Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing. –William Butler Yeats
A Little Background
Aside from occasionally writing for SportsIn Cycling, I also happen to be a Team Captain for Wheels With Friends Plus (WWF+). Tasked with the responsibility of taking the team to the next level, I wanted the juniors in the team to experience an event that they never had thought of accomplishing before.
Wheels With Friends Plus (WWF+) is about a year old. Supported by Pioneer Community Sports Club, our small but passionate interest group has come a long way since our small cycling outings around the neighbourhood. We decided to take cycling a little more seriously by giving the juniors an opportunity to grow – to break boundaries. In order to do that, I figured I could borrow the route we did a while back – a 600km ride into Malaysia, covering Muar, Mersing, and Kota Tinggi.
We embarked on Tapir Training Camp from 21 March 2019 to 24 March 2019. Planning to cover over 600km in 4 days, it will be one of the hardest feats our juniors have ever attempted. Why Tapir? Well, have you seen those tan lines associated with cyclists? Nevermind if you haven’t – you’ll know what I mean later towards the end of the article.
Why did we do this?
What we fear doing is what we most need to do. -Tim Ferris
WWF+ is Jurong West’s homegrown team. We’re taking the baby steps to be better in the world of competitive cycling. We want to better at it. In fact, we aim to be the best (or at least, the best form of ourselves). I can vaguely remember the moment where we sat around a table talking about our goals in Frontier Community Centre. It was the birth of a collective identity where we all share our burning passion for cycling.
Collectively, most of our riders in WWF+ have not experienced the rigour of riding back-to-back day-to-day, covering such distances. In an endurance sport such as cycling, our base fitness is paramount. What better way to build base fitness and team spirit than an event such as the Tapir Training Camp?
As the juniors have never done something like this before, the rest of us are hoping that this will be a breakthrough for them – the first step in our long journey together.
Day 1 – To Muar
Distance: 192.8 km
Elevation: 522 m
Starting the 500km ride into Malaysia
Out of excitement, the juniors didn’t sleep well the night before. It happens to all of us. I remember I couldn’t sleep well the night before for my first OCBC Sportive. It’s just a state of growth. These boys would probably find it very easy to sleep when we reach our first destination.
Getting through the customs before 6 am was a breeze. Despite many motorcycles dribbling past us, there was no crowd at all. We headed straight to B Point to have our breakfast, where we all enjoyed some excellent Prata before carrying on.
The Pace Line
The first few kilometres in Malaysia was smooth. Everyone was full of energy and worked well together. The weather in the morning was pleasant, and there wasn’t the slightest bit of sign of fatigue.
At about the 60 km mark, we made our first pitstop at a petrol kiosk at Pontian. Everyone still looked fresh, and the juniors were keen to press on.
Down, but not out.
About 110 km in, Hong Yang’s front wheel slipped into a pothole, flinging him over the handlebars. The wounds were deep, and Hong Yang was put out of action for the day. Despite the sombre atmosphere, the team pressed on as if they were fighting for a fallen soldier.
Hong Yang passed us supplies like bananas and refuelled our water bottles as we rolled along. It was really heart-warming to see the camaraderie in the team. Everyone pushed each other along.
Despite having difficulty walking, Hong Yang waited at the roadside to hand us water bottles.
Another Short Break
Closer to noon, the weather was getting really hot. What were 8 kilometres then felt like 20 kilometres now. We took a break at a roadside shop which seemed to be serving ice-cold Bandung. Who could resist?
Our First Mechanical
We were almost reaching our destination when Choon Le’s bike suddenly seized to work. His cassette was loose. Nothing hard to fix when we have all the tools required to build a bicycle in the support vehicle.
We took this opportunity to refuel while Choon Le fixes his bike. We had to make sure everyone’s topped up!
We’re finally here!
It was a long day, but we did it. Some of them felt that it was the hardest day of their lives. With the current state of fatigue, the next day would make today look easy.
