“We were hike-a-biking up a wide gravel road on Bukit Tankoyan, a 276 metre foothill somewhere before CP9, the afternoon heat beating down on us from a clear blue sky. Husband and wife duo Cornwall Extreme had just overtaken us, and Qi Xiang had been reduced to trudging up the rocky slope with the aid of two wooden branches as makeshift trekking poles. I was pushing the two bikes about fifteen metres up ahead when Qi Xiang yelled out: ?You go ahead first, push the bikes to the top of the hill!?
“Why not, I thought, and checked the altimeter. OK, less than ten minutes more of this confounded pushing, and carried on. Yet, barely five minutes later, I was glancing left and right at the trailside vegetation, desperate for some shade. If I was suffering like a sick dog, and needed to take a swig of our fast-dwindling water supply every minute, then my team mate must have really been feeling it. Bad idea to have left him behind – bad, bad, bad?.
“The bikes I left on the trailside, and retreated into the shade of a shallow embankment. I pulled out my half-consumed Snickers bar and finished it of, glancing back down the trail as I did. No Qi Xiang climbing up the hill. He must be hiding in the trailside bush somewhere below. I descend the slope to look for him and find him lying in a ditch by the road side, breathing shallowly, complaining of numbness in his extremities and feeling very dizzy. Delirium, a racing pulse, glazed eyeballs. This meant big trouble. Summarily, I had a case of heat exhaustion on my hands.
“Eventually, Qi Xiang recovered, aided by Nature?s breeze, and with the help of the support crew from the Johor Parks team, who happened to be nearby. They gave us some water and the lid of one of their plastic gear boxes. This I used to fan Qi Xiang till he had cooled down sufficiently. Upon finally clearing the uphill, my immediate worry was whether he would be able to adequately control his bike on the big downhill that was coming up. He took the lead on it purposefully and with confidence, a clear sign that he had recovered. Nonetheless, the incident shook us, even when I think of it now.”
High temperatures on the course were definitely a problem and an immediate concern for the organizers. Avtar mandated a 10-minute compulsory rest stop for all teams at CP9, located on the banks of the Sungei Wariu. Here, all racers could take a cool, refreshing dip in the shallows to recuperate briefly from the heat. They also topped off their water supplies, refueled on biscuits and cut fruit, and readied themselves for the final push to the finish some 9 kilometres away, most of it uphill, at Kampung Sayap.
“Exhaustion. Utter and unadulterated, but not complete – yet. There seems to be no other moment where I could have felt lower in spirit during the race. I stop walking, my head leaning against the handlebar of one of the two bikes I am pushing up the hill under a scorching sun. Taking a mouthful of warm, plastic-tasting water from one of the warm bike bottles, I weigh our progress. We are off the map with less than four km to the finish line, as per course instructions. Yet each curve, once cleared, reveals the gravel road inclined mockingly upward, with no end in sight.
?Come on, Qi Xiang!?
Upon nearing the finishing point, loud gong-like sounds and thumping could be heard. This was the local percussionist musical group, and they welcomed each team that pulled into their village with enthusiastic rhythms on their collection of iron pots, kettles, woks and drums. The rest of the villagers were out in force too to cheer on teams who had overcome the day?s course to spend the night in their kampung.
China Jump rolled home in first place on this day, and lessened their overall gap behind the Sabah Challengers by 20 minutes, with Cornwall Extreme taking third place. Hamzah Minggu and Shahrin Amir of Team Buckshot edged into the lead in the Adventure category by finishing 15 minutes ahead of the Raging Drifters.
The villagers entertained the visitors more that night with a short music-and-dance presentation, right before the race briefing was delivered and the notes and maps for the final day were handed out.
“Barely 3 hours ago, the finish line was a scene reminiscent of a battlefield casualty collection point. To one side, a handful of athletes laid stretched on the grass, their legs wracked by cramps. Race officials and medical personnel attended to them, working the knots out of their muscles and plying them with cold drinks and energy bars. Avtar conceded, ?To be honest, our estimates for the course duration have flown totally out the window. We?ll start tonight?s briefing as soon as the last team pulls in by eight-thirty pm.?
“Now, everyone from our team has dropped off to sleep within half an hour of the conclusion of the race briefing. Out of routine more than out of fervour, I am at the maps once more, copying race instructions, tracing the route for the coming day, measuring distances. I am of two minds. One believes our team can finish on the podium, and to push all out for the third and final day. But the other comes to grip with the palpable reality: We have pushed too hard already, racing to the limits of exhaustion, almost resulting in a life-threatening emergency evacuation. I let my deliberations hang as I too eventually retire for the night.”
Easter morning in Kampung Sayap started out once more to the cacophony of the villagers? percussion instruments. Adventure category racers completed a trail run on an out-and-back circuit through waterlogged cropland, small rocky streams, and muddy reentrants to the first CP at a waterfall. The Extreme category tackled an additional 4 kilometre out-and-back run through Sayap – passing worshippers who were strolling, dressed in their Sunday best, for Easter church services – before also visiting the waterfall. The local mountain running group was out in force, and appeared to be incorporating one of their morning training sessions with the race, following the participants gamely.
