Friday, October 11, 2013

Star Cruises' Inaugural Cruise Cycle Expedition

Group Pic at Langkawi Port

I have to admit being active on social media platform like Facebook does help me to secure collaboration of sorts with Star Cruises when they were planning to launch their first ever 'Cruise and Cycle' program.  Their VP (Sales), Sandy is on my FB's friend list and she has been reading many of our outdoor events organised by me.  This impression has somehow been 'imprinted' on her mind I think and she told me the first person she thought of to get this started was me.  Of course, I do feel honoured and I told myself I cannot disappoint.  This was where we got started which was sometime in June this year.  I then roped in Pek Ya to co-partner me.  Pek Ya is a professional coach whereas I see myself more an event organiser and together, we can have much synergy tapping on each other strength.  After our preliminary discussion and on 30 June this year we went on a familiarisation cruise onboard Superstar Virgo to Phuket and Langkawi.  Everything began to evolve.  Xue Jing, their marketing manager was our main contact person and she was instrumental in getting everything up and running.

We targeted the month of August to launch the program, just in time for the NATAS Travel Fair.  The scheduled departure was on 6 Oct till 9 Oct 2013.  It was a hefty 50% discount starting at S$562 nett per person.  One can cruise for 4 days and 3 nights onboard Superstar Virgo where accommodation and meals are included, get to cycle in two exotic destinations in Phuket and Langkawi with support vehicle and for the cyclists, a specially designed Star Cruises' cycling jersey too.  We even designed completion certificate at the end of the tour and it was signed & presented by the Master of the vessel to all the cyclists.  Where to find such good deal, really?  I put up the inaugural cycling program on few cycling platforms.  Almost immediately, I received very good response.  However, some administrators took down my program citing no commercial stuff allowed and I can understand that.  I also launched on two meet up sites, SANL and SOS to cast the net wider.  This was not meant to be a race event, it was designed for recreational cyclists and this should attract, given its 'super duper' offer.

Some of my regular run kakis immediately signed up, the likes of Dora, CK and Long Chua (but the latter had to cancel at last hour due to compassionate reason).  Kevin Soh, that 'part time doctor but 'full time adventure seeker' kaki of mine could not join as much as he would like to - he had already planned to spend holiday in Korea with his family, just too bad.  It was a combined marketing effort with Pek Ya and Star Cruises and in the end, we managed to garner 35 motley group of people including some non-cyclists and media for the inaugural cruise cycle event.  If this happened to be a weekend event, there will be even more signing up. Good number to start with considering it was over a weekday period and many had to apply leave.

On 6 Oct, Sunday we were to meet at Singapore Cruise Centre by 1100 hours.  Well before 1100 hours, before even Superstar Virgo could be seen alongside at the wharf, some of us had already arrived.  I reached early too, at about 1030 hrs.  When Star Cruises embarkation team finally arrived at 1130 hours, our bikes were swiftly tagged and transferred to the ship.  The whole check-in process was over very quickly.  Xue Jing and her colleagues had prepared all our boarding passes, programs and bike tags well in advance.
Receiving my completion certificate from the Master of the vessel

I was given a cabin with balcony on the 11th deck, same too for Pek Ya.  First thing first, we organised a briefing at Celebrity Lounge.  For many, I was meeting them for the first time.  After an introduction of myself and my partner, Pek Ya I went through the slides with them which were shown on the big screen. Safety is the number priority in the briefing and it was reiterated time and again.  Pek Ya covered the area on training and Xue Jing on ship's activities and amenities.  It was a good briefing and everyone was well informed.  Laughter, giggling can be heard even though many met for the first time.  Everyone  had already started to warm up to each other and my gut feel immediately told me it will be fun for the next 4 days.    

Briefing at Celebrity Lounge

Our first ride was to commence in Phuket in the evening on our second day on 7 Oct.  In the morning while still cruising, some of us had a training circuit with coach Pek Ya at the gym.  We did quite a fair bit of stretching exercise.  I realised later the ache on my thighs was not the result of our cycling in Phuket but from the body conditioning class.

Break During Phuket Ride

The route for our Phuket ride was about 40 km only.  At 1830 hrs, we assembled at the 4th deck at mid ship.  The cyclists were accorded priority in embarkation just like VIPs.  At about 1900 hrs, the ship was cleared by the authority and we then moved out to the wharf side.  Our bikes were offloaded from the another side.  It was still bright when we disembarked but very quickly, it turned dark.  We had to wait a while to collect our bikes which were already brought out pending customs clearance.  I had a quick chat with the guide, to ascertain on the route and the stops along the way.  Xue Jin and her colleague, Nathaniel will be with the support vehicle.  Each of us carried a walkie-talkie for ease of communication.  Pek Ya will be somewhere in front while I will cover the back.  I had my first aid with me.

