Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Gopeng - X : 31st July 2005

“You might not know me, but I have years in adventure racing”. Those were the words that echoed through the loud-holler that sent chill and jostled me from my seat as one of the organizer introduced himself for the briefing at 9pm on 30th July.

He was shaky, at his best composure; only sure of telling us there is 6 checkpoints, which we found out on the day of race, were all wrong and misleading. He told us there were 5 mystery tests, which we only encountered 3, 6 bearing points for score navigation, which he himself are unsure if there were 8 or 6 points. There were 3 water stations, as opposed to 4 that he told us and 1 rope skill, instead of 2 he briefed.

If he was shaky, we, the participants/racer wannabe felt even more uncomfortable as he seems to make up the route as he goes on with the race briefing. Two mat salleh participant looked downright confused with the organizer’s English, which I pity them. There were no gear checks…or first aid equipment check. Any tom, dick, Harry, Jane, marry and ah lian would be able to come in and race, and put their lives at risk.

We all went back feeling uncomfortable but decided that all of us will be extra careful on race day.

After 5 hours of sleepless night at Tambun Inn, the premier hotel in Ipoh, where we suspected is used for dodgy activities (well, stained bed sheets and TV that could tune into the hotel’s CCTV was a dead giveaway). But at RM68 per night, we are not going to complain, or put ourselves in Steve’s house fending off mosquitoes the whole night. Poor Bjorn, having to sleep in the truck’s cargo area, as that was the only place that the mossies refused to go (Durian stench).

Racers were seen converging at the Gua Tempurung area by 6.30am. Most did their own last gear check and ensuring they have everything they ever need is a badly organized race, this included some spare change just in case of emergency or buying lunch when we decided that we do not want to continue on.

The race organizer says that breakfast will be served at 6.30am, no food were seen until 7.15am. For the love of our country, I never doubt why our athlete failed to excel in the sports of their choice. Here we have, for breakfast, full-fledged Nasi Lemak complete with sambal, tonnes of them for breakfast, no participants in their right mind would down those spicy stuff, let alone filled with coconut milk before race. Thank goodness for the availability of a hypermarket in Ipoh for there is where we got our proper carbo supplies for the race morning.

By 7.45am, the VIPs are still not at camp site yet. Racers were getting impatient and some were shouting for the race to start. Obviously, the VIP just came in their orange-black shirt and we weren’t call to the starting line until 8.30am. By then, there were some photo moments with the VIPs that most probably do not know what is a harness is, and we were flagged off. Well, that is before the organizer converged and decided that we should run towards the main road and not towards the Gua Tempurung side…what a joke.

There were about 30 teams all in the race. Most were familiar faces and some were elite athlete that decided to give JB Duathlon a miss to win the bigger prize money here.

The Light and Easy guys and girls; Me and Adilah, Man and Stephanie, Zabil and Karoline, Bandit and Zeus, Ashley and El and the only all Men’s team for LnE, Steve and Bjorn were seen running in a pack ala TTDI run, with enough time to bitch and gossip as we run the first 2km.

One by one, the participants reached their bike for the cycling league; we cycled to the first cave, about 5km away, following the red-white danger tape tied onto trees and branches. We reached what seems to be a fish pond area for our caving activity. First off was climbing an 8 foot high wall to gain entry into the cave. Most did it with no problem. Then Adilah realized that there isn’t any safety rope, or place where we could actually clip onto for safety. Oh well…we’ve expected this. So, off we went…around the cave and hill doing mostly some simple bouldering moves with loads of places where not careful participant will fall and break their ankle.

CP1 was just off the cave and we ran to our bike for the 35km journey to Gopeng’s Puspakom, the next CP. I kept thinking to myself, Gopeng can’t be that big, for 35km, I would had reached Ipoh if I go north and kampar, if I go south…no way that the cycling would be 35km, even though it meant we have to cycle in the inner portion of the Gopeng District. The cycling league was boring, nothing challenging and it favours cross country rider. Short of a few dumbass motorcross bikes that kicked off tones of dust and stones into our face, oblivious to the race that is going on, I felt that the organizers could had done a better job ensuring that the path is free from these people. Having said that, we were tailed by one organizer that decided that is more fun to watch some of the girls’ backside when they pedaled to the next CP. I stopped and asked him to go ahead…and to leave us alone; the sound of their motorbike with broken exhaust pipe is a pain in the ear, and butt, literally.

