Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The 4 day biking endurance challenge


Completely protected from the sun and car exhaust

Malang:

Although getting to Malang was quite difficult, especially considering the weather, the city itself was a good place to take a break. Although I only intended to stay for 3 or 4 nights and then carrying on to Mt. Bromo, on the advice of local couchsurfers I decided to rent a motorbike for the trip to Bromo and leave my excess baggage at the hotel. All in all, I spent 8 nights in Malang (including Bromo).

Knowing that I would arrive in Malang near the end of the day and after a long 120+ km ride, I pre-booked my hotel room for 1 night. Although the place was nice, and the staff were great, it was so noisy in the morning that I couldn't fall back to sleep after the morning prayers, because everyone was sitting in the hallway talking on their phones . While out looking for a new hotel, I came upon a cycling event with over 1000 cyclists. Unfortunately it was almost over, but that didn't stop some guy from dragging me up onto the stage to tell everyone about my trip. I got a free super-sweet ice tea for the effort.

After checking into my new hotel, I met up with a local couchsurfer (Karnia) and the two of us went to the town of Batu (rocks) up in the mountains, to go to the zoo and a waterfall. Only interesting thing to tell about this day was my accidental electrocution by touching the safety wires of the Hyena pen while trying to get a picture. I can't really describe how much it hurt other than to say it felt like I got punched full force in the stomach. Luckily I didn't drop my camera.

While in Malang, I decided to organize a karaoke night and we ended up having 8 people show up. It worked out quite well as most of the people didn't know each other yet. We rocked out for 2 hours and then went to a coffee house till midnight. I really met some great couchsurfers during these 8 days. Notably, Karnia, my travel buddy my second day, Pray, my coffee drinking/football watching buddy whom I met up with in Bali as he was on a short 5 day trip, Yekti, one of the cool karaoke girls, and Fanela, my party buddy and hot springs partner before leaving.


Bromo's ever active crater
Bromo:

The trip to Bromo was pretty spectacular. The drive itself was pretty awesome, with kilometer after kilometer of mountainous farms, where people work on amazingly steep fields. Typical to anything touristy, I came across a 'tourist information' stand where the guys told me the road ahead was closed but that I could stay in a homestay and get a truck down the mountain the next morning. I almost believed them, but then decided to go check it out. Further up the road, I was stopped again by a group of guys touting some homestays and telling me the road is closed. I eventually reached a gate in the road, where two guys ran to me telling me its closed but that I could get a truck down the next day. I told them I already saw people exiting through the gate and just went and  lifted it over my head and drove on. Apparently it was 'closed' because it had yet to be blessed by the local religious leaders. It was an amazingly steep switchback all the way down to the Sand Sea on the inside of the caldera (really big former volcano). Driving across the sea was a challenge and just as I was about to reach the road up to the town on the other side, I met a German dude named Christian that was walking to Mt. Bromo, so I decided to join him and check it out right away. What a sight! As you walk up the steps, you begin to smell the sulphuric acid in the air. When you reach the rim of the volcano, the guardrail is all in disrepair, and as you look down all you see is smoke billowing into the bowels of the earth. Absolutely amazing! To think that this volcano is active and regularly erupts is a little bit scary. In 2004 it erupted and killed two tourists standing on the rim. And a month before I was there it belched out some lava rocks. It's really not somewhere you want to spend too much time standing. Christian and I doubled on my bike across the sand sea and got to the hotel just as the rain was arriving. That night we met another guy that was pretty much doing the same trip as me, but on a Vespa.
 

Mt. Bromo at sunrise with Mt. Semeru in the background.
 Tony and I decided to drive up the start of the hiking portion the next morning to catch the sunrise over Bromo and Semeru. Semeru is the highest volcano in Java, standing at 3600m a.s.l. I think the sunrise was over-rated, but still worth getting out of bed for. After getting some breakfast Tony and I took out motorbikes across the sand sea and just crused around for a couple hours, climbing the other side of the caldera trying to get to some mountainous lakes close to Semeru. We never made it there because Tony's vespa has some mechanical problems. Good times nonetheless. I might be seeing Tony again in the Gili Islands around new years.

