Hell Is a Highway And We Are On It

By Jane Mountain | June 21, 2014

15,134 km so far.

Since the plan for today was to go 85 km on the highway, we kind of knew it would not be any fun. Right we were. Hey ho, it’s all part of the experience, and cycling on Java certainly is an experience.

Thank goodness for a few beautiful views.

Thank goodness for a few beautiful views.

The highways across the island are not really highways so much as they are narrow two-lane corridors of death – at least if you’re a snake or other small animal. If you are a cyclist, things are not much better. The shoulder, where it exists, is a good 4 inches lower than the actual road, and it is unpaved, filled with fist-sized pointy rocks and sand.

Not ideal cycling terrain.

The Worst Of Times

The majority of the traffic is busses, big trucks, and scooters, usually coming in a steady stream from both directions.

cycling java indonesia trucks

These trucks were just constant noise and fumes.

When there’s a break in traffic in one direction, the faster cars pull out to overtake. All this leaves very little wiggle room, and even less oxygen, for us. If they’re not coming at you from behind, they’re bearing down on you head-on.

We have described some crappy days of cycling on this blog, and this was up there with the worst of them.

On a day like this, you play the edge of consciousness. You need to switch off your brain to numb yourself to the fumes and the close calls and the sheer carelessness of the drivers. But you also need to stay aware enough to make sure you don’t bounce yourself out of one of the many crater-like potholes and under the wheels of a large automobile. It’s nothing short of exhausting.

indonesia man resting near the highway

Taking a break along the highway.

Tomorrow, we will take steps to avoid another day like today, by seeing what the (largely indirect) backroads of Java are like.

You Take The Good, You Take The Bad

Some good things from today.

    • A little boy on a trike, looking up to see us and exclaiming “wow!”.
    • A couple of friendly farm workers who waved me over to take pictures of their work.
indonesian farmers in orange shirts

The friendly farmers, and their friend who ruined the photo with a tea kettle.

  • A mother in the back of a small pick-up, yanking her sleeping son awake so that he could catch a glimpse of us.
  • Dozens of people giving us thumbs up, waves, and huge smiles as we rode by.
  • The ubiquity of Alfamart and Indomart, providing us with air-conditioning and cold drinks whenever we need them.

And some (more) bad things.

    • A tree full of tiny cages, each holding a single small monkey, contraband for sale on the side of the highway.
    • Our overpriced hotel, which was apparently built in 2001, but looks like it was built some time in the 70s and never renovated.
At least the hotel had a shower. Cycle touring is so sexy.

At least the hotel had a shower. Cycle touring is so sexy.

    • Lunch of rice and jackfruit, at a non-appetising random restaurant, where the jackfruit may have been sitting unrefrigerated for days.
Jackfruit is common here, and looks so much like meat.

Jackfruit is common here, and looks so much like meat.

  • Feeling ill in the evening, hoping it’s just a passing phase, and not a harbinger of things to come.

Soundtrack: NO, El Prado | Radio Riddler, Purple Reggae | M.I.A., Matangi | Mark Lanegan Band, Bubblegum | Liam Finn, The Nihilist  

Want to see the route map? View it on Ride With GPS.


  1. Comment by David B.

    David B. June 25, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    Sountrack for this day?
    Are you really able to listen to your ipod while riding on these kind of dangerous roads?
    Maybe it’s the only way to try to forget about the craziness of it all!?
    I guess you’re really looking forward for the calmness of Bali, after days like that!
    Safe travels, you two!

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane June 27, 2014 at 3:57 am

      In this kind of traffic, being able to hear well is not really much help, since everyone is honking and revving and gunning it right in your ear, there’s no such thing as a warning noise. Also, there’s no way our music could ever drown them out. It’s better, we find, to try to ignore them all as much as possible and just stay out of everyone’s way!

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