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We had been on the trail to Boulder Creek for fewer than 10 minutes when we noticed a gigantic female moose and her calf standing just 20 yards ahead. Our group of six hard-core Jeeps instantly came to a stop, trying not to frighten these majestic creatures, hoping to capture their image on film.
Lesson number one when travelling in the backcountry of Alaska: Dont get close to anything furry, especially when it has a youngun in tow. Before the last driver shut off his Jeeps engine, the big cow was in full-on charge mode, heading directly toward the lead vehicle. Fortunately for us, it was only a bluff, and at the last minute she and her calf disappeared into the bush.
We came to Alaska to meet with Eddie Angel, owner of Northern 4x4, a four-wheel-drive shop located in Anchorage. We met Eddie at the Rainforest Challenge last year in Malaysia and quickly became good friends. He was so excited about the extreme conditions and competitive edge of the RFC that he vowed to build two Jeeps at his shop in Alaska, send them to Singapore, and be the first-ever U.S. team to compete in the jungles of South East Asia. Eddie explained, The off-road conditions up north in the summertime are very similar to those in Malaysia, lots of water and mud.
He not only had the experience to be a strong competitor, but he also knew how to build bulletproof rigs capable of handling some of the most extreme terrain in the world. Starting out from Anchorage at the Northern 4x4 headquarters, it was our intent to do some hard-core four-wheeling by testing the two Rainforest Challenge Jeeps in the muddiest conditions we could find. If they held up here, theyd be ready for anything. It was the second week of June, a perfect time to test since most of the snow had melted, leaving behind boggy trails with a bottomless layer of mud.
We headed north out of town en route to the Boulder Creek trailhead. The scenery was breathtaking, filled with awe-inspiring views of snow-covered peaks adorned by melting glaciers ever on the move. What a contrast to the humid, tropical, equatorial rain forests of Hulu Terengganu.
Joining us on the trip were four of Eddies closest friends, all driving Jeeps. In less than two hours we turned off the main highway and were heading into Boulder Creek. Our plan was to drive the 15-mile trail, make an early camp at a remote hunting cabin, and head out the next morning. But things rarely go as planned, and this time was no exception. Fifteen minutes into the trail, we had to pass through a nasty bog that resembled a bottomless black pit.
Randy Suden decided to lead the way in the Rainforest Challenge press vehicle and hit the bog fast and furious. The line he chose couldnt have been worse; it sucked the rig into its rock-lined abyss and broke the left-front axleshaft, a hardened unit from Warn. To make matters worse, he didnt have a spare. This wasnt a good sign. However, in these situations one must be creative: Eddie repaired the axle with a MIG attachment for his Premier Power Welder. In a matter of minutes we were back on the trail with Randy taking care not to put unwarranted stress on the newly formed weld.
The landscape through which we traveled could have come directly from a Jack London novel, reflecting the immense grandeur of a pristine, untouched wilderness. At one point, we startled a grizzly sow with three cubs and watched in complete fascination as they retreated into the bush at the sound of our machines.
The terrain became more difficult the further we went, and progress was extremely slow in some very muddy sections, just as it is in the Rainforest Challenge. However, most vehicles were equipped with Warn winches, lockers, and Super Swampers, essential equipment for getting them through the gooey bogs. Chris Hummer, the RFC competition manager from Australia, joined us on the trip and was impressed with the difficulty of the trail. He reckoned the boys from Alaska would do just fine in Malaysia.
Hour after hour we motored through the slime and eventually reached Boulder Creek. From here it was about five miles to the trails-end cabin, reached by a trail that skirted the riverbed. Crossing the river was inevitable and had to be done with extreme caution. Eddie is a pro at this and usually led the way. The trick was to find the shallowest route and attack it at an angle. One false move could mean disaster.
At one point Eddies TJ fell into a hole and was submerged in a window-deep icy current. Eddie gave it hell, red-lining the motor in a desperate attempt to power through. The Swampers caught hold, helped by Detroit and ARB lockers, and launched the rig safely to the other side. After crossing the treacherous current no less than 10 times, we were getting close to our destination. It was 11 pm and we had been on the road just over 12 hours. Fortunately, we were in the Land of the Midnight Sun and had plenty of light by which to find the way.
Upon our arrival at the cabin we noticed human silhouettes perched high on the mountaintop. Further investigation led to the discovery of four pack-horses hidden in a nearby stand of aspens. To our surprise, a man resembling Jeremiah Johnson appeared from out of nowhere and told us he was a hunting guide on hand with two of his clients from Nebraska. The next thing out of his mouth was, How the hell did you guys drive those Jeeps up here?
Eddie replied, Aw, thats nothin. Were takin them all the way to Malaysia.