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[RC] Malaysia Story - Part V - Steph Teeter

I arrived in Terengganu about a week after the foreign horses arrived. The horses were shipped from various points around the world - Los Angeles, New York, Buenos Aires, San Paulo, Doha, Dubai, Amsterdam - routed through Europe, and into quarantine at Kuala Lumpur. They were then transported via military transport plane (http://www.endurance.net/international/malaysia/charlie/ ) to the Terengganu (TGG) Airport. By the WEC next year TGG will be an International airport - they are extending the landing strip 1 kilometer - into the sea - to make it long enough for the big transports to land. This will also open up the eastern part of Malaysia to more tourism and industry.

Riders and grooms and horses were settling into a routine and seemed quite relaxed and content. They were happy with the stables, the trail, the afternoon swim in the pool... it was a very peaceful. And wonderful to see friends and familiar faces! My good friend from Argentina - Mercedes Tapia - was there, the American riders John Crandell, Kathy Brunjes, Heather Reynolds, Hasumi san (and Harumi and Yaguchi) from Japan, Leonard Liesens from Belgium - people I have known for years, from other rides, other places. And many other familiar faces, good people, from previous rides.

As the weeks progressed a wonderful camaraderie developed. If felt like being at a World Championship - so many people from all around the world - but without the real stress, without the competitive edge. Everybody here was on the same team, with the same goal: to test the course and to perform their best, with the caveat - to finish is to win. A very different type of race. Twenty one riders were there by invitation to 'see if it could be done'. The prize money would be divided equally among all riders that completed - $5000USD for finishing the ride. Placement only matter for prestige, for FEI ranking points, for a shot at Best Conditino, for ego. Twenty riders would represent Malaysia - and even though they weren't in the test group - they still had everything to gain by finishing. And three riders would represent UAE - on special invitation from the OC, but not part of the 'test group'. It was a very pleasant atmosphere. I suspect the tropical climate, ocean breezes and smiling faces of the Malaysian people had a lot to do with the friendly atmosphere as well.

And while the riders and horses were settling in, the OC (Organizing Committee) was working around the clock. Working so very hard. Zulu (Derek Liebenburg) had been on site since the first of the month. In addition he had spent the month of July in Terengganu - working with Azrin (director) and others from the OC - trying to figure out what still needed to be done at the venue, and how to get it done in time for the event. The stabling and trail became Zulu's focus - plus coordinating the remaining construction, the different groups of people working together (military, local police, medical and veterinay personel) and generally keeping track of things. Everything had to be perfect.

Azrin and her team (Salim, Fida, Juan, 'Boy', Marouf, Mimi ... others) - working so hard - living and breathing Sultans Cup. Arranging transport and accommodation, rental cars, SUV's (a rare item in Malaysia - they shipped over everything they could find from KL), arrangements for officials, printing of programs, maps, awards, dinners, ceremononies, VIP's, arrangements for vets, riders, grooms, etc etc etc! Dealing with daily demands and complications, they were still smiling but a little glassy eyed. The OC also made a great effort to show their guests the real Malaysia - trips to the offshore islands, batik factories, local markets. They did as much as was possible!

The veterinary inspection was on Friday, and the race would begin Saturday afternoon. One of the foreign horses would not start - the mare from Stephan Chazel that Leonard would ride spiked a fever the day before - I'm not sure what the diagnosis was, but ultimately the mare was treated and would not start. Otherwise everybody was ready - and focused - and now the last minute flurry of preparation. Setting up the crewing area- food for horse, rider, grooms - buckets, hay, ice, yoghurt, potato chips, coca cola, electrolytes... chairs, towels, change of clothing, umbrellas? raingear? all that stuff - and for all night - this was going to be a long night, and most didn't really know what to expect. And it was difficult to figure out how - or if - to sleep before the ride. Some tried to get extra sleep the morning of the ride, but it was tough - especially after having already gone through a night to day transition on arrival to Malaysia. Mostly people would just sleep Friday night and then plan on no sleep Saturday.

Saturday at the venue was very hectic. The press core had arrived, lots of VIP's, visitors, spectators, everybody asking questions, wanting things, getting last minute accreditation, all that stuff that drives ride management crazy, but is just part of an event and has to be dealt with. Many people (especially press) wanted to be taken out to the various crewing areas and water points so they could plan their photo shoots - when to see the riders come through, when was there going to be the most action. John had arranged to have everybody meet at noon and caravan out to the check points. Of course one group came an hour later and had be taken out again. Various languages were being spoken (Bahrain press was there to document the event, send back pictures and info since they didn't have riders there), much confusion - who has what car? who can take this group? where do we go? it was a bit frantic. There was a very nice press room set up, with internet, and wireless connections, printers, etc .
and it was a flurry of activity. In and out, questions and questions. We all took our shoes off before entering any of the rooms - press, office, accreditation, etc - because the tile floors quickly became dirty. It was fun seeing the piles of shoes outside each door.

