Thursday, September 06, 2007

Too Hot to Handle (Part 5)

I'm exhausted. It's 8 pm and I left this morning at around 11 am to ride down Penang Hill. I also out-did myself. Both of my inner tubes went flat and both my tires got slashed. My bike also got quite a few more scratches on it.

I must wri3te it down now while the details are still fresh in my head unlike my post for Part 4 was delayed for weeks because I was trying to launch Truehome so I forgot most of the details by the time I wrote it.

As I approach the train station, I can see the top of the highest point in Penang in which I will be going. I can see the train station at the top.

I place my bicycle in this car in the front. It doesn't actually ride in the car with us humans.

Here we pass the train that is coming down the hill. There is one track for both trains and they share the same cable so they basically counter weight each other with the engine at the top controlling when they move. The track splits here so they can pass. Genius!

We are about to pass through a tunnel at the top.

And finally we reach the top station. What I didn't show you is that there is a mid-point station where you have to change trains. The reason for this is that the angle changes and each set of trains is built to match that angle. Plus the construction was started in 1906 so they probably didn't have a cable long enough or strong enough to go up the entire mountain at one time. Check out the Wikipedia page about Penang Hill.

Here I am about to go down the hill.

Rounding a turn at the rest stop. Yes this shot is staged. I went very slow for the picture. Normally I take the turns as fast as I safely can.

When I reached the bottom of Penang Hill, I gave my front disc brake a tap with my gloved hand and I saw smoke coming off the disc. Just a tap had singed my glove. I did a few more times. My poor glove. It has these rubber finger tips for grip which are now missing some rubber. But that's how hot my disc was. Had I tapped it with my bare-hand, the smoke I saw would have been burned flesh.

I was about 100 steps from the bottom when my front tire went soft. It's then that I realized that both of my inner tube valves were slanted. I knew exactly what had happened. I had let out some air earlier while riding a rocky trail in order to cushion the ride. My tires were at about 40 psi. They were soft but not too soft. Actually they were too soft for going down Penang Hill since it's obvious there was not enough force to hold my tire in place so it slid backward a few cm while I was breaking. This put too much strain on the inner tube presta-valve, which is held in place by a screw on bolt, and the rubber tore wide open.

This is my front tube. You can see the valve is hanging by a thread.

I examined my rear inner tube and determined that it was OK. I fixed its alignment but obviously it had been weakened and finally gave out about half-way to the bike-shop. I did have another inner-tube and I could have repaired it but I noticed Komtar (the tallest building in Penang) on the horizon and decided it was easier just to walk there. I regret that decision now. My bike-shop is near Komtar. Although the street I was on gave the illusion that it went straight to Komtar, that is never the case in Penang where you are confronted with one-way streets and dead-ends (but not both at the same time obviously).

It took me about 1.5 hours to walk to my bike-shop, usually walking in the street against heavy traffic.

The bike-shop was so kind to me. I didn't want my bike fixed. I just wanted them to pack it so I could ship it to the United States. They did not take my name or phone number and said the box and packing would be free. They even said they would give my bike a free inspection.

I'm not sure why they were being so nice to me, but it's probably because of my loyalty to them. During the 1.5 hours of my walk, I passed many bike shops. I will only give my business to CCI. They are by far the best bike shop in Penang and if you care about quality parts and service, then go nowhere else.

Let's start at the beginning. I tried a new route to Penang Hill. Every time I ride my bike there, I try a different route to see if I can find one that will get me in less time with less energy but now I'm convinced that there is no way to avoid going up over a big hill on the way there. My quest for the totally flat route has failed.

I bought 1.5 Liter bottle of a sport drink. By the time I got to Penang Hill, I had finished it so I bought another bottle. By the time I got to the bottom of Penang Hill, I had finished it so I bought another one which I finished by the time I got to the bike shop. So in total I drank 4.5 Liters of fluids today … at least! I'm still thirsty and drinking even more water.

My trip to Penang Hill was uneventful except for the time I rode between two parked cars. The car on the right was double parked (because they drive on the left in Malaysia) and I felt safer going between the cars instead of around the double-parked into traffic. I was travelling fairly fast … maybe 20 mph and it was a tight squeeze but I thought I could make it. Unfortunately the 1 cm of handlebar that stuck out past my right hand, hit the cars mirror. It hardly phased me. I heard a loud smacking noise but it did not yank my handle-bars and I kept going. Car mirrors are made to fold forward on modern cars so I figured I had just adjusted this guys mirror and nothing more until I heard something hit the ground.