We reached CP2, need to do mystery test la…some jigsaw puzzle…assembling some plastic plate with the perak mascot in it. And there is like extra pieces that don’t fit into the whole jigsaw. We are supposed to assemble 2 plates…well, it wasn’t mind boggling at all as most of us got it done in 2 minutes…though me and Adilah got it a wee bit longer because we were told there is ONLY ONE extra piece. We replenished some of our water and grab hold of 2 cans of warm 100plus, they never heard of ice box ka?

The cycling became a nuisance, the loose gravel do not favour those that don’t cycle often. Nevertheless, I and Adilah weren’t any super athletes, and we decided it is best to stick together, rather than racing with each other. We decided that we will catch, or rather try to catch other teams with our running. After the Puspakom, which was supposed to be CP2, we were led by the traffic police to a slip road, which passes by two cemeteries, one a Christian cemetery and one more a Chinese cemetery. I don’t usually *trespass* into these territories, and me and Adilah was excusing ourselves and saying thank you as we pass the graves. It wasn’t pleasant, really. Before we reach the Chinese cemetery, it was a long climb up the hill, we pushed our bike up the hill, and right before Adilah decided to cycle and enjoy the downhill, she dismounted and decided to walk. It was the blood stain on some rock that made her stop. Someone fell, so she decided not to take the risk. I follow suit.

We reached CP3 after the graveyard, which was the Gopeng Wet market. The mystery test was asking us to catch catfish, 2kg of them, which at those fish size, we reckon should be about 8 to 10 fishes. Adilah has phobia about holding long slimy muscle-ly thingy. She shrieked and screamed as she corner the fishes and scooped them up in the plastic bag. She was good with the fishes despite her phobia; I on the other hand, only managed to catch ONE fish. I concentrated too much in catching them individually…good for Adilah…she’s the Man of the moment. After ensuring that our gloves do not smell fishy, we carried on to the next CP.

We cycled a short distance before we reach CP4, which were again, wrongly informed by the organizer. We dropped out bikes and proceed to the mystery test, doing a double push up, with Adilah’s leg on my shoulder, both in push up position; she has to drink a cup of 100plus while doing push up…ok, that was stupid and downright mental challenging. We got it done in no time and we started running…supposedly it is a 3km run…which we later felt it to be close to 8km run, uphill, what training for this week’s Kiara Run.

We noticed, along the way, that the place has a 600mm water pipe running on the road, major leakage on some joints with water wastage so great people might think Gopeng is a town of waterfall. I kid you not. Perhaps Perak could consider selling water to Negeri Sembilan…

We passed by a Durian orchard, which we suspect Steve might had stopped to savour some fruits, but since there wasn’t any evidence of freshly pried open durians, we could not substantiate the possibility of him doing just that. We all know that he secretly hope one of the mystery tests is to eat Durians…

We ran passed Adeline’s Long House; the place suddenly became familiar as we reached the white water rafting place in the last Gopeng Eco-X race. At that point, we were looking for the orienteering point; we were told that we need to do orienteering in Sg Itek…and thought it was cancelled, which won’t surprise us at all. Tired from the running up and down the hill, and overtaking a good 4 teams along the way, we were told to cross the river to get to the other side…

There were families having picnic at the river, our act of just walking into the water without thinking shows just how tired we were at that point. The cooling water was a great welcome change…we felt rejuvenated and headed into the jungle/river trail that me, doc and Steve went hashing in the last previous race. This time around, I let Adilah leads me, and we went in and out of the river, slippery at some point where I slipped, knocked my knees onto some stones and bruised my other knee trying to steady myself from the fall…of course it’s painful…

We managed to reach and exit the river trail, only to see the familiar terrain, which meant, more running. We walked and we ran, overtaking yet another team as we do so. Later, we saw one of the participant giving up, she was riding pillion on a motorbike, obviously not wanting to run the so called 18km as per what was told by the organizer. We know it’s not 18km run, it’s most probably 8km run to the next checkpoint at the river boarding section. Not wanting to give up, Adilah told and encouraged me to run.