 The drive back to Malang was absolutey misserable as it rained the entire way, and even though I had a rain jacket, it did little to keep my lower half warm and dry. Needless to say I got sick, and it made cycling to Bali a real pain.



4 Day Endurance Challenge:

The day before I was going to leave Malang I was talking to a British couple and they were telling me how they only had 9 days left on their visas so they had to go to Bali as quickly as possible to get it renewed. After a quick count, I realized I didn't have much time left either. I had 6 days to get to the immigration office in Denpassar, leaving me one week for processing.

Thus began the challenge.

Day 1:

I left Malang bright and early on the Sunday morning. I planned to go 197km, putting me at the base of the mountain for the next day's 66km climb to the Ijen crater. Althought the day started off nicely with a long gradual downhill from Malang towards the sea. By 8:30am I was definitely not going as fast as I would have liked, averaging about 22km/h. It was a damn hot day. I had an early lunch at KFC with a well deserved nap; faceplanted on the table. Not only is following the highway dangerous, it really tests your nerves, as a lot of buses don't leave much space when they go flying by. About an hour after my lunch break I was feeling pretty shitty due to the heat, so I pulled into a gas station, pounded a bunch of water and sprite, and passed out for an hour and a half on a shaded bench. When I woke up I realized that it must have rained as well and it was nice and cool out. I carried on with my cycling....and it got hot as hell again. Some teenager named Akmed started talking with me while driving his scooter alongside me. We decided to pull over at the cornerstore. I pounded more drinks and talked with him for 30 min. Nice kid. Speaks good English. I was the first foreigner he's ever had the chance to speak to. Wants to go to university, but can't afford it. Best of luck! I rode for another hour and decided to get a hotel. I figured if I rode the whole way, I would be too sore to climb the mountain the next day.

Day 2:

This is probably the most difficult day of riding I have ever done....or probably ever will do. If I had to put a statistic to this day, I would say it was 60% will-power, 40% insanity. The day started off with the last bit of highway riding I would do for a while. It was a little challenging though, as there was a big hill 1km from my starting line. Luckily what goes up must come down. At the 21km mark, I turned off the highway and started riding up my first mountain of the day. Not too bad, probably something like 700-800 metres of elevation. It definitely wasn't easy, but you really just have to take it one hairpin corner at a time. When I reached the top I stopped at the market in town and bought a small yellow watermelon, and to the astonishment of everyone there, I broke it open and started to eat it like some kind of feral animal. It was truly amazing. I'd covered almost 50km, all before 8am. Short descent to Bondowoso, which is situtated in the valley between a bunch of mountains, and then 10km to Wonosari, where I turn off the start the longest climb of my life.

I had previously read a cycling blog and the guy described the descent of what I was about to climb as the most in-tune he had ever felt with his bike and the world....almost like flying. He wrote that he reached speeds of almost 80km/h without pedaling once. It was a pretty shallow climb, but they just went on forever. I might have only been climbing 5-7 degrees at the start but it went on for several km before the road turned slightly. This road only went to farmland, a few small towns in the mountains and the Ijen Crater, but people still felt the need to ask me where I was going and then would proceed to tell me that I was crazy. I would just smile and keep pedaling.

On a nice side-note I was taking a break beside a school and got to talking with one of the teachers and next thing you know I am doing Q & A with one of the classes. 30 minutes later....back on the road. As I got higher into the mountains the road got a fair bit steeper. The fact that I rode 138km the day before was starting to take a toll of my legs. I definitely wasn't climbing very fast, only around 12km/h if my memory serves. Eventually the rain came, which gave me a chance to rest at a roadside warung (cafe). Just for fun I asked the lady how much further to the crater. She said only 20km. I know better than to believe Indonesians when it comes to distance. So I checked my gps and it said 45km. I showed it to her and she told me that my gps was wrong. Obviously, that had to be the case. After another 10km of riding up what was getting to be steeper and steeper mountains, I was taking a break on the side of the road when a big dump-truck pulled over. He told me that up ahead it was steeper yet and there was a lot of construction on the road. I asked him how much for a ride and he said Rp 20,000. That's $2. No problem my man. So we loaded the bike up in the back of the empty truck. I tried to place it in a manner to keep it from getting damaged. He took me 20km to Sempol, the coffee capital of Eastern Java. It was the most scared I've been since starting this trip. The guy was insane, flying around corners, swerving around oncoming traffic, and on a number of occasions nearly test-flying the dump-truck off the mountain. We made it without incident, and true to his word, the road was under construction and was absolute shit for about 10km of the ride.

