Today was a difficult day. Another eighty-five kilometers (it was uncanny how precisely equal the distance was on the two days: the odometer at the end of yesterday read 85, and at the end of today’s ride it read 170). It was beautiful throughout, spectacularly so in most places. But the very reason it was beautiful was what contributed significantly to the difficulty: we rode in the hills all day, and it was one long climb after another starting from when we first pulled out, essentially to the very end.
We started from Seremban in the morning, got a very late start in fact. It was 11:30 AM when we started. We pulled into Melaka (I’ve known it only spelled as Malacca myself, but Melaka must be the Malay way of spelling it) around 7:30PM. Our average riding speed was slightly under sixteen kilometers per hour, so we must have ridden slightly over five hours. That was five hours of climbing hills, then zooming down from the top, only to find another hill waiting for us at the bottom. Not that each climb was particularly high, these are rolling hills, but when you spend five hours doing this, it can extract a toll.
(It didn’t help that I didn’t sleep much the previous night in Seramban, mostly due to my own stupidity, but in substantial part because of a very disturbing incident at 1:30 AM in the night. A man was shouting angrily next door, and I could hear almost all of it since he was so loud and the walls were thin. He was clearly arguing with a woman, presumably a wife or a girlfriend. He was getting angrier and angrier, and I was afraid there would be violence. Sure enough, there were unmistakeable sounds of violence very soon, and the woman started screaming. I called the reception and asked them to send someone over immediately. Some people, including a burly security guy appeared, and I showed them which room this was happening in. They listened for a while, but things had somewhat come down from the peak of a few minutes ago, although the guy was still shouting. The security folks then knocked on the door and talked to the guy next door. This quieted him down, and there was some talk about the woman going to a different room. I listened for a bit, and it did seem that the couple was eventually separated. But this whole incident was very disturbing.
I should hasten to add that this incident could unfortunately have occurred anywhere and was hardly special to Seremban. My wife Prabha has helped counsel domestic violence victims in Los Angeles for several years now. It is unfortunately a global scourge.)
Where was I? Oh yes, them thar hills. I had no idea that this part of Malaysia is so intensely beautiful. (Not that I knew much about Malaysia, I must confess, beyond some vague recollection from school that Malaysia is associated with tin, rubber, and palm oil.) Essentially from Bernang to Melaka, the land is covered with rolling hills, and all along today’s ride, we were accompanied by palm plantations that seemed to stretch from one hill to another. Here is one plantation, with a very inviting path through it. If we did not have several kilometers more to go, I would have ridden into the plantation along the path, it was really inviting:
Here are a few more pictures of the greenery and the hills that we rode through:
There are a lot of little things that one must pay attention to when bicycle touring. One of the most important thing (beside the usual suspects like tire pressure and brakes and gears and so forth), is to make sure you are carrying plenty of velcro straps and bungee cords with you. On a tour, you are taking your clothes with you, your tools, toiletries, some food (how much depends on where you are riding), and plenty of water. There is only so much room on the bicycle to put all these things. So, often, you end up strapping things on top of other things, and this is where things like velcro and bungee cords come in immensely useful. (Just some thing to keep in mind if you are going touring!)
For instance, here is a picture of my Bike Friday, as she looked at the start of our ride:
As you can see, there are two huge red bags that hang off the luggage rack at the back. For the uninitiated, those are panniers. Those are in fact Ortlieb panniers, considered the best in the field. They are quite expensive, except, by a happy coincidence, one of the mathematicians at NTU who does a lot of touring himself had an old pair that he had used a lot before but wasn’t using now, and by mutual agreement, I ended up buying them from him for a price of a third of what they cost new. In them are clothes (you can only carry minimal amounts), my laptop (used by your correspondent to file briefs from the front), chain lock, U-lock, tools, toiletries, medicines for emergencies, chargers of various kinds, and other odds and ends. The panniers stay attached to the rack by a simple but nifty mechanism. You will see a bottle of orange juice on the rack: it is held in place by bungee cords (see above). You will also see my rain jacket, folded into its own pocket, hanging off the bottom of my seat by a carabiner, but held in place on the rack by another bungee cord. On the handle bar you will see a handle bar bag, which attaches to the handles by, you guessed it, velcro straps. It has things like snack bars, my dark glasses, some documents, and other things I would need in a hurry, I am only carrying three-fourths of a liter of water on the frame of the bicycle, but I have a liter more in a fanny pack.
Partha’s bike looks quite similar, he has his luggage strapped (bungee cords again) to his rack. He carries a liter of water on his bicycle. He too has a handle bar bag, where he keeps his phone and snack bars and so forth.
We both must look a sight: yesterday we scared a whole herd of cows when we rode past them.
We plan to take it easy tomorrow and play tourist in Melaka.