Location: Bangkok, Thailand
Miles on the clock: 14,720
A few days at a friend’s house in Kuala Lumpur were passed predominantly by eating cereal and cowering from the soaring outdoor heat. However, I reluctantly allowed myself to be swept up with the stop-start traffic trickling out of the city and onto the road to Melaka which I reached after two days and a boring amount of punctures. The small port city was conquered by the Portuguese in 1511 and then again by the Dutch in 1641 before the Union Jack was planted in 1824. An arterial river snakes through it and is home to hundreds of monitor lizards. The largest I saw was only 5ft but they can grow up to an imposing 9ft and live off rats and the occasional unfortunate cat.
As the sky faded from a scenic sunset of smoggy pink and orange to a collection of dull greys, I crossed the causeway onto the island of Singapore. It was a landmark of sorts but went unacknowledged for the time being due to sunburn, fatigue and nightfall. I found my way to the flat of a family friend in the East of this tiny island nation and settled into ceaselessly kind hospitality and the welcome feeling of being at home.
A few days later, joined by Jamie and another friend, I rode the final few miles to the end of Asia. On a small island to the South of Sentosa Island (itself a small island South of the main Singapore island) we found a sign marking the “Southern Most Point of Continental Asia” and the end of the second leg of my journey. Almost exactly a year after leaving the familiar village of Bowerchalke in South-West England, I had achieved the second of my “Four Corners”. We pulled some cold beers out of a bag and sat facing the water. My odometer read 13,470 miles and the entire expanse of Asia lay behind me, to the North. We finished our drinks and turned to face that expanse. My jubilation was quietly drowned. I was quietly daunted.
Our last day held the tournament final (unfortunately rained off) and the one-sided 3rd place playoff. The victorious Royal Pahang team consisted of the crown prince, his two sons (on holiday from English boarding schools) and a one-man team called Carlos. After the game, the prince’s private secretary (who had exuberantly sycophanticised on the Tannoy system all afternoon) informed us that “the Boss plays with Prince Charles” before introducing us. The man-who-will-be-king gave a few curt grunts of acknowledgement while one of his comically-shaped goons crouched beside him waving flies off a plate of satay chicken. Malaysia has nine hereditary regional sultans who share the national throne on a 45-year rotation and this small, incommunicative man will rise to a five-year stint of power in 20 years.
The three of us made two concessions to the capital’s tourist attractions consisting of a visit to the 1,483ft tall Petronas twin towers and the “world’s largest free-flight walk-in aviary” where over 200 colourful species squawked and swooped; ostriches and eagles, hens and hornbills.
Our plan was to climb the highest mountain in South East Asia; Mt Kinabalu. First we needed to book a climbing slot, a guide, insurance, park entrance and climbing tax. Most people stay one night in a lodge halfway up but the dormitory beds cost a shamelessly extortionate £70 which we didn’t want to pay. We asked if we could sleep outside on the mountain but the response was an indignant negative. How on earth can the state extort maximum dollar out of tourists if they try to take initiative by themselves? One option remained. Two days later we walked through the park gate at 1800m and began climbing the steep but well-maintained track. It was a hot, clear day and for the first couple of hours we followed the route as it wove upwards through lush greenery; alive with animal noises.
Hugging the coast as near as possible, I pushed hard on the pedals and observed the world whizzing by. Tall jets of flame dancing atop a crude oil refinery towers; stark bolts of lightning jagging down on the dark, cloud-depressed horizon; continual assault on my olfactory senses by the unpleasant putrefaction of many large road-killed lizards littering the wayside; a dead three-meter python, its body half flayed by the truck that killed it; the traditional dress of Malaysia’s most conservative Islamic state where supermarkets have single-sex queues; ubiquitous mosques suddenly being replaced by equally frequent Buddhist Wats (monastic temple complexes); a crowd of 20 boys gawping at the mesmeric sight of a hairy white man washing under a tap; a day when the air is thick with swarms of mating pairs of brownish/yellow dragonflies.
One night I arrived at Wat Tham Tu Khao Tong after dark and was immediately surrounded by six vociferous dogs. All was dark and it took me a couple of minutes to spot a doorway illuminated from within by the dim flicker of candlelight. I approached the door and, as my pupils swelled in the dark, 60 silent monks came into view, all sat in the lotus position and facing a large, gold-gilded Buddha. An old woman in white robes and a shaven head, bent and androgenised with age, took me by the wrist and led me to a floor space at the front and gestured I should sit down and meditate along with the rest. It was not a request but an order so, with difficulty, I bent my legs underneath me and felt them swell with lactic acid. The calm was unnerving at first. Three minutes earlier I had been cycling along at 20mph and now I sat before an orange-robed sea of tranquillity with sweat beading on my skin and my heart thumping almost audibly.
Two days later I worked my way to the heart of Bangkok with ease and found the flat of a friend’s friend. A few blissful days off and some visa organisation lay before me.
Total mileage: 14,720
Most miles in one calendar month: 2,425 (July 2010; first month)
Least miles in one calendar month: 370 (March 2011)
Total punctures: 50
Broken spokes: 11
New tyres: 5
New chains: 6
New brake pad sets: 1
Mountain ranges crossed: 7
Deserts crossed: 3
Top speed: 51mph (in a tunnel 200 meters beneath the Berents Sea)
Top speed while holding onto truck: 56mph (Southern Thailand)
Most consecutive nights spent in tent: 61 (Scandinavia)
Longest without shower: 36 days
Pairs of underwear used: 2
Highest temperature: 41°C (Northern Laos)
Lowest temperature: -40 ° C (Tibetan winter)
Countries visited: 26
Currencies used: 22
Number of vomits: 5 (three from food poisoning, two from alcohol poisoning)
Animals assaulted in self-defence: Badger, Arctic Tern, Tibetan Mastiff x2
Books read: 31
Other cyclists accompanied: 13 (ranging from 1 day to 5 weeks)
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