Time to rest up for a more challenging Day 2.
Day 2 – To Mersing
Distance: 191.9 km
Elevation: 1,085 m
Crawling out of their beds before dawn after a tiresome 190+ km wasn’t something the boys are used to. They were tired, and so am I.
We refuelled and dropped electrolyte tablets into our water bottles. After a brief on Day 2’s route and table of events, we scrambled to our bikes. Next stop: Traffic Light Coffee Shop!
The fatigue can be seen on all their faces. It’s too late to turn back, and you can only fight on.
If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. – African Proverb
But in cycling, you go faster and further if you go together.
We had everyone work together – because that’s the best way to move forward. We took turns at the front and slipped to the back after every minute. Time really flies when you’re focused on group manoeuvres.
We enjoyed a good breakfast at Traffic Light Coffee Shop at Yong Peng.
Through the blistering heat, all we have is each other. I remember the moment where John squeezed his bottle at Calvin in an attempt to cool him down. It didn’t work well; Calvin’s face got splashed with electrolytes instead. We all had a good laugh.
Calvin told us that he has only one goal for the entire journey – that is he does not want to end up in the support vehicle. Sure enough, he pushed himself throughout the whole trip. It was evident that his body was not adapted to riding in such hot temperatures. We had to make sure everyone was hydrated and was well enough to carry on.
We could see smiles all over their faces when we were approaching the end of Day 2.
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
And nobody wants to be the person pulling the team down. It made me feel warm inside when I saw Javier encouraging Qi Xiang to press on.
I am confident that the Kaya Toast I had was one of the best I have ever tasted.
With that, we come to the end of Day 2. I was pleased to know that the boys didn’t mind squeezing in a small hotel room in Mersing. We took turns putting on those huge blue socks of the Recovery Systems, with hopes that it would ease off the muscular strain they felt during the ride.
All of them told me that their legs feel good after a quick session with the Recovery Systems. They now look forward to it after every hard ride.
Day 3 – To Kota Tinggi
Distance: 122.9 km
Elevation: 981 m
Hope for the best, but prepare for the worse.
Day 3 did not go as well as we planned. Initially aiming for about 180 km, we were supposed to head south-eastwards to Desaru Beach before heading north-westwards back to Kota Tinggi. It was supposed to the hilliest among the four days, and a challenge to the team.
It’s time to rest, for now.
To kick things off, Javier did not join us for Day 3 due to severe bike-fitting problems. Let me describe the scenario, so you, our readers, will not repeat the same mistake.
Race bikes in the pro peloton look cool. Extremely low effective handlebar-to-saddle-drop and a long stem; a bike seemingly meant for the contortionist. For a rider that does not have that many miles under his belt, it was a folly to attempt to mimic the pro’s bikes.
Sure, you could maybe get away with it on the small island in Singapore because of the many traffic lights offering your back, hamstrings, and shoulders respite. But, in a long ride in Malaysia where the highways stretch for tens of kilometres, you don’t have the luxury to unclip and stretch. Your bike fit and posture will be tested on these grounds.
With numb arms and excruciating pain in his shoulders, Javier had no choice but to pull out. One member down.
It was a foggy morning in Kota Tinggi. At times, it felt like we were riding in the clouds. We cherished every single moment in the morning before blazing sun changes the atmosphere in the afternoon. Everyone was looking forward to the end of the day. I promised the kids if it was possible, we will catch ‘Captain Marvel’ in the cinemas in Kota Tinggi.
Looking forward to the warm shower, a good meal, followed by a movie with your buddies, the juniors pressed on.
Closer to the afternoon, we made a mandatory stop at the petrol kiosk right before we turned towards Sedili. We knew that it will start to get hot, so we had to make sure everyone was topped up – electrolytes, water, food. Everyone was feeling fine, and morale was still high. There were a few moments where we sprinted and chased each other; a sign that our energy stores are top. Other than the wild dog chase, everything went according to plan.
