1,158km Christmas ride from KL to Wang Kelian, and making new friends along the way

“I think any time you can affect people in general in a positive way, then you are a lucky individual.”

Those were the words of American actor, Sam Elliot.

Just like Kevin McCallister, played by Hollywood star Macaulay Culkin, who was left home alone during Christmas in the movie ‘Home Alone’, I too, found myself sans everyone this Christmas.

The Missus was off to India to pray for the wellbeing of the family, and my kids were at their cousins’ for the holidays. Rather than deal with any bungling burglars attempting to enter my house, I decided to go on a long, soul-searching ride, ostensibly to look for the meaning of life. In short – an excuse to get out of the still, unstirring house.

The result: a solo ride starting at 2.30am on Dec 25. Technically solo, but spiritually, it was the two of us – me and my lovely motorcycle whom I’ve named ‘Christine’.

I planned to ride into Penang via the second bridge. From Teluk Kumbar, it’s off to Balik Pulau and Pantai Pasir Panjang for hot coffee by the beach, followed by the twisties to Batu Ferringhi, and then ride on to Gurney Drive and out of Penang via the first bridge and onwards to Kangar, Perlis, for breakfast with a former classmate.

After breakfast, I’d then ride to Wang Kelian, pay my Dad a surprise visit, and then head straight home. The distance I expected to cover was roughly about 1,200km.

Suited and booted for a wet weather ride, off we went, zooming into the early morning, burning tarmac, as we headed north towards Penang.

My first stop was at Gunung Semanggol for fuel. The next stop was Pantai Pasir Panjang in Penang. Originally a fishing village, it is now better known as the site of the National Service camp, called Kem Wawasan.

The camp is located outside Georgetown and the road to the camp is unlit, surrounded by secondary jungle. At 5.30am, ‘Christine’ was lighting up the road.

Reaching the camp, I met two gentlemen, Asri, from Sabah, and Zamri from Penang. They were guards at the camp, which was now not in use as there was a problem with the running water.

But these ingenious men had tapped water from the hillside catchment area, using bamboo poles, to serve their needs. I shared my strong black coffee brew with them.

There was a real sense of camaraderie, sipping hot coffee and talking to them. It just shows that we Malaysians are a friendly lot. I also doubt they receive many visitors there.

As usual, ‘Christine’ was a hit. Asri and Zamri wanted to experience sitting astride her. The look on their faces said it all. Asri even gave me his number so I could WhatsApp him the photos, which I did.

The next stop was Gurney Drive via Teluk Bahang, Batu Ferringhi, and Tanjung Tokong. I chose this route for the abundance of twisty, sharp corners.

When I plan my routes, I plan the music I would to listen to when tackling them. For the twisties, I chose ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ by Tchaikovsky.

Riding the twisties is almost like dancing to a waltz tune, trusting your partner to dance in sync, moving as one.

Looks like ‘Christine’ and I should next attempt the Mae Hong Son loop in northern Thailand, with its 1,834 corners, for our next dance. That would be quite a performance.

I stopped at Gurney Drive for a photo shoot of Sunrise Tower, where the Alleycats used to perform.

It was then straight to Tai Tong Kopitiam in Kangar, in the northern state of Perlis for breakfast, but my ex-classmate was away on holiday. The eatery was the epitome of ‘muhibbah’ – owned and operated by a Chinese, with a Malay hawker selling traditional cakes and wrapped nasi lemak, and an Indian stall operator who served chicken and mutton curries with soft chapatti and roti canai.

It was packed with customers. I decided to join an elderly gentleman sitting alone. His name was ‘Tuan Man’, a retired policeman from Melaka who married a local girl and settled down in Kangar. Retirement has been slow for him, but that’s the laidback life in a small town. We then said our goodbyes, but not before he obliged for a wefie.

I made a pit stop at a petrol station in Changlun, Kedah, where I bumped into my former patient’s husband. I had operated on her eye in 2012.

Meeting him after eight years… maybe there is some truth in Asha Gill’s ‘six degrees of separation’ theory.

The ride to Wang Kelian was through 30km of back country roads, which were quite well maintained. Compared to my previous visit to the View Point in Wang Kelian, the place this time around was bustling with activity, and there was an RM2 entry fee.

I was glad to see the many visitors, as it provided good business for the local vendors whose sales were dramatically affected by the various lockdowns imposed due to Covid-19. It was satisfying to see people smiling, laughing and enjoying themselves.

The next stop was a 50km ride to visit Dad. I had brought along a limited release, 18-year, single malt whiskey. He loves his single malt, and I was spot on with the gift.

My sister, who is based abroad, called and we had a family chat. My nephew is crazy about bikes and is in the process of saving money for a Suzuki GSX1000. It runs in the family, I suppose.

The next destination was home – a 460km journey – as I had a Christmas party to attend.

Traffic was heavy. I stopped at a petrol station in Sungai Bakap, Penang, to refuel. There, I got into a conversation with a ‘Mr Ha’, who was travelling with his family from Penang to visit relatives in Taiping, Perak.

He undergoes dialysis every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. His initial plan was to avoid traffic by driving on Saturday night, but he became too tired, post-dialysis.

There was sadness in his eyes. His kidney failure was due to his diabetes. I then introduced myself as an eye doctor and advised him to get his eyes assessed regularly.

He was keen to take a photo with me, and it was taken by his eight-year-old grandchild, who had an ice cream in one hand, while very dexterously holding my mobile phone with his other hand.

Mr Ha’s parting words still rings in my ears: “Doktor, tolong jaga kesihatan, harta yang paling penting. Selamat jalan” (Doctor, please take care of your health, it’s the most valuable possession. Farewell).

That advice resonates the same in most languages.

After wishing him fair health, I continued on my journey and reached home at 3.15pm. I had spent 12 hours and 45 minutes on this journey, covering 1,158km.

I freshened up, picked up my daughters from my sister-in-law’s place, and headed for the Christmas party that we had been invited to.

We had a fairly good time, but with the better half away, I had to step up. It isn’t easy to replicate what she does, as the home minister seems to be able to juggle multiple tasks and deliver them all.

I am reminded of a question my Dad asked: “How long do you plan to ride a motorcycle?” I told him, as long as I am physically able to.

Over the years, I’ve been asked numerous times about my riding.

“Why ride a motorbike?” “Isn’t riding a motorcycle dangerous?” “Are you a biker?” “Don’t you get bored riding alone?”

When I ride, I feel free. The shackles fall off and the spirit soars.

Every time I pick up a knife to operate on my patients, I do so with the knowledge that I will do everything in my power to get the best possible outcome. Likewise, I ride with all the safety gear, and I ride sensibly. Never ride under the influence, and most importantly, never let your ego get the better of you.

I have reached a stage in life where I am becoming my own best friend. I get along well with myself. Most importantly, it has brought me into contact with people from all walks of life. Perfect strangers walking up to talk, to take a photo, and bidding good health and a safe journey.

I have made many a friend over the years, helped many, and started quite a few on their own journey. Like I told my Dad, it goes on till it goes on.

This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.

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