Now I felt like a little child who had done something wrong. In my mind I imagined the mirror snapping off and falling to the ground. Then I heard the car horn start honking. At first I thought it was the car alarm but then I realized it was too uneven. The person in the parked car was trying to get my attention. I should have stopped, turned around and found out what happened but instead I kept going, totally expecting them to come after me.

Shortly after I hit the mirror, I came to a red light and had to stop. I thought for sure they would catch me then, but nothing. I continued on and I imagined a car pulling in front of me and cutting me off with some angry driver coming to beat me up. I began to imagine scenarios of what I would do in this situation and how I would escape from the angry motorist … but I never got the chance to put my plans into action. They never came after me and I'm sure I broke something.

I got to Penang Hill, took the train to the top and down I went. My goal was to explore this trail that was half way down. The locals told me that it is now the rainy season so it is washed out, muddy, rocky, roots exposed, slippery, wet and so there is no way for you to ride it. I was not deterred. I went anyway. It was all of these things and more. I was able to ride half the time and the other half the time I was lugging my bike up a hill.

Check out how many roots and rocks there are on this trail. I could actually ride this section which was a lot easier to do going down than up since I didn't have to pedal.

Water had eroded this section. It was so narrow that I had to walk behind my bike to get through.

It was hot and humid and I was constantly thirsty. I worried that I would run out fluids long before I reached civilization again. For some reason, the trail was going up instead of down the mountain. I stopped and thought about turning back for a long time then decided it was the smart thing to do. Besides, this trail wasn't going where I wanted to go, which was down.

I had glanced at a map of trails before going up and I noticed a lot of very long trails out here. I must have made a wrong turn and ended up on the wrong trail. Upon reaching the road again, a local told me that I had taken a wrong turn. Oh well. The ride back was a lot nicer since it was downhill and I got to do some serious hard-core mt. biking but I have to confess that I did not attempt some of the scarier sections.

Back when my bike riding skills were at their peak, I would have ridden about 90% of this trail not my skills are about 75% of what they were so I only attempted about 70% of the sections and I was quite pleased with my performance. I put my seat down really low so that I could get my weight back really far for those big drop-offs. For long rocky sections, I just went for it but unfortunately this is where both my front and rear tires got slashed. They were slashed thru to blow the inner tube. It was just surface damage. Layers of the side-wall literally peeled off. Later when riding down the hill I noticed my bike was wobbling. That's because both my front and back tire side-walls were now weakened and the tires were now bulging on one side. I was worried they were going to blow but they didn't but they are both destroyed.

My water bottles kept falling off on that rocky trail. That's how brutal this trail was. I finally stuck them in my bag.

At one point, my pedal hit a rock really hard and broke the rock! The last time my pedal hit something hard (a curb) it tore my pedal out of the crank! I had them replace my cranks with stronger cranks and this time the pedal and crank broke the rock! If you click on the picture to see the full-size version you can see how the reflective strip has been torn off my tire side-wall. Both my front and back tires had chunks missing and slashes and gashes. That's because I would side-swipe rocks and my tire would ride over then slip off the side of a rock. I got some major tire damage but this is not what gave me a flat tire.

Once again I was not happy with my disc brakes. They did their job but I had to squeeze really hard and once again, I was in a lot of pain from squeezing so hard. Also once again, either the cables slipped or stretched because by the time I reached the bottom, I had a lot more space between the disc and the brakes than when I started.

I saw a family of monkeys on the way down.

They were not afraid of me as long as I didn't threaten them. They came over and started looking through my bag. I thought it was funny until I realized they would probably take something I wouldn't get it back so I gently took my bag away from them.

This was my farewell ride. The bike is now at the shop and will be packed in a few days ready for mailing back to the US. Kelly and I are not waiting until the last minute. Instead we are packing stuff up and mailing it now so it will be there when we arrive. This room should get rather empty soon. Kelly has been packing for weeks deciding what to throw away, what to take to the US, what to sell, what to give to family and friends and so on.

20 more days and we are on a plane back to the US and my adventures in Asia will come to an end and this blog will simply be an archive. But Kelly will start her blog of her Life in the US so one blog dies and a new one is born. Plus I'm hoping we can visit once a year so perhaps I will add more adventures in Asia someday.


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