Cape Town, South Africa
"It's hard to believe that yesterday (or was it the day before?) we were skiing," exclaimed an overheated Tim Pickering as he climbed the rocky ramparts of Cape Town's Signal Hill under the full glare of the South African sun. In 36 hours, the 16 G4 competitors had gone from the icy cold of New Hampshire's Mount Washington to the boiling heat of South Africa.
The Land Rover G4 Challenge began the previous week in downtown New York City. From there, it traveled north and east to the base of New Hampshire's Mt. Washington. The competitors had driven Land Rover Freelanders in teams of two in search of hunters, or GPS waypoints, where they faced different physical challenges.
To the Tip of Africa
Now, with each competitor paired with a new teammate, the competition started with a vicious climb to the top of Signal Hill. Footpower was exchanged for pedalpower and the competitors faced a challenging mountain-bike course. Trouble struck Challenge frontrunner Jim Kuhn, of Canada, when a high-speed tumble left him with cuts requiring more than 30 stitches. The severity of his injuries forced Kuhn to withdraw from the Challenge.
Pedalpower was then exchanged for horsepower as the Challenge mounted Land Rover Defender 110s. During the next five days, the competitors would use their Defenders to travel to the southernmost point of land in Africa, collecting as many hunters as possible.
During the Challenge's toughest driving so far, the Turkey/Italy team stuck its Defender on a very difficult ascent. Arriving on their heels, the Holland/Japan team could have gone around them, but teams earned points not only for arriving at each hunter, but by correctly predicting the order in which they will arrive. The Holland/
Japan team helped winch the Turkey/Italy team to the top. Holland/Japan thus secured their predicted arrival slot.
In a show of excellent four-wheeling skills, the U.S./UK team barreled its way to the top of the hill to the cheers of the assembled marshals. Earlier on the trail, the team successfully negotiated a very steep, slippery descent into a deep water hole. Fortunately, the way out of the hole was steep enough to clean the rear window of Defender, allowing Tim and teammate Nancy Olson to see the marker affixed to a tree right behind them. In a scene right out of Laurel and Hardy, stepping out of the Defender, Nancy lost her balance, slid down the muddy track and with a splash, belly flopped into the murky water. This was Nancy's second dunking for the day.
Kranshoek, South Africa
"It's definitely getting harder to get up in the morning," exclaimed Australia's Guy Andrews, as he got the team's Volcano Kettle going for that all-important first cup of coffee. South Africa's wild, undulating coastline, crowned here and there with rugged, rocky hills spread out in front of the competitors. On the way to their first hunter, Italy's Alberta Chiappa and Turkey's Cuneyt Gazioglu had a choice to make. They could reach the hunter via a tricky 4x4 trail or via a longer gravel road. Making the same choice we would have made, they plunged down the 4x4 trail. It turned out to be the toughest driving of the G4 Challenge. They fought deep ruts and waist-deep mud, making slow but steady progress until one mudhole proved too deep. When their support vehicle arrived (a support vehicle travels with each team), Alberta and Cuneyt were busily digging away at the mud getting ready to extricate themselves. When they realized that there were no extra points for picking the tougher route to the hunter, they wisely had their support Defender snatch them back out of the mudhole. We shared in their frustration at having to pass up the opportunity to really put their four-wheeling and recovery skills to the test. At camp that evening, Cuneyt said, "We didn't score many points today, but we learned a lot about the African conditions and had lots of fun."
Four flights and 36 hours later, the G4 Challenge arrived in Karratha, Western Australia, and was greeted by 100-degree heat and 90-percent humidity. And it's not just the weather that had grown hotter. With half the Challenge completed, the intensity of the competition ratcheted up a notch.
The Belgium/Germany and UK/Italy teams drove into an innocent-looking mud flat. Unbeknownst to them, recent rains had turned it into a bottomless quagmire. It took more than an hour of winching and snatching to recover both vehicles. The long struggle was made worse by the incessant heat and flies.
"We've endured 15 degrees in America and a week in the African Bush, but this is by far the harshest place we've been to. It's hellish. It sucks the energy out of you," summarized one competitor. Today's events were taking place in the Karijini National Park, which protects Mt. Bruce, one of Western Australia's highest peaks. First hunter of the day: run to the top of Mt. Bruce and back. Australia's Guy Andrews set off at a blistering pace and was back at the base in just over an hour. It normally takes 5 to 7 hours to hike to the top and back.
