Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Baan Dada Charity Ride 2013

It is another Bike-Aid Singapore's initiative and this time, Nicky was our lead organiser and he was ably assisted by Ler and Jennifer, both of whom have had involved in many fund raising in Singapore, Thailand and the region over the years.  Jennifer and Ler have cemented close relationship with some Thais in the biking community and best of all, they can also converse in the ear- soothing Thai language, certainly a plus for us.  And also, not forgetting, June, the ever young looking wife of Nicky who has been providing the admin support with flight reservation, the program proper, etc and during the 3 days cycling tour, following the cycling entourage in the support vehicle.  June has been a great help throughout, ensuring we were hydrated that kept us going and going.  And there is another lovely spouse of David and she is Ivy who has also been great in providing the vital support to the entourage.  Co-incidentally, this is also the 10th year for Bike-Aid Singapore to organise similar fund raising cycling event for the less fortunate ones in Thailand.  When we received the invitation to participate by Nicky and without much hesitation, our GP Riders decided to throw in our supports for this cause.  From our side, we had the three closely knitted brothers in Tomas, Peter, Arthur and me, well, I am called the brother 'outlaw'.

The entire trip was scheduled for 8 days, 2nd to 9th March but our actual cycling was for 3 days which will take us from the heart of Bangkok to the hilly region in Sangklaburi which borders between Thailand and Myanmar.  Our fund raising project was solely based on our individual effort and not supported by any corporate or government agency and all our proceeds will go to Baan Dada Home for the children who are mostly orphans.  During the briefing by Nicky, we were told Baan Dada really needs all the help from us and when we were there to witness the situation up close and personal, we could understand why.  We were hoping to raise at least S$15,000 through the combined efforts of some 20 of us but to our pleasant surprise, we managed to achieve our target with a total sum of S$24,600 at last count.

Prior to the trip, Tomas, Peter and I planned to bring our road bikes but when we gathered from those who had been there previously explaining that the terrain is quite hilly, especially on the last day where the climb can be very steep, going above 400 metres before dropping deep into the ravine .  We then decided that mountain bikes should be a safer bet for us.  As mine is a cheap Raleigh mountain bike (MTB), I decided to borrow a good MTB from my outdoor buddy, Kevin.  His Felt bike is carbon made and the gear component is purpose-made for climb.  Generous as he always is, he has no qualm letting me use his MTB.  Peter will bring his hybrid bike, modified a little to tackle the climb and his brother, Tomas will use his (Peter) Giant MTB.  Only Arthur will bring his sleek road bike.  That settled our arrangement and we were set to go.

On 2 Mar, all three of us except for Arthur arranged to meet at Aranda Country Club at 0800 hrs to collect our bikes at the bike room while Peter's wife, Rose had volunteered to transport our bikes and bags on her spacious MPV and separately, Poh Kuan will give us a lift in her SUV to the airport.  Our Jetstar flight was scheduled to depart at 1120 hrs and all of us had planned to be at the airport by 0900 hrs for check-in.  Everything went on as planned.  

There were 21 of us, 19 riders and two supporters and one was to join us in Bangkok from Melbourne later of the day.  All of us arrived at the airport on the dot and first thing first, we quickly went about to check-in our bikes and bags.  Our check-in went smoothly, thanks much to the friendly Jetstar check-in staff who did help us with some overweight.  We even had some time for breakfast at the airport staff canteen before heading for boarding.  Poh Kuan was with us throughout, so glad to get her untiring support to this cause, really.  Peter's wife too, thanks. 

In our group, we had some very seasoned riders and one particular person certainly stands up.  Mike is a 68-year old retiree but he is one heck of a fitness freak.  He is a simple man and his Cannondale road bike has weathered all types of terrain with him for the last 16 years.  For ride, he simply dons a sleeveless white tee and he has no proper shoes, just sandals.  Only when we started our ride on our first day, I realised it is not his style to wear helmet at all...gosh!  His not wearing helmet later became part of my joke which I took a swipe at during our tour and noticeably, he did not seem to enjoy the teasing by me.  But hey, wear the helmet for goodness sake and if I were the organiser I will not allow that, period.

