Monday, March 25, 2013

New Moon KH Cycle Metasprint Series 2013

It was a sprint duathlon event organised by MetaSport, a sport management company in Singapore.  Participants are required to run the first leg of 3 km, cycle 20 km and run the second leg of 3 km to the finish.  It was to be my first such event when my GP Riders' captain, Tomas invited us to join him.  Tomas did this event for the fourth consecutive time since its inception.  At his calling, 10 of us from GP Riders eventually signed up for it.  One surprise element was Richard Foo, Aranda Country Club's general manager who is not known to enjoy running which is his Achilles heel.  When he signed up, I gave him two thumbs-up for his courage.  Steve was to participate but a recent bike incident put paid to it.  Our 'grand old man' of the team, Teong at '63 young' was his last minute replacement.  From our GP Riders, we had Tomas, Bernard, Peter Yeo, William, Richard Tan, Ernest, Teong, Richard Foo, Poh Kuan and me - nine testosterone driven males and one petite lady in Poh Kuan. 

The event was scheduled on 24 Mar, Sunday and we had arranged to meet at Aranda Country Club (ACC) at 0600 hrs to pick up our bikes where William and Peter will help to transport to the venue on their truck and van respectively.  Save for Bernard who will meet us at the start up venue in Sengkang, all of us met at ACC and moved together at about 0700 hrs. 

We were to be flagged off in waves based on gender and age group.  I was grouped in the 50-59 age group with Tomas and Richard Foo in wave 3 and Teong who was in the 60-69 age group was also in the same wave as us.  Poh Kuan was in wave 2 with the ladies.  For the rest of them, they were in 40-49 age group and they were in wave 6. 

I was not prepared to push hard, had intended to tag along with Tomas.  Tomas is a strong cyclist but running is his weaker discipline.  Further, he had not been feeling well and had not been training much either.  Richard Foo and I encountered some difficulty getting to the start point, we had to made few detours and asked the officials before we can find the start point.  When we reached, it was just seconds left before we were flagged off in our detail.  I was looking around for Tomas but I couldn't find him.  I realised after the race that Tomas was actually trying to find us when he noticed we had yet to turn up.  As I didn't see Tomas at the start line with me, I decided to go all out.  Running the first leg of 3 km was easy, and soon I passed many runners.  It was quite hot  when we were flagged off at 0820 hrs.

Some 1 km into the run, I saw Poh Kuan on the finishing leg and I shouted at her.  She was flagged off 10 mins ahead of me.  It was a good run for me, no doubt.  Now, it was the bike race.  Soon I was on my bike.  We had to do four laps, total 20 km.  I was pedalling quite hard and I can feel a tight strain on my thighs from the push.  Almost completing my first lap, I saw Tomas who had just started his cycling.  I saw Teong too.  The U-turn proved quite a challenge.  Everyone had to slow down and made a sharp turn.  Any wrong move could send one tumble to the ground.  The road was broad enough for overtaking but I was careful.  Each time I was about to pass someone in front, I will shout "Right" and the same, someone will shout "Right" when he or she was to pass me. 

Soon, I completed my four laps on bike and now, the second leg of 3 km to the finish.  I thought I should not have any problem running but I was proven dead wrong.  I felt cramp was slowly building up on my right calf.  I had to stop for a while, limbered up my legs and then resumed the run.  I must admit it was tough.  My legs just could not listen to my body.  It was a hard run and my pace slowed considerably.  I just could not muster energy to accelerate like I used to do.  I had wanted to stop and walk but I persevered on. 

Nearing to the finish, the officials managed to place the tape before I made a final dash.  I raised my hands when I hit the tape as if I have just won an Olympic gold.  The toughest part was the second leg run. 

When I checked my result, I admit I was pleasantly surprised that I have clocked 1 hour 13 mins 3 seconds.  To be exact, I clocked 14 min 2 sec in my first 3km leg, 38 mins 45 secs in my 20km cycle and 18 mins12 secs for the final 3km run.  In my age category 50 to 59, I was placed in 10th position out of 45 competitors and overall, 233th position out of 763 competitors.  Many did not finish, either they were absent or gave up midway in the race.  Soon, one by one, our GP Riders competitors raced to the finishing line.  Nobody from our side gave up mid way.  Even our rotund Richard Foo puffed and huffed in his final run to touch home.  We took more pictures before we loaded up our bikes and made our way back to ACC.  Barring any unforeseeable, I should be back for next year to better my time.   

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Tour de Barelang 2013

If the header seems to suggest it is a cycling competition, the opposite is true.  This is my second cycling trip to Batam, did a similar one last year.  For this event, I had originally set at 20 cyclists but I went a little ambitious and after checking with my buddy, Chua of BatamFast on his ferry capacity for bike storage and getting his concurrence, I finally increased to 28. 

This is a cycling tour program and it is doable by any leisure cyclists.  That said, cyclists need to have a decent level of fitness and stamina.  Safety has always been my number one criteria and my constant remainders to those who have registered for this tour that wearing helmet, among others is a must and there will not be ride if one comes without a helmet, period.

The event was to take place on 16 March, Saturday and we will be accommodated at Golden View in Bengkong for one night.  A day prior to the departure and again with Chua's help, I managed to get all the boarding passes and bike tags printed in advance.  Even the donated items for St Ignatius School from some friends were also checked-in in advance, which will certainly lessen my task on the day of departure.      

