Sunday, March 24, 2013

Journey to Land's End II - Part 2

The route to Pengerang 
The moment of truth...

I heard the phone alarm ringing at 04:45am in the morning.
Once that kicked-in, I changed into my riding wear and prepared my Ortlieb trunk bag to carry everything that is essential for the trip.
The first thing that came into mind is move all my gear back into the car and prep the bike for the long haul.
Mohd Radzi said he will be ready after performing his prayers.
While he was at it, I checked out from the hotel and asked if they offer day-use for their rooms.
This is so that we could freshen up after the ride.
"Its RM50 to use the room..," said the front office guy.
I told him that its okay and that we have decided to take a shower along the way back.

Ten kilometres of terror

Our plan was to set out at 06:00am. 
We did just that by heading from town towards the Sg Rengit junction which is about 2km away from the hotel.
After entering the road, it was dark.
Even with a set of powerful LED headlights, it was pure guess work.
The trick was not to hit any potholes or roll over the sandy lumps on the runoff beside the road shoulder.
We did pretty okay along this route which Mohd Radzi described as "!0km of terror".
Another thing was the fact that I didn't pay attention to the details on the map when I charted the route.
Seems that the terrain is undulating all the way from Kota Tinggi to Sg Rengit.
We are looking at an averag of 3.5 - 4.8% gradient.
This is no sweat when you train and since we were riding with a minimal set-up, it wasn't a real big deal...

Rolling is such fun! Giving a thumbs-up to Radzi
A test of wits and endurance

We took full advantage of the early morning weather and progressed some 30km in two hours to reach Felda Air Tawar 5.
Spare the roadkills, dead snakes on the roadside, bumpy ride and heavy vehicle traffic, we made it as far as we could.
The first order of the day was to get something to eat.
Earlier, I bought some bananas which helped in providing energy. I hard a large Camelbak bicycle bottle which I thought, could last the entire journey. 

Authentic Johor Lontong at Felda Air Tawar 5
We caught up for a nice meal at the Felda township. The Johor Lontong was simple and good. After a fulfilling meal, we proceeded towards the Senai - Desaru Highway junction.
At this point, it was like taking a stroll down memory lane.
The last time I visited Desaru was 27 years ago.
Much of the landscape here is barely recognizable.
There are a few beach resorts in the area.
We cycled to the public beach to snap a couple of photographs and resumed the ride..

Desaru revisited
The killer part was a detour towards the end of the beach area where we had to back track towards the Desaru - Pengerang junction.
This was a long climb and a straight journey towards Batu Layar beach which is roughly about 20km away.
Here, there are no stalls or shops along the way.
Its plain and bare.

Mohd Radzi taking a break
I must admit that I am really unfit.
After laying off cycling for nearly a month, my stamina level is at rock bottom.
As usual, I was way at the back trying to pace myself.
We have about 80km to cover in order to reach Sungai Rengit.
And since we took the coastal route, the distance is much longer.
With the sun directly above our heads, the heat had proven to be overwhelming.
Radzi was right ahead and being nearly 10 years younger, I expect him to do really well.
But the heat got the best of him. He was waiting for me to catch up and just as I alighted from the bike, my left thigh was already having cramps.
So, I whipped out my pain relief spray and worked on it.
We had a critical decision to be made. The plan was to get off the road and find a stall to hydrate.

Batu Layar and beyond..

After making past the vast void, we found a construction worker flagging down vehicles.
We knew that if anything had happened, no one would stop.
This is why the recce trip was not for everyone.
Newcomers outnumber the old hands, so, I had to be selective when it comes to picking the right riding partner.
I asked the flagman for directions to the nearest stall.
Two guys who were hanging out in a makeshift shelter pointed me to junction.
They said there is a makan place some 2km away.
That was our best bet...

Chilling out in Batu Layar
Luck was on our side as we found a shop in this village.
We hydrated and pushed towards Punggai and Teluk Ramunia.
I've never been to this part of the country and was surprised to find such a beautiful place.
After passing Teluk Ramunia, we were inching closer towards Sungai Rengit.
There, a decision was made.
We've done the route and since time and weather became a factor, I terminated the ride in Sungai Rengit.
In town, we cycled to a hawker centre and had lunch there.
Later, we went to a taxi stand and boarded a car back to Kota Tinggi..

