Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sabah Adventure Challenge 2011 : Race Report

One week has passed since i landed in Sabah for the 12th Sabah Adventure Challenge. It took me 5 years to realise this dream. It was the unavailability of a *functioning* mountain bike and the cost and logistical portion of the race. Forking out RM1000/team (then) was obviously on a very high side for someone like me with a young family. I then got myself involved with a lot of triathlon races and with the absence of Ironman Langkawi this year, i got to have a major race. As most of you know, Azly Bandit initiated the invite late last year when the race opened for entry.
Our race weekend started on April 20, 2011 when we flew into KK with Budin and Dzul. They are representing Air Asia All Red Hotstar.
We arrived at KKIA T2 and was immediately shuttled into a van to Megah D'Aru hotel in Tanjung Aru, the official race hotel.
Aman and his team was already almost completed the set up of the registration counter and compulsory gear check. We decided it will be a good time to take the bike out of the box and fix it.
The hotel was then filled with activities as more participants came in by 10pm. It was a good feeling seeing familiar faces.
The next day, we loaded the bikes and our bags onto the logistic trucks. But as usual, things can go wrong when they go wrong. I had issue with my rear derailleur most probably because of misalignment when i removed the RD for transport. Luckily i had experiences working in bicycle shop for about 2 years and could do these fine tuning fast enough. it would be disastrous if i could not use the granny (but it turned out later in the race, it's useless to have a bike, let alone a granny).
*image taken from Chuen Ling Lee. Thank You.
With both the bike and bags loaded, it was time to go to town for some food or look-see.
We got back before 2pm and did some last minute revision on navigation. We pitted the iPhone against the compass, Tissot T-Touch, Casio Protrek and a US branded watch with compass.
Yeap, they all point the same NORTH! Hooray (with exception of Doc's compass that points south when it should be north. He must had bought a defective Silva. hahahaha!)
Even Yip did not gave up the chance to check if his compass points north correctly.
His too, pointed North.
My point here is simple. In race like these, it is utmost important to know how to navigate. I keep telling myself not to trust anyone unless i double check it myself on the compass and map to ensure i am walking in the right direction. You have to have sense of your own pace and where you are on the map. Else, you will end up walking/running/cycling further than you are supposed to, or take the wrong turn and ended up lost, wasting precious calories and time.
Sharp at 3pm, we went into our respective assigned tourist bus. The last i drove up this route was almost 4 years ago. I was in awe of the sight and the mighty Crockers range. We stopped about 15km from our destination at the top of Gunung Igan. There was a rest area at the top of the mountain where we stopped for some warm corn on cob, cold noodles and hot Nestum cereal drinks.
We reached Tambunan Village Resort Centre (TVRC), a place where we will call home for the next 72hours and the participants disembarked the buses and went crazy.
or almost crazy.
We collected our bags and took the room key assigned for us. Some of the lucky one were placed in homestay where they are guaranteed hot meal and warm water for shower the next 3 days.
For most of us, TVRC was the place to be.
Luxury comfort at this small town and we have no complains. It has everything we need and most importantly plug point to keep those digital devices charged. We then headed out of TVRC towards the mainroad about 500m away for early dinner.
River fish, freshly caught and lightly grilled with some friend rice was served. We ate quietly as the house next to the stall we ate has someone just passed away, literally minutes before we sat down. As a sign of respect, we used our digital devices to communicate with each other - except Doc, which was obviously still technologically challenged and love to have face to face conversation more.
*pic taken from Doc's race report. he captioned this "Pre race dinner. Everyone had a BB / I phone and was updating their FB etc.I only had Zul to keep me company..:-)" Truth was, Dzul device went out of charge.
With only GPRS connection, my #SAC on twitter was reduced to almost zero and reception wasn't the greatest attribute at the place where phone is a luxury. Updating facebook status takes a good 2 minutes and that too if you are lucky before it timed-out.
After dinner, we went back and got ready for the race briefing.
Each team were given laminated topo map with an accompanying instruction. They were simple enough and requires a certain level of understanding to comprehend the map given, so you can interprets it correctly.
During the briefing, the participants were told of the minimum water and  gears they should be carrying. There are to be diversion or variation which will be announced before the race tomorrow (Day 1) and the logistical change would meant you either will have to clock in more distance or climb more mountains. We lights off by 2300hours. Late by any race standard.
