Monday, September 15, 2008

Thailand to Singapore, via East Coast of Malaysia, Ride: Day 1

We're only here for a short while. Time runs out on us. When we're in our 30s, we think we have lots of time. I'll do things later, we say. But now is later.
         (Billy Goat aka George Woodard)

The 6 PM scheduled train left the station at 6:15 PM. I am seated at carriage 3. The bike's in carriage 4.

Journal entry

- On train.

After 2+ (possibly 3) months of dreaming and false starts, including one caused by a long illness (a bad throat infection), I finally get to embark on this trip. I selected the people individuals whom I shared the planning stage of this trip with care: they are either very likely to be positive towards it, or possess experience in this sort of venture — preferably both. Needless to say, as the departure date approached — despite my best efforts — some news leaked out and the naysayers and the fearmongers descended upon me like flies on honey (or, shit).

Someone once said that we should surround ourselves with positive people if we wish to succeed. This is not to say that one should repeat the mistake of one Geogian President Mikheil Saakashvili, with his idealistic, starry-eyed cabinet, but naysayers have an effect of draining enterprises with their oversized-panty-clutching fears and collective whining. So, a couple of days before, they descended upon me; crows cawing for carrion before the lamb is born.

It rattled me. And that made me angry. Angry at myself for this weakness. Angry for letting it affect me. I'm a cynic by nature: I plan for the worst. I prepare for the worst. Anything that's better is a bonus (and enjoyment) to me. Hence, I don't need people descending upon me with tales and doom and gloom — especially when the same people so lack the experience in the activity they so fervently foretell.

The night before, someone unexpectedly called and offered words of encouragement, even solace. Prayer is a powerful thing. Its efficacy is independent of the beneficiary's knowledge of it's transmission. You believe. I believe. And there is one God, and He watches over all of us. Thank you, dear.

Preparation has been manic. At the train station, no one knew what to do with Michelle, my bicycle. I was given the run around. Meanwhile, more tales of doom (and stratospheric customs duties for my 1991 bicycle) were related to me with great enthusiasm by individuals who had no part in the actual outcome. Before the trip even begun, I've already exhausted my tenuous command of Bahasa Melayu. I was wondering if this would mean another delay; time was not on my side, the monsoon was at my back.

         She's got a ticket to ride...

Mom, who's only supposed to pop by for 10 minutes to send me off before going off to teach her yoga class, came to my assistance. (I guess this dispels any macho notions I've of myself: I am now Principal Seymour Skinner.) With her vast command of the Malay language — she only taught in Malaysia for 25 years — she eloquently confused convinced the 2 train conductors to let me monopolize the entire luggage compartment of the second-class carriages. It is secure.

The bike is locked behind a steel gate, and it lies opposite the train conductors' rest booth. So, thanks, Mom  :-)

'Reached Johor Bahru at 7 PM. From my bunk, I chatted with a middle-aged lady across the aisle. It turned out that she's from Kelantan, and resides in Kota Bharu. She confirmed that there are a lot of Chinese in Kota Bharu, all the way south, through Terengannu. This is one instance where such news is good news as it is the month of Ramadan. The Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. No food is generally a bad idea for a touring cyclist. Chinese present = food available. Food good. Starvation touring ride bad.

She also confirmed that the southern provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani, and Songkhla are extremely dangerous and must be avoided.

This bit of ground level information, coupled with information from Lonely Planet forums, scuttled my extended plans for south Thailand. Rats. And I was just getting ambitious. So much for the fancy of riding south from Songkhla. Another time, when the natives are less restless, perhaps.

When I was packing, I tried to keep the total weight of my bicycle, plus load, to 40 kg (88 lb). So, 39 kg (85.8 lb) is a good number. With 2 full water bottles — one 16 fluid ounces, the other 24 fluid ounces — it should tip the scales at 42 kg (92.4 lb). For longer hauls between towns and villages, on isolated stretches, a 1.5 liter bottle of 100 Plus above the drive-side pannier, and 1.5 liters of mineral water on the non-drive side, should bring the weight to about 45 kg (99 lb). On the Desaru ride with NicIz2HardKore (another Mok, by the way. All Moks possess a hardcore gene in one area or another.), I was 66 kg (145.2 lb); and with Michelle at 22 kg (48.4 lb), saddled with only rear panniers, I really felt the weight . "Reverse gear on the uphills," quoth he.

Aside: that was the first and last tour by NicIz2HardKore's Bridgestone fixie. His snow-white Bridgestone died when a cab driver (possibly one of the seven dwarves) suddenly stopped in front of Nic. In gross indignation, NicIz2HardKore smashed the rear windscreen with his face.

         *A moment's silence for a lost Bridgestone*

(For the uninitiated, Bridgestones are to Rivendells what Ainur are to the other inhabitants of Middle-earth.)

Back to the weight, at 33% of my body weight (22 kg bike with rear panniers / 66 kg rider), I really felt it. Now, with it ranging from 65.6% (42 kg bike / 64 kg rider) to 70.3% (45 kg bike / 64 kg rider), I really wonder how I will fare.

Train's at Gemas, Negeri Sembilan Darul Khusus, now.

Time to get some sleep.


Cateye AT-100
Elevation climbed  10 feet (3 m)
Average speed  1 mph (1.6 km/h)
Max speed  1 mph (1.6 km/h)
Distance  0.1 mile (0.16 km)
Temperature  85° F (29.4° C)
Cumulative distance  0.1 mile (0.16 km)

1 comment:

ChrisW said...


It was good that you made this trip, naysayers notwithstanding. My policy goes, 'If not now, when?' Before you know it, the when becomes never.

It's good to be kiasu in planning, and preempting any screw ups, my style too, but Ramadan is not quite the ideal time. Even the Chinese coffee shops in Kota Bahru, have to half open. There's a great wantan mee shop across the road from the Crystal Lodge. Yes my bike slept in their musty flooded basement twice too.

I love the KTM sleepers. Had the MB 1 in a nylon bike bag, made no less by Mr Camper's himself @ Paradiz Centre, next to my bunk.

I guess you took the train from Tj Pagar? Try JB, what a mess, but it cost RM60 from JB to Tumpat.
Had to swing the bike in the bag, over the station fence, pass through ticketing and recover the bag once on the platform. Did that on 3 trips.

Those were the days. Late 90's. Thanks for the rewind!