curiosity that we crossed over the border into what our Lonely Planet guide described as a “totalitarian theme park.”

While it didn’t feel right to be excited about visiting a totalitarian regime, having spent a month in Iran it was a relief to finally cross the border and enter another country, any country!  I would also have to admit that the opportunity to have a beer (or two) and not be obliged to wear a headscarf was playing heavily on my mind!

With only five days to cross the country, after successfully navigating the border crossing we loaded our bikes into a waiting taxi and headed towards the nation’s capital, Ashgabat.  Once there, we spent the afternoon cycling around admiring the marble buildings, gold domes and large areas of uninhabited lush parkland before checking into a hulking Soviet era hotel.  A fairly bleak option, we were provided with one towel to share, no toilet paper or toilet seat and told to open a window if the Arctic blast of the air conditioning became too much.  All for the princely sum of $50 USD!

The next day we took a series of taxis to get to the Darvaza gas crater in the Karkarum desert.  While the desert had been described to us as an opportunity to get a glimpse into traditional Turkmen life, with its collection of ramshackle huts and occasional camel the landscape proved rather bleak!  The crater itself, a result of Soviet-era gas exploration in the 1950s was definitely worth the trip.  Basically a pit of flames, the fire burns with incredible ferocity and can be seen from a great distance away (which is handy given that it felt like standing next to an open oven door!)

Alone at the crater, we managed to take innumerable photos before camping for the night and returning to Ashgabat the next day.  After a another night there we took the overnight train to Turkmenabat and cycled the remaining 30km across the border into Uzbekistan.  With its seemingly unending bureaucracy and paperwork, this crossing took up most of the morning.  This left us with little choice but to cycle through yet another desert in the midday sun as a ferocious headwind blew sand into our faces.  Delightful.

Thankfully, the next day proved to be a vast improvement.  We met up with a French cycle touring couple that we previously encountered in Iran.  The day was then spent singing and chatting while cycling through lush green fields criss crossed with irrigation channels and dotted with workers in colourful headscarves.  This was a definite change of pace for us!

As we cycled along we were greeted by villagers and many children and adults on bikes, who seemed to delight in whizzing past, chains squeaking and rattling.

As expected, Bukhara proved beautiful and was not full of the bus loads of tourists that we had expected.  After two days of exploration, we set off to Samarkand, arguably Uzbekistan’s most impressive city with its grand monuments, colourful bazaar and rich history.

Our time in Samarkand was spent wandering around the city and enjoying fresh food and copious amounts of ice cream before we set off to last destination in Uzbekistan. While having enjoyed much of the history that both the cities of Bukhara and Samarkand had to offer it was Tashkent with its plethora of Soviet-era architecture that I was most excited about. Obviously Jonathan was not as thrilled at this prospect.

As I had anticipated Tashkent proved impressive with its plethora of mostly well maintained monuments, Stalinist ministries and highly decorated apartment blocks.

Somewhat distracted by this haze of architectural induced happiness, at this point Jonathan and I decided to go our separate ways (so yes, Hooper, I owe you a beer).

While the trip had been Jonathan’s idea, he decided that he had seen enough of Central Asia whereas I wanted to head to Tajikistan, home of the Pamir Highway, with its promise of some of the best mountain scenery in Asia (and difficult climbs).

Amicably, we repacked our panniers, I learnt how to use our stove and Jonathan jumped on a flight to Korea as I headed in the direction of the Tajikistan border with the hope of finding a cycling friend.*

*Slight spoiler alert but I should probably note at this point that having spent two 150km days alone I managed to meet up with a French cyclist who had also lost his travelling companion just after the Uzbekistan/Tajikistan border.  So no, I am not still trying to utilize my poor navigational skills in Uzbekistan although I did manage to get lost.  Twice.