Race Day 1
Woke up feeling apprehensive and excited. The morning sight of Tambunan (550m above sea level or asl) was simply beautiful and peaceful. Tambunan is at a valley and as they are at elevation of 550m asl, it's only naturally to be cooler too.
I went to check the river that we will be tubing later in the day and found it to be higher than the day before due to the rain earlier in the morning.
We were then told that there are changes to the route/direction and we were to pick up our bike at CP4a and  come back to CP6 via CP5. That sort of cut short the mountain biking portion from 25km to 10km, but compensated by a good 33km of hike/walk/crawl.
Sharp at 0715hours, the gun went off and everyone scrambled for position. We stayed back to the only position we are comfortable with. :)
we ran out of TVRC via the back door and moved northeasterly towards CP1. Along the way, we were greeted with sights like these.
You know when you took you piped water at home for granted or missed out on brushing your teeth in the morning, remember this photo and be glad that you have the comfort of being stark naked to have the privilege for some oral hygiene.
From then onwards, it was climb, after climb, after climb.
and did i mentioned, climb?
and more climb?
Total elevation gain was almost 500m for the first 10km of the hike. It only get more interesting. We expect epic-ness and we are in the epic route.
En route to CP2, we bumped into some participants and we discussed on the direction to be taken. like i said, trust no one but yourself and it was proven true when one of the participant that we asked direction (and was actually giving direction to the others following her) DID NOT KNOW HOW TO USE A COMPASS.
Myself and Bandit took lead from then onwards and lead them to the correct trail.
We were moving slowly and pacing ourselves. It was too early to be tired or burnt out.
Checking into CP2, the route to CP3 was the killer. It slowly sapped Bandit's energy away and made his heartbeat climb like a car overheating. he was apologetic and i just have to keep trying to motivate him. Obviously some of it came out wrongly as it was too pushy to a tired mind.
*can you see the hanging bridge? that was about 800m away...we have to make our way down about 200m descent over muddy slippery surface. The butt has never seen more action until this section.
After clearing the bridge and up another hill, we stopped for early lunch.
and almost choke as anything i ate was almost tasteless...almost.
We finally reached the gravel road that will lead us to CP3. As you can see, we are back at elevation 1050m asl again.
At this point, Bandit already suggested that i continue alone after CP3. I was half hearted about it of course.
Per requested by Bandit, we split at CP3 and I raced as Solo. That also meant we officially DNF ourselves as team. Race marshalls radio-ed each other and I was glad that Bandit decided to stop (at that point of time, i found out later he continued when i saw him again back at TVRC). He asked me what i needed and i just wanted the cap. I brought cap and i left it in the room. I felt so stupid.
CP3 to CP4 was a downhill run over muddy and slippery surface. With saved energy, i made a dash for it.
It was a difficult decision that we have to make. We both know officially, even if we finish the race for the next three days, we are considered as DNF-ers. In the spirit of racing and sportsmanship, we both knew what matters is us doing it, as that was the sole reason why we came to Sabah.
From there onwards, i took a lot of videos to chronicle my journey. I will now post more videos, as they will tell the real situation i was in then. It will be more refreshing that just reading my gibberish.
CP3 to CP4 was pretty much covered fairly quickly as i was trying to catch Doc which was about 1hour in front of me. I know if i continue to run, there will be chances for me to catch him on the bike. 
By now, i would had already covered a half marathon distance. I reached CP4 and managed to close my gap with Doc to about 40minutes. That meant Doc was also running, albeit a bit slower.
The route from CP4 to CP4a where the mountain bikes were placed were torturous. On the map, it looked no more than 8km distance. But if you take into account those small turns that could not be seen in the map, it added up substantially. And there was more climbs such as below.
I then bumped into Desmond, a local boy about my son's age (he is not sure himself, but he say he is 6), walking with a binocular.
I know this boy will be someone when he grow up. the look of determination and the "shoulder back, tummy in" pose surprised me when i asked for a photo. But all ice was broken when i offered him some food i brought.
It then started raining. I was two-minded about donning my raincoat. I do not want to stop but i am afraid i will get cold.
