Saturday, September 7, 2013

4-Day Mega Ride in August

I'd really put this one together for the toughest of our regular riders with Equipe Nomad, so I'm sure nobody expected to walk away with a spring in their step.

The initial idea was to try and include into one of our longer rides some 50km of great hilly bits on a virtually closed road heading south from the eastern side of Kuala Lumpur into the state of Negeri Sembilan. The only problem with this is that almost all of the other interesting riding is in another direction - to the north of KL - which means a long, flat transition.

So I knew it would mean some long distances, plus I wanted to include the climbs up to the highland hill-stations of Fraser's Hill and Cameron Highlands. A lot to fit into 4 days! Overall ascent was estimated at around 5000m of climbing over a total distance of around 550km. You can check out the actual ride profiles and description here.

We had a small but well-constructed little peloton of great riders. The protagonists: Jarno Lamsa, a Singapore-based Finn with a strong engine and on his new BMC dream machine; Clarence Tang, a hardcore bicycle touring addict from Derbyshire in the UK now based out of Hong Kong; and representing the KL home crowd Jim Bryan, an ex-competition Texan swimmer and former time-trialist on the comeback after shedding a more sedentary recent history. Jim would be with us for only 2 days due to family commitments. Our support crew: my wife June and Tigger (the car).

We start with a bang. The main features of stage 1 involve 3 climbs within the first 50k and then some pretty flat-to-rolling terrain for the remainder of the 175km stage. The first ramps happen within the old village of Ampang en route to a lookout point that gives a great panorama of the KL skyline before heading down towards Hulu Langat.

Nothing too shocking in this first part (just a couple of 15-percents) but the second hill, shortly afterwards, provides a bit more pain. The aptly named Bukit Hantu (Demon's Hill) is a pretty hard grind for around 3km at around 8-10%, but the descent - also at a similar gradient - is awesome. A real test for those that consider themselves descenders as the corners can all be done at a free-fall pace - if you have the nerve!

Clarence has a flat. After only 25km, not very auspicious!

The final of the three climbs involves a 10k ascent of Genting Peras which features a heart-breaking  triple peak (see profile). Once crested we enjoyed the fast drop down to the first fuel stop of the ride for noodles, fried rice and coffee at a very conveniently positioned Malay food stall, literally at the foot of the hill.

Shortly after the re-start we had another hiccup with Jim (just off a long-haul flight after 2 weeks family holiday) getting a severe case of cramps and having to retire into the sag wagon for a spell of recovery. The three of us soldiered on for another couple of hours until the lunch stop - this time Chinese noodles - after which Jim rejoined the group with a new-found strength - he said later he felt much better post-cramps than pre-cramps!

I was the main protagonist in the next mini saga. My right knee was giving me some unexpected painful twinges. I had switched to Speedplay pedals about a month before, but after a few minor adaptational aches everything had seemed smooth, and I was really enjoying the large float range and not having to look down every time I clipped in.

Towards the 160km mark though it was getting quite bad and so when I suddenly heard something drop from the bike I was quite happy to stop and give my knee a rest. What we discovered was that the pedal had come apart. Half was still in the cleat, but the other half and one of the screws which holds it together was somewhere on the road. We did find 2 of the pieces, but couldn't really reassemble the pedal.

We realised that it must have been coming loose for most of the ride - which might account for the knee pain. After my raving about these pedals to my companions earlier in the ride, I'm afraid we all had to agree that we weren't very impressed. My trusty old Shimanos never did this to me during 15+ years of riding them. Oh well. I hopped in the car for the remaining 10k to the hotel in Karak and massaged my knee.

Next problem was that, since we were travelling light, I didn't have any spare pedals with me. Since we were now less than an hour away from KL by car on the Karak highway, we decided to go back to the house and pick up my Shimanos. This also afforded us the opportunity to have dinner at the great seafood restaurants in Bukit Tinggi, midway on the return trip. After spending most of the day toiling under a hot sun for 170+ kilometers, it felt kind of surreal to get back to our starting point in less than an hour!

