Saturday, February 9, 2013

Tour De Interior 2013

Last year, I joined some friends for a cycling outing dubbed Tour De Interior as reported here. But because of an unfortunate accident, plus persistent rain which resulted in slippery road, as well as failing daylight, we had to abort the ride about 20km before reaching the finish in Ranau.

Now it's not my habit of leaving things halfway done; and having to stop with only 20km of mainly downhill to Ranau was very frustrating. So when my friends announced that they're going back again to deal with the unfinished business, I simply had to oblige. I don't cycle very regularly, but I reckoned that I'd be happy to just finish the distance from Keningau to Tambunan to Ranau, a total of about 120km of hilly roads. The only problem was that the week before the trip, I would be racing the Vibram Hong Kong 100km Ultra Trail Marathon as reported here. I wasn't sure that I'd recover fast enough for the tour, but I thought that I'd just try my best. The plan was for an approximate 60km ride from Keningau to Tambunan, followed by an approximate same distance the next day from Tambunan to Ranau. Ordinarily, 60km is not really a big deal. But it can be quite a challenge on hilly terrains.

So at around noon of the 26th of January, we found ourselves in Keningau town. After having lunch, we went to the starting line at the outskirt of town. There, we spent some minutes assembling our bikes and doing some warming up. Then the customary group photo.

It was kinda strange to start cycling around noon—well, at least it's strange for me—but luckily it was a cloudy afternoon. Earlier on, when we were still at the shop during lunch, Paul, playing the role of the organizer this year, explained thoroughly the rules for this tour. You see, this year, to make things more interesting, he has included some hill-climb challenges. But because I hadn't even recovered fully from Vibram, I hardly paid much attention during his briefing. I barely heard that there would be some sort of regroup somewhere at the foothill, at which point we would be flagged off together. There were many hills to climb between Keningau and Tambunan, but there's a specific spot for the challenge. The distance of the climb wasn't horrifyingly far—I think just about 1km to 2km. But of course with tired legs, that can still be a decent challenge!

We started the ride with everyone intending that first 20km or so as a slow and easy pace. If I'm not mistaken, someone mentioned an average of 25km/h. I was somewhat glad to hear that, as I was a little worried if I could keep up with the pack.

As most cyclists would know, however, it's not as easy as one would think when several cyclists ride together. Elsewhere in this blog, I have mentioned about that curious disease scientifically known as kiasunisis, which is a common illness that could infect most athletes. They were only able to control themselves for—and this is the shocking part—about 5 minutes into the ride. After that, it suddenly became something akin to Tour De France time trial challenge.

From the beginning of the ride, I've made up my mind not to chase after the leading group. But because I have never witnessed a hill sprint before, I had hoped to be able to see one during this tour. Within 10 to 15 minutes, we were mainly divided into several groups, i.e. the fast pack in front, the chasing pack, and the slowest pack. I was somewhere in the middle group.

When we finally emerged at the main Keningau-Tambunan highway, it was already about 23km into the ride. I was several minutes behind the leading group. We rested for some minutes while waiting for the last group to arrive.

A short while later, the last group arrived. Hana, who was still recovering from a knee injury aggravated during Vibram the week before, had to quit at that point, but Claire wanted to continue.

We then proceeded towards Tambunan, and after a few minutes we started the gruesome climb up a hill. It was such a painful climb for me, and like many others in the group, I was going at snail's pace. Amy was a few metres in front of me, and I noticed that she, too, was struggling uphill. I merely continued pedaling, and felt my earlobes throbbing from the hardwork. My sweat dripping like a leaking water tap from my chin. But I kept my focus on Amy; I reckoned that I'd just make sure that I'd keep her in sight and follow her pace up the hill.

And then to my horror, suddenly she stopped cycling somewhere in the middle of the hill, announcing that she's done cycling; and for a moment I had to work extremely hard to shift my focus on another rider up ahead. I overtook her and just maintained my pathetic pace.

I took my time up the hill, feeling the lactic acid building up in my legs, but I kept going anyway.

As I was struggling on my bike, I felt a bit of regret for joining the tour, as I felt very exhausted. I have to admit that I need more time to recover. But of course there wasn't much I could do at that point, unless if I had wanted to just surrender and take a seat in one of the support vehicles.

Then it suddenly occurred to me that we must be nearing the hillclimb challenge location. At this point, I was very far behind together with some other slow cyclists. I kept thinking that I would soon arrive at the spot where we were supposed to regroup and I'd for the first time witness those crazy folks blaze up the slope. Instead, I reached a point where some of them were already discussing about the winners of the challenge! I don't know what happened to the rule of regrouping and getting flagged off together. I guess the adrenaline completely obliterated that part of the rule.