The rain stopped soon after and reduced to light drizzle. I walked past what was supposed to be the planned (but cancelled route) to up Trusmadi.
The thing about these gravel road is that once it rain, the road becomes preferential pathway for water to flow. You can hear how wet my shoe was and how erratic my steps were due to fatigue.
After what felt like eternity and with the rain starting to pour again, i saw a support truck by the roadside. I was then told that CP4a is "2 more KM away".
Dang, they moved the CP...and it's up and over another hill! So i did the next best thing. Eat.
Along the way, there were landslides that has caused the organizer from moving the bikes in per planned to CP3.
Which has contributed to those extra mileage on foot. Which had added to the epicness of this race for DAY 1 only...After what seems like forever and cold from wetness, i reached CP4a. Greeted by Rudy and there were puzzled look as to why i was alone san my teammate. A short explaining later, i took some food and took my bike. Rudy then came to me to explain that CP5 will be uphill all the way, perhaps for about 3 to 4km and down the same way. He was frank to tell me that it will be tough and i should be ready for another climb, possible the last for today. By then, i was already running tight of time, and i was told that Doc was only 30mins ahead of me. I wanted to do the river tubing as it will be a different experience altogether - plus i get to clean myself up.
I took a detour up to CP5 and i believe i made a good decision to forgo it. it was near impossible to even push the bike up, let alone ride up. Here are some pics taken from Doc's blog of the route up CP5.
And the CP5 took a few bikes as casualty too. They had to be carried back on truck. The participants has to run back to TVRC if they want to be counted as finisher...
*Photo taken from Sabdin Abd. Ghani, one of the photog of the race. Those muds...painful.
I made my way back to TVRC and decided to wait for Doc to come back from CP5. I was also hesitating if i should proceed. It started to drizzle again and i was shivering from the cold.
I waited for Doc for an hour and decided if i don't go into the water soon, i will be running back in the dark.
The river was about 30m wide, possibly more. With the rain that did not stop over the past 3 hours, the water level was pretty high. the flow was also fast and the journey down this river is about 4km long and it will take slightly below 30minutes...possibly one will feel longer due to the fact that no one will be in control of the river and we will be at it's mercy.

There were a few moment of drama as i approach a few rapid with big stones underneath. The paddling and kicking doesn't seems to help and you are just being pushed to the centre of the river and towards the rapid. This video below, when i looked back, did gave me some chill still. That 1 min of silence and only my hand audibly paddling furiously best sum up the experience. You will hear the BUSAT Rescuer shouting to ask me to keep right...and i shouted profanity...
The videos gives a first person perspective on the tubing. Here are some photos taken by Rabani and Dr. Dev of how we are at the mercy of the river.
And that was the epic ride down the river. Mother Nature was kind enough to spare us from any injuries.
I had fun.
After all the drama of course.
The last task for the day was to get back to TVRC via road. It will be a long 5km walk/run. Not very fun as it was already 1800hours, wet, cold and my teeth was actually chattering when i took the video below.

It was almost 12hours for me on Day 1. 11:51 was nothing to shout about timing wise. it was also then when i saw Bandit walking to the hall for race briefing and it was also then i found out he carried on after CP3 but failed to meet cut off for River Tubing.
Total for Day 1 Epic-ness was a cool 46.7km with elevation gain of almost 1500m total.
It was then cold shower by the football field (the dorm ran out of water) and a quick dinner before i call it a day. Lights off at 2300hours. Time to recover and to race again in 7 hours time.
Race DAY 2
The race for Day 2 started with MTB for about 11km in a southerly direction towards Trusmadi and report at CP1. Doesn't sound too hard for mountain bikers like Team 19 Alpha Bravo. Thinking that all nothing worse than yesterday will happen on Day 2, we were delighted to see more biking compared to running. We were in for surprises...
The first 5km was easy going. Then it were all reduced to bike pushing as we started gaining altitude...
I took the photo above looking down from where i stood. You can see the elevation compared to the photo of Bandit cycling above.
And i turn behind and took the photo looking up, and you can see Doc pushing too, up the steep hill. It is NOT possible to ride this.
Body was almost at 30degree to the ground as we pushed and pushed and gained elevation. We reached CP1 about 30minutes later. Then, it was again, more pushing.