Coffee plant
It was definitely colder up there, especially when wearing sweat-laden clothing. I had me a nice chicken-rice soup and a good hot cup of Java..in the java capital of Java. Good times. So, 15km to go, through the plantations, lots of nasty hills, and I would be at the base camp. Just my luck, no trucks came by, it was a long two hours of insanely slow riding. I arrived at the base camp, and was told that the generator was broken so there was no water or electricity, but that I could have a room for $10 for the night....not exactly a bargain. I decided to set-up my hammock in the gazebo. There was a little restaurant so I had some friend rice with egg and chicken on it, 1.5 litres of water, 1 large beer, a coffee and a sprite. I was starting to feel a little better. I bought an extra bottle of water and used it after dark to give myself a 'shower'. I was all tucked in by 7pm, fully dressed, curled up in my sleeping bag and freezing. I got up at 2:30am to make the trek up to the Ijen Crater.



Sahari working the sulfur in flip-flops
Day 3:

Sahari exiting the crater....700m climb
The eternal flame of burning sulfur. Only noticeable at night.
This day started really early with me trekking 3 km up to the rim of the crater where the locals mine the sulfur. Along the way I met a 32 year old guy named Sahari. He's been doing this for 8 years, making an average of $270 per month, approximately 3 times the local wage.  I followed him on his journey up the mountain, shared my breakfast with him and tried to get an idea of what his life is like.

Sahari tells me that most of the miners are carrying between 70-100kg of surfer in bamboo baskets such as the one in the picture on the right. He makes the trek up to the crater twice a day, starting at 1am from his house and getting home around 1pm, so that he can spend time with his little daughter. When I asked him how long he plans on doing this for,  he replied, 'until I can't anymore. Then I will use the money I have saved to open up a small business.' Most of the miners are wearing rubber boots and have headlamps, but Sahari works everyday just wearing cheap flip-flops and walks in the dark without a light. I considered giving him mine, but it cost me $50 and I knew I would need it again on my trip.

Sahari slowly making his way up the inside of the crater
He tells me that the worst part of the job is breathing in the sulfuric smoke every day, and that often he is trying to break off a piece of sulfur when the wind changes and envelopes him in a cloud of smoke and that it's almost impossible to breath. After watching him fill his basket with sulfur and taking pictures, it's time to start the 700 metre climb out of the crater and then carry on with the 3km descent to the unloading point. Watching him struggle his way up the hill silently, never uttering a complaint or a foul word is awe-inspiring.


Me holding up 75kg of sulfur
The miners take breaks at strategic locations, using the natural formation of the rocks, or man-made resting areas to set the baskets down in an almost standing position. On one of his breaks I ask if I could try lifting his basket of sulfur. Although it doesn't look to be that heavy, I'm told that it weighs 75kg. I can't possibly imagine doing this climb and descent twice a day. And I can't blame it on my exhausted biking legs. It was just ridiculously heavy. All my years in the army don't seem to matter much.


I meet one of his co-workers - if you could call it that - and he tells me he's been doing this for 20 years. He's only 38 and has broken his shoulder on two occasions when a small misstep can lead to life-threatening injury in a place where there is no readily available medical attention. As you can see his shoulders are covered in calluses from years of carrying this weight.






This expedition up Kawah Ijen into the insanity of the sulfur mining world has really given me a new perspective of what people are willing to do for loved ones. I'm certain the people involved in this type of manual labour are destroying their bodies not for themselves but for their loved ones and the opportunities that it will provide for them. Upon leaving Sahari, I gave him a pack of smokes and a couple dollars to help him have a nice lunch. Of course, he asked for more money. I wish I could have given him more, but it's not a good habit to get into when travelling around SE Asia.....so I refused.

