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Rainforest Challenge: A triumph for the Human Spirit in Malaysian adventure.

The most dramatic moments of the 2010 edition of the Rainforest Challenge (RFC) took place on the night of 11 Dec where a combined land and sea rescue operation was mounted to get an injured participant out of the Twilight Zone (TZ).

It was the longest night which lasted till the wee hours of 12 Dec. A night filled with courage and determination shown by the Army, Police, Fire Brigade, paramedics, hospital staff right up to RFC officials and medics in the TZ and event HQ. It was a tremendous display of teamwork and coordination; it was a triumph for the human spirit.

A week before, at the event briefing, everyone was thrilled with the display of support from the Royal Malaysian Police, 7th Brigade Signals Corps and its ambulance unit. They provided the traffic escort on the ground and in the air, communications and ambulance support for the event. Little did they know that this support would later be put to a real test of coordination in the "longest night operation."

Big Bang Opening Ceremony

The opening ceremony on 4 Dec was typical of the RFC, it was full of pomp and festival-like razzmatazz welcome at Kota Iskandar, even though the day was wet, cloudy with intermittent rain. This time, some 300 bikers also came along to show their support and fraternity in motorsports. The highlight was the arrival of His Majesty, the Sultan of Johor – Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar who came in an eye-catching truck, a Ford 650, which thrilled the 500 participants and media in the event plus the hundreds of spectators.

The Participating nations

35 4x4 competitor teams, 4 ATVs and 1 Enduro bike registered at the start of the event coming from Russia, Vietnam, Italy, Sri Lanka, Austria, France, Australia, USA, Philippines, Indonesia, China and Malaysia. Others, including officials, support, touring and media categories also came from Hungary, Germany, Thailand, Singapore, India, Poland and Spain making up a convoy of more than 200 4x4s at the opening ceremony.

Prologue Special Stages

After all the colours and pageantry at Kota Iskandar, the stage shifted to 4x4 action at Sutera Mall in Johor Bahru called the Prologue Special Stages where 10 team SS and 6 individual SS were keenly contested from 4 to 5 Dec. The wet grounds, left over by the downpour, filled the Prologue SS area with mud and water.

Team effort is essential in an adventure event which encouraged the participants to trust one another better during the team events. Perhaps it was a prelude of a great struggle ahead, but for the time being, everyone’s attention was focused on the adrenalin winching action in full view of the multitude of spectators during the weekend.

Air and Ground Traffic Escort

The afternoon of 5 Dec departure from Sutera Mall was a show of force by the Royal Malaysian Police as they escorted the RFC convoy to Pagoh with outriders paving the way for a smooth tarmac drive while a helicopter escort hovered above the convoy from above. These elaborate escorts and maneuvers would be repeated throughout the days from 4 to 13 Dec involving all the seven districts of the state of Johor.

The Predator (6 to 9 Dec)

The campsites of Hulu Sg Lengga (Camp I) and Hulu Sg Bekok (Camp II) were the scenes of more SS, all keenly contested by the remaining 25 teams left over from the original 35 teams registered at the start. These are the teams with the perseverance and determination to carry on to the finish, come what may. They were the “get-up and get-going” teams which kept their cool as much as they can and planned the strategies to take them to the final of the event.

The transport stage out of Camp II on 9 Dec was a test for everyone, from the competitor teams to the official and media trucks. The first river crossing took a toll on some but enriched everyone’s experience on the need to get prepared as the transport stage in the RFC is subjected to the unpredictable weather. Intermittent rains made the going in and out of the transport stage enough challenge for the support, touring and media 4x4s to polish their skills in off-road.

Dry and wet grounds make a big difference. The second crossing was, however, flooded, but RFC machinery group (digger crew) was on hand to lend a hand to get everyone out to safety. The final obstacle was the log bridge crossing from the jungle track to the plantations route. Finally, everyone got to Paloh for the regrouping.

The Terminator

Intermittent rains also affected Camp III, at Hulu Sg Yong. 21 teams remained for another round of 6 SS, much tougher than at the Predator awaited them with river crossings, tight twists and turns and winching stages using the natural terrain.

Mechanical problems and human fatigue are part and parcel of the RFC by halfway through the 10-day event, but the participants also learnt how to take the daily punishment from the SS and the terrain and how to cope and make adjustments accordingly. By being able to adapt and rolled on to the finish is what really counts in the end. Of course, winning awards along the way are bonus.

