My second solo round island cycling trip (a photo essay)

After completing my first solo round island cycling trip in Singapore last November, I have been contemplating about doing a second solo round island cycling trip – this time in an anti-clockwise direction on a foldable bicycle instead of a clockwise direction on a mountain bike. Yesterday, I finally managed to embark on such a trip – this time covering less distance and in a shorter time, but it was about just as challenging, as I had less time to rest along the way, as compared to the first trip.

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The 30-31 July 2016 round island trip, as recorded in MapMyRide app on the smartphone

As mentioned in my earlier blog, my motivation for doing the first round island trip was mainly to go through a personal rite of passage as a budding cyclist and to satisfy my wanderlust spirit to explore the furthest corners of the island possible on a bicycle. Having done that (though I didn’t get to cycle through some coastal locations such as Coney island), I wanted to see how I can improve on the timing, as it had taken me nearly 24 hours to complete the trip the first time round. I also wanted to have a different experience riding on a folding bike for over 100 km.

In addition, I think this trip will prepare me for cycling longer distances in future, such as if I ever get a chance to cycle outside of Singapore, in terms of learning how to pace myself out without getting tired easily, and so on. And most of all, I wanted to experience an inner journey and go within myself even as I embarked on an outer journey in the physical dimension.

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Starting point at Ulu Pandan PCN circular bridge

By yesterday morning, I was debating with myself when and where to start the round island cycling trip. My initial plan was to start in the northeast near Lorong Halus bridge at Punggol PCN after watching the sunrise on Sunday morning – it would enable me to traverse Coney island after it opened at 7 am. Then again, I was raring to get going as soon as possible, and I decided to start my journey that Saturday afternoon.

But where should the starting point be? If I start in the northwest at Sungei Buloh in the afternoon, I may not reach Coney island in time before it is closed to public by 7 pm. I also wanted to check out the Car-free Sunday event in the following morning, which would be held in the city centre from 8 am to around 12 noon; that means I would need to finish the trip preferably by around midnight in order to get sufficient rest. Finally, I decided to start the trip in the southwest at Ulu Pandan PCN, so that I could hopefully complete the trip by night time, and travel to the nearby West Coast Park to stay overnight, before cycling to the city centre to attend the event the next morning.

pandan gardens PCN
Starting out from the circular bridge at Ulu Pandan PCN and heading towards West Coast Highway

Despite having had some initial experience in round island cycling, my second trip was no walk in the park, especially in the latter half of the journey (more on that later). I spent the first 3 to 4 hours cycling almost continuously, heading eastwards from Pandan Gardens PCN along West Coast Highway, Marina Bay and East Coast Parkway towards Changi Coastal Road in the east, and then northwest towards Punggol Jetty Park before I stopped and rested and ate a light dinner of dried fruit and nuts with plenty of water.

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Container terminal at Tanjong Pagar port, as seen from Maxwell Road in Marina Bay area

While I was cycling towards Changi Coastal Road via East Coast Parkway, I unknowingly deviated from the usual cycling track alongside the beach by choosing to cycle along East Coast service road near a golf course. It led me directly to Changi Coastal Road, and I had to cautiously cross the road, where vehicles were moving at high speed, to the other side before I could head in the correct direction.

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An unexpected deviation from the usual cycling path from East Coast Parkway to Changi Coastal Road
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My first break at Punggol Jetty Park

By the time I finished dinner at Punggol, it was about 8 pm plus. I rested a while more and decided to start cycling again westwards towards Woodlands, Kranji and Lim Chu Kang. I dreaded the idea of having to cycle through the usually empty roads in Neo Tiew and Lim Chu Kang areas and Jalan Bahar past the cemeteries in the dark of the night, but I reckoned I had to deal with such irrational fears sooner or later.

I reminded myself that horror movies and ghost stories are often the product of ignorant or opportunistic people who may be taking a pleasure of capitalising on other people’s fears for profit. Secondly, ghost stories tend to be culture-specific – for example, western horror movies tend to revolve around aliens, zombies or poltergeists, chinese ghost stories have their chinese versions of zombies, malay folklore have pontianaks, and so on. But I have never heard of any such fear-based stories in some indigenous cultures such as in some Native American Indian or Australian Aboriginal or African cultures, or at least not that I am aware of. Last but not least, I reminded myself that nocturnal animals, birds and insects also live in desolate farmlands and cemeteries, and surely they aren’t afraid of imaginary beings that humans are afraid of.

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Evening at Punggol Jetty Park

Ghosts, aliens and monsters are a figment of imagination, I told myself. They are probably a mental projection of unresolved fears in the human psyche. That thought reassured me as I continued to pedal towards Kranji countryside via Seletar Link, Yishun, Admiralty and Woodlands. Besides, when I passed by dormitories in Admiralty and Sungei Kadut, I saw migrant workers gathering outside and chatting among themselves, and their presence assured me that at least I wasn’t alone travelling at night.

