To those accustomed to running a marathon a week or cycling for hours on end, hiking 100km may not seem much at all. But for a trio of women who chose to do so amid the dense jungle of Penang’s hills, it was to revel with a cause. Myself, an Australian residing in Malaysia, and two others — Sam Williams from the UK and Greer Hawley from New Zealand — decided to go the distance to raise awareness of cervical cancer among the women of Malaysia in support of the Rose Foundation. Although currently not a registered event due to 2020 being the inaugural one, with the right publicity and committee, we hope this will become an annual occurrence.
Together with a small team of partners and friends as our trusty support crew, we set off on our journey on Dec 27, 2020. Here is our diary.
Dec 27 — Day 1
Jom! After months of training, baking to fundraise and about a thousand changes to the hike’s proposed route, we set off on our 100km journey from Moongate, located near Penang’s famed Botanical Gardens. We were overwhelmed with the support we had received to date, and it was fantastic to see a wave of teal T-shirts (teal being the official colour of the cervical cancer cause) join us for the first 7km up Penang Hill — all the while observing Covid SOPs and social distancing. We were also honoured to have Gretchen Fryar from Kuala Lumpur join us for the gruelling 28km on Day 1, probably our hardest day due to the many undulations. After nine hours, we were pretty relieved to reach our glamping destination in Teluk Bahang, after which began the process of treating heat rash and blisters and trying to rehydrate. As this is a genteel publication, we won’t mention the chafing!
Dec 28 — Day 2
With a few creaky joints, we started out early, easing into the journey along the road past the durian and tropical fruit farms, saying “Selamat pagi” to many smiling local cyclists. After a quick 5km, we re-entered the jungle near Teluk Bahang Dam and began our steep climb up the infamous Bukit Laksamana. After numerous “false summits”, we reached the puncak (peak), with its cool air and breathtaking views. Our selfie session and cries of “woohoo” were quickly truncated as a small swarm of bees cut our summit visit dramatically short. Moving on, we traversed through the jungle terrain for three more hours. Scorpions, monkeys, butterflies, squirrels, lizards all popped up here and there to say a friendly hello, but luckily no snakes. Finally, we exited the jungle in the southern part of the island in iconic Balik Pulau and mustered our endurance for the final 10km of Day 2. The 31km was an epic effort taking our total to 59km, over half way!
Dec 29 — Day 3
We won’t lie … getting up and putting on our shoes was not an easy task the third time around; a single tear might even have escaped our exhausted eyes. But knowing we were “nearly there” gave us the encouragement to take on Day 3 and tape over layers of blister tape. Off through Balik Pulau again, we made a slight detour to see the amazing views from Ngor Hean Temple, then it was around the Air Itam dam with hundreds of monkeys for entertainment. We then took a sharp left and bush-bashed our way to the top of Tiger Hill — this was not the worst hill we had tackled but at the 70km mark, it took some encouraging tunes to push us along (due thanks must go to Alicia Keys for her hit song Girl on Fire). “This is our final big climb, girls” made for motivating pep talk … even if it was a small, white lie. After “breezing” over Tiger Hill, we reached the peak and made our way to the top of Penang Hill for our second time: “We’ve nearly done it!”. Our dedicated support crew were there to meet us again, and it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience watching the sun go down over George Town while carbo loading and Tiger Balm-ing all the sore spots. And believe us, there were many.
Dec 30 — Day 4
What a view to wake up to! It was incredibly special to start our final morning from the top of Penang’s beloved historic hill. We couldn’t let ourselves get away with zero incline on Day 4, so after an initial journey up to Western Hill (and our highest point so far!), we descended again to the stunning Buddhist stupas. Perhaps we were a bit overconfident in our legs, rudely awakened with the uphill to Station 84 and on to the local favourite Bukit Cendana. The legs sure felt it then. Any plans on further elevation were ditched and we quickened our steps towards Tanjung Tokong.
For the final 3.5km, we were joined by Rose Foundation (KL) chairman Datuk Prof Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman and friends, motivating us towards that home stretch, the familiar sights and sounds (motorbikes and curry puffs!) of Jalan Fettes in the background. Walking around the corner at Straits Quay will be a moment we won’t forget in a long time. The footpath was covered with members of the local community cheering us on as we crossed the finish line.
“Sudah sampai!” I was completely overwhelmed with how receptive the community was to learning about cervical cancer, generously making on-the-spot donations and encouraging us to push on with positive comments on our Facebook page each day. We have to say a heartfelt terima kasih, xie xie, kam sia, nandri and thank you to all who supported us.
A final check of our stats: 103.99km, 5,316m elevation, 163,279 total steps, an average of 31°C and 86% humidity. We think they are pretty impressive and will challenge anyone who says 100km in the Penang hills is not all that hard!
To help fundraise 100 HPV test kits (one test kit is approximately RM250, which includes registration, facilitation and referral to a government hospital after a positive result, administration and lab testing), donate here.
This article first appeared on Jan 18, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.