Posts tagged offroad

Reaching out, touching lives

Just last weekend, we spend a day among the Temuan tribe in the rain forest of Pahang with the CSR team from Sanofi-Aventis. The day started with our quick drive up the Karak highway to a little sleepy village called Sang Lee. The primary economy of this little village is heavily centered on its durian orchards. It does boast a charming little watering hole by the interesting name of Kedai Runchit dan Sayor Choy Hing (review here) that specializes in old town goodness coffee and curry wild boar noodles. As the crowd is much larger than what they were used to, the Sanofi staff had to improvise and started to help out, dishing out noodles, putting condiments and little saucers of chilies — and it looks like many of them are capable of running a noodle stall too!

With our fill, it’s no surprise that we don’t tell our passengers how rough the journey can be. I know many KL-lites complain about our pot-holed city roads but those are silky smooth compared to where we’re going! And the main rule when going off-road? Tread lightly. In all circumstances, respect the terrain and respect the ground you’re going on. Trying to bull your way anywhere gets you into trouble… or your vehicle with problems. We also never travel alone which means that the buddy system helps to get you out of trouble too! Then again, I serve a miracle-producing God and the same God that can part the red sea, can easily dry up a 4×4 trail. On Friday evening, a text message came mentioning torrential downpour and an impassable road. Well, we still go in faith. The news wasn’t so good the next morning while we’re having our wild boar breakfast but still we went. Have faith!

Well, watdidya know? The trail was bone-dry!!

{continue to read on for more…} Read More

The Koloi 4×4 Road

The Kampung Koloi road, at about 18 kilometers, and going from 1300 feet above see level to approximately 4600 feet is usually a challenge for even veteran drivers. It has deep ruts (75 profile tires on 16-inch rims won’t save you here) and drastic drops and sharp turns with deep ravines at the sides. You’ll also encounter steep inclines (and declines) up to 20-plus degrees. At some point, when the mud and ruts end, you’ll have a bit of a rock-crawling adventure that if you’re not careful, you might shred a tire. Landslides also are a threat at all times. Unfortunately, circumstances prevented me from having a professional media crew along for this trip so you’ll end up seeing my iPhone photos and only when I could stop or slow down. Texting or talking on the phone can be done (illegally of course) while you’re driving but NEVER do it when you’re off-road!

And here are some tips when going off the beaten path…

1. Keep your thumbs in the air – right off the steering wheel. Otherwise, if one of your front wheels hits a snag – and it will do of course – your steering wheel will rote at a heck of a lick, and if your thumb is in the way of a rotating spoke or wheel strut, it hurts!

2. Use engine braking to slow your descent down a hill not the brakes. I usually “walk-down” a slope in 1st gear. If the back end starts to slide around then ACCELERATE slightly to re-gain control. If you brake when driving down a hill and a skid develops EASE OFF THE BRAKE. It goes against your instincts but you will gain traction again and therefore be able to steer. Wheels must be turning to be steerable.

3. Don’t fight your steering. When driving through demanding terrain, avoid the tendency to hold the steering wheel in a death grip — let the wheel move around and gently guide the vehicle.

4. Be aware of your vehicles ground clearance and location of its lowest points. Allow wheels to follow their own route inside a deep rut and avoid over steering.

5. Check the water depth before fording a river!

Mountain descent. The angle is steeper than it appears. My angle indicator here reads about 18 degrees!*
Devil’s solo marble or giant hockey game (the log is J-shaped from the other side).
The 180 degree switch back will damage any vehicle with less than 12 inches of running ground clearance!

* The generally acceptable maximum for a highway or road gradient is about 6-7 degrees.

Off-road prepping

{edit: should have been published yesterday morning — got stuck in draft mode}

Like I blogged earlier about 4×4 adventuring for a cause, there’s still a lot of preparation behind the scenes. While as a group, we’ve gone in faith that the Good Lord will never fail us (never did), there are some basic things that will always prove handy when you’re going into the bush. This trip is no different even though the road is one of the more challenging trails. I also carry my spare tire in the truck tray. It makes it easier to get out when you’re stuck in deep ruts or knee deep mud. Not necessarily for use when you have a flat or shredded tire but it can fill up a deep hole or rut you’ve managed to slide into.

Things I always have in my truck when going off the tarmac are listed below. Some may sound silly but you never know if it comes in handy.
1. Hi-lift jack. While a winch helps, this jack will save your ass.
2. Tow-cables (steel). I normally carry two along with a nylon strap for use on trees.
3. Chain saw. Some obstacles require trees. Include extra pre-mixed fuel.
4. Extra fuel and lubricants. Running off-road is not your Sunday afternoon drive.
5. Extra floor mats. Not because you want to keep your car clean, they help on muddy ground.
6. Flashlights. It gets pretty dark in the jungles. I bring 3.
7. Long handle shovel, hand-shovel and fold-able spade. Getting stuck is no fun
8. 2×4 inch wood beams. You never know.
9. In-car phone charger. You may need to call for help!
10. Leather gloves.
11. Leatherman wave tool.
12. Water container. 5 Liters. Engines do overheat.
13. Canvas tarp.
14. GPS units with extra batteries.

