By Daphne Tang (16S03M) and Samuel Loh (16A01A)
Really, what better way is there to spend the mid-term break’s first weekend other than covering 67.74 kilometres (although it certainly felt longer than that) of Singapore’s most exciting biking trails with friends? Raffles Institution’s Outdoor Activities Club (ODAC) offered many treats at their annual overnight cycling event Gear Up – including paths along homely farmsteads in Lorong Halus (almost anomalous to the kind of urban ubiquity we’re used to seeing everyday), stunning city sights along Marina Bay – no less awe-inspiring than they usually are – and Park Connectors around the heartlands. Gear Up began at East Coast Park and traced Singapore’s eastern perimeter, then cut a path through Ang Mo Kio-Bishan, Marina Bay, to return back to the starting point. The journey was expected to take an estimated 7 to 8 hours with four brief rest stops, and ahead of us lay several daunting challenges, like seemingly endless inclines, staircases, and a sleepless night. Participants were split into groups of 10, each led by several ODAC members who, having cycled the route up to 4 times prior in preparation, were more than acquainted with its challenges and well-qualified to guide the motley pack. “The practice runs mainly helped us build stamina for the long distance trip. It’s a really great opportunity to bond as an ODAC batch and get to know each other better as well,” Ryan Chua (16A01A) laughs, “It’s also meant to get us properly familiarized with the route so we don’t lead y’all into a ditch!” Sure enough, our ODAC guides exuded just the kind of confidence and leadership we needed to keep the pedals going. They were serious when it came to safety and ensured each group member was coping well, but that didn’t stop them from being great sports as well — laughing and joking along with the rest of us.
The night began at East Coast Park, where close to a hundred rented bicycles had been lined up neatly in rows outside the bike rental station, safety lights twinkling in what seemed almost to be an early Christmas. By the time we arrived to find our groups, Rafflesians were already milling about performing bike checks and taking photographs together as they awaited their turns to set off. ODAC members distributed energy bars and glowsticks, the latter of which quickly adorned wrists, bike handles, or backpacks, adding to the medley of bright colors in the blackness of night. Between the starting line and the first rest stop lay 20 kilometres of road to cover. Encouraged by a gentle sea breeze, participants cycled through East Coast Park on a straight path out, then moved along the seemingly ever-lasting Changi Coast Road as the deafening whir of planes roared overhead. Close to 2 hours had passed when the groups first arrived at Changi Village for a short stay to cool off their sore limbs. Shortly after, we were off once more, this time up the north-eastern road towards Punggol Waterway, cycling through scenic boulevards surrounding by domineering housing estates only recently completed, and thus still unoccupied. The tranquility offered a serene and enjoyable calm, but also a strange sense of solitude. Nevertheless, we sought comfort and security in the companionship of our fellow groupmates and soon found ourselves on deserted roads past Lorong Halus’ farms. The lack of high-rise buildings and relatively little lighting allowed us to view the moon and stars in their fullest, unreserved grandeur — a privilege rarely found in Singapore’s densely urban environments. As we began to tire out, every bit of encouragement from our peers became even more important to give us just that little boost we needed to finish the trip. Entering the heartlands, the groups weaved past familiar neighbourhoods and reached another rest stop nestled within Bishan Park, greeted by ODAC members handing out drinks and bananas before the journey’s final leg. Another 2-3 hours later, we were breezing down the expansive Formula One racetrack towards the Singapore Flyer. Finally, each groups lined up for pretty pictures by the cityscape before making their way slowly back to East Coast Park. “The night was really cold,” Syazwani Nonis (16S03B) said, “But it also felt warm on the inside because of the comfort and freedom we had at Gear Up and I’m really glad the group I was with enjoyed it so much too!”
Although Gear Up 2015 gave participants just as much physical and mental exhaustion as it did good sights, if not more, you can be doubly sure Raffles ODAC easily fulfilled its promise to deliver 68 kilometres’ worth of amazing memories riding the stars and racing the night together.