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Audax BRM400 Malaysia 2016 Part 2

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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.

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Photograph courtesy of Google Maps

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!

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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.

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Photograph courtesy of Marco Lai

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.

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Photograph courtesy of Chong Su

It would have been nice to have a fan on my bike, like Sam Tow has on his mobile.

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Photograph courtesy of Chong Su

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.

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Photograph courtesy of Nash Lim

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.

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Photograph courtesy of They Wei Chon

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.

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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.

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As for the Audax BRM600 to come in 2017.  No comment.

Audax BRM400 Malaysia 2016 Part 1

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This is the ending of my January post about the Audax BRM200 Malaysia 2016:

The teaser video for the 400km / 248mi brevet in September is already out!  The time limit is 27 hours.

The question now is, will my buddies and I ride it?

“No way!”

For now.

As they say, “famous last words.”

Seven of us were in a three-vehicle convoy to Malacca on Friday afternoon.  We had lunch at the McDonald’s on the KL – Seremban Highway, near the Sungai Besi Toll Plaza.

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Photograph courtesy of Marco Lai

It is an easy 133km / 83mi drive from that McDonald’s to the Fenix Inn Melaka.  Our base for the weekend.

There was still some important preparation to be done for the long ride ahead.

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Photograph courtesy of Marco Lai

My power nap burned through all the calories from lunch.  Some of us walked around the corner for dinner.

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Photograph courtesy of Marco Lai

Roasted chicken rice, some of the eponymous chicken rice balls, and an omelette.  The roasted chicken was very good.  The rice balls were mushy and disappointing.  The rice balls would have been better if there was a bit of chicken inside each one.

By 6.45pm we were ready to roll.  We all had additional storage on our bikes to supplement our saddlebags.  Essential items for a long ride like this were one or more power banks to recharge cyclocomputers, lights and mobile phones, extra stocks of energy bars and N8 Endurance drink mix, and small medical kits.

We had prepared as well as we knew how.  Nevertheless we were all a bit nervous at the thought of covering slightly more than 400km / 249mi in 27 hours.  None of us had ever ridden that far before.  Ken (third from the left) had good reason to be more nervous than we were.  His longest ever ride had been only 140km / 87mi, he was on a borrowed bicycle, and he was wearing tennis shoes.

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Photograph courtesy of Marco Lai

The event organisers were at the McDonald’s Dataran Pahlawan before 7.00pm to hand out the brevet and cue cards for the ride.

Before I go any further, I must convey a big Thank You to the volunteers who ran this event so smoothly.  Jess Lim, Ray Lee and Chong Su at Checkpoints 1 and 3.  Stefaaniem Choo at Checkpoint 2.  Johnny Lee on his scooter.  Sam Tow in the Audax Landrover Defender.  And Jaykay helping out where needed, while at the same time riding most of the route.

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Photograph courtesy of Sam Tow

By sundown the area was teeming with riders anxious to get their brevet and cue cards, and to make the first of the many, many, many pedal revolutions needed to get to Skudai and back to Malacca.  Including one rider on this specially badged bike.

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Photograph courtesy of Sam Tow

Kudos to the organisers for a much-improved card distribution process.  There was no repeat of the long queues we saw at the Audax BRM200 early this year.  Minutes after arriving at Dataran Pahlawan, we were ready to go.

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Photograph courtesy of Marco Lai

We headed first to a Malacca landmark, the historic Dutch Stadthuys, for a photograph.

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Photograph courtesy of Mark Lim

The short ride to and from the Stadthuys took us through a procession of lighted trishaws, a distinctive feature of Malacca.

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Photograph courtesy of synergy-tours.com

I wish I could blame the dazzling lights for my leading the group down the wrong side of the McDonald’s at Dataran Pahlawan to start the ride.  409km / 254mi to go, and we picked up some unnecessary extra distance right out of the gate by going the wrong way.

The real culprit was being too dependent on the cue card, excellent though it was, and not studying the route beforehand.  This was the first of a few lessons about riding Audaxes that we learned over the next 27 hours.

Fortunately we were soon back on track, and following a string of blinking red lights southeast along the coast toward Muar.

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Our mantra for the night was “start slow, finish strong.”  We kept our speed below 30kph / 19mph as we rolled through Muar and on to Checkpoint 1 at Kompleks Niaga Benteng Peserai, in Batu Pahat.

I was in new territory as the clock ticked toward midnight.  I had never ridden my bike that late at night before.  I think it was a new experience for everyone in the Flipside group.

Team Flipside got to Checkpoint 1 together.  The cue sheet read 93.5km / 58mi.  Our cyclocomputers showed 7km / 4mi more, given our unplanned detour through Malacca.