For the whole package, I charged S$155 nett per person that includes one night accommodation at Golden View, return ferry transfer, meals, land transfer, back-up vehicle with cold drinks, city tour and an assigned tour guide throughout. 

While Singaporeans form the majority, there is an American, Belgian, Malaysian, Sri Lankan and Turkish each in our group.  Among my regular outdoor buddies, I have Kevin, TS, BT, Eileen and Abigail but for the rest, I am meeting them for the first time.

                                                                 A tight squeeze for all 28 bikes onboard

I left my house at 0515 hrs and cycled to HarbourFront.  It took me about half an hour from my house in Aljunied and I was there well before 0600 hrs, which was still dark.  Everyone had been informed to arrive at HarbourFront Ferry Terminal before 0645 hrs for check-in.  Our ferry was scheduled at 0740 hrs to Batam Centre Ferry Terminal.  The ground staff at Singapore Cruise Centre have been very helpful and that really made my job much more easier.  Our bikes were tagged and handed over to the ground staff.  As everything had been arranged well in advance, the check-in was seamless.

When everyone was accounted for and no one arrived very late (they heeded my message not to be late), we then proceeded for boarding.  Though it was still early, about 0700 hrs but the terminal was already getting quite crowded being a weekend outing.  I brought extra helmets in case some forget to bring theirs but luckily, no one did.

On our arrival at Batam Centre Ferry Terminal, our guide from Nusajaya, Henry was already waiting for us at the pontoon.  He then assisted us through customs, immigration & quarantine (CIQ).  Again, everything was handled swiftly.  While waiting for some who had to apply for visa-on-arrival (VOA), I asked Alis, a Turkish national whether her visa was done or not and she gave me a grief look before telling me that the immigration officer refused her entry and  demanded that she go back.  I was taken aback momentarily and my jaws almost dropping when I heard that but quickly, she turned to smile and I knew I had been 'snooked' by her.  Okay, since she fired the first salvo, she will be my 'target' throughout the tour.

Most brought their mountain bikes (MTB) to tackle the rolling terrains in Barelang but quite a handful brought their foldie bikes too.  As usual, my buddy, Kevin brought his Birdy foldie which has a monocoque frame & double suspension and some female cyclists brought their sleek Brampton foldies.  One pink Brampton bike later became a centre of attraction when the children gathered around it, touched it or simply marvelled at it at St Ignatius School which was our lunch point too.  I brought my cheap Raleigh MTB, nothing fanciful about it and good enough to get me to places. 

                                                                 Getting ready to roll off

We had to transport our bikes nearer to our start point where traffic is much lesser, safer too.  we will be heading to the southern tip of Batam which connects to the rest of the islands by the six bridges.  The total distance to be covered was about 70km but it is quite a hilly route.  When we thought cycling on Singapore road is a menace, nothing beats Batam.  The motorists there do not observe traffic rules, they stop as and when they like and the road is mostly one way up and the other down.  There is no double yellow line for cyclists to keep to the side at the very least, it is too much of a risk to cycle on their road within the town centre. 

When we were travelling on the coach, I then had an opportunity for everyone to self introduce themselves.  Yes, I did not forget our friend from Turkey and almost immediatey I sprung into action and told the audience that I like 'Turkish Delight' and I will be planning to fly to Turkey to see her parents.  She did try to hide herself.  We had a good time while on the move which was good to break the ice, plenty of jokes thrown in and of course, everyone knew that whatever I had said was not meant to be taken seriously, especially the 'Turkish Delight' thingy.  However on a serious note, I did emphasise to all that we have to cycle in one single file, always keep to the left side of the road and not to open too much gap in between.  Everyone seemed to get the message.

                                                                     One for the road

Our guide, Henry brought us near to the first bridge, about a kilometre away and we started to offload our bikes and to prepare for the ride.  TS brought four walkies-talkie which I passed one to the guide who will be on the coach following closely behind, one to TS and Kevin each as they will be covering the front and I took the last one as the sweeper.

                                                                     At the first bridge, our first stop

                                                         A daredevil stunt made believed by TS

When we were done, TS led the roll-off.  I was at the back playing the sweeper role.  The weather was hot and there are not many trees lined along the route, it was a challenging for some cyclists to overcome I must confess.  Most of us, especially the Singaporeans did our best to shield ourselves from the glaring sun but two persons were only wearing sleeveless jerseys.  One is a young lady from Belgian and her name is Vanja and the other is Brian, an American.  It seemed to me that Caucasians take every chance to enjoy the scorching sun than most of us.  TS wrapped himself to look like a Taleban.

                                                                   A scenic sight at one of the bridges

Not long after we rolled off, few decided to give up the ride and hopped on to the coach.  The weather was indeed hot.  There were few stops along the way.  Bananas and isotonic water were running low.  Our lunch stop will be at St Ignatius School in Rempang island which is about 30 km from our start point.  Many managed to cycle up the rolling terrain but some had to push their bikes up.

The children at St Ignatius with TS and Kevin

When we reached St Ignatius School, some children were seen playing and they helped to offload our donated items from our vehicle.  The sister of the school came over to welcome us.  The school is managed by a Catholic church and it provides free lodging and meals for the poor children staying in the island.  We didn't forget the less fortunate ones and we feel privileged to do our little part for them.  Did I say I like 'Turkish Delight'?  Alis asked me whether it was alright for her to buy ice cream for the children and of course, she can.  There are about 80 children and soon, they lined up to pick up the ice cream from the ice cream man.  For her kind gesture, I think I like her even more now.

