Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Pahang : Taman Negara Day 2 - Dragonslayers!

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Pahang : Taman Negara Day 2 - Dragonslayers!
Taman Negara Day 2 - Kuala Tembeling to Kuala Tahan : 21st June 2014
Medium-size Group Ride : Kuala Tembeling>Labu Sentral>Kuala Tahan (Taman Negara)
Distance covered : approx. 60.0 km.
Time : 7:40 am - 4:00 pm
Time Taken : 8 hrs. 20 mins (including river boat crossing, many stops for rest, regrouping, lunch and photo shoots)
Route Recommendations :
1. The river boat crossing from the Kuala Tembeling Jetty across to the bank on the other side is a quick ten minutes. It will land on the sandy beach. During dry weather, this sandy bank is quite wide and be prepared to carry your bikes about 100 metres to the nearest roadside.
2. The initial ride route cover gentle slopes up and down, mini dragon-backs. From the half-way points these becomes full blown steep dragon-backs which will be taxing especially during the hot weather.
3. Because of the dragon-backs and especially during hot weather, dehydration comes in fast. Do stock up with enough water to re-hydrate.
4. There are road-side stalls along the way, the food can be delicious but do not expect too much.
5. Taman Negara nowadays cater to many tourists, so accommodations are aplenty. Book ahead and select one to suit your budget and comfort.
6. Eat at the floating restaurants in Kuala Tahan: the prices vary and some may charge tourist pricing. Generally, the ones further away could be cheaper.

This is a three page blog, click on the following to go to the other pages:
Taman Negara Day 1 : Road Trip PJ to Jerantut
- Taman Negara Day 3 : Rolling Down The River


I would have thought that our ride along the rustic road to Taman Negara would be one of a nature outing, admiring Mother Earth's creation in her form of fauna and flora. But this was not to be. Sure, we did pass by some jungles but most of the time we passed by oil palm estates instead of the wild. 
But the ride did turn out to be interesting. It turned out to be tough ride, one that was challenging and in a way exhilarating. It trained us to be Dragonslayers!
You may ask what does dragons have to do with cycling. Well, dragon-backs is a term we use to describe a series of continuous slopes, slopes that look like the humps on the back of a dragon - steep and numerous. And this dragon that we took on was a wild one indeed, it breathed fire to make our ride a very hot one indeed as it was the hot spell here in the Tropics. So, did we graduate from the dragon slaying school? Let's find out.


View Taman Negara Bike-packing Day 2 (69.05km) in a larger map 
Ride Route : Kuala Tembeling>Labu Sentral>Kuala Tahan (Taman Negara)
Starting from Kuala Tembeling, we took a boat to cross over to the other side of the Tembeling River. From there we cycled along rustic village roads to head towards Kuala Tahan(one of the entry point to Taman Negara) with a regrouping point at Labu Sentral.

Having passed the previous night at Wau Hotel in Jerantut, we woke up early to prepare ourselves for Ride Day. Fortunately for us, just a few doors away from the hotel was a coffee shop which woke up even earlier than us, they start business at 5:30 am.
By 6:45 am we were down at the coffee shop have wantan noodles; it was a simple form of carbo-loading for our ride ahead.

From Wau Hotel it was only a fifteen minutes ride to the Kuala Tembeling Jetty where we will be making a river crossing by boat to the other side to start our cycling adventure. Parking our cars at the public car-park we paid RM10-00 (it's RM5-00 per day) to the attendant for each car. Unloading our bikes, met up with the organizer Kt Wong and the rest of the group. Our very first task - carrying our bikes down three storeys down a flight of stairs (There was an easier way to handle our bike as we found during our return trip). Well, that's a good warming up - carrying our bikes!

In the early morning mist, a boat (at RM5-00 per pax including bike) took three round trips to ferry the twenty-eight of us (and our folded bikes) on a short ten-minutes ride across to the opposite bank of the river. It was the dry season in Malaysia and the river was at it lowest, making its banks wide. Unfolding our bikes, we pushed them across a hundred metres of sandy shore to the nearest road. Coming out from the mist, we did indeed look like we were an invasion - it's an invasion of cyclists!

A memorable photo of us at the roadside next to the river bank. It was a mixed cycling group, young one, old ones (like me, heh, heh), beautiful lasses and handsome guys; we did make a diversified group.

Cycling away from the river was what I have dreamt of and envisioned the previous night. It was a shady road surrounded by secondary jungle and rubber plantations, almost devoid of other traffic. It wouldn't be just my dream, any cyclist would dream of cycling here.

9:20 am - Riding on wider roads now, it has become less shady and the roads were starting to slope up and down. But it's ok, nothing that most of us cannot manage.
Little did we know that we had just taken the dragon by its tail, where the humps were gentle.

Wong had planned our route well, one that goes through rustic village roads with less traffic. Along the way we passed by several kampongs, it was a bonus to us to see their timber houses standing on stilts with sarongs idylly drying in the sun...

... but we were also bestowed with gifts at these kampongs - cowpies on the road like a minefield for us to avoid. This is definitely an unwanted gift, especially for those whose bicycle did not have mud-guards. None would want to be a sorry sight or a sorry smell with those cowpies splattered onto their shirts.

10:00 am - The group have now spread out with the faster riders ahead and the roads were getting less shady and more steep. John here giving his son a helping hand, don't get the wrong idea though; this young boy is tough and managed the whole ride mostly by himself.

