The day I challenged myself on the 36Km Coast-to-Coast Trail
Date: 6th November 2020 (Friday)
A long-distance hike is not a 1-day event, it is advisable to do some homework and be prepared before attempting the hike.
The Early Morning
The alarm clock went off at 5am sharp. I silenced the clock, "blinked" my eyes and 15 minutes slipped away. I jumped out of bed to get ready for the longest hike in my life — conquering the 36Km Singapore Coast-to-Coast (C2C) Trail.
Having packed the things that I needed for the hike the night before, what was left for the morning was to prepare and have a full breakfast. Unlike my usual breakfast of 4 pieces of bread with a cup of coffee, I added an extra half a teaspoon of sugar to my coffee this day and cooked some noodle with minced meat and veggies.
I also packed 3 large bananas into an ice-cream container, which I put in my backpack, to prevent them from being squashed. I ate the last one that could not fit into the container. These would be the calories to start the day and none would remain in my body by the end of the day.
At 6:30am, I left my house. But I did not get very far. The 1-litre water bladder bag that I bought online specially for this trip started leaking profusely. I would not be able to complete the hike without water, so I turned back to have the leaking bag replaced with my old 750ml water bottle. Another 15 minutes slipped away.
It was 7:20am when I reached Lakeside MRT Station. I had wanted to start the hike at 7am and end by 7pm. Even though I was late, I still aimed to finish by 7pm regardless. A quick visit to the washroom at the station and two sets of leg stretching exercises, I set off at 7:30am.
The starting point of the 36Km C2C trail was at the junction opposite Lakeside MRT station (the spot where I took the photo below). It was supposed to be in Jurong Lake Gardens 🚧, but the whole park was closed for re-development till June 2022. The trail from the new start point to Checkpoint 1 was mostly re-routed using footpaths outside the park.
(Throughout this post, I will use 🚧 to denote construction sites along the trail, so I don't have to write long stories about each site and the detours that I took).
I followed the C2C signposts (see photo below) along Boon Lay Way and headed towards Checkpoint 1. These signposts dotted the whole C2C Trail, guiding hikers from one end to the other.
The most accurate map to follow when in doubt would be the trail map in the NParks C2C mobile app which was updated with detoured paths around construction sites. Unfortunately, the app has a silly feature to show photos posted by other users on the map and consumed large amount of mobile data. Despite turning it off, it would come back on again on next launch. Guess what I did to the app after the hike?
At the same time, I used my own app, called IPT MapTrail, to map my trail on the C2C hike and shared some screenshots of my progress in this post.
Update 1st June 2021:
IPT MapTrail (iOS) app now comes with a feature, called Hi-Trails, that includes a series of hiking trails in Singapore. The Coast-to-Coast Trail can be downloaded, add to the tracking map and simply follow it while mapping your own trail. (It comes with a price though as I need to pay for hosting and development services.) Do download and try the app for free!
Checkpoint 1: Jurong Lake Gardens
Distance walked: 2 Km
Time: 7:53 am
Speed: 5.2 Km/h
All checkpoints along the C2C Trail would have signboards like the one below to identify them. It showed some instructions on how to use the NParks C2C app to get more information — after checking out the augmented reality feature at Checkpoint 1, I skipped doing the same thing at the rest of the checkpoints and focused on walking.
It was a long 5.3Km from Checkpoint 1 to Checkpoint 2 at Bukit Batok Nature Park. The trail was not unfamiliar to me since this area was my home ground. I could get to Checkpoint 2 faster without using the PCNs but the whole objective of the 36Km C2C Trail was to walk on the meandering PCNs, which made up the "36Km". Otherwise, I could end up walking 32Km on the 36Km trail.
One thing about this part of the trail was the numerous traffic lights. I had to stop every now and then to wait for the green man. The Ulu Pandan Connector 🚧 was also closed off, so I had to make a wide detour. I already knew about the construction works on this trail beforehand when doing my homework.
