RFC Achives

Peter Taylor’s story from the Twilight Zone RFC 2005

by on Jan.08, 2008, under RFC Achives

I joined the x-men scout group for the journey into the rainforest jungles of Terengganu, a distance of some 70-80 kilometers of the toughest 4 wheel driving you could imagine. Add to this the daily monsoon rains that pelt down and turn the jungle tracks into an even more difficult terrain.

Our convoy of vehicles, mostly from the Landrover Owners Club of Kuala Lumpur, numbered 8 in total, fully equipped with supplies and spares for an extended stay in the jungle, to set up and run special stages (s/s) for the competition vehicles which would follow us.

After refueling and filling jerry cans in Kuala Berang, the last town and fuel point for us until we came back out, we set off into an area aptly called the “Predator” crossing the Sungai Ketiah (River Ketiah) and heading for the Hakka Junction. We encountered many obstacles and the going was slow, with the need to clear fallen trees and landslides caused by heavy rain that had fallen the preceding week. Many bridges had to be made to cross creeks that had very steep banks which had washed away and some of the slip areas also needed to be bridged. Simple log bridges were constructed and the vehicles very carefully guided across. It is quite an experience to drive a 4WD across these log bridges, as you can’t see your wheels on the logs you are driving on and you are totally reliant on your co-driver to guide you.

After the Hakka Junction we came into some very steep country with very long hill sections with deep ruts and endless hours of winching. You learn to look after your winch up here because without it you’re going nowhere! We eventually arrived at our first site for s/s called “Rocky River”, a very picturesque place with plenty of scope for a good competition stage. We set up camp and Martin Lewis and myself set about laying out the course.

This area, as we found out after pushing through the jungle, has a large population of leeches that attach themselves to you and are very difficult to remove. We had been on the move now for 2 days and nights and had to push on to our next s/s site, the famous Elephant Mud Hole” and the “Terminator Hill”.

After leaving marshals to run the Rocky River s/s the remainder of the convoy pressed on into the Elephant Mud Hole. S/s were set up and this area became home for the rest of the week. The area had not been used for 5 years and tracks were very overgrown and had changed so much. I had been to this area many times before and could hardly believe how it had been changed by floodwaters etc. It was now even tougher than before and as someone said “Welcome to hell” was a very true statement to make. Many vehicles were to suffer mechanical problems from broken diffs, broken CV joints and half shafts. Both competition vehicles and support vehicles had these problems and with that came a lot of sleepless nights repairing these vehicles.

The competition came from 21 different countries, from China to Mexico and everywhere in between. The camaraderie and co-operation between these teams was something to see as they helped one another with repairs etc. Very good vehicle preparation, combined with some excellent driving and recovery skills saw some great times achieved in the s/s. They worked together in the transport sections and many times passed onto us marshals that they really enjoyed the s/s and the transport stages and that they had traveled long distances to be part of this great event.

As the competition vehicles completed these special stages, they then moved on to another competition area at Camp Helipad. However due to the very tough transport stages some s/s had to be cancelled to allow competitors time to make it to the finish area in time for the closing and prize giving ceremony.

The x-men did not make it out to the ceremony and it was a further 2 days before any of us would make it out of the jungle, bringing along disabled vehicles. A lot of winching was needed and in these areas both the Warn electric and PTO winches worked tirelessly to pull us through.

A great trip, the Twilight Zone at the Rainforest Challenge has once again proved to be the toughest jungle event in the worlds.


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Rainforest Challenge 2005 Trengganu – Tales from the Sweepers

by on Jan.01, 2008, under RFC Achives

What’s it like to be the last to leave? When the tracks have been totally devastated by rain and by the preceding competitors’ vehicles, the job of the sweepers is to get stragglers as well as themselves out of the jungle.

The rains have come and gone, one’s energy is almost sapped, glutinous mud, sand flies and leeches are everywhere; on top of that, one’s feet are both sore and damp for hours. Sometimes it means having to travel at night in order to catch up on time. At night, the obstacles seem ten times more awesome than in the daytime and much more dangerous.

Driving and recovery is unending. Every uphill is slippery and treacherous with deep ruts and big gullies. Muddy tracks have turned into swampy and soggy ground with no anchor point. Erosion and landslides have chiseled off some tracks showing off a precarious steep fall of hundreds of feet. Even a small river has its banks turned into soggy mud holes that can sink all four tyres. With the mind mentally tired and body physically worn out, the way ahead may sometimes seem like an impenetrable wall. Under such attrition in a hostile environment, one may loose mental control. These are the hard facts of being the last in the convoy and facing the might of Mother Nature.

