Monday, July 12, 2004

Riding posse for William Tan's ultramarathon

Reach Out and Run for the Elderly, 11th Jul 2004

In an effort to raise funds for the Toa Payoh and Geylang Senior Citizens Health Care Centres, William Tan once again raced his wheelchair over 100km of roads in SIngapore, through Toa Payoh, Paya Lebar, Geylang, Esplanade, Pasir Panjang, Clementi, Boon Lay, Jalan Bahar, Kranji, Woodlands, Admiralty, Sembawang and Thomson, before returning to the clinic at Toa Payoh.

Last year (13 July 2003), Wheels Are Turning were represented by Kian Wee, Airani and myself, as guests of Aaron's NUS' Cycling team, with Ling riding up front with the route leader. Yesterday (11 July 2004), Aaron, Airani, Catherine, Chi, Hua Qin, Ah Sheng, Dinesh (first time we met him!) and myself eventually served as part of the advance party while Ling and Janice were part of the main body.

Successful ride management provides a continuous flow of roads - no interruptions and few stops for William Tan on his racing wheelchair. Braking is an energy-expensive option and can be dangerous is too sudden. While the hired CISCO police always do an excellent job, and can even command non-major traffic junctions, a pedestrian or vehicle cutting into the path of the main body suddenly could cause a bad accident.

William's ride begins in heavily built-up areas, ventures out to more open areas (like Kranji Dam, Admiralty and Sembawang), and then returns to the urban sprawl once again. So the beginning and end of the journey are peppered with lots of side lanes, slip roads, turns and junctions posing potential danger.

The convoy looked like this in the end:
|Ambulance|--> |Main body|--|William & Core team|--> |Outriders, Blocking crew & CISCO police|--|Route truck|

A core team of about four cyclists maintain a pattern around William. They keep to his pace, encourage him when the going gets tough and keep a lookout while he concentrates on his demanding 100km ride. Together with some 20-30 cyclists, the main body forms a protective long 'vehicle', and is less likely to be missed or interfered with by vehicles on the road, although some still try!

The advance party of two outriders and a blocking crew ride ahead of the main body. The two outriders maintain a regular distance ahead of William, using their rear view mirrors. They cover emergencies that crop up behind the blocking crew or help out as blockers, and get the riders ahead to accelerate (a bell is useful!) if William catches up, to prevent unnecessary braking or a collision.

The blocking crew locks up all the side roads against impatient or unknowing drivers from crashing into William and the main body. They work with the CISCO police who are riding motorbikes, and at minor junctions, relieve the cops so that they can venture forward even faster. As needed, the blocking crew weave behind or ahead the route truck that directs the main body. It's hard work but fun as you have to completely stop in front of the junction or car you are blocking, see the front of the main body pass by safely, accelerate up ahead before blocking the next problem. Pretty good exercise!

None of had talked about our roles before this ride as we just turned up to register. The 2003 crew tried to slip in to old roles but things took longer to settle down. Since Geylang was peppered with many side roads, most of us began blocking and eventually settled down to this role. As we approached Sungei Buloh, and there was some discussion about the route, I became an outrider since I was fitted with a rear-view mirror and bell. So I partnered Dinesh who had maintained that position from the beginning and the others continued blocking of potential hazards ahead.

The core team and CISCO police picked up on this and soon everyone was working together smoothly. By the time we re-entered the urban sprawl in the afternoon, things were much more efficient and safer. I was quite impressed by the way WAT riders picked up on their roles and they can certainly be happy about their contributions that day.

Despite these efforts, a car rushed through the Thomson-Marymount traffic junction, between the outriders and blocking crew, and past a CISCO outrider who had parked stopped his motorbike and had stood in front of her part of the junction, shocking most of us! From her expression that one cyclist observed, the driver appeared confused and may have made a mistake. Luckily there were no collisions.

The advance party clicked into high gear after that and by Toa Payoh, were executing blocks and lane management over almost every inch with a vengeance! It became the safest it had ever been and I was quite impressed with the culmination of day's work. I guess we simply had enough time to work together. There were elements that could be improved and we will probably iron those out during future rides. Still it was an excellent display of initiative and team work.

William surprised me - he was traveling much faster this year. His fitness appears to have improved considerably, although the weather certainly helped. Particularly the strong drizzle that cooled off the potentially hot Lim Chu Kang tarmac. And he also climbed the SLF slope faster and with less effort, although it was still agonising!

I surprised myself by coping well with the distance. So I'm not that unfit and will probably be able to handle the KL ride next year. But I will really know in a day's time for that's when the aches appear.

On Sunday 17th October 2004, William Tan rides again in aid of the Senior Citizens Hardship Fund. Wheels Are Turning intend to ride in support again.

First posted in Otterman speaks.

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