Project Triple8: Chapter Four “Into the Unknown”
Monday, 28 August 2017
|Chinese breakfast for a King|
After I had feasted on a breakfast fit for a King (4 soft boiled eggs, 4 slices of toast with lashings of butter & kaya and two bowls of thick homemade noodles in soup washed down with two sweet coffees) we all headed to our next temporary camp. This was a quiet Homestay at Kampung Pulai just outside of Gua Musang that Elsa had discovered previously on one of her guiding trips. This was the final installment in our plans. As, after this stop, we had no knowledge of what lie ahead of us other than the fact that we had 207.5km of the 444kms remaining.
Our plan, for want of a better word, hereon to the finish line was to take what came our way and hang on in there and make it to the finish line within the 120 hour cumulative cut off time. In essence, every step of the journey now, from Gua Musang to the east coast, was a step into the unknown from both a geographic perspective and, as importantly, a physical and mental perspective for us as a team as well.
My immediate plan just as Moonriver Lodge the previous morning was to get washed up and rest up. Sadly, despite being in a much quieter location than MRL (e.g. no other guests and their children) I still struggled to do the resting bit as well as I should have and spent most of the time rather naughtily catching up with messages and thanking the masses of people that had sent us their best wishes for the adventure. I eventually settled back and got some much needed shut eye but I don’t think it was for much more than a couple of hours.
During this time, whilst Rudhra and Jim were getting their heads down in the room next door (Jim subsequently messaged us that he slept through to 9pm that night and got, a well deserved, full 12 hours of shut eye), Elsa battled her personal tiredness and went out to restock and refuel Rambo and launder my race gear at a local Dobi she had previously located on her guiding trip.
At around 12:30pm she returned and we started reloading the car and preparing ourselves to break camp so that we could to be back at CP5 for a scheduled 2pm. We’d been informed that the Checkpoint had moved across the road to a school from the Seven Eleven but that I would need to cross the road and leave from the Seven Eleven. Before I did this I visited the official Checkpoint for my vital signs to be taken as this had not been done at CP4 or CP5 that morning as we arrived and had left the CP before the medical team had arrived.
Unfortunately, there was not the opportunity for a massage like at MRL because they medical team were all busy attending to blisters on Rose & Seow Kong’s feet. There wasn’t time for that either as Allan Lee & Chun How were both preparing to leave for CP6 as well. So, this time accompanied by Rudhra who had woken and asked if he could run with me for the entirety of the 42.3km to CP6 at the Shell Petrol Station at Felda Chiku and which I’d willing agreed to.
|All set to leave CP5|
After about 20kms we got a storm warning from Rudhra’s watch. Looking at the sky I predicted the watch was wrong. Turns out it wasn’t but I was! As, almost as immediately I had proffered my prediction, the heavens opened with a fairly serious downpour that soaked us. Fortunately, this was not anything too serious and by the next stop we had run through it. We took the opportunity to dry off and I changed socks and shorts.
I had decided that being in dry socks, wherever possible, was essential. As I needed to avoid blisters at all costs. Back at CP5 I had briefly chatted with Seow Kong, who, as I mentioned, was having his blisters treated and I have to confess that I was shocked but full of admiration for him still being in the race. As, as we left CP5 I had commented to Rudhra that if my feet were in half the state of Seow Kong’s I would have most likely have been a DNF casualty.
Unfortunately, with the preoccupation on my feet I had rather unwisely not paid good enough attention to other soft spots that were no beginning to expose themselves. The most sensitive of these was my left groin where after running in my wet shorts was now starting to irritate a lot and the “soft spot” had now erupted into some serious chaffing. Cue, the Wilderness Medic!!
A few week’s earlier Elsa had taken herself off for a week to become certified as a Wilderness First Aider which she’d wisely determined would be an invaluable skill to have in the trails in her role as a Guide. I’d agreed and supported this and was now extremely appreciative of as she busied herself and applying her skills by rigging up a dressing that would protect the chaffing and, as importantly, arranging it so that it would stay in place and which I could still run comfortably in. This worked really well and we continued on our way ticking off the miles to CP6.
|Scenery on the way to CP6 Shell service station|
One of the things that I was discovering was that the final 6-8 kilometres before a Checkpoint were the hardest. The reason for this is mental more than physical one and the run into CP6 amplified this finding. As there were some seriously long flat sections of road that seemed to my eye endless and I found these very disheartening, even with Rudhra’s sterling efforts to keep up my morale up and take the lead to help obscure the view of these seemingly endless sections of tiresome tarmac. On top of this by the time we neared the checkpoint we were losing light fast, the road seemed to narrow dramatically and the intensity and speed of the vehicles seemed to increase to the point where the both of us, for the first time, started feeling distinctly unsafe and out of sorts with the environment which was becoming almost toxic and really unpleasant.
