We were at the halfway point. We were rested and ready to go. At 9.45am we rolled out of the McDonald’s on Lebuh Skudai Pontian. Within 400 meters, we started riding up onto an overpass rather than staying left on the filter lane toward Jalan Bertingkat Skudai.
The good thing was that we realised our mistake before crossing the overpass. However, being a Saturday morning, traffic was heavy, and we couldn’t risk riding the wrong way back down the road. Instead we had to get over a couple of drains and down a grassy slope.
Audax lesson 4 was a painful one. Which is to remember that a brain that has not slept for more than twenty-four hours is prone to making bad decisions.
I stepped across the first drain, my bike in my hands in front of me. My left foot slipped on the far edge of the drain (in hindsight no surprise, given that a carbon sole is very slippery), and my legs hit the concrete edge as I fell forward onto my bike.
My scraped shin and ankle were the least of my injuries. I also heavily bruised the outside of my right thigh (the photo of my thigh was taken five days later), and I had fallen onto a pedal, so had bruised ribs on the side of my chest as well.
My half-asleep brain was now fully awake. I was seeing stars, writhing on the grass, and cursing my stupidity. I wasn’t sure I could continue. A minute or two later my head cleared, and the pain in my thigh lessened enough for me to feel that I could keep pedalling.
Having seen me fall, the others were very careful to get down to the slip road safely. I gingerly remounted and we started riding toward Kulai. The traffic was even heavier on Jalan Bertingkat Skudai. Like a guardian angel, Johnny Lee appeared beside us on his scooter, whistle between his lips. Blasting his whistle at traffic, he guided us through innumerable busy junctions over the next 25km / 16mi as we made our way along Lebuhraya Senai and Jalan Kulai – Sedenak. Thank you sir!
The only mechanical in our group over the entire ride happened during that stretch. Mark had a flat rear tire about 40 minutes after we got going after my fall. I appreciated the opportunity to stop and re-evaluate my condition. My right thigh concerned me the most. I was worried that a hematoma would develop, and that would restrict the flexion of my knee. I decided the best thing would be to keep riding, and to be sure that I kept my right knee bent as much as possible whenever we stopped. That, and some Panadol Extra, got me through the ride.
We took another break at the Shell station in Kampung Sri Paya. The 70km / 43mi stretch from there to Checkpoint 3 in Yong Peng was the most taxing part of the entire route. By then it was midday, with temperatures in the mid 30s° C / mid 90s° F. Much of the terrain to Yong Peng was rolling hills that required 450 meters / 1,475 feet of climbing. The road surface was poor in many places, with lots of cracks, potholes, and badly patched sections. No doubt caused by the constant heavy lorry and bus traffic, some of which passed perilously close to us as they sped past.
I can see why the organisers didn’t send us down Jalan Besar at night. The road conditions make it too dangerous to cycle in low visibility conditions.
We were dragging along by the time we got to Simpang Renggam. The first built-up area we had encountered since Kulai, 25km / 16mi prior. We pulled into the first restaurant we saw, Restoran D’Tepian Amirul. Some of the others ordered food. I just wanted fluid. Once I got two lime juices down my throat, an ais kacang sounded tempting.
That was exactly what I needed.
The heat and the hills continued to be a challenge. We stopped at a Shell station roughly halfway between Simpang Renggam and Checkpoint 3. That was at 2.30pm. The station proprietor helpfully told us that riders had been stopping there since 8.30am. That would have been a real hit to the ego if we had been riding for a fast time.
We were instead riding to beat the checkpoint closing times. We were cutting it a bit fine though. Checkpoint 3 closed at 4.32.pm. We got to Yong Peng with an hour to spare.
It would have been nice to have a fan on my bike, like Sam Tow has on his mobile.
Yong Peng offered a better alternative. Air-conditioning in the KFC across the road from Checkpoint 3. My biker chick met us at the checkpoint with the cycling kit and supplies that we had stashed in her car on Friday morning.
A couple of us changed into fresh gear. All of us had a drink and something to eat. And other riders got some shuteye.
As planned, we stayed at that KFC in Yong Peng until 5.30pm. Waiting for the sun to descend in the sky, and for the temperature to drop. Five and half hours to cover the remaining 107.9km / 67mi seemed reasonable.
We rode out of Yong Peng straight onto more hilly terrain. After 224 meters / 735 feet of climbing in 20km / 12mi we pulled off the road to catch our breath. 12km / 7mi later we needed another break. This driveway in front of an empty house between Parit Sulong and Parit Hassan Ahmad Satu was a much nicer place to stop.
We had hoped to get to Muar for dinner. We hadn’t counted on the 160 meters / 525 feet of elevation facing us over the next 20km / 12mi. Energy levels were very low when we got to Bakri, so we decided to stop there for nasi lemak, fried chicken and omelettes.
We ate as quickly as we could. We all knew that we were running short on time. We left the restaurant with 53km / 33mi left to the finish. And exactly two hours to do it in.
I learned Audax lesson 5 as we negotiated what should have been the last 31km / 19mi of the ride. A tired brain should not be relied upon to accurately perform even simple mental calculations. We had followed the cue card directions to turn left off Jalan Kesang toward Malacca at KM370.1, and to turn left again toward Merlimau at KM377.4.
The cue card showed the left turn to Jalan Permatang Pasir at KM401.8. Because all our cyclocomputers were not in sync with the cue card, a little bit of mental mathematics was required. My rested brain easily works out that we should have ridden 24.4km / 15.1mi to the left turn at Jalan Permatang Pasir.
My sleep-deprived and tired brain told me that the left turn was 14.4km / 8.9mi away. which of course it wasn’t. I thought we were lost. Fortunately I was riding with guys who were more lucid than I was. They dispensed with the cue card and relied on Waze to get us to the finish. I was not happy. I thought we were riding even more unnecessary kilometers. Which was not the case. Waze took us along the cue card route anyway.
I owe an apology to Sam and his team for my complaint to them about getting lost.
My one suggestion for future Audax BRM cue cards is that the distances between turns not be shown cumulatively. Instead show the actual distance between each turn. As illustrated by the red numbers below.
This way riders do not have to compensate for the difference between the cumulative distance shown on the cue card and the actual distance shown on their cyclocomputer. The number of the cyclocomputer will almost certainly be different, for all sorts of reasons. Some mental addition will still be required to use the red numbers, but hopefully even a small brain like mine can cope with that.
We all got to the finish at Dataran Pahlawan with ten minutes to spare before the cutoff time of 11.00pm. We had made it by the skin of our teeth.
These are some of the two hundred or so riders who completed this Audax BRM400 ride.
It took a combination of physical endurance, determination aka mental strength aka stubbornness, a bit of luck, and perhaps most importantly, the support of others for each of us to get to the finish line.
Be they friends who rode with us, or parents and/or family who were at all the checkpoints and the finish, or partners or spouses who believed in us, even when we doubted ourselves.
This medal is for all the people who supported me through this challenge, as much as it is for me.
As for the Audax BRM600 to come in 2017. No comment.