west coast

Remembering How to Ride

It’s funny how you can forget how to do something you’ve been doing perfectly well for eight months.

Though, I suppose it’s no stranger than Tiger Woods forgetting how to play golf, or the England cricket team…  Well, the less said about them, the better, I think.

While I was moaning about the sweating and the headwinds last time, it also turns out that I’d forgotten how to ride in the heat.  I think it was the month in Indonesia; maybe ten degrees celsius cooler than Australia, but much steeper.  I got used to being able to go harder (and having to go harder over the hills) than I could before.  And then I forgot to readjust to new circumstances here.

Anyway, I’ve remembered in the last few days.  Start a little earlier, go a little slower, stop for a little longer in the shade.  And the miles will come.

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The last vaguely hilly section of road so far was just south of Kuala Lumpur, as I passed the motor racing circuit at Sepang (above).  I seem to be just missing a couple of big Malaysian sports events by a few days: Sepang will host the Malaysian Formula One Grand Prix in a couple of weeks, and the country’s biggest bike race (the Tour of Langkawi) is on this week, but sadly nowhere near where I am.

Once past Kuala Lumpur, and having stopped, as expected, at Klang (not as noisy as I’d expected), the roads became pretty much pan flat, and the Beast and I have made some decent ground up the coast.

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The only vague complaint is that the scenery is a bit dull; billions of palm trees and not a huge amount else.

But the towns are as interesting as ever.  It’s still hard to get my head round the diversity of the Malaysian population, with every large-ish town sprinkled with mosques, churches and Chinese temples.  I’ve had a rest day today (Friday) in Sitiawan, which seems to have a large Indian population, and I’m just across the road from a large Hindu temple here:

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What’s surprising (to me, at least) is that there’s no real sense of tension or separation between all those different groups, unlike the immigration / ghettoisation / race-relation issues you tend to see in Europe and the US.  Everyone seems to get along with no major problems.  I guess there may be some underlying difficulties which are hard to sense just passing through, but it feels like it all works pretty well from my cycling outsider’s point of view.

Speaking of cyclists, I’ve started seeing a few other tourists on the road (I’d started wondering when I’d meet any more; half of Australia and the whole of Indonesia had passed without seeing any).  There were a trio in Singapore on my way to the border.  And then two yesterday south of Sitiawan.  All heading the other way, but it’s nice to know there are some others out there.

And finally, you expect to find a few oddities when you’re outside your own culture.  But this was just plain confusing:

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So, is it coffee?  Or tea?  Or something else altogether?  I can tell you’re on the edge of your seat.  Well, it turned out to be a mixture of coffee and tea.  Which is entirely peculiar.  And an innovation which I’m fairly sure nobody ever asked for.

I know it’s hard to see how things can get much more interesting than coffee-tea.  But I’ll keep you posted; you never know what’s out there…

Beside The Seaside

I’m running slow again.

Not for the first time on this trip, despite flat terrain, I’m struggling to make decent daily mileage.  And putting in a 100-plus kilometre day on Friday left me feeling dreadful when I tried the same again the next morning.  After a day off yesterday, I’m hoping that I’ve recharged enough to push on north at a reasonable pace.  But it’s fair to say that I’m not exactly flying up the west coast.

It’s the heat.  And the fairly constant headwinds.  I guess you’ve heard more than enough about my sweat patterns and water consumption (only the location changes; Spain, USA, Australia – all the same old, self-pitying whining).  So I’ll trouble you no more about it.

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One thing I am enjoying enormously is the Malaysian town names.  I’m not sure if it’s just me (or the heat, dehydration etc), but a lot of them sound quite entertaining.  For example, the fountain / crown arrangement above was in Muar, which is definitely requires ‘har-har-har’ adding to it, to make a rather splendid evil laugh.  And, assuming I get my riding skates back on (so to speak), I should be spending tomorrow (Tuesday) evening in Klang.  Which will, ahem, probably be a little noisy…

OK…  It is just me, isn’t it?  Erm, best get on with what I’ve actually been doing for the last few days…

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Well, I hit the coast more-or-less as planned.  Though as with the coast roads in Indonesia, it’s not that often that you get a decent view.  The terrain here is pretty flat, and tends to be covered in trees, which doesn’t make for many great sweeping vistas.

But the roads remain well-surfaced, the drivers remain generally pretty decent, and the locals remain friendly and laid back.  Which made for relatively trouble-free progress to Melaka (used to be called Malacca in the olden days), with the exception of the weather, of which enough has already been made.