Mission accomplished: Arrival in Sungai Rengit

Packing the bikes for the journey to Kota Tinggi

We made good time and reached Kota Tinggi by 04:30pm.
After packing up the bikes, we were on the move.
By 07:30pm, we reached the Ayer Keroh R&R area and had dinner.
We split the cost and talked about the finer points of the journey.
In total, we rode some 93km one-way.
The road conditions were pretty crappy and I wouldn't recommend this ride for people who are inexperienced.
To make it all the way, one must have at least a year or more of experience.
Being a self-supported ride, the guys must also possess skills like recovering the bikes in case of any emergencies.
Far too often, I've been disappointed by people who expect their punctured tires to be fixed by anyone other than themselves.
For a ride like this, one must be able to take on the harsh environment and unpredictable nature of the road.
So, that said, primadonnas and wannabes are out.
As far as the journey is concerned, I conclude that one must be prepared to take on the long journey and pack extra food and water as the situation warrants it..

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Journey to Land's End II - Part 1

What about the 'other' end???

I had a couple of days off and the desire to explore Southeastern Johor.
The destination: Pengerang district which is on the Eastern side of the Tebrau straits.
This is practically about 100km away from Johor Baru and is accessible via the new Senai - Desaru Highway.
But my journey starts from another town.

Creating the route

Initially, I wanted to cycle from Kulai which is located along the train route towards Kota Tinggi.
In the past, I've traveled to the area to cover Court and Crime cases when I was based as a reporter in Johor Baru.
So, the plan was simple, set out to Kulai, get off the train and ride towards Kota Tinggi and stage the ride from there to Sungai Rengit in the Pengerang district.
I've been to these towns once when I was covering a baby-smuggling syndicate in Pengerang.
But, after much thought, I don't have the luxury of time.
So, it has to be cut short and by using the best possible way to stage the ride.
I ended up driving to Kota Tinggi where I booked a night's stay at a local hotel.
The plan was cut short to a day trip to Sungai Rengit and see what happens.

Rounding up the Usual Suspects

Since we were heading into the unknown, I stayed away from inviting joyriders to avoid doing baby-sitting work.
Co-incidentally, there was a weekend ride organised by a teacher from Rawang to Serendah.
Most of the joyriders were involved in it, so, that gave me plenty of room to pick and choose the "right stuff".
So, I emailed my regular kakis Roger Teoh and Patric Yee including newcomer Mohd Radzi Mohd Noor.
Both Roger and Patric are seasoned touring and bikepacking riders.
I have issues with them as they have earned my trust over a few long rides.
Unfortunately, both had to decline the ride due to personal commitments.
I ended up doing the ride with Radzi, who is untested on extended stay and rides.
The only time I hooked up with him on an overnight trip was to Raub last year.
Radzi, it seems, is a strong rider who owns a basic folding bike: the Dahon ECO7.
That is just enough to cover the 90km-plus distance that we were about to try out from Kota Tinggi to Pengerang...

Mohd Radzi in Parit Jawa, near Muar, Johor
Keeping it original...

I never try to replicate what other people do.
And I think its utterly shameful to rip off a fellow cyclist's planned route.
That's why I am never interested in the glamour and publicity one seeks to make a name for himself.
I stay away from the bright lights and limelight.
I won't be surprised if some wise guy will use my route in Hulu Geroh to turn it into a "Rafflesia Ride".
This ride to Pengerang is as good as it gets on a folding bike which places us on the lead when it comes to long-rides with a folding bike.
People have done Tanjung Piai which is officially the Land's End of the Asian continent.
I think Sungai Rengit is worth a try.
And so it begins.. 
We drove to Kota Tinggi and checked-in at a hotel called Rest-Inn.
The weekend rates were rather high, but we had no choice.
We needed the rest go get a head start early in the morning.

The route to Kota Tinggi's waterfalls...
The night market in town
A street scene
The town's bridge
How time flies..