Next up was a 6 kilometre team biathlon section to the orienteering CP, with only one mountain bike allocated to each team. Once there, teams headed downhill to a lubok (deep pool) on Sungei Wariu where an orienteering course ? with a twist – had been set up. Rather than merely sighting bearings and running on dry land, racers had to swim, wade, and scramble through swift currents and amongst gigantic boulders to locate three different code letters stuck on rock outcroppings in the vicinity. An additional concurrent task involved one team member diving into the murky waters to retrieve a weighted can before being allowed to sign out of the CP. Predictably, the local villagers had gathered en masse on the banks of the river to witness this bizarre sequence of events. Confident teams cleared this portion with alacrity, while the less-prepared teams floundered and were delayed in the congestion amongst the boulders. Then it was back in the saddle for the 16km bike ride to the abseil point at CP6, with gentler gradients greeting teams as they pedaled north-west towards the town of Kota Belud.
Extreme teams soon experienced some of the best riding the competition had to offer: The gravel surface finally gave way to mostly level tarmac just before CP7 that snaked through extensive lowland crop fields. The scenic route included wandering cattle, chickens and other assorted livestock that shared the roads with racers. Closer to town, increased motorized traffic warranted extra care by teams negotiating the traffic junctions and slip roads. As the morning stretched to afternoon, strong crosswinds buffeted the final stretch from Kota Belud to the finish ? perfect conditions to employ drafting on the bikes for the more experienced cyclists. The Adventure route joined the Extreme route at Kampung Piasau, having bypassed CP7 by a different route that went directly westwards, across lowland marshes and farms, from the CP6 abseil point.
“Once more, I scan ahead for any sign of CP8. We are not disappointed, for there Avtar stands at a right-hand junction, waving us into the final checkpoint. ?It?s a 2k run to the finish line, guys.?
“And so, we ran the last two kilometers of the SAC in our bike shoes. Words fall short of describing the exquisite agony that emanated from the balls of my feet with each stride I took down the tarmac, with Qi Xiang on the bungee. As the endpoint drew nearer, the pain of each stiff-soled footfall was soon felt only as a continuous throbbing ache that seemed to reach to the very bones of my feet. The white Start / Finish banner finally pulls into view, and at that moment all discomfort seems negligible. It is a sight that promises relief from the heat of competition, cool shade, iced drinks, sumptuous food and swapping congratulations and stories with fellow racers. It is a moment we have been waiting for since we signed up for the race 2 months back.”
At the last transition, with just 2 kilometres to go to the finish at Kampung Taginambur, teams faced one final road run. The couple of teams who wore cleated cycling shoes suffered the most along this last stretch of tarmac. Still, for them and all other teams, all sensations of pain and discomfort were diminished, albeit temporarily, by the thrill of crossing the finish line to the applause of officials, fellow participants, volunteers, and villagers.
The defending champions, Sabah Challengers, comfortably sealed their win of the 2005 edition of the Sabah Adventure Challenge, clocking a total accumulated time of 16 hours 45 minutes. Runners-up China Jump finished 1 hour 25 minutes behind. Ayam Brand secured the third place finish in 20 hours 17 minutes, having edged out Togoparts.com by 4 minutes, followed closely by eleventh-hour hotshots Cornwall Extreme, which clocked 20 hours 44 minutes.
The Raging Drifters were Champions in the Adventure Category, winning in 16 hours 9 minutes. The brothers Poh of Jehovah Nisi were runners-up, followed by the gutsy local youths that were the Bundu Paka Warriors. Unlucky Team Buckshot missed CP5, and were penalized 2 hours, costing them second place for the Adventure category.
Entry Nine – Epilogue
“Finishers take swigs out of soft drink bottles passed to them on the last few metres before the end. A crate of beer materializes from somewhere aboard the bike transport truck. A couple of guys are smoking cigars. Bright smiles light up tanned, once-haggard faces. Race packs and helmets lie clustered unceremoniously by the roadside. The only things preventing exhausted finishers from sprawling on the verge are the lumps of dog droppings and the occasional larger, moist piles of cattle feces in the grass.
There is something special in undergoing an adventure race of this sort. Racers who, only a few days ago, offered little more than polite nods and quite smiles to each other, now cheered, chatted, high-fived and posed for the obligatory finish line photos like old pals at a reunion party. Looking around, a cold drink in hand, welcoming racers, now my friends, to the end of their tiring but exciting journey, I think to myself: ?This is it!?”
The writer, on behalf of Team Togoparts.com, would like to thank Aman Avtar Singh and his organization for a great experience racing in the Sabah Adventure Challenge. The team is exceedingly grateful for the highest quality of generous support and sponsorship from Togoparts.com, Basecamp, Hup Leong Company, Eclipse Sports, Klimax Imports, Red Wing Shoes Singapore, and Light 10.
More pictures of the race can be viewed at the following links: