Tales from the Twilight Zone (Sanya)

Published on October 15th, 2009

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

With periodic intervals, the heavy downpour (typhoon category) continued unabated for a whole 24hours, turning the already tricky and difficult 10km tracks into a “war zone.” Recorded entries for this assault were 13 equipped offroad machines comprising of Team Philippines, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Guangdong, Sanya and Haikou, and offcourse the support vehicles.

The members of the media who went along were from France, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and China. The officials who assisted them as advance scouts, sweepers and relief center manpower at the exit at Camp 3 were made up of battle hardened RFC marshals and members of the organizing committee. The following daily entry was recorded by Daniel Liew through a journal.

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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 happenings 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 4×4 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 the Hong Kong and Guandong teams, and support plus a Russian team had stalled during the muddy and slippery ascend. An 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 Guangdong team and RFC sweepers to press on with the journey.

1730 hrs: Heavy rain with deafening thunder and near blinding lighting. Everyone got wet but still kept on going, moving slowly. Every turn, every uphill ascend and downhill descend became potentially dangerous obstacles which required winching and teamwork to get through safely.

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Raging River

1830 hrs: After much hard work, the back convoy reached the first swollen rocky river with a depth 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 vehicles, and these vehicles worked together and pulled the unlucky Hong Kong team vehicle to safety. Even then, it was a harrowing experience for the driver as his vehicle was almost swept away by the bulging, raging river. After that, everyone took a break to wait for the water level to drop.

2000 hrs: Rain was intermittent but the river level had surprisingly dropped, and as this last group was now split 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.

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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 could take up to 40 minutes. Under tremendous strain, mechanical breakdowns took its toll on the vehicles which further hampered their progress. The RFC marshal team did their best to assist those under duress with what they had, but under heavy showers, fatigue began to slow everyone down.

2355 hrs: Finally, they had to give up trying to conquer the hill, it was collectively decided that it was better to take shelter and continue their struggle again at day break. With only biscuits and limited water rations, everyone shared the merged meals and tried to get some much-needed rest and sleep. However that was difficult to come by in such cramped shelters such as in the vehicle cabins or on the vehicle bonnets. The vehicle cabins were a tight squeeze and rather uncomfortable as they were packed with wet and mud covered recovery straps and items. Leg room was very limited and as it was they were tired, hungry and wet.

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The Longest Night

2400 hrs: Under such conditions, sleep did not come easy. Every 15 minutes or so, they had to shift and move their bodies 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 such a quagmire in the first place.

0800 hrs: With renewed strength, the vehicles were brought up to the hill, at last. They had to proceed with caution as this was a hilly region filled with steep ravines. Still they slogged on hoping to see the end of the draining but challenging ordeal, but that was not to be. Another river awaited them, which had also swollen past its banks to twice its size due to the torrential rains.

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, proving 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 Philippine and Malaysian teams pulled through to Camp 3 which was now turned into a welcome relief center. The way ahead was still filled with daunting obstacles which would have been impossible to go through in a day.

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Evacuation Day

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

1700 hrs: The ever present RFC marshal group ensured that everyone was cleared and headed to the relief center at Camp 3. The stranded vehicles would later be recovered during a post-event rescue operation. At that point in time, everyone headed for the official hotel to take part in and attend the closing ceremony and awards night.

1900 hrs: Everyone was at the closing ceremony with a strong bond of camaraderie for sharing an unforgettable experience. The route rightly deserved its Twilight Zone status, earning it a place in RFC folklore and RFC’s hall of fame for unforgettable 4×4 experiences.

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Note: RFC marshals: Mustafari, Mohd Basyaruddin, Jeremy Teh, Lim Hin Hwa (Bo Ang), Zawalan Razak, Soo Kim Yin, Wong Kim Mun, Jacky Toh, Lim Meng Teng (Suki), Daniel Liew, Zhou Ri & Zhou Ri Hong (Rhino).

Special thanks: Sanya City, Local Govt, Tourism Bureau, Sanya 4×4 Storm Off-road Club, Sanya Yazhou Mango, Keduyi, Red Bull, Sanya Phoenix International Airport, Tian Fuyuan Resort, Heidi Cultural, Ming Biao, Qing Tian, Shangjia Advertising Media & Powerful X.

Check out www.rainforest-challenge.com for more pix of the event.

text: Daniel Liew, Luis J.A.Wee & Azdee Amir  pix: RFC

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