“How hard could it be?” I wondered, as I contemplated my cycling plan to Pangandaran. Crashing waves on gentle-sloped shore, with plenty inns, hotels, and attractions around—Pangandaran bay is definitely the most famous beach in West Java, frequently visited by tourists all-year round. Just a hair over 200 km mark from Bandung, the capital city of the province, it has also become a popular cycling destination for those interested in testing their endurance for randonneuring and long-distance cyclotouring. “How hard could it be?” I wondered, as I remembered the century rides I’ve finished in the past; considering the terrain and road surface, I thought it would only be marginally harder.
It turned out, however, Bandung – Pangandaran double century cycling trip is a different kind of beast altogether…
The Beautiful Beginning
My cycling trip from Bandung to Pangandaran started just before dawn, with the ride along relatively flat intercity road to the east. With estimated total trip time of 13 hours, I expected to arrive on the beach just after sunset. Keeping my heart rate just below the upper limit of zone 2, I averaged 27 km/h, much higher than my estimated average moving speed of 20 km/h.
After 21 km, I came upon Cicalengka climb, the first of three major climbs along the route. Spanning 8.3 km with 178 m of elevation gain, it is the longest, but the easiest, among the three. With friendly morning air and temperature, it’s easy to get carried away and just push hard along the climb. I kept my pace in check, however, even though it reduced my speed considerably, because, as I have experienced firsthand in the past, century ride requires discipline to maintain endurance along the trip—let alone a double-century trip like this one.
My first stop of the trip was on one among series of warung just before Nagrek, on 30th km, just 7 minutes ahead of schedule, which was uplifting. Well-known for its honey-like sweetness, Cilembu sweet potato offered there was a perfect breakfast—it replenished my blood-glucose level, the necessary body fuel for cycling effort. Even though sold for a mere Rp20,000 (around US$ 1.4) a kg, I only bought and ate a small piece. Eating too much of them would only lead to bloating and potential stomach cramping, an unnecessary nuisance for such a trip. I didn’t take any of them for the remaining of the trip, too, because it was impractical to eat on the move.
What followed after the break was the 3 km descent of Nagrek, which was famous as accident-prone spot among drivers, when it was used as two-ways road in the years of old. While still presenting control challenge to buses, trucks, and cars, the twisty nature of the road made it a pleasure to roll on a bike—I could hit 60+ km/h with no additional pedalling effort and no control issue to speak of.
The descent lessened as I approached the town of Limbangan. From there, the intercity road turned hilly and twisty, which forced me to lower my average speed considerably. Thankfully, even though the sun has already risen, the air temperature was still friendly, which helped me maintained my optimum heart rate and pedalling power.
My second stop was a roadside convenience store in Malangbong—60th km of the trip—just when the morning sun grew a bit hotter. Once again I managed to get additional 7 minutes surplus compared to the plan. Apart from going to the loo, my main objective there was to get myself cold isotonic drink and cold water; the former is used to replenish my body’s fluid and salt level, as well as to lower core body temperature from the inside, while the latter is used soak my head and my body to lower body temperature from the outside. The cooling method helped bringing the body back to its normal temperature, to maintain optimum performance as well as endurance. It was especially important, because, just after the store, a long steep climb awaited.
The climb from Malangbong to Gentong was the steepest among the three major climbs along Bandung-Pangandaran route. Spanning 6.3 km, with 193 m of elevation gain, it’s not as long or as steep as other climbs I’ve tackled around Bandung. Still, the climb posed a tough challenge to keep my heart rate low for stamina-maintenance, especially as the air temperature rose as the morning began sliding to midday.
What followed after the climb was the long Gentong descent, which is more than twice the length of Nagrek’s (7.1 km), with even steeper gradient and overall better view. Rolling down the twisty descent was blissful. With Noah’s “Jalani Mimpi” playing through the earbuds, I found myself bursting in tears of joy along the road. How I wished the delight, the ecstasy, wouldn’t have to come to an end; how I wished I could stay in the flow of such a moment, forever…
The Gruesome Struggle
Eventually, the descent lessened as I approached Ciawi, which was then followed by gently-descending, relatively straight road, all the way to Rajapolah region. The fly-over there brought me to Tasikmalaya outer road to the southeast, instead of going straight to Tasikmalaya city. It was around here when the heat from tropical mid-day sun, which sapped me of my power considerably even on its own, conspired with wind to slow me down even further; maintaining average speed of 19 km/h was a struggle, even on smooth, straight, relatively-descending road!
My third stop was on yet another convenience store, somewhere on Tasikmalaya’s outer road, 99th km of the trip, still managed to get myself yet additional 5 minutes compared to the plan. Thinking a cold isotonic drink and a cold wash would not be enough, I got myself a popsicle as additional body-cooling measure. I also bought a slice of bread to stave off hunger without burdening the stomach with unnecessary heavy load. Imagine my surprise when I returned to the bike and found that my heart rate was hovering near the upper limit of zone 3, even after the cooling method, and 10 minutes longer-than-planned rest!
