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The #FreshLegs Tour

Photograph courtesy of amazon.com

Danial suggested the route for our latest credit card tour.

Day 1
• Cycle from home to the Kepong KTM station and ride the Komuter train to Tanjong Malim
• Cycle from Tanjong Malim to Ipoh

Day 2
• Cycle from Ipoh to Brinchang

Day 3
• Cycle from Brinchang to the Tanjong Malim KTM station and ride the Komuter train to Kepong
• Cycle from the Kepong KTM station to home

Choo Chian and Halim quickly said that they were up for it. I enjoy riding with the three of them and opted in as well. If I had thought more about the route I was committing to I might not have been so quick to agree to participate. 390km / 242mi and more than 3,000 metres / 9,800 feet of climbing over three days.

Day 1

I met Choo Chian and Halim at just past 6.00am on Day 1 and we rode together to the 7-Eleven on Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah where Danial was waiting.

We caught the first train from Kepong, the 7.30am departure, to Tanjong Malim. All smiles at this point.

It was 8.50am when we rolled our bikes out of the train in Tanjong Malim. We had 118km / 73mi to ride. But first, breakfast at our usual spot, Restoran OCU Amy, 1km from the station.

The plan was to ride to Ipoh at an easy pace so that we would have fresh legs for the 2,000 plus metres / 6,500 plus feet of climbing on Day 2.

Photograph courtesy of Danial Marzuki

So much for that plan. We spent almost three-quarters of our moving time riding at 30kph / 18.6mph or faster. “Fresh Legs” became our ironic catchphrase for the next three days. As in “My legs feel so fresh” or “Your legs look so fresh” when the opposite was the case.

We weren’t helped by the heat. We made regular stops to refill bottles. We bought iced fresh fruit at the Bidor stop. It was 37ºC / 99ºF when we got to Tapah at 1.00pm.

We spent the next two hours over a long lunch in the air conditioning at the KFC there. It was still a furnace outside when we got going again. At 3.45pm we had to stop (what a relief) because of a puncture. It was 38ºC / 100ºF.

Photograph courtesy of Halim Zin

Halim’s sister saw this photograph and commented that I looked like I was regretting coming on this ride. What I did look like was this . . .

We arrived at the Mornington Hotel in Ipoh without further incident. Choo Chian had done the research into accommodation and had booked the most promising looking places in Ipoh and Brinchang. The Mornington Hotel was excellent.

For RM45 / USD11 each we got two Standard Twin rooms with the amenities not usually provided at this price point. The fixings for coffee and tea, a couple of bottles of mineral water, toiletry sets including toothbrushes and toothpaste, a fridge, a safe, and wifi. Best of all, bicycles are allowed in the rooms, which are big enough to accommodate two bikes without them being in the way. The bonus is the Mornington has a lift so we didn’t have to carry our bikes up a flight or more of stairs.

Photograph courtesy of the Mornington Hotel

We took a Grab car into Ipoh for dinner. Danial suggested the Ipoh Hainan Chicken Rice restaurant on Anderson Road. Sadly the quality of the food there has declined since he last ate there. The food was alright but not worth another visit.

By 9.00pm it was lights out. Our legs weren’t feeling particularly fresh, which was a bad sign.

Day 2

At 6.40am we rolled away from the Mornington Hotel to the Restoran Nasi Kandar Pulai 3km / 2mi away for breakfast. The restaurant must have only just opened because there were only a couple of staff members there to take orders and make hot drinks and prepare food. Service was slow, to say the least.

While we were there a group of four cyclists came in looking for breakfast as well. One of them asked us for directions to the road to Cameron Highlands. Like us, they were from Kuala Lumpur. Unlike us, they hadn’t ridden to Ipoh the day before. I’m sure their legs were fresher than ours. We wished them well on their maiden ride to Cameron Highlands and headed to the 7-Eleven a couple of shop lots away to stock up on drinks.

Our paths would unexpectedly cross, in a manner of speaking, later in the day.

I had ridden from Simpang Pulai as far as the Meiko Strawberry Centre a couple of times, but never with a 5kg / 11lb saddle pack. This time there would be a further 23km / 14mi to ride, and another hill to climb to get to Brinchang. It promised to be a long and hard day.

Graph courtesy of Garmin Connect

13km / 8mi from the hotel we got to the start of the climb to Cameron Highlands. The first 2.5km / 1.5mi are particularly steep, rising 280 metres / 918 feet.

Photograph courtesy of Danial Marzuki

Mindful of the amount of climbing we had to do, we made regular stops to stretch our not-fresh legs.

Photograph courtesy of Danial Marzuki

Despite the sunshine, the temperature stayed at or below 25ºC / 77ºF for the first 40km / 25mi.

We made another of our frequent stops after 45km / 28mi. The temperature had risen to 30ºC / 86ºF in the space of 5km / 3mi. Admittedly it had taken us forty minutes to climb that 5km, but still.

It was very humid. We were sweating profusely and despite carrying extra bottles of fluid we were running out.