We were reward after that with a short downhill to a river.
It was then going in and out of the knee to waist deep river with the bike over some of the cleanest water i have not seen in a long time.
Further down the river, we bumped into Aman. How many race director will you see being hands-on?
We exited the small stream and met with a larger river. CP2 was within sight...and so was the task ahead.
Just when we thought there will not be anymore climb and everyone was happy with the word "tarmac" on the instruction sheet, we found ourselves having to brave this major climb of this hill at Kampung Monsok.
That's like 40m elevation gain in less than 100m!
Don't believe?
Ride? Kidding me?
Clearing that, if you think you wanna ride, think again. If you have been boasting about climbing up Bukit Hantu or Reverse Peras/Klawang, this hill will make you cry. This is easily 5 times tougher. I can say that as i would rather WALK and PUSH my bike up the back of Bukit Hantu than to walk OR push the bike up this monster.
The sun showed no mercy. the road was more than happy to add on to the epic-ness of Day 2.
Sweat beads on the skin and dries up faster than volatile petrol. I was starting to be burnt. it was a looooonnngggg 3 or 4km up this semi-completed highway that already has two major portion hit with landslide.
Along the way, the Ultrarunners were running down. All of them encouraged us to go on. Knowing very well we were the last team they ever saw on their way down. We finally reached the gravel road, which mark 2more KM to CP2. It was rideable...all for 500m before we started pushing again. It was also then Julie ran past us...with ease.
Then more familiar faces passed us.
Bandit decided than i should continue as a solo (again) after this when we reach CP3 (hey, dejavu).
We were told it will be a biathlon. And because we split again, we both need to run/walk/crawl it. CP3 to CP4 will be a long loop of 12km.
After about an hour, i reached midway to the turnoff point. Kampung Monsok Tengah. It has a solar powered school and a population of 254.
And i was starting to be sunburnt.
And i continued to talk to myself

Or start taking more photos of myself.
The sun was hot and i had to find ways to cool myself down. What else but soak up the river?
The sun continues to burn down on us. it got to a point that i was seeking shades whenever i can find it. I stopped perhaps a good 15 times and took my bag off my shoulder to rest and douse myself with the river water i took in the 500ml bottle.
I was even disorientated at one point when i was at a fork. Not sure which way to go. The ground was dry and there was no tire or shoe marks. It was too crucial and critical to get lost.
Then i found a buff and that lifted my spirit up a bit.
Seeing the video above, BUFF better consider making me their spokesperson!
And the trail just keep getting higher...
After what seems like 4 hours. I got back to CP4. I rested a bit and was told by the marshalls that Bandit has followed Dzul into the 12km loop. At least i know neither of them are alone. Company is good.
The sky then started to get dark. It should had happened like 2hours ago. I kit up and begin my journey down to CP5 again. It was obvious that i was just too tired to ride the bike up those hills...and ended up pushing again.
Then i chance upon a group of brothers (yes, from the same parents), like about 6 of them, chatting and keeping me company for a good 10minutes.
They went hunting apparently and has a few birds inside their shirt. They never seen such hi-tech bicycle and it was my pleasure to allow them to help push, hold, ride them.
I reached the apex of the hill and the only way was down the tarmac road that i pushed up about 5hours ago. With rain and two portion of landslide, the risk of going under the tires if i were to brake too hard prevented me from letting myself fly down the road. With the fatigue level to be at 80%, mistakes could be made and i might end up biting the tarmac. So, i limited my speed to 30km/h down that freaking hill.
I checked in back at CP5 (it was the same place as CP1) and was instructed to go up Hamburger Hill to CP6. Klauss, the race director did warned me at CP4 that hamburger will get impossible when wet. Add that with 200 pairs of feet trampling over the already steep slippery surface, i am prepared for the possible worse.
The shot above is the upper portion of Hamburger Hill. This is the final 1km section and this is the impossible portion. The route to the trail of Hamburger itself already speaks for itself.
Bridge that threaten to give way and be swept by Sungai Monsok below. Seriously. At the other end is the Trail head and it was already muddy the moment you step off the bridge, that is if you managed to cross before the bridge collapse.
*from Doc's can see how bad-a-shape this was.
