Samantha Lee is waiting to hear on whether she will be the first woman to solo cycle across the country. Till then, she’s set a new record of perseverance and resilience for herself.

Samantha Lee and her trusty Wilier bike, on which she cycled over 5,000km around Peninsular and East Malaysia, to set the record as the longest distance solo cyclist in the country

Samantha Lee is waiting on some very important news from the invigilators at the Malaysian Book of Records as this is being written. If everything checks out, she is about to be named the first woman to solo cycle the longest distance in a complete round of the country, covering a total of 5,000km.

Her mileage totals 5,007km on her GPS distance tracker. She has the check-in stamps from the different hotels she stayed in throughout her journey from Peninsular to East Malaysia. The tanlines on the back of her neck and around her thighs tell of the 12-hour rides under sun and rain daily, spanned across 34 days.

“It wasn’t easy, and I still don’t know why I did it,” she says. “Perhaps it’s still sinking in that I completed it, but I am glad I took a chance and it worked out the best way possible for me.”

While she can’t pinpoint the exact moment that gave her a reason to embark on this strenuous journey, she knows her whole life has, in its own way, been building up to this. It was when she decided to just do it that she was shown the real resilience nestled in her, and the strength of her mental resolve in pushing that little bit further when she thinks she has exerted everything she has.

A big journey for a big cause

Hailing from Teluk Intan from a family of avid runners and bikers, marathons and bike relays are things she and her two siblings grew up with.

“I was fortunate that my parents taught me how to cycle at the age of 4. Ever since, I never stopped,” she fondly recalls. “I remember my little brother would race around the neighbourhood with me.”

The first seed to her dream of cycling solo around the country was first sown about two years ago. It took something bigger than glory to help her find the courage to materialise it.

“I decided I wanted to also make it a fundraiser to help the Hope Mission Children’s Welfare home, an orphanage near by home in Teluk Intan,” she divulges. “This home provides shelter, care and comfort for 34 children aged between 3 to 18.”

“My goal is to help raise RM 50,000 for renovations, refrigerators, mattresses, washing machines, kitchen cabinets, cupboards and couches,” she adds. “Additional money will be channelled to their Community Development projects such as the Hope Building, which is a training centre for underprivileged children, purchase of new vehicle for transportation of children to school and outdoor activities and the “adopting” a child program.”

With that cause in mind, she set out on January 27, 2019, on her first day of 34, covering distance from Shah Alam to Teluk Intan.

“I was nervous but in good spirits,” she recounts. “As it’s only the first day, I felt good and made good time to the Teluk Intan Clock Tower as the children from the orphanage have arranged to welcome me there and I didn’t want to keep them waiting.”

She arrived strong and steady with plenty of smiles along with her parents, who accompanied her on the entirety of her journey in Peninsular Malaysia in their Proton Saga. Days one and two started strong enough but little did she know the true test is only about to arrive with the dawn of day 3.

Samantha getting bike-fitted before her long journey by her sponsor, Little Rock Bike Fit Studio

A group picture with the children from the Hope Mission Welfare Society Orphanage for whom she is trying to raise RM50,000

Samantha has raised RM25,000 thus far

and welcomes anymore contribution at the website here.

Samantha with her parents Nicholas Lee and Lucy Lim

A quick lunch break on Day 1 upon arrival in Teluk Intan

Days one and two started strong enough but little did she know the true test is only about to arrive with the dawn of day 3

Early start in Cameron Highlands

She took the ferry in Penang to cross over to the island from Butterworth

Penang has her in good spirits

Samantha with her friend Josephine Tan, who proved to be an indispensable companion and support system, pictured here in Penang, when they rode together

Meals can be erratic, and Samantha eats whatever she can find on sale throughout the journey

Checking in at Cameron Highlands

On top of the heat, food and water can get scarce

She starts off at 6.30am most days and clocks 150km on average in 12 hours

Checking in at the Banjaran Titiwangsa

Doing some shopping in Dungun, Teregganu

Digging in to some chendol in Johor

The rides can get long and lonely

She took to talking and singing to herself on top of constantly reminding herself the reason she started

Samantha with her parents at the Banjaran Titiwangsa stop while she was riding from Gerik to Tanah Merah

Samantha on one of her scariest ride from Gerik To Tanah Merah

"Despite the challenges, there’s so much beauty in this journey," she says

At the Kota Kinabalu Waterfront in Sabah

It has been a ride of a lifetime, and it’s something she’s proud to have had the courage to start

"If you have a dream, don’t wait too long to pursue it." - Samantha Lee

“There is never a perfect time." - Samantha Lee

"Completing this journey isn’t just to prove I am able to cycle 5000km. To me, it is training for life." - Samantha Lee

(Swipe left for more photos from Samantha’s journey)

The long, lonely road ahead

As fatigue took its toll on her muscles and exhaustion nibbled at the edges of her mind, her journey up north towards Penang and Langkawi and then the return journey through Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang and Johor became borderline unbearable. She seems dazed as she tries to describe the 12-hour days on the bike, with short breaks in between only for meals. She had to ensure she covered 150km a day or more to meet her 5,000km mark.

“Till this day, I don’t know how can one train to cycle continuously for over 30 days in the heat from dusk to dawn,” she tells. “I do know what it takes, and it took everything I had in me to do this.”

The heat from the sun and the unpredictable terrain across routes she had only seen on Google Maps became cruel companions. Food and water verged dangerously scarce on a few occasions when she cycled through small towns with no proper rest stop amenities. Navigational issues also arose from her devices on days when tiredness clouded her mind so much that she forgot to charge them the night before.

