Adventure is just a detour away
Riding buddies enjoy the sights and flavours they encounter on a biking trip to Malaysia
In my haste to "eat up" the miles while touring, I easily forget the little things that make riding enjoyable.
Things and places often become a blur as you take them for granted, especially when you are in a hurry to get to your destination.
But on a trip last month with my riding buddy, motoring journalist Leow Ju-Len, there was no rush.
I rediscovered tucked-away gems on old riding routes, just next door in Malaysia.
Our 1,337km jaunt on two 750cc Moto Guzzi motorcycles was part motorbike review and part roving food review.
Ju-Len and I also shared our "secret spots".
Our end point was Petaling Jaya in Selangor, which could have been easily reached in four hours. But we chose to make a huge detour.
On the North-South Expressway's Yong Peng exit, our adventure began as we rode eastward on smaller roads.
Ju-Len showed his hand with a breakfast stop at Yuan Yean Fishball Eating House in Yong Peng town.
It is a local joint, but occasionally you see sports cars that have come from as far away as Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
While eating, I was plotting my next move - to show my secret spot in Air Papan in Mersing, where you can ride your motorcycle on the beach.
The lure was also one makcik's (Malay for auntie) keropok lekor (long fish crackers), a popular snack along Malaysia's East Coast.
Mersing was more than an hour away but I could already smell the keropok lekor.
Ju-Len led the ride before I took over in Mersing. Traffic was light on the roads flanked by oil palm estates and dense jungle.
We occasionally saw monkeys and slow-moving monitor lizards crossing the roads.
As we passed Jemaluang, the curvy roads enticed us to twist the throttle open a little more and glide into the turns.
Ju-Len, who was ahead, warned me of oncoming traffic via the intercom.
He was more than 10 bike lengths ahead but when he shouted "Hoi... lorry ahead", the message was clear - wait for the next "window of opportunity" before overtaking.
Using a helmet intercom system is good for safety, not least because it keeps you awake on rides.
It also means shouting and using hand signals are not necessary.
After the roundabout in Mersing, I learnt there was a more scenic route to Air Papan in the direction of Kuantan.
Just take a right turn and you will be greeted with a coastal road lined with food stands and small restaurants.
The emerald waters warrant a stop but I insisted on pushing on to my secret spot.
When we got to Air Papan, it became clear that the makcik's keropok lekor stall had closed down years ago.
I had not been there in more than five years. It was a disappointment but we decided to take a breather. We ended up eating again and drinking cheap coconut water.
A curious uncle who walked with a limp asked where we were from as we began filming.
He offered us chairs and told us that when he was younger, Malaysia had many vintage motorbikes like Triumph, BSA and Norton, which looked like the Moto Guzzis we rode.
We spent about an hour lounging and filming by the beach, where many locals had parked their cars.
It was time to go. And Kuantan was at least two hours away.
By 5pm, we were beginning to look like our dusty, grime-coated motorcycles.
At night, after a seafood dinner, we were ready to have durian for dessert.
We stopped at a roadside stall where the middle-aged owner told me to forget Musang King.
He had something better to offer - the Kucing Tidur, which means sleeping cat in Malay.
I thought he was hustling us because I had never heard of this variety of durian.
As it turned out - I Googled - he was telling the truth. The durian got its name because its seeds look like the foetus of a cat.
It is as bitter as the pricey Musang King you can get in Geylang, but its flesh is paler.
During the next day's ride to Petaling Jaya, it poured.
The road into Raub in Pahang was slippery with clumps of mud left by lorries.
Thankfully, our Moto Guzzi bikes, which had decent power, did not give us any surprises, such as losing traction.
I was cold and wet as I had worn a perforated textile jacket. I sensed I was beginning to smell like a damp shoe.
But the warmth and aroma of fish head curry at Ratha's fish head curry restaurant made me forget the discomfort.
We met a Malaysian pilot and his girlfriend who made a pit stop on their BMW motorcycle before it rained again. He warned there would be a risk of landslides on the road we were about to take to Fraser's Hill.
The rains left puddles in bends on the slopes near Fraser's Hill. Trees were uprooted, and there were rocks close to the road's edge.
I switched from my V7 II Racer to Ju-Len's more upright and comfortable V7 III Stone.
We were constantly on the intercom warning each other of danger spots on the road.
Thankfully, we arrived a few hours later at The Gasket Alley, a motorbike dealership, apparel store, repair workshop and pub all rolled into one.
We were tired but were welcomed like VIPs and told to park our dirty motorcycles next to brand new ones.
What I learnt is that a safe riding adventure does not have to be in some faraway country - it can be just next door.
Start small. It is okay to get lost. Begin a long-distance journey with a friend who is familiar with Malaysian roads.
The fun starts when you leave home with a sense of curiosity and adventure.
Follow motoring journalists Zaihan Mohamed Yusof and Leow Ju-Len on tnp.sg where you will discover that your riding adventure does not have to be a faraway escapade - it can be just next door.