Survivors Part 4: I thought I was gonna die

[This is a multi-part series describing in gory detail my 10km race through the treacherous mountains of Padawan, Sarawak.]

BHR Nature Challenge 2009

See previous chapters:
Part 1: Crossing the chasm of death
Part 2: We were stung by bees
Part 3: A leech on my bum

Disturbing content

Death Mountain

I wish I could have taken a photo but I didn’t have my camera with me.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, a monster of an obstacle presented itself to us.

It was a cliff face which we had to Spiderman across to get to the top because that was the only way to go.

Death Mountain

My illustration isn’t totally accurate because it’s really hard to draw terrain, but the general idea is there.

We could see some faint outlines of footholds in the path we were supposed to take, but they had been ground almost flat by rain and by other trekkers before us. There was also a scarcity of anchored objects which we could use to haul ourselves across.

Worst of all, though, was the nothingness beneath the trail. We were about 3,000 metres above sea level.

There was a jungle below. We could see thorny plants and trees and shrubs. But the jungle was on another slope and it didn’t look like an ideal place to fall into if one wasn’t ready to be jungle fertiliser.

Jungle fertiliser

Taking a deep breath, Nanny Wen led the way. She encountered some minor incidents (root giving way and stuff) but on the whole did pretty good progress. I followed her shortly after.

When she was three-quarters of the way through and I was only about a quarter way, I got stuck.

“Arrgh,” I yelled, “I’m stuck! I can’t find anything else to grab!”

“Wait, I’m reaching,” Nanny Wen yelled back. “I’ll help you to see once I get up there.”

Everywhere around me was mud and leaves and fungi and unidentified icky things. Maybe worms.

I tried not to see worms. I had trained my mind to think: “That’s just a branch!” whenever I saw a worm.

You are a branch

As my eyes searched desperately for my next anchor, I started feeling my feet losing purchase on the two slippery footholds I had chosen.

I had to move on, quickly.

Setting my sights on a faraway branch sticking out the cliff face, I strained a hand towards it. But before I could reach it, the hold under my feet totally gave way at the same time the piece of root one hand was holding on to started loosening.

I found myself sliding down.

Deus Ex Machina

Crying out in shock, I tried to grab stuff around me, anything, hoping to find something anchored strongly into the cliff face.

I think I must have worried Nanny Wen a lot because she stopped in her tracks and went, “OH NO!”

I slid down a few metres. It felt like a year.

And then, miraculously, I stopped sliding.

I can’t remember now how it happened. Maybe I managed to grab hold of something. Maybe my feet found better footholds.

Deus ex machina

I just remember my mind blanking out in one horrifying moment when all I could think about was the nothingness below me. Next thing I knew, I had stopped sliding.

I hung there for several seconds, reluctant to move. Nanny Wen started to clamber downwards to help me, but I told her to stop.

“It’s okay,” I said. “I got it. Go ahead.”

“You sure?”


After pulling herself up the last few steps, she began to direct my pathing.

My arms were beginning to feel like they were coming out their sockets because I was using mostly my arms to suspend myself, unwillingly to trust the slippery footholds.

Fortunately, with Nanny Wen’s help, I managed to haul myself up with the dying strength of my arms. I finally docked at safe harbour.

We had a few seconds of reprieve as we trudged shakily forward, and then the next obstacle loomed, although now I know that the worst had already past with that crazy Spiderman stunt we pulled.

No Quitting

Borneo Highlands Resort

Thinking back now, I can’t believe we managed to complete the race. There were moments I wished we could give up because the trail was insane.

I began to suspect that maybe Sarawakians are all superheroes in disguise because they just bowled through the obstacles as if gravity didn’t exist for them.

At the 5km checkpoint, there was a real chance for us to give up. The jungle trail led out to a spot of civilisation where tourists come up on buggies to admire the scenery. We could have copped out and followed the next tour group down in a buggy.

I contemplated it seriously. The obstacles had been really frightening, to say the least. I couldn’t believe the race organisers would put any normal human beings through what we had been through.

I asked Nanny Wen, “Do you want to quit?”

She said, “Yes.”

Relieved and happy to have reached the checkpoint, we ran up a grassy hill to the water station and downed a can of 100 Plus each.

100 Plus

Our media host was there. We told him about our bee stings and leech attack. By the time we finished our drink, Nanny Wen said, “Let’s not give up.”

As much as I valued my life, I didn’t like giving up, either. I’m a stickler for achievements. I told myself, “If we can make 5km, we can make another 5km.”

We had taken two hours to finish our first 5km. I was hungry but I decided I could hold out for another two hours.

So we forged on ahead, leaving our last chance for refuge behind.

Nobody told us that the next half of the trail was going to be the more dangerous half. (The suicidal obstacle I had described above belonged to the second half.)

I constantly questioned my own sanity.

What the hell was I thinking?

To make myself feel better, I would imagine real people being trapped in jungles, lost, wandering around for days looking for an exit, tired, hungry, forced to eat bugs and mossy plants.


It could have been a lot worse, right? At least I had red paint to guide my way and I didn’t have to eat bugs. I just had to endure the ordeal for a few hours and there would be a finishing line.

Breaking Down

By the time we were just 2km away from the finishing point, we were both so bone weary it felt like we would dissolve if you so much as poked a finger at us.

Reaching the 2km checkpoint was a bit demoralising because we really believed we were closer, like 1km, instead.

We were just putting one foot in front of another mechanically. If a tiger had come out of nowhere and pounced at us, I doubt we’d have had the strength to run.

