Monday, January 25, 2010

The final push – the 4th Overnight…the longest night
23-24 Jan 2010 transit to a half moon.
Terengganu to Kota Bahru, Malaysia to Golok, Thailand to Kota Bahru, Malaysia. 225 kms

I’m sitting now in a café…
in between flights back to Singapore with my fellow riders and now friends, brother and sisters. Let me back pedal the day for you.
I immediately felt a sense of pride and achievement by the team as we assembled in the lobby of the Grand Hotel Tenrangganu. There was also an aire of confidence and renewed energy that we will finish this odyssey together with a smile.

I gave Lyndon a gift jersey from Victorio Sports – the same jersey we proudly wore over the past 3 evenings and daybreaks but with a full length front zipper and < > added over the 3 back pocket panels. This tweak in the jersey design is what I hope would be the product end when additional orders are placed to further benefit the fund raising campaign.

Back to Lyndon…he gave a final message which he wanted to write but couldn’t, wanted to sleep over but couldn’t and wanted to fully prepare for but preferred not to. He expressed the feeling of gratitude of the entire entourage of support team members and riders in a brief statement that the fireflies has not started and ended with him and the mission of the project will not end with the destination…or even after the collection of memories, accounts and glutial sensations. Some reminders on the final route and off we went …ooopps Su Pei reminds Lyndon that a lunch bill still had to be settled…and out with the cash or card or whatever he had on hand to advance for bills that will eventually and hopefully balance off after and when all the contributors send in their support.

It was a strange last leg for me. I concluded that it was safer to bike in Malaysia than drive a car as we passed by 3 vehicular incidents, frontal smash ups between 2 or more vehicles along the first 80 kms. There were dark clouds as we started, rain that threatened to stop the entire ride, a continued fascination over coffee mixes, a brewing search for an ice cold beer on the finish line and pain. I started to experience stiffness in both inner thighs, the front of the left knee, wrists and area around the atlas vertebrae or back of my neck …as the kms passed I was nearing a cramp. We dealt with pain and exhaustion and difficulty in our own different ways. We did it by stretching during each rest, continuously replenishing with food and fluids, pressure and massage on key spots done on oneself or with Jonathan’s help, a choco or coffee mix (woohoo!) and while on the road – everyone keeping the pace, pedaling on, keeping it easy, changing grip positions, easing the grip on the bars, sitting & standing while pedaling, changing gears, taking turns at the front, talking to each other, keeping silent, talking about each other or about anything, playing music over Wei’s pocket speaker or my water bottle mounted blaster.

In flight: Singapore to Manila…
The half moon finally rose over the rain clouds and we pedaled thru the quiet towns and cities of the Kelantan state to our finishing points; the border passport controls of Kota Bahru, Malaysia and Golok, Thailand a walk between the landlocked borders.

The stars were also out to greet and guide us. While the cool early, early morning air made music from the pocket audio cans sound better than studio speakers. We rode through a revised route charted by Omar and the Malaysian Polis that helped place the final distance to a manageable 225 kms. This new route also allowed us to see the actual cows, yes cows who posed for the cautionary road sign…mooooooow! (we also saw goat, horse, excitement ! signs and crash Bahasa Malay language guide on how to drive/bike safely- Terima Kaseh! / Thanks);…and a new 10 km stretch of well paved and well lit road that felt like 20kms as it undulated and went on and on and on like the Energizer batteries and lights that co-sponsored us as well…this switchable red/white LED light with a stretchable band that I wore around my waist over my rear was what Joy Riding Joyce would call as a “red lighted area”. Idwan our driver of the SAG (Support & Gear)/Media/Paparazzi, Fountain & Resto hyperVan together with co-pilot Colin (both of whom are key people from the Arts House who are both present and in full support of damn dear friend Lyndon) could easily identify any of the riders from a range of 50 – 200 meters literally from the rear.

