Day 1 George Town to Ipoh
Distance: 167 km | Elevation: 550 m
By Stephanie Lim
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.
Day 1 complete and ready to take on Day 2.
Day 2 – Ipoh into the Cameron Highlands
Distance: 88 km | Elevation: 2,078 m
By Philip Galbraith
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: Cameron Highlands to Bentong
Distance: 175 km | Elevation: 1,228 m
By Timmy Rix
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.
Day 4: Bentong to Kuala Lumpur
Distance: 123 km | Elevation: 1,390 m
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.