It takes that certain kind of people to be able to endure all these and still be able to control their senses and take command of the situation to keep going and to do tiring recovery work at the same time. In the recently concluded Rainforest Challenge 2005 (RFC), the scouts (X-Men) struggled out of the Twilight Zone, having to “fight” every inch of the way.

It was already night on 6th December; the closing ceremony of 5th December is already long gone. The hours of struggling seem like ages. “This route leading out of Terminator Hill looks like World War III has begun,” remarked Martin Lewis (UK). “All the competitors, those who have made it this far have already gone ahead. Rain has been falling non-stop for hours. The X-Men’s vehicles have been working overtime, everyone’s wet, damp and tired,” he added.

“Atek’s Range Rover (Jedi) looks like a wreck on wheels,” commented Peter Taylor (Australia), “ It’s amazing how it is still up and running and the winch still working after all the thrashing and rollovers,” he added. If the winch fails, they must repair it there and then otherwise it’s a long and winding walk out of the jungle.

Two Land Rovers (88 and 110) each with a Warn 8274 were the first batch of scouts to leave carrying Peter Taylor, Syed Mohd Yaacob and Daan Schreuders (Netherlands). “Very hard going indeed,” exclaimed Daan, “ You get stuck twice as often and lots of things break down, we also have to watch out at every corner for hidden holes, ruts and landslides,” he added. At last they arrived at Helipad campsite, the final jungle route out to tarmac road. However, they must first cross Sg Pauh, which has risen due to the heavy rain and the muddy riverbank looks like it could swallow a whole Land Rover intact! No other choice but to winch (again).

“I pray hard that that our winch will not fail us at this last hurdle,” confessed Peter. Both he and Daan have a flight to catch respectively. “I watch particularly at the winch cable of the 8274 as it strenuously lift our vehicle up the bank, no problem,” he smiled (prayer answered). Physically, they look like walking wrecks themselves – unshaven, thinner, dirty clothing, muddy shoes and sore feet! But glad to have made it.

The last to leave were Rate (Atek) and Alyna Tai (Recee Queen) in a Range Rover Jedi, Martin Lewis and two officers from Public Order/Safety Dept in a Land Rover 110, Shah Zain and Anba in a Land Rover 88, Engku Min and son in a Land Rover 109 and Mat and Fadzli from General Ops Force in an Isuzu SWB. The “wreck on wheels” Jedi turned out to be the saviour here once again as the group “limped” out. Most of the scouts’ vehicles have suffered casualties in one form or another; some with winch problems, damaged cables and parts; and its up to Jedi to do most of the winching and pulling work.

“Luckily for the spare cables we bring along and the extra fuel brought in by Tango (scout team 1), otherwise we would still be in there,” commented Atek on 9th December, four days after the event was officially over. “We have taken note of the last remaining 5 stranded vehicles and would go in for them in round 2,” added Alyna Tai. But first, it was regrouping time, to refresh, get supplies and do the necessary repairs at Kuala Berang.

It has been said that the jungle is neutral, however, in reality it is more neutral to some than to others. For those unprepared in mind and body, it can be a nightmare of extreme proportions. The event is not for the faint hearted. Living out the experience of a jungle event is one of life’s great experiences.

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Rainforest Challenge 2005 Trengganu, Battle of the Winch Warriors

by on Jan.01, 2008, under RFC Achives

This year’s edition of the Rainforest Challenge (RFC) is most memorable for its ultimate “battle” at the Twilight Zone of Hulu Terengganu. Fought out intensely over 6 days across 80kms of the most rugged and toughest terrain anywhere on earth, it was like a scene from “War of the Worlds”.

The mud, drenching rain, slippery slopes, deep ruts, gullies, swollen rivers and landslides are so demanding and unforgiving that it takes hours to travel 1 km and more hours for recovery. The difficulty is compounded by the humidity, sand flies, leeches, sleepless nights and unending winching from day to night. The jungle is neutral for both the competitor teams and the scouts/marshals group; they both have to struggle to keep going. The only way forward or backward here is by using the winch; it’s literally live or “die” by your winch power.

It takes that special breed of man to be able to endure such endless struggle. However, the extraordinary adventurers of the RFC have the courage, determination and tenacity to persevere in hostile conditions.

