Cycling from Pangkor to Penang
Johan, an 8 years old Malaysian boy, cycles 250 km
Some people say cycling from Pangkor to Penang in Malaysia is only for foreigners. Locals find the weather too much. Locals do not use bicycles often. In the kampongs you will see children and some times grow-ups using bicycles. In the cities however, there are fewer bicycles. And, there's no tradition, like in Holland to take your children out on a bike ride on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.
My little friends' name is Johan, he lives with his family in Penang and has visited me a few times. Johan is 8 years old and loves cycling. As I am living in Sitiawan, very near the tourist destination island Pulau Pangkor.
Johan and I have been cycling to and from Pulau Pangkor. We also visited some of the surrounding beaches here: Teluk Rubiah, Teluk Batik and even Teluk Senangin which is 24 km away. We cycled at Pangkor island to the Dutch Fort, the Fu Lin Kong temple and even to Pasir Bogak beach.
On the 20th November, Johan was brought to Sitiawan by his mother Nazlina. Before we could hit the road we had to do some training. I needed to know what he could handle and how tired he would be at the end of the day.
So I proposed to visit a beach a bit further from home. Johan is not just a good cyclist, he's also a good swimmer. Teluk Senangin seemed an interesting beach to him and it was 24 km (one way) cycling, a good way to find out how he would deal with a more serious distance.
On the way there are three bridges, the third one is a serious climb, even for more experienced cyclist. But Johan had no problems at all. We went to Teluk Senangin, had a swim there. We spend two hours at the beach, swimming.
After two hours, we went to the far end of the beach were the village is. It added an additional few kilometers to the amount we had to do that day. And Johan didn't get tired despite the 58km cycled.
The first stage, Sitiawan to Pantai Remis
It's Monday morning and Johan and I wake up to get ready for our first day cycling from Pangkor to Penang, which will start with breakfast at the Home Curry House in Sitiawan. We leave at 9am. Pantai Remis is only 36 km away but it's not an easy ride. Just out of Sitiawan there are again the three big bridges to conquer. And like the first time we did the bridge when going to Teluk Senangin, Johan didn't have any problems with the climb.
After the bridge the road is a bit hilly, we take here and there some rest. With the heat in Malaysia, keep drinking is essential here.
Segari is only 8 km from this point. We have a short stop. After the break we cycle to the junction where I want Johan to make a decision either to continue to Pantai Remis, which is another 12 km away or visit the turtle breeding station and the beach. If we choose that, we have to add another 15 km to our day today. Johan wants to see the turtles.
After 7 flat kilometers we arrive at the beach and the turtle breeding station. Johan is very interested and we spend quite some time with the turtles. We have a two hours swim before we take the last 20 km to Pantai Remis where we check in a hotel, have a shower and go out for our dinner. The first day is a success.
The road to Taiping
We stay in Pantai Remis and have a good night sleep. When we leave the hotel the hotel staff is baffled to find out this little boy on his little bicycle will cycle to Taiping and Penang. I can see them thinking I am the most irresponsible person in the world but when they speak with Johan, they find out his excitement.
After nasi lemak breakfast we cycle north. We take the junction east to Beruas (Bruas), a much nicer and quiet road that brings us closer to the mountains near Taiping. Johan is not at least worried about the mountains he sees in front of him. We spot birds (mostly eagles and kingfishers) and other animals. Johan finds a dead land turtle.
After lunch in Trong (Terong), at about 45 km, we get in the hills. Although the hills for me are not very difficult, it's different for Johan but he manages easy, he doesn't even look tired when we come up..
He has however a bit of fear when it goes down. In the days before he found out he doesn't like to go faster then about 35 km/h. In our previous bike rides, I have been teaching him how to use the brakes in a way he will not flip over but have all the time good control over his bicycle. Johan exactly how fast he can cycle without getting scared.
Just outside Taiping we are hit by some heavy rain. We take shelter which also gives us the opportunity to repair a little thing on Johan bicycle. By now Johan wants to have his saddle higher. He feels more confident sitting higher.
When the rain stops, we cycle into Taiping, conquering one last bridge which Johan cycles up with 20 km/h. Johan writes in his diary: 62 km.
Wednesday is our rest day. It's the day we invite Johan mom Nazlina and his 4 years old sister Johanna to join us to the Taiping Zoo. My own cycling experience tells me it's good to leave the bikes a day and do something else. The zoo is great day out and Johan is happy to see his mom and sister.
The next day we are back on the road. We cycle out of Taiping to Kamunting and take the road to Gerik. The mountains come closer but before the climbs start we take the junction to Bagan Serai.
Here some climbing has to be done but Johan cycles like any experienced cyclist. He is not even sweating! On the hills usually he speeds up. His technique is perfect. Though he likes to stand on the pedals, he is not moving his bike. The power of his legs is extremely effective used forwards in the climbing. And for sure, he did not learn this from me as I have a different climbing style (I keep sitting). It's magical to see this boy doing what he does.
We cross Road 1, a big busy road that runs north south. We can use a new road that leads us over plantations to Kuala Kurau. We are cycling from Pangkor to Penang on a different route as most people do.
We have bad luck, the old ferry to cross the river is no longer running. We have to cycle back, 10 km extra plus the huge bridge that nowadays connect both sides of Kuala Kurau.
At the bridge Johan is fascinated by what he sees. Many of the house in Kuala Kurau are build on the water, there's fish farms in the middle of the river and fishing boats come and go. Dogs run on the fish farms too. Johan wonders how they come there.
We have lunch in the town and then cycle to my friend David in Parit Buntar. Johan eats another plate of rice and chicken (it's his 4th meal that day), checks his speed meter and tells us he has done 81 km that day. He also wants to know if he can go out with David's' two sons and cycle a bit around. Does he eve gets tired, I wonder.
Back home to Penang
David has a home stay guest house where he receives cyclist from all over the world. However, Johan is the second Malaysian cyclist ever visiting his guest-house and family.
Johan and I cycle on Friday morning away from David and his family. The first kilometers we are able to skip road but after 16 kilometers we have no choice. The last 30 kilometers will be on the big busy road to Penang. There's no alternative. It's the least pleasant part of our journey.
In Butterworth everybody, including cyclist, are directed to the motorway. It's busy and for sure no fun but we make it without any problems to the ferry. (since this journey, I found alternative ways but at the time, I didn't).
At Penang, we have just 10 km left to go back home. Johan finishes his journey at 5 pm on Friday afternoon. He has cycled 250 km, something to be very proud of.
What the story proves is that cycling is mental. Like the story of the man with one arm and one leg Johan shows that cycling has little to do with physical strength, age or sex. Cycling is mental, if you want you can do it.
I am proud I was able to join Johan in his first cycling journey, after all cycling from Pangkor to Penang is quite an achievement, especially when you are only 8 years old. If there will be a follow up depends fully on Johan. But to be honest, I think he has already in mind what his next cycling journey will be!
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