Ler and Jennifer have been doing such ride on numerous occasions and their Thailand connection has been certainly very helpful for us.  There is this good old fellow, Rama whom I later called him 'President Nathan' for his somewhat close resemblance to him.  Rama has a touring bike and among his close kakis, there are Ming and Hazel.  They have clocked very long distance cycling together and they usually do it on their own leisure pace, never in a hurry.  One chap that clicks well with our GP Riders is Andrew from TT Riders and he is also a a very strong cyclist.  For good measure, we have GP Riders which we like to link it to "Goreng Pisang" and there they have TT Riders which is linked to "Tea Tarik".  Hey, we are from Singapore and all said, we cannot seem to disconnect from food and beverage after our ride.  Those from TT Riders include Teik Hock, Robert, Fil and our organiser, Nicky.   

When we touched down at Bangkok airport, we were soon met by Khun Min and his support team from Thailand Cycling Health Association (TCHA).  Khun Min is the Vice President of TCHA and I understand the association has some 6,000 members with at least 1,000 active members.  The way Khun Min and his team went about to see to the ground arrangements greatly impressed me and we helped too, very automatically.  Our bikes were loaded and soon we were on our way to our hotel. 

Our hotel in Bangkok is Taipan along Sukhumvit Road.  Nothing fanciful about the hotel, decent enough for accommodation and what I like best is the spacious room.  Wasting no time, we had to assemble our bikes first.  So when the bikes were delivered to our hotel, we started to fix up our bikes.  Peter, Tomas and I helped each other with our bikes and when we were done, we helped others too.  Admittedly, it was my first experience dismantling the bike and then, re-assembled it back.  So too for Peter and Tomas but we soon learnt how to go about doing it with some pointers from our friend in Singapore, Ah Gwee who owns a bike shop in Race Course Road

On our first night, we had dinner at the hotel cafeteria with all the cyclists and supporters from TCHA.  As Nicky was nursing a sore throat, he asked me to address the members from his prepared script on his behalf which I gamely delivered.

Arthur and I shared a room while Peter and Tomas took another.  As for our jersey arrangement for the three days ride and to be in sync, we had decided to wear our 'Kotasas Kuantan' jersey on day one, 'GP Riders' on day two and 'Ride for Rations' on day three.  Arthur missed out our prior jersey arrangement and he only brought along his GP Riders jersey, sigh. 

We were to roll off from King Rama V Square together with the TCHA cyclists on Sunday, 3 March.  As it happened to be the local election for the Bangkok Governor, we can only roll off later at about 1000 hrs in order to ensure as many local cyclists to join us after casting their saint votes.  

One by one, the local cyclists started to stream in and by my reckoning, there were at least 40 of them.  One came with a specially made bamboo bike and he even had a helmet carved out from a coconut, which caught our attention.  Innovative the Thais are and they are also a hardy bunch of cyclists too.  They came in a variety of bikes, MTB, roadie, foldie - you name it.  The cycling community in Bangkok is certainly big and just TCHA alone, they number some 6,000 members. 

                                            Group picture before the flag-off at King Rama V Square.

We were finally flagged off at about 1000 hrs in high spirit.  Majority of the local cyclists accompanied us for about 15 km, leaving about 20 of them who will follow us in the next three days of ride to our final destination in Sangkhlaburi.  Though it was a Sunday, traffic was still heavy but we did not have any difficultly riding through the busy road at all.  Cars mostly gave way to the cyclists and no impatient motorist honked at us.  I was truly impressed with the local motorists for their defensive driving which can never be witnessed in Singapore.

It was supposed to be the dry season now and the Thais were so confident that it won't rain but it did shortly after we had rolled off.  We had to take shelter at a petrol kiosk for a good one hour and the rain did not seem to relent.  As we had already started late and we only did less than an hour ride so far.  We still had to cover some 130 km to Kanchanaburi, we decided to press on under the torrential rain.  The biggest challenge for us was not the rain but the flood which quickly reached up to our pedals.  The drainage system is too ineffective or do they have a drainage system, I wonder?  We had to cycle gingerly as we cannot see any pothole on the road.  It did not help that there were cars and heavy vehicles streaming past us, we had to be very watchful at all times.  It was still pouring.  The four of us tagged close to each other, helping to watch out for traffic or any pothole.  We were still in Bangkok but as we moved further away from the city, traffic started to dwindle. 

We were among the fastest group.  Much to our relief, rain stopped and the weather remained cool throughout the entire journey.  Tomas, Peter and I were cycling together and we past some local cyclists.  I was behind Tomas and Peter was behind me.  We saw a female Thai cyclist who suddenly squeaked to a halt behind us.  We shouted at her and Tomas managed to past her on the right but I hit her rear.  Peter was alert, he had pre-empted the situation and already pulled out his cleats, swerved away to avoid a collision with me.  I fell and with a quick instinct, I managed to roll over instead of falling face down on the road.  Luckily for me, I did not sustain any injury and after I stood up, I asked that female cyclist why she stopped suddenly.  She did not seem to understand me but pointed at her flat tyre.  She then gestured us to move on while she will wait for the support vehicle.  I later realised from Jennifer that she is actually deaf and her name is Kapi.  Very soon, we made good friend with her.  She actually tagged along with us in the entire journey.  Hers was a steel made old MTB and beneath her small frame, she is one strong rider.  We were totally impressed with her stamina and endurance level, finishing among the early batch each time.

