The R@SKLs did their first King of Mountain Challenge last year. 364 days later we were back at Simpang Pulai ready to take on the climb to the Meiko Strawberry Centre again.
Our plan had been to arrive at Simpang Pulai in the early afternoon on Saturday so we could get to the Restoran Ayam Tauke on Jalan Guntong before they ran out of their signature nga choy kai (beansprout chicken) and sar hor fun (flat rice noodles). Last year we got to the restaurant after dark and were lucky to get any chicken at all.
The traffic on the North-South Expressway was atrocious. The trip from Kuala Lumpur to Simpang Pulai is about 195km / 120mi. It can be done in just over two hours. On this day it took almost four hours.
Nevertheless, almost all of us were seated at the restaurant before dark. In time to get all the chicken that we wanted. Marvin had left Kuala Lumpur in the late afternoon and he got to the restaurant just in time to clean up.
A few of the R@SKLs chose to start at 7.30am from the Symphony Hotel. That is when and where anyone with aspirations for a podium finish or an official time had to roll across the start line.
The rest of us started at the Hotel Pulai. We wanted to start the climb early so we could be finished before the weather got too hot. That meant riding to Restoran Sun Kee Hin across the road from the Hotel Pulai for a breakfast of noodles, kaya toast and soft boiled eggs at 5.45am.
We were looking surprisingly bright as we waited for our orders.
We were on our way at about 6.45am. As the sun came up we were on the lower slopes of the approximately 1,800 metre / 5,900 foot climb ahead.
The Simpang Pulai to Cameron Highlands road runs through virgin forest. There is hardly any development on those north-western slopes until you get within touching distance of the junction with the Tapah road.
It had rained overnight and it stayed overcast all morning. A mist was rising out of the jungle as we pushed our way up the mountain.
We regrouped just after the first official water station where we raided our support vehicles for water and snacks. Some R@SKLs could not partake of the water on offer at the water station because they had not registered for the event. They were “ghost riders” in the local cycling parlance.
While we were larking about at the side of the road the leading group of riders in the race proper sailed past.
The top five finishers of the race came from the group of riders at the very front of this pack. The average speed of the winner was 30.1kph / 18.7mph. Exactly double my average speed. Youth. What a wonderful thing!
We continued up the road at a much more sedate pace.
Though it must be said that Daniel was moving considerably faster than the rest of us.
A couple of rascals turned around before getting to the finish. One blamed a leg injury. This was the cure.
You be the judge of the veracity of that claim.
The rest of us took another break near the second official water stop. Bottoms and legs were getting sore by that point. We were relieved to cross the finish line 10km / 6mi further and 340 metres / 1,115 feet higher up the road. This ride hurt us more mature types!
It must have hurt Fallanie too. He bagged second place in the Men’s Open category with an average speed of 29.2kph / 18.1mph for the 58km / 36mi race up 1,800 metres / 5,900 feet of mountain. Congratulations Fallanie!
There was food available at the finish. I didn’t bother to check what it was. Which was a mistake.
Some chicken satay would have gone down very nicely.
On the way down the mountain, we stopped at the “Welcome to Cameron Highlands” sign on the hillside at the border between the states of Perak Darul Ridzuan and Pahang Darul Makmur. The Cameron Highlands is in the state of Pahang DM.
Then it was 39km / 24mi of high speed descending for those who like zipping downhill. Others were more cautious. No matter the speed of descent, everyone’s arms and shoulders took a beating. The Simpang Pulai – Cameron Highlands road was opened in 2004 and the road surface is showing its age. The road is slightly rutted and rough for most of its length. Not dangerously so, but the constant jarring over such a long distance is quite uncomfortable.
Everyone got back safely to the Hotel Pulai. It had been in the high teens and low twenties Centigrade on the way up, but it had warmed up to the low thirties Centigrade over the final 15km / 9mi to the hotel. Hot, but still three or four degrees Centigrade cooler than it had been at the end of last year’s event.
We showered and had lunch at the same coffee shop where we ate breakfast. Restoran Sun Kee Hin. Then most hit the road back to Kuala Lumpur. The traffic was as bad as it had been the day before.
I took a nap – better to fall asleep in a bed than behind the wheel. I didn’t get on the road until 6.00pm. I got home at 9.45pm.
The sense I am getting from the post-mortem comments is that the R@SKLs won’t do the King of Mountain Challenge next year unless we hire a bus to get us to Simpang Pulai, transport us down the mountain from the event finish area, and get us back to Kuala Lumpur.
This might be my only King of Mountain Challenge finisher’s medal.