Solvitur Velocipedo

Cocooned in my forest lair by day, by night holed up in the sequestered serenity of the campsite's riverside glade. I passed my time beneath the 1600m peaks that closet the table land. Five trails led away from my tent; four into the forest hills. The fifth, least used, led back to roads and noise and people. Occasional forays that way into the tourist hub of Tanah Rata's main drag to procure food a fleeting, grating reminder of the busy reality just a tree screen away.

The stillness couldn't last. Altitude is a a cyclists hardest won currency; the urge for a spendthrift splurge rose irresistibly. With a glorious descent promise-note burning a hole in my pocket I packed up my camp and romped through Brinchang and Kampung Raja, the tableland's northern most stations. The scale of the developments was difficult to miss. The WWF's describing land clearance as "rampant" did not seem hyperbolic looking over valleys glaring back from reflective cellophane and glass.

The forensic report is easily read in the deep wounds left by landslides in conspicuously forest-absent hillsides. The loss of lives has been enough to lead Malaysia's deputy Prime Minister to try and tackle the corruption enabling the frenzied development. As the forest cooled micro-climate ticks up and the hotel, shops and farms proliferate more than the Cameron's charm is at risk.

Seeking a balm from worldly concerns I pulled into a tea plantation handily positioned at the the crest of my much anticipated down-hill.

Finally I got my delayed cup of Cameron Highland's tea.

With all the arrogance of a stiff upper lipped East India Company official, I dismissed the obvious disapproval at my request for milk with the imperturbable confidence of undeniable cultural supremacy. Resisting, only just, the temptation for a Milk Marketing Board inspired diatribe.

Instead I joined hill and bicycle in heavenly union and flowed downwards towards the Perak plains.

Sixty blessed kilometers of countless weave and occasional bob 

As free wheel canter evolved towards terrestrial trot the blue sky knit brow and conjured cloud and cooling rain. Hasty clothing changes and constricting waterproofs have no place in the tropics. I let the increasingly heavy droplets wash away the sweat and dirt, drench my shirt, soak my hair and tickle my sandaled feet.

Skirting soggy Karsks enjoying the precipitated cool

In Kuala Lumpour I had witnessed the fleeting ferocity of afternoon downpours but this dry season storm had a different cadence. The rain steadily increased in intensity as I detoured to Ipoh, proud and pretty on the banks of the Kintra, before continuing north west. The afternoon passed with no let up. Rumbling thunder helped a utilitarian guest house just north of Batu Gajah seduce me.

Rain drummed insistently on the aluminium roof of my cheaply bought hidey hole. As the storm deepened a predictable power outage followed. Assisted by lightening flashes I found my head torch and retrieved my kindle ready to curl up.

Oh sweet and merciful Murphy inflict on me your choice of tortures but not this. Anything but this!

When's and how's and merciless recriminations against my former self's slapdashery swirled a midst dangerous curses against a cruel uncaring universe. 

All a bit melodramatic I hear you cry dear reader, and you would of course be right. Especially as the thunder continued to crash and lightening silhouetted my desperate form clicking through blanked out menu's in desperate hope.

You would also be dead wrong. This was not the first time I had been separated from my kindle on tour. It hurt none the less for repetition. Reading and having access to a six hundred book library is such an essential part of my routine that being without it was, and is, a truly hideous prospect. I'm often asked whether I get lonely touring solo and the answer is an honest no for 95% of the time; in no small part due to always having access to a good book. Company, inspiration, distraction. Who could want for better travel companions than Steinbeck, Orwell and Camus?

At the risk of over egging the omelette I was distraught. A restless night spent counting lost comrades and doubting the continued conviviality of my endeavor followed.  

I awoke to a cloud streaked blue morning; pushing away the immediate painful recollection of my broken possession. 

Fortunately a solution lay close at hand. Diogenes** in his arguments with the sophists spoke of solvitur ambulado - it is solved by walking. The concept has been expanded from its Greek roots by the likes of Thoreau and recently Theroux to incorporate the mental benefits of perambulation. Poets, philosophers and scientists of diverse stripes espouse the benefits to creative thought of a good long stroll. Walking of a more purposeful nature can convert the abstract into the tangible. The concept of a pilgrimage a physically undertaken perambulatory penance aimed at converting ephemeral religious cares into physical expression, with hopes of inspiration and insight along the way, speaks to the heart of this idea. Ignoring the intelligentsia and the clerics, homespun wisdom suggests we walk it off when anger or discomfort agitates us beyond our stationary limits.