“Don’t let the motorbikes pick you up. RUN!!” she said chirpily while eating some dried mango she bought the night before as race food.

We ran. And ran. And ran. And reached the so called orienteering place. Har . Har. There were, as per the paper slip, 4 point only! With each point situated like 20 meters away…you don’t need a compass to see where you need to head out too. It’s a simple thingy to do by just looking for the very white cardboard they place at eye’s level!!! What a joke!!!

At the end of the orienteering, we weren’t told where to go, just arrow pointing to CP4. So, we ran there. We caught up with one more team, Derek and partner. We took our tubes and in the Kampar river we went…it was shallow, most probably ankle high at most points and waist deep at some creek. Ashley and El was seen doing the Sunway Lagoon thingy by sitting in the tube and letting the water current push them downstream. I sank as I went on top of the tube. Not good. Decided to just keep my feet high while I supposedly cruise down the river…

After what seems like eternal bump whacking and river cruising through a few rapids and bumping into river rocks, we reached CP5.

Wait a minute, I don’t recalled getting the passport chopped at CP4…damn…Adilah looked frustrated at that point and just wanted to finish the race. So was I. I then realized that the passport HAD the CP4 signed…but not chopped!! I have no idea how that actually happened!!! See, the CPs was so f-up that we were confused which is which. We ran for it…passing through the inner part of Gopeng, though small roads where there were more cow dung and horse dung that Zoo Negara. It was already almost 6hours and 30 minutes since the race started at 8.30am. The cut off time is at 2pm at the Abseiling, of which, team that couldn’t reach there by 2pm will be, well, disqualified. It was already 2.30pm; Adilah ran out of water, I still had a liter left. I can’t recall the last water station anywhere. Bad organization. We ran under the North South highway towards Gua Tempurung and found the river that will lead us to the cave entrance.

We reached the opening, we saw someone abseiling down, only to find out from the race marshal that the race course is closed, nothing we could do, except to enter the cave and get out to the other side. We were told to just follow the river and don’t get out of the course…

The Gua Tempurung was dark, and I reckon I’ll retire my 7LEDs light for something more conservative, like a halogen bulb torch. Adilah claimed it was her first time in the cave, it was my first time, Caving. A brand new experience. The limestone formation at some parts, and the shimmering quartz like stone on certain part when the white LED lights were shined on it were a wonder of nature…we took time to savour the cave. But it was warm actually; so much so we though cave should be cooling.

We came to a dead end, with only opening as big of about 1 foot in height, with river running underneath. There isn’t anymore place to go. We knew that that is the only way, so, we went crawling in the river, under the cave opening, to reach a bigger chamber, only to crawl again… and again. We finally reached a big chamber with man made staircase. We knew we are close to the end of the race. By then, we had 2 other teams with us, figuring out which way best to take. Adilah reminded everyone to stay ON the river and don’t get anywhere, no matter how tempting the route is. We followed the advised and enter the river back…more crawling later and we sort of reach the cave lover/river opening.

The bright light from the 4pm sun was too much for our eyes to get accustomed to. But it was a welcomed sight. By the time I walked out of the river, they were having the prize giving ceremony. No organizers were seen anywhere, except at the prize giving ceremony. We walked and finished the race ourselves, and were later approached by a boy that came to took down team 314, that finished the race, san the abseiling, at position 12, out of 16 mix team.

We felt that the race was too long, with no consideration of the cut off time, despite the race starting late. Steve and Bjorn was the first team to be DQ at the abseiling because of the cut off time. Non of us Light and Easy guys and girls managed to do any abseil, we should had left our harnesses back home and also the first aid kit…ah, perhaps we should had just gone for this race as tourists.

Don’t think I would join this race again next year, unless the organizers will take into account to be more organized, and take in all safety precaution. Even Nomad Adventure gave everyone that wants to do the 3 technical rope skill a chance, despite their very lenient cut off time.

Pictures after this entry, wait up!

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