Saturday, January 1, 2000

Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow

Driving into Sg Lembing was like a drive back in time. That row of houses on stilts as we entered this ex-mining town looked very antiquated, if not eerie, in the moonlight. Wooden buildings outnumber concrete ones easily by 5 to 1. You are quickly hit by the still and stale air the moment you step out of the air-conditioning comfort of your car. What strikes you most are the many Chinese association halls representing different dialect groups, of which the Hakka one was to be our temporary abode, like it was for many immigrant Chinese tin miners many years before.

With my family in tow, I was accorded the privilege of one of the 3 rooms available and be spared from the many �gas turbines� that were geared for full blast later that night. But privacy was not a privilege that came without a penalty �the room was like an oven, even with a stand-alone fan at maximum power and the sole window as wide-opened as could be. In contrast, the crowded open hall was so much cooler with all the ceiling fans turned full blast. Well, you win some, you lose some.

As always, nobody slept well on occasions like this. Heat and humidity aside, the hall seemed to see streams of travellers dropping by in the wee hours. Sounds of screaming kids probably woke up everybody hours before the official wake-up call at 6.30am! Consequently, by 7.30am almost everybody had had their breakfast and all geared to ride. Later, we just hung around watching the local folks went about their Sunday marketing at the open-air market nearby.
After the obligatory photography session, we hit the road by which time it was close to 9.00am. And the sun looked like it was going to give us a real good roasting anytime soon.

'Primal' Retribution
The ride started promisingly enough with that extra 6km to the �ghost town�. It branched off from the main road after a couple of km and broke into a fire-road with tall lallang and shrubs on both sides. But what was left of the �ghost town� was nothing more than a few abandoned wooden structures. One of the abandoned structures had become a �weekend� home for a local who had cultivated some fruit trees in the vicinity. He claimed that wild animals visited the place at night, animals like tigers, tapirs and leopards.

The skeleton on Matt�s jersey (yeah Primal) provided the other 'ghostly' effect . Apparently, he had forgotten to appease that ghost for he was punished with a 2-inch nail in his rear tyre. And he would have 2 more flats before the end of the day was over!
A 5km-road ride later, we arrived at the last watering hole at Kolek. By this time, the sun was high above and roasting us. We were led into an oil palm estate. There was a river to our left and you had to fight strong desire not to jump in!

Panadols - A Panacea for Killer Hills
We exited the estate onto a logging track. It was highway wide that you could ride 10 abreast! Shade came at a premium and God blessed those who came without sunblock. Immediately flashing in my mind was the roasting we had at Gua Musang last year.

The only difference was we had slightly more shade this time. Passing the videocam to James was also a smart thing to do. It easily lightened my load by at least half a pound. Then came that killer hill which reminded me of our very own �Ugly Sisters� trail back in the Klang Valley. Only this had no ruts. Riding it would be a sheer waste of energy if not foolhardy, given the hot sun. My head was already throbbing like a disco. In the distance I could see Uncle Boh, Danny and Teres shifting down to the 4th chain-ring? one after another. Smart thing to do under the circumstances. And so I followed suit, and then watched in awe as Mrs. Sadist casually rode past while we huffed and puffed.... pushing our bikes!

At the top of the climb, I immediately popped a couple of Panadols into my mouth before my brain exploded from the heat. Sitting in the shade was of no help as the air was very warm and stifling. I could barely breathe. You had to move about to keep cool. Only Mrs. Sadist didn�t seem bothered by the heat. And the climb!....... Matt and Alesi soon appeared and plonked down in a heap next to us. But Mrs. Sadist was quick to move us off our butts to get going again. By then the speedometer had registered 29km. Good, only 15km or so to go.

Like a well-choreographed movie, the interesting section of the ride began after the torturous climb. It was mostly rolling, all hills rideable with the ruts, rocks and stones adding to the fun quotient. More importantly, we had shade. (A can of ice-cold coke would have been bliss.) A couple of fallen logs laid (purposely?) right across the trail provided the gung-ho ones with endo opportunities. Uncle Boh got itchy with one of them and was rewarded with some airtime and change of skin colour. We had so much fun, we didn�t even notice the many paw prints that everyone else saw until that fork with a shallow stream in the middle. Yeah man. Big prints, in all shapes and sizes, possibly those of a tapir, elephant or maybe even the King of Malaysian jungles, the tiger! Better not venture too far ahead of the pack.

Found our Pot
The sun must have gotten to us when five of us succumbed to Mrs. Sadist�s urging to carry on with the ride to the Rainbow Falls, the highlight of the trip. But we were still rational enough to vow to stick together, do it at a leisurely pace, not more than 20kph max. Not that this self-imposed speed limit was necessary during the first 3km of hell. I don�t know about the others, but I was managing an �impressive� 6 or 7! But three of the faster riders broke away from the group upon reaching the first descent, leaving James, Uncle Boh and I to smell their dust. Seems that vows are made to be broken.

Enough of heat and dust after some 9km of sheer torture, the 3 of us ventured off a single track to the river bank where a couple of guys were fishing, hoping that they could give us a ride out on their truck. But hard luck, they weren�t leaving anytime soon. So we pushed on until we reached those chalets where we took a break before turning back. Thankfully, the sun was clouded out by then and it even drizzled for a couple of minutes! Then a van overtook us and I could see Batman grinning from ear to ear inside! James found his second wind and broke away leaving Uncle Boh to be my sole outrider. But after a short while even Uncle Boh got tired of the pace. Soon I was pedaling alone, almost giving up when the track turned downwards for the next 3 km or so back to town. Yippee! Speedometer registered 64km. Chong, Danny and Matt got back by truck and they clocked much less! And with that, James, Uncle Boh and I declared ourselves rightful champions of the day for logging the highest mileage. Hip hip hooray! OUR pot of gold despite not making it to the Rainbow Falls.

About Sungai Lembing
About 48 km north-west of Kuantan is Sungai Lembing, an old mining town where one of the deepest lodes mines in the world was once active. Historical relics of European architecture can still be seen at every turn.

courtesy of Peter Choong

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