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?”.
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.
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.
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 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.
“ ’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.