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Melaka’s got a lot of interesting history and culture going on.  There were local people there originally, using the harbour, but it was established as a sultanate, trading with the Chinese and others in the area, and was then controlled by the Portuguese and the Dutch for hundreds of years.  And that’s before the British Empire, Japanese occupation, and finally (so far) independence.  Phew.

You can see a lot of these layers from a quick stroll around Melaka: churches, mosques and temples piled in around the old harbour area; old warehouses and traders houses, and a huge (if somewhat over-touristed) Chinatown area.  The town and its history are both pretty representative of Malaysia as a whole, I guess.

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Back on the Beast this morning, I was heading north again towards Port Dickson.  Within a few kilometres, I was in beach holiday country.  There are bundles of enormous hotels and nice houses all the way along the road.  I’m now close enough to Kuala Lumpur that I reckon some of the houses must be weekend places for some of the more affluent denizens of the big city.

You can see why; the seaside’s really nice here:

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I’m not intending to hit Kuala Lumpur itself of this trip; I spent a day or two there a few years ago, and don’t think that piling through the biggest city in the country on a bike is necessarily worth it.  I might see the Petronas Towers in the distance; they’re pretty tall, but it depends on how the land lies between the seaside and the city.

So I’m just trundling up the coast for the next few days.  And sweating and drinking loads of water.  And going via Klang, which I still think sounds funny, even if nobody else does.

The Occasional Alps

This might sound a little familiar.  Sitting in a hostel, gazing forlornly out of the window at astonishing quantities of driving rain.  And much twiddling of thumbs and pacing up and down until the skies (maybe) clear.

I’m sure someone else was doing that yesterday morning (Tuesday).  They may even have experienced a flicker of sympathy for any cyclists plugging away outside.  I, however, was busy multi-tasking.  I was out on the Beast, getting soaked to the skin and climbing hills.

The west coast of New Zealand is proving tricky on a bike.  Towns are spread unevenly and without much between, so you sometimes need to ride a short repositioning day before a longer run.  And the Southern Alps, which are a constant companion to the left of the road, have been getting bigger and bigger, which means the foothills are bigger too.  Oh, and I might have mentioned that the weather is a little bit fickle.  To say the least.

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Yes, the Southern Alps are always there, but you only get to see them occasionally.  Usually (at least with me seeming to attract moisture from the air wherever I go in NZ), they’re either hiding their heads in low cloud, or are completely obscured by heavy rain.  They’re always there, but you definitely wouldn’t always know.

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When you can see it, the scenery is spectacular.  As I’ve meandered south into glacier country, the sun has sometimes bothered to appear, and the snow-capped peaks, lakes and icy rivers are absolutely beautiful.  And the sun is strong when it comes out.  I’ve actually had to dig out the sunscreen a couple of times, which must be an improvement, mustn’t it?  Until you look at the forecast for the rest of the week…

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I got to Franz Josef Glacier on Monday.  This is both true and slightly misleading, as I only got to the town of Franz Josef Glacier.  Not quite to Franz Josef Glacier itself.  Hope that’s all clear enough?  And then I got soaked on the short, but hilly, run to Fox Glacier yesterday (again, that’s Fox Glacier, not Fox Glacier, but then I guess you’ve worked that out already).

This morning (Wednesday), and a now all-too-familiar scene repeated itself.  I was, once again, the one in the hostel, watching the hills disappear and reappear between sheets of torrential rain.  Given that the nearest hill is only half a kilometre away, it takes some fairly serious precipitation to make it vanish.  I was set to push on to Haast today, which is a long day’s ride, and then over the Alps tomorrow to, hopefully, better weather.  But the rain’s not ready to let me go just yet.

That may be just as well.  It would have been a shame to leave glacier country without seeing a glacier.  And as the rain became a little more showery around lunchtime, I commandeered a Swede’s car (OK, OK, he was going anyway, and offered me a lift), and we drove up to have a look.

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The glaciers here come fairly close to sea level, and are surrounded by temperate rainforest.  That’s RAINforest.  Appropriately enough.  Makes a pretty frame for the hills and glaciers, mind you.

So, in theory, I should hit the westernmost end of the Kiwi leg of my trip tomorrow, before cutting over the mountains (sounds easy, right?), and then swinging north toward Christchurch and my flight to Australia.  Don’t be too surprised if nothing of the sort happens, though.

I’m also pretty determined that my next post won’t have anything negative to say about the weather.  Don’t be too surprised if that’s not the case either…