We went around town to pick up some supplies after checking into our room.
Radzi and I had agreed to share the cost which covers fuel, food and lodging.
After a short break we had dinner at a famous Chinese-muslim restaurant called Hassan Ong.
The quality of the dishes served at this place is just average and for a small town's standards, its pretty pricey.
We had steamed fish, shrimp omelette and kung-po squid..

Radzi the shutterbug
After a good fill, we walked to a wholesale market which is roughly about a kilometre away and bought some bananas.
This will be our fuel for the next morning.
We went back to the hotel and discussed about our ride options.
The plan was to either do a round-trip on the bike, or terminate the ride in Sungai Rengit.
I used the time I had at night to pack up my Ortlieb trunk bag.
The idea I had was to carry all my essentials including a First Aid Kit, rain jacket, recovery kit and my personal belongings like ID card, money and credit card.
This was not an issue since the trunk bag is able to accommodate the important cargo..
As for the ride, much lies ahead in the day to come..

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

First impressions: Go Ruck Radio Ruck

The quest for a high-end backpack...

Tactical backpacks are the best there is if you are in search of a 'bomb-proof' gear hauler.
I've cycled through a few packs and found that there are not many out there which are built to last.
My preferred packs came from Kirafu (a company dedicated to hunting and military luggage) and I have at least four different packs.
But the humidity here had worn down the nylon, especially its polyurethane coating.
My favourite are the Scout and Tailgunner. These packs are used very frequently and are pretty worn-down.

The Kifarus
I don't want to go down the path of the Mystery Ranch backpacks (a company headed by the dude who founded Dana Designs) as they are getting really common here. 
Also due to its high price point and unattractive design, I stay away from Mystery Ranch.
The options are limited and I've narrowed down to packs from Kifaru, Gregory Designs and Hill People Gear.

Retiring the Camelbak HAWG 500

Admittedly, I've had a good run with the Camelback HAWG 500.
Its capacity of 26 litres enables me to haul a tonne of junk for every day carry.
One thing is for sure, the HAWG is not that well built and I don't really need a hydration bladder.
I bought the pack so that I could use the hydration pack with my Kifaru Scout.

Officially retired: The HAWG 500
And Eureka!

I read a post on the Usual Suspect Network by a user on his GoRuck GR-1 rucksack. 
It was pretty impressive, which led me to checking out GoRuck's website.
Now, there is a pretty good selection of backpacks and the one that caught my attention was the Radio Ruck.
This is a pack that I would consider in the 'nice' size range at 24-litres.
By looking at pictures, I can't really base my first impressions.
So, after much thinking, I pulled the trigger by ordering the GoRuck Radio Ruck from the company.
For the uninitiated, GoRuck is founded by a former soldier. So, most of his designs were based on his personal knowledge and field experience.

The Radio Ruck with my boy in the background
Winning hearts and minds: Excellent customer service...

I placed an order for a GoRuck Radio Ruck and a pocket organizer and it took about five days for the pack to arrive from Seattle, Washington.
The duty and sales tax came to RM70, so, not a big issue.
I guess that the guys at GoRuck are experienced enough to expedite foreign orders and I am very happy with what I get...


Even with its small cargo compartment, this pack did not disappoint

Built like a tank: The tough components on the pack

Crafted with pride: Made in the USA
No Sir, that ain't a Mystery Ranch pack..

Hahahah!!! Speak about breaking away from the main flock, this GoRuck really impressed me.
The layout in the pack's interior is the secret to why its gaining popularity and respect among ruck users all over the world.
I found it to be really neat with zippered organizers to put all my gear and junk.
Unlike the HAWG, I need to be particular on what I carry to shed the unnecessary weight and bulk.
The pocket organizer integrated nicely with the pack using a MOLLE attachment system.
Its enough to carry some of my essential gears and gadgets and I'm pretty happy with that it can provide in terms of space.
Now, on the whole, the Radio Ruck is one pack that doesn't shout "TACTICAL!".
Beneath its low-profile appearance, you will find a really humble pack which is well-built.
For the price, I'd say that its money well-spent.
I love the padding on the pack's webbing and it really hugs on to my body when I haul it.
That said, there are potential to acquire the GR-1 including some really cool accessories from GoRuck in the future..

