Inspiring People: Andrew Glass – human power from Singapore to Pulau Tengah
Adding to the ‘Inspiring People’ section of my website – today we catch up with an adventurous Australian, Andrew Glass – a.k.a ‘Glassy’. Glassy recently had a family holiday and decided to spice it up by travelling to his Island destination completely by human power! Read more about what he did, how he did it and what the biggest challenges were below:
[Axe] Glassy thanks for taking time to catch up. What was the nature of your adventure?
[Glassy] Hi Axe, Well we’d planned a holiday with 8 families to a resort in Malaysia, on an island 16km off the coast of Mersing, Pulau Tengah. Inspired by your human powered achievements Axe, I thought I could attempt a human powered transit challenge myself by completing the journey under my own steam. That meant cycling 154km from my home (Dempsey Hill, Singapore) to Mersing in Malaysia, then kayaking the 16km open water crossing to Pulau Tengah to have earnt the food, and comfort that comes with holidays! When I initially proposed this idea to the other 8 dads (and any mums) who were coming on the trip, they all laughed and thought I was barking mad!
[Axe] What gave you the idea to try something like this?
[Glassy] I was inspired by your blogs and the previous 28km open water kayaking trip you asked me to join to Pulau Pisang on West Coast Malaysia – which did scare me a bit while we were out there to be honest, but I really enjoyed the challenge and trip.
[Axe] How much pre-planning did you do?
[Glassy] This was the most important factor. I know how much you did for our Pisang trip and other adventures as an example.
While planning is important regardless, going alone made it even more important with no back up in case of a problem. I considered these issues in my pre-planning:
Cycle: best time to make the ride? distance? estimated speed and arrival time? breaks? hydration? calories? safety lights, charged mobile, cards with emergency contacts and having people aware of what I was doing in case any problem en route.
Kayak: more daunting, requiring above but in addition, research into tides, currents, winds, expected weather, distance, speed and departure/anticipated arrival notification to police & the destination resort.
The SPOT Tracker satellite beeper that you lent me also gave me an added level of comfort/safety mate, thanks (You can see Glassy’s real-time GPS track at this link here).
[Axe] What was the biggest obstacles to PREPARING and planning for this trip?
[Glassy] Convincing my wife I would be OK and it was not as dangerous as EVERYONE was telling her (and me), particularly the cycle on Malaysian roads.
But there are no real physical obstacles for preparation, you just make lists and speak to people with experience to cover as many eventualities and prepare accordingly.
[Axe] Every REAL adventure has RISK. How much RISK did your trip have, and how did you manage this to a level you and your wife were comfortable with?
[Glassy] The largest perceived risk was being run over on the cycle to Mersing. Axe, you were about the only one that did not try and convince me not to do it.
There is definitely risk, both in the cycle and the kayak. However, if you have made your mind up to deal with the risk, you just try and minimize it. E.g. plenty of lights on your bike, don’t ride with earphones and keep alert – not much more you can do. The kayaking risk was primarily nature. You do what you can to be aware of conditions and make the choice to proceed or not with logic, not testosterone. I had confidence from the Pisang trip that I could do it, knew I had done homework on conditions, had the safety gear with me and your tracking device. Risk evaluation and mitigation is the key.
[Axe] How much physical training was necessary for this trip?
[Glassy] To be honest, not a lot. I am not in peak shape, but not untrained either. I cycle most days to/from work, occasional run and swim. I feel for something like this it is mostly mind over matter.
[Axe] So you would say that mental strength is more important than physical strength for something like this? i.e. is it more importantly to be super fit and strong OR is was it more difficult to have the mental strength to commit yourself to the RISK and UNCERTAINTY?
[Glassy] Mental strength and commitment without doubt.
[Axe] What did your wife think about you attempting this?
[Glassy] While not surprised, she was very concerned about the ride in particular and was till the morning still trying to talk me out of it – till I reminded her how much I am insured for,… joking (I hope!).
[Axe] What was the success rate your gave yourself when starting this out of successfully finishing it?
[Axe] Did you ever feel like backing out?
[Glassy] It did cross my mind before departing as the weight of concern for the ride was large. However, once I left the house, It did not cross my mind again, I was 100% committed – if for nothing else, to prove all the naysayers wrong after I had shot my mouth off too much calling them all soft.
[Axe] Did you want to do this yourself or would you have liked a partner?
[Glassy] Honestly, I would have much preferred a partner for both comradeship, and even more so for safety.