“I had planned out the routes and loaded the maps to my device but realised on day 2 that it was wrong,” she tells. “So I decided to use the traditional way. I looked for road signs and sign boards, and I asked the locals. The coastal road conditions in Peninsular Malaysia can be really bumpy but no comparison to Sarawak.”

Samantha’s complete route to 5,000km around Peninsular and East Malaysia

East Malaysia presented her with her first punctured tire along with a whole new set of challenges.

“With the construction going on from Kuching to Miri that lasted about 800km or more, I was cycling on gravel road,” she exemplifies. “There was also a lot of dust and sand that clouded my vision.”

She fell ill on day 18 and had to load up on antibiotics to keep going. “It was actually a good record for me, having held up that long,” she reflects. “Try walking in the sun for at least 2 hours for a week and you will know what I mean.”

All the physical challenges were nothing compared to the mental war raging in her head.

“I was at the verge of giving up the last 7 days,” she admits. “I woke up and I didn’t want to cycle anymore. I wasn’t able to complete the planned route and I was under distanced.  I felt I was about to fail and it daunted me that it will happen if I don’t find a way to push through the mental pain.”

She took to talking and singing to herself through long lonely routes on top of constantly reminding herself the reason she started.

“I cried along the way, many times,” she reveals. “One quote stood out to me: ‘If you remember why you started, then you will know why you must continue’. Completing this journey isn’t just to prove I am able to cycle 5000km. To me, it is training for life. It is about the discipline, courage, strength, perseverance and determination to get back up. People can encourage you as much as they are able to but if you can’t find a way to do it for yourself, no one will.”

“It is about the discipline, courage, strength, perseverance and determination to get back up.”

On top of all the physical and mental challenges, Samantha had one other crucial aspect to consider since she was embarking on this journey alone as a woman.

“My biggest fear was my safety,” she tells. “I had a support crew that followed me on some days in the morning because it was very dark and met up with them towards end of the day. Between that, I was cycling on lonely roads and with no phone receptions.”

There were times when she was approached by strangers in unwarranted situations and the trigger in her self-defence mechanism was an added blow to her psyche. Still, she didn’t regret it.

“Why did I still choose to do this?” she contemplates. “Firstly, it is my dream to cycle around Malaysia and I would like to empower other people regardless of gender not to limit their dreams. It may be tougher for a woman, but we are capable of achieving great heights. My inspiration comes from what others have achieved or try to achieve despite of their challenges.”

“My body isn’t broken”

Through the ugly, there were also beautiful moments that kept her going.

“The biggest threat to mankind is mankind itself,” she quotes. “But the most wonderful thing that mankind can show to one another is also astounding.”

She recalls the time she encountered a group of truck drivers in Johor who were intrigued by what a girl like her could be up to cycling through their village, alone. Contrary to their rowdy stereotype, they bought her her bowl of chendol after learning of her goal in setting her record.

In Gerik, a Malay family cheered her on and gave her hugs after sharing a meal with her.

“If you have a dream, don’t wait too long to pursue it.”

The most moving moment was when she was in Kota Kinabalu and rode by a young boy and his sister sharing a bicycle, seemingly on their way back from school. Not a word was exchanged but the glance they shared connected her to them in new levels of human understanding.

“When you travel, you see many walks of life,” she reflects. “Despite the challenges, there’s so much beauty in this journey. I learnt to appreciate and be grateful for what I have.”

It has been a journey of immense self-discovery as well.

“Some may have known, about a year and a half ago, I was diagnosed with slipped disc,” she divulges. “Frequent back aches took a toll on training volume and motivation. Many people told me that it is okay and common, I will be stronger and I could still do many things. They were right. My body isn’t broken.”

She realises and acknowledges that as strong as her willpower can be, she wouldn’t have been able to make it without the love and support of her closest and dearest either. She is forever thankful to her parents who were with her every step of the way, as well as her friends and sponsors.

“My parents were my support crew for most of the days. They woke up as early as I did, waited for me the entire day, stood in the sun to take pictures, bought me dinner every night and never complained they were tired. My siblings constantly waited for daily updates and wished me luck every day. My friend Josephine took over the support crew duty in Sabah and helped me manage some of the sponsors. I have also experienced thoughtfulness from friends and acquaintances back home that wished me luck and supported my cause.”

It has been a ride of a lifetime, and it’s something she’s proud to have had the courage to start. There were many concerns about being a woman partaking in such a big feat but that is just another reason she feels more women need to go after dreams that seem impossible.

“If you have a dream, don’t wait too long to pursue it,” she believes. “There is never a perfect time. I think when you try to achieve something big, the challenge will be bigger if not equal. The rejections from people and the doubts you feel are valid. There is nothing to be ashamed of and it is okay to be vulnerable. Surround yourself with people that want to see you succeed.

If you would like to contribute to Samantha’s fundraising, you can do so at the official website here.

Note from Samantha: To my sponsors, thank you so much for believing in me. [Purpose, Fourtitudeasia, Hammer Nutrition, Bryton, WendWax, Sushi Tei, Gin Huat Bike Shop, Pro Speed Bike Shop, Maxxis Tires, Topeak, Cateye, Guee, Tune Hotel, KU3 Hotel Tapah, Bayview Hotel Langkawi, NDE Hotel Dungun, Ancasa Royal Resort Pekan, Erya by Suria Janda Baik Resort, Seri Simanggang Hotel Sri Aman, Jinhold Hotel and Service Apartment Bintulu, Valai Hotel Kudat]

(Photos: Gan Yew Chin and Samantha Lee)