My body was shooting signals of pain all over, especially on my back and knees. My feet and shins were cramping from the effort of balancing myself on precarious footholds for hours.

I had gastric pains in my tummy and bee stings on my ankles. My arms were sore from overuse. My feet were literally heavy with mud because there were a couple of swampy patches we couldn’t avoid.

Dirty shoes

The last 2km was madness. I was so weary I would have screamed in frustration at the neverending obstacles if I had the strength to.

Nanny Wen suspected that the trail was more than 10km. The map did say that 10km was only an approximation. Also, the 10km probably didn’t take into account vertical distance, of which there was an abundance.

Finishing Alive

When we finally broke out of jungle and hit civillisation (paved roads) at about 500m from the finishing line, we yelled out in happiness. We couldn’t do a victory dance, though. We were too exhausted.

There were some construction workers by the side of the road. They waved at us and gave us the thumbs up sign. We waved back.

Bones about to fall apart, we trudged up the road hill and into the welcoming arms of the finishing line.


We finished the race in 4.5 hours. We found out later that the champion had finished in something like 80 minutes.

How he did that is something I will never understand till the day I die. Nanny Wen and I never stopped to rest except at water stations for hydrating. We had kept going as fast as we could without compromising our safety.

I can understand three hours. Maybe even two hours. If we had worn the right shoes, we might have finished faster. Our running shoes didn’t have the right traction for the muddy slopes.

Still, 80 minutes is just freaking unbelievable.

Nevertheless, I’m glad we completed the race, even if it was a little embarrassing reaching the finishing line hours after everyone else. By the time we arrived, all the other participants were lounging about in the grass, clean and relaxed, the race all but forgotten.

Borneo Highlands Resort

But we did receive encouraging words and applause from some people who were impressed by us being the only Singaporean participants. The race referee had made a big deal at the start about us being media from Singapore who have never seen jungles.

Well, at least we didn’t come in last.

And I was so glad to be alive.

After the race

31 thoughts on “Survivors Part 4: I thought I was gonna die

  1. Avatar

    The Singapore army needs more people like you two. Please sign up tomorow, and thank you for your contribution towards nation building..

  2. Avatar

    I’m still amazed the both of you finished the race. Well done. And the last pic of you looked like you wanted to strangle someone(the organizer perhaps?) = )

  3. Avatar

    “You’re a branch. No I’m not!” HAHAHAHAHAHA that was the laugh out loud moment that i look forward to in your blog.
    Huge Respect for finishing this race

  4. Avatar

    You have my respect for completing the hike and not giving up. Guess you no longer afraid of bugs and worms after 4.5 hours of “You are a branch” psychological treatment.

    Reading these sure bring memories back to my army days in Brunei …

  5. Avatar

    tvbaddict: What next one? Over already lah! O_o

    kennysia: Thank you. I don’t believe you can’t do it, though. :P Why don’t you take part next year? lol.

    benjack: Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it. :)

    Hillary: Wow, you’re going to take part after knowing what it’s like? You’re either insane or you’re a superhero! :P

    Gary Yang: Thanks! :)

    Kerr: Erm… *bish* :P

    aaron: Haha. Yes, it’s very creative, isn’t it?

    Precish: The first prize was RM800 cash, sponsored goods and a medal… to be shared among two people, lol.

    CT: Thank you! It’s quite fun drawing them. ;)

    Lobo: Haha. I just look fierce/angry whenever I’m not smiling. It’s the way my face is. Can’t help it.

    Lex: Thanks for your LOL! It’s nice to know my half-baked art is appreciated!

    ZQ: Thanks! :)

    Ralph: Um… if dancing with death is your idea of fun… sure. :P

    cyc1op: Hmm. I think you may be right. Erm.. I still don’t like bugs and worms, but I’m probably less scared of hem now. :P So, are you army memories good or bad? :P

    AvatarStormBringer: Thanks! :) I was also wondering why they appear so white in the photo. They didn’t get very muddy, but there was traces of dirt around. More at the back, I think. I thought of throwing the t-shirt away, together with the shoes cos it was so gross. But decided to bring it home after all to keep as a memento. haha.

  6. Avatar

    @Sheylara: Absolutely amazing stuff from start to finish! Your fighting spirit is worth emulating:) Thanks so much for sharing, its a series of posts deserving of its own category, surely:)

  7. Avatar

    tvbaddict: Er… the story already wrap up how to write a few more post? *bish* :P

    RN1209: Thank you for the grand compliment! Erm… a category on its own for four measly posts? Heh. :P I had fun writing it, though.

    Could have written more but I didn’t want to bore people so I tried to summarise the entire journey as much as possible, leaving out all the minor encounters. (And it still ended up so long, lol.)

    I initially wrote it all in one post, but drawing the illustrations took so much time I decided to break it into four posts so that I had more time to draw them. Haha. :P

  8. Avatar

    @Sheylara and tvbaddict

    How about this idea for the book? Now you copy and paste all your adventure posts into a word document, pdf it and then sell it as a “Borneo Adventure Guide” on your blog.. :-p

    just kidding..


  9. Avatar

    ZQ: I wonder who would pay money for a book that contains only four short chapters, which are already available for free in the first place. :P

    tvbaddict: But the story already “And they lived happily ever after – The end”. What would you expect to see in part 5?

    aaron: Er… what colour do you want to see?

  10. Avatar

    hey may i ask you how do you manage to train to run such long distance?:) cause i kinda suck at running long distance. thanks:D

  11. Avatar

    Love what you done to the shoe.
    Girls look so hot when they are sweaty and muddy….agreed with “Insane” above, its an experience money cannot buy!

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