The whole 10-day event started off in Chukai town, Kemaman on 26th November attended by the Chief Minister of Terengganu. The opening ceremony was full of pomp and razzmatazz befitting the international status of the event. The Prologue Special Stages were later held in Awana Kijal and Kemasik Beach, which was attended by hundreds of spectators. A carnival mood prevailed along the main trunk road from Awana Kijal to Kemasik beach which was jam-packed with cars and enthusiasts. This year’s participation came from 25 countries representing Europe, Asia and South America.

The 8 Special Stages (SS) superbly designed, were intensively fought out in style by the competitor teams for two days. The competitor teams came from Holland, UK, Denmark, Mexico, China, Indonesia, Philippines, Hong Kong (China), Thailand, Philippines, Korea and host Malaysia; the rest comprised of press, support crew and touring categories.

After the warming up stage at Awana, they were led to their first taste of the jungle action at Sg (river) Loh and Sg Kelemin on 27th and 28th November. Moving out of Sg Kelemin campsite on 29th November was an expedition transport stage requiring teamwork to overcome deep gullies and muddy riverbanks. They also built the international log bridge for everyone to cross. There were neither communication nor cultural barriers in this mini United Nations 4×4 force. The hard work from Sg Kelemin to Felda Mengkawang and regrouping at Kuala Berang was a harbinger of tough days ahead. The press group meanwhile moved directly to the next base camp, they too had their own adventure.

By the wee hours of 30th November, everyone had reached Sg Kertiah campsite. For some, it took some 18 hours; transport day of 29th November was named “The Longest Day.” Meanwhile, the scout/competition marshals team 1 under RFC X-Men group had already reached deeper into the Twilight Zone ahead of everyone. Scout team/competition marshals team 2 under Tango kept the competitor group going until they reached the starting point of the Twilight Zone at Bear Camp, by then it had become a battle zone.

From here, the competitors have to ascend to a very steep slippery climb aptly called the Hill of No Return. Beyond this point, the only way is forward. For the press convoy, it was backtracking to Helipad campsite at Sg Puah. If conditions permit, they should move to Elephant Bridge and Bamboo Forest to make rendezvous with the competitor group as they made their way out of the Terminator. They never did. However, some members of the press managed to get 6kms inside the zone and saw for themselves the awesome might of nature.

Then the downpour came in all directions. Everything and everyone was soaked to the skin. The nightmare has begun for the competitors and Scout team 1 crew. The topography and ground conditions are already tough without the rain. Both groups suffered mechanical breakdowns and breakages in differentials, CV joints, half shafts, winch motors and cables. The entire transport stage was already tough going, on top of that, 3 SS were also held here. For some, it was energy sapping to breaking point. There are so many side stories to tell of camaraderie, bravery, continuous driving, recovery and unending winching for 21 hours in the Predator and Terminator of the Twilight Zone.

“When the going gets tough, the tough gets going” applies to the letter. By 5th December when the convoy rolled into Batu Burok beach for the finale photography session, 15 vehicles were still back in the jungle (out of 85 4x4s that went in). The final results could not be tallied at prize giving ceremony, which was graced by His Majesty (HM) the Sultan of Terengganu and His Majesty the Sultana. However, HM was able to give out the special awards to Mexico (First Airdrop entry), China (First Overland entry) and the Philippines (Team Spirit award).

The sweeper group from the X-Men was the last to get out some three days after the event was officially over and they have to go in again to get the last remaining stalled vehicles. By now, the conditions have worsened with another onslaught of rain; the tracks have also turned into a quagmire.

For those who have gone through this year’s edition of the Rainforest Challenge, it’s living out one of life’s great experiences.

Special thanks to: Terengganu State Government, Royal Malaysian Police (General Ops Force), Royal Malaysian Customs and all Federal & State Agencies and Departments.

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Are They Really Prepared for RFC 2005??

by on Jan.01, 2008, under RFC Achives

It’s going to be tough, really tough, are the competitors prepared both mentally and physically …………. We will soon find out !!!

UK veteran of 8 “International 4×4 Rain Forest Challenge” competitions, both as competitor (three times) and official, Martin Lewis is this year taking on the mantle of Competition Course Designer.

When the competitors arrive on the trails through the jungle for this infamous winch challenge event, possibly the hardest of its kind in the world, they are unaware of what the reccee crew known as the “X-men” (and one lady, Alyna) went through to find the route.

