Conquering The Rainforest Challenge
It is a truly exciting experience to drive in the middle of the jungle. It is even more challenging to cross a narrow, rickety bridge made out of logs which are held together with tie-downs or motorcycle chains. It takes nerves of steel to completely trust the man standing on the other side of the bridge directing you with hand signals. The experience gets even worse after sunset when you are unable to clearly see where the wheels of the vehicle should be placed on the makeshift bridge. You are literally trusting your life to your codriver's blurred hand signals.
As part of the media convoy, my Range Rover team and I had to cross some extremely difficult obstacles along our journey. It seemed that building bridges above countless streams and mudholes became our daily routine. Even so, every time I looked at one of the vehicles crossing a log bridge I was scared, especially after a Land Rover Defender, which was just behind us in the convoy, tried to cross the bridge in complete darkness. The vehicle lost its grip and ended up with all four of its wheels off the logs and hanging in the air. I was particularly stressed because our vehicle was pulling the Land Rover forward to safety using our winch, with my driver standing outside his car, winch control box in his hands, while I sat in the driver seat pushing the brake pedal so that both cars wouldn't slide downhill onto the dark precipice below.
I was in this perilous and remote locale for the Rainforest Challenge (RFC), a nerve-racking and exhausting, 10-day 4x4 event. This event is in its ninth year, and each time it is held in a different district of the Federation of Malaysia. It was my third trip to Malaysia to cover the event as a journalist.
Like most 4x4 events throughout the world, the purpose here is to test the abilities of the different teams that come from around the globe. The drivers and codrivers are put through sequences of extremely difficult and almost impossible obstacles that nature has created in the heart of one of the most ancient and exotic rainforests. To make it even more challenging, the RFC is held in November and December right in the middle of the monsoon season. This means that during the event, participants have to endure torrents of heavy tropical rain that almost never ceases. The weather is also extremely hot, with almost 100-percent humidity. That might be very nice in a sauna, but it is a lot less pleasant when you are trying to win a 10-day motorsports event.
In addition to the adventure, the challenge, the weather, and the difficult course prepared by the organization, the teams are also judged on their vehicles' preparedness for the RFC. Countless dollars and hours of work are dedicated to this vital preparation.
The RFC is considered to be one of the toughest motorsports events of its kind. In this race, there are no off-road vehicles racing at crazy speeds between trees in the style of a desert rally race such as the Paris-Dakar. The speed of the competitors is an important factor, but it is generally quite slow, with drivers using low gears as well as winches to enable them to advance across the muddy, rugged landscape.