                                                              The route less travelled, fairly hilly though

We noticed some spark seemed to build up too.  Tharu, our young Sri Lankan friend whom we ended up calling him, 大路 (same sounding from his name) did get along very well with Vanja, our Belgian friend.  Vanja has a quiet character and she is a triathlete, packed a punch, this was certainly an easy ride for her.  She told me she cycles to work everyday, 15km each way and her best time for 10km run on track is 34 mins plus...impressed!  She can easily outrun many of our male runners in Singapore, me included.  大路 is another bubbly character, a young man who has recently graduated and now that he is working, he wants to enjoy some outdoor events which he didn't have the chance when he was studying in Singapore.  A fine young man, good future ahead of him.

                                                          We brought some donated items for the school

                                                             The children saying their prayer before lunch

                                                          Sisters enjoying the ice cream, courtesy of Alis

                                                  Children enjoying the ice cream and again, courtesy of Alis

After our lunch and biding farewell to the sisters and children at St Ignatius, we resumed our cycling.  Henry managed to replenish the water supply which was certainly helpful.  The second part of the journey proved tougher for some.  BT complained he was not feeling well and he decided to skip the whole ride.  There are more rolling to manoeuvre and the weather was taking a toll on some.  More stops were made and cold drinks were certainly helpful.  Brian, our American was looking burnt.  Red patches can be seen on face, his hands, shoulder and neck.  It must be painful for him. 

                                                                  Another magnificient sight along the way

We reached the end of the last island, Galang and distance covered, 70km.  We rested for while, took many pictures and after that, loaded up our bikes.  We were soon on the way to our hotel for a much needed rest and a good dinner awaits.  It will take another two hours to reach our hotel in Batam.  I took a nap on the coach but were interrupted by calls on some tour arrangement elsewhere.

                                                                          Florence outside her chalet

Rooms were already made ready, rooming list had already been prepared prior and all I needed to do was to pass the keys accordingly.  I was to be roomed with Kevin but there was an extra room, so both Kevin and I ended up having one room each.  Guess, this is the privilege for organiser.  We were given the chalets and confined close to each other. 

After a thorough wash up, sumptuous BBQ dinner was ready to be served at 1900 hrs.  I was really hungry, was among the earliest to arrive at the poolside where the BBQ dinner was prepared for us.  It was Abigal's birthday (one day later, to be exact) and I thought Vanja too (I thought I saw it was on 22 Mar but it was not when I checked her details after the trip, blur man).  I had the hotel to prepared a birthday cake to be presented immediately after our dinner to surprise the two ladies.  We sang the birthday song to the two ladies and Vanja gamely joined in despite insisting that it was not her birthday in March. 

After dinner, some hit town to have their massage while Kevin and I decided to relax at the hotel's lounge.  Ya, my 'Turkish Delight' friend, Alis and her buddy, Lyn joined us too.  A while later, 大路 and Vanja also joined in for nice chat with us till we retired to bed. 

                                                                          Flying fox for the bravehearts

The second day ride was much easier.  We were to cycle around the vicinity of hotel and to the reclaimed land site where some 200 hectare of land has been reclaimed for future development by the owner.  We had arranged to meet at the hotel entrance by 0900 hrs to begin our second day ride.  Some opted not to cycle, preferring to laze around or to enjoy the hotel amenities.  Henry, our guide will lead the way.  Most part of the road on the reclaimed land was sandy path.  We cycled to the end of the reclaimed land that fronts the open sea.  We can see Singapore's shoreline from that point.  More pictures were taken.  We then headed to the activity centre.  First, we stopped at the paintball/flying fox centre.  Some tried their hands on the paintball guns shooting still targets.  After that, some took to the flying fox which will take them 200 metres to the landing point.  Everyone seemed to enjoy it. 

                                                       The Angry Bird team taking to take me on in go-kart  

                                                                The go-kart circuit, vroom vroom...

                                                                 Me ready to tackle the mountain trail

After that, we cycled a short distance to the go-kart circuit.  I was among the first to be in the queue.  After a short briefing by the instructors, we were ready to 'vroom' off.  It was an exhilarating 10-mins drive around the circuit.  After the go-kart, some of us tried the specially built mountain trail on our bikes.  Kevin cycled through the obstacles on his foldie too.

                                                           Enjoying the seafood lunch after checking out

It was a half day cycling tour with hordes of our exciting activities for our enjoyment and truly, we really enjoyed all.  When we returned to our rooms, we washed up and packed up and ready to check out.  By 1230 hrs, our bikes were loaded and we were ready to move off.  First, we will have our seafood lunch at 933 Restaurant.  Kevin ordered a bowl of bird's nest which cost him just S$15 a bowl.  He ended up having two and he paid one for me too.  On seeing this, some also ordered the bird's nest too.  Lunch was served and we tucked in merrily.

We still have some time left before our ferry departure scheduled at 1710 hrs (1810 hrs SIN time) and we then proceeded to BCS, a popular shopping mall to while away our time.

When we arrived at Sekupang Ferry Terminal and once again, everything was handled smoothly.  All thanks to Henry and his team for the excellent co-ordination job.  The last time I was at Sekupang Ferry Terminal was some 10 years ago but the terminal has since been transformed.  It looks so modern now and I heard one of our members who said this terminal looks like our famed Changi Airport.  I couldn't disagree.  I am impressed too.

