“I don’t cycle to add days to my life. I cycle to add life to my days.” A beautiful quote shared by Richard Gibson.
I guess that’s partly the reason why people can be so addicted to sports: the way it slowly transforms you and your life.
As a newbie triathlete, I have always kind of neglected biking the most out of the 3 sports. I naively thought “Well biking is biking. How much faster can you be?” So I went on and tried to improve what I love the most – Running, and what I found most technically challenging – Swimming.
But as soon as I started to do some biking with #Joyriders earlier last year, I realised I couldn’t be more wrong. There is so much to be learned and I was always the slowest in every group of Joyriders, by a long shot. And we are talking about a group of riders from all ages – 21 to 70+ years old, from racer to injured riders, male, female, short and skinny, tall and heavy, you name it. And they were all very much faster than me.
Every morning 5am sharp, at OCBC Upper Thomson, a group of 40-50 riders forms a peloton and slowly rides into dawn. People get up at 3.30am-4am, bike 7-9km from their house just to join this ride. And they would repeat it 3-4 times a week. I think that’s crazily-committed.
But I do join Joyriders occasionally. Not as often as everybody else, but enough to huff and puff up the Mandai hill every time. Almost every ride, there would be someone who voluntarily bikes at the end with me to show me the route and help me complete the ride.
They are a special bunch of people with a very inclusive culture. I guess that’s the common trait of people who loves sports.
A spirit that is encouraged and nurtured by the founder of the group Joyce Leong, who recently asked me “Hey Trang, want to join us for a Cameron Highland Cycling trip?”
I was like “Joyce, are you out of your mind? I can hardly keep up now in the newbie group on Saturday. I will be slowing everybody down if I join you in Cameron.
She said “Don’t you worry. I have arranged a bus. You ride as much as you can, when you are tired the bus will pick you up. And Cyril said he will ride with you.”
Then Joyce would keep encouraging me for a few days until I caved.
Anyone who knows Joyce would know that she’s a woman of her words. Everything was perfectly organised as promised: a very clean and comfortable VIP bus, a driver, even a tour guide. And all the essentials: ice box, pumps, speaker, the best Nasi Lemak meal before we start our ride.
It was still hot and sunny when we arrived. The strong riders took off at Petronas and rode a total of 53km to the Meiko Strawberry field. Some long hills to climb but was all just a warm up for what Joyce had planned for day 2. Joyce, Cyril, Richard and I stayed on the bus to go up further so that we could give water, take photos of the strong riders. Half way we got down and started climbing.
15 minutes into the climb, I wish I was climbing Mandai hill. Joyce, Cyril and Richard have taken off into the distance. I couldn’t see them anymore. Actually I preferred it that way so I know I’m not robbing them of their enjoyment. Inch by inch, I slowly climbed up and up. It got hotter and hotter. I was thankful afterwards for being caught in the pouring rain at about km8. A hopeful thought sparked in my head: “Would they stop if it rains?” Seems like they were not stopping. I still didn’t see anyone in front of me. So I continued climbing.
At Km 14 I finally managed to catch up with Cyril, the 70 year old superman who puts me into shame. He was working hard, slowly climbing up. We climbed together for a little bit more and decided that we would stop at km20 like Joyce had advised earlier. The bus picked us up at km20 and we stayed on the bus to chase the others. It was then km48. The rest would have a few more kilometres to finish before arriving at the strawberry field. Cyril and I decided we would finish with them so we took our bikes down and went on for 4 more kms.
We were happy with our Day 1 achievement. We were even happier with the delicious hot set dinner that Joyce had organised. The temperature dropped significantly so everyone was thankful for the hot soup that Andrea Abg and Cyril poured. The guys had a couple of beer, we stocked up with some breakfast from the grocery store and we wrapped up to check into the service apartment Heritage organised by Mr Wong.
We crashed into bed quite instantly. Not sure if it was the riding, the hot soup, the cold temperature or the soft bed.
4am, we got up to prepare for Day 2. The bus took us to the other side, an hour and a half from Ringlet. Today we rode off together, after coincidentally running into Steven Hong the guy who biked all the way from Singapore and had just completed Cameron highlands when we found him. Took some nice photos, we were on our way.
Having studied the route map before, I know that the first half of Day 2 will not be as crazy as Day 1. The total route is 92km with crazy vertical hills at the end for the strong riders. For us, Joyce said ride as much as you can but 40km is good enough. After 7km, Joyce and Cyril took off (again!!) because I couldn’t keep up with them. I took my time, slowly enjoyed my ride (and the salty rice crackers I sneaked into the “bento box” that Minh-Quang Pham lent me. The route was so lovely with rolling up and down hills. I enjoyed the downhill so much I thought I was riding a motorbike.
And the joy I had when I caught up with Cyril at Km30! Tough old man! I told him the bus will pick us up at Km40 so let’s keep climbing slowly. After Km40 the hills start to become more challenging. We were hoping for a sign of the bus. Our water was running out. As promised, the bus wasn’t far. They picked us up at km45. We were happy to have Gail and Joyce join us so we could catch up with the fast riders in front to give them water.
The fast riders are hardcore. Marc and Matteo the 2 Italian riders both of whom Joyce jokingly claim to be her “toy boys” are always the leaders of the pack. They completed 92km uphill in more or less 4 hours. Followed by super Austrian woman slash ski instructor Andrea Abg, skinny Hongkong Uber guy Ringo Tang, quiet but resilient Japanese man Yasushi, the most patient and helpful Richard Gibson, American middle-aged man Ballan Campeau (whom I think looks like young Bill Clinton), a strong biker but an ever better singer from New Mexico Gail Willow and most impressive is the young and brave student Chia Wei Shern who fell and hurt himself on day 1 but did not give up on the challenge. Wei Shern eventually overtook many of them at the end.
Everyone was knackered at the end but was rewarded with amazing massages (more amazing for some of us – Yasushi, WS ). We closed the night off with another great authentic steamboat experience where Joyce arranged some lucky draw, prizes and a heartened farewell speech by Richard (which Joyce made him repeat again on the bus the next day haha).
The highlight of the whole trip however was Day3. We packed our bags to check out at 6.30, psyched for a downhill experience. Little did we know Joyce had arranged a surprised ceremony where she recognised our efforts through out the 2 days, personally, one by one we received a special cabbage from Cameron. She is so sweet that Matteo decided to buy some flowers the night before just to thank her for all of the tremendous efforts she has put into arranging for everyone.
Again the strong riders start off from the apartment all the way to the Petronas. The rest of us rode off at Meiko Strawberry field. It was a beautiful day with cold crisp air brushing through our cheeks as we race down the hills. I stopped at the bus after 49km with Richard whose tyres were ripped. Everyone else went on for 5km more.
We completed the ride, slightly tired but somehow refreshed. Especially after we were dropped at the R&R to take a cold shower before heading back to Singapore.
On the bus, everyone took turn to share a little bit about their experience of the trip. Lots of thanks. Lots of appreciation. Some tears from one I will not name (because we had to say goodbye to Richard). But most importantly, lots of joys.
I guess that’s what they meant by the “Joy of riding”.