Checkpoint 2: Bukit Batok Nature Park
Distance walked: 7.2 Km
Time: 9:11 am
Speed: 4 Km/h
NEA's weather website had forecasted "thundery shower" for this morning the day before but it was all shine with not much clouds the whole day. By 9am, my hands were already reddened by the sun's UV light. I had forgotten to apply sun protection lotion, which I quickly put on.
The distance from Checkpoint 2 to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve was the shortest along the C2C Trail at just 1.9 Km. It was easy since Bukit Timah Nature Reserve was my regular hiking ground.
Checkpoint 3: Bukit Timah Nature Reserve
Distance walked: 9.1 Km
Time: 9:35 am
Speed: 4.75 Km/h
After passing Checkpoint 3, I had a call of nature. Unwilling to go to the visitor centre at the foot of Bukit Timah Hill and back, which would add some 900 metres, I decided to detour into Beauty World Centre to use the washroom, exit via the main entrance and continued to the cross-junction with Jalan Jurong Kechil, which brought me back on the C2C Trail. Again, there were construction works along Upper Bukit Timah Road 🚧.
The confectioneries and food court in Beauty World Centre provided some options for getting snacks to replenish energy. But I had granola bars and bananas in my backpack. I started feeling hungry after being reminded of food.
Bukit Timah Plaza to Checkpoint 4 was a straight stretch along Bukit Timah Road. I had to cross the road at King Albert Park Station. There were many shopping malls along this road so there was no concerns with restrooms and getting things to eat if needed. I gobbled down 2 granola bars and a banana while taking a short rest after King Albert Park Station.
I had felt a slight pain developing on my right foot after Checkpoint 1 and it got worst after the rest. The pain was in the same spot as a recent injury that I sustained about 3 weeks back after a 26Km hike from Bukit Timah Hill to MacRitchie Reservoir and back. It could be that I had walked too fast and strained the same muscle that might not have recovered fully.
I slowed down my walking pace and had to stop three times along Bukit Timah Road to rest my right foot, which was worsening with every steps. I began to have doubts that I could complete the hike. But since I could still walk — more like limped — I decided to keep going.
From King Albert Park Station to Sixth Avenue Station to Tan Kah Kee Station, I kept looking forward to reaching Botanic Gardens Station, a landmark that I thought was close to Checkpoint 4. But a C2C signpost at the road junction before Serene Centre pointed in another direction. That jolted my memory and I recalled that Checkpoint 4 was the only checkpoint on the trail that was not by a park!
I crossed Bukit Timah Road again towards Adam Road Food Centre. Why did the trail make me cross the road at King Albert Park and back again at Adam Road? There was no PCN on either side of the road!
Checkpoint 4: Adam Road
Distance walked: 14.6 Km
Time: 11:24 am
Speed: 4.5 Km/h
I was going a lot slower than I had wanted. On all the C2C signposts, there were one little note that said "Hike within your own ability". I asked myself should I wait for my foot injury to recover before re-attempting the 36Km trail again. That would probably be two months later.
"My abilities are perseverance and (pain) endurance. And my legs are not broken yet", I told myself and continued walking — that's the kind of mindset that would break my bones sooner or later.
Checkpoint 4 to Checkpoint 5 was to be the longest trail measuring some 7.75Km. The trail led me to Kheam Hock Park, passed through an underground passageway below Pan-Island Expressway, to an old Chinese cemetery and to a long overhead bridge across Lornie Highway. Surprisingly, my right foot did not give me any trouble when climbing up the bridge — most likely an injury related to walking.
After crossing the bridge, I walked along Lornie Road 🚧 and reached Mushroom Cafe in MacRitchie Reservoir Park. This was the most exciting trail, especially when walking alone through the old cemetery. It was also the hottest trail with not much shade to shield from the hot sun.