We had few refreshment stops along the way and at about 1900 hrs, we finally reached our hotel, River Kwai.  We had covered 136km on our first day.  Jennifer and the rest, cycling in their own leisure pace arrived more than an hour later.  A local male cyclist who tagged with us on the first day and we later nicknamed him, 'Professor' for his chatty nature brought us to an open air hawker centre near our hotel for a well-deserved dinner.  Peter was looking forward to feast on meaty stuff like roasted pork but we ended up having more veggies than meat for dinner.  We had relied on our 'Professor' friend to order the food for us but food aside, the company was great that evening.  After dinner, some adjoined for a session of massage but I retired to bed early. 

                             On our second day and donning our GP Riders jersey with a Thai supporter.

Our second day was to be our longest ride, at least 150 km on the chart which was to take us to Thong Pha Phum, still in Kanchanaburi province.  It is a rolling route, quite challenging.  Again, we counted our lucky star that the weather had been kind to us.  For most part of the day, it was fairly cool.  Rain only came when we were about to reach our destination.  Long ride it was and I begun to feel the ache on my back and my bum too.  Kapi was tagging with us and we were among the front pack, only the few guys on roadies were way in front of us.  I decided to go slow as fatigue began to take a toll on and I then gradually broke away from Tomas and Peter.  For the second half  of the journey, I was mostly with Kapi and Professor and only re-joined Tomas and Peter when we neared our destination.

We were to be accommodated at EGAT Guest House, a scenic country resort owned by Thailand power company.  This was a special arrangement by a Thai contact and I understand we paid preferential rates too.  When we thought we can have a good rest when we arrived at the resort but wait...before we can have a chance to rest our tired and aching legs, we need to pedal up the slope within the vast compound to reach to our rooms.  The country resort sits on a hilly terrain and all our rooms are located on the higher ground, gosh!  Some of had to get off our bikes to push, literally.  When we were finally settled in, we heaved a big relief from our another day of ordeal.  My back was still aching and my bum, ouch...I can feel the burning abrasion cutting into my flesh.  Nobody talked about going for a good massage for there isn't one in this vast country resort to start with.  After a hearty dinner, we headed back to our rooms for a good rest.  We clocked 156 km on our second day, another hard of work.  

                                                              At the dam on our third day. 

Our third day which was also our final day of ride and it was to be shortest ride too - 76 km on planned chart.  Short it was to be but it happened to be the toughest one too.  We will have to climb few steep slopes especially the last part before reaching our final destination.  We had our breakfast and we planned to roll off at 0800 hrs.  When we gathered, most of us were surprised to see Michael wearing a helmet.  He was such a  stubborn ass who just refused to wear helmet for ride despite many good advices given by friends, this particular time he obediently put on his helmet.  He had a bad fall on his third day of ride while on the descent some years ago.  He did not have his helmet then but he was not about to take any chance this time.  I did make a joke on his helmet thingy during one of our conversations but from his expression, he did not like it.   

                                This is taken on our third day and we tagged close to each other throughout.

We started the ride with a tour to the majestic dam.  It was a steep climb, at least for a kilometre.  I managed to pedal all the way up dropping to the lowest gear, all thanks to Kevin's MTB.  It is a magnificent view from on top of the dam, worth the effort to climb up.  We stayed a while at the top an took many pictures too.  However, the weather was not too kind on us, it was hot throughout the day.  Compared to the second day which was already hilly for our liking, the third day was without doubt, even more hilly like it or not.                     

There were more stops for us to replenish and keep us hydrated.  The Thai support team was marvellous throughout.  They even made green bean soup for us, heavenly man when I downed the first spoon into my mouth.  I finished two bowls almost immediately and was raring to go for more but decided against it, knowing many riders who were still behind had yet to eat.  Tomas helped himself with three bowls.  The green bean was lunch for us and after a short rest, we were ready to roll off.  The hot weather continued but we had to press on.