On the way back by ferry which took an hour, we continued to chat happily oblivious to the other passengers around us.  It was a good trip, good company and new friends are made too.  It is by far the best organised trip I had made where everything worked to a fault.  If any, the only blemish is one member who realised too late that she had misplaced her latest i-phone 5 somewhere after we had boarded the ferry.  Calls made to Henry to check the coach and elsewhere did not yield positive result either, what a pity.  There will be more such trips in the near future, Bintan will be next. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Baan Dada Charity Ride 2013

It is another Bike-Aid Singapore's initiative and this time, Nicky was our lead organiser and he was ably assisted by Ler and Jennifer, both of whom have had involved in many fund raising in Singapore, Thailand and the region over the years.  Jennifer and Ler have cemented close relationship with some Thais in the biking community and best of all, they can also converse in the ear- soothing Thai language, certainly a plus for us.  And also, not forgetting, June, the ever young looking wife of Nicky who has been providing the admin support with flight reservation, the program proper, etc and during the 3 days cycling tour, following the cycling entourage in the support vehicle.  June has been a great help throughout, ensuring we were hydrated that kept us going and going.  And there is another lovely spouse of David and she is Ivy who has also been great in providing the vital support to the entourage.  Co-incidentally, this is also the 10th year for Bike-Aid Singapore to organise similar fund raising cycling event for the less fortunate ones in Thailand.  When we received the invitation to participate by Nicky and without much hesitation, our GP Riders decided to throw in our supports for this cause.  From our side, we had the three closely knitted brothers in Tomas, Peter, Arthur and me, well, I am called the brother 'outlaw'.

The entire trip was scheduled for 8 days, 2nd to 9th March but our actual cycling was for 3 days which will take us from the heart of Bangkok to the hilly region in Sangklaburi which borders between Thailand and Myanmar.  Our fund raising project was solely based on our individual effort and not supported by any corporate or government agency and all our proceeds will go to Baan Dada Home for the children who are mostly orphans.  During the briefing by Nicky, we were told Baan Dada really needs all the help from us and when we were there to witness the situation up close and personal, we could understand why.  We were hoping to raise at least S$15,000 through the combined efforts of some 20 of us but to our pleasant surprise, we managed to achieve our target with a total sum of S$24,600 at last count.

Prior to the trip, Tomas, Peter and I planned to bring our road bikes but when we gathered from those who had been there previously explaining that the terrain is quite hilly, especially on the last day where the climb can be very steep, going above 400 metres before dropping deep into the ravine .  We then decided that mountain bikes should be a safer bet for us.  As mine is a cheap Raleigh mountain bike (MTB), I decided to borrow a good MTB from my outdoor buddy, Kevin.  His Felt bike is carbon made and the gear component is purpose-made for climb.  Generous as he always is, he has no qualm letting me use his MTB.  Peter will bring his hybrid bike, modified a little to tackle the climb and his brother, Tomas will use his (Peter) Giant MTB.  Only Arthur will bring his sleek road bike.  That settled our arrangement and we were set to go.

On 2 Mar, all three of us except for Arthur arranged to meet at Aranda Country Club at 0800 hrs to collect our bikes at the bike room while Peter's wife, Rose had volunteered to transport our bikes and bags on her spacious MPV and separately, Poh Kuan will give us a lift in her SUV to the airport.  Our Jetstar flight was scheduled to depart at 1120 hrs and all of us had planned to be at the airport by 0900 hrs for check-in.  Everything went on as planned.  

There were 21 of us, 19 riders and two supporters and one was to join us in Bangkok from Melbourne later of the day.  All of us arrived at the airport on the dot and first thing first, we quickly went about to check-in our bikes and bags.  Our check-in went smoothly, thanks much to the friendly Jetstar check-in staff who did help us with some overweight.  We even had some time for breakfast at the airport staff canteen before heading for boarding.  Poh Kuan was with us throughout, so glad to get her untiring support to this cause, really.  Peter's wife too, thanks. 

In our group, we had some very seasoned riders and one particular person certainly stands up.  Mike is a 68-year old retiree but he is one heck of a fitness freak.  He is a simple man and his Cannondale road bike has weathered all types of terrain with him for the last 16 years.  For ride, he simply dons a sleeveless white tee and he has no proper shoes, just sandals.  Only when we started our ride on our first day, I realised it is not his style to wear helmet at all...gosh!  His not wearing helmet later became part of my joke which I took a swipe at during our tour and noticeably, he did not seem to enjoy the teasing by me.  But hey, wear the helmet for goodness sake and if I were the organiser I will not allow that, period.

Ler and Jennifer have been doing such ride on numerous occasions and their Thailand connection has been certainly very helpful for us.  There is this good old fellow, Rama whom I later called him 'President Nathan' for his somewhat close resemblance to him.  Rama has a touring bike and among his close kakis, there are Ming and Hazel.  They have clocked very long distance cycling together and they usually do it on their own leisure pace, never in a hurry.  One chap that clicks well with our GP Riders is Andrew from TT Riders and he is also a a very strong cyclist.  For good measure, we have GP Riders which we like to link it to "Goreng Pisang" and there they have TT Riders which is linked to "Tea Tarik".  Hey, we are from Singapore and all said, we cannot seem to disconnect from food and beverage after our ride.  Those from TT Riders include Teik Hock, Robert, Fil and our organiser, Nicky.   

When we touched down at Bangkok airport, we were soon met by Khun Min and his support team from Thailand Cycling Health Association (TCHA).  Khun Min is the Vice President of TCHA and I understand the association has some 6,000 members with at least 1,000 active members.  The way Khun Min and his team went about to see to the ground arrangements greatly impressed me and we helped too, very automatically.  Our bikes were loaded and soon we were on our way to our hotel. 