Sunday, March 10, 2013

2013 Raptor Watch

First timers..

Michelle and I had grabbed the opportunity to witness the 2013 Raptor Watch at Port Dickson.
This is an annual bird of prey migration where species like the Oriental Honey Buzzard,  Chinese goshawk, the Black Baza and several other large eagles.
We picked Sunday as our choice day to visit Tanjung Tuan or Cape Rachardo in Alor Gajah, Malacca where its known as a Raptor Watch site.

Happy camper: wrapping up at the end of the session
 This is an annual event organised by the Malaysian Nature Society and is also a crowd-puller. 
There were many visitors at the site which is a critically-acclaimed venue for bird lovers and watchers.
Each year, birds of prey will go on a migration route from Indonesia to Northern China, Mongolia, Russia and Japan before going as far as Northeastern Australia.
Its a spectacle to see hundreds of Raptors circling the air over the skies in Tanjung Tuan. 
And there are at least 25 known migratory species in the area.
After breakfast, Michelle and I took a casual drive from our home in USJ 26 to the Ilham resort in Tanjung Tuan. 
We parked our car there and made our way to the lighthouse which is roughly about a kilometre's hike from the base of the cape.

"Dude, where's your bike?"

I met some cyclists along the way.
Guess they were puzzled as to why we were not cycling on the Raptor Watch day.
To me, its a good break from pedaling our bicycles. 
I swapped my Dahon folding bike for my Canon EOS5DmkIII and EOS7D to capture the Raptors on my trusty Canon EF400mm F5.6L lens.
When I arrived at the lighthouse (which is opened to the public once a year for two days), I met Mr Chan, a folding bike kaki.
He's with the Malaysian Nature Society's birding group and has been watching the Raptors for nearly 45 days.
What dedication! 

Anticipating the arrival of the Oriental Honey-Buzzard
And so they came.. 

Under the stifling heat, the birders made an announcement: "They are here!"
Out there beyond the horizon, the Raptors arrived in flocks.
They soared with the thermal currents high up in the air.
It was a spectacular sight to see these birds taking up the sky...

Buzzards in the sky
An Oriental Honey-Buzzard in flight
The Raptors at the peak of their appearance
A learning experience...

I have never shot a Raptor in flight and the event gave me an opportunity to capture the birds in its full glory.
With my limited resources, I had to make do with a shorter telephoto lens.
And when the buzzards came close, I missed the chance to capture them.
Even with a 1.4x teleconvertor, I couldn't get a close full-body shot.
After waiting for the buzzards to appear again, it was obvious that the wind conditions had pushed them even further away from the lighthouse.
I managed to capture a few shots which I am happy with for my record purposes and am contented with the effort.
It was my first time and with the experience gained, I know what to do and where to wait when these birds arrive again.. 

Teenagers and knives..

Confessions of a teenage internet junkie...

I made a beeline to an outfitter's store in SS15, Subang Jaya over the weekend.
The purpose of my visit there was to pass some books on knifemaking to my friend who also runs the store.
Unfortunately, he was not in the premise, so, I stayed and talked to one of his part-time assistant.
Just as I was getting comfortable, a mother and her teenage son walked in.
The boy, who looked no more than 15, was asking about folding knives.
One of the shop assistants had gladly taken his query and started showing him some knives.
So, as the boy was going through the pile, he mentioned about steel quality and "EDC" (Every Day Carry).
His intent was to carry a folding knife to school.
Now, that spells trouble.
My take on knife usage among teenagers is this: they don't have any business carrying them around and to school.
UNLESS: They are involved in outdoor activities that warrants the usage of edged tools and such can be used to justify carrying one.
I sized up the situation and told the kid that he did a lot of Googling and You-tubing.
"Hey, how did you know about that?," he asked.
I told him that I train kids his age and knew exactly how they think.