Sahari giving 'er like the machine he is
The miners using their momentum to 'run' with the sulfur along the crater lip.
Having just finished hiking up to the crater I wasn't exactly fully energized but also realized that the vast majority of the day would be downhill. I was told the first 10km of the descent wold be tough because of construction. It was really bad. There was an international bike race planned for 5 days later and they were trying to fix the roads before it. If Indonesian construction workers are anything like Malaysian workers, there is no way in hell that they will ever be done in time. That last 22km of the descent were great. When I got to Banyuwangi I still had almost 20km to get to the ferry terminal for Bali. I was tired, legs were tired, I wanted rest. The boat ride was about all I got, cause when I reached Bali I realized that I had 140km to get to Kuta beach. I decided to push out another 30km for the day and to stop in a small Muslim city called Negara. Of course along the way I stopped and  had a quick dip in the ocean. In Negara, I met a guy named Suke who, even though still working, jumped on his bike and helped me find a cheap hotel. It was a shit-hole but cheap, so it did the trick. That evening he came by to visit and took me on his bike and showed me around, and even took me to his house and introduced me to his wife and kids. The next morning I slept in a bit and got on the road at 9am.

Day 4:

Last day of riding for a while. A good feeling. I thought that the coastal road in Bali would be fairly flat, but since the whole island is covered in volcanoes, I ended up spending the next 110km going up and down rolling hills. This is where it really payed off having a childhood in Canada, where we often held onto trucks and cars and let them tow us. Since my legs were completely shot, and any hills were painful, I tried to keep the climbing to a minimum. I would see a hill ahead and try to time my ascent with that of a slow moving truck, so that I could grab onto the side and let him pull me up. This often ended up being slower than if I had of just rode on my own, but definitely less work. By around 2pm I was arriving in Kuta. First thing I did was stop at a nice looking cafe and had an amazing club sandwich. Found a fairly cheap hotel for $15/night and went to bed.

Riding:
Day 1 - 138km
Day 2 - 108km + 20km (truck)
Day 3 - 78km
Day 4 - 110km
Total  - 434km

Monday, November 26, 2012

4th Leg: Kediri to Malang

Kediri as an alright little city. I got started on my Master's papers, which is a good thing, since they are due at the start of January. I had also met some English speaking girls at McDonalds and they told me about a festival that was on and we went together to check out the Javanese shadow puppets and eat food. The next morning, on my way out of town I stopped by to watch the traditional dancing and parade. The costumes and masks were quite impressive and from what I gathered, all emotion has to be shown through body language, since the dancer's face is covered by a mask.

The ride:

As far a training goes, and I know that my buddy Alexis Dallaire would be jealous, this 128km leg involved about 65km of up a mountain, down a mountain. It was actually quite depressing, because I knew that Malang is situated way up in the hills, so every time I finished a climb and started descending again, I became depressed cause I knew I would have to go uphill again......What goes down, must come up!!!
To make matters worse, it started to rain at the 40km mark and didn't stop for the rest of the ride. I had no choice but to press on as I wanted to reach Malang before night-fall.

I also realized that you should never ask an Indonesian about distances because they have to idea. I asked one guy at a gas station when I was near Wlingi how far to Malang and he said 85km....it was 55km away (good news). I was so wet that I didn't want to check my phone's gps as I didn't want to damage it. When I reached the top of the damn, I asked another guy how far to Malang, and he told me I only had 15km left to go. Great! So I pushed it and tried to get a real good ride in. After 15km I saw a sing that said I still had 15km to go. I was pissed. The day progressed from people looking at me riding, smiling and saying 'hello mister', to people looking at me completely drenched and laughing.

The joke was on them. My ride was nice and cool (tad bit wet), I had an amazing hill climbing session on my mtb with 20kg of luggage, and I reached Malang just as the sun was going down.

I checked into my hotel, washed my bike, myself, my clothes, and had some amazing Chinese food. I was asleep by 9pm.

Friday, November 23, 2012

3rd Leg: Candi Sukuh to Kediri (East Java)

Well, after the previous days near 5 hour ride for 50km I was excited for a relaxing ride down the mountain. However, this wasn't going to be an easy day. I knew by looking at my gps that I would be riding around 200km.

I had initially checked my GPS and asked locals how to get to Kediri, and was told that the 'quickest' route was to go over the mountain (Gunung Lawu). However, that would entail another 15-20km of steel uphill winding roads. I decided to go down and around the volcano instead. That's the one real benefit of Indonesia. Unlike a normal mountain range, volcanoes are generally spread-out and can be circumnavigated.

