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It all started with an email from Freedom….”Wanna go for a jamboree?”.  Being an ex-scout from my school days, the word jamboree brought back great memories of strangers from different countries getting together for a camping activity in the outdoors.  Combined with mountain biking, I thought to myself “Great!  Gotta go for this one!”  

The web site showed a simple map, snaking up and over Penang Hill.  Total distance approx 60km, average rider expected to complete in 6hrs – so said the write up.  The rest of the trail description was so well written in detail, you’d almost need a degree to remember the whole lot before setting off!!! 

A week before the start, it was decided 5 Absolutees would be taking part.  Giddyyap, Ling The Merciless (you’ll find out why later), Beykha, Freedom and myself.  By chance, the One Hill Ride was divided into 5 stages, so each of us will be writing the journal for a stage.  Upon completing each stage, the rider will get an additional sticker pasted into their number tag.  Each sticker was an achievement in itself.  The game plan was to stay in a group of 5.  No splitting up as we’ll need to help each other.

Stage One

The night before it stormed!  And on the morning itself, dark clouds loomed and there was even a light drizzle.  It all added to the anticipation of an epic ride.  The butterflies in my tummy were doing the Macarena.  Either being polite (or sadistic), the organizers had planned to flag us off in the 1st of 20 waves. 

It started quite sanely, with a few kilometers on tarmac to the trailhead.  With more than 270 riders signed up, there was even traffic police marshalling to ensure we weren’t held back by traffic lights!  Just like a swarm of bees, we breezed through a local wet market – chickens on the right, fish on the left!  What a sight!  Urban Assault!  Enter the trailhead and it began with a variation of single and double track.  Just nice to string out the riders, we were settling into our pace when I found out why Ling is called The Merciless….  She snapped her chain!  (The day before on our warm up ride, she had been in big crank for most of the time, while the rest were labouring in the middle ring!)  Out with my battered Alien to sort things out and by the time we were moving again, half the pack must have gone past us!  Nevertheless, we settled in to enjoy a lovely double track that must have stretched for at least 5km, winding gently through the trees, ascending gradually.  For short stretch of 100m, we rode over boulders as large as a car.  Visions of Moab’s Slickrock trail came to mind, except this was wetter and mossier…

A short descent, and river crossing gave us time to catch our breath and to prepare for the Stairway to Heaven.  When we reached the base of this section, we discovered a string of bikers queued up.  I took to opportunity to take a snap shot of the mass of riders ascending the slope and this was where I lost my Rudy Project glasses, so I vowed to myself….”The pictures for this ride had better be worth it”… 

Ascending the slope with the bikes on our backs, it must have been a 50° gradient in some places!  With the bike on our shoulders, we were clamouring up the hill on threes.  Climb two steps, find grip in the muddy sockets on the trail, look up, wait 30 seconds for the person in front to move, do it again.  There was even a short ridge that concealed a second part of the climb!  At this ridge, we asked a marshall “How much more to climb?” and with a big smile, he replied “Only 50m, lah!”  We later found out all distances in this ride referred to vertical gains.  We had been climbing for 30 minutes and about to see stars in front of us when we staggered onto the plateau that was to mark the achievement of Stairway to Heaven.  We had earned out first badge!!!

Stage 2

Having acquired our first badge and taking 2hours, we thought “This will be a LONG day.” 

The plateau we were on led onto a tarmac road.  What a relief!  The joy of letting my bike carry me again!  After the first turn, our joy turned into disbelief… The road made a hairpin and it was like facing the 1st 50m of Kent Ridge Hill.  I thought my granny gear would make easy work, so I powered you the first sloope.  At the end, it was another hairpin corner and we faced a 2nd slope much like the first!  This ritual went on for 30 mins … grind your granny, find a level spot in the hairpin to catch your breath, attack the next section.

With 270 participants grinding their way up Penang Hill’s infamous Jeep trail, we were glad the full width tarmac road allowed riders to find their own rhythm without holding others back.  Such was the steep gradient of the road that at one section, one participant was seen carrying her bike on her shoulders instead of pushing uphill!  This was still on tarmac, so when later questioned, she revealed she felt it was easier…quoting something about physics and center of gravity.  Let the record show such merciless action in punishing the hill was effective enough to even overcome a few male participants valiantly trying to struggle with their granny!!!  With each little plateau, we traded wise cracks with fellow riders…

“I thought this was a RIDE”

“Now I know why this is a DOWNhill bike…”

…looking thru the corner of the eye at the next slope and muttering “Whoa!” and proceeding to rest….

“Can I just buy the badges and go home?”

The steep climb finally ended and we began a short descent on a broken tar road.  Apparently built by convict labourers a century ago, surely for more economically viable activities than mountain biking.  The descent is best described as a roller coaster – varying speeds and the cool forest air refreshing the senses!  The broken tar section led into undulating single track, some downhills to keep the grins and some short climbs to keep the heart rate up.  A brisk pace was easily set and gradually the trail began to snake upward again!  This time more gentle but we could feel we were approaching the tree canopy walk as the trail snaked up, we were riding through the foliage of the trees.  The final 500m of the climb was on a slightly mossy concrete footpath, those lacking a smooth pedal stroke were spinning the wheel with each jab on the pedals.  Nothing could prepare us for what was waiting at the finish.  Upon completing stage 2, we expected a badge and were also told to eat!

