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Saturday July 15, 2006

Fun, crazy people


Ever heard of adventure racing? A multi-sport event that takes hours to complete with competitors racing in teams, doing whatever it takes in areas of remote wilderness to get to the finish line?  

It’s a sport where you encounter leeches, mud, slime, rocks, bacteria-ridden water, cramps and other nuisances. Adventure sport is a physically gruelling sport that requires an extremely high level of fitness, mental stamina, blind faith and, when all else fails, the Malaysia Boleh! spirit.  

Participants gathered at the starting line.
But, why do competitors keep returning for more “crazy adventure racing stuff”?  

The answer came to us during Eco X-Capade, an adventure race in Ulu Langat, Selangor organised by Nomad Adventure Sdn Bhd, on June 18. The race entailed off-road biking, jungle trekking, waterfall climbing, abseiling, bamboo-rafting and a mystery test.  

Each discipline was to be completed in the fastest possible time (think hours, not minutes).  

In the first discipline, the off-road biking segment, many teams – including ours – took a wrong turn.  

It must have been because of the “pumped-up” feeling at the starting line. Teams raced into the jungle only to miss the marker indicating the correct path to take.  

Race director, Chan Yuen-Li, directing participants.
After pushing our bikes up a steep incline for at least 30 minutes (it was impossible to cycle), there were shouts of “Wrong way!” and “Turn back!” from the leading teams ahead.  

The first emotion was frustration. What a waste of energy and precious minutes.  

But, how far could such an attitude take us? There was so much more to do and, much like how it sometimes happens in life, taking the wrong turn is all part of an adventure race.  

Later, we found out that many participants of Eco X-Sprint, the non-competitive category, had lost their way in the jungle. One group wandered around for three hours before reaching their first checkpoint. 

The rope section, which entailed climbing up slippery rocks while a waterfall of icy cold water pounds on you, was another challenge. Now, looking at a waterfall gives no indication of what it is like to climb up one. Using one rope, you can’t see and your legs can’t find a grip.  

VIP treatment for some participants.
Our teammate with a water phobia, Herny, made her way up with eyes closed.  

“My heart is going to explode,” she said at the top of the waterfall.  

This is must be the best part of adventure races: team work. Every obstacle is an opportunity to learn more than you ever wanted to know about yourself and your teammates – for better and for worse.  

Don’t be mistaken, though. A race is not only about overcoming challenges. There are plenty of opportunities for fun. At one point, we were running with oozing blisters and debilitating leg cramps when a hill, so steep that it appeared vertical, came into view.  

‘Captain’ Ashley decided to boogie up the incline. The sight of her dancing up a hill in the midday sun got the rest of us and several other competitors, who were standing motionless, moving again.  

There were other moments that had us laughing during the race: a mystery test that had us doing the silliest things, village kids who cheered us on while lobbying (read: begging) for coins to buy an ice-cream.  

The last discipline was the white water section with grade-two rapids. Teams that made it to this checkpoint were given a bamboo raft and two bamboo sticks to navigate downstream. Rocks were jutting out everywhere and little whirlpools made it a tricky affair to keep the “boat” steady.  

It was very likely that every competitor, at some point or other, fell off the raft. Someone lost a backpack; another emerged from a fall without his watch while another competitor found herself sandwiched between two rafts that collided.  

Hazardous? Well, no one sustained an injury that required hospitalisation although there were the blisters, bruises and wounds that needed attention.  

Risky? Perhaps, but this is an inherent part of an adventure race. The organisers and race marshals do whatever they can to avoid accidents. A river crossing that was initially part of the race was scrapped when the water rose to waist level and the marshals stood for hours pointing out dangerous sections in the river to teams that were rafting by. 

Enjoyable? Without a doubt.  

There is something simple and nice about drifting down a river on six bamboo shafts or running on your own two feet in the jungle. Forget the gadgets, high-tech equipment and machinery of a normal day. During an adventure race, everything that you need is in your body, the mind and the heart.  

Our bamboo raft made it to the last checkpoint intact. We jumped off and ran hand-in-hand during the final two kilometres, ending Eco X-Capade in less than seven hours. Upon completion, adventure racers sit down to tell tales of dangerous situations, of feet too painful to walk with, of pushing themselves well beyond exhaustion.  

Every story has a common theme: It is so worth it. The experience, the feelings, the lessons that one walks home with is why we keep coming back to suffer through the “crazy adventure racing” stuff. W 

  • Team Sweat Endorphins came in third in Eco X-Capade’s women only category. All three suffered bruises and leech bites and one is nursing an old shoulder injury that resurfaced after a fall. All three are planning on competing again. 

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