Food, friendship, and fun, tackled in 800km trip to Penang and back

“Take excellent care of the front end of your day, and the rest of your day will pretty much take care of itself.”

The above is an important and notable quote from the book ‘The 5am Club’ by Robin S. Sharma.

The concept is to wake up before your family does, and to use the distraction-free time to focus on your personal wellbeing with a mix of exercise, meditation, reading, or learning.

The book was published in 2018, but my mother practiced this way before that. She used to wake us up at 4am to study. If only I had the foresight, I could have co-authored a book with my mother, and even grandmother, and hostel warden, and called it ‘The 4am Club’. We could have made some money!

It’s a little too late for regrets, but never too late to start ‘The 5am Dhabha Rides’. ‘Dhabhas’ are 24-hour roadside stalls that dot the highways in India. They cater to the long haulers on the trans-national routes.

Similarly, our early morning rides are for breakfast or brunch meets at various small shops, nationwide. The ‘ride club’ is for those who are passionate to ride, or drive before the break of dawn. The club’s only commitment – passion.

The rules are simple. Number one: Discipline and punctuality. Rule number two: Remember rule number 1. The club’s current membership stands at five – four doctors and a journalist; four motorcycles and a souped-up Audi.

Trips begin depending on the routes and distances involved. Last weekend’s ride covered some 800km. We left Kuala Lumpur to have breakfast in Penang, and after a round island ride, returned with a stop-over in Ipoh for lunch.

Instead of using the North-South Expressway (NSE) to Penang, we decided on the road less-travelled, the old Route One that cuts through small towns between Kuala Lumpur and Penang.

At one time, this route was the main artery for those travelling from north to south of the peninsula.

Following the construction and commissioning of the NSE in 1984, the route was pretty much ignored.

Dr Harjeet Singh and I started our journey from Jalan Duta, Kuala Lumpur, at 2am, and moved along the Duta-Ulu Kelang Expressway. We then got onto Route One towards Rawang.

Dr Harjeet rides a Harley Davidson Street Glide CVO, while my beloved machine is a BMW GS.

It was our first experience using the 170ft elevated Rawang bypass that cuts through dense greenery on both sides. Looking out at the horizon on the elevated highway, you can see the landscape, dotted with lights. It felt like travelling on a highway to heaven.

We continued our journey through small towns that were still in slumber, early in the morning. I captured a photo of a small town with the streets colourfully lit up, for posterity.

Some stretches were lonely, twisty, and with no lights, save the lumens from our two motorcycles. We made good time, and covered 266km to the rendezvous point in Ipoh in about three hours and 15 minutes.

I am happy that my ride partner is another long hauler, like me. This means we can ride significant distances before needing to stop for refreshments.

I finally got to meet Dr M. Thinakaran in Ipoh. The last time we met was 20 years ago. He was sitting astride his Harley Davidson Fatboy.

The Fatboy is iconic and was the ride of choice for the T-800 in the movie ‘Terminator 2’. Seeing Dr Thinakaran after 20 years, the famous line from the movie – “I’ll be back” – comes to mind.

Dr Thinakaran is a gynaecologist with a special interest in treating infertility. He has helped many couples become parents.

We continued our journey at 5.45am, this time with three bikes. There were certain parts on Route One that run parallel to the NSE, separated only by metal barriers.

It felt like we were moving along the past, and seeing the present, side by side. As we reached Kamunting, we noted dense lightning with dark, ominous clouds. We made a collective decision, based on safety in case of a downpour, that it was safer to travel via the highway rather than the trunk road.

Entering the national highway, our speed picked up and in no time, we reached the Sultan Abdul Hakim Muadzam Shah Bridge, better known as the Second Penang Bridge. She was a spectacularly lit beauty throughout her 24km route.

As we ‘landed’ in Penang, the plan was to traverse the perimeter road of the island and return via the first bridge.

From Batu Maung, we went past the Bayan Lepas Airport, towards Teluk Kumbar, and then, to the end of the world at Gertak Sanggul, the southern tip of Penang.

The roads there were two lanes, with tight turns and not much traffic. We stopped by the beach to take our customary wefies. It was a lonely spot, and we were surprised to see two gentlemen – Eddie, who rides a Harley Davidson Sportster, and Vincent, who was on a Harley Davidson 48 – in the area. It goes to show that you will always meet a biker brother (or sister), no matter how lonely the place might be.

The customary wefie with new friends by the beach in Penang.

The common love of bikes created an immediate bond. The two were from Butterworth and were on the island for a breakfast ride.

We took photographs together, exchanged numbers, and promised to meet up if we were ever in their part of town.

Our next stop was for breakfast at Sri Ananda Bhavan in Tanjung Bungah. The ride was pure joy, with extremely twisty roads through the hills of Penang.

The last time I travelled these roads was 32 years ago, on a Honda EX5 with my good friend, sitar maestro, K. Kumar.

He is a renowned sitar player who regularly travels the world, performing solo, and with his band AkashA. His fingers caress the strings of the sitar, creating soulful music. Likewise, it was soulful, travelling the road, and the memories of the rebellious and headstrong teenage years that were some of the best times of my life, came flooding back.

Our next stop was Ipoh. The route took us through Tanjung Tokong, via the junction of Gurney Drive-Kelawai Road-Bagan Jamal Road.

Waiting for the traffic lights to turn green, I looked at the Sunrise Tower apartment block. It used to have a pub on the first floor, where Alleycats once played. The other was the Hippodrome, in the heart of town. As teenagers, we used to give RM5 (a princely sum at that time) to the bouncers to allow us to sneak in and watch them perform.

We crossed over to the mainland and hit Ipoh, just in time for lunch at Hong Feng Restaurant, where we met Dr M. Kirubakaran, a fantastic bariatric surgeon practicing at Gleneagles Penang. He is, in fact, Dr Thinakaran’s brother.

Also present were Dr Krishnakumar, a vascular surgeon who practices at Prince Court Hospital in Kuala Lumpur, and Premkumar, a mechanical engineer.

As with the company, the food was great. The atmosphere was cheerful and happy, with plenty of banter. The restaurant owner was a friendly gentleman, and coupled with good service, it’s a place where we plan to return to, soon.

One for the album: A picture with the crew and friends outside Hong Feng Restaurant in Ipoh. 

It was time to say goodbye and begin our 200km ride home. The ride back was disrupted by a downpour. Both Dr Harjeet and I were in our all-weather gear. As they say in showbiz, “the show must go on”. Likewise, the ride went on.

The decision to ride in the rain is up to each individual. The ‘4Cs’ are important – Confidence (in your skills), Capability (in handling your bike), Calculative (being able to map out a safe route) and Clear visibility.

If anyone is in doubt, it’s best to stop at the nearest safe stop area and wait out the rain.

We reached home, safe and sound, at 5pm – with all the boxes ticked:

  • Early long joyful ride with friends
  • Met up with old friends, and made new ones
  • Rekindled old memories
  • Tasted good food, with great company
  • Returned home safely

Overall, it was a good Sunday. Robin S. Sharma was correct. Take excellent care of the front end of your day, and the rest of your day will pretty much take care of itself.

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

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