A pedal-powered Malaysian adventure
PETALING JAYA, May 12 — Long scenic stretches of padi fields, little-known local delicacies, rolling hills and the cooling breeze on your face as you cycle under an azure sky dotted with puffy clouds.
That was part of what Sandra Loh, author of "Pedalling Around The Peninsula - A Malaysian Girl's Two-Wheeled Adventures" experienced during her bicycle tour around the four corners of West Malaysia in just 37 days.
Loh embarked on this 2,664-kilometre journey with her friend Mak Shiau Meng in 2009. It was Mak's lifelong dream to cycle around the coastal region of Malaysia and Loh, who is always game for adventure, just "tagged along."
Petite and tougher than she looks, Loh comes across as an enthusiastic outdoorsy person who can weather any storm. And she actually did face a harrowing storm while cycling with no rest stops for two hours and lived to tell the tale, as it were.
"It got to a point where the strong wind almost blew me off the road! I was very thankful that my heavy panniers kept me on the road. It was an ongoing battle against the strong headwinds, heavy rain and the occasional strong water current, flowing furiously down to our side of the road," wrote Loh in her book.
She and Mak had to keep pushing forward on their bicycles to keep their bodies warm because they were wet from the rain and if they stopped, they would freeze.
Thankfully, the rain stopped and they managed to continue their journey. The cycling duo managed to pass the endurance and mental strength test with that experience.
Like any ride on the road or even in life, there are ups and downs. Loh tells the story with a natural, straightforward flow, and you can actually imagine the beautiful sights and sounds of small towns and kampungs, dangerous lorry drivers when they went through Petaling Jaya, the toad-like fruit that cannot be found anywhere else (that takes 60 years to grow, apparently) and the friendly and not-so-friendly people they met on this adventure.
You experience Malaysia through the eyes of a cyclist, on roads less travelled by cars in her book. Initially, Loh penned her tale on her blog but after printing out snippets and showing it to her friends, they suggested that she publish it.
So how does one take on the daunting task of cycling around peninsular Malaysia? Loh found her love for the outdoors when she worked as an outdoor trainer for Wilderness Malaysia in Langkawi for six years.
While in Langkawi, she spent her free time cycling around the island, covering distances of 30 to 40 kilometres a day and doubling the distance when there were cycling tours. Finding the motivation to keep going comes easy for Loh because of her experience as an outdoor trainer.
There were times during the peninsula tour where she had to sleep in a tent while it was raining heavily, go through difficult uphill routes, cycle for 13 hours, getting dehydrated with no water source for hours and the occasional tiff with Mak.
"For me whenever I have a goal, I just do it. These are the things that won't stop me from achieving what I want to do. It is just part and parcel of what you are going to face anyway. It never occurred to me to give up," said Loh about the obstacles she faced.
Speaking of her travelling companion who was constantly by her side day and night, Loh says, "Basically you have to adapt... you need to be very tolerant and patient because sometimes we don't see eye to eye.
"Sometimes you have to give and take. Because Mak is the expert, he has done self supported short tours and he knows a lot about bicycles so I knew I was in good hands. I didn't have to worry so much. For me, it was okay, let's go. I didn't think about whether it was going to be tough or anything."
It was amazing how they got along well despite never having cycled together before. Mak always maintained his cool whenever there was a disagreement. He voluntarily cleaned their bicycles whenever it got muddy and serviced them whenever they reached civilisation.
"It's an understanding, you clean the bicycles and I sometimes wash the clothes. That's part of touring with somebody, you give and take. Certain things you are good at it so I let you do it, what for want to fight?
"I mean I could learn something from you, definitely -- see how to clean the bicycles. You cannot be calculative or else you will be fighting so much at the end of the day. I'll still go touring with him because we have this understanding already so it's very easy cycling with him because he understood me and I understood him. He didn't have to say much and we understood what each other wanted," said Loh.
"We met at a mountain biking event back in 2008. And we kept in touch on and off and when he was back from Vietnam, he invited me for this tour," she added. It was a risk Loh took to cycle around the country in 37 days with someone she never travelled with before but she was willing to take it.
It took her a year and a half to finally get the book to the bookshelves. Through this, she realised that she actually likes writing.
She hopes her story will provide inspiration for people who want to make life goals because for her touring is like achieving goals "because you aim to never give up until you finish."
"This tour made me realise that Malaysia is very beautiful and I would encourage us Malaysians to travel within the country because there are lots more things to see. I have done all four corners, I know I only did the coastal roads but the inner roads are beautiful as well.
"I cycled and drove through inner roads before... and they are all very beautiful. We discovered some interesting food in Kuala Gula. Places like this, I think a lot of Malaysians don't know, even I didn't know until I cycled there. Some of the places where we stopped were unexpected discoveries," said Loh.
"Pedalling Around The Peninsula - A Malaysian Girl's Two-Wheeled Adventures" by Sandra Loh retails at RM39.90 and is available at all major bookstores.