Malaysia was born on 31st August 1957. That day Tunku Abdul Rahman, the first Prime Minister of Malaysia, read the official declaration granting the Federation of Malaya independence from the British Empire.
Most years friends and I have marked Merdeka Day (Independence Day) with a bicycle ride. This year it was the BCG Merdeka Ride to Bentong.
About fifteen of us met at the Orang Asli Hospital for a 7.15am start. I got there early, hoping to have a hot drink at the small restaurant near the hospital. The restaurant was closed.
I had forgotten that it was a five-day weekend. Thursday was Merdeka Day. Friday and Saturday were public holidays for Hari Raya Haji (Eid al-Adha) And Monday had been declared a public holiday to commemorate Malaysia winning 145 gold medals out of the 225 gold medals competed for at the 2017 SEA Games, which had come to an end on 30th August.
Traditionally Malays celebrate both Hari Raya Puasa (Eid al-Fitr) and Hari Raya Haji with family in their home towns and villages.
Which means a mass exodus from Kuala Lumpur the day before those festivals. The Karak Highway is the main road link between Kuala Lumpur and the cities and towns on the east coast of the peninsula.
We stopped near the summit of the Genting Sempah to look at the traffic on the Karak Highway.
This was the view of the eastbound lanes of the Karak Highway from Genting Sempah.
The volume of traffic on the Karak Highway prompted many to take the old road to Bentong. Jalan Gombak is usually very quiet. We cyclists typically share the road with the odd lorry, a few learner drivers, and some motorcycles. On this day there was a steady stream of cars, vans and buses heading up the road with us.
We had a nice surprise at the Genting Sempah flyover. The couple who, on weekends, set up a makeshift drinks and snacks stall out of the boot of their car, were there. Hooray!
If you are wondering, I couldn’t find a red hibiscus, which is the national flower of Malaysia.
We continued to share the road with a stream of vehicles on the 35km / 22mi run from Genting Sempah to Bentong. There is a section between Bukit Tinggi and Bentong where the road is badly potholed. That caused traffic to be backed up for a few kilometers.
Once past the potholes, those vehicles that we had overtaken roared past us. Only for us to overtake them again as they waited in a long queue for the traffic lights at the T-junction of Jalan Gombak and Jalan Lama Bentong – Karak. It was definitely faster by bike over the last 25km / 15.5mi to Bentong.
We had planned to eat at Lemang To’ki, home of the best lemang in Bentong. We weren’t surprised to find that Lemang To’ki was closed. So we settled for the next-best option. Roti canai, half-boiled eggs, and kaya toast.
And peanut ice cream at Kow Po Coffeeshop.
That was the easy part over and done with. It was all uphill from Bentong back to Genting Sempah. 1,000 meters / 3,280 feet of elevation gain.
We were smiling as we rode through Bentong.
The climbing, and the 34° to 36° C / 93° to 97° F temperatures, wiped those smiles off our faces. By the time we got back to Genting Sempah we were gagging for cold drinks.
We gave the McDonald’s there a miss, assuming, no doubt correctly, that it would be packed with travelers taking a break from the traffic jams. The roadside stall we stopped at had run out of canned drinks, but fortunately they still had lots of ice and Sunquick.
Then it was just Hamburger Hill between us and the 16km / 10mi descent to the Orang Asli Hospital. We had to be careful. The traffic was still streaming up the hill, with some drivers cutting corners. The bus drivers were the worst culprits.
We all got down the hill safely. Tired, but glad to have done the ride in great company. I wonder where we will be riding to when Malaysia turns 61.