The moment i head on the trail, i already saw a two graves on my left on the first slippery slope that doesn't seems to be possible to climb up with. It was heartbreaking.
or like how Doc said "was this a sign we did not pick up?"
The locals bury their loved ones by the hill side, mainly by the side of any trails. These are common sight and a bit eerie. Worse is when you are alone and the time was about 1700hours, where it will get dark in an hour's time.
Going up was tough in the rain and wet surface. I had to tackle the steps one at a time. They were only one-red brick wide, destroyed partially by runners. Those steps never end. And where it ended, it was nothing but a 30degree slope of silt and mud..with water running down any crevices.
The photo above shows the way down from where i stood, i can slip and just slide down all the way down resistance!
It took me almost an hour to move the slippery 600m. Back aching, demoralized and alone. I then heard noises from the bamboo forest up 50m ahead. I secretly wished it was the top of Hamburger. But i know it's impossible as i am just about half way up. Then i saw Rudy. He told me the last 1km will be impossible and will take me 2hours to clear with the condition above. The photo below shows the condition when it was dry. Now imagine it soaking wet.
"Sabagai kawan, saya nasehat mu turun balek CP5", Rudy, advising me to go down to CP5. Race Director has made the painful decision to close CP6 for both safety and time reasons. Rudy then told me that 3 Ultra runners JUST reached the peak of Hamburger and it took them almost forever, with one getting lost...
*photo from Sabdin. One of the runner got lost and the marshalls reported "weird" not gonna ask, but just understand that we are just passerby at this area...This photo was taken at the top of Hamburger, i was a good 1km away.
So, back to me, i was asked to backtrack to CP5. The way down was as tough. Riding down is not an option as there is no grip. Sliding down was also not an option as i might slide into graves. I almost knock one down on my way down as i lost control and was sliding down on all four, with the bike inches away from my face.

it was about 45mins later that i finally made my way down to the bridge. By then, Rudy was also back down where i was. He figured out it will be easier for him to come down than to go up to Hamburger...
So, what did i missed not reporting to CP6? I missed my photo being taken like these lucky participants.
You can see the monster hill that i pushed up 5 hours ago in the background. If that was a climb, Hamburger was a mountainous task! Julie (pic) obviously made it up even before it threaten to rain!
Check those mud on the tires...and this is when the trail was DRY! Pushing the bike up was apparently futile too when it was dry!
So, i believe that it will take me 2hours to go up this final 1km of Hamburger. By then, i will be cycling down in total darkness, alone, with weird things...
As i cross the rickety bridge again, i met up with Bandit. He made it out with Dzul from CP4. Klauss has advised him to take the road back to TVRC, but we were to take a short cut away from main traffic for safety reason. So, myself and Bandit got back again. For safety reasons, the race marshalls and director decided to escort us on the road. Heavy vehicles and reckless drivers shooting down the trunk road was a dangerous hazard. We could not be more glad.
We then turned off at one of the kampung after 4km on undulating road, of which we dismounted and pushed our way through.
We then entered the trail which we cycled in the morning. This time, it was in complete darkness. I was glad i brought my Ultrafire torch. It literally turned night into day.
The journey back was long and painful. The road never seems to end. The promised shortcut was actually the race director's way of humoring us. We were told it is only a 3km distance - which turned out to be almost 5km before we reach Sungai-Sungai, which was the main road. From there, it was a 2KM tarmac ride over two more hills before turning into TVRC.
Day 2 ended when we reached the hall - with everyone clean and finished their dinner and waiting for the prize giving of the Ultrarun. We literally walked into the hall and felt like stars as everyone cheered and applaud us for coming back alive and safely.
I was tattered and torn into pieces. The photo below taken by Julie summed up the Epic Day 2.
We clocked in at over 13hours covering 58km with perhaps up to 50km on foot and with pushing bike. We really did just rode maybe for 8km...that's perhaps 5 in morning and 4 in late evening! I could had just leave the bike at home and opt to do SAC just ON FOOT! Total elevation gain could be in excess of 1000m.
And this was how my foot looked like after 13hours.
Quick shower. Not bothered to clean up the bags or shoe. And lights off at 2030hours. We have Day 3 to go tomorrow.
