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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