Our hotel in Bangkok is Taipan along Sukhumvit Road.  Nothing fanciful about the hotel, decent enough for accommodation and what I like best is the spacious room.  Wasting no time, we had to assemble our bikes first.  So when the bikes were delivered to our hotel, we started to fix up our bikes.  Peter, Tomas and I helped each other with our bikes and when we were done, we helped others too.  Admittedly, it was my first experience dismantling the bike and then, re-assembled it back.  So too for Peter and Tomas but we soon learnt how to go about doing it with some pointers from our friend in Singapore, Ah Gwee who owns a bike shop in Race Course Road

On our first night, we had dinner at the hotel cafeteria with all the cyclists and supporters from TCHA.  As Nicky was nursing a sore throat, he asked me to address the members from his prepared script on his behalf which I gamely delivered.

Arthur and I shared a room while Peter and Tomas took another.  As for our jersey arrangement for the three days ride and to be in sync, we had decided to wear our 'Kotasas Kuantan' jersey on day one, 'GP Riders' on day two and 'Ride for Rations' on day three.  Arthur missed out our prior jersey arrangement and he only brought along his GP Riders jersey, sigh. 

We were to roll off from King Rama V Square together with the TCHA cyclists on Sunday, 3 March.  As it happened to be the local election for the Bangkok Governor, we can only roll off later at about 1000 hrs in order to ensure as many local cyclists to join us after casting their saint votes.  

One by one, the local cyclists started to stream in and by my reckoning, there were at least 40 of them.  One came with a specially made bamboo bike and he even had a helmet carved out from a coconut, which caught our attention.  Innovative the Thais are and they are also a hardy bunch of cyclists too.  They came in a variety of bikes, MTB, roadie, foldie - you name it.  The cycling community in Bangkok is certainly big and just TCHA alone, they number some 6,000 members. 

                                            Group picture before the flag-off at King Rama V Square.

We were finally flagged off at about 1000 hrs in high spirit.  Majority of the local cyclists accompanied us for about 15 km, leaving about 20 of them who will follow us in the next three days of ride to our final destination in Sangkhlaburi.  Though it was a Sunday, traffic was still heavy but we did not have any difficultly riding through the busy road at all.  Cars mostly gave way to the cyclists and no impatient motorist honked at us.  I was truly impressed with the local motorists for their defensive driving which can never be witnessed in Singapore.

It was supposed to be the dry season now and the Thais were so confident that it won't rain but it did shortly after we had rolled off.  We had to take shelter at a petrol kiosk for a good one hour and the rain did not seem to relent.  As we had already started late and we only did less than an hour ride so far.  We still had to cover some 130 km to Kanchanaburi, we decided to press on under the torrential rain.  The biggest challenge for us was not the rain but the flood which quickly reached up to our pedals.  The drainage system is too ineffective or do they have a drainage system, I wonder?  We had to cycle gingerly as we cannot see any pothole on the road.  It did not help that there were cars and heavy vehicles streaming past us, we had to be very watchful at all times.  It was still pouring.  The four of us tagged close to each other, helping to watch out for traffic or any pothole.  We were still in Bangkok but as we moved further away from the city, traffic started to dwindle. 

We were among the fastest group.  Much to our relief, rain stopped and the weather remained cool throughout the entire journey.  Tomas, Peter and I were cycling together and we past some local cyclists.  I was behind Tomas and Peter was behind me.  We saw a female Thai cyclist who suddenly squeaked to a halt behind us.  We shouted at her and Tomas managed to past her on the right but I hit her rear.  Peter was alert, he had pre-empted the situation and already pulled out his cleats, swerved away to avoid a collision with me.  I fell and with a quick instinct, I managed to roll over instead of falling face down on the road.  Luckily for me, I did not sustain any injury and after I stood up, I asked that female cyclist why she stopped suddenly.  She did not seem to understand me but pointed at her flat tyre.  She then gestured us to move on while she will wait for the support vehicle.  I later realised from Jennifer that she is actually deaf and her name is Kapi.  Very soon, we made good friend with her.  She actually tagged along with us in the entire journey.  Hers was a steel made old MTB and beneath her small frame, she is one strong rider.  We were totally impressed with her stamina and endurance level, finishing among the early batch each time.

We had few refreshment stops along the way and at about 1900 hrs, we finally reached our hotel, River Kwai.  We had covered 136km on our first day.  Jennifer and the rest, cycling in their own leisure pace arrived more than an hour later.  A local male cyclist who tagged with us on the first day and we later nicknamed him, 'Professor' for his chatty nature brought us to an open air hawker centre near our hotel for a well-deserved dinner.  Peter was looking forward to feast on meaty stuff like roasted pork but we ended up having more veggies than meat for dinner.  We had relied on our 'Professor' friend to order the food for us but food aside, the company was great that evening.  After dinner, some adjoined for a session of massage but I retired to bed early. 

                             On our second day and donning our GP Riders jersey with a Thai supporter.

Our second day was to be our longest ride, at least 150 km on the chart which was to take us to Thong Pha Phum, still in Kanchanaburi province.  It is a rolling route, quite challenging.  Again, we counted our lucky star that the weather had been kind to us.  For most part of the day, it was fairly cool.  Rain only came when we were about to reach our destination.  Long ride it was and I begun to feel the ache on my back and my bum too.  Kapi was tagging with us and we were among the front pack, only the few guys on roadies were way in front of us.  I decided to go slow as fatigue began to take a toll on and I then gradually broke away from Tomas and Peter.  For the second half  of the journey, I was mostly with Kapi and Professor and only re-joined Tomas and Peter when we neared our destination.

