Apr 16 2012
The Chinese proverb, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” needs to have a corollary: that the problem is you have to keep taking steps until you’re actually done. If you don’t take any steps, you don’t make any progress towards the thousand miles. Elementary? Yes, but harder to deal with in reality than in abstraction. Kuala Lumpur is about 475 kilometres north of Singapore which meant four days of cycling — four more afternoons riding through rain, four more days of sore legs and butt, a hundred tiny villages to ride through. The journey has definitely been the beauty of this experience (as opposed to the destinations), but Singapore was looming large in our minds. Singapore meant no more wet tennis shoes. It promised limitless luxury and the freedom to not self-propel ourselves for eight hours a day. Singapore meant we could sit in a coffee shop and read books and eat muffins without ever thinking about the number of kilometres to be done.
It was time for us to finish. Gaby looked at me while we drank a beer at the top of the KL Tower, the restaurant slowly rotating around so we didn’t have to even walk to see Kuala Lumpur (which I think was a sign that maybe we were getting to our breaking point). “Three days. We can do it in three days. Let’s get to Singapore!” she said.
The next morning we set off when it was properly dark. Roti and sweet coffee (also all the ice cream we ate the day before) gave us the carbs we needed, and we slid out of town in the crepuscular light, commuters just starting to head into KL for work. It was going to be a big day — Kuala Lumpur to Melaka is more than 190 kilometres. We were nervous. We were expecting tears.
We were daunted, but as the day wore on, hot and bright, the kilometres just slid by. Music on the head phones, palm trees flying by, we climbed over the mountains that surround KL airport, sweating up the inclines and then flying down the backsides while planes came in low overhead to land. We passed through plantation towns and out towards the coast where it got flat. The wind was, finally, at our backs. We flew through the distances. Sometimes you get into the zone and Gaby and I were OWNING IT. It rained — we rode through it. We accidentally tried to go through a military base and got stopped by the military police — we regrouped and rode around it. Tires went flat — we fixed them.
That night, just as the sun was setting, we rode into Melaka LIKE A BOSS. Actually, we were both a bit broken and wanted to throw our bicycles into the sea, but after some beers our bravado returned. Melaka is beautiful and another UNESCO World Heritage site — walking around at night with the streets gently lit, it definitely has an ephemeral charm, colonialism mixed with immigration, overlaid with some gently melancholy neglect. We were charmed. Also, the beer helped.
The next day we were going to DO IT LIKE BOSSES AGAIN but we learned a painful lesson about our own abilities: one boss day is not followed by another, especially if you spend too much time drinking beer the night before and not enough time sleeping. It rained — we sort of rode through it. It was uphill — we complained. It wasn’t charming — we daydreamed about taking the train to Singapore. The wind was resolutely in our faces. We were a little broken from riding 190+km the previous day and but we were still struggling against it. WE WANTED IT. But we couldn’t have it. We stopped short of our goal for that day and instead found ourselves in Malaysia’s most boring town: BLAH BLAH. It was well and truly boring, and we looked at our sad kilometerage for the day (108) and cheered ourselves up remembering how at the beginning of the trip doing over a hundred was killer.
Early the next morning, better rested and also WITH SINGAPORE IN OUR EYES, we headed off south for our last day. It was definitely bittersweet — we were both ready for a break from cycling, but not from the experience. For all of the sore legs and occasional boredom, there is a beauty and freedom to riding that is soothing — nothing to do but daydream and keep pedalling until it’s time to stop. But seriously, our butts were about to break.
It poured as we rode through Johor Bahru — proper, maniacal, tropical rain — but by this point Gaby and I were a little maniacal as well. We pedalled on past the airport, into the city centre, and finally, finally, at long last, to the immigration control at the causeway that crosses into Singapore. As you ride around the loop, there spread in front of you is the Woodlands across the strait. Clean and orderly (and honestly slightly imposing), Singapore beckons. We exited Malaysia and crossed the straight. And then, we were in Singapore: 2260 kilometres after first leaving Bangkok, our tires hit our destination. There was much weeping, but at least this time it was tears of joy.
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