I’m now back on the road headed towards the Thai island of Phuket with the Aprilia Riders Club (APRC) of Malaysia. It’s been a little less than 24 hours since I returned to Kuala Lumpur from the same country, just this time I had been in Chiang Mai.
The 30 of us had congregated at a rest area next to a freeway to start the ride at 8.00pm. But as with any plan made in reference to “Malaysian time,” we only got underway at 9.00pm. Aprilia Malaysia had put me on the awesomely capable Caponord 1200, so I’ll keep the complaints to a minimum.
We had a great time riding in the cool night air, in addition to light traffic and arrived at the Shell garage in Juru in under two-and-half hours to fill up the tank and drain our bladders.
However, the Caponord had been feeling strangely sluggish when turning and switching lanes. It was also as thirsty as Farmer Joe after working his farm. I decided to check the tyre pressures, which I did and found them underinflated by a stupefying 6psi.
Hence I was the last person that headed to the can.
As soon as the stream started, I heard an incredible din from multiple V-Twins and V-Fours firing up. My instinct told me to get out of there but how does a man stop mid-anything?
Besides, the scariest thing on Earth aren’t cockroaches, or the movie Deliverance. Or a wife. It’s a little contraption called the “zipper”. Every man can attest to at least one haunting experience with this miniature saw at one point in his life. So I yanked mine up, balancing between haste and fear, then ran outside (after washing my hands, of course) only to see the rear light of the Shiver 750 I’d been following disappear out of the station!
Panic Mode ON.
My helmet and jacket went on without being fastened; gloves stuffed into my pants. Argh! Where’s the key?! It’s not in the jacket! No, It’s not in any pants’ pocket! Did I drop it? No! It’s been in the ignition all along!
I started the bike in first gear, dumped the clutch and the bike almost wheelied out of the station.
But there was no one in front of me. It’s as if everyone had made the jump to hyperspace as soon as he cleared the station.
Still in panic, I decided that the ride must’ve been heading directly to the border and will most probably stop at the Gurun rest area.
The Caponord had no issue with its throttle bodies being slammed wide open and we flew at more than 140 mph down the unlit Prai – Alor Setar Highway with fully packed panniers and all. I blasted by every vehicle.
But there was still no one to be seen when I pulled into the rest area, and apart from a few Yamaha 135cc bikes, there was not a single Aprilia. What the…? Did the convoy ride beyond 150 mph? I made call after call but no one answered. To make matters worse, the only garage there was closed.
I couldn’t make any salient decisions under such extraordinary duress, so I got back on and shot straight to the border at Bukit Kayu Hitam. 50 miles north.
I got there in just under half-an-hour.
Still, no one and the border was closed! More calls ensued for the better part of an hour, and still no one answered.
Then I remembered overhearing one of the participants saying that we’ll be crossing the border into Thailand at Wang Kelian, 43 miles to the northwest, after passing Padang Besar. I got back on the bike and pointed it back south toward a small town called Changlun, then turning west onto Route 79.
Nothing had prepared me for riding down Route 79 at 2am. It was pitch black like the bottom of the Marianna Trench! And if that’s not bad enough… I kept seeing something white waving at me from the roadside every few kilometres. It’s like in those ghost movies – you don’t stop but the aberration leapfrogs you!
Now, I know seeing a ghost would be scary, but what scared me more at this moment was getting left behind while everyone had crossed the border. And if that wasn’t enough to pull that knot tighter in my stomach, the fuel gauge was down to the last bar.
I kept hoping to see a garage but all that occupied my eyes were total blackness and those damn white things waving at me!
It suddenly ended at a T-junction with an overhead bridge going across. I had made it to Padang Besar, Perlis. I headed into town and saw the familiar red, white and green 7-Eleven sign.
I went inside, grabbed a drink and some buns, and got back to calling. I got through to “Sinbad” this time (the guy who handed over the Aprilia).
He said, “What in the world are you doing in Padang Besar?! We’re stopping for the night in Changlun! Turn back!”
No way. Nope.
That meant I had to run that Route 79 gauntlet again, and the bike was almost out of fuel and all petrol stations were closed. So I told Sinbad thanks but no thanks, I’ll just spend the night in Padang Besar and meet up tomorrow morning since they’re headed this way.
I started searching for a hotel. There weren’t any. I stopped to ask the locals and they confirmed the town didn’t have any but there were motels and homestays.
I called all of them, but only one answered and they were full. I stopped at each and confirmed them to be fully occupied too. Oh. My. God.
I headed back to the 7-Eleven and sat outside their shop, on the five-foot way. In my state of delirium, I hoped that cute cashier would pity me and take me back to her parents’ place, but it never happened.
It struck me that I looked like a hobo with an Aprilia Caponord 1200.
My body was full of mosquito bites later in the morning, but I was otherwise safe. Another phone call to Sinbad at 6am confirmed that they were having breakfast and would soon head to the immigration checkpoint.
I rode to the nearest garage, filled the fuel tank until it overflowed like a waterfall and headed to another town called Kaki Bukit, where I had breakfast and grabbed a few beautiful shots of the Caponord in the sun’s golden rays. Hey, it wasn’t so bad after all.
The convoy finally came around 8am and we hooked up for the ride to Phuket. It was during this time that I found out there were two other riders behind me, including the sweeper back at the Shell garage in Juru. The convoy had turned into the Juru Auto City (just a few hundred metres from the station) for dinner before continuing with the ride to Changlun!
And what about those white things waving at me? I related the story to some of the guys and they laughed. There were sugar plantations all along Route 79 and the farmers would put up flags to separate their plots.
Lessons learned: 1) ALWAYS ask where the ride is headed next
2) Ask where the ride is headed at the next stop, ALWAYS
3) ALWAYS ask where the ride is headed ALWAYS