It was huge relief when we finally saw Elsa and Rambo parked up on the forecourt of the Shell Petrol Station that was CP6. Our cumulative time to this point was 60:33:20 and our arrival time was just after 8pm meaning that we’d covered the 42.3km of this Sector in a respectable 6 hours.
|Check in @ CP6 Shell Felda Chiku KM279, Monday 08:03:20PM|
Being honest I was not in a great frame of mind at this point. I was rather choked from all the fumes of the traffic (particularly the trucks) and to be frank the sheer recklessness of many of the drivers, one of whom who had missed Rudhra a few feet in front of me by a matter of inches, after they had veered onto the hard shoulder that we were running on the righthand side of the road. This has meant that had come from our rear and was driving down the road 3 cars abreast heading in the same direction as we were running in.
This total “Twat” (forgive my language here as there’s really no other word I can find in my vocabulary for the senseless selfishness of this driver) almost wiped Rudhra off of the road and with this image still fresh in my mind, I had, rather unfairly I accept, a very negative view of all other human ‘beans’ other than my teammates that were driving cars at this point.
Sadly, due to a combination of this, the tiredness and the fact that this Checkpoint was really the most unpleasant of places we’d had to set up “camp” at so far, my mood was melancholic to say the least. Elsa, as always, tried to brighten my mood by telling me that there was a Mamak Shop next door to the Petrol Station that looked “OK” and where we could get some fried rice. I rather grumpily told her that I was not interested and would just eat a sandwich and some oats and change clothes to “get out of this Hell Hole as quickly as possible” or words to that effect.
With that it started to rain and we had to pack away our impromptu camp at the rear of Rambo and take shelter as the rain quickly became a deluge. Almost simultaneously we received a message telling us that the race had been suspended and that racers were to take shelter from the storm which was now in full flow.
Around this time Chun How’s support vehicle arrived along with the Medical crew and we assumed that despite the storm Chun How would be arriving imminently. This didn’t happen however and so I took the opportunity of lying for a while in the relative comfort of their camp and then the front seat of Rambo. Trying to settle and get comfortable was impossible though and in the end rather bizarrely I ended up, for the first time ever, in the prayer room at the rear of the Petrol Station.
The reason for the bizarreness of this situation was that I was with two other men and wearing only a pair of silk underpants. They were the Amirul (the medical team’s Physio) and his colleague and my attire was because this was the only dry place they could find to give me the massage I had asked them to give me to help pass the time constructively while we waited for the race suspension to be lifted. These Gentleman were once again working their magic on my legs, just as they had done up at MRL on Sunday morning, when the door of the prayer room opened and in walked a man with his prayer mat to perform his prayers. To make matters even more bizarre this Gentleman did not break stride or acknowledge our presence in anyway. Instead, he quietly and calmly went about his business as did Amirul and his colleague, while I lay there wondering if I had somehow been transported to an alternative universe or had finally been able to power nap and was dreaming all of this.
This thought was quickly proved incorrect however when simultaneously the Gentleman left the prayer room as quietly and unfazed as when he entered it, Amirul and his colleague concluded my treatment with a wry smile on their faces and my phone went off with confirmation that the suspension was being lifted and that the race would resume at 11pm. The problem with this latter piece of news was that it was 11:06pm and so without further thought to the weirdness of this experience I found Rudhra who had also been trying to amuse himself, woke Elsa and told them that I was getting out of here as soon as I had got my gear on.
At 11:16pm I headed out of CP6 which ended up being over 90 minutes before Steven Ong arrived as the next runner into the checkpoint. Not knowing this at the time though and being convinced instead that Chun How was not that far behind me, given the presence of his support car at CP6, and the consequences of the medic teams massage, I ran with renewed vigour and purpose.
There was still an incessant drizzle and the road out from CP6 was flooded with water as well as fast moving traffic. Almost immediately I was soaked by a couple of oncoming cars who got rather unfairly cursed by me, as I realised subsequently that they most likely could not see the huge puddles they were driving through and, even if they did, they would not be imagining that some Twerp (aka yours truly) would be out running and trying to avoid them and the spray caused by their wheels and the puddles.
