So much to tell I don't know where to start.
The annual PCC Interstate this year took us through Perak, Kelantan and Terrengganu. All in all, a little over 480km over three days. Tiring? Yes. Painful? Yes. Fun? Hell yeah!
Before I go on and on and on, I'd just like to thank PCC for organising such a wonderful ride. This is my 4th Interstate and like every year, they've worked tirelessly to bring us a great event yet again. Kudos to James, Ivan, Dennis, O'Neil, Christina, Annie, Sellina, Don, Vong, Ashley and the entire organising committee. It was a great route and the organisation was perfect. Thank you.
To the support crew, especially Willie, Joanne, Patrick (half of day 2 and all of day 3), Wong CC (half of day 3) and PK and family (day 2 and 3), thank you for bringing us home each and every day. We wouldn't have made it without you. I know how tough it must have been for you guys to wait for us. And Patrick, the spray bottle was genius!
And to my little peloton: Amanda, Azhar, Clarence, Patrick and Wong CC, you guys rawk!. Thank you for letting me in on your little group. You guys made the torture fun. Couldn't have completed the distance without you. Thanks for the pulls, the pushes, the camaraderie and the laughter.
Anyway, on to the report:
Day 1 - Kuala Kangsar - Pulau Banding (140km)
Woke up to the sound of pouring rain. Half contemplated sleeping in but heard the cyclists gathering outside the hotel room. Looks like the ride is on, rain or shine.
Got out and there was a mass of riders in the resort carpark. The mood still seemed chirpy and festive, despite the rain. Well, it is day 1 and the riders were rearing to go.
All smiles before the start.
After a quick briefing, we were off, crossing the bridge over Sungai Perak. By now the rain had stopped and left us with some cool, comforting weather to ride in.
I was settling myself in towards the back of the pack, not really knowing which group I'd end up riding with. Then, not 10km in, I saw Amanda pulling off. She had a flat. I stopped to help, as did Azhar, Clarence, Patrick and Wong CC. This would eventually be my little peloton over the next three days.
As we worked on changing Amanda's tube, we saw the whole peloton passing by. Once we sorted out the tube, we were off, in chase mode. We were now the tail-enders and wanted to catch up with the main pack.
So focused were we on the chase that we actually missed a turn! Actually, we were too busy posing for the cameras to hear the marshalls yelling out, "Turn left!"
Back on track, we continued the pursuit...
All smiles still. Three hours later, the smiles would be gone.
As this stretch of the route was flat, it was easy to give chase. In fact, as the picture above shows, we were still smiling. We were making good time, so good that we didn't notice that Vong's pack had stopped and we had passed them. It was only when we stopped, at about 90k, that we realised we did.
As we refilled our bottles and refreshed ourselves with Patrick's spray bottle, we saw Vong's pack coming. We quickly latched on and got a free ride for a while. At Gerik (100km), Vong's pack stopped to refill. Our little peloton decided to go on ahead, since we had just stopped 10km earlier, no point stopping again. Also, Vong's pack was pretty big and that could be a little dangerous, so it was safer to go on our own.
This was when the smiles disappeared. This was when we started climbing. The first 10k was rolling so it wasn't so bad, then then it was 20k of hell. The climb was relentless and by now the sun was out in full force. Our little pack slowly got separated, with the faster climbers like Azhar and Clarence moving on ahead. I was struggling to keep up with Amanda and eventually got dropped.
The climb begins. Smiles all gone now. Amanda still smiling as she drops my sorry ass!
As we went higher, I found my legs working again and soon caught up and passed Amanda. Further up, Clarence had stopped because he ran out of water and was waiting for the support car.
The peak never seemed to come. Each time the road went down, I was filled with a sense of relief, thinking the climb was over. But no, the road would then point skywards again. This went on a few times, and i had just about given up on seeing the final descent.
Then it came. And it was a steep, fast descent. Almost too short because just as I was starting to enjoy it, I saw a marshal saying we have to go up this really steep hill to get to the hotel. One last kick up that hill and day 1 was done. Just in time too, I felt the cramps coming in on those last few pedal strokes.
Day 2 - Pulau Banding - Kota Bahru (180km)
Day 2 started early, before the sun came up. It was the longest day and we had a 30km climb to start the day. It was nice of the organisers to want us to clear the climb before the sun came out.
An early start to avoid climbing in the sun.
We started by crossing the bridge into Banding, then out the other side before the climbing proper started. Hardly enough time to warm the legs up before we went skywards.
The start of the climb on Day 2.