Get a 4×4 adventure and help someone

While there are off-road enthusiasts and aficionados who love nothing more than a challenging trail, I prefer to do some good in the process. Besides, you’ll going to end up with some vehicle damage anyways — kind of guaranteed except that they vary in terms of severity. Most of the time, their cosmetic, scratches, scuffs and the like but you might get some dings or dents in under body panels. It can always get worse like shredding your tires or breaking a suspension. Why do it if it’s not for the welfare of some poor, neglected and needy folks? These are our orang asli, the indigenous peoples of Malaysia. The original inhabitants of the land, they’ve been marginalized and mostly displaced and they need our help!

This August 28, 2010, Sanofi-Aventis, that big pharmaceutical firm is bringing doctors and pharmacists into the interior jungles of Pahang. It’s going to be quite a challenging track with foot deep mud, river crossings and 30 degree ascents and descents. Obviously they’ll be needing vehicles so if you have a 4×4, do drop me a note. If you have a virgin 4×4 that you’ve never put that lever/dial into 4×4 Low mode, give me a call. Stock 4x4s can manage this trail although it’s strongly recommended that you have either all-terrain (AT) or mud-terrain (MT) tires. The stock highway tires (HT) are not so suitable for the thick mud.

That said, like good photography, equipment only gets you so far. It’s the person behind the camera or the wheel that matters. On a similar trail like this, we had 9 vehicles from the Land Rover owner’s club of Malaysia that had two vehicle breakdowns and two parts where we needed to extract them. You wouldn’t think a short-wheel base Defender 90 would get stuck would you?

If August 28, 2010 is not a good date for you, you can always drop me a line and I’ll see what other upcoming trips we have that you can help out or participate in. There’s one early in December for sure. I typically go several times a year; usually to the interiors in Pahang around the Bentong-Raub area. The tracks are fairly narrow (single-lane) and range from easy to challenging. They are not extreme trails nor do they qualify for rain-forest challenge kind of difficulty. Any decent stock 4×4 with low-range gear, limited-slip differentials and all-terrain tires can make it.

p.s. Did I mention you get to sample some excellent wild boar curry noodles and durians too?

A Rancho upgrade

After 125,000km and about about 6% of that something else other than bitumen tarred roads (gravel, sand, kaolin, mud, river beds, rivers, etc), it was time to swap out the factory installed shocks. They’ve grown rather soft and in the case of the rear pair, one side was definitely much softer resulting in a slight tilt. Must be all those crazy teenagers from our Church Youth ministry riding shotgun in the tray, singing, jumping and doing everything they can to fall off while I’m trying to do the opposite. Eight teenagers can weigh quite a bit and you’ve got to throw in 400 kilos of rice and supplies to boot.

Trawled the forums for suggestions but most came down to Rancho‘s. Remember that unlike many 4×4 drivers I see in my daily commute, my truck gets dirty regularly. It’s just so silly to see a 4×4 with solid rear axles, low-ratio 4×4 mode with 18-inch super polished rims and low-profiles. The forums also strongly recommended me to go to Off-road Equipment in Batu Caves. So off I went and a full set of Rancho RS9000XLs got installed in under fifty minutes. Great service, good people and well, I’ll be back for more upgrades later this year!

The RS9000XLs are heavy duty adjustable shocks which seemed like something I would need as an unloaded tray tends to bounce on KL potholes so I figured I can adjust the rear stiffness based on loading. Right now, my front is set to the mid-point which is 5 (it goes from super-soft 1 setting to hard at 9). My unloaded rear is set to 2. I just had them for two days and what a difference it makes to the handling. Ride quality is improved along with reduced bumpiness when the tray’s empty. Overall stickiness to the road’s also better, especially taking corners although I can’t quantify it. Well, the big test in coming in two weeks when we head off for some community service in conjunction with Sanofi-Aventis. The road’s pretty tough but don’t take my word for it — members from the Land Rover owner’s club in Malaysia who went with me once judged the trail at about 4 if following this scale here or about 7 to 8 (depending on wet weather) using this rating scale. Ok, let me go and look at some MT tires…

RadioPoppers rock!

Took my RadioPoppers into the jungles of Pahang over the weekend and they absolutely rock! One time, I had them on two lightstands at a distance of 400 feet and they still worked flawlessly. With e-TTL to boot! They’re so awesome I’ll be getting another set next month plus a pair of 580s to go with them.

For me, range is not that important, well, anything up to 100 feet is good enough for me but e-TTL is. The ability to have exposure control plus the ability to remotely control the slaves is important. However, more importantly, reliability is the key. The existing Canon wireless system is too dependent on line of sight and is quite easily confused when in bright areas, especially outdoors. I even had problems one time I did a portrait shoot where the left flash unit was fired through a translucent reflector and the right-side flash was bounced off the right wall and ceiling and one of the flashes wouldn’t go off 100% of the time. I shot forty frames with that configuration and ended up with 9 frames where one of the flash units did not fire properly. This is indoors with a full height glass wall on one side. Maybe the infrared beams went through the windows but who knows.

In a wooden shack building 40 feet by 70 feet, I had 100% trigger rate no matter where I placed my two slave flashes. I had them outside the building firing through the side windows, left and right of the main hall, anywhere basically and all seventy frames fired successfully!