This definitely dampened my spirits but fortunately they were restored as the continuation of this misery was short lived as the route took a sharp right turn towards CP7 and Tasik (Lake) Kenyir. As I made this turn, I really did seem to enter an alternative universe to the one I had been in previously, as immediately I lost the street lighting and plunged into darkness there was an eerie silence as the traffic vanished. I counted my blessings for this freshness and serenity of this, sucked in the fume free air and set about running with the vigour and purpose that I had when I left CP6 a few kilometres previously.
After a short while Elsa, Rudhra in Rambo pulled up alongside me and despite the drizzly conditions we all had huge smiles of relief on our faces as we realised that we were now at the beginning of the real adventurous part of the journey as we skirted Lake Kenyir and Taman Negara the protected tropical rainforest in peninsular Malaysia.
They continued on to set up the first mobile aid station of this leg and shortly after they had disappeared out of view and as I was settling back into my rhythm I had another truck pull up alongside of me. This was white and my first thought was that it was Chun How’s support team who were going to tease me that Chun How was hard on my heels. Turns out though it had some sort of official emblem on the driver’s door though and that it was the security team looking after this segment of the Felda (Federal Land Development Authority which is the world’s largest producer of CPO aka Crude Palm Oil) plantation that we were now passing through.
In their broken English and my “Sikit Sikit” (just a little bit) Bahasa Melayu I was able to explain to them that I was running to Kuala Terengganu and that my support car that was up in front of me setting up my next aid station had a permit issued from police in Bukit Aman (the national police headquarters) granting us permission to be on these roads. They didn't bat an eyelid at this news like it happened every evening for them and drove on their way. When I reached Elsa and Rudhra I asked them if the truck had stopped and asked for the permit to receive a “What truck?” response which mean that they’d been snoozing when it passed which of course they were perfectly entitled, indeed expected, to do or it had turned off into one of the myriad of lanes and small dwellings that I was passing by.
At this first aid station, as well as the usual hydration of water and electrolytes, there was fresh brew of strong, hot, sweet coffee (which is also allegedly the qualities that Ernest Hemingway liked in his woman or in his case women ;-) This had been requested when they passed me was consumed with some energy bars and a few handfuls of mixed nuts and dried fruits and several dates.
As I was getting to leave when Rudhra announced that he wanted to also join me explaining that he wanted to blow the cobwebs and fumes from the final parts of the journey to CP5 & CP6 from his system. Whilst I was really loving the peacefulness of the night on my own I readily agreed to his request, as I totally got what he meant about being able to run in this new invigorating environment. We might still be on the tarmac but whilst we could not make out the detail of the environment it ran through we could not help but sense it.
We continued at what I guess we could describe at a “canter” as on several occasions Rudhra politely and calmly said “you do realise that you ran that hit at 6 minute pace”. My response was of the order of “did we?” As whilst I knew I wasn’t going to maintain this pace I was wanting to make the most of it and actually thoroughly enjoying myself. Eventually this pace caused Rudhra to call it a day, sensibly saving himself for when I really needed him and I continued as the clock ticked on and the ‘clicks’ (kilometres) toked by.
Tuesday, 29 August 2017
Eventually around 2am with the onset of tiredness now catching up with me Elsa and Rudhra found us a much more suitable “camp” to the one we hoped we’d find at CP6. This was a planters hut with a raised wooden verandah that they’d set my mat and sleeping back up on. After drying off and attending to my chaffing with some more lubrication and a fresh dressing I almost instantly fell off to sleep thanks to the sound of Mother Nature around me and the darkness.
I woke 2 hours later and after brushing my teeth and a fresh brew of coffee together with some more nourishment of nuts, dates and dried fruits, I set off again. This time given the hour and the darkness I had a heightened awareness of the possibilities of encountering wild elephants that roamed free in this remote area. Personally, I imagined that these would be heard rather than seen given the darkness but even so I was ready to turn all my lights out if I were to see one as we were instructed that this was the SOP (standard operating procedure) to adopt to encourage to let them pass own by peacefully.
This policy struck me as eminently sensible. As, if I were an Elephant and saw something as small as me light up like a Christmas Tree my curiosity would definitely get the better of me and I'd proceed with haste to investigate. In case of this eventuality arising I decided on a couple of “fire drills” to rehearse how I could extinguish all my lights in as smooth and speedy sequence as possible. This meant that momentarily I was running in total pitch darkness in which due to the cloud cover and absence of stars and moon I could not see the hand at the end of my arm. As a result, whilst I’m definitely not afraid or nervous of the dark, I don’t mind admitting it was somewhat of a relief to switch my illuminations back on again.
|Be careful of wild elephants|
Slowly as the sunrise approached not only did the cloud cover start to break, causing me to have a glimpse of the stars and moon that they had been concealing, but so did the plantation and after making a sharp right turn I headed due east into the rising sun with the primary forest now on both flanks. Visually, this was really uplifting which was a welcome relief as shortly earlier the fresh shorts that I had put on were beginning to irritate my chaffing again and as I welcomed the dawn I also decided to ditch the shorts and run just in my silk briefs.