We were to be accommodated at EGAT Guest House, a scenic country resort owned by Thailand power company.  This was a special arrangement by a Thai contact and I understand we paid preferential rates too.  When we thought we can have a good rest when we arrived at the resort but wait...before we can have a chance to rest our tired and aching legs, we need to pedal up the slope within the vast compound to reach to our rooms.  The country resort sits on a hilly terrain and all our rooms are located on the higher ground, gosh!  Some of had to get off our bikes to push, literally.  When we were finally settled in, we heaved a big relief from our another day of ordeal.  My back was still aching and my bum, ouch...I can feel the burning abrasion cutting into my flesh.  Nobody talked about going for a good massage for there isn't one in this vast country resort to start with.  After a hearty dinner, we headed back to our rooms for a good rest.  We clocked 156 km on our second day, another hard of work.  

                                                              At the dam on our third day. 

Our third day which was also our final day of ride and it was to be shortest ride too - 76 km on planned chart.  Short it was to be but it happened to be the toughest one too.  We will have to climb few steep slopes especially the last part before reaching our final destination.  We had our breakfast and we planned to roll off at 0800 hrs.  When we gathered, most of us were surprised to see Michael wearing a helmet.  He was such a  stubborn ass who just refused to wear helmet for ride despite many good advices given by friends, this particular time he obediently put on his helmet.  He had a bad fall on his third day of ride while on the descent some years ago.  He did not have his helmet then but he was not about to take any chance this time.  I did make a joke on his helmet thingy during one of our conversations but from his expression, he did not like it.   

                                This is taken on our third day and we tagged close to each other throughout.

We started the ride with a tour to the majestic dam.  It was a steep climb, at least for a kilometre.  I managed to pedal all the way up dropping to the lowest gear, all thanks to Kevin's MTB.  It is a magnificent view from on top of the dam, worth the effort to climb up.  We stayed a while at the top an took many pictures too.  However, the weather was not too kind on us, it was hot throughout the day.  Compared to the second day which was already hilly for our liking, the third day was without doubt, even more hilly like it or not.                     

There were more stops for us to replenish and keep us hydrated.  The Thai support team was marvellous throughout.  They even made green bean soup for us, heavenly man when I downed the first spoon into my mouth.  I finished two bowls almost immediately and was raring to go for more but decided against it, knowing many riders who were still behind had yet to eat.  Tomas helped himself with three bowls.  The green bean was lunch for us and after a short rest, we were ready to roll off.  The hot weather continued but we had to press on.

Tomas, Peter and I decided to ride off together and Teik Hock joined us too.  A short while later, I realised I lost Teik Hock who was just behind us earlier.  When we past a nondescript house, there were two fierce dogs suddenly charged at us.  We managed to shove them off.  Immediately, I thought of Teik Hock who was behind us and also must be riding on own and I was hoping he can shove off the dogs too.   

                                Group picture with the children who were waiting for us at our rest point.

While we cycled nearer to our final destination, it was getting steeper & steeper and slower & slower for us.  Each climb was harder than the last and we had to press on.  At the same time, we had to tackle the hot weather too.  When we reached the last 16 km to our destination where we stopped for our refreshment, we were pleasantly surprised that the children from the orphanage home Baan Dada were there waiting to receive us.  They even made a welcome banner for us which they hung it on the side of their truck.  The person-in-charge of the home, who is affectingly called 'Dada' (brother in Sanskrit word) and he hails from the Philippines was also present.  After taking our much needed rest, we were joined by Dada and some of the children to the final 16 km which is the most challenging for its steepest of climb.  The climb seemed to be forever, barely after managing one climb and immediately at the next turn, there is another steep climb and another.  Peter and Tomas decided to push their bikes and I joined them too.  We had to stick together, keeping a constant lookout for each other.  Some children managed to pedal on.  Dada too, he continued to pedal ahead of us.  Peter looked flushed, his burnt on his face did get us worried for a while.  June who was in the support vehicle that followed close behind us stopped.  We managed to quench our thirst and even poured ice cold water over our heads.  For the most part up, we simply pushed our bikes which reaches beyond 400 metres above sea level.  When we reached the highest point, we were ready for the steep descent.  We can hit beyond 60km if we let ourselves on a free fall down but any wrong move will prove fatal for us.  It is a long stretch of winding road and concrete barriers lined the centre of the road which looks treacherous enough.  I pressed hard on both brakes but making sure I didn't press to hard either.  The disc brakes on the bike were certainly very useful.  We moved  down in one single file, keeping a safe distance between each other.   

                           One can imagine the heavenly feeling when cold water was poured over Tomas' head.

Led by Dada and the children, we finally arrived at Sangkhalia Inn in Sangkhlaburi.  It was about 1630 hrs.  There were some who had arrived earlier than us and our hardy Michael was among them.  We rested at the lobby waiting for the rest to arrive.  Everyone was happy when we finally reached touched home.  Living up to its billing, the third and final day was the most torturous and to have overcome all challenges along the way, it was indeed most satisfying for us.

After taking our bath, we helped to pack up all our bikes for our Thai friends to help transport to Bangkok for us as we will have another day in Sangkhlaburi visiting Baan Dada Home and Baan Unrak Home and also visiting some interesting places of interest. 