Tomas, Peter and I decided to ride off together and Teik Hock joined us too.  A short while later, I realised I lost Teik Hock who was just behind us earlier.  When we past a nondescript house, there were two fierce dogs suddenly charged at us.  We managed to shove them off.  Immediately, I thought of Teik Hock who was behind us and also must be riding on own and I was hoping he can shove off the dogs too.   

                                Group picture with the children who were waiting for us at our rest point.

While we cycled nearer to our final destination, it was getting steeper & steeper and slower & slower for us.  Each climb was harder than the last and we had to press on.  At the same time, we had to tackle the hot weather too.  When we reached the last 16 km to our destination where we stopped for our refreshment, we were pleasantly surprised that the children from the orphanage home Baan Dada were there waiting to receive us.  They even made a welcome banner for us which they hung it on the side of their truck.  The person-in-charge of the home, who is affectingly called 'Dada' (brother in Sanskrit word) and he hails from the Philippines was also present.  After taking our much needed rest, we were joined by Dada and some of the children to the final 16 km which is the most challenging for its steepest of climb.  The climb seemed to be forever, barely after managing one climb and immediately at the next turn, there is another steep climb and another.  Peter and Tomas decided to push their bikes and I joined them too.  We had to stick together, keeping a constant lookout for each other.  Some children managed to pedal on.  Dada too, he continued to pedal ahead of us.  Peter looked flushed, his burnt on his face did get us worried for a while.  June who was in the support vehicle that followed close behind us stopped.  We managed to quench our thirst and even poured ice cold water over our heads.  For the most part up, we simply pushed our bikes which reaches beyond 400 metres above sea level.  When we reached the highest point, we were ready for the steep descent.  We can hit beyond 60km if we let ourselves on a free fall down but any wrong move will prove fatal for us.  It is a long stretch of winding road and concrete barriers lined the centre of the road which looks treacherous enough.  I pressed hard on both brakes but making sure I didn't press to hard either.  The disc brakes on the bike were certainly very useful.  We moved  down in one single file, keeping a safe distance between each other.   

                           One can imagine the heavenly feeling when cold water was poured over Tomas' head.

Led by Dada and the children, we finally arrived at Sangkhalia Inn in Sangkhlaburi.  It was about 1630 hrs.  There were some who had arrived earlier than us and our hardy Michael was among them.  We rested at the lobby waiting for the rest to arrive.  Everyone was happy when we finally reached touched home.  Living up to its billing, the third and final day was the most torturous and to have overcome all challenges along the way, it was indeed most satisfying for us.

After taking our bath, we helped to pack up all our bikes for our Thai friends to help transport to Bangkok for us as we will have another day in Sangkhlaburi visiting Baan Dada Home and Baan Unrak Home and also visiting some interesting places of interest. 

                                                               The 5-Star Rating at Baan Unrak Home.


                                                             The 3-Star or lower rating at Baan Dada Home.

The two homes, Baan Dada an Baan Unrak contrasts from one and to another though both come under the same foundation in Neohumanist Foundation and serving the same philosophy.  If we were to rate the two homes according to the number of stars for hotels, I would say the amenities & facilities at Baan Unrak measure up to 5-star standard whereas, it is 3-star or probably lower for Baan Dada.  New building blocks have since been built for Baan Unrak Home, courtesy of many donors from Bike-Aid Singapore in the previous years.  Baan Unrak is managed by a Didi (sister in Sanskrit word) who hails from Italy.   

                                 Peter handed over our cash donations from 'GP Riders & Friends' to Dada.

Prior to our trip, we had all already decided that all our donations will go to Baan Dada Home which is definitely in dire need for financial assistance of sorts.  Our visit to Baan Dada affirmed that we made a right decision.  Our contributions from friends and relatives amounted to S$5,000 were pooled under "GP Riders and Friends' which was then handed over to Dada.  In all, the combined contributions from Bike-Aid Singapore including 'GP Riders and Friends' amassed to S$24,600 at last count and the fund will go into the vocation training centre at Baan Dada to provide technical training to the children and the community at large.

 The vocation training centre at Baan Dada Home.         
 
 
              The children at Baan Dada helping to shave cheese for our spagetti dinner during our visit.                            
                                                                        
We had another full day in Bangkok before heading home.  This cycling trip was my toughest by far but the joy that we can bring to the less fortunate ones made it all the more sweeter and meaningful for us.  We made new friends with the Thais and we are certainly grateful that we have remained safe throughout, all thanks to the valuable supports from TCHA.  On arrival at our Changi Airport, Poh Kuan and Peter's wife, Rose were already waiting to receive us to help transport our bikes back to Aranda Country Club.        

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