Race Day 3
Still battered from the day before. The body has sort of shut down and every muscle on the body is screaming for a massage. Day 3 promised to be the shortest day and there is a cut off at 1200hours. Reason for this was for logistical as the bus will leave at 1700hours to KK. Day 3 also serves as a "determination" day for those top team as this is where everyone navigational skills and planning will decide the top 5 placing. In order to do so, the race organizer made us run the first 5km - in the jungle no less. This is to break up the group.
*The 4 Old Puteras - Azly 91A, Doc 91A, Me 93B and Budin 91B.
Day 2 burnt me with ugly tan lines.
And it was shown in my very dressed down way (so no need to worry about very dirty clothes for Day 3 - wear and throw!). As you noticed, i never bothered changing the shoes. It was wet from Day 1, never dry for the duration of the race.
As the race start, we stayed behind as none of us were strong enough to run anymore.
We have to map read through this river - 120deg for 1km and 220 for another 1km - climb up the hill to the top, go down, and go up again before going down and hitting tarmac. Sound easy enough. By Day 3, we all can read Topo map like any seasoned soldiers.
Quads were screaming and the glutes had muscle ache where i never knew.
And apparently, i was the only one that saw the light. Hahahah! Thanks Doc!
The trail was as unforgiving with the slipperiness and slopes.
But it was take it easy 3rd day. We just need to finish the race and cross the line before 12noon.
We entered TVRC and picked our bikes up and headed for the next task. The team are supposed to get 12 out of 25 markers placed at various places within Tambunan. That also meant it can take you as far as CP7 on Day 1 (river tubing), CP4a on Day 1, CP1 on Day 2 and as far as some places in the other side of Tambunan town. Myself and Bandit decided to just get as many as we humanly could - bearing in mind any route we take will require us to climb hills...and push bikes.
And more rickety bridges
We managed to find only two. Hardly champion material. And we made our way back to TVRC and crossed the line before 1200noon.
Total distance covered for Day 3 was 14.5km. Elevation gain was a respectable 450m over the short distance. Proves that there is no easy day as the body and mind fights off fatigue and more obstacles ahead.
Day 3 certainly was an easier day. We then cleaned up, packed up and congregated at the hall, loaded the bike up, the bags up and went for a short lunch cum prize giving ceremony. The champ finished the race in total of 15hours total. Myself and Bandit took a cool 27hours. Obviously we were not official finishers and did not get any T-shirts or medals. This has made the race even more priceless. It made me determined to returned again next year and re-do it.
Doc was one of the finisher. I salute you!
Julie and Yip managed to get placing in their maiden SAC race. The other friends did well too with all finishing the race injury free. As for me and Bandit, Team 19 Alpha Bravo, we can only be happy that we pulled ourselves through the three days and soldiering on despite knowing we are DNFers.
There really is no one i rather race with in a team event. But Bandit will be returning next year for an Ultrarun, and that meant  i will brave it out as a Solo adventure guy.
Sabah Adventure Challenge 2011 was a great event. The race organization is top class and world class. There was no F-up that we noticed. Logistically, safety wise and the spirit of racing and competition was so well done and healthy that it is hardly unbelievable that there are people as passionate as them that has done this for the past 12 years!
To Aman, Klauss and family, Rudy, Doc Dev and Pam, Kumar, Mandy, Leslie and many others that we can't remember your name - we salute you and we thank you all for the great race and super hospitality from the time we landed and to the time we left Sabah.
To the team of medic and Marshalls diligently stationed at all CPs, you all really gave your 120% - as much as some of us racers did in our races.
To the chairman of Matanoi group, Andy, my utmost respect to your for being out in the race course ensuring everything was a-OK and you truly has no air about yourself. The radio crews and of course, the very honest people of Tambunan - TERIMA KASIH!
And last but not least, to the team of Photographers that put their lives and gears at risk to capture the moments - you are the example of how passionate and serious you take your vocation. Soaked in the river to chest high holding a sub RM7k dslr? WOW! Abang Rabani and team - thank you and thanks again for the permission to use the photos that i shown in this blog!
See all of you soon!
Complete race route for SAC2011.

*Sabah Adventure Challenge 2011 will be aired on ESPN on May 7th. Watch it to see the pain, tears and pride of the race!