After hundreds of kilometers, a couple or more hundred thousand pedal strokes and a 4th on going sleepless night boss Lyndon Strikes again…this time he unintentionally or unconsciously swerves into me from the left --- whoaaaaa…I call out as calm as I can to absorb the oncoming and potentially magnificent wipe out of half the bunch with both of us entangled in a heap of metal, aluminum, carbon, rubber and lycra, blood, grime, sweat, dust, growls and mayhem---whoaaaaa…I try to keep an upright and straight path so both of us recover and Lyndon wakes up and grabs his balance together---everybody goes whewww. That was close with less than 8 kms to go and the kms count down and shazaammm! We are in the Malaysian side of the border crossing.

We made it! The Thailand High Commissioner and Chief of the Golok post were waiting for us, to welcome and to fete us to a parade around their quiet and proud city as they were really amazed and honored to be a co-destination of the Fireflynightrace. WE arrived 5:30 am and by 7:30 (a 2 hour delay due to our oversight not to take our passports from our bags which were in a staff car that regularly moves on ahead to a feed stop or hotel, no final reminder or instruction given regarding the route schedules of all members of the entourage and all belongings, everybody really tired or in Basti’s rare moments of inner calm would say… “these things happen and when they do we can always learn from it…” OM…) Nevertheless…we were cycling in Thailand escorted by the police to a roadside café for coffee, choco, satay bbq and loads of photos and endless exchanges of greetings, gratitude and smiles…the Chief of the border post and I didn’t realize that we were already having a conversation even before we were introduced. And to make amazing a lower case sensation…after the breakfast treat WE were treated by the Thailand people and their Police to an escorted bicycle parade with their colleague on a Trek road racer, with a proper bike helmet, shoes, cleats, shades, reflector vest and a service 9mm. WE were paraded out around and back and we stopped by the plaza, a national monument honoring their King, greeted the train station “Hello!” as we passed by the market, stores, shops, the hospital, school the local government office ad park. Before we truly felt exhaustion we were being guided back to the border crossing, a final stamp of our passports, more photos together with our gracious hosts of a blissful 2 hours and we were biking back to the Malaysian passport control for the final stamp of achievement.

Back home…
Our one thousand kilometer night ride is done. The journey has ended with the final destination but it has opened a new horizon. A new journey has begun with new friends who have gone through pain and joy, uncertainty and purpose, near tears and joy for Art Scholarships and for each other. The Firefly Night Race though miniscule in scale like with our tiny bike blinkers over the vast landscape has lit up my life big time as I turn 50 this year. I have a wonderful feeling of renewed energy and inspiration to do my work, to make what is possible a reality, to imagine and act. This experience is beyond precious.

Thank you dear Lim Su Pei for taking care of us and coordinating our needs, thank you to the multi-national and multi-fun Support Staff that completed Team FireflyNightRace each fellow Rider; Silence of One Basti, One Joy Riding Joyce, Fara my Fellow Flipflop, the Fab Five Singaporean Spinners; Rushdi to d Rescue, boss Lyndon d Weaver, Am@Casey, On-One Way Wei and Ho-Ly (that’s Hole Left) Bernard. for being my friends and new found brothers and sisters, thank you to my hosts Miles & Richard Nicholas and Jenny & Nick Plumeridge, and friends for your support and contributions (Claire and daughters, Nick & Jenny, Miles & Richard, Bien Galang, Richard Cavosura, Lori Kodama, Robert Seña, Eugene van Erven, Mariz Agbon, Bong Sual of Road Bike Phils/7-11, Shane Chin, Liezel of Extreme Bike, Lalaine & Goyo of Bike Town Cyclery,
Noel Baltazar, Joby Bataclan, Vic & Christine of Victorio Sports, my Uptempo Cycles partners; Ric Rodriguez, Froi Dayco, Wilson Sy, and my Mom & Family and mates in PETA and hopefully many many more) and Thank You Lyndon for being bold and determined with your ideas and inviting me to be part of this!

