|The gang on the ferry|
We stopped for another group photograph at the Kuala Penyu roundabout. Traffic was so light that Hood could stand in the lanes for 5 minutes adjusting the focus and zoom without anyone honking him out of the way. We mounted our bikes and I started examining the milestones. Another 37 kilometres to go to Menumbok. I wanted to suggest to Maj Bala that we keep in a group and maintain a constant pace so that chaps like Dennis would not fall behind. However, both he and WO Jabri, owning the only two bicycles shod with super-slick tyres, had shot ahead and were gradually disappearing over the horizon. I spied through my bar-mounted rearview mirror, that Maj Dennis was cutting an ever diminishing reflection, but in consolation, also that our marshaller LAC Hood, was still with him.
I was at the 100 kilometre mark, when a sense of defeat began whispering in my ear. Dennis had caught up on and overtaken me, and I began thinking of surrendering to the heat and turning into one of those calcified bison skulls in John Wayne movies. Hood had attempted aiding me with his moped, but I could not keep my foot on the footpeg, and being the kayu person I am, began wavering away from him. I had no clue as to how to carry out this rempitish operation. I abandoned the needed leg-up after 10 yards. Then when my chain slipped from first gear, and I dismounted for the third time on this slope to reset the chain onto the chainring due to a sickeningly recalcitrant forward derailleur, I began to feel the swaying.
Hood pulled over and waited with me, ever steadfast and silent. I began to feel dizzy. I gazed at him, trying to self-diagnose my symptoms while he just stared back, his overbite suddenly looking rather comedic. Then it dawned on me that I was overheating. I reached into his moped basket and found a bottle of mineral water, and doused myself over the head. As the water trickled through the vents and down my vest, I experienced immediate cooldown. I slowly came to my senses and looked at my watch. 1510H. Now none of what I felt was surprising. This was post-meridian solar blaze, and what I had perceived as flat road could not have been so if the chainring on 2nd gear and 5th on the cassette made me feel I was pedalling through treacle. No wonder my energy expenditure seemed off budget!! No wonder I was feeling like I was at the end of my rope. Bala's urgings seemed ever the more preposterous to me than before, but this was fait accompli, and it was only about 8 kilometres to Menumbok. Bala was of course, nowhere to be seen.
I pedalled. Once past the crest of the hill, I came upon Dennis, Azmi and Jabri, all walking; Dennis was behind while Jabri and Azmi were ahead. Dennis spotted me pedalling towards him and he saddled up and started heaving away at a determined pace. So did Jabri and Azmi. I had no idea I was so much a provocateur. Nobody shoud fall behind the fat boy, right?? Dennis was so intent on not letting me pass him, he overtook them and disappeared over the next hill crest. As I was about to catch up with the other two, I saw Jabri u-turn into a swing to the opposite side of the road. He was stopping at a little shack selling sugar-cane juice!! Azmi caught the cue immediately and was in Jabri's shadow. I thought it such a brain-wave. I had no intention of beating them, so join them I did, with Hood shyly in trail. So we sat there for 15 minutes, each of us putting away two bottles of amazingly sweet sugar-cane juice, wonderfully chilled and so, so resuscitating. We had done our estimated arrival times and deduced that 15 minutes could not possibly jeopardise our ferry ride. Life crept back into me and I was ready to ride.
The last 8 kilometres saw us take on one last hill, and then past the roundabout, a nine-o'clock turn and there we were at the jetty. We spotted Bala at the roadside restaurant and joined him and his newly-met civillian friend from the Labuan Sports Council. He made some remarks about wondering where we were as he had been waiting a long time. Then he looked at me and asked, "Why, Major Jeffrey? Tired is it?" What do you think, you self-serving dolt? was what I wanted to say, but I chose to ignore him altogether. Azmi joined in the conversation and said "Nih Maj Bala tanya kalau penat, Maj Jeff tak nak cakap pun!" and made everyone laugh out loud. I laughed sociably, and wondered if Azmi was casually trying to say something snide by using me as proxy. Oh well, I can't figure out every cultural nuance. Sipping a chilled isotonic drink seemed more a priority now.
The ferry arrived at 1630H as a result of the chain of events from the late departure from Labuan earlier in the morning. Again, we experienced inexplicable delay, and the ferry which appeared fully laden at 1700H only departed at 1800H. Dennis and Azmi learned, from going to the upper deck and hanging out with the crew just outside the bridge, that the delay was because some snot in a souped-up Kancil could not clear the ramp as he had installed fancy skirting all around the car, scraping the ramp as he attempted to board the ferry. So they had to help him dismantle the skirting piece by piece to help him board. And of course the same occured on our voyage home. Which meant that he had reassembled the skirting upon landing at Menumbok. Which meant we had the pleasure of his company both ways.
It was dark when we finally hit the familiar shores of Labuan. We cycled happily, white lights a-beaming and red lights a-flashing on the final 13 kilometres, knowing that only good things awaited us at our individual homes, lullabied onward by poor Major Dennis's laboured groaning with every pedal stroke.
I had a few thoughts, which I shared in post-mortem with my best sounding-board, Brenda. I would never again ride under the leadership of someone who does not take care of the weakest in the group. This was not basic infantry training. Cycling was meant to be pleasurable, even amidst some pain. A deadline is not for cycling, and certainly insulting the lesser-abled is the sign of taking the instructor out of the school but failing to take the school out of the instructor. But while I could not agree with Bala's methods, it was also an episode of self-discovery. I had experienced breaking-point. Yes, I had so wanted to give up at that 100 kilometre point, but it was good to push past it, and find that I could cycle some more. I think reading 8 kilometres to Menumbok on the milestone was an impetus nonetheless. Or maybe it was the pure sugar-cane juice. Not too embarassing for a person sporting 31 on the BMI.
And if I ever see Dennis smoke before a ride or quench his thirst with caffeine-boosters, I'm gonna....get Bala to tell him off!!!