Needless to say, as Elsa & Rudhra passed me in Rambo and I tossed them my shorts, I received four raised eyebrows. However, having now only seen less than a handful of cars all night and the prospect of not seeing anymore out this way until mid morning at least I decided to throw caution to the wind and run on in what was a very comfortable and, dare I say it, a very liberated frame of mind as I came to appreciate the attraction of the “Underpants Run” that precedes the Ironman World Championships each year in Kona, Hawaii.
I was therefore a little surprised and self conscious to hear the approach of another vehicle soon after I had dropped the shorts and tossed them to Elsa in the truck. I was even more surprised to see that this was Allan Lee’s support car who gave me a little toot as they headed up the road in the direction where Elsa and Rudhra would be setting up my next aid station.
Needless to say rather than worry about any self consciousness of running in my underwear, my mind went straight to questions and assumptions that Allan had now found his second wind and was now leading the pack to gobble me up in his wake. A short while later his support crew returned heading back in the direction I had come from and this compounded what had now become a rather one sided ‘conversation’ inside my head that told me that Allan wasn’t far behind.
The one consolation and positive comment that came up in this conversation is that both times Allan’s crew had seen me, despite being only in my underpants, I had been running strongly and comfortably and I reassured myself that at least he would not be being told that I was walking and would be easily catchable.
When I reached Elsa and Rudhra at the next aid station I once again said “Did you see Allan’s support car and get to speak to them?” Their response was as per the Felda security truck response the previous night and they proceeded to reassure me that the Live Tracker that Rudhra was now able to pick up intermittently showed Allan and the others almost 20km behind me at best.
|The Project Triple8 support crew Elsa & Rudhra|
I’m naturally suspicious of technologically because I’m from a generation that did so much without it. So, at this point that I allowed this suspicion to join the conversations that were going on inside my head about it being too good to be true that no one had caught us yet. As far as I was concerned the ‘hard’ evidence of Chun How’s truck arriving at CP6 last night and now Allan’s support car doing a reconnaissance trip of the road was all the evidence I needed to question the accuracy of the live feeds that Rudhra was monitoring.
That said, I was not sensing any concern about the inevitable fact that I was about to be caught and passed though because I’d been expecting this all along. Instead, I had a little, okay large, competitive “monster” inside of me injecting me with a sense of urgency instead and this put a spring in my stride thanks to the “gay abandon” of underpants running and the marvelous misty morning sunrise I was running through.
In truth, I was only really adopting the relentless forward progress mantra rather than getting a second wind but is nonetheless pretty magical seeing the sunrise in with me chanting the names of the loved and cherished women in my life and the causes that I was supporting who were also making this journey with me. These included Elsa who was physically there of course but they also included my Mum, my Sister (Jenny), my Daughters (Tabitha & Sorcha), my Granddaughter (Vesper) and my Niece (Eva) and The Royal Marsden, Moor House College and the Legacy Fund of Mark Toh my longest and dearest friend in Malaysia who I sadly and suddenly lost last month.
Finally, as I crested another hill of the spectacularly long and visually attractive valley I had been climbing that was flanked by primary forest on both sides, I got a glimpse at the bottom of the descent of Rambo and the burnt out car that was the primary landmark of CP7. We completed the usual CP check in at 10:03:05 in the morning meaning that, in spite of a sense of running well, this Sector of slightly under 50km had taken me approximately 8-9 hours to complete once the 2-3 hour temporary “camp” we’d set up in the plantation had been subtracted.
|Check in @ CP7 Tasik Kenyir KM328.8, Tuesday 10:03:05AM|
We were now just, and I use the word “just” satirically here in fear that my English humour may be lost on you after so many words, 115.4 kilometres away from the finishing line. Once again we were the first into the 7th of 10 Checkpoints and were now a step closer to making Jim’s parting challenge to me in Gua Musang of doing my utmost best to score the perfect 10, a possibility. More importantly, our leap of faith into the unknown hadn’t exactly gone to plan, because we didn’t really have one, but it had gone well and despite everything thus far we were in relatively good shape and ready and willing to fight another day as they say.