There are very few places selling drinks along Federal Route 185. We knew that there was a café somewhere near the border between the states of Perak and Pahang, but weren’t sure where exactly it was or whether it would even be open. I was starting to worry that we would run out of water before we found a place to restock.

That’s when a father and son in an SUV pulled over and asked if we wanted water or 100 Plus. We gratefully accepted his generous offer. It turned out that the man’s wife was one of the four cyclists we met over breakfast at the Restoran Nasi Kandar Pulai. Quite a coincidence. We never did see those four cyclists again though.

It was a relief to have more water in our bottles. Though as it turned out we were only 2km / 1mi (and ten corners) from the Waterfall Café. Which was open.

It was 12.45pm and we had no idea where the next place selling food was. So we had lunch. In my case a bowl of Maggi mee with two poached eggs and keropok udang (prawn cracker) croutons. Very delicious.

We spent a very pleasant fifty-five minutes over lunch chatting and watching the koi in the pond that fronts the café.

1km up the road, I had a surprise. The last time I rode here was in the Cameron Highlands KOM event in December 2018. At that time there was nothing but a construction site.

Photograph courtesy of Google Maps

Today that construction site is the Kafe Banjaran. Which is clearly very popular with big bikers. The motorized kind. There is even a shop selling Route 185 merchandise.

Photograph courtesy of picgra.com

3km / 2mi later we were at the border between Perak and Pahang. Just 31km / 20mi to go . . . .

Photograph courtesy of Danial Marzuki

The road continues upward, albeit with some short descents along the way, until the right turn onto Federal Route 59. From there it is a 7km / 4mi descent to the Cameron Valley Tea House. We stopped for some cardamom tea and scones with cream and strawberry jam.

We needed the calories. The road kicks upward from the Cameron Valley Tea House for 9km / 5.5mi and more than 400 metres / 1,300 feet of climbing to Brinchang. The payoff was chocolate-coated strawberries at the Kea Farm street market. I have to admit that I didn’t expect the strawberries to be so good. What a treat that was. We should have bought more.

Photograph courtesy of Lacasa Biru Jr

We had just 6km / 4mi to go to Barrington Square and our apartment for the night. We checked into our fifth-floor G Residence apartment just as the clouds rolled in and it started to rain.

Choo Chian had picked another winner for accommodation. This time a comfortable and spacious two-bedroom apartment. Again bicycles are allowed inside the property and there is a lift. Barrington Square consists of three blocks of apartments, shops and restaurants. We didn’t have far to walk to dinner.

Paradise Reyan serves Middle Eastern and Western food. We had a combination: hummus as the starter and lamb pizza as the main course. Both were good.

Photograph courtesy of Paradise Reyan

It was lights out for me at 8.00pm. Fresh legs? Only in my dreams.

Day 3

We were out of the apartment at 6.30am. Brinchang is at an altitude of 1,540 metres / 5,050 feet. It was 14ºC / 57ºF. We had a mostly downhill and very chilly 3.5km / 2mi ride to Tanah Rata where we had breakfast at Restoran Nasi Kandar Mamu Ismail. The hot drinks and roti canai warmed us up before the still nippy 50km / 31mi descent to Tapah.

Photograph courtesy of Danial Marzuki

About 4km / 2.5mi from Tanah Rata is the Cameron Valley tea plantation, owned by the Bharat Group. Bharat is Malaysia’s second largest tea producer.

It was very quiet as we dropped more than 1,000 metres / 3,300 feet through rain forest over the next fifty minutes. There was very little traffic on the road with us. However, the quality of the road surface was inconsistent. Sometimes smooth and then suddenly rutted and patched. So we had to keep our eyes on the road rather than on the scenery around us, especially when descending at more than 45kph / 28mph. The occasional pack of dogs on the road added to the hazards to be alert for.

I took off my windbreaker about two-thirds of the way down the mountain. Stowed on my saddle pack it made my butt look like a baboon’s.

Photograph courtesy of Heng Choo Chian

The gravity assist came to an end 10km / 6mi before we got to Tapah. From Tapah it is 70km / 43.5mi to ride to get to Tanjong Malim. With legs which were most definitely not fresh.

We had a long stop at Tapah, and an even longer one at Sungkai. Then a ten-minute break at Slim River before getting to Tanjong Malim at about 1.15pm. Where we had time to sit in the air conditioning at the PETRONAS station before riding to the station to catch the 1.55pm train to Kepong.

The only comments to make about the ride from Tapah is that there seemed to be a headwind for most of the time and the temperature went up from 28ºC / 82ºF to 36ºC / 97ºC.

The train was a welcome respite from the heat. Still all smiles as we waited for the train to depart.

The exertions of the trip caught up with us not long after we were seated.

We were all at home by about 4.00pm. It had been a tough trip. I won’t be doing the same route again in a hurry. But it was definitely a lot of fun riding with Choo Chian, Danial and Halim. There were plenty of laughs throughout the weekend.

Now if only there really were a cream to turn tired legs into Fresh Legs.