This also meant that we missed out on the offer by our hosts at the D'Teroh Villa resort to join them for the Hari Raya celebrations that evening. By the time we got back we had little energy for partying and I for one managed to sleep right through the fireworks.

Loading up at D'Teroh Villa. A real find just outside the town of Karak

Next Day we had a slightly more manageable 120+km of riding ahead of us, with the only obstacle being the 30km Fraser's Hill climb up to 1200m. We set out shortly after dawn in the direction of Bentong for the essential second-breakfast noodle stop. There's not much between Bentong and Fraser's in the restaurant department so this was deemed a necessity.

Sagas of the second day started to unfold at the coffee shop in Bentong when Jarno received a text notice of an emergency at work as one of his IT company's servers crashed. We had a nicely incongruous scenario of him dealing with this emergency on his laptop at the back of the car.

We traditionally stop for a nutrition break at a particularly gorgeous spot under the canopy of some tree giants at the start of the 30k climb up to Fraser's. After this it's a steady ascent of an average 3-4% for over 20km through a secondary jungle canopy on a road with patches of slightly dodgy surface. I love this climb as you can really just get in a zone.

We take the next fueling stop at the Fraser's Gap. By this time we've reached a consensus that we won't do the full ascent - and so cutting about 18km out of the ride - as some of us really don't have the climbing legs on today. The previous day's 170+km excesses are still making themselves felt.

Jim makes a new friend at the Gap. Stayed with him for a couple of km of the descent!

After a brief pit stop then, we head down the giddy descent to Kuala Kubu Bharu, our destination for the day. This is really a gorgeous descent through some pretty amazing views and good road surface. The first 15km fairly technical but the last section pretty fast. We didn't hit our previously recorded speeds on this section though - damned head wind!

Rest stop in KKB is a homestay accommodation above a great Chinese restaurant so we really didn't have to move much for the rest of the day. Though June insisted we take a walk before dinner to get some local fruit, we commandeered a corner of the restaurant for a stream of good food and beer that kept us going for the remainder of the day. The guest house had us in rooms named after past Malaysian prime ministers. Slightly surreal - with photos of each rooms namesake adorning the walls.

Clarence has another flat!

Day 3 started with a long roll on the old Ipoh main road to take us towards the Cameron climb. Only 3 of us now as Jim had ridden back to KL the previous afternoon. The day was pretty uneventful until we got near to the Cameron area, as by now - Saturday afternoon on a public holiday weekend - the traffic was pretty bad. We spent a few kilometers overtaking the same section of traffic repeatedly. Note to self: avoid public holiday Saturdays on this route.  Once we were into the highland area however, we had fairly free roads up to the day's destination of Tanah Rata at 1600m with a nice last 8km climb up through some switchbacks in the drizzle of low cloud.

Thank heavens for hot showers! We toyed with the idea of a massage before dinner but our stomachs got the better of us and the lure of great steaks, mashed potatoes and beer soon had us in our favourite Tanah Rata eating spot.

At this point all the main hard riding of the trip was done, as the 4th day was mostly descent. As it was my birthday we felt obliged to have some sort of celebration and procured a bottle of wine and some cake and went back to watch some TDF stages on a laptop. We actually only managed one stage in the end - pretty pooped all round.

A fairly wet world greeted us the next morning, though the rain had moved on. After the essential coffee and breakfast we started the glorious and technical 8km descent down to Ringlet and from there the super-fast and open descent through some incredible mountain vistas.

The plan was lunch at Sungai Koyan and then load the car up for the transition back to Kuala Lumpur so we could get everyone to their flights on time. We gave the bikes a good hosing down at a car wash beside the food stalls in SK - they had really accumulated a good layer of filth over the 4 days.

In all - according to the GPS - we covered about 520km in the 4 days with overall ascent at just under 5000m. A great adventure in the best of company! Now we really deserved a break, and best of all, several days of uninhibited replacement of calories!

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