The ride down the mountain went by so fast, and with a little direction from locals, I was able to go through the tea plantations, which were absolutely amazing to see in the early morning. If not for having disc-brakes I might have died, as I approached speeds of 70km/h with the brakes on. The damn things were smoking and smelled like burned break-pads. Now they are warped again, and will probably need to be replaced after this trip. Oh well. Time for an upgrade.

After reading Sragen, I got on the 'highway' for the next 157km. Being relatively more tired after the previous days climb up Gunung Lawu, I was only averaging 24km/h. While taking a break at a rest-stop later in the morning I ran into my mountain climbing buddy Yelle, from Holland. He was taking a bus to Surabaya, so we chilled out and talked about the last few days. Eventually it was time to conquer the last 100km.

I was getting tired of going up the long slow inclines, so I started to wait on the hill for the slow moving double-transports to come by. I would then grab one and let them tow me up the hill. It worked relatively well, but not all the drivers were happy I was doing that, since it was dangerous for them....as it put them further away from the shoulder and closer to oncoming traffic. I would also ride right behind the transports, eliminating air-drag. However, this was significantly more dangerous, since any type of hard breaking could result in me crashing into the back of the truck.

Either way, I made it to Kediri about 30 minutes after sundown. That made it an 11 hour day on the bike, with 7 hours 45 minutes in the saddle....covering 187km. My previous record was a 170km race done in 4 hours 45 minutes. This was considerably slower, but considering the baggage and that I was riding a mountain bike....not too shabby.


2nd Leg: Solo to Candi Sukuh

Decided after two days in Solo that it was time to keep heading East. I heard there was a nice temple up the side of the nearby mountain, Gunung Lawu. Everyone I talked to said it's very high up in the mountain and that I shouldn't go there by bike.....challenge accepted!

One 50km away, but the final 30km are all uphill. The first 20km were alright, with me being able to ride consistently at around 18km/h. Then I saw the signs for steep incline. They were insane. My speed dropped to about 12km/h, then, as it got steeper, to about 7km/h. Everyone I slowly passed on the way (townspeople) just laughed at me when I told them where I was going. That's right, it was so slow I had time to converse with them before going out of earshot. And I needed to confirm I was going the right way. Well, finally I took a break for something to eat, and the people there told me I was 2km away, but that it was so steep there was no way I could ride up it. I'd like to think that if I wasn't carrying 20kg of luggage on my bike that I could have done it, but I don't know. I mostly walked, awkwardly pushing my bike. Luckily a truck came by in the last 1km and I put my bike in the back and he drove me up.

My plan was to sleep in a hammock when not in a city, so I set-up camp in the jungle. It was definitely a lot different that a Canadian forest from back in my army days. There were so many more sounds, weird animals, monkeys, etc. Kinda freaky. I woke up in time for sunrise, but the temple wasn't gong to open till 9am, so I decided not to wait and got going for my next destination.....East again.

1st Leg: Jogja to Solo

Well, I had to eventually leave Jogja. I didn't really want to, but the trip had to get started. After living in Kelantan, Malaysia for two years, I can't really describe how nice it was to hang out with 'Muslims' that can actually go to a bar, cinema, non-halal restaurant. I met and hanged-out with some really great people: both local and foreign. (Locals: Steve, Anastasia, Alya, Agus, Ade, etc) (Foreigners: Yelle, Yvonne, Tom, Becka, etc)

I decided to go to Surakarta (Solo) for my 1st bike leg. Only 68km away on a flat road. About 2 hours of boring riding on a busy road. I had three couchsurfers lined up for Solo, but since I delayed my departure from Jogja, the two locals could no longer host me. The third was a French guy that works till 9pm so I decided to get a hotel the first night. All the cheap ones were really nasty, so I decided to spend big money ($8.50) and get one that was decent'ish.

Since I got up that morning at 4:30am to go to Borobudur Temple, I was pretty beat, so I got some pizza and crashed.

The next morning I went to Phil's place. It's a small place, with one room and a little squat toilet bathroom. He only pays $40/month. He was an awesome host. Since he works close by his place, he decided to take his bike and leave me his 225cc Yamaha. What a day, just cruised around town, read a book, and talked to my son (his mother) on Skype.

