Thursday, July 20, 2000

THE EXTREME TOUR OF REJANG (ETOR)2000 - Stage 3, Song to Kanowit Epic Ride

Thurs 20th July - As we continued our stevedoring saga, this time from the jetty up to the Camp Iran's office, we thought the place was a little too quiet for comfort. Where was the pre-arranged 4X4 for the longest ride of the tour? "The Camp Manager has gone back to Sibu and the foreman is in a transit camp deep in the forest" offered the canteen operator, much to our consternation. We were annoyed and thinking hard at the same time. A logging camp was not a place where transportation could be at your beck and call. To compound to the anxiety, we received a call from Sibu that our transport from Kanowit to Sibu had been 'snatched' fro

A quick change of plan. Take all the food and emergency repair supplies and tools for a 5-hour ride max. By then, hopefully, the support crew would have met us head-on coming from Camp Mapai's side; provided that they were not hampered by land-slides which were quite common in an abandoned logging trail. All told, it was not a good start to the longest stage of ETOR 2000.

But it had been a pleasant experience at breakfast table earlier in Song. There in the coffee shop where we had breakfast, was black leather bound chair that had the team doing the "musical chair" . It was a mechanical massage contraption that had rollers going up and down one's back in varying patterns of massaging techniques. Three minutes of bliss! Ah..........and fuelled up with the usual Popeye's stuff, the comforting thought of a cooler day and no dust to contend with, we were in high spirit.

Watched on by a group of bemused camp workers, the team with each rider heavier in weight, set off with a quiet confidence that we still had each other to depend on. The pace was slow having the learnt the lesson of the first day. Yes, the climbs confronted us almost immediately but fortunately they were more gentle. As usual Malcolm was in his element, taking to his flight of fancy, leaving the rest to keep each other company.

The weather was a contrast to the first day's ride. The temperature was probably in the 30's but cooler in the shade. The road condition so far had been as expected; free of dust, hard and fast.
As the hours went by, the continuous climbs began to sap the strength of the riders. The elevation of the logging roads going into the hinterland are characteristically steeper in climbs and shorter in descents. I could hear the hard breathing of Liu as Glen, Fui and I kept pace with him and with each other. Liu had performed admirably so far for a 51-year old. However yesterday's ride at the Communist Trail had taken a big toll on his body.

The breathtaking scenery at the second highest peak in the region. That's Liu snuggling up to Glen......

It was moment like this when group dynamics came into play. Glen, Fui and myself took turns pushing Liu's bike up the countless climbs. Not to sound like superman, some of the climbs were unrideable for us. And I was still carrying the flu and over-exertion would only force mucous further down into the lungs.

"Walking up is just as hard", complained Liu between sips of water from his camelback. He was referring to the two monster climbs with one peaking at 2,200ft

"This is the 4.30 pm road", observed Glen on the seemingly hastily cut incline on an already long climb. Fui and I thought the view was a reward for all the hard work. All of us had lunch on top of the second highest point in the region; the best panoramic view ever in our gastronomic experience. Lunch consisted of a sachet of Power Bar gel, kong piahs (yes!) and beef jerky to hold the food in our system.

Soon we turned left into an abandoned stretch of logging road, the link to another logging road which would take us to our destination; Camp Mapai. Deep in my heart I was hoping that we did not have to suffer the nightmarish muddy slog that I went through last year. It had rained for two days in the area. My confidence soon soared as the trail surface maintained its dignity. Yeah...we were going to make good time.

The beauty of the region still had the same enthralling effect on me; the deep valleys where virgin forest had stood for centuries, the pleasing sight of the blue hue in the atmosphere as a result of oil emitted by millions of leaves, cool and refreshing oxygen laden air and great company, ...this time marvel together.

A picture paints a thousand words............