It was good to start the climb so early. The weather was cool, there was a nice mist hanging in the air. The mist helped disguise how steep the climb really was.
Reaching the top.
Clarence, Wong CC and me at the top.
Our little peloton regrouped at a rest stop at the top. After a quick refill, and something to eat, we were off again. This section had some nice downhills but there was still a bit of climbing to do. It was only when we crossed the border into Kelantan the the road dropped. It was an exhilarating descent, all 30+km of it. Some sections were so steep that some riders hit speeds of up to 65-70km/h.
We regrouped again at the bottom and made our way to Jeli. At the Petronas there, we were treated to a little surprise. One of the Bukit Jelutong boys owned the Petronas and his mum runs it. So they had a little kenduri for us there. Since our team captain, Azhar, was one of the Jelutong boys too, we were treated to a scrumptious lunch of nasi berlauk. We let Vong's group go, and enjoyed the little makan.
By now, PK and family had joined us in their car. They had driven from KL that morning and was now here to lend us their support. After lunch we continued on our way. The road here was flat and windy and really tested the mental strength.
Doing my share of the work.
As we were riding along, PK had gone ahead to see where the rest of the peloton was. He came back to report that Don and Vong's group were only 5km ahead. He motorpaced us for a while to try and catch up but we gave up when we saw a air kelapa stall. By now we were still another 30km away from KB and it was really, really hot.
Approaching KB, we got another surprise. Amanda had suddenly got a second wind (it was the power gel, she claimed) and started pulling us all at 36km/h, blowing our little pack to pieces!
Amanda killing us all with her sudden pace.
After a lot of yelling and begging for her to slow down, we got into KB town. We rolled through town and to our final stop for the day, the hotel. End of day 2.
Day 3 - Kota Bahru - Kenyir Lake (160km)
Captain Azhar's mission to us: Get in ahead of Vong today.
The score between our little pack and Vong's was one apiece. We won the first day, they won the second. Now to move in for the kill.
The last ones to leave.
We started late because Azhar had to change a flat but didn't take long to join the rest of the pack. At the 40k mark, we broke away. It felt like a real cycling race: breaking away and the four of us working together to stay away from the pack.
But we had to stop 10km later when we realised Amanda was still stuck in that pack. We waited for the pack to arrive, she joined us and off we went again, well behind Vong. It wasn't long before we saw them stopped at a petrol station, so we picked up the pace and pushed on.
Working hard to accomplish our mission.
So eager were we to accomplish our mission, we made our stops as short as possible. A quick refill and spray from the spray bottle and we were off again. Each refill stop lasted no more than 10-15 minutes. Thank God for support cars. Patrick, Wong CC, Joanne, Willie, PK and family were always there when we needed them.
Pushing really hard now.
At 130k, we heard that Vong was about 20k behind us. Later we found out from Vong that had we been any closer, he would have picked up the pace and given chase. As it was, we were safe so we could have eased up. But we didn't. We were further bouyed when we saw Don sitting at a roadside stall with about 15k to go. Double bonus! Get in ahead of Vong AND Don. So we pushed on even more.
This proved to be a mistake for me. Little did we know there was going to be a huge mother of a hill coming up. Not the hill we usually climb during the Kenyir tri, but one that was steeper. Much much steeper. And to make it even worse, the hill was covered in gravel and rubble.
As we approached the hill, you could hear the cussing from the riders. I zig zagged up the hill to try and reduce the gradient, but at one point I felt I had to stand up to pedal through. Big mistake. I lost traction, the rear wheel spun and I almost bit the dust. After that, there was no way to get back on the bike. Frustrated, I threw the bike down (I was looking for a longkang), threw my helmet down, and just collapsed. Luckily Joanne offered to pushy my bike up the rest of the hill for me, saving me the indignity of pushing up the bike myself!
At the top of that hill, I got back on my bike and continued. I was totally spent by now. Fortunately, we were at the entrance of the resort already. Just a couple of short, steep hills to go and we were done. We passed the resort gates, and sprinted up the hill to the lobby. It felt like the uphill finish of Flech Wallone! I got to the lobby and raised my arms in triumph.
That's it. Ride done. Mission accomplished. Three grueling days in the saddle.
Koyak-ed at the end.
By far the toughest Interstate I've ever done. But also by far the most fun. The company, camaraderie, the little friendly unofficial competitions is what makes the Interstate such a fun event. This year's was no different. Let's do this again next year!
Pictures courtesy of Jamie, Janice, James, Patrick, Mac and Miow Chin. All taken from Facebook.