For me it is solved by cycling: Solvitur velocipedo!

Worry, doubt, all things fall away with the turning of cranks. Not immediate nor uniform. Thoughts may swirl but usually, sometimes eventually, a wonderful carelessness descends. The strength of your legs, proved with each revolution, bolsters mental resources to overcome self doubt. Bringing ones mind to where ones body is; the opposite of the careworn soul scratching at arms or tapping feet in physical expression of psychic disturbance. Progress and proof of your capability is all around you as kilometers and landscapes dissolve. Perhaps it is the meditative repetition of a single physical phrase. Pedal turned, push and pull, transcendental in its simplicity. Doctors or psychologist would point to altered serotonin levels. But my hearts hunch is that cares are simply left behind. Too swift, too fleet for demons and dark clouds to catch.

In someways it is the opposite of the peripatetic philosophic ideal espoused by the likes of Rousseau.

I can only meditate when I am walking. When I stop, I cease to think; my mind only works with my legs.

Rather, perched upon the saddle, a wonderful blankness descends. The off bike cares of future and past are surrendered. The chattering of second guesses quietens. This is the way and I am willing. Willing and able to follow it. 

The painful literature loss was treated by the bicycle balm resembling an inuit practice described by Lucy Lippard:

Custom offers an angry person release by walking the emotion out of his or her system in a straight line across the landscape; the point at which the anger is conquered is marked with a stick, bearing witness to the strength or length of the rage.” 

The point I marked came some 196 kilometers later as I drifted on the free ferry across the narrow channel from Butterworth to Penang. 
I arrived in time to witness Chinese New Year. This, it turned out, meant a complete cessation of the local bureaucracy so I settled in to wait for the following Tuesday to secure a Thai visa.

Fortunately George Town, especially during Chinese New Year offers much for the enthusiastic ambulator so I hit the streets in earnest and lost myself among the bustle and color.

Incense cloaked the streets and Chinese Buddhist temples thronged.

When the crowds became oppressive and the farange filled hostelry of Love Lane irritated George Towns colonial legacy offered clean lines and quiet.

As the Chinese denizens retreated to their homes to recieve guests and visit family leaving behind shuttered shop fronts I removed to Little India to wander and graze.

The winding, atmospheric streets lent themselves well to a man without portfolio, hiding little gems of prettiness and humour.
Street graffiti and bicycle cafés provided distraction.

Incomparably delectable dim-sum made for unhurried dinners. 

Of course a city is more than its architecture, food and culture. The people transient and resident alike determine much of ones impression. A Swiss cyclist who shared a ride round the island with me while recounting his rides in Central Asia, China and Alaska. The Malay matriarch who took me under her wing. A paranoid Mancunian next door who would whisper conspiratorially about the authorities following him and censoring his Facebook status updates. A chilled out Norweigen who bought me a beer, watched the football and offered Burmese travel tips. Brief, impersonal but appreciated connections.

I was pleased to get to know Penang. My chosen flight meant I'd missed Batavia, Singapore and Malacca. George Town, Britain's first colonial outpost in the straights, was a fascinating mix of British, Malay and Chinese influences. That said, after four nights waiting for paperwork to be shuffled I found myself longing once again to solve my restlessness with cycling.

Overview: 2 Days walking
                  Day 1 120km
                  Day 2 80km
                  Day 3 120km
                  4 days waiting for visa

* routes are made using googlemaps autocomplete. Accuracy may be less than perfect

**Diogenes had many other things to say which I might have taken solace from "It is the privilege of the gods to want nothing, and of godlike men to want little." or his famed retort to Alexander "I have nothing to ask but that you would remove to the other side, that you may not, by intercepting the sunshine, take from me what you cannot give." Either of which might have acted as excellent exemplars in the art of being content and needing little but alas my copy of Diogenes Laërtius was on the bleeding kindle! :)

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