MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: Cyclist Jacky Hong arrived at the KLIA yesterday no less an Olympian for his courage to realise a life-long ambition. Earlier in London, the cyclist, who had completed a solo ride through 15 countries from Kuala Lumpur, narrated his adventures to Nooraini Mydin
LEAVING his wife, June Yap, and their 2-month-old baby, Hong Yan in Kuala Lumpur, 35-year-old nutrition coach Jacky Hong decided to chase his dream of cycling to London. Time was of the essence for Hong. The city was hosting the Olympics in July this year, so what better time to arrive than that?
His wife had just conceived when he mentioned this to her. Knowing how important this was to him, she insisted he followed his heart. She would not be alone, she assured him, with Hong Yan around.
Giving himself six months to complete the journey in order to arrive within the Olympics period which ended yesterday, he began his 16,800km journey on Valentine's Day (Feb 14).
Although a keen cyclist, Hong had never cycled to neighbouring Singapore, which is a mere 300km away, let alone organise an epic trip like this. He had no idea which route to take or what to expect, so he trawled the Internet for guidance and the Lonely Planet forum proved invaluable, with fellow enthusiasts giving tips down to the final details.
His original route: Thailand-Laos-China-India-Pakistan-Iran-Turkey-Bulgaria-Hungary-Austria-Germany-France-London had to be abandoned when he learned that Hungary and Bulgaria didn't share a border and that the India-China border was closed.
The route he took: Thailand-Laos-China-Kazakhstan-Kyrgstan-Kazakhstan-Russia-Ukraine-Moldova-Romania-Hungary-Croatia-Slovenia-Italy-France-United Kingdom.
With help from his cycling buddies and friends he had managed to get a sponsorship for the bike, a smart phone with GPS, a return flight from London and a daily stipend of RM70. But more importantly, said Hong, was the RM168,000, which he hoped to raise for the MAA-MediCare Kidney Foundation (RM10 for every kilometre he cycled).
To stretch RM70 to cover food and accommodation wasn't easy. He managed to save money in countries like Thailand, Laos and China, to use in the more expensive countries in Europe, but camping was the only way to save money. Hitting China in the middle of winter put paid to that, but fortunately the motels were cheap there.
He knew he would be travelling through China in winter, but he hadn't counted on facing freezing temperatures. "I knew it would be cold but I didn't realise how cold. In Laos, approaching China, it was already getting cold. I had to stop and put everything I had on. Luckily when you cycle you feel warm.
Some of the roads were mountainous. "It's like you're on one mountain and you see this mountain in the distance and you know you're going to have to climb it as well."
But, Hong kept to his 100km a day or he would have missed his target arrival date.
Camping might seem like fun, but Hong didn't go to campsites, instead he found a safe place at the end of each day to bed down; and this could be by the side of a river, in a forest, a farm, or cemetery. Because of the lack of facilities, there were occasions when he would go without a shower for three weeks at a time.
To most of us, the idea of a solo trip anywhere is daunting. But for Hong, the beautiful scenery as he cycled through the countries was a sight to behold. Mountains with snowy tops giving way to spring blossoms and summer flowers, rivers, lakes and seas in shades of blue and turquoise, rural and urban landscapes and the colourful people populating them.
Among his treasured memories were seeing spring in China with the mountains resplendent in pink and white flowers, and the cherry blossoms, which Hong said he had only seen as silk flowers used in Chinese New Year decorations before this.
Arriving in London just before the opening ceremony for the Olympics, Hong was lucky to be invited by the Malaysian High Commissioner, Datuk Seri Zakaria Sulong, to a dinner for Malaysian Olympians with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong as guest of honour. He stayed in London together with a group of cyclists from Penang.
Although he never managed to secure seats to see the badminton finals, Hong spoke with great pride at being able to watch the event on television in London with his Malaysian friends.
Any regrets? Hong admitted there were some, like not being there when his baby girl rolled on her tummy for the first time or cut her first tooth, but "by completing this personal challenge I want her to know that she too can achieve anything she sets her mind to".