Over the past month of June I worked a mere three or four days with actual Tandem numbers aside from the occasional sport pack. The murky weather, low ceiling, squirrelly winds and rain made me lose my mind. I hate being stuck. I start to get emotional, but my spirits changed after a short trip to Letchworth State Park.
I mentioned hitchhiking Letchworth State Park to a tandem instructor at the drop zone and his home happened along the way. Quickly closing the last few containers I ran to my room and packed up my backpack, grabbed some tubes, and a jug of water. Then I put my bike in his trunk. He gave me a lift to Geneseo where I followed 63 South until I noticed signs for Letchworth State Park. Hitchhiking to Geneseo shaved off much allowing me to arrive in the park well before dark, however, the entrance deceived me, much like last year. 14 miles to Letchworth Falls put a damper on my mood, but I pedaled the small grades, while walking up the steep ones, as the sun slowly snuck away beneath the horizon. The mileage did not seem like much, after all, just years prior I pedaled 2,600+ miles from Delaware to Colorado, but my body took adjusting to long distance bicycle touring. My knees ached, quads spasmed, and legs locked from lack of potassium. Much of the hills I waddled up like a penguin, leaning on the handle bars as I pushed Virginia Red along, with her little bell and cheap frame glimmering in the light.
I hitched two rides the next morning, one to Segamat and the next to Labis. My map labeled every city in Malaysia in both English and Malay. For the rides where people did not speak English I merely pointed where I wanted to go on the map. We shook heads signaling, “Yes” or they pointed to another destination and if it was south I went with it. This stood true for Labis since the gentleman who picked me up did not speak English. He dropped me at a bus stop where I faded into a brief nap over too much bread and water. I woke up on the stiff concrete bench looking up at the sky, beyond the tops of palm trees and between the skies I locked onto a lattice radio tower, pondering the view from above. I held my own freedom in the palm of my hand, and with that known, the possibilities became endless.
The night sky dispersed after a few hours of walking into the radiant sunrise. A revitalizing breeze cooled my skin in this time, but shortly after the sunrise I sought refuge in the shade, stopping at a small food shack in a village outside of Muar, on my way to Pagoh. An old, Malaysian gentleman stepped out from behind the counter offering me a stool to sit in as he plopped down onto a bench. His chubby cheeks drooped as he looked down into his box of cigarettes, the red and gold capturing my eyes. They read, “Gudang Garam” an Indonesian brand he exclaimed. My olfactory glands reminisced in the plumes of smoke. The aroma reminded me of Cloves with their sugary, herbal fragrance. He pushed one towards me and from that day forward I became a social smoker in Southeast Asia seeking out the sweet taste of these cigarettes, but always falling short. We talked about Malaysia and its friendly, outgoing people I met along my journey south. I told him how I loved the food, the coffee and trekking through the jungle seeing new wildlife foreign to the Americas. He reached over and grabbed the keys to his motorbike looking me in the eye with a sparkle about him. His gray parted hair waved below the brim of his helmet tickling his eyes and then he handed me a spare helmet. The muffler buzzed like a loud chainsaw as we cruised down the back roads perpendicular to Route 1. I did not know our destination, but held on tight until we stopped in a driveway at the bottom of the hill. Coconut trees flourished in the man’s back yard and he leaned over asking me if I ever ate a fresh coconut straight from the tree. Before the words exited my mouth he pulled out his knife, stripping one of the many trees. He carved out a square hole in the thick, hard exterior shell and handed it to me. I tilted my head back tasting its sweet nectar in every gulp, and cooling my body off substantially as it gathered in my belly. He mentioned the benefits of Coconuts on my travels. As I researched more, I found they were ideal in oral dehydration and rich in nutrients acting like carbohydrate-electrolyte infused drinks. He handed me a spoon to eat the endosperm along the walls of the coconut and once finished I felt more full than I ever imagined. But surprisingly it regained my vigor and endurance unlike the sluggish feeling I normally feel upon overeating.
I awoke eager to check out the silos over the chain linked fencing, but a welder dove into his work in the adjacent yard, early morning, lacking gloves and a face mask to avoid the white light, so I turned around after little exploration and continued south down Route 1 for Singapore. I scuttled through the fierce heat and before I knew it I journeyed 15 kilometers outside of Melaka, reading the KM markers with each passing hour as I stumbled closer to the city of Muar.
No one picked me up this time, not on these desolate country roads, winding through rampant jungle and small villages of adobe houses on the outskirts of the city. So I walked, my feet felt like flounder wiggling underneath of me and my scuttling slowly turned into dragging my feet short distances across the smoking asphalt. I walked through the greenest of jungles, with one-story mud houses and the kindest village people waving at me, saying, “Selamat tengah hari” as I passed. Their sincerest smiles harbored their genuine emotion as they nodded, unabashed of their missing teeth. I took refuge under palm trees off the highway, curbing my appetite with bread, until eventually finishing a full loaf.
“This is another excerpt from a rough draft of my book detailing my adventures hitchhiking Melaka when I traveled through Malaysia in 2015.”
Walking in the dead of summer sucked. I felt inebriated despite not drinking alcohol from dehydration and heat exhaustion. The majority of my time I spent hiding from the blistering sun under anything that offered shade, rubber trees, bus stops, roadside shacks, abandoned buildings and sometimes the homes of complete strangers who picked me up off the road. No matter how hot my skin boiled in the inferno of the jungle heat, I always walked south inching closer to Singapore with each passing day. Every person who picked me up warned me of the potential hazards of criminals looking to steal my money, gear and harm me, but I handled my own and used my own judgment. Nice people existed everywhere in the world and I declined certain rides based on instincts, but generally I found people used race as a social pariah and I did not fit into this generalization based on my white skin color. “Don’t get rides from a Malay, they can’t be trusted,” said the disgruntled Chinese man. “Don’t get rides from the Indian, they’re all thieves,” said the irritated Malay man. And it went on and on with each future hitchhiking experience. No one trusted anyone outside of their race who lived inside their country. The only reason I gained trust was because I walked freely with white skin, minimal gear and looked foreign, which locals took an interest in my whereabouts and experiences, picking me up off the shoulder of the road. I felt like a peacock flaunting my feathers, but really I just smelled of sweat and looked of grime.