THEY say to see a country properly, one has to be close to the ground.
And what better way, in this age of environmental consciousness, than to tour a region on a bicycle where one can truly experience the local cultures and see the sights up close and personal.
Two persons who have embraced this method of touring are Singaporean Rahim Resad and American Heather Pritchard.
The two cyclo-tourists are embarking on a trip that will literally take them around Borneo — and they are attempting to circumnavigate the world’s third largest Island on two wheels.
Rahim has extensive background in cyclo-touring, dating back to 2006 when he did a 14-day tour of Western Australia, and as recent as October 2010 when he toured Sumatra for two months.
Pritchard, a sports rehab therapist by training, has been travelling around Southeast Asia for the past several years and three years ago, she decided that the bicycle would be an ideal vehicle to travel round and see the region.
For the past several months, she has been cycling through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam before returning to Thailand to start her journey southwards to peninsular Malaysia.
During the round trip, she stayed in a variety of places, the most basic of which was her tent pitched on the beach in Thailand.
“In the interior part of the trip, I stayed in guest houses and was also fortunate enough to be invited to stay in people’s homes,” said Pritchard who typifies that relaxed yet active California lifestyle, her home state.
“This trip is more adventurous than any I have done. Kalimantan will be a big challenge as we do not have any good maps —- so we don’t really know what to expect.”
She is also wary of the heat they will be encountering.
One person familiar with the challenges they will face in the Malaysian leg is Kuching outdoorsman Francis Ho who in 2011 rode 1,340km solo from Kota Kinabalu to Kuching to raise funds for The Federation of Life Care Society.
“They will have to put up with the heat and the poor conditions of the roads. There were no shades on the sides of the roads when I made the ride in 2011,” Ho recalled.
The genesis for the expedition, undertaken by Rahim and Pritchard, came in 2012 when Rahim met Sabah tourism officials at a presentation.
When his proposal to cyclo-tour Sabah was turned down, he decided to expand his vision.
“After some research, I decided it might be much better if we could do the whole Island of Borneo,” he said.
The groundwork has been on-going for the better part of a year, mostly through the Internet, which is also how Pritchard came to know of the expedition.
“I found there were quite a few people who said they had done the trip,” Rahim revealed.
However, after some conversation, it turned out these people had only cycled from Sabah to Sarawak.
“I asked them about Kalimantan and they told me it wasn’t part of Borneo,” Rahim recalled.
He was perplexed, noting that “all the academic articles I have read said Kalimantan is part of Borneo.”
“I think the Indonesians are going to be upset if they hear about this,” he quipped.
There is a local connection to this adventure in that Kuching cyclo-tourist Simon Sandi is also doing his ‘Tip to Tip of Borneo’ ride.
He will be using a recumbent bike from Kudat, the northen-most tip of Sabah, to Kampung Pueh, the western tip of Sarawak, a distance of about 1,600km.
It was originally a solo ride but Simon has been joined by two Sabahans — Mohd Hisham Ismail of Kudat and Mansur Zul Amran of Pitas.
Said Rahim: “We will ride together for part of the Malaysian leg but it will depend on Simon as he is on a tight timeframe while we are going to take our time.”
They plan to cycle around 100kms daily.
To raise awareness for their endeavour which, in part, is also a charity ride, they have set up a FaceBook page called ‘Ride Around Borneo’ 2013.
They are also selling ‘Ride Around Borneo’ tees partly to fund the ride and also to raise money for two charities.
The ride will benefit Singapore’s Tan Tock Seng Hospital Community Fund which provides medical care and support to financially-strapped patients.
In Malaysia, they will be contributing to Sabah’s Humana Child Aid Society which provides education to children in remote areas and in plantations.
They are expanding to include children of the Bajau Laut sea nomads.
Humana Child Aid Society is supported by UNICEF and has a website, www.borneochildaid.org.
The cyclo-tourists also plan to update their FaceBook page to let people know their progress.
“We will update them when we get a signal and also when we go into major towns,” Pritchard said.
They started their journey on Sunday at Kota Kinabalu where they rode 97km to Beaufort.
On Monday, they crossed into Sarawak.
According to their latest FaceBook postings, they were scheduled to enter Brunei on Tuesday and cross back into the Sarawak side at Mangakalap all in one day.
They will arrive in Kuching on either May 3 or 4 before beginning the Kalimantan leg of their journey.