Photograph courtesy of HFL Laboratories

King of the Mountains #4: Cameron Highlands

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CNN.com ran a feature about the Cameron Highlands a few days ago.  The Cameron Highlands, along with Fraser’s Hill and Kuantan, was a favorite family holiday destination in the late sixties and seventies.  We would head to a rented bungalow in the highlands to escape the heat and bustle of Kuala Lumpur.  I have fond memories of the Cameron Highlands.

So it was with some anticipation that I signed up for King of the Mountains #4.  The fourth ride in Dave Ern’s Nine Kings of Mountains 2013 series.

There are three roads up to the Cameron Highlands.  The Tapah road provides better access to food and drink enroute than the other two roads.  We were a baker’s dozen at the start.

Cameron Highlands Ready to Roll

Photo courtesy of Ann Daim

Which was at the Lata Iskandar waterfall, about 22 km / 13.6 mi from Tapah.

Lata Iskandar Waterfall

It is all uphill from the waterfall to Ringlet, 21 km / 13 mi away.

Cameron Highlands Profile

The road is shrouded in jungle as it winds its way around the contours of the mountain.

Cameron Highlands Road

This section is dotted with roadside stalls run by orang asli, the indigenous people of Peninsular Malaysia.  Most were selling jungle produce like petai or stink bean, wild honey and fresh bamboo shoot.  A few stalls had other things, like this one that had angklung and bird’s nests.

My naturalist friend Irshad Mobarak tells me that the nests were made by the male Baya Weaver.  After weaving the nest the male bird dances and sings to invite a female to inspect it. If she approves of it she will mate with him. If she does not like it she will unravel the nest and the male has to build a new one for her.  The Baya Weaver makes many such nests in a tree, and likewise he also has many mates too.

Cameron Highlands Orang Asli Stall

Ringlet (I wish I knew the etymology of the name) is just over the border between Perak and Pahang.  It is the first town along the road from Tapah to the Cameron Highlands.  The highlands are the only place in Malaysia where strawberries are cultivated on a commercial scale.  Hence this welcome at the start of the 1 km descent into Ringlet.

Cameron Highlands Strawberry

We stopped in Ringlet to regroup..  I took the opportunity to test out my new temperature regulation strategy.  (See Hyperthermia.  Avoid It!)

Cameron Highlands Cornetto Royale Chocoluv

It worked so well that I stopped in Ringlet on the way down the mountain for one of these.

Cameron Highlands Magnum Choco-Cappuccino

The next town was Tanah Rata.  A further 12 km / 7.5 mi up the road.  There was a photo opportunity along the way at the Cameron Valley Tea House.  Incidentally the site of the first traffic jam I encountered as cars and buses jostled for parking at the side of the road.

The Cameron Highlands is the largest tea growing area in Malaysia.  Boh, founded in 1929, is the largest plantation owner.  My biker chick especially likes the Boh Seri Songket teas.  The other major tea producer is Bharat, which started operations in 1933.  Bharat sells under the Cameron Valley brand.

The valleys around Tanah Rata and Brinchang are carpeted with bright green tea bushes and dotted with buildings for tea processing.

Cameron Highlands Bharat Tea View

Tanah Rata is what I remember being the ‘centre’ of the Cameron Highlands.  The holiday bungalows were all in the area.  Like the Shell bungalow at Bukit Ruil.

Photo courtesy of KumarKT

Photo courtesy of KumarKT

That is where the golf course is as well.  The golf club has expanded since I last hacked divots from their fairways.

Cameron Highlands Golf Course

The fabled Ye Olde Smoke House Inn is still beside the golf course.

Cameron Highlands Smoke House Inn

I don’t remember the inn being so close to a major road.  The Cameron Highlands was a much quieter place when I was a schoolboy.

Just north of the golf course I saw just how much busier the place has become.  There was a one-way traffic system around and through a commercial hub that houses at least fifteen budget hotels and holiday apartment blocks, and the restaurants that cater to them.  Despite the one-way system and a number of traffic policemen working the flow, things were at a crawl.  It was faster by bike, despite the 6% incline.

There was a line of vehicles for the next 3 km to Brinchang and the Equatorial Cameron Highlands.  The resort is 1,628 meters / 5,341 feet above sea level.  The highest accessible point in the highlands.  From the resort grounds you can see how the tourist trade now lives cheek-by-jowl with the vegetable farms that the Cameron Highlands has long been known for.

Much of this market gardening happens under protective roofs and plastic sheets that extend in terraces up from the valleys.

Cameron Highlands Vegetable Plots

The farms have themselves become tourist attractions.

Butterflies have long been a feature of the highlands.  Sadly I saw just one butterfly during my ride.  Not counting these ones.

Cameron Highlands Butterfly Garden

I turned around not far past the butterfly garden.  It was time to claim my reward for all that climbing.  Chasing and overtaking cars, lorries and buses on the switchback road back to the Lata Iskandar waterfall.  One bus driver in particular was astonished to see that a bicycle can carve through turns faster than most four-wheeled vehicles can.

Cameron Highlands Switchback

I enjoyed my ride to Brinchang.  I was less enthused with the changes I saw along the way.  The area is suffering from its popularity with visitors.  The Cameron Highlands may well be a cycling destination again for me in the future, but it won’t be a holiday destination anymore.