The heat was starting to get to us and as JK made an impromptu stop for drinks at one of the road side shops, many just followed him without questions. As we left the place, Cikgu Chin stocked up bottles of 100 Plus isotonic drinks, tied to his rear carrier. Looking like an arsenal of missiles, this will be ever ready to combat the heat. For newbies, it will be good to note that, other than being refreshing, isotonic drinks are also good for replacing the body salts lost during sweating thus helping to prevent cramps.

First regroup point at Labu Sentral.
This is a nice rest stop for travellers, a shady park with many statues of giant gourds. "Labu" is Malay for gourd.

Beyond Labu Sentral, we hit a series of dragon-backs. The dragon is now testing us. It's humps are getting steeper, and it's starting to breath fire as well making the weather hotter. Will we be able to take on this dragon?

11:10 am - After that series of dragon-backs we were glad to hit some flatter roads as we approached the junction to the main road from Jerantut.
But my friends seems to be taking the wrong turn here. "Hey guys! Kuala Tahan is the other way, those dragon-backs were tough but don't turn back yet ..."

... no they were not giving up; the scent of steamed and roasted corns from a stall just round the other corner have lured them.
Here I had a short chat with Wong, and he mentioned that there will be tougher dragon-backs ahead. Oh-oh....

Yes, ahead were more dragon-backs. What made it harder was that the jungle has now made way for oil-palm estates and the road was now almost devoid of shade. There is nowhere to hide from the hot sun.

11:50 am - LUNCH TIME! At a row of the roadside shops we stopped to for eats. Fortunately there were to eateries here as they but they were not prepared to cater for a large group like ours. Much of their food just ran out. Food available here are white rice with curry dishes, fried rice and noodles. These stall holders must be happy with our business as they tried to serve us as best as possible; in future they will be most glad to see cyclists group coming.

More dragon-backs as we continued; just as we finished one slope or rounded a bend with hopes that it was the last one that we had taken, we saw more slopes ahead. Is there no end to these? And worse was the hot sun, it shone onto us and onto the road heating it up. The heat from the road wafted up onto us; it's a double dosage of heat, both from the top and bottom. It was like a sauna but out in the open!

Along the way, were a few sights which probably can be seen around here only - a road sign for elephant crossing. Too bad we only saw the sign and did not actually see any elephants.

A roadside stall selling wooden chopping blocks, you may ask what is such a stall doing in the middle of nowhere? Logging areas are nearby, and wood from the rare Tembusu tree makes the best chopping blocks as it is water resilient and hardy.

The road here does not have much shade. A oil-palm fruit collecting station, with its little shade was like honey to us cycling bees; we just grasped at this small chance of getting away from the heat for a moment.

Yes, the hot weather is one of the downside of cycling here during this season. Balaclavas, arm and leg guards were used, sun-block lotion applied. Some went to the extreme of pouring water over themselves, wetting their heads and shirts; in the heat these will dry up within less than thirty minutes.

Slightly ahead we had a surprise waiting for us - it's Pauline. She had driven up to Taman Negara a day earlier and had rode out to meet us. She had actually cycled much further to meet us, but on advice from locals had turned back to wait for us at a less lonely spot.
Take note that cycling alone here could attract robbers, several of us noticed motor-cyclists trailing smaller groups us for kilometres. They could probably be waiting for an opportunity, suffice to say that none of us rode alone for too long and denied them their chance.

1:40 pm - Taman Negara is just seven kilometres away, so near yet so far as we are near the dragon's head now.

With Kuala Tahan six kilometres away, we stopped for a last regroup. Some of the younger and faster ones had gone ahead, but of more concern were a couple of riders who were not with us yet. Trying to reach them by phone was impossible as along stretches of the road mobile phone signal strength were practically zero!
John borrowed a motorbike from the stall owner and went zooming off with Kimmie to look for the two "lost" riders, and came back with one riding pillion. He had developed cramps just after lunch and Nash had stayed back to accompany him. On finding them, Kimmie had taken over riding the cramped rider's bike. This is what we have when we ride together; real biking camaraderie - we take care of each other no matter what. 

One last series of even steeper humps is our finale before we reached Kuala Tahan. The agony from the climb and heat can be seen in KK's face.

4:00 pm - Eureka! We have reached Kuala Tahan, one of the entry points to Taman Negara.

A tired, sweaty but still smiling Nash on reaching Kuala Tahan.
It was a tough ride for me, and for most of us; one of the toughest that I have rode to date. Nevertheless, there was a great satisfaction in completing it.
No we did not slay the dragon, as we would love to ride here again. Let's just say that we tamed it. After this, we will fear no dragons again.


Happily we adjourned and checked into our accommodations. Some stayed at homestays, some at hotels. Me and a few friends stayed at the Xcape resort. Three of us shared a room a 3-pax room for RM192/= which included breakfast. Idling in the air-conditioned room was a well earned rest before heading for dinner.

A view of the confluence of the Tembeling and Tahan Rivers.

The girls paddling water at one of the floating restaurants while waiting for dinner to be served.

The rest of the group, hungrily waiting for the food to come.
We split up into several groups and went to different restaurants so that we did not have to wait long for the food.

My set dinner at Wan's Floating Restaurant. For a reasonable RM16/= the meal inlcuded a beef or chicken dish, on stir-fried vegetables, an omelete, fruits and a carbonated drink.

After dinner we took a boat (at RM1/= per pax each way) to the other side of the river and had drinks while relaxing and listening to nice live music at the lounge of the Mutiara Resort. 


Tomorrow we won't be riding the dragon again, but will be riding down the river.

This is a three page blog, click on the following to go to the other pages:
Taman Negara Day 1 : Road Trip PJ to Jerantut
Taman Negara Day 3 : Rolling Down The River

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