By Jack Y. (Firefly Night Race Rider #2 a.k.a. papaJack d muzikman)
Logged between Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand & the Philippines
January 20-26, 2010

3rd Overnight
Kuantan to Kuala Terengganu. 220 kms
The call time on the ground floor lobby was at 5pm and the target time to leave was 6 which is normally too early for cyclists. 5:30 would be better so that the tired bikers can max out the 30 minutes of additional rest. It may sound peculiar but half an hour means a lot. Still game and the good sport that everyone is, the whole entourage was present and went about doing the list of pre-ride preps…bike check, tire pressure check, food, drink, lights, capped with the lacing off shoes and snap on of helmets. 6:22 we were on our way…again…together…we were getting better as a pack and have established that Lyndon, Casey, Fara don’t have to stay in front to break the wind let any of the more experienced riders do this, take turns after 10-15 kms, any rider needing food or water to fall back towards the support van and chase back up, stop when the any of the polis or safety vehicles stop and conversely stop when any of the riders stop and continue to call out the hazards on the road coming up and the traffic from behind, keep the pace nice and steady between 23-25kph and slow down if necessary and regularly stop at 40 km intervals for the entire convoy and entourage to rest, eat, stretch and just chill – no I mean chilled, and iced choco drink or a spiking of energized coffee with ginseng and a root called tongkat ali…woohoo! (I heard a company carrying this brand declined to sponsor – what a miss for them). Though we were getting better and a system was evolving, it still wasn’t perfect as we had our second jackpot – a rear tire flat at 65 kms for Wei who was using a 650 c diameter tubular on his single freewheeling steel bike. Although it became another perfect 20 minute stop for pictures, gardening nature and just conserving energy. But just as we were waiting for Wei’s flat to be replaced, Bernard wasn’t feeling well and was having a major migraine. He wanted to press on but the paramedic told him to stop/pause/listen to the music that’s saying something to you, recover and ride on again when you feel better after a few kilometers…At 71 km we stopped for dinner at a unique and quaint roadside Malaysian resto which had seafood delicacies, options for shisha pipes and karaoke and a tag line to “Come, Eat and Releks!” and “Pay at the Casher”. Visa MC ok? I didn’t ask but I did ask for our first foray into how coffee with togkat ali will taste and feel…tastes just like coffee but after a few kms and we knew we found a novel product that can play with our imagination. The 40 km intervals were working well…so well that it gave Nature the chance to challenge our near perfect ride with a down pour after 120kms. Stop, under the shed of a Petronas gas station, wait for the rain to stop…and a question was popped… “if this goes on will You continue?” Some said No some said Yes…and when a consensus was being reached to Go…the rain stopped…Thank You!!! We took it easy for the first 5 kms and picked up the average tempo when we rolled over dry asphalt…to our next stop at 160kms but only after passing through a sight to behold…

You see red clouds from a distance and know that a city lies beneath it…as you near it you see a city rising – Petronas City – that powers Malaysia on both sides of the highway brilliantly operating 24/7 under a half moon rising a postcard perfect pic from a seemingly alien planet.
With the last 40km to go Bernard joined us and we again have a valuable addition to the bunch riding to Terengganu…we make it as One again…near perfect but with difficulty.

Biker/Bike Count ; 1 flat, Bernard recovering between km 80-160, Fara forced to stop after 120km due to sharp pain behind her knee (position, adjustment), 1 flat and sachets of kopi tongkat ali+ginseng gulped…Basti enjoying the front pace for over 160km with Rushdi, Wei, and Bernard. Casey stating that the style by which we journey is just as important as the journey.

2nd Overnight: Team Firefly Makes it as One!
Mersing to Kuantan Malaysia. 202 kms, 220 225
WE do learn fast and started this segment from Mersing to Kuantan together. There were planned stops after 50 km and another after 40 and the last with 15km to go (due to a hill). WE rode as a determined pack…determined but not yet tuned. Riding in a close pack with about a wheel distance between each other is a typical routine for professional riders and cyclists who regularly flock together. Not that easy and effortless for us but we did have a fair level of success to ride safely and efficiently…and safely…
And in an instant just 5 kms into the ride the Polis hit by speeding scooter and totals his small bike against the right rear pannier of the 750 Honda 4…The Polis asked the speedster, “did you see the convoy? did you see my flashing lights, my ala firefly vest? So why did you still hit me? Poor guy could only answer “yes”. I guess the scooter driver’s abrasions and shock was too much to have a right answer

Incident #2
“Ho Left! (that’s a Hole for you) shouts Bernard , as I’m on the other side I cry out and point Hole Right, a commotion at the back, Joyce goes – “Aiiii!!” and Lyndon avoids the hole but hits a bump and his front wheel touches the back wheel of Joyce in a single bound and crashes! – Blagagagganmm!” Our first Crash…everybody stops, Lyndon stands up, just scratches (later tells me he hurt his knee and he was…) and we pedal on to the next stop.

