Current Location: Gerik, Perak, Malaysia
Distance to end at Georgetown, Penang: approx 200 km
"I always knock on the door of my hotel room and wait, asking the spirits for permission to enter. You never know what has gone before."
The man telling us this was a down to earth Chinese Malaysian, approaching 60, with a background in engineering. He was on his way from head office to a remote corner of the country to help some less senior colleagues celebrate a project completed ahead of target
"The target was a hundred days and they did it in eighty," he told us with a hint of pride over dinner. He was a man grounded in facts and figures and mechanics, not one you would expect to be concerned about ghosts in his hotel room.
"My father taught me to knock first," he said "and I've always done it. Now I have taught my son."
Call him superstitious or whatever, but this trip for us has been one hotel after another and several times I've woken during the night with the feeling that Judy and I were not alone.
Often light leaks in from a street lamp outside our window, or around the ill-fitting door. I see a shape outlined against a wall and for a moment think someone is trying to steal our possessions. Occasionally the shape will move, and I don't relax until I realise it's a curtain or our own laundry swaying in the breeze from the air conditioning unit.
I drift back to sleep with a sense of relief, but the feeling of someone's presence doesn't disappear altogether.
How many other people have slept in this room? Judging by the scuffs on the wall and the way the key jiggles in the door lock, it has had lots of use. What were the circumstances that brought them here? Were they happy occasions or sad ones or, like our friend, straightforward ones - a business trip with perhaps not much emotional baggage.
We will never know.
After dinner last night we returned to our room, a windowless box just off reception. At the door Judy paused.
"Do you think I should knock", she asked quietly.
I nodded. She tapped, waited a few seconds then slid the key into the lock. The room was exactly the way we had left it, but somehow it felt more welcoming.
The East West Highway
8 August 2016 Jeli to Palau Banding 90 km
"It's the metal rabbit, turbo coming on," yelled Judy as we crested the last little rise into Gerik, an unremarkable town known as an overnight stop for drivers crossing from one coast of Malaysia to the other.
The metal rabbit has become Judy's rallying cry since she was told she was born in the year of the metal rabbit by a Chinese woman. The metal is said to give rabbits more strength, resilience and determination than their lesser relatives.
Just what's needed in a touring cyclist, especially in the past couple of days.
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Kota Bharu to Tanah Merah 49 km
Tanah Merah to Jeli 42 km
Jeli to Pulau Banding 90 km
Pulau Banding to Grik/Gerik 42 km
We have had one particularly tough day - the 90 km from Jeli to Palau Banding, the scene of an artificial lake that supplies water to the Temenggor Power Station. Along the way we rode up a 40 km hill, surely our longest yet. We topped out at over a 1,000 metres and then had a glorious downhill slide for the next 25 km. It was a hot, long and difficult day with occasional relief provided by shade from the jungle and just enough food and fluid stops.
When we reached Palau Banding we discovered the hotel where we had hoped to stay was closed.
There was only one alternative - the beautiful but outrageously expensive Belum Rain Forest Resort where the only room left was a deluxe suite garden view for RM680 (NZ$236) a night - more than eight times our usual budget.
It was wonderful. All polished concrete and glass and bamboo, an outside bath (we used it to rinse our clothes) with a fan, bathrobes, slippers and so modern it didn't have a door on the loo.
We gorged ourselves on the Malay-style buffet (not included in the price), roaming backwards and forwards to the serving tables until one of the staff remarked to Judy that she had eaten a lot.
We collapsed into bed, slept the sleep of the truly exhausted and missed breakfast. We managed to check out by midday, had lunch and left to cycle straight into a solid 8 km climb with the temperature over 40 degrees. Sssssh, keep it to yourself but we even walked briefly a couple of times.
From the top we had another long descent with a road so good we hardly touched the brakes and clocked 60 kph.
Today has been declared a rest day, and from here we will probably give ourselves three leisurely days to the end of the ride in Penang.