True to their motto, KOTRT, the Knight’s of the Round Tummy has prepared fresh bananas, ample plain water and freshly baked, still warm chicken pies in individual boxes!

Giddyap had a bite and said “It’s roasted chicken and hard boiled egg in gravy!”  Needless to day, we armed ourselves with pie, bananas and water, ate up and headed off to the canopy walk to see the view.

Freedom was no where to be found … but as we wanted to take a group photo, we called him…  A minute later, he appeared with his 3rd chicken pie in hand a a mouthful of banana, asking “What’s up?”

It him holding the camera in the photo with 4 of us on the canopy walk.  If you look closely in the left top corner, you can see come pie crust on the lens….J

Stage 2-3

 Comin' soon


Stages 3 to 4

Checkpoint 3-4 (Iron Cross to Tarmac Road)
After all the endless hours of huffing and puffing up the hills (one wonders whether Penang really does have that many hills to climb), we finally arrived at the much talked about Iron-Cross though we see nothing iron nor cross about this checkpoint. The only good thing about this checkpoint is that we were told by the marshals that it will be a loooong downhill all the way to Checkpoint 4. Yeah right! (cynical) We've certainly heard that one before and we were not going to be tricked once again by the evil KORTS. As usual, we had our Kodak moment and off we go. And lo and behold! It is
indeed downhill all the way and they were fantastic downhills too. Most of the sections were mossy single-tracks so you spent half your time wondering when your back wheel is going to wipe out under you and or the other half of the time, you're basically frozen in one position, afraid to move a single muscle as it might cost you to lose your balance and fall off the hill ridges. On top of that, there were a total of 27 dangerous hair-pin turns and switchbacks planted in this downhill ride that literally had just holding our breath whenever we negotiate them! But it was fun and one of the best and adrenaline pumping downhills I've had for a long long time. The views were awesome as well as one gets to overlook the whole of Penang city but then again, with eyes glued to the narrow single track, one was hardly in the mood nor frame of mind to admire the views although I was trying to steal some glances from the side of my eyes. After like forever, when my shoulder, arms and legs muscles seem to be frozen in time, we finally reached the end of the downhill which leads us to the tarmac road. And Seung, being the PAIN that he is, had to live up to his namesake and took a bad and 'malu-iating' crash at the end of the hill, right in front of all the evil KORTS and the cameraman!! He fell right into the 'longkang' and suffered some bad cuts and bruises, not to mention a bruised ego too. After some first aid was provided to him, we went happily on our way again, all too eager to complete the ride and to get our last 'sticker' at the end of the ride.

Checkpoint 4-5 

(The Long & Hot Boring Ride Home)

This time round, we were pretty much pre-warned about this stretch of the ride and thus was kinda mentally prepared for the monotony of this section of the ride. Basically, the idea was that it will be about 25km of road ride back to our base camp and the initial part will be an uphill climb but only half of the uphill climb that we were suckered into the day before. And thereafter, it's a nice downhill for a couple of km with some awesome views of the dam (which we've already admired the day before) before we will come to the main road whereby we'll be fighting with heavy traffic along Batu Ferringhi which will lead us back to base camp. The ride was fine at the beginning and we enjoyed the few km of downhill. The only gruesome thing about this stretch of the ride is that it's open, the sun was blazing hot at this point of time, and there were some steep sections that we had to cycle (probably steep due to the fact that we were tired). After like some endless, mindless pedalling, we all decided to have stop at a road side drink stall for some much-appreciated cold drinks. With that, we set off once again, in a draft fashion, with occasional breaks from Max & Seung whenever their male ego plays up on them. And after like eternity, we finally saw our destination and gave a whoop of joy. We completed the ride and was mighty proud of ourselves for doing pretty well too! We only took a total of 5 and a half hours as opposed to the 7 and a half hours that we were supposed to take. We were really tired out but all agreed that it was a fun ride and worth all the bike portage and climbs.

Thereafter, we had a hearty lunch at Gurney Drive (one can't imagine the amount of food we devoured!!) and then went back to our apartment for some shut-eye before having to return for the Grand Dinner hosted by the KORTS at base camp. The dinner was quite well done. It was a buffet Penang hawker-fare for all of us, followed by some video clips and shots of our whole biking experience over the last 2 days and finally ended with a lighting of the bon-fire by each representative of each biking group. It was really quite a touching sight as it instilled the camaraderie of all fellow mountain bikers from all over the place (Perak, Johor, Singapore, Penang, Selangor etc) and from all walks of life. Thereafter, it's chit-chat time and adios till the next Jamboree ride!

A special thanks to all the KORTS members for a ride so well organised. Greatly appreciate the efforts put in for this successful event. Here's looking forward to the next ride and torture session (can't believe I'm saying this!).

Comments or criticism can be sent to pain@teamabsolut.net

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