That night Phil and I went to meet up with one of the two CSers, had some beer and chilled out. The next morning, we went out sightseeing before he had to go to work, and ate some amazing bbq chicken.

I really didn't do much in Solo, but did have a nice time relaxing, talking to Phil and cruising around on his motorbike.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

First ever bike trip!

Somehow I haven't written anything in well over a year. I think it's time to let people know once again what I'm up to.

A year ago I spent some time travelling around Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. I'm not going to bother getting into details about that trip, but anyone who already knows me knows that it really changed my life.

This school holiday I decided to head to Indonesia for my first ever bike trip. I decided this year would be different. It wouldn't involve a drinking and partying tour of Asia. I would try to stay in shape by doing a bike holiday. The plan, which has changed every time I think about it, is to ride from Yogyakarta to Lombok, a direct route of 820km. Realistically it will be about 1500km, which isn't such a huge deal, when done over a period of two months.

So far, I haven't left Yogyakarta (Jogja). Here's why.

The thing I like most about CS is the impact that random encounters can have on someone's life. On my second night in Jogja, on the advice of a couchsurfing contact, I attended a CS meetup up the road from where i was staying. While there I was invited to three events by local CS people:

1. Trip to Borobudur Temple the next morning at 10am.
2. Karaoke the next night
3. 3-day hiking trip up two mountain.

Number 1 pissed me off cause they randomly decided to go extra early, and didn't bother calling me, seriously fucking up all my plans for the day.

Second event was awesome. I met up with Alya (my CS contact) and we then went to meet up with the CSers from the night befor at Happy Puppy Karaoke. I sang non-stop for 2 hours and was happy just to have a voice the next day; when I needed to go hiking.

The final event was amazing, but quite poorly planned. My  'Western' mind dictates that we should be there really early to hike up the mountain, set-up camp, cook a nice dinner, and get some rest. ALL BEFORE THE REALLY EARLY START BEFORE SUNRISE!

Indonesian's don't think the same way. My ride picked me up at 9am so we could reach the rendevous by 10am. Everyone was late....we left at 11:30am. By the time we arrived at the base-camp and were ready to go it was 3pm. By 4pm it was pouring rain (we're hiking in monsoon season). Given I didn't bring enough clothes, cause I'm doing a bike trip and don't have enough with me, but I did buy a rain jacket and rain pants, I was generally freezing cold most of the time. I didn't feel so bad since half the people in our group were wearing sandals. This is not exactly a small mountain. It's 3142 meters high. Hell, one chick didn't even bring a sleeping bag. She slept wrapped in a sarong and a garbage bag. By 4:30pm I took over carrying the heaviest bag, because the leader of the expedition was busy with the weak people at the back....it was close to 25kg. By 7pm, one girl was already so exhausted she passed-out (unconscious) in the middle of the path. We decided this was a good time to set-up camp.

We got up at midnight to get going for the summit. Leaving out tents and non-essentials behind made it was much easier. Luckily it was no longer raining, but since it was pitch black and 1/2 the people didn't have a light with them, it was still a pain in the ass. We reached the summit about 10 minutes before sunrise. Damn close call. Needless to say, it was one of the most amazing sunrises I've seen.

Long story short, I decided my legs were in way too much pain to do it all over again, so I headed back to Jogja. Got some rest, got an awesome massage in the morning and went to meet up with some of the karaoke group (Anastasia and Tom) to go to a Jazz Festival. It was good till it started raining. Finally went to have some won ton soup and butter chicken with Anastasia and her friend.

Tomorrow I'm going to Borobudur early in the morning, since my last plan to see it fell through. After that I'll be heading to Surakarta (Solo). Time to start the actual bike journey.





Friday, February 10, 2012

Living in SIN

As most are aware, I live in the most conservative Muslim part of Malaysia. Here, almost all women wear headscarves. A couple days ago I was at the gym, running on the treadmill and I realized that pretty much all Malay women that come to the gym are bad Muslims, because they are wearing tight provocative clothing and their hair is out. I'm kinda surprised that women in my state haven't been banned from going to the gym.

Must investigate further....lol

Chris