                                                               The 5-Star Rating at Baan Unrak Home.

                                                             The 3-Star or lower rating at Baan Dada Home.

The two homes, Baan Dada an Baan Unrak contrasts from one and to another though both come under the same foundation in Neohumanist Foundation and serving the same philosophy.  If we were to rate the two homes according to the number of stars for hotels, I would say the amenities & facilities at Baan Unrak measure up to 5-star standard whereas, it is 3-star or probably lower for Baan Dada.  New building blocks have since been built for Baan Unrak Home, courtesy of many donors from Bike-Aid Singapore in the previous years.  Baan Unrak is managed by a Didi (sister in Sanskrit word) who hails from Italy.   

                                 Peter handed over our cash donations from 'GP Riders & Friends' to Dada.

Prior to our trip, we had all already decided that all our donations will go to Baan Dada Home which is definitely in dire need for financial assistance of sorts.  Our visit to Baan Dada affirmed that we made a right decision.  Our contributions from friends and relatives amounted to S$5,000 were pooled under "GP Riders and Friends' which was then handed over to Dada.  In all, the combined contributions from Bike-Aid Singapore including 'GP Riders and Friends' amassed to S$24,600 at last count and the fund will go into the vocation training centre at Baan Dada to provide technical training to the children and the community at large.

 The vocation training centre at Baan Dada Home.         
              The children at Baan Dada helping to shave cheese for our spagetti dinner during our visit.                            
We had another full day in Bangkok before heading home.  This cycling trip was my toughest by far but the joy that we can bring to the less fortunate ones made it all the more sweeter and meaningful for us.  We made new friends with the Thais and we are certainly grateful that we have remained safe throughout, all thanks to the valuable supports from TCHA.  On arrival at our Changi Airport, Poh Kuan and Peter's wife, Rose were already waiting to receive us to help transport our bikes back to Aranda Country Club.        