MacRitchie Reservoir Park was not a checkpoint on the C2C Trail. But, it was the mid-point of the whole trail and a good place to take a break.
I took 30 minute's rest here, refilled my water bottle, ate a granola bar and the rest of the bananas (2 large ones) to reduce the weight in my backpack. That was my lunch. I had intended to skip a full lunch to avoid taking long rest time.
Back on the trail to Checkpoint 5, I was about to venture into unfamiliar territories — the eastern part of Singapore. I had to refer to the maps much more often to get my bearings.
And my nightmare began. It seemed that the longer I rested my foot, the worst it became. I could hardly walk normally and slowed to almost a stroll. Some of the hikers on the same trail, who started later than me, began to overtake me along Marymount Road 🚧. I knew they were doing the same trail as me because no sane person would be walking along that long road littered with construction works under a hot sun and looking at their phones for directions.
After what seemed like an endless road, I finally came to Checkpoint 5 at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park — the longest stretch on the trail was over. Four checkpoints left to go.
Checkpoint 5: Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park
Distance walked: 22.4 Km
Time: 1:45 pm
Speed: 4.1 Km/h
After locating the signboard for Checkpoint 5, I took another break. I decided against going on the 1Km trail to the end of Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park and back. I aimed to finish the C2C Trail if I could but not willing to add on any extra distances.
Checkpoint 5 to Checkpoint 6 was the last of the 5+Km long trail. It continued north along Ang Mo Kio Ave 6, passed through Ang Mo Kio Town Garden West and then a sharp right turn to the east, followed by a long straight stretch along Ang Mo Kio Ave 5 to Luxus Hill Park.
A construction site at the far end of Ang Mo Kio Town Garden West 🚧 actually blocked off a segment of the trail and forced me to retraced some 300 metres to skirt around the site and continued to the road junction with Ang Mo Kio Ave 5. A check on the NParks C2C app showed that the map was updated with a new route to skirt the site. I should have referred to it earlier.
The straight stretch towards Luxus Hill Park was the most monotonous trail with not much interesting things to keep the spirit up. It was a magically-enchanted trail that kept forcing me to look down at my legs and measure the measure the distance with my eyes. I walked this whole stretch as though in a trance.
After an excruciatingly long painful walk, I finally reached Luxus Hill Park, where I took another long break in the park. I checked my walking speed and was amazed that I was still going at 4Km/h despite trying to slow down. Perhaps, that was why my foot still hurts a lot — I was still walking too fast but with smaller steps.
Checkpoint 6: Luxus Hill Park
Distance walked: 29.1 Km
Time: 3:24 pm
Speed: 4.0 Km/h
Thinking that there might be another exit in Luxus Hill Park that could lead to Yio Chu Kang Road to the next checkpoint, I walked through the park only to discover that all paths led to dead ends. Again, I had to retrace my steps to the entrance of Luxus Hill Park and continued on the trail from there — another extra walking distance added to my hike by my own mistake.
After turning off Yio Chu Kang Road some time later, the trail continued along the side of Punggol River. It was a change of environment from rows of concrete to river views and more greenery. No more traffic lights and construction sites from here onwards to Coney Island. This was the kind of hike that I would prefer instead of walking through concrete forests.
The downside was that restrooms (including water-refill points) and food outlets became scarce. Unlike in the concrete forests where food courts and shopping malls could be found every where, these facilities were limited to just a couple of places in the parks. Missed a stop and the next one would be miles away.
As expected from long distance hiking, fatigue would gradually creep in at some point. I began to feel tightness in my thighs and calf muscles. A pain was also developing in my left foot as a result of over-exerting it due to the injury in the right foot. I had covered 30Km — I did train up to 26Km — and the time was around 4pm. Realising that I had 3 hours to cover the last 8Km, I slowed down even further. Somehow, I felt confident that I could finish the last 8Km in less than 3 hours despite the injury.