Two Termiar kids showing off their slip-joint folding knives

Parental consent

Later, the mother came back to store after leaving her son for nearly an hour.
I can see that she is worried.
"Ma'am, you better go home, take your son with you because he don't need a knife. 
"He wants it, but its not a necessity. Take your time and sleep over this and when you need one, it'll be here.."
The mother agreed.
But one of the part-time sales assistant said this: "Oh man, you are the kind of parent I hate... "
My reaction was this: "Too bad. If you want something, you better work for it.."
I think its morally wrong for a store to sell knives to people under the age of 18 without the company of an adult.
The 14-year-old kid was adamant. His mother on the other hand, was level-headed.
I told her that if her son is able to produce good results in exams or willing to work for it, then he earned the rights to own a folding knife.
These days parents give in to their children easily.
From the responsible knife ownership point of view, I think the store assistants were wrong.
They were pushing for a sale.
There's commission to be earned. All I see, was the excessive obsession to earn and make a sale.
I was also shocked to see that the part-time dude had charged RM140 (US$45) to sharpen a Tramontina machete.
For a crappy workmanship and finish, I'd say that the sharpening fees is even more expensive than the cheap-assed machete.
What I witnessed, was an outright slaughter of the innocent. But hey, its true what they say that  a sucker is born every minute. 
I just cannot agree with the RM140 sharpening fee for a machete. That's why its important for one to learn on how to sharpen their knives. 
I for one, will never pay a college kid working part-time in a store to sharpen any of my knives.
Another disturbing trend I observed was the obsession with slicing paper.
The older staff in the store had asked the college kid to sharpen a camp knife for slicing paper.
What the fuck is wrong with these people! 
That said, I think I better lay low and spend less time at the store. The sales guys have a lot to learn...

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Hot Dawg!

Yearly knife purchase quota...

Every year, I make sure that I have enough money to purchase one high-quality knife. 
It could be a folding knife or a fixed blade.

Choices, choices, choices...

I've narrowed down my preference to a fixed blade and I have always wanted a Strider SLCC (Slim Line Concealed Carry) blade.
These don't come by easy as they are produced in batches.
Well, lucky for me, there was a special run by Plaza Cutlery (one of my favourite knife stores in the US based in California) with dog paw motifs.
Previously, I purchased two Strider knives with dog paws - the PT (off the table at the G1 gathering in Las Vegas, 2009) and the ED (three years ago).

Plaza Cutlery's ED & PT Doggy Paw edition
Samo's pick for 2013

Well, I did not hesitate to pull the trigger when Plaza Cutlery offered some Strider SLCCs "Doggy Paw" edition for sale.
I contacted its owner Dan Delavan to make arrangements for the knife to be shipped from the US to my office in Petaling Jaya.
This is a process done via email and with a PayPal payment option, well, no issues at all...

Built like a tank! The Strider SLCC
When the knife arrived, I was amazed by the overall built, quality and finish.
Its stocky and thick enough to take any abuse in the field.
I would use the SLCC as a last-ditched knife and am packing it on my Goruck Radio Ruck pack for daily carry...

Monday, March 4, 2013

H.A.W.G. gets a makeover

Getting better with age...

The Camelbak H.A.W.G. load carrying hydration system has been around.
It went through several improvements and its latest incarnation is something that I would say -- is the best around.

Performance factor

Well, first of all, you don't get many Camelbak tactical hydration packs lying around and on the shelves.
The HAWG 500 is priced around RM300.
Built quality and materials used on this hydration pack is pretty decent.
If you can be satisfied with the Philippine-made quality, which is a notch higher than many packs that are made in Vietnam, I'd say that you will have something that you can use and abuse.
The typical service life of a tactical hydration pack is between 3 - 5 years depending on the level of wear and tear.

The Camelbak HAWG 500

It has a cargo volume of 26L and is enough to pack in some daily-carry stuff.
On the EDC (Every Day Carry) load, I would haul my work essentials including some edged tools with the pack.
What I like, are the separate compartments on the pack that allows me to organize my gear.
And as a daypack, its enough to haul a change of clothes for an overnight stay.

Enter the Miltac HAWG

New and improved: the Miltac HAWG

The latest design incorporates three more cubic litres of storage space for your cargo.
Its front pocket is now higher.
That is the noticeable difference between the HAWG 500 and the Miltac HAWG.
I see a lot of potential on this pack and for those who do not want to spend a bomb, the HAWG is the obvious choice..