From the exposed mountainsides, the teams next moved to the close quarters of the labyrinth of gorges and canyons that criss-cross the park. It was among the gorges that teams searched for hunters. Two teams arrived simultaneously at one hunter, following another team. The problem: both teams had predicted they would be the third team to visit this hunter. A standoff ensued. With neither team blinking first, a coin toss decided which team would earn full points for matching its prediction.
The next day the G4 convoy packed up and moved 200 miles northeast to the town of Marble Bar, Australia's hottest town. The competitors woke to a balmy 94 degrees and a fierce horde of biting flies. By lunchtime the mercury had risen to 105 degrees. Today's hunters were spread out between the Indian Ocean to the west and the Great Sandy Desert to the east. The most remote hunter was also worth the greatest number of points. Japan/Spain was making good progress when a rock damaged the team's Range Rover's steering. They camped overnight while they carried out repairs. Philosophically, Japan's Shinichi Yoshimoto said, "To camp out on our own under the stars was worth it."
From the harshness and desolation of the Outback, the Challenge moved to the bustle of Sydney. The day of competition began early with the competitors tackling the waves at the world famous Bondi Beach. Then it was a kayak race across Sydney Harbor. The harbor is one of the world's busiest, and the competitors had to contend with the waves created by supertankers and huge container ships. Russia's Sergey Polyanksy had a tough time; he was knocked from his kayak four times.
Taking a clue from the urban 4x4 obstacle course that had started the Challenge in downtown Manhattan, Sydney presented the competitors with a 4x4 driving challenge built on a huge ocean-going barge. In addition to the difficulty of the obstacles, the teams now had to contend with the harbor's violent swells, which tipped and pitched the barge. Italy had a very close call when a rogue wave hit the barge as the car was on a steep sidetilt. "I felt the car tip but luckily the grip was very good and I stopped from going over," said Alberta Chiappa.
Viva Las Vegas!
Las Vegas is used to strange sights, but the parade of 50 Tangiers Orange Discoverys down the Strip on their way to Moab caused quite a sensation. The teams left the neon of Las Vegas and set a course for Snow Canyon State Park. As the competitors were finishing a day of running and mountain biking, Snow Canyon lived up to its name, and snow began to fall. The next morning, the red sandstone and black lava cliffs were covered in 4 inches of snow. By noon the snow had melted, and under a bright blue sky, the visual spectacle of the Coral Pink Sand Dunes and the rock formations in Kodachrome Basin had many competitors speechless. The visual feast continued as the teams traveled to Lake Powell. From the comfort of their Discoverys, they relaxed aching muscles and marveled at the scenery of Capitol Reef National Park.
The competitors' driving skills were put to the test on the rocks of Moab. Teams had to drive pre-set routes to the hunters. Along the way course marshals were on hand to issue five-minute time penalties whenever the vehicle's bodywork touched the rocks. For these athletes used to traveling at full speed, the slow, careful driving required for successful rockcrawling must have been a frustrating affair. But for some, like Turkey's Cuneyt Gazioglu, four-wheeling in Moab was the highlight of the Challenge.
After three weeks of competition, four men--Rudi Thoelen from Belgium, Franck Salgues from France, Chris Perry from Arabia, and Cuneyt Gazioglu from Turkey--all had an equal shot of winning the inaugural Land Rover G4 Challenge. It would all be decided on the final day of competition. The one who crossed the finish line first and slapped his hand on the hood of his Range Rover would be the winner.
For the separator, as the final event was dubbed, competitors began with a 100-foot rappel, then a mountain-bike race to the Colorado River, where they jumped in their kayaks for a paddle upstream. Wet and aching, they next faced a brain-teaser matrix exercise. Completing the matrix released the keys of a Land Rover, which the team had to drive through a 4x4 obstacle course. The competitors then faced a long climb up a rope and a sprint to the finish line.
F-16 fighter pilot Rudi Thoelen crossed the finish line first. The Team Spirit Award, voted by all the competitors, went to Tim Pickering of the UK. His upbeat attitude, sense of humor, and eagerness to help made him a winner.
Does 'wheeling 4,000 miles around the world, mixed with some running, mountain biking, kayaking, climbing and rappelling sound interesting? If you think you have what it takes, stay tuned; the Land Rover G4 Challenge will return in two years. Better start getting in shape.