Prelude to the Twilight Zone

On 10 Dec night at Event HQ, a briefing was held by the Event Director who forewarned everyone that it would be a struggle to get through the Twilight Zone even without the rain, but if the rains come, be prepared for “double trouble.” So, man and machine must be checked for fitness before they were allowed to enter in groups of 3 to 4 vehicles, so that they can give support to one another. Safety in numbers is required with back up from RFC officials.

As it turned out, even without the rain, it was a major struggle for everyone as there were more than 12 mud-pools of various sizes, some areas would require 100% winching to get through the soggy and swampy grounds and two river crossings.

The remaining teams including support vehicles with vehicles in good conditions were selected. There were six groups from 19 teams including 1 ATV from the Russia and 1 Enduro bike from France plus various journalists from China, France, Poland, Philippines, USA, UK, Singapore and Malaysia.

The list also included RFC officials, paramedics and 1 lead scout car and 2 sweeper cars from the marshall group. The sweeper duty was to ensure that everyone is accounted for and to give assistance along the way. All teams who finished the TZ as a group would earn the 200 bonus points.

Welcome to the Dark Side – The Twilight Zone

On the afternoon of 11 Dec, it was the day of reckoning at last. Altogether there were 59 adventurers making the final onslaught into the Twilight Zone. The muddy stretches right at the entrance itself was a sight to behold, right from the start, they had to use their winches, heralding a hard and long battle ahead.

This 10km route has everything that one needs to know about using one’s 4x4 to the limit and beyond, in the most extreme sense of the word. This was no ordinary winching; it was long and strenuous at all sections and which required hours upon hours of hard work, even for the best and most seasoned teams.

The constant struggle of endless winching, vehicle breakdowns and repairs can sap the strength, energy and mind of the toughest. This is the place where the adage “when the going gets tough, the tough gets going” truly applies. Even walking in the mud and soggy grounds were difficult enough what more to drive and winch at the same time. Mental strength is everything if one wishes to complete the TZ.

When night descended, it was pitch-black; the TZ is literally transformed into the Dark Side. However, camaraderie prevailed and was as thick as the jungle humidity.

Dramatic Night Rescue

At that time, team 139 comprising of Rod Caldwell (USA) and his co-driver David Metcalfe (Australia) were caught in a tricky situation and had to winch. In the thick of the action, a dead tree branch hit David’s back and he fell to the ground upon impact.

With paramedics to his aid and communications with the event HQ & doctor and the 7th Brigade Signals Corps both stationed at Camp 4 (beach campsite) a land evacuation comprising of 17 volunteers from RFC and the 7th Brigade was organized to get David out on a stretcher for transfer to Camp 4 where the Army ambulance was ready to take him out to tarmac road.

While this was being carried out, the tide rose and eventually blocked the beach route out to tarmac. A police marine boat was then called which eventually carried David out by sea to Tg Leman jetty (30 kms from Jemaluang). There, an ambulance was on standby to take him to Kota Tinggi hospital. By 4 am of 12 Dec, the hospital confirmed that all’s well with David.

Those dramatic hours of evacuation was a triumph of the human spirit for everyone involved in the evacuation, it was camaraderie to be remembered for all times in the history of the RFC.

Getting out of the TZ

Only two of the 6 groups managed to get out by the early hours of 12 Dec while the rest had to spend the night right where they were, in the mud pools, soggy grounds with tiny creatures of the night for company. The rest came out by late afternoon to the beach campsite while one had to be rescued out from the entry to the TZ.

The last two vehicles from the sweeper group (marshalls) came out only at midnight of 12 Dec. These two vehicles of 4 marshalls took the full brunt of the obstacles as they were the last to go through the route all churned out beyond recognition by then.

All in, it was a most energy sapping battle to get out of the TZ which required nerves of steel. For those who went through the TZ, it was the longest night and a most rewarding experience.

Beach Finale

The priority to get everyone out to safety on 12 Dec meant canceling the remaining SS for the day, but by now the leading contenders for the overall title were already entrenched in their positions. By 13 Dec morning, the triumphant feeling among the participants was the most glaring to see as they drove along the 12 km beach route for the final hurrah out to tarmac at Tg Leman.


Even though prizes and awards were given to the deserving winners in their categories in the Zon hotel, Johor Bahru on 13 Dec; in fact, all who lived through RFCA 2010 are winners in their own rights for completing the route, for the perseverance, for braving the natural elements and most of all, for the camaraderie shared in the 10 days of adventure.

The 2010 episode of the RFC will best be remembered for the longest night dramatic land and sea evacuation of 11 Dec which epitomized the thick camaraderie shared by everyone; a triumph for the human spirit!

2010/12/24 | 02:15 CET | ARTICLE: MR/HS/WEE

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