It was already dark when we were about to set off sometime after 1900 hrs (I didn't check my watch).  A reminder to all to tag closer and to ride safe and off we went with the front vehicle leading the way.  One final count, we had 29 cyclists and raring to go.  The street lights in Phuket are not that bright.  Where we started at the south eastern side of the island, we cycled to the direction of the west side.  It was not that hilly but we had to cycle past town where traffic was a little heavy.  As arranged with the guide, we will not have any break until we reach our 20 km which was out mid point at Karon Park.  During the ride, the front pack soon broke away from the mid and rear cyclists.  I tried to communicate with Xue Jin in the support vehicle on my walkie in bid to inform them to stop or slow down for the rest to catch up but my walkie simply went kaput.  Rain then started and some cyclists stopped to wear their raincoats.  However, the rain was intermittent.  It came, stopped and resumed again.  Alas, my gamin failed on me.  I could not read the distance we had covered so far and I can only guess from there on.  The road is one way up and the other way down.  There were cars and motor bikes on either side of the road but the Thai motorists are not driving fast and they always give way to cyclists.  As the front and back were separated by a wide margin, the front cyclists led by a front vehicle made a right turn while the middle pack (some 14 of them) went straight.  I was at the rear with 4 others.  We saw the mid pack going straight instead of turning left but we could not shout out to them.  Fortunately, we had a third back up vehicle with us at the rear.  I then asked the third back up vehicle to intercept them.  

Rain came, stopped and came again.  I was just in front of my friend, Jimmy who has not been cycling for many years.  He has just taken up cycling as a hobby.  He was slow but definitely not stopping.  I could see he was struggling but he simply pressed on.  When we reached the Karon Park, the front cyclist were already waiting for us.  The middle pack of 14 cyclists that went the wrong way were on the way to meet us.  Xue Jing received a sms from ship informing one of our cyclists, Elaine was left behind.  It puzzled me why she could miss us when we were covering the rear at very slow pace.  She claimed she stopped to wear her rain coat and the next moment, she saw those in front cycled off, she then lost sight of them all.  By then, the mid pack re-joined us and we cycled a short distance to a resort to meet Elaine who was separately picked up by one of our support vehicles.  We had coconuts at the resort before resuming our cycle back to the port.  After some initial hiccups, we had better understanding and everyone kept to a steady pace on the return leg.  My walkie-talkie was working fine by then which allowed me to communicate with the support vehicle in front.  It was an easy ride back.  We reached the port well before 2300 hrs.  

Body Conditioning Class With Coach Pek Ya

The next morning, 8 Oct some of us went to the gym to go through the training circuit with Pek Ya before our second and final ride in Langkawi later.  At 1030 hrs, we assembled at our usual meet up place.  Everyone had been informed to don the 'Star Cruises' jerseys.  We were to take a group picture at the wharf side before and after our ride.  The distance for Langkawi was slight over 60 km.  When ship pulled alongside at 1100 hrs, we were out immediately and our bikes too.  I was introduced to the guide by Xue Jing.  I told him to stop at every 15 km so that all the cyclists can re-group before resuming.  We had only one vehicle which will take the lead in front while I covered the rear.  With better understanding, Pek Ya and some stronger cyclists helped to do ushering at every turn.  The scenery in Langkawi is nice and the weather was not that hot though at some point it threatened to rain.  We cycled past rustic villages and padi-fields with the mountain range looming large.  We were cycling in one single file and the gap between between the front and back was not too far apart.  A motorist appeared and abruptly swerved to his left which hit one of our cyclists.  Fortunately for KS who was hit by the motorist, he suffered only superficial cuts on left his leg.  He did complain pain in his rib region but it did not suggest any fracture.  I bandaged him up and he continued on.  We did not even want to make an issue with the motorist even though he was in the wrong, knowing too well we were on foreign land.

Break During Langkawi Ride

We reached the lunch point at about 35 km mark.  Probably due to our group size, the food vendors could not cope up with our orders and it took quite a while before everyone could finish up their lunch.  By then, it was already 1430 hrs and we should be back to the port by 1600 hrs.  With more than 30 km to cover, it seemed to be quite a tall order but I expected us to arrive a little late.  I prompted Xue Jing so that she could liaise with the ship in event we were running very late.  One final check and we set off at about 1445 hrs.
We made one more stop for refreshment before heading all the way to the port.  The terrain is somewhat rolling at some parts especially the last slope near the port.  Again, Jimmy was in front of me while the rest pressed ahead.  He was managing well but when it came to slope, he just pushed his bike.  Probably he is a novice rider.  He was concentrating too much on managing his bike that his vision was compromised.  He could not see the front riders making the turn but just rode straight.  I was behind so I managed to shout at him to stop.  We had a good laugh when we described the scenario to him while back onboard.

Waiting Before Disembarking At Langkawi Port
  
It was near 1700 hrs when we were about to reach the Langkawi port.  When I reached the wharf, Dora told me that Joyce had a nasty fall near the entrance.  I saw the swell on Joyce's left arm.  She hit the hump that threw her off her bike and she landed on her elbow, ouch!.  She was immediately attended to by the ship's doctor.  Well, sometimes we can't avoid accidents in outdoor activities but most importantly, we have to take safety precautions and to be better prepared.  

Cycling in Langkawi

That same evening, a gala dinner was arranged for us.  Everyone was presented with a nicely designed completion certificate by the master of the vessel during gala dinner.  We felt like a champion.  Later in the evening, a fun and game program was specially arranged for us.  We had plenty of laughter.  Some stayed on for supper while I went back to my cabin to give a good rest.

At Phuket Port

There was a debrief with the rest of the cyclists on our last day (9 Oct) and overall general feedback was good.  When ship docked at Singapore Cruise Centre at about 1500 hrs, we bade farewell to each other.  I truly enjoyed this outing, made new friends and looking forward to another cycling expedition with the rest again.