shemud: the world's only all-girl extreme off-road challenge
Photos Hafis Johan (AA Media)
We all have an idea about the definition of extreme off-roading but imagine a place where the mud actually wants to swallow you, the air tries to smother you, the sky wants to drown you and the vegetation tries its best to impale you… Then imagine sending your wife or girlfriend off to race in a seriously tough event in this environment. Welcome to the dripping jungles of Johor, Malaysia, the setting for SHEMUD, the world's first all-girl extreme 4x4 challenge.
Powering through the prologue
In the summer an open invitation was sent out to fearless females the world over and a few of the most intrepid took up the offer with teams from Italy, Czech Republic and Romania flying out to take on the locals in the inhospitable, sweltering forest for a week. Shipping out cars to compete on the other side of the world is out of the question for most people so the organiser of the event, Nurin from Red Adventures, arranged the most extreme fleet of rental cars this side of the Ultra4 Spec class. Stripped out and jacked up Land Cruisers and Suzukis on Simex tyres were the order of the day but seeing as none of the girls had ever driven anything like them before, the learning curve was a steep one… But to be eased into their very new situation the first day's action was a series of spectator friendly prologue special stages, a little easier than the horrors waiting in the wild jungle. They still had to get used to fiddle breaks and competition speed winches though, known out here as God winches. A PTO is fed into a car differential to drag the trucks out of the mud at speeds so fast they'd scare even seasoned winch-challenge competitors.
At the flag-off
Despite the 35C temperature and near 100% humidity being a world away from the Romanian winter, thanks to quick thinking and good teamwork into an early lead was the Bucharest team of Bubu Tudoriou and co-driver Georgetta Petrescu. Georgetta is more used to enduro biking in the Carpathians than 4x4s in the rainforest but ran about in the mud with the winch rope so well that she eventually won the prize for best co-driver. And as an indication of how ready for anything she is, she got the invitation to go to Malaysia on a Tinder date!
But then it was time for the convoy to head to the real jungle. Nurin had found a spot that with a view over the landscape, pools to swim in and a waterfall was near perfect, and as the camp kitchen was set up for the daily ration of noodles and rice the sounds of the jungle were complimented by the familiar metal on metal percussion of car repairs.
Deep in the jungle
Short but very technical and intense, the stages were similar in layout to the RFC and that's because the sheer severity of the terrain means it's almost impossible to make longer sections with multiple obstacles. A stage can be just 50m long but there were always crews who couldn't get through in the 15 minute time limit.
Winching up steep banks, splashing through dense undergrowth and dropping down into deep gullies, through hanging vines and spiky bushes the 19 stages were very hard and tested team work to the maximum. Bubu and Georgetta scored consistently well to keep the lead into the 4th and last day but Giulia Maroni from Italy was getting used to the car and conditions and was catching up in 2nd, ahead of the enthusiastic local Malay crews. It was all to play for on the final day… and the morning started with Bubu making hard contact with a tree which broke the winch, a serious issue in these muddy tests. The owner of the car managed to thread the rope of the second winch through to the front so that they could keep going but with an engine that kept cutting out and brakes that were getting softer and softer more points were lost.
Having more problems than most (and dealing with them so well that she won the coveted Tough Girl award was Sharisa Haris. The car broke in the prologue… and kept on braking for the rest of the week, so from never fixing anything before she learned to repair the starter motor, compressor, alternator, radiator, flat tyres etc while covered in mud and against the clock. The biggest issue was finding clean enough water to fill the constantly overheating engine… and all done with a nastily torn fingernail. “ SHEMUD is not only a competition, it's an event to get to know other competitors from all around the world where you can change ideas, skills, experiences etc. So, to the girls out there, 4x4s are not only for men. Dare to challenge yourself to play in the mud! Trust me, it's worth trying and you're not going to regret it!
With all their problems on the last day the Romanians dropped to 4th which was a big disappointment, but with the podium so tantalisingly within reach for so long that they are already planning their comeback. “It was the one of the best experience in my life!” says Bubu. “Even from the start when we got a Toyota to drive! Fortunately it had a ladder to help me get in. The camp was really well organized, we had everything we needed; jungle kitchen, jungle bathroom, jungle beds, jungle everything with a beautiful view. The organizers knew exactly where to take us!”
Foot to the floor... and it helps if you can see over the dashboard
Giulia, driving cautiously and well, kept scoring good points and with the Romanian's woes went on to take the win. “We did our best from the first day and gradually we were able to realize our dream. I'd already been to Malaysia several times to follow the Rainforest Challenge and have always been fascinated by life in the jungle, so when I got the chance to play a leading role in a race like this, the answer could only be yes. The first challenge was with ourselves, as Barbara my co-driver had never participated in such an off-road race before, but with determination and strength of spirit we did well from Day 1.”
“The spirit of competition kept our level of adrenaline up for all 5 days of the race and we had a lot of fun. Competing against girls of other nationalities was exciting and so was being so involved in a world that is usually reserved for men. Life at the camp, the jungle, our new and old friends, made this unforgettable adventure, so we look forward to returning next year!”
Nurin would like to thank Johor Tourism Department, Malaysian Youth Council (MYC), PDRM, Sutera Mall, Kluang 4X4 & Rentas 4X4.