Tuesday, May 06, 2008

My First Adventure Race - no I didn't participate, just covered it!

Snap shots from the Wilderness Langkawi Challenge 2008 - Pulau Tuba (3-5-08)

By then, my camera ran out of battery... so no the final finish shots.. :(

a shot taken a day earlier.. beautiful sea view from just outside our hotel..

(And now, the write-up... a bit lengthy yeah..)

What an adventure!

For someone who has a sedentary lifestyle, covering the Wilderness Langkawi Challenge (WLC) 2008 was like watching a program on AXN or Discovery Channel come to live!

Picture this: more than 300 participants of all background, age groups and fitness level rose before dawn last Saturday morning (May 3) and took a ferry from Langkawi to Pulau Tuba for the biggest and arguably the most challenging adventure race in Malaysia.

I mean, it was simply an incredible, if not mind boggling feat especially for the 35 teams (each team consists of two people) that signed up in the Fast & Furious category, whose stamina and strength were akin to those of super humans, as they strived to complete a gruelling 95km race in nine hours!

What these `super humans' had to go through included jungle trekking (12-15km), biking (60km), kayaking (20km), swimming (400m), caving and abseiling – stretching their strength, stamina and endurance to the limit.

This race was organised for the fourth consecutive year by Wilderness Centre Sdn Bhd, it attracted a total of 156 teams signed up, an it was an international mixed of participants from United Kingdom, France, Switzerland, Singapore, Philippines, Spain, Nigeria, Morocco, South Korea, Vietnam, Hong Kong and of course Malaysians.

The competitiveness and challenging reputation of this race had even attracted five finalists from Amazing Race Asia 2 -Collin Low & Adrian Yap, Vanessa Chong, Rovilson Fernandez and Ann Tan to participate.

But the beauty of WLC was that it wasn't just for the experienced and hardcore racers. There were many first timers entering the race thanks to the rather achievable target in the beginner’s category. A total of 115 teams joined the three to four hour race in the `Slow & Easy’ category, which to me was kinda misleading as participants were required to complete 5km of trekking and 6km of kayaking, as well as roping and jumping into the sea from a diving plank on a ship!

It simply didn't sound like `Slow & Steady'!

Oh, even the 40 odd members of the media who were invited to the event were given a chance to try out the race in the media category, which is the same as the Slow & Steady race. Twenty-two brave souls went for it! Those not participating in the race, like yours truly, were able to follow the actions via various transportations on land, sea and air – yes, it was the first time a Malaysian race having helicopter coverage, catering to video photographers as well as for emergency use.

So no, I didn't get to go on the helicopter as I was a writer and not TV crew.

It was a mass flag off at 8:10am with both categories shooting off in one direction together. Shortly after that, half of the `Slow & Steady’ racers made a beeline to the seaside where they began their kayaking feat. Standing on the bridge above the jetty, I witnessed some rather experienced kayak-ers as well as those who even had great difficulties getting onto the boat itself! It was quite hilarious actually! :p

Soon, a few of us were asked to hop on to the back of a small lorry that would take us to the various check points to witness participants of the Fast & Furious category in action. We spotted a few teams trekking at the fringe of the forest, before stopping by the seaside to wait for a couple of teams that decided to do the 200m swim to a small island across.

What's unique about the Fast & Furious race was that participants were to plan and choose their own routes. There were check points all over the island for teams to navigate to and collect points. It all boiled down to strategy and also their skills and fitness levels.

Of course, there were cut-off time for each of the three main disciplines of trekking, biking and kayaking, and exceeding the time limit means having points penalised.

We were also transported to the biking station and saw groups of teams arriving in intervals of minutes or seconds to start their biking session, which took them all the way around the island and across some pretty steep hills.

By half-pass eleven, we were ferried back, now in a van, to base camp to wait for participants in the `Slow & Steady’ category crossing the finishing line. There were cheers and claps as the Race Director cum emcee Darren Gamble announced the team names that finished.

Although visibly exhausted physically and drenched in sweat, the participants would take a last charge to pick up their pace, and smiling or waving with excitement as they crossed the finishing line and collect their well deserved medals.

We spent a couple of hours resting and having lunch, and drinking lots of water on a very hot and sunny day.

At base camp, the island's village children came to join in for games. Pulau Tuba has a population of about 3,000, mostly whom are fishermen. We were told that there was gotong royong that went on prior to the race which they look forward to the once a year. We saw many curious children checking out the participants with keen enthusiasms at various checkpoints.

At about 2pm, the Fast & Furious teams kicked off the last leg of their race journey - kayaking for 20km in windy condition. The way these super humans descended onto their kayak and rowed their boats into the high sea was simply pro and made it looked so easy!

WLC this year had some special features - two ships docked in high sea. The Reef Explorer vessel which was already being used last year, was where the `Slow & Steady’ participants did their roping challenge on board followed by a steep plunge into the sea from a plank.

And there was the beautiful and opulent SY Lili Marleen tall ship, where the `Fast & Furious’ racers can choose to gain points by abseiling on board. While the teams were working hard on their kayak, we jumped onto a speed boat that took us all the way to the ship and arrived minutes before the first team.

However, the single rope abseiling proved to be too much of a `hot spot’ and soon caused a bottle neck and a long queue for those who planned to attempt the special abseil onboard.

After a tour by a friendly officer on board of the ship, we returned via speed boat back to the base camp to wait for the teams to complete their race. We came across some caves by the shore and saw a team of two women attempted to get points by kayaking into the narrow entrance.

They quicker teams came in before 5pm while the rest made their way to the finishing line between 5pm to 6pm. Ironically, the reception for the `Fast & Furious’ contestants at the finishing line were more subdued than the earlier group, simply because the bulk of the early participants had returned after completing their tiring race.

As they came in two by two, no one at that point could know who actually got the most points to win the race. The self-navigate and self-chosen route system made this a most suspenseful race. Take for instance, for the man’s category then, it turned out that the first team which crossed the finishing line way ahead of the rest only got fourth place at the end!

No thanks to the heat, covering the race was to me already a tiring but exciting affair. So I truly take my hats off to all the participants for their sportsmanship and their great spirit of adventure.

So, finally, I can say I’ve seen super humans in action – live!

p.s. Despite the heat, the tiredness, the wait and some confusion.. it was a great experience and eye-opener. But no, I'm not convinced that I would take part in it next round :p

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