Monday, January 29, 2007

Genting Hill

My favorite place in Penang is a hidden secret treasure that even most of the locals don't know about. It's called Genting Hill and it's located on a very large hill between Teluk Kumbar and Balik Pulau. The main attraction is a Thai restaurant but they also have a massage service but the main reason to visit is the amazing view from high up.

To get there you would take the scary mountain-pass road. When you reach the top of the mountain-pass there will be an obvious entrance then the real roller coaster fun begins. The road up and down from Genting Hill is steep and winds around but the view is amazing. Just make sure you take the advice of the signs and "Engage Low Gear". It's 2 km (1.25 miles) long.

The actual name is Bukit Genting Hill. Bukit means Hill so its actually named Hill Genting Hill. Bukit is for the locals and Hill is for everyone else who doesn't know what Bukit means.

Twice per week I ride my bicycle to Genting Hill to enjoy the view and get some reading done in a peaceful beautiful environment. I've lived in Penang for 1.5 years and I've made dozens of attempts to ride my bicycle to the top of Genting Hill I always failed.

Then I spent $500 overhauling my $300 Mt. bike which gave me new wheels and new gears including a really low granny gear. My front gear has 27 teeth and my rear gear has 34 teeth. That means for every time I turn the pedals 360 degrees the rear wheel only turns 79% around. That's about 5 feet 5 inches for each pedal stroke. To figure out how far you travel use this equation. Distance = (Front / Rear * Wheel diameter * Pi). In my case the equation would be (27 / 34 * 26 * 3.1415) = 64.8 inches which is 5.4 feet.

I thought this granny-gear would allow me to ride to the top but I failed again and again but I discovered my real problem … heat dissipation. Riding up generates a lot of body heat. My shirt gets soaked with sweat which causes the shirt to stick to my skin and prevents air from evaporating my sweat and removing heat. So last Friday, when I got to the bottom of Genting Hill ready for my ascent, I removed my shirt, helmet and gloves and stored them in my bag. I down-shifted to my granny-gear and drank a lot of water because there would be no stopping for water until I reached the top ... or failed.

Instead of spinning the cranks at a fast rate I pedaled as slowly as I could and still stay upright. Previously I tried going up the hill fast thinking momentum would help me plus reducing the time climbing would also help. But this time my goal was to keep my heart rate from nearing 180 beats per minute. If I could maintain 150 BPM or lower, then I'd be fine as long as my legs held out.

Everything was working great until I reached a steeper section and suddenly my front wheel was coming off the ground on each pedal stroke. My seat was too high so my center of gravity was too high. I was forced to lean forward a lot. This made it a little difficult to breathe. I was trying to take long steady breaths instead of fast short ones. I was breathing deep then exhaling deep trying to get oxygen into my blood and remove carbon dioxide.

I was sweating so much it was hard to see. I needed one of those wrist bands used to wipe sweat from my brow.

There are two routes to the top ... the Entrance and Exit. Of course if you go up the down then you risk a head-on collision with someone coming down. The Entrance route is twice as long but not as steep so I opted for the easier route since it's the steepness that gets me. I have pretty good endurance.

The sun was beating down heating me up so I kept trying to ride in the shade which meant zigzagging from one side of the road to the other depending on where the shade was.

Everything was working. I did not feel dehydrated. I did not feel over-heated. My heart-rate and breathing rate were not too high. My legs were not sore ... yet.

I was about 80% to the top and there were 2 major steep and long hills to tackle and that's when my legs started to burn. But I kept pushing and ignored the growing pain. I tried not to look ahead because it could be discouraging to see a long hill in front of me. I tried to look down and focus on that next pedal stroke. Focus on the next 10 feet, then the next 10 feet. I broke the climb down into hundreds of smaller goals. It's much easier to reach many small goals than one large goal so I kept my focus.

I could not believe it. After 1.5 years of trying I was finally going to succeed! And I knew the whole reason for my success was because I went shirtless for the first time. Another factor was that it wasn't that hot. It was hot but just not very hot as usual. It was maybe 30C (85F) and the humidity was low at about 80% instead of 90% or 100% as usual.

I finally made it to the top! Granny Gear + Cool Day + Shirtless = Success!

I sat and relaxed at the outdoor Thai restaurant (in the shade of course) and enjoyed 4 glasses of cold Chrysanthemum drink and some red curry Thai chicken while enjoying the view and reading my Wired magazine and talking to the cute Thai waitresses.

I also met the owner of Genting Hill who told me about his plans for the future and his struggled with the Malaysian government. He's Chinese and in Malaysia there seems to be two sets of rules … one for Malays and another for everyone else. The Malays get special treatment while the Chinese and Indians are limited and held back. He explained that when Malaysia got their independence from the British all citizens were supposed to be treated equal but the Malays run the government and have a slightly corrupt system where they give favor to the Malays.

I told him that I make web sites for a living so he hired me to create him. He has left everything to me as far as design and content.

Then it came to time leave and I looked forward to amazing ride down but I discovered that my front tire was flat! How could this be? It was fine when I left it. They had an electric pump but the tube was losing air faster than they could pump it. That was a big hole! So then I thought that one of the workers must have punctured my tire. Later when I got to the bike shop, I examined the tube and discovered the hole was touching the wheel so it seems that a spoke might have punctured it. I also wonder if the higher altitude would contribute to a higher tire pressure because of the lower air pressure. My tires are rated for 65psi but I pumped them up to 70psi while in the shade. Once on the hot road the psi increases then increase the altitude and the psi increases more. Brake friction would heat the air increases psi even more. I went for ever a year without getting flat and suddenly I get two flats in four days. Strange.

So here I am with no way down the hill so I decide to find a short-cut path and walk home. I locked my bike, got a refill on my water and went searching for a path and soon found one. It was a nice path ... at first, but it slowly got more and more overgrown. This time of year there are giant spiders making giant webs. I was on the lookout so I didn't walk into one but I can't always see them and I walked right into one.

These spiders look extremely venomous as if one bite could kill you. So I backed up and the web stuck to me. I tried brushing it off me and I looked all over for that giant spider but I never saw it. Luckily I was not bitten.

Finally the path I was taking pretty much disappeared so I found a different path and tried that but it too disappeared so I tried another path and the same thing happened. These paths were on the side of a mountain so I'm walking up and down the steep paths sweating like crazy. Eventually I ran out of water even though I had about a gallon of water with me. So I had no choice but to return to the restaurant and get more water.

The heat of the day finally hit and I was dying ... literally. I was getting dehydrated and as a result I wasn't sweating as much so I was over heating and at risk of heat stroke. I got to the main road and rested in the shade for 5 minutes. I then walked a minute up the road and rested in the shade for 5 minutes. I kept repeating this since I didn't have the energy to walk more than a minute without becoming exhausted.

Finally I made it to the top where they refilled my water container with ice-water. I drank and drank but I started feeling ill like I was going to vomit and I couldn't seem to cool down so I started pouring the water over my head, arms, hands and legs. Wow, that felt really good. I used up most of my water pouring it on myself and that removed the heat and I felt much better.

I was still feeling weak so I called a taxi which took me and my bicycle back home.

Monday I got my front flat fixed at the local bike shop then rode back up to Genting Hill. This time my goal was to ride up the Exit which is much harder because it is much steeper. I honestly did not think I could do it. All previous attempts failed horribly. The furthest I got previously was half way and I felt like I was going to die. The only thing that saved me that day was cooling off from the breeze riding back down.

But this day was special. It was a very rare cool day ... maybe 27C (80F), low humidity around 70% and the biggest advantage was that it was very windy! This meant that I would have a nice breeze keeping me cool and that was the most important thing.

I got to the bottom of Genting Hill and removed my shirt, helmet and gloves. I drank a bunch of water and shifted into the granny gear. I lowered my seat. My tires were pumped hard to 70 PSI to reduce rolling resistance. It was cool, the wind was blowing. I honestly didn't think I could do it but I was willing to give it a try.

I went up slowly as before trying to conserve my energy. About 1/3 of the way up I reached the steep part and again focused on smaller goals. Pedaling was much harder this time. Previously I tried not to pull up the handlebars since that takes more energy. I tried to focus on pedaling but now I had no choice but to pull up on the handle bars. I focused on deep and slow inhales and exhales. The sun beat down on me and again I zigzagged trying to stay in the shade to stay cooler.

I also kept alert for oncoming vehicles.

I found relief in the turns where it wasn't as steep and I could rest while pedaling. Hill, turn, hill, turn, hill, turn and finally I reached the final straight away. It was a long and steep section to the top but at that point I knew I was going to make it so I went a little faster and basically sprinted to the finish line.

Success! Unbelievable! I conquered the hill two times in four days on two different routes. Previously I had thought only the most fit people on Earth could succeed at riding up this hill but now I know that an average person can do it with the right strategy. It's all about technique.

I drank my usual 4 cups of Chrysanthemum drink and had some more delicious Thai chicken dishes then I hopped on my bike and charged down the hill. First I put my seat way down so I could get my center of gravity low for the turns.

My brakes were really heating up. I know because they begin to make a different noise at higher temperatures. I came around one turn and my back-end felt a little loose and around the next turn my back-end started to slide out from under me! I knew exactly what was wrong. I had a flat tire. As the air left my tire the pressure dropped and it's ability to handle a side load diminished. The tire begins to fold over from the side force which results in sending me side ways.

I stopped and thought about walking the rest of the way but where's the fun in that? If the front tire were flat then it would be too dangerous but I can still ride with a rear flat tire so I did. I rode back to the local bike shop that had repaired my front tire in the morning and had them repair my rear tire. They thought it was funny that I would get two flat tires in one day.

Unfortunately I destroyed my rear tire so I had to get a new one. I also destroyed the tire rim strap and of course the inner tube. But the rim was perfectly straight. It's a high quality rim and it held up to the abuse of riding about 5 miles on it with a flat tire.

I would repair the flats myself but I lost my tire removal tools and none of the local bike shops sell them. I'll need to take a special trip into Georgetown to visit the best bicycle shop in Penang to get my tire removal tool.

I returned home and we had friends visiting so guess where we took them ... that's right! Genting Hill! Our friend Nori from Japan loved it. We had just gone up for a short visit but decided to stay for dinner and watch the sunset.

Here is Nori getting his picture taken with the cute Thai waitress Narween.

Here some more links about Genting Hill


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