[Axe] What was the best experiences/positives your gained from your trip?
[Glassy] Proving to myself I could do it at 41. Showing an example to my kids.
Actually just having the time to myself with no phones or anything while pursuing a goal is also quite refreshing.
And seeing/hearing the flicker of envy that the other dad’s on the island showed when I had arrived!
[Axe] What was the worst part about your trip?
[Glassy] 10km after stopping for my last break with 35km to go the rolling hills just got to me and the speed really slowed. The heat had risen and then I cramped up. Had to stop and walk 50m before remounting. Found my mojo again and sped up, but then 10km from Mersing was smashed by a rainstorm for the rest of the cycle, but just ploughed through it.
[Glassy] Yes, would do it again, but probably not exactly the same. I enjoyed it all, but there are infinite variants to that trip and others to do. I would like to do a different, larger challenge and with at least one other or a small crew next time.
[Glassy] DO IT. But, just do it smart. Plan well and do not be driven by ego etc. to continue if the risk level exceeds the tipping point of reasonable safety.
[Axe] Glassy – thanks for your time – I personally found it inspiring to see what you managed to fit in to your family vacation. All the best for your future adventures!
An open water sea kayaking expedition to Pulau Pisang
To celebrate Chinese New Year (year of the horse), we saddled up our sea kayaks and took to the sea for an exploratory mission to Pulau Pisang Island (literally translating to ‘Banana Island’ in Malay). Pulau Pisang is located 14km off the coast of Malaysia in the Malacca Straits. The island officially belongs to Malaysia. However in 1900, Singapore signed an agreement with the Sultan of Johor which allowed them to operate a lighthouse from the Island in perpetuity. This has recently caused some political tensions between the two countries, mainly over sovereignty issues. We did not care too much about international politics as I believe the Island was there long before men were running around laying claim to certain pieces of the earth.
I had managed to convince Stephanie my wife and long-time rugby mate Andrew Glass (a.k.a ‘Glassy’) to join me. We set-off at 5:15AM from Singapore with two kayaks loaded up ( a double for Stephanie and myself and a single for Glassy). After an obligatory ‘athletes breakfast’ of roti prata (aka rote canai) in Gelang Patah in Malayia, we were in the water by just before 8am at the small town of Pontian and paddling.
It is a 14km open water paddle to reach the island. At this time of the year the prevailing winds are north-easterly due to the monsoon. Our paddle out to the Island took 2 hours and 30 minutes. Wind induced short period choppy swells sweeping in from behind made an uncomfortable journey as we were pushed and rolled around without warning. Stephanie and Glassy were amazed when I told them after 1.5 hours of paddling that the Island was still 7km away as it looked deceptively close.
We landed on the Island and had the company of some friendly Malay families who had come over in a boat and were swimming and enjoying themselves. We took a short walk to the lighthouse at the top of the Island which is permanently staffed and operated by Singaporean’s. They were very friendly to talk to and told us they work on a ten day on/ten day off shift. It would be a beautiful part of the world to have your office.
We enjoyed a tranquil lunch sitting on the small jetty on the Island before gearing up for the paddle back to the mainland. My water proof camera and waterproof GPS both gave up life on the journey meaning we steered mainly on a compass heading back the first half of the journey. The mainland looks so featureless from 14km away that it is hard to recognise features for navigation purposes. As we got closer Glassy recognised one of the landmarks to head for onshore. It was a good lesson not to completely rely on GPS or electronic navigation devices.
We arrived back after 2 hours and 15 minutes of paddling. Paddling across open water is a very different experience to coastal paddling (paddling alongside and parallel to the coastline). The scenery changes much slower in open water paddling. The conditions can get much worse and the commitment level is higher due to the fact if something goes wrong offshore then you can’t easily get into the safety of dry land. It can be an intimidating yet exhilarating feeling when you are so far from land with the weather conditions worsening. Stephanie’s arms were very tired and I was exceptionally proud of her for having the physical and mental strength to paddle for 5 hours, on her first open water crossing.
For anyone contemplating this paddle in the future, my advice to be wary that is longer than it looks to the Island! If anything goes wrong out there you are pretty much on your own. Cellphones do work from Pula Pisang so if you had a phone in a waterproof bag this would be a good back-up (and of course you must know who to call!). Navigation is also a challenge, especially if the visibility is poor. So prepare and train properly so that you have enough strength to paddle in choppy/windy condition’s for at least 5 – 6 hours, and enough experience to know what to do in the event that conditions change or something went wrong.