As we were negotiating a technical descent, I suddenly caught sight of two figures on the slope of the next hill. "Support!, support!...", I exclaimed. It was Daron and Eunice. Their support truck had been impeded by a land slide. They had walked ahead waiting for photo shooting opportunities. It was fortunate that the meeting point wasn't any further away. Relieved and none more so than Liu who wisely made the decision to travel with the support truck until he was fully recovered. Glenn limped into the support area with a broken chain. Fui was taking it all along in his stride.

There were still about six hours to go according to our estimate. Refueled, recovered, chain fixed and with the reassurance of a backup, the remaining 4 of us set off increasing the pace a little bit. Roadrunner (Malcolm) was with us for while until Glen felt the strain of keeping with the pace setting in. Mind you, to have come this far was already an amazing feat considering the amount of preparation he took. His body was sore especially the muscles around the scapula region. An impromptu massage temporarily relieved the sting.

The climbs and descents along this stretch were technical. There was one which was about 2-km long and it was basically putting one foot over the other. Mud was still present in sections where water could not drain off. The mud was thick and sticky enough to adhere itself all over our bikes and annoyingly in the clipless pedal. Fortunately there were few.

"Stop, Illegal immigrant check!", shouted Daron, as he playfully flagged us down. He wanted to show us the local version of Viagra known as 'Tongkat Ali". Wow, wonder if it were any good for cyclists. If the resilient nature of the plant were any indication, then its reputation was justified. The leaves were as tough as Dupont material and the plant near impossible to uproot. Consider this, the plant we encountered could not be persuaded to leave its home when some timber workers had earlier tried to use a 4X4 to pull it out , with a rope tied around the 1-inch circumference trunk.

What about the deer and the monkey? Daron would later recount the story , how he first saw a Kijang (local word for deer) and had wanted Eunice to film the animal. Unaware of the National Geographic instinct of Eunice, Malcolm sent the deer scuttling as he came hurtling round the corner.

The Macaque monkey that ran across my path was a change from the majestic rhinocerous hornbill I saw last year. It must have been a male judging by the size of it as it scampered into the bush. This is in the wild remember....hence the excitement.

Not all were hard work though.......this was about a 60km/h km-long descent. Definitely FSR country!

The weather has grown to be quite hot now as we rode into the lower topography of the region. We were regularly sucking Replace from our camelback to keep the electrolytes level up and the cramps away. The support truck kept us reassured and replenished. The white towel wrapped around our neck provided additional cooling mechanism. It kept the sun off the back of our neck and the dampness of it kept the heat at bay.

It is always a good feeling when one has reached a certain point of a journey as one is able to gauge the possibilities. For us that feeling was felt when we left the link trail for the home stretch to Camp Mapai. As is the characteristic of logging roads, there were now longer descents and shorter climbs. The speed was gnarly to say the least, and thrilling to boost. Attempts by Glen to use the speed as inertia for the climbs worked occasionally but he would discover that nothing beat technique. The smooth surface of the rolling terrain was like one giant roller-coaster. With wind howling in our ears and the upper body staying as loose as possible, we were having the ride of our life time. Fui would not quite agree to this however.

7 hours, 8 hours..........passed by. Liu rejoined Malcolm ahead as Glen, Fui and myself brought up the rear. The old soldier in Glen prodded him on. He was seemingly on survival mode as he tackled the climbs admirably. There were still no let-up in climbs. "You guys go ahead", offered Glen as he realised that his pace was slowing us down. I refused. It was just not in the spirit of the tour. Fui and I were to become his de-facto body guards till the end of this stage.

"We are almost there!", I shouted out. The familiar terrain sent a feeling of relief. after 9 hours into the ride. In a way I was glad that we did not have ride all the way to Kanowit town, my destination last year. It would have taken another 2 hours at least. Braking gingerly, we rolled downhill to cross a public road junction to enter the last stretch of the logging road to Camp Mapai. Our elations dampened the dusty condition for we knew that we had gained the respect of Mother (Father) Nature.

74km and 10 hours; we looked at one another too caught up in our introspections of what had been.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

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