Anyway, we finally arrived at Tambunan a little after 3 hours pedalling up and down the hills. It was such a relief for me, as I was becoming increasingly tired. We regrouped for a few minutes at the shops before proceeding on to the lodge where we were gonna spend the night. As fate would have it, I ended up sharing a room with Anslem. Amy couldn't join us for the next leg of the tour because she had to return to KK that evening.

I spent a bit of time to rinse my bike while Anslem had a quick shower. It was a decent room with attached bathroom. As I was about to step into the shower, I noticed Anslem was already about to doze off on his bed. The warm water was very soothing, I felt like spending a few hours in there. And then to my horror, I realised that I had forgotten to grab the towel on my bed. I merely used my tiny underwear to cover my private part and stepped out of the shower. Anslem was half asleep, but he perked up upon hearing me enter and his eyes suddenly became extremely huge, seeing me with nothing on except for that underwear which I used to cover my weelie. He was, like, frozen for a bit. But when I turned to go back to the bathroom and he saw my bare buttocks, I was startled when he started laughing hysterically, I thought he was gonna faint! I could still hear him laughing frantically after I shut the door.

Well, we went out for dinner to a nearby restaurant. We ate like there was no tomorrow; I felt like my stomach was about to burst. Douglas demonstrated his amazing skill in opening the beer bottle with just his fingers. I think both Hana and Claire were very impressed!

The next morning was a bright and sunny day. Before we started for Ranau, Paul gave a short briefing, including a bit of modification to the hillclimb challenge, having realised that the effect of adrenaline was hard to control. He also showed us the route profile for the day.

Then we started off at a slow pace. Claire and Hana, too, decided to ride again. But they were held back, so the rest of us just went ahead. I was feeling a bit better after a night's rest.

We enjoyed a few kilometres of flat road. But after passing the roundabout, we started to climb again, and immediately I could feel my quads burning up. A short while later Hana surrendered and not long after that Claire, too, threw in the towel. Some of the guys took turns riding in the support vehicles, and I was tempted to follow suit. But I thought I'd just continue for a little bit more.

A bit more; a bit more, and then before I knew it, I was already far away in the hills! I felt very exhausted and although I was the last, I kept going and going, though unfortunately not as strong as the Eveready batteries. Eventually, I was approaching the final slope to the highest point, and oh boy, it was a punishing climb!

As I emerged from the corner, I could hear voices on top of the hill. The guys were taking a break after conquering that slope. And as I was pedaling like a bloody fool, they were cheering me on. It was such a relief to make it up that monster of a hill!

After a short break, we started our descent to Ranau. It was then around noon, and I could feel my arms and legs burning from the scorching sun. But at that point, all I wanted to do was to get over that remaining 20km or so to Ranau.

There were of course several uphill climbs beyond that point, but it was mainly downhill. But on the way, the guys found a nice spot for a group photo. Hence we stopped once again for this group photo.

The rest of the journey to Ranau was faily quick. We finally regrouped in front of the KFC outlet there where the guys deliberated whether to continue cycling to the Mt Kinabalu National Park. But I've had enough cycling for a weekend. 8 brave souls decided to push on while the rest of us would go ahead on the support vehicles to wait for them at the National Park which was perhaps 15km away uphill. While waiting we had our glorious lunch. We were just about to finish our lunch when we heard news that they, too, had given up at about 7km from Ranau.

After lunch, there was a simple prize-giving ceremony. Anslem was declared the King of Mountain for the tour. The thought that I wasn't even able to see the starts of those sprints is killing  me! By then, I was feeling totally spent and couldn't wait to get home to rest.

It was a very enjoyable outing even though I was the last to reach the top of the hill. But I console myself that at least I did not ride in the support vehicle all the way between Keningau to Ranau. Still, you know, I'm not used to the idea of being last. That was quite a beating to my huge ego!

Well, that was the Tour De Interior 2. Just a few days after that event, there were already rumours of another tour this year. Surprises upon surprises. Actually, I love surprises; in fact, I have a talent in surprising others too, like when we did the Miri Triathlon as reported here. I should start thinking of something new to surprise them again this year! 

But for now, I just want to rest my poor legs. They have been through a hell lot of punishments these last couple of months—they deserve the rest. 

Only question is for how long?...

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