Tuesday, January 14, 2014

On the road again: from Singapore to Bangkok

It was two years ago, almost to the day that we were cycling on a remote road, in the north-eastern part of Bali, moving at about 5 kms per hour, when a combination of a bump on the road and momentary inattention, sent me falling sideways, landing on my left wrist, which after some dramatic rescue, an X-ray in a local hospital, sent me to a specialist clinic in Denpasar to set a fractured wrist. We continued our journey, sans cycles, only to discover on our return in April to Toronto, that I needed corrective surgery, which occurred later in the summer and as I recovered in the fall, there was no time to ride a bike. Last winter we spent pleasurable months backpacking in central and south America but in my heart I wondered if we would ever cycle again.

Last summer, there were some opportunities to ride in the countryside but somehow it had no great appeal. Either the weather was not cooperative or I found some other activity. In the city, for distances of up to 10 kms I got into the habit of walking, rationalizing that it had more exercise value than getting on a bike for a half hour or so. Clearly, I was resisting riding as a form of exercise.

We spent the last month in Sydney, Australia, where the weather was ideal, but the traffic and poor road conditions once again dissuaded me from getting in the saddle. The rising number of cyclists killed did not help, nor did the fact that there are designated cycling paths on sidewalks, the logic of which I cannot understand.

All this time, I also was reflecting on my various aches and pains, thinking of my body as a used car, with limited mileage left and wanting to preserve it for the open road and the grand cycling adventure. Not that I felt ready for personal challenges of biblical proportions, as in ‘we struggled, we won, lets celebrate’, but I was prepared to give it the good old fashioned second effort, and planned this trip accordingly.

About 14 years ago, we did the trip from Bangkok to Singapore, a distance of some 2,000 kms along the east coast of Malaysia. This year we are doing it in reverse, along the west coast. The choice of the destination had some forethought: both countries are blessed with creature comforts for cyclists: excellent roads, warm and mostly sunny climates, reasonable and good quality accommodations and superb food. Alas, unlike in some of the other less developed south-east Asian countries, there are only first class buses which are most reluctant to transport bicycles, and the train is inland and has few stops, hence there is no plan B or plan C.

This note is coming from Malacca, Malaysia, overlooking the the Strait to Sumatra, with its great strategic value, as evidenced by the ruins left by the Portuguese, Dutch and the British. In five days of riding, we have covered nearly 300kms getting here, and, while tired, and still not totally confident, feeling elated being on the bike again. The heat, headwinds and humidity notwithstanding, the exhilaration of steaming along using only one’s power feels sublime: its about the journey and not the destination.

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