Friday, March 01, 2013

Horse Riding in Johor

Warming Up Before Our Lesson
A rare strike that sends Rosie leaping in the air
On a jungle trail, deep into the forest
It was my first horse riding event, not the usual adventure events I used to organise but I was really looking forward to it.  Our trainer, Mos can only handle 10 novice riders and we have to spilt into two batches of 5 each.  So, this group  of 10 of us will comprise Kevin, Abigal, Rose, Shangyi, Sherlyn, Darren, Swee Leng, Angeline, Nicole and me. 
This event was confirmed on 23 Feb, Saturday at Amigos Horse Riding in Pasir Gudang and we were to spend a night at Tanjong Puteri Golf Resort.  The resort is in a vast compound which boosts of 3 18-hole golf courses, a clubhouse, villas, a recreational centre and some restaurants, among others and even Amigos Horse Riding is located within its perimeter.  Save for Abigail and Kevin, I will be meeting the rest for the first time at Marsiling MRT Station.  Our transport was to pick us at 1000 hrs and I reckoned we left for Johor at around 1100 hrs, waiting for Nicole who had gone the wrong way to Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal and had to make a detour when she realised her mistake.  There was no rush to leave on time as we had plenty of time to spend and we even joked that Nicole will pay for lunch for making us waiting.  She seemed to be in the stage of shock, judging from her facial expression.  But she turned out to be quite a darling when she warmed up with us later. 
The horse stable in Pasir Gudang is not far after crossing the Woodlands Causeway and with the new highway already up and running for quite a while, it will take us about half an hour to reach.  We decided to pull over at Permas Jaya for lunch before resuming our journey.   
At about 1200 hrs, we reached Tanjong Puteri Golf Resort but our villa was not ready yet.  I called Mos on his mobile and he walked over from his stable which is opposite the main reception to meet us.  I made a formal introduction of each of us to him, 7 ladies and 3 guys.  Mos clicked well with the group almost immediately and that was a good start.  Mos is an Iranian of a modern sort who knows all his 7 horses at his stable well and he is quite a joker too. 
After checking in, we spilt into 2 groups of 5 each and randomly, I chose Kevin, Darren, Angeline, Swee Leng and Nicole to be in the first group and the second group will comprise Abigal, Rose, Shangyi, Sherlyn and me.  We were given one villa which has 5 rooms to accommodate all of us.  It is a spacious villa, decently furnished and fairly clean too.  There is WIFI too.  
After we have checked in and a short while later, we will troop to the stable.  Mos will take us through our first lesson.  He gathered us around (see picture above), slowly warmed us up with simple exercises and then, we were to mimic the trotting posture in a squatting position.  He stressed it is important that we learn to trot the right way.  It was still midday and was quite hot with the afternoon sun hovering above us.  After the warm up, Mos will start the practical lesson with the first group of 5 while the second group will come back 2 hours later.  I was in the second group and we decided to go for bowling at the recreational club.  We had 2 fun-filled games which ended just around 2 hours for us to walk back to the stable to resume our horse ride.   
The first group had, by then finished their horse riding lesson and now, it was our turn.  One by one, Mos chose a horse for us.  I was given Chili, a 14-year old horse.  All the horses are tamed and they seemed to only follow Mos' instructions.  We were taught how to get the horse moving by kicking on the side of its body.  To move right or left, we just pulled the reins to either side.  At all times, we have to ensure that our fingers are holding onto the reins which is attached to the horse in order to be able control it.  When the reins is made shorter, we can better control the horse.  Mos was watching us closely, telling us what we should do and what we did wrong, etc.  We walked the horse around the course, pulled the reins to make it stop and kicked its body to get it moving again.  It was quite fun and the adrenalin rush in me did get me excited.  We were made to stand up and sit down while walking our horses round the course.  We have to get used to it as once the horse started to trot, we will move up and down in sync with the horse while it trots.  I had hard time balancing when I started to trot the horse.  My right foot was caught in the stirrup (the things on either side that hold my legs), almost losing my balance while still trotting but I managed to re-position myself back.  After few tries, and I managed to get the momentum right.  Very soon, I was trotting around the course following the rhythm of the horse.  Sometimes, the saddle can hit the sensitive part of my lower body - ouch!.  When I asked Mos later whether it is normal for guys to get kick on the vital part and his reply is no help either.  He too had it, sometimes.  Chili is an obedient horse, he followed all my instructions and I had no problem handling him at all - much to my delight. 
Shangyi was riding on Murano.  Everything was going smoothly.  Murano was walking too close behind Shiba, a brown colour well-groomed horse which was ridden by Rose but the tail of Shiba was caught in Murano's reins.  Shiba gave a kick from the back, probably trying to loosen it but it hit Murano, unfortunately.  Seething in pain, Murano started to make a high pitch noise and was standing on two hind legs.  He went somewhat 'bersek' and Shangyi could not control him.  She could lose her grip and fall.  Luckily, he fell on one side, broke the wooden barrier but Shangyi was able to get off in time.  Probably sensing some danger and despite the pain, he had made sure he let Shangyi off first and after that, resumed to trot around the course in a rather frantic manner.  It took a while for him to simmer down.  There was a cut on the lower part of his hind leg.  Shangyi felt so sorry for her horse and gamely, she still chose to ride on him for the rest of the evening.
Probably sensing it was coming to the end of the lesson, Shiro which means white in Japanese, the only white horse which was ridden by Abigal suddenly dropped on four.  It caught Abigal off guard for his strange behaviour but she managed to dismount before Shiro started to roll over on his back.  According to our trainer Mos, Shiro is the only horse that likes to roll on his back.  We later joked that Abigal had a 'Princess' dismount when her horse went down on four for her. 
The two hours lesson ended and we will be ready to tackle the one and a half hour jungle trail the following morning.  We re-joined the first group at our villa, had a good bath and a good rest.  In the evening, we had BBQ dinner at our villa.  Mos came over to join us for dinner and he brought along a carton of beer too.  We ate, some drank and we chatted the whole evening.  It was quite enjoyable and everyone helped to clean up later before retiring to bed.     
The following morning, the second group that went for lesson will start first for the jungle trail.  We had our breakfast at the resort.  I must say the breakfast was good and I had few rounds, quite unusual for me.  After a hearty breakfast and it was almost 0900 hrs, the five of us, Rose, Shangyi, Sherlyn, Abigal and I walked over to the stable while the second group comprising Kevin, Angeline, Swee Leng, Nicole and Darren will commence at 1100 hrs.  I even joked it will be cool in the morning for the first group and later on, it will rain to take a swipe at the second group. Nobody took me seriously and rain did not come.     
I was hoping to ride on Chili again but Mos chose Soheil for me.  Soheil is the oldest horse, already 16 year of age.  Mos preferred Abigal to ride on Chili which is easier to control and I agreed.  Once everyone had their own horse and raring to go, Mos and his horse, Hachi led the way.  Soheil walked in a very slow pace and soon, he was overtaken by the rest of the horses.  The two dogs, Boy and Girl followed too.  It was my first experience riding on a horse and all of a sudden everything looked so small from the top.  We strolled past tree, after tree and spiders resting high on some trees were so near us.  We had to keep a watchful eye in case one spider happens to jump on us.  Our horses had no problem walking through thick and long 'lallang' but we had to make sure our horses do not drop its head and started to eat the grasses.  It will take some strength to pull its head up so that it can continue to stroll on.  Some of the ladies had some difficulty trying to stop their horses from not eating.  My Soheil too, he cannot resist not to 'steal' a bite in between and strolled on munching away.  We strolled deep into the forest, passed the beach which overlooks Ubin on the opposite side and back into the forest before coming to the main road which will lead us all the way to the stable.  This jungle trail took us one and a half hour to complete.
The second group took over from us led by Mos again but this time, Boy and Girl decided not to follow anymore.  Smart dogs, but I cannot say much about the trainer though (he followed the second time but guess he had no choice). 
We had a rather late lunch at the resort, about 1400 hrs I think.  And as it was the last day of the lunar new year, we had 'lo-hei' for our starter, which was specially arranged by Mos.  Sumptuous lunch it had been and prior to that, I had downed a big bowl of ice-kachang while waiting for the rest to join for lunch.  Iran is where he has hailed from but having stayed in Malaysia for some 8 years now, he has definitely acquired a good grasp of the local culture and language.  To hear him saying, 'wah lau aa...' in between conversation has certainly sent the girls giggling away.  He even openly confessed he is still looking for a Chinese wife and I have no idea whether he is still single, hitched or otherwise but I wish him all the best of luck. 
After completing our check-out and biding good bye to Mos, we hopped on to our coach and left for Jusco at Bukit Indah for some shopping.  We had another sumptuous seafood dinner at a busy Orang Asli Restaurant before heading home.  It was a smooth ride all the way to the Causeway, no heavy jam on either side and we reached Marsiling MRT station well before 2100 hrs.  It had been a wonderful trip and the horse riding aside, I truly enjoyed the great company and we certainly have bonded well from start to end.