"shwu" was great! - PCC Interstate 2006
My body has launched a sullen protest over the beating it received during the Interstate - my lips are parched and flaky, my mouth has broken out in ulcers and my limbs threaten a general shut-down. I don't know what food would help recovery anymore as I am having only aches for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Despite all the pain and sores, it's not just my body that feels tender right now. Reflections of the past three days have got me feeling all knotted up inside as well and I am awashed in emotions recollecting the gruelling days of this year's Interstate.
I suppose the flagellation on the bike brought about these feelings. Many would agree that this Interstate was by far the toughest of all. But after three tormenting days paying penance for the sins of my past, I have emerged renewed in spirit, if not in flesh. It was a baptism of fire that left my muscles charred and my face ashen. Yet on my aluminium steed, in the equatorial heat, my mettle was not reduced to a scrap heap.
Day 1: Steadfast and furious
This Interstate was truly a test of power - both the power of the wheels and the power of the will. The first day saw me clinging on to the peloton for dear life, fearing being dropped and in doing so, be deprived of the exhilarating experience riding with a fast group. From the start, two renegade riders blasted off into the breaking dawn. Securing a sheltered spot behind Rafique who served as an excellent wind breaker, I hung on doggedly as he sprang a chase. We four stayed as a group for a while before the two guys decided to turn up the wick and disappeared into the horizon. Rafique and I soft-pedalled until another group gained on us. Upon sighting an enticing 6-footer swoosh past, Rafique jumped on his wheel and I leapt into the draft of the peloton. We rode at a good pace and coasted easily at a 38km/h average. Comprising riders from PCC, Bikepro, Way2Ride and Singapore (who later made a pitstop at Chenderiang), the group was a thrill to trail behind.
I did get dropped a couple of times towards the end anyway but managed by the skin of my teeth (which I lost none this Interstate, phew!) to claw my way back. Sometimes it was by sheer brute force - relentlessly mashing in the big ring and heaving Amazonian grunts, sometimes by wily strategy - latching on to a big guy's wheel and enjoying the slipstream, to resorting to being rescued by a sympathetic but heroic Lim who at the speed of 40 plus km/h fished Annie and myself out of the woods and back on the path of the lead pack. It was every bit an adrenaline rush, clambering on to Annie's wheel, hitching a free ride on the Lim Express.
The main pack kept together most of the time, experiencing intermittent break-ups along the way, whizzing into Ipoh slightly before 10 a.m. The route from Trolak to Ipoh was most enchanting. The undulating roads that snaked through the woods quite surely took the wind out of our sails. Up, down, winding around and keeping a tempo so high that the only other scenery locked in my mind was the rear wheel of the person immediately in front.
Day 2: Huff and puff up Cameron's bluff
A better view awaited us on the second day but trepidation in anticipation of a knee-busting climb up Camerons robbed me of my appreciation of the sights. It would be a first for me if I succeeded to scale Cameron Highlands - my maiden attempt 3 years ago came to nil when I chickened out half-way through and my second attempt a few months back was foiled by the discovery of a broken fork at the NH Hotel in Tapah on the eve of the climb. Scrutiny of the route profile revealed an unbroken climb of almost 50km followed by a short dip down to Kg Raja, back to a steep 9km haul towards the Equatorial Hotel and a final burst down into Brinchang.
Those who have done the route before related varied accounts of their experience. Some labelled it as a good workout, some gave fearful documentations of impossible gradients but all agreed that it was imperative to refuel at Kg. Raja before the final heave-ho into Brinchang.
From the start in Ipoh it didn't take me that far into the ride to begin hankering for food. The climb started about 10km from where we pushed off and it was into Pain City all the way after that. I had exhausted all my supplies by the 55th km - 3 power gels, 1 box of raisins, 1 Milky Bar and 2 bottles of water, when I gained upon an R&R a little before the turn into the Kg. Raja descent. I alighted from my bike for a welcome respite - to relieve my bum and to refill my tum. I bought a RM3's worth of the juiciest sweet corn, chomping down on the cob with one hand while the other furiously fanned flies away. Brian who was suffering from severe heat stroke also stopped, pouring ice into his helmet while Aliah's sweat-soaked son Danyal joined us sitting pensively wondering, probably, what other 21-year old boys' mothers were doing over the Merdeka weekend.
We took another break at Kg. Raja. A little too conservative of our abilities to hammer up the last 9km without proper refuelling, we wolfed down a plate of fried rice and Brian started on a search for a cup of tea. As strange as it sounds, it took him a while to find some tea, which was rather ridiculous as we were in Cameron Highlands after all! Imagine no coal in Newcastle or no shoes in Imelda Marcos' house!
