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China-Sanya 4x4: Tales from the Twighlight Zone in Sanya.

China-Sanya 4x4 International Challenge 2009 inaugural event will always be remembered for the dramatic finale, when the rains came and turned the adventure route from Camp 1 to Camp 3 into a real driving and recovery nightmare similar to the Rainforest Challenge (RFC)’s Twilight Zone.

With periodic intervals, the heavy downpour (typhoon category) continued unabated for 24 hours, the 10 km tracks was a "war zone". Recorded entries for this assault were 13 vehicles comprising of Team Philippines, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Guangdong, Sanya and Haikou and support vehicles. The members of the media who also went in were from France, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and China. The officials who assisted them as advance scout, sweeper and relief center at the exit at Camp 3 came from RFC marshals and members of the organizing committee. The following daily entry is recorded from Daniel Liew’s journal.

The Obstacles

Uphill muddy ascends, very slippery rocky hill ascend, two swollen rivers, two landslides, bamboo trail with low lying overhanging branches, tight twists and turns and ruts.

The Longest Day 22 Sept.

0900 hrs:: RFC marshals advance team (Group A) moved in, while Group B backtracked from Camp 1 to move to their positions at Camp 3 with Event HQ 2.

1100 hrs: Event HQ 1 briefed everyone on the day’s happening and recorded all entries of competitors, support vehicles and the media.

1200 hrs: Some of the media trekked in ahead of the convoy. The first 4x4 vehicles crossed the river at Camp 1, followed by RFC sweeper team (Group C) who also trekked in on foot.

1400 hrs. The back convoy comprising of Hong Kong and Guandong team and support plus a Russian team had stalled at the muddy and slippery ascend. RFC sweeper group assisted them up the hill. The going got tougher and tougher from here.

1600 hrs: More problems as the Russian team vehicle broke down with mechanical problems. They tagged along with the Guandong team and RFC sweepers to continue with the journey.

1730 hrs: Heavy showers with thunder and lighting. Everyone got wet but still kept on going slowly. Every turning, every uphill and downhill became obstacles which required winching and teamwork to get through.

Raging River

1830 hrs: After much hard work, the back convoy reached the first swollen rocky river with a dept of 1.5 meters. While pausing by the edge of the river, a Hong Kong team vehicle was suddenly caught by surging water coming from upstream. The front part of the vehicle was under water but the rear was hooked to the winches of the others, so they pulled it to safety. Even then, it was a harrowing experience for the driver from a raging river. Everyone took a break to wait for the water level to drop.

2000 hrs. Rain was intermittent but the river level had dropped, As this last group was now broken into two, they decided to make camp together with the front vehicles for the night as the food supplies was in front. Since after the river, there was only a hill to climb, they decided to proceed.

2200 hrs: This river bank of about 250 meters and with a gradient of 25-30 degrees proved to be a tough nut to crack for the last two vehicles. Winching and recovery work was in full swing along the muddy banks. After much sweat, they did it but at a price of sheer exhaustion and being wet to the bone.

A Hill Too Far

2230 hrs: Rain started to fall again in heavy showers. The hard work continued. By now a distance of 100 meters can take up to 40 mins. Under tremendous strain, mechanical breakdowns took a toll of the vehicles which further hampered their progress. The RFC marshal team did their best to assist with everything they got under the heavy showers, but fatigue began to slow down everyone.

2355 hrs: Finally, they had to give up trying to reach the hill, better to take shelter and struggle again at day break. With only biscuits and limited water rations, everyone shared the merge meals and tried to sleep. However that was difficult to come by in such cramped shelters such as car seats and bonnets. The cars were also packed with wet and mud filled recovery straps and items. Leg room was very limited they were tired, hungry and wet.

The Longest Night

2400 hrs: Under such conditions, sleep did not come easy. Every 15 mins or so, they had to shift their body and legs to avoid getting cramped in such confined spaces. That was the longest night for both the RFC sweepers and the participants.

Welcome Daybreak, 23 Sept.

0600 hrs: Everyone got up early, unable to sleep well, and this day break was a real relief. They climbed up the very slippery slopes, some on two legs and hands just to reach the top. There they shared some hot meals and rations with the front vehicles, but supplies were limited as they did not expect to be caught in this quagmire.

0800 hrs: With renewed strength, the vehicles were brought up to the hill, at last. They have to proceed with caution as this is a hilly region with steep ravines. Still they slogged on hoping to see the end of this ordeal, but that was not to be. Another river awaited them, which has swollen to twice its size.

11.30 hrs: Fortunately, by the time they reached it, the water level had dropped. Another river crossing with winching action took place. After the crossing, one more vehicle had broken down, unable to take the strain.

1230 hrs: While taking a pause from all the action, they saw the advance RFC marshals and their Chinese committee walking towards them. What a welcome sight. There they were told that all the rest of the 11 vehicles were still stalled in the Twilight Zone, only the Philippines and Malaysia teams pulled through to Camp 3 which was now turned into a relief center. The way ahead was still filled with awesome obstacles which would be impossible to go through in a day.

Evacuation Day

1300 hrs: The order to evacuate on foot was given much earlier in the day, but the evacuation of this last convoy has just started. Taking their belongings, they trekked out to Camp 3. Their passage through was like a walking through a “war zone” littered with abandoned vehicles. However, the vehicles were later all moved and packed together for safety and security purpose.

1700 hrs: RFC marshal group ensured that everyone was cleared and headed to the relief center at Camp 3. The stranded vehicles would be recovered in a post-event rescue operation later. For now everyone headed for the official hotel for the closing and awards night.

1900 hrs: Everyone was at the closing ceremony with a strong bond of camaraderie for sharing an unforgettable experience. This route rightly deserved its Twilight Zone status, of RFC fame.

Check out for more pix of the event.

2009/10/09 | 18:17 CET | Editor: MR/HS/Luis J.A. Wee

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