Another crash. This time, it is really, really bad.
Remember when I talked about sprinting and chasing each other? It was all fun and games until this happened.
I recall looking at the terrain, expressing my appreciation of the beauty of the skyline to Hong Yang (riding next to me), while we slowly pedalled up a rather steep rolling hill. Suddenly, the familiar sound of rolling carbon wheels was heard. We turned our heads and saw Qi Xiang and Calvin sprinting up the road. Both of them were pedalling out of the saddle wildly as if it was the last sprint of the race.
A loud click was heard from Qi Xiang’s bike before he collapsed onto the hard and rough tarmac. He slid across the floor; his skin peeled away. How severe was the initial injury? I could describe it, but if you’re squirmy, please just skip the next paragraph.
When Qi Xiang’s legs were bent, I saw a huge white patch underneath many layers of broken skin. The injury was about half a centimetre deep, and I could see the anxiety written all over Qi Xiang’s face as he squeezed the wound shut, as if it could help slow down the bleeding. His elbows weren’t spared either. Both elbows had injuries that were, too, horribly deep. It made Hong Yang’s initial crash wounds look like mere scratches. Calvin frantically squeezed water at his wounds. I wasn’t the one who crashed, but I could see the amount of pain Qi Xiang was enduring at that moment.
The atmosphere was nervous, yet everything seemed to be in control. We called for help, and the support vehicle (they were following the John and Choon Le in front) arrived in less than 5 minutes. Rocket speed; I could’ve sworn the support vehicle was many times more efficient than an ambulance. After administering first aid, we rushed Qi Xiang to Kota Tinggi’s hospital. Everyone worked systematically.
The nurse poked at my wound, confirming that it wasn’t bone.
From then on, we were alone now. From seven riders, we were down to five. We don’t have our support vehicle. We only have ourselves. We had to strategies to prevent any other bad things from happening. We had to go to ‘survival-mode’. Supplies were limited, and the weather was hot. No more attacking. We even had everyone shut down their mobile phones to save battery if we have to contact the support vehicle (again). Only one phone was left on at any time – and that was for navigation.
Our original route was to head to Desaru beach before heading back to Kota Tinggi. I actually even had a Plan B route planned in case the juniors were really fatigued. It was the route to be used just in case the morale was rock bottom. It is only to be used as a last resort. It was plotted with “That’s it, I’m out. I want to go home.” in mind.
Nevertheless, we had to drop both plans and just head back to Kota Tinggi. Our support vehicle was compromised, and it wasn’t safe to carry on our original route anymore.
Closer to noon, we started to feel hungry. We stopped by at Sedili to have lunch and a few refreshing cups of ice-cold milo. Spirits were kept high despite the setbacks. We wanted to reach Kota Tinggi as soon as possible to see how Qi Xiang was doing.
The day ended well at Kota Tinggi. Qi Xiang did not even require stitches! Turns out, Qi Xiang’s was not as bad as it looked. Thank goodness. After a good lunch at Old Town Coffee, we headed for a shower. And in the evening – movie time!
Day 4 – To Singapore
Distance: 54.3 km
Elevation: 382 m
Notice our tan lines; now you know what I mean when I said we were Tapirs?
The boys were happy that the ride was coming to an end, yet feeling slightly melancholy to know that they would be heading back to school the day after.
We stopped at a nearby petrol station right before we reached the Singapore-Malaysia customs. Who can disagree that coffee mixes exceptionally well with cycling?
When we reached Yew Tee, Junesee (who unfortunately didn’t join us due to work and other commitments) welcomed us back to Singapore. We caught up over lunch and enjoyed each other’s company before heading home.
Total Distance: 561.9 km
Total Elevation: 2,970 m
To Wheels With Freinds and Pioneer Community Sports Club for your constant support and guidance. Special thanks to my parents as well for patiently providing logistical and medical support. We’re standing strong because of you.
Last but not least, thank you, team, for these heartfelt memories. 🙂