It was on the 2nd push that the 40km interval was established and our coordinator was to pick a joint on the road where we can; rest, eat, drink, park and ease our bladders. On our first try Su Pei was teased by Lyndon who was asking how many fingers he was flashing resembling the difference between 40 and 60 kms. I think that was just 57kms Lyndon…

Rider in Focus of the Day…
Basti is quiet today …why? He’s up in front setting the pace with either Rushdi or Bernard, Joyce, Wei or me. He doesn’t see anyone else so he has no one to remind…but I think it was because it was between 12 midnight and 1:30 am it was really, dark, less stars, the growing crescent covered by more clouds, the road was flat and straight, it was so straight you wouldn’t notice the turns over a landscape that was asleep save for us who were here for a reason…sounds crazy but yes, crazy and for a reason.

But we managed to successfully ride together as a team despite the 1st and hopefully last crash of the ride (which Lyndon admitted to lowered alert levels due to lack of sleep – or sleeping while pedaling – a near circus act).

WE covered over 200 km tonight/today and allowed 5 of us to race to the hotel over the last 15km…under thunder, lightning and rain…in finishing order; Basti, Wei & Bernard (pls check the photofinish file), Rushdi and I within 1 minute of each other. Strong extra fun finish but I got wet and I didn’t like it for the sole purpose of my shoes…cycling shoes, its soles, have a gallant tradition and reputation for splitting from its lasts after being subjected to rain – something with the not so waterproof adhesive makers use. And I don’t have a spare shoe in tow.

Biker/Bike results; 9 happy finishers, unfinished fix of Fara’s front derailleur and seat height, Lyndon’s landmark circus crash with sound effects – the Polis and the scooter F1 rider and Su Pei’s kilometric conversion table of distances. The silence of One Basti, One Joy Riding Joyce, Two flipflopping lovin’ Filipinos, and the Fab Five Singaporean Slingers aka; Rushdi to d Rescue (i.e., the most helpful one according to Fara), boss Lyndon d Weaver, Am@Casey, On-One Way Wei and Ho-Ly (that’s Hole Left) Bernard cycling.

Firefly sighting: 9 happy fireflies on the road, but with an increasingly unhappy count of road kill seen– mostly feline …some indescribable but may be classified from its time of impact and stench.

Day 1: Jan 20 – 21` or is it night 1st overnight, Wed - Thursday
Singapore East Coast Park to Mersing, Malaysia. 196 kms
Family and friends, volunteers and sponsors gathered at 6PM for a ship like send off. The staff and volunteers donned their souvenir T shirts while Firefly Night Race riders all had fresh lively faces in their brand new cycling jerseys and shorts by Victorio Sports designed by Fara.
Final checks for the bike, food and drink to bring and I fiddled with the “bikeiPod” one last time. I think everyone was simply happy to be there, to be together and to finally start what Lyndon mentioned to me in September initially as a simple night bike ride.
After a few last trips to the toilets, spot interviews, a hip hip hurrah, three cheers and a thousand shutter clicks and we were finally off …oh and more last toilet trips by some of our 9 member team made up of; Lyndon, Bernard, Casey, Rushdi, and Wei from Singapore, Joyce from Malaysia, Basti from Germany, and Fara and myself from the Philippines. A 10th rider, Marc from the US didn’t make it to the start or DNS (Did Not Start) in cycling terms.
A brisk spin of about 30kph to the Changi Ferry terminal, passport control, loading of bikes and we were on a boat to Malaysia just 25 minutes away. The trip was faster that the breaks we had for pictures.
Upon arrival in Malaysia, we were delayed for an hour as the kitchen in the port took a while to prepare 20 or more plates of the same spicy & hot fried boodles - cooked separately, yup, separately. I couldn’t finish it nor did my fellow Filipino rider – Fara Manuel of Baguio as it was just too hot and not advisable for our digestive system which was about to explore a familiar and close, yet alien country at night on a bike, over 1000 kms, four nights in succession.
The first overnight push will take us to what I felt may be the dark side of the moon…Our organizers led by Lyndon told us that there won’t be any internet access in our destination – a resort in Mersing in the state of Johor (a state so huge that Singapore used to be part of it). It was indeed expansive as we would be moving over a near endless stream of rolling terrain through the Malaysian East inland before we reach our coastal resort destination.