On the 4th October, led by Chief Scout, Rate de Silva (aka Ahtek) the penultimate reccee crew set off from Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur in a 110 Land Rover and Ahtek’s bobtailed Range Rover, heading for Terangganu in the northeast. Six hours drive later they eventually met up with Kumin and his father in their LWB Series Land Rover.

Then the adventure began – came out of the jungle on the 13th October, three days overdue, bruised and worn out – and the vehicles hadn’t fared much better.

The track was tough, it was only four years since the trail had been driven during RFC 2001 but it was totally overgrown, “it had been eaten by the jungle” Alyna said, and unrecognisable. Landslides and fallen trees blocked the way or the trail had collapsed down the hillside and rivers had changed their course.

Ahtek has his own built in GPS system, he instinctively knows which direction he’s heading and if it “feels right”. On three previous RFC we had to drive off-road for a few hours after leaving the highway just to reach a place called “the bridge to nowhere” across Tasik (lake) Kenyir – now the tarmac leads right to it. However, from then on the trails deteriorated fast!

For the reccee party was more time spent outside the vehicles walking and searching than there was driving. Once the trail had been located Kumin, with a bright white cloth tied around his head (so Ahtek could see him through the vegetation) walked ahead pointing out pot holes and fallen trees, hidden by the shoulder high ferns & bushes. At times Ahtek had to climb on the roof of the Range Rover to locate Kumin or to see in which direction they were heading.

Eventually they arrived at the top of the dreaded Terminator Hill having negotiated what was once known as the British Bridge but was now a huge bog with no sign of the bridge built in 1999.

I steep hill of only 600 metres that can take 4 hours to winch up amazingly required winching down!!! Water erosion from the monsoon rains had cut trenches so deep the vehicles bellied out. By the time they got to the river they were tired and hungry. A good meal and a restful night were all the crews needed. In the middle of the night the rains started, in the early hours Martin awoke to the sound of lapping water and found the river had almost reached his camp bed, the front wheels of one of the land rovers, parked closer to the river, were already submerged. Rousing the camp they started stowing their gear, it was an early breakfast while they waited to see if the river would subside.

By mid day they had crossed over and progressed into deeper undergrowth. Old clearings were found where competitors had previously camped, totally overtaken by the ferns and small shrubs. Then everything came to a halt. A very old tree, rotten to the core had collapsed down the mountain and smashed across the track scattering debris over thirty feet along the track. Totally impossible to pass. What now??!! It was impossible to cut with the chain saw, it was over 5 feet in diameter and there was no way of winching it because half of the tree was still up the hillside entangled in the undergrowth.

After looking at lots of options over a bowl of noodles, it was decided that the best thing to do was set a controlled fire under the middle of the tree and burn a hole through the dry wood. After cutting up and piling the broken branches on the track under the tree the fire was set. Everything around was so wet there was no danger of the fire spreading to the surround area. While Alyna was left to keep a watchful eye on the fire and keep it going, the guys set off on foot armed with machetes and saws. For ten kilometres they trekked, climbing up and down gullies into rivers where once there had been a bridge, cutting down bamboo, trees, walking dead end tracks searching for the trail, always following Ahtek’s instinctive sense of direction.

It would be impossible to continue the route and out to tarmac so the weary group backtracked to the fallen tree. Another night was spent at the bottom of Terminator Hill and again the river rose as the monsoon rains poured all night, but this time the campers were out of reach of the fast flowing water.

After the rains the hill was one long mud slick and it took four hours to winch the three vehicles to the top. It was here they encountered the first snake, sitting on a branch basking in the sun it sat watching Ahtek as he drank his coffee totally unaware of its presence. Laughing, Martin later told me it was amazing how far sideways Ahtek could jump from a sitting position !! Yet they all knew had the snake felt threatened and bitten Ahtek it would have made him very ill.

Luckily for those who go with them, Ahtek and Alyna know a great deal about the wild life and plants of the jungle in which they spend so much time, much of it learnt from the Orang Asli, the original people, many of who still live in the rain forest.

The vehicles were taking quite a battering from the jungle vegetation, and all the winching and bouncing about. Ahtek uses his Range Rover (Jedi) as a battering ram on some of the smaller stuff and the bamboo and it came out of the jungle looking like it had rolled a few times.
After a trip to the workshop for all the vehicles and they would be back in the jungle. A route still had to be found from the other side of the fallen tree to tarmac. So a week later Ahtek headed back to Tasik Kenyir once again while a frustrated Martin was back at work in the UK thinking about what his friend was up to.