I took a break under Tampines Expressway (TPE). This was to be my last rest stop. I would made the final "dash" to the finishing line without any more rests to prevent the foot pain from resetting. And it worked! The pain began to subside a little when I prolonged the walking. Was it more of getting accustomed to the strain or was it numbed?
Checkpoint 7: Sengkang Floating Wetland
Distance walked: 31.8 Km
Time: 4:21 pm
Speed: 3.5 Km/h
Both Sengkang Park and Punggol Waterway Park were created along Punggol River, so the trail from Checkpoint 7 to Checkpoint 8 and to the last checkpoint was simply just walking through both parks following Punggol River.
At one point, I experienced slight symptoms of dehydration. I had ran out of water from the pathetic 750ml water bottle since the last break under TPE. My head was getting heavier under the hot sun and I felt thirsty. With no urges to visit the restrooms since lunch break at MacRitchie Reservoir, I had skipped the couple of restrooms along Punggol River. As a consequence, I missed all the water-refilling points too, which were usually located outside restrooms in parks.
Luckily, I came across a vending machine selling drinks, quickly bought a can of Pocari Sweat and downed it in several gulps. And I took a sweet too just in case. These should work for the time being and last till the end of the hike. A while later, the heaviness in my head lifted.
Checkpoint 8: Punggol Waterway Park
Distance walked: 35.8 Km
Time: 5:21 pm
Speed: 4 Km/h
After passing Checkpoint 8, I walked a little faster than I could, hoping to finish the trail sooner. But, it was not easy trying to walk on a PCN with more cyclists than walkers. With a foot injury, I tried to keep to one side as much as possible because I would not be able to react fast to any speeding cyclists and those riding on power-assisted devices. But, it should be super obvious to anyone that I was limping — even though I thought I was walking straight and trying not to show it!
Checkpoint 9: Coney Island
Distance walked: 38.7 Km
Time: 5:57 pm
Speed: 4.8 Km/h
I finally reached the entrance to Coney Island, where the last checkpoint was, at just before 6pm — an hour ahead of my planned time to complete the hike. I had taken 10.5 hours to walk the C2C Trail. Unable to go on any further, I sat down on the road curb and let my legs rest all they wanted.
YES!! I had completed the 36Km Singapore Coast-to-Coast Trail!
I might have been the first idiot to limp 39Km from Jurong to Punggol instead of calling it off. If it was not because of my foot injury, I might be able to complete the C2C trail in a much shorter time — well, this is exactly the kind of mindset that seeds the idea to re-attempt the trail to get better results.
A notice at the side entrance of Coney Island stated that entry was from 7am to 7pm. Although there was still some time left to explore the small island, I did not want to push myself any further.
After sitting for about half an hour, and seeing that the sun was going down, it was time to be heading back. The walk had not ended yet. The nearest bus stop was still about a kilometre away.
Leaving Coney Island, I took a parting shot of the island. I would visit it another day.
After the long rest at Coney Island, the pain and aches were back with full force. I was walking slower than the elderlies.
I thought of getting dinner at Punggol Settlement but its row of restaurants was no place for a sweaty lone wolf. Since I was not exactly very hungry, I decided to head home and take a nice shower before thinking about dinner. I went to the bus stop at the end of Punggol Road for Bus 84 to Punggol MRT Station and journeyed to the west. Took me about 1.5 hours to reach home.
The final tabulations from Health app for the whole C2C Trail — starting from Lakeside MRT Station to the bus stop at Punggol Road — was close to 54,000 steps and 39.7 km walked distance. These were minimum values since there could be lost counts.
Want to share your trail? Download IPT MapTrail.
Needless to guess, I had a swollen right foot the size of a pig trotter for several days after the hike — it was a muscle tear in the flexor hallucis. Walking was really difficult for more than a week. It was a price to pay for not having enough trainings and being stubborn!
But, if I could limp all the way to finish the whole trail, it should not be very difficult — right?
Will I attempt the C2C Trail again? Probably...