Our team Fireflynightrace has never ridden together before save for a 1:30 round trip test ride between the East Coast Park and the Changi Ferry Terminal 3 days before…all 9 of us have different cycling abilities and personalities brought together by a shared purpose. I thought that as with probably many other things, our chemistry would be our source of strength and/or weakness. For several days before the start I was a mixed bag full of excitement, concern, worry and anxiety…but a happy mix as I felt deep within that it will all up to us how we embrace this experience of a lifetime. We started 3 days before the 20th send-off with a safety briefing, had a round of ideas and comments solicited from each on how to approach the ride and set off with a simple plan…ride together as close as possible, have the stronger riders in the back and let the newer riders up front, we practiced drafting, taking turns up front by twos via ‘fountain formation’, calling out obstacles and dangers along the road, passing back and forth messages, etc …how did our first actual ride go?

The ride across the ‘dark side’ was indeed dark but bright enough with a crescent moon and the stars above. Together with the attention by the Malaysian Police (spelled Polis) , lead and support/safety vehicles, we were the only bright lights on the road save for the occasional passing or oncoming vehicle. The constant barrage of short up slopes and downhill rushes broke the group so many times. We all climb and descend differently in the day and moreover at night. We tried to call out several times to regroup, slow down, pick up speed, prod each other, cheer each other, plainly talk and keep each other company and literally push each other but the team kept on breaking up across the endless terrain over and over till there were two groups on the road that couldn’t come together till the morning sun catching us nearly 2 hours off the schedule – no the sun was on time…we were behind. Lets say we knew at the end of the 1st overnight what each one is capable of and the great thing about the group and the support team we had made up of safety officers (Anton & Omar), a paramedic (Zeim), a photog/paparazzi/mechanic/ & male sculpture model(Shaf), drivers & co-drivers (Omar, Anton, Idwan, Colin and Edward) and coordinator/ liaison/cool chic under pressure (Super Lim Su Pei) PR person (Beng), a sports therapist (Jonathan) and polis (police from the 4 states of Malaysia; Johor, Kuantan, Terangganu, Kelantan) was the ability to keep the friendly spirit and atmosphere and pick up the lessons.

Over the first breakfast we basically came to a consensus that we can make the trek better by riding together, compromising and adjusting the pace, take a conscious effort to support each other to make the journey a trip in itself. Yes grasshopper… “the journey is as important as the destination” just as the effort of this 1000km bike ride to raise funds for art scholarships are just as important the final output of the fund drive.

Personally, we went thru the dark side of the ride like a bunch of green horns but it was beautiful…for the first time I saw a white rainbow from light reflected by the mist surrounding us thru the hills and part illusion from failing vision at night due to sleep deprivation, and exhaustion over the first 190 kms. Invaluable.

Bike/biker incidents: exhaustion and red line limits by 3 members (which Casey requested me not to post the names...yet...)after 135 kms (that felt like 180 km), 1 flat tire by Bernard who was following me – I hit a hole, had no time to call it out, he then hit it and pffffft – our first jackpot.
Firefly sighting = 9 riders on the road, 2 polis cars, 4 moto polis bikes, 4 support vehicles and 1 firefly that buzzed across me or I thought was a firefly. I tried to welcome it to land on my right hand but I was moving along and just prodded it to stay away from the middle of the road lest it be splat on incoming windshields.

The first push humbled us as a group. It was hard, hard, hard and we were shaken.