They’d arrive at the first campsite before dark. It wasn’t easy locating the track, there were many junctions, and time was wasted checking out dead ends.

It was raining every day, and progress was slow and almost impossible at times as the vehicles slid around on the mud. Overgrown logging trails and bamboo trails had once again been “eaten up” by Mother Nature. Out on foot chopping back vegetation and guiding the vehicles through potholes ensuring they avoided landslides. At one point a bypass had to be made around a landslide, it was hot hard work. To save time and energy Ahtek set up a base camp and while he and a few of the guys headed off on foot carrying their equipment, the rest stayed with Alyna and started clearing a track across a landslide. At was nightfall before Alyna was able to make radio contact with Ahtek, he’d walked for miles but was able to confirm they’d found the escape route used on previous RFC, he’d found traces of the long ago competition which helped keep him on course.

Two of Ahteks boys had got lost amongst the vegetation and he’s had to go look for them, they were very tired and a little worried by the time he found them. Working in the high 36 degree heat and 90% humidity one of the local guys had become dehydrated and suffering – Alyna prepared food and water and Ahtek walked all the way back to base camp and then returned to his crew, it was a long walk up and down all the slippery hills, and he was on his own!! . They lit a fire to keep warm and after taking a long rest eventually made it back to base camp about 3 am.

A all the hardship, cuts and bruises were forgotten when “on the way out we met up with a group of 10 elephants on the track. It was such a lovely sight to see, healthy elephants with a few young, despite the fact that their habitat is being cut down to make way for palm oil plantation”.

Despite the cutting, clearing and digging, the RFC does respect the jungle and Mother Nature, we know that she will claim back what is hers and we only have it on loan.

The 9th International Rain Forest Challenge flags off in Terangganu on 26th November and for 10 days the international competitors will test themselves not only against each other but also against Mother Nature. Not only their vehicles but the drivers and co drivers must be fully prepared to take on the challenge.

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The Pathfinder of RFC by Luis J.A.Wee

by on Jan.01, 2008, under RFC Achives

In this coming of age year, a decade of the Rainforest Challenge (RFC), it’s also fitting that we pay tribute to the pathfinders or scouts of the event. Why X-Men? Because those roped into service seem to have “super mutant” power as they slogged in and out of the jungle trails come monsoon rain or shine. They are also the First-In-Last_out team, always committed and dependable at all times. Their evolution and transformation goest hand in hand with the history of the RFC.

Their evolution began in 1998, in the second edition of the event when some members of the Land Rovers Owners Club of Malayisa (LROM) were roped in to help with the scout work together. They formed the second scout team of the RFC then. Up to three different scout teams have served in the event, but ehy have withstood the test of time.

The original crew was comprised of Rate de Silva, Alyna Tai, Vicky, Zainal Shukor and Abdul Aziz. Later in the years, they were joined by Shah Zain, Anbarasan, Walis, Lee Min Tet, Jasi Salim@Bob, Mustafari Mahmood, Amiruddin Sabri Shahmuddin, Osmadi Osman, Engku Min, Rahman, Zakaria Ismail, Mohd Hanapiah, Hong Yuen Hock, Kam Tak Lai, Low Fook Poh, Leong Meng Keong, Jack Toh, Deli Merah, Mohd Idris, Mohan Chitran, Wong Kah Kin, Hamzah, Martin Lewis, Peter Taylor as well as all those roped in to do the marshaling work.

The name X-Men was coined in the year 2000 after the “Grand Daddy Landslides” episode of the same year. Together with the international press and teams, they made it through the massive landslides of Hulu Trengganu while the rest of the convoy had to retreat. It was the year when the Hollywood of the same name was released in cinema nationwide.

You can call them “die-hard” off-roaders with no fear of the unknown. Year in year out, they are always there at the forefronts, albeit with a different mix of people. Whoever joined the pathfinders, must ear their badge of honour – committed to the event and its ideals, ability to keep on going under whatever circumstances to ensure the completion of the event’s objectives. In later years, they served both as scouts and marshals.

Throughou the history of the RFC, they have great stories to tell in the various recees and post event tales. When conditions in the monsoon drenched jungle become atrocious and unbearable these pathfinders will be there, to do “battle” again and again.

Dedicated to all those who have served in the scount and marshal teams of the RFC – past and present. The X-Men is led by Rate de Silva@Atek

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