We pushed off on the last leg up to Camerons but we broke up by the time I zigzagged to the Country Lodge Resort at a little past 1 p.m. It felt like a cruel joke that the hotel had to be located on yet another sharp incline but with a final lunge I cranked my way up to the driveway and gritted my teeth in a triumphant pose for Bernard's camera.
Day 3: The Old Man and the Ah Moi
The second day was over but the nightmare had just begun. The worst was yet to come and the next day's route unfurled with such vehemence it left a trail of wrecked cyclists in its wake. The day began in a flurry of excitement. Everyone was poised for the climb out of Brinchang and the other out of Kg. Raja, looking forward to the 20km descent and downhill ride into Gua Musang. But if we thought it was a day of 'mostly downhills', were we sorely mistaken, very literally too. It was interminable undulations all the way. There were about 62 or more climbs from the Kg. Raja junction to the Gua Musang junction with nary a flat section!
The screaming of my thighs were muffled only by my heavy panting throughout the ride. I count myself lucky that I had good company to keep my pace easy and the ride smooth. I had made a pact with Rahim at the beginning of the ride to not stop at Kg. Raja as we had sufficient supplies on us. He was truly amazing, keeping a steady tempo on the climbs, tearing down the descents like Fernando Alonso. Not to be outdone by a grandpa, I had to keep up and in doing so, rode surprisingly well (even if I say so myself!). The speed we maintained tamed my impetuous nature to pound up the climbs and because I knew we were not coming back this path again the day after, I allowed myself to enjoy the downhills thoroughly.
The 20km descent was truly God-sent. I had no inkling that it would have been that beautiful an experience. Starting out gingerly, clutching on the brake hoods with caution, I plunged down the descent at white-knuckle speed with an elation never felt before. Everyone knows of my inclination to test out Newton's Law of Gravity and that made me paranoid about going down hill at top speed. Yet there, on the newly tarred wide two-laned carriageway I felt as though I was in Seventh Heaven. It was as if God said "You've been cycling for this long. Here, your reward. Enjoy!" Swept in an euphoric whirlwind, I felt embraced by a divine force, an overwhelming sensation that had me choking back tears. I knew then that there would be no bloodshed from me that day on the road.
When I divulged my emotions of the descent to Rahim he shook his head. "You ni macam baby la!" he laughed.
We were a good 60km into the ride when we heard some chatter approaching. It was 3 of the Penang chaps from the Cycas Revoluta team. We geared up and tailed them for all our worth and even managed to overtake them on one of the descents. They had the last laugh of course when we were shed out of the group with our heads hung low and our wheels between our legs. We had another chance when two other guys from the same team gained on us, hollering "Ah Huey! Ah Huey!" as they advanced towards us. It was Finian and Jimmy trying to tempt us to put down the hammer and push up the pace. They were fast and furious, but we were slow and sensible, bidding them a fond farewell after a mere 5 seconds of contact.
We passed a couple more riders swerving left and right up the climbs while we rather brazenly whooshed past them, throwing in an annoyingly cheery 'Hello!'. It must have been rather demoralising for the chaps Rahim and I overtook given his age and my gender.
"You rasa you first woman to reach the hotel tak?" Rahim ventured as we approached the last 20km. I shrugged, secretly hoping it was true. "Laju lah you. Tapi you are riding with an old man, so tak syok lah." Then, perhaps to make up for his self-deprecation, he added "But this is not just any 65 year old man you are riding with, you know. This is A. Rahim!"
And at the speed and ease we were going at, it was a privilege indeed!
We pulled in to the hotel just a little past noon, clocking in 4 hours and 50 minutes of riding time, feeling fresh as a daisy with even some energy left to spare for silly banter. Jesster had been the first to reach Fully Inn at 11.30 a.m., followed by the Cycas Revoluta team, Eugene on his Ribble, Rafique, Rahim and myself. It was by no means an easy route but with the right company, we rose to the challenge and enjoyed a ride that would have otherwise been sheer torture.
Congratulations to the organisers of the Interstate for yet another spectacular three days on the road. It has revived my love for my bike and reaffirmed my passion for riding. The Interstate has also unveiled the splendours Malaysia has to offer, helping us rekindle our appreciation for the bounties of our country - the routes off the beaten track, the magnificent roads and the wondrous scenery. What a wonderful National Day treat. Merdeka!!
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