Adventure Racing in Java, Indonesia

This past weekend I went to Taman Dayu with a friend, a large park about an hour and a half drive from Surabaya. We had registered to participate in a 12 km run/hike race at my friend’s suggestion. Funny actually, because he hates running and hiking and getting up early. The race started at 6:30 am on a Sunday morning.

We went up the day before to make a bit of a holiday weekend out of it. We took his bike, a massive BMW motorcycle, with the opposite-of comfort seats, and drove the traffic-congested streets out of Surabaya for nearly two hours. We left midday, which is when traffic is the worst and the temperature is the hottest (we tend to make brilliant decisions together). Fifteen minutes in and my music was no longer a supplement to a beautiful drive, let alone a distraction from the feeling that my tailbone was being rammed into my first vertebrae every time we hit a bump in the road. I watched the road intently and braced myself for every little stitch. I thought long and hard about what beer I would drink when we arrived and where I would drink it: Stretched out beneath the hot sun? In the shade under a big umbrella? Poolside? In the pool? Decisions, decisions.

Once out of the city proper we drove through pint-sized, roadside villages soaking in yesterday’s rainwater. Wooden shacks, turned makeshift warungs (roadside restaurants), stood empty and the people who owned them were stretched out, taking a simple, conditioned break from a hard life spent gathering life’s simple necessities. Locals wearing thick sweaters and leather jackets in 40 degree heat raced past as we drove into endless blue sky and filthy pockets of exhaust and poverty. Closing my eyes I could think myself right across the pond to Bali and its lush green rice paddies and swimmable seas, where the price of an evening at a beachside bar is the average monthly wage of one of those shade-seeking locals. Used plastic cups dappled the road’s dirt shoulder and faded Bintang signs reached out in mocking from dilapidated huts. No one could drink a beer there. Pairs of women swathed in brightly-coloured hijabs stirred up clouds of dirt as they plodded along the side of the road, young children in tow. For a moment I felt that every detail was a symbol of my certainty of and appreciation for the time I spent living in this country. But no, THIS was real life. Here there is a feeling of acquiescence in poverty, as one might yield to a tiresome argument. There’s an indifference to having more or less.

But how quickly that depth of thought faded as we approached the Taman Dayu Golf Resort that we’d booked to stay at. Note: this is not my preferred type of accommodation. I like camping. I actually wanted to stay in one of the treehouses in the park but they were fully booked by the time I inquired. So we opted for the hotel, which as it turns out, I am thankful for because it really was a beautiful suite with air conditioning, an excellent shower and a delicious bed. The pool took priority and my decision to drink beer whilst in the pool played out naturally, no contemplation required in the end. We were the only two people there so naturally, we peed in the pool. No we didn’t, but it’s always tempting isn’t it? Instead we waded, soaked in the sun and the water, drank beer, took pictures of gigantic spiders and talked all afternoon. It was a precursory reward for the next day’s challenge.

The next morning we joined the other participants on the shuttle (an actual military truck) to the start of the race. There were hundreds of people all decked out in fluorescent green jerseys, which we didn’t have. We had confirmed via email that we would collect our gear on arrival. So we headed to the registration desk, showed our registration confirmation and were told that we’d missed the payment deadline. We explained our email correspondence but were met with, “Sorry, cannot” (smile), no matter how much we pushed. The computer says no… a fairly standard response in these parts. An old acquaintance of mine saved the day though. He overheard our struggle and offered us two spots in the race. One participant had hurt his knee and couldn’t run and the other had, well, DIED. So I asked my friend, “you want to be the one with the knee injury or the dead one?”

The race started out a complete mess as things do when hundreds of people start moving in the same direction at the same time, especially in South East Asia. I use the term “race” loosely. It was advertised as such because it was a competition but with the rate at which we moved during those first three kilometres, the term “shuffle” is more accurate. The trail was a narrow path likely carved out by a small army of ants rather than a person with adequate sized feet to help distinguish it from the surrounding brush. It was irresponsibly littered with small, coloured pieces of plastic to mark the route. And it was like a giant slip and slide for unwilling adults. Heavy rain had poured down the night before and so the jungle was a swampy mess. The naughty side of me silently delighted in seeing people in their pro-gear slip-sliding down the trail. Fancy trail shoes are no match for nature but I am proud to say three-year-old Nike’s manufactured in Asia with torn rubber tread are! I had a couple of close calls but otherwise managed to stay upright the entire time. My smugness didn’t last though when I started to get thirsty. I’d planned to rely on my friend’s water supply but I was already ahead of him. Luckily, water stations were in place every 3 km.

After the 3 km mark I was finally into a proper run and well into the jungle. I had flashbacks to my first day hiking Gunung Rinjani in the oppressive humidity. There was a lot of up and not much down and the sun bore down on my un-lotioned skin… oops, another irresponsible oversight. But the view was spectacular, anyway you looked, just trees and hills and sky. I was completely in my element and thankful to be way ahead of my friend who would have squashed me and my spritely-ness like a fly rather than listen to musical rants akin to those of Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music: “Oh my, look at the sky! A gorgeous blue, clouds floating by! Oh look, I see a spider, c’mon, let’s climb a little higher! Whaddya say? Let’s do this every day!!” Now picture a very non-morning person who hates running, hiking, and all things nature-related listening to that at 7 am on a Sunday morning. I might push me off the side of a mountain too.

I was on a role for several kilometres but sadly, it did not last. I hit people traffic again, the slow-bies who were more keen to stroll and stop for the occasional cigarette than compete. Normally I say to each his own but I’m sorry, move over for those who are into it!! “Permisi, excuse me, excuse me, permisi, ‘ma kasih, thank you!” I exclaimed for about an hour as I tried desperately to pass people and keep a good pace. It brought up a memory from a long time ago when I was going for a casual stroll in my neighbourhood in Toronto when all of a sudden I was smacked hard by the sound of, “LEFT, ON YOUR LEFT, ON YOUR LEFT!!!” I panicked, forgetting momentarily which side was my left and then which way I should move to avoid my left. A tall, thin runner swooped by me and I anticipated the flesh-hungry, carnal scream of a pterodactyl as I scooped up my pup and tucked her under my arm, ready to flight. Who were these people who thought their routine run meant they owned the sidewalk? Go around me for crying out loud, there are miles of space! I wasn’t one of THEM was I? Fuck no. The trail was precisely two centimetres wide, its intended purpose was to host runners and I wasn’t screaming like a banshee for people to move out of my way. I was polite. I wear my Canadian niceness reputation like a badge of honour after all, as a proper ambassador for my country.

I sailed into the finish line with little effort and received my finisher’s medal. My time: three hours. Not too shabby for 12 km of extremely varied terrain, ample water stops, and trail traffic. I felt wild. I am one of those people who gets an amazing endorphin rush following all physical activity. The more I exert myself, the better and longer the high. This is why I believe exercise is a great way to stop smoking. Replace each cigarette with a little workout: a short run, 20 push-ups, sex, etc. I know it sounds crazy to the smoker but we are more addicted to the drug in the cigