The Tien Hotel was buzzing at 5.30am. R@SKLs were getting coffees and filling bottles. Pumping up tires. Filling jersey pockets with ride essentials.
At 6.10am sharp we rode down Lebuh Chulia toward the Residence carpark on the corner of Jalan Penang, where the rest of the R@SKLs were waiting. A headcount confirmed that we had twenty four riders in our group.
Local boy Lay led us over the 6km / 3.7mi from the Residence to the CFAL start line at the Youth Park. There were reportedly 3,500 participants in this ninth edition of the Campaign for a Lane.
We positioned ourselves at the back of the pack. We didn’t want to get caught up in the starting rush and crush.
The excitement, or pressure, of the event must have got to some of the R@SKLs. They developed a sudden interest in the surrounding bushes.
The CFAL event has developed a reputation as one of the better organised rides. The organisers get most things right. Like starting the event on time. Cyclists began pouring out of the part at 7.15am. Right on time.
The CFAL route has remained unchanged for a number of years now. Out of the Youth Park to Persiaran Gurney, and then clockwise roughly following the coast, down to Bayan Lepas in the south-eastern corner of the island.
Our new jerseys stood out well against the sea of purple CFAL jerseys that most of the other participants were wearing. That made staying together as a group easier.
A very popular photo spot along the Tun Dr. Lim Chong Eu Highway is within view of the Sultan Abdul Halim Muadzam Shah Bridge, more commonly known as the Penang Second Bridge.
It took a few tries, but we did get that bridge in the background.
We had our first proper rest stop at the Caltex station, just the other side of the Sungai Bayan Lepas, about 30km / 18.5mi into the ride. We raided the station shop for drinks and food. And queued for the toilet.
From the Caltex station the route curved inland to the right for a kilometer or two, and then curved back down toward Teluk Kumbar on the coast. At Teluk Kumbar the route headed due north to the Puspakom vehicle inspection site in Kampung Tengah.
That Puspakom compound marked the start of the first of the two climbs on the CFAL route. It is about 2km / 1.2mi long, and has 115 meters / 377 feet of elevation.
Everyone was looking good on the slopes.
We went past this guy on the lower slope of the climb.
He gave it a good effort, but it wasn’t long before he was walking his penny-farthing up the hill.
We regrouped at the bottom of the descent of Jalan Balik Pulau, where the road takes a sharp left onto state route P239 toward Pulau Betong. Once we were all together again, we cruised over the next 15km / 9.3mi to the row of shophouses opposite the Sin Min primary school.
We stopped so that riders could buy water, 100 Plus etc. from the sundry shop there. It is a good place to stop for a rest and a drink. The small temple on the end of the row of shophouses marks the start of the second climb. This one is 4.8km / 3mi long, with an elevation of 259 meters / 850 feet.
We agreed to meet on the other side of the hill, at the Teluk Bahang Dam. Most of us know the spot, because we took photographs there the last time we rode in Penang. This is one of those photographs. We were standing on the dam.
I got to the dam first. I stopped in the shade of a tree opposite the dam, and waited for the other pink jerseys to appear.
5 minutes went by. No pink jerseys.
10 minutes went by. Still no pinks jerseys.
15 minutes went by. Aha! There is a pink jersey. Damn (pardon the pun). Not one of ours.
I started to wonder if someone had suffered a puncture, or worse, had suffered a fall.
20 minutes went by. Then a participant shouted at me as he rode past. “I think your friends are resting up the hill.”
I pedaled 300 meters back up the hill and around a corner, and there they were.
Sprawled on the grass. Looking comfortable and relaxed.
Leslie, who wasn’t in Penang with us the last time, pulled off at this spot. Everyone else followed him, instead of continuing down to the dam.
I do admit that it was a nice place to stop.
But for next time guys. This is what the dam looks like.
There were about 20km / 12.4mi to ride back to the Youth Park. It started raining as we got to Batu Ferringhi. Jalan Batu Ferringhi is a winding, rolling, narrow stretch of road, with a hill on one side and a drop-off to the sea on the other side. It would be a pleasant road for a bike ride, if only there wasn’t so much traffic.
Add rain to the mix, and the ride along Jalan Batu Ferringhi to the Penang Swimming Club is a bit stressful. Sometimes the safest place to be is in the middle of the slender lane. It can upset drivers, but it stops them trying to squeeze past you, and in the process forcing you right to the edge of the road, or worse, off the road.
The last 5km / 3mi along Jalan Tanjung Bungah is also busy with cars, lorries, and buses, but the road is wider and has a proper shoulder, so you are not riding in amongst the traffic.
It was still raining when we got to the Youth Park. 3,500 riders quickly turned sections of the grass field into a quagmire. The large marquee tent was packed with people sheltering from the rain. As I was looking for somewhere to leave my bike, I saw Husher from Meng Thai Bicycle Centre. He was manning a stall at one corner of the marquee, where he was displaying some of the Rikulau stainless steel bikes that he sells.
Husher’s stall became the area for the R@SKLs to park their bikes. It was close to the medal, water, and food pickup points.
And also close to the backdrop for finisher photographs. Thank you Husher.
The lucky draw was in progress as we waited for all the R@SKLs to finish and to collect their medals. I don’t think any of us expected to win a prize, although it does appear that one of us did have a winning number. Number 2276 was called. One R@SKL had number 2275, and another had number 2277. So someone in the group must have had number 2276. Oh well!
It was still raining after everyone had their medal in hand. So we decided to ride back to the hotel, rather than looking for somewhere to eat along the way. Halfway to the hotel the rain stopped. It was sunny and hot at the Tien Hotel.
Lunch was at Goh Thew Chik Hainan Chicken Rice, which is a few doors away from the Tien. Simon reserved four whole chickens for us. Two roasted, and two poached.
That wasn’t enough. It took two more chickens, and more rice, to satisfy the R@SKLs.
Lay and Leslie couldn’t join us for lunch. Their ride back to KL left Penang at 2pm. Heng Keng left for the airport right after lunch.
Others went straight from the chicken rice shop to look for dessert.
Those of us on evening flights were able to linger at the Tien.
Pai was a true team player. He brought cendol back to the hotel for those of us who were too idle to walk to the stall with him. Thank you Pai.
Most of the remaining R@SKLs were on an 8pm flight. Which gave them time to devour one last plate of char koay teow and oyster omelette before bidding farewell to Penang.
The Hong Kong trio flew out on Monday. TH looked after them very well. Champagne even!
Our bikes and bags had been loaded onto the van at 4pm. ETA at Pegasus Cycles was 10pm. Collecting our bikes marked the end of a wonderful weekend with great friends and great food, with some cycling thrown in for good measure.
Thank you TH and your staff for looking after us so well.
Thank you CK and Danial for providing much valued support.
Thank you R@SKLs for being excellent company.
When is our next trip?