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Photograph courtesy of Sam Tow

Every time I participate in an organized cycling event, I see something new.  Someone on a bike with an “AUDAX BRM400” label on the down tube, a Specialised S-Works Mclaren Venge, or a unicycle, or an Elliptigo.  This time it was unusual footwear for a long-distance ride.  Those are flip-flops on the feet of the second gentleman from the left.

Don’t laugh.  The last I saw of him and his riding companion, both on small-wheel bikes, were their rear lights disappearing into the distance at more than 30kph / 19mph.

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Photograph courtesy of Sam Tow

After getting our brevet cards stamped, we grabbed some of the sports drink on offer.  100 Plus very kindly donated 1,200 bottles of their Edge non-carbonated isotonic drink to this event.

We also needed something to eat.  Given the late hour, the pickings were slim at the Kompleks Niaga Benteng Peserai.  We needed some help.

Article 7 of the Rules of Brevets Randonneurs Mondiaux states, in part, that

Each rider must be self sufficient. No follow cars or support of any kind are permitted on the course. Personal support is only allowed at checkpoints.

Luckily we had the benefit of support from a person who has local knowledge.  My biker chick is from Batu Pahat, and she, together with my mother-in-law, met us at Checkpoint 1.  She would also meet us fourteen hours later, at Checkpoint 3.

Her advice was to cross the road and eat at the Restoran Ceria Maju Klasik.  It was an excellent suggestion.  Fried rice done in a variety of styles, some fried eggs, and sweet teh tarik.  Just what we needed to set us up for the next leg to Skudai, 113.5km / 70.5mi away.

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Photograph courtesy of Marco Lai

We stuck to our plan to keep the pace below 30kph / 19mph, and continued to ride as a group of seven.  At 2.30am, an hour after we left Batu Pahat, we started seeing lightning and hearing thunder in the distance.  By 3.30am the roads looked like this.

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Photograph courtesy of Sam Tow

Marco and I had rain jackets, and we were happy to ride on.  The other Flipsiders did not have wet weather gear, and as the rain got heavier, they decided to take shelter at a bus stop.

The rain came with a strong tail wind.  Marco and I were glad to be pushed along for as long as possible.  We sailed through Pontian Kecil, dodging puddles and ride down the center of the deserted roads. It was a lot of fun for the next 12km / 7mi, until we realised that we should have made a left turn in Pontian Kecil.

Which brings me to the second and third lessons about riding Audaxes.  Lesson 2 is always put your cue card where you can easily refer to it.  Taped to the handlebar or top tube.  Not in a jersey pocket, which makes retrieving the card a hassle.  It is even more of a hassle when your rain jacket covers your jersey pockets.

Lesson 3 is once you do pull out your cue card and realise that you missed a turn, it is better to double back to the turn that you missed.  That is a much smarter option than trying to navigate to the next checkpoint on your own, in the hope of not having to ride too many extra kilometers.

Suffice to say that instead of arriving at Checkpoint 2 in Skudai at about 5.30am, as originally anticipated, Marco and I got there at 8.00am.  Admittedly, thirty minutes of that additional time was spent getting a drink and some you char koay at Bukit Indah, when a hunger bonk threatened with 15km / 9mi still to go before Checkpoint 2.

By the time we stopped for a snack, we had burned ninety minutes on stop-start riding as we navigated through unfamiliar territory via Waze and Google Maps.  Including a failed effort to stay off the Malaysia-Singapore Second Link Expressway.  We finally had to accept that the shortest route from where we were, in Kampung Ulu Pulai, to Checkpoint 2 meant riding for 6km / 3.7mi along that expressway.

That misadventure added another 28km / 17mi of unnecessary riding to our total mileage.

Marco and I put a brave face on things as we finally arrived at the McDonald’s on the Skudai-Pontian Highway.

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Photograph courtesy of Stephaaniem Choo

The five others rolled in to Checkpoint 2 an hour later.  I thought that they might have lost their way as well.  But no.  They all napped for a couple of hours while they waited out the rain.

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Photograph courtesy of Mark Lim

A McDonald’s Brekkie Wrap with Sausage had called my name.  All the tables were occupied by riders who had arrived before us.  So I pulled off my wet shoes and socks, and perched on the curb of the Drive Thru lane.

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Photograph courtesy of Marco Lai

The other guys got a table when they arrived.

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Photograph courtesy of Marco Lai

It was 9.00am and we were halfway through the BRM400.  We had fourteen hours to cover the 202km / 126mi back to Dataran Pahlawan in Malacca.  That felt possible.  Despite the faces in this photograph.