We managed to get almost everybody out to most of the selected crew points to make their photo plans. I had to return the car I had used to take our group out onto the trail, and afterwards asked Esther (one of the team from KL there to help - communications, press, etc) to take me out to one more point so I could see how far it was, travel time, etc. I had plan to catch the riders on their first loop about half way through and take the Japanese press out on the track - they spoke very little English, no Malay, and were a bit overwhelmed. It was 2 hours before ride start so we need to hurry a bit - and Esther said she knew a good way to get there. (She had been on her own the day before, having to figure out where to take people and pretty much had to figure it all out herself). She knew of one way to get to the point, and thought it would be fastest. Ok - lets go, and then we can get back in time for warmup and flag off and transporting the press back out on the course. We had to drive a combination of access road and trail (the trail mostly followed dirt farm roads and palm oil forest roads) and it was a little wet and swampy in places - but she seemed confident and seemed capable of handling the 4WD. We got to one particularly wet area - almost at the end of the section of trail and it got worse and worse - but no place to go but foward.

At this point a driver experienced in mud or snow or deep sand would get aggressive - don't lose momentum - keep the speed up but not so fast that you'll slide off the road or take to the air - but Esther was a KL city girl - game, but not experienced - she got worried and slowed down.. and slowed down... and then that was it, we were stuck. The wheels spun mud in every direction. We were high centered. Damn - and one hour before the start. At least we weren't on the first loop! I surveyed the situation... no rocks or logs or anything to jam under the tires, impossible to push. So ... better start walking. We were very close to a control point (actually the first control point of the race, where the two loops came together) - there were guys there filling water tanks, and setting things up. I communicated (somehow) that we were were stuck in the mud, pointed to the direction of the truck, and they nodded and smiled and grabbed their cell phones. I can only imagine what they must have thought about seeing a tall white woman emerging from the swamp, barefoot in the mud. But they smiled and nodded and communicated (somehow) to me that help was on the way.

I slogged back through the mud to the rig, Esther was on the phone, looking very distressed - of course she was in a bit of trouble - out on the course, stuck, with one of the 4WD's, and me, and the race about to begin. It was really my fault, and it felt like a perfectly natural situation to me - in a bit of a bind, the clock was ticking, more adventure... So I assured her I'd explain to everybody that I was responsible. I'm not sure she felt much better, but she was really a good sport about everything - every bit as muddy as I was and not a bit of complaining.

Two guys came in a jeep with a chain - no english speaking at all - the chain hook wouldn't fit in the towing loop - loop was too small. no rope, nothing in the 4WD, no small chains... much time spent with chin in hand pondering the situation...finally I grabbed the wire handle off of one of the kerosene lanterns used to light the trail (there were several extras in the back of their jeep) and after a couple attempts at securing the chain to the chassis it held, they pulled, I worked the gas pedal, we slipped, slid and then the wheels found purchase. Hooray! Esther was happy to have me drive, we had a few more deep muddy spots to get through - but I kept our speed up and we hit the road, waved thanks to our jeep guys, and made it back to the venue with 15 minutes to spare!

John was out on the warmup field taking photos and I decided to stay put, at the observation deck, and try to salvage what little time was left. The flag was waved, the race began - 4:30pm, 2 hours of daylight before the night fell - the riders were off - some moving to the front right away, others trying to keep their horses under control, still others hold back in hopes for a more controlled start. Everybody went into motion - crews, press, staff - find the rigs, drive out to meet the riders, begin the routine of the long ride. And then it started to rain, and really really really rain. Thunder and lightning and deafening sound of rain on the roofs and the ground, streams and rivulets forming in seconds, grassy field turning into a lake. And all of a sudden all the fretting about photo ops, crew points, etc - became moot!

I had arranged to have our driver take us out on the course for photos. (a driver and liason person and a Toyota SUB had been assigned to John and I during few days prior to and after the event - Rhuda - sweet young librarian in Terengganu with a curiousity about foreign affairs - a volunteer for this event). We (me and the Japanese press - with a cameraman from HorseTV there to document Hasume san's ride) had planned to meet Leonard and follow him out on the course - but in the rain, and the confusion, we somehow missed our rendezvous and I decided to just head out on the course and take our chances on finding the place we had selected for our first photo shoot. It was raining so hard we could barely see anything - barely even see the road. We got to the first spot and settled in to wait. I didn't see any horse tracks so figured the riders must not have gotten there yet. Hmmm... longer than I would have thought. And then a couple crew cars went zooming past us from another direction and I realized we must have missed the riders, all the tracks had simply disappeared in the rain. A quick turn around, quick map study, and we headed for the next spot. We got to a corner of the trail just in time to see the first riders approaching in the distance... dark gray moving objects in a very watery gray landscape. This would do! We stayed there until most of the riders had gone by - the Japanese camera man seemed content, I got a few photos and videos, routed Jack Begaud back on the trail when he turned right instead of left... and decided that there was no reason to try to get back out on the trail at that point unless it stopped raining (which it didn't). Photography was not going to happen in the tropical torrential rain.

- this story is getting really really long... - but a little more - later (I'm almost done!) -



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