The clock was ticking; I had to continue my trip, despite the heat and the alarmingly high heart rate. The road was still relatively straight, relatively descending, to Ciamis. From there, though, the road turned hilly. Though the terrain wasn’t as pronounced as the ones between Limbangan and Malangbong, it felt harder, thanks to the heat from mid-day sun and struggling heart rate. The steep, trees-covered climb just after Ciung Wanara Natural Park was especially morale-draining, even though it wasn’t even counted as one of the major climbs along the route.
Arriving in my fourth stop in Banjar Atas Rest Area, 134th km of the trip, I bought myself fresh coconut, as well as isotonic drink supply to refill the bottle from convenience store just across the road. There was rumor circulating among Indonesian cyclists that coconut water robbed us of power. My search, however, convinced me that such rumor has no scientific basis. Coconut water, in fact, is natural isotonic drink providing the body with fluid and salt, while the meat provides fat for energy. Not to mention it provided welcome variation from convenience store’s bottled options! Enjoying the coconut and lying down for awhile under the shade of teak trees was refreshing, and restored my confidence to continue, to a degree.
From Banjar, I took a turn right to the south. The ride across the town was followed by the absurdly named Tepung Kanjut climb (lit. “The meeting of [two] testicles”), which was short, and wasn’t even counted as a major climb. Surprisingly, the shading trees made it a welcome variation compared to what came after; the hot, humid open air made the descent on the other side of the climb unenjoyable, and the boring, uneventful flat road afterward torturous, that even slightest increase in gradient had me cursing in self-pity. Unfortunately, it was the bitter reality I had to deal with all the way to my fifth convenience store stop in Banjarsari, 158th km of the trip, and further to my sixth convenience store stop in Kalipucang, 183th km of the trip.
By the time I reached my sixth stop on a convenience store in Kalipucang, the sun had almost set; I was 15 minutes behind schedule. I skipped my cold-water wash ritual, as the cooler air of the afternoon has helped bringing down my outer body temperature to normal. I didn’t skip drinking cold isotonic drink and eating popsicle, though, even though my mouth’s ceiling swelled in response to the sudden drop in temperature.
Pangandaran beach, my main destination, was only 17 km from my last stop. It was there, however, the route presented me its final challenge: Emplak Climb. Spanning 5.1 km in length, with average gradient of 2.8%, it was the shortest among the three major climbs on the route, but potentially the most challenging after all the hours of pedalling session from Bandung. Surprisingly, though, as the day grew darker, the easier the climb felt, as if I was regaining half of my initial power back! The fact that the night has fallen, and the beach was just around the corner, encouraged me to go all out with all the remaining power left in my tank, even on the 4.6 km of flowy, refreshing descent on the other side; even on 7 km of relatively flat, straight road all the way to the beach afterward.
My first stop after arriving on Pangandaran beach after sunset, 25 minutes behind schedule, was a fried chicken fast food restaurant. Buying two-pieces of fried chicken, rice, and float soda drink from common fast food restaurant instead of quality seafood there might seem like a waste of opportunity. I can tell you, however, that after pedalling for 200+ km on a day straight, all I cared was to get myself full-protein dinner as quickly and as easy as possible. I didn’t even bother eating on the restaurant, and brought them to the hotel room instead, so I could eat while stretching my legs straight on the floor. Followed by warm thorough shower, and lying down with kids and wife on the bed, it was a fitting way to end my cycling trip for the day.
“Would you do it again?” my brother-in-law asked me just after I arrived in the hotel in Pangandaran that night; my answer, back then, was a firm “no way!” It made sense, though; at the moment, the pain from tense and sore muscles all over my body was still fresh. Even then, the pain was negligible compared to what I found when I woke up the next morning: agonizing toothache and ulcers all over my mouth, the unexpected consequence of repeatedly exposing them to popsicle when they were overheated.
My search for explanation about the decline of performance in the middle of the day taught me to the concept of “cardiac drift”—the rise of heart rate despite the same power exertion. The primary cause, I learned, was environmental heat; as the body sends more blood to the skin to cool itself down, less blood is available to the muscle, hence the heart must increase its pump rate to maintain performance. There wasn’t much I could’ve done to deal with it; the cooling method I had applied only helped to a small degree. The cardiac drift due to environmental heat also explains how I seemed to regain power when the night fell, even when I was tackling a major climb.
The surprisingly high number of heart rate elevation, however, suggested there was secondary cause at play: dehydration. Environmental heat causes the body to lose more fluid, so it demands even higher fluid intake than usual. If I had drunk more, I could’ve minimized the cardiac drift and maintained performance, to a degree.
“Would you do it again?” I recalled my brother-in-law’s question days later. By then all the pain and soreness had receded, I’ve learned the mistake I could have avoided, and—most importantly—I remembered the delight of speeding along the rolling terrain. I’m now sure I will give the trip another go. I know now, I can avoid the mistakes I had made, I can make the trip faster and more enjoyable, and I’m looking forward it.
Cycling Trip Stats:
- Distance: 200.1 km
- Total Ascent: 1,690 m
- Max Elevation: 878 m asl
- % Unpaved: 0%
- % Singletrack: 0%
- % Rideable time: 100%