Within 1 or 2 hours of cycling from Punggol, fatigue began to set in, and my neck and arms felt stiff, and I wanted to stop and rest upon reaching Kranji reservoir park. I circled the area for a while – just then, I saw a trio of road bikers cycling along Kranji Dam towards Neo Tiew, and without hesitating, I decided to follow them. Though I was mentally prepared to cycle there by myself, I certainly wouldn’t mind having some company. My fatigue was momentarily set aside as I focused on pedalling as fast as possible in order to catch up with them, which I managed to do so until we reached the wide open Lim Chu Kang road, heading southwards to Jalan Bahar. I stopped for a break at a bus stop along Lim Chu Kang road to drink water and eat some more nuts and dried fruit to stay refreshed and energised.

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Wide open road at Lim Chu Kang – I wonder why 3 lanes are needed when there aren’t usually many vehicles using this road.
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Cycling route from Kranji Dam to Neo Tiew Road to Lim Chu Kang Road
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Taking my second break at a bus stop along Lim Chu Kang road

By this time, it was around 11 pm. I wondered how long more I had to go before finally returning to my starting point at Ulu Pandan PCN. The third leg of the journey seemed just as daunting, as I wasn’t relishing the thought of having to spend at least 1 to 2 hours just circling around the vast expanse of Tuas reclaimed land in the west, if I did decide to include Tuas in my journey. I tried not to think about that for the moment, and focused on finding my way south of Lim Chu Kang to Nanyang Technological University (NTU) via Jalan Bahar and Nanyang Avenue, which I have never been to before on a bicycle.

When I was planning to cycle through NTU to go to Jurong town and Jurong Industrial Estate, I saw on Google Map that there was a road on the west side of NTU leading to Singapore Discovery Centre and Upper Jurong Road, as shown below.

Screenshot_google map
My initial plan was to cycle through NTU towards Singapore Discovery Centre and Upper Jurong Road

However, when I double-checked the map of NTU using Street Directory app, I discovered that that part of the route has limited access to public and leads to SAFTI military institute instead (see below screenshot).

Screenshot_streetdirectory.mobile_1469898203632
Upon learning that I wouldn’t be able to go through SAFTI military institute, I decided to take a shorter route from NTU to North Pioneer Road

I was fortunate to have consulted the Street Directory for a second opinion because otherwise I would have spent unnecessary time and energy taking a longer route to the west side of NTU and finding out that I couldn’t proceed further south to Jurong from there.

Following the direction in Street Directory app, I cycled to Nanyang Avenue from Jalan Bahar and passed through NTU and emerged southwards at North Pioneer Road. I was feeling the fatigue again, and I was still debating with myself whether to take up the challenge of going to Tuas when I saw a garbage truck pass by and turn at a junction to go westwards, presumably on its way to Tuas incineration plant. That happened to be the decisive moment for me to head back to Ulu Pandan PCN from Jurong, and I felt a little bit happy and relieved at the thought of completing the round island trip soon.

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Cycling from Pioneer Road North to Jalan Ahmad Ibrahim westwards towards the starting point at Ulu Pandan PCN

When I reached Pioneer Circus, I turned left into Jalan Ahmad Ibrahim. I wasn’t sure where it would lead me to and decided to consult Google map and Street Directory. I learnt that Jalan Ahmad Ibrahim ultimately leads to Ayer Rajar Expressway (AYE), where cycling is not allowed. I decided the next best option is to turn right at the next junction into Jurong Pier Road and then turn left into Buroh Street, instead of turning back towards Pioneer Circus.

By the time I cycled along Buroh Street, I was longing for the trip to be over soon. My average pace has slowed down from around 20 km/h to around 15 km/h. When I stopped at a traffic light junction beneath Penjuru Flyover, I saw a large pothole on the road, and decided to report to the authorities using the OneService app. Oh well, at least I got to do something concretely constructive by the end of this rather tiring trip, I thought.

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It seemed no one has reported the pothole along the road for quite some time, as it has grown to quite a big size.

At long last, I reached West Coast Highway from Jalan Buroh, and instead of turning westwards to go to the starting point at Ulu Pandan PCN, I decided to turn eastwards to go straight to West Coast Park because I would have already made a full circle around Singapore, having passed by West Coast Park when I started out on the journey earlier.

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Bicycle parked near MacDonalds at West Coast Park, where my finishing point is
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Source: MapMyRide

All in all, the whole journey took slightly more than 9 hours, as I started at 3.26 pm on Saturday afternoon and finished at around 12.40 am on Sunday early morning, while the actual cycling time (excluding resting and stopping moments) was about 7 and a half hours. These are only statistics, as the reward is in the journey itself. There were moments I cried at some points as along the way, the inner journey brought back some poignant memories. In a sense, this wilderness experience is a much needed respite from the mind-numbing societal system to help me reconnect with my soul and rediscover what really matters in life.

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