The Summit Is Only Half Way

By Jane Mountain | May 30, 2014

14,730 km so far.

This morning as we were leaving the hotel, Stephen reminded me of the saying, “the summit is only half way”. Usually this is said as a warning to climbers trying to summit Everest: the way down could kill them just as easily as the way up.

For cyclists, it’s simply a great reminder that all that climbing will have its just rewards on the other side of the mountain.

It’s All Downhill From Here

I’ve been joking since we first started climbing hills in Italy that I’m going to devise a round-the-world bike route that only goes downhill. Today’s descent will definitely be a part of that route.

Slow and steady descent from Cameron Highlands.

Slow and steady descent from Cameron Highlands.

The first 10 km out of Kuala Tahan were just perfect: steep enough not to have to pedal, gentle enough not to have to brake. It took us all of 15 minutes to go the first 10 km.

This side of the mountain is even more packed with the machinery of agriculture than the other side. The entire valley between Kuala Tahan and Ringlet, 15 km away, is dressed in greenhouses rising steeply up the hillsides.

Greenhouses in the Cameron Highlands.

Greenhouses in the Cameron Highlands.

I understand that people need to eat, but it is shocking that what once was rainforest has been turned over to this industry.

Agricultural workers' settlement in the Cameron Highlands.

Agricultural workers’ settlement in the Cameron Highlands.

Just as the sun was starting to really beat down, we came to the end of the agricultural area. Next came a 10 km stretch where the entire valley had been stripped bare in honour of a hydroelectric project. Talk about scars on the landscape. Again, I know people need electricity, but it is awful to see the hillsides exposed and raw, with trucks and tractors where tigers and elephants should be.

As we rode, we were passed by numerous logging trucks, creaking with their heavy loads of fresh-cut logs. Each one spewed a thick, black smoke that choked the fresh mountain air, and us.

Yikes. First you cut down the forest, then you pollute the air, which the forest would have helped to clean? Environmental disaster on top of environmental disaster.

These sights got me thinking about waste.

I could go on and on about the perils of wasting food, and how we could feed the hungry with the amount of food we produce now, if only we could eliminate waste. Wasting electricity is equally rampant – and most of us forget that when we switch on a light, or plug in our Prius, somewhere an ugly hydroelectric damn or coal plant is producing that electricity for us.

Ahh, but that is another blog for another time.

The Beautiful Life

After the hydroelectric site, the views transformed into the stunning landscape I’d been imagining. The forest is so lush and full that from high up on the mountain, it looks like a fluffy bank of green clouds. It is so pillowy, you want to just jump into the canopy and lounge there all day.

The amazing downhill continued for roughly 65 km. Sure, there are a few ups just to remind you that you have legs, but for the most part it easy going, the exact opposite to our ride two days ago.

Stephen pushing through an up section to get to more down, Cameron Highlands.

Stephen pushing through an up section to get to more down, Cameron Highlands.

Every time I thought we must be at the bottom, one more glorious downhill would present itself.

At around kilometre 65 or 70, we finally hit the valley floor. Now came the challenge. There was nothing flat about today’s ride.

In fact, there was almost as much climbing today (more than 2,000 m) as there was the day we climbed up the mountain, just with a good deal more descending thrown in. I still don’t really understand how that’s possible, but the numbers don’t lie.

Hole In One

We’d thought there would be nothing to eat or drink until about kilometre 80, so were pleasantly surprised to see a sign for a mosque, toilets, and restaurants about 20 km before that. In reality, the only thing open at said rest stop was a small convenience store, with fridges full of lukewarm sodas and packets of unappealing snacks. Still, we took the opportunity to refuel – even 65 km of downhill uses up some energy.

The rest stop was swarmed with huge moths, Cameron Highlands.

The rest stop was swarmed with huge moths, Cameron Highlands.

As we were leaving the parking lot, I noticed my rear tire was a little soft, so we pulled back into the shade and I pumped it up. I was crossing my fingers that the flatness was caused by a combination of the change in air pressure and temperature, but in my heart, I knew that really wasn’t possible.

The extra air got us as far as the town of Sungai Koyan, 90 km into our route. It was 12:30pm.

From here, we had a decision to make. Would we seek out the home stay in Kampung Kuala Medang, 10 km out of our way, and call it an early day? Or, would we continue on to Kuala Lipis, 40 km in the right direction? Over lunch, we decided to continue the 40 km. Even though that would make our ride 132 km long, neither of us felt like we’d done too much work so far today.

Before we could go anywhere, my flat tire needed patching. I flipped my bike over at the edge of the little restaurant we’d eaten in, and working as a well-oiled team, we proceeded to patch my tire.

Fixing my flat in the restaurant in Sungai Koyan.

Fixing my flat in the restaurant in Sungai Koyan.

I remember back when we tried to work together to patch our first flat of the trip. It ended in a fight. Today, we co-operated seamlessly, getting the job done with the minimum of fuss and effort.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

Stephen found that the steel belting in the tire was poking out through the rubber coating, which is clearly what had caused the flat. We had one of those cheap-o no glue patch kits, so we stuck one of those patches over the offending spot. Our makeshift fix didn’t work, and we had to stop twice more in the final 40 km to top up my tire.

Pumping in the 35C heat with a hand pump has made it onto my list of least favourite things to do.

Not a happy pumper, near Kuala Lipis.

Not a happy pumper, near Kuala Lipis.

My $4 tire from Cambodia only lasted 1000 km; our $45 tires from America lasted about 13,000 km, so I guess they were the better deal after all.

Having finally made it into town, we quickly checked into the first hotel we came to, the Hotel Jelai (near the Centre Point Hotel and KFC, if you’re looking for it). It was clean, cheap, and the staff were very helpful and friendly. Then we zipped across town, which is only about 2 km wide, to go to the bike shop.

The bike shop in the old centre of Kuala Lipis.

The bike shop in the old centre of Kuala Lipis.

We caught the helpful owner just before he closed up shop, and he sold us a new tire, patched my tube, and did the install in 5 minutes, all for $6.

That’s my preferred way to fix a flat.

Hotel London in downtown Kuala Lipis.

Hotel London in downtown Kuala Lipis.

The Friday night market was on in town, and it had dozens of food stalls, so we wove our way around them, looking for something vegetarian. Aside from corn pancakes, sweet rice with coconut, and some fresh fruit, all of the stalls were serving meat or fish or both. I asked the girl who sold us a few mangoes if there were any vegetarian stalls in the market. She replied:

No, I don’t think so. People like eating meat.

Ha ha. One more way in which we are systematically destroying the environment.

Eventually, we joined the other people in town who don’t like eating meat – one Indian family and a few Chinese families – at a very good Chinese restaurant, Fung Seng Lao (next to the KFC), for tofu and veggies.

Soundtrack: Neil Young, A Letter Home | Chad Vangaalen, Shrink Dust | Liam Finn, The Nihilist | Blur, Think Tank | The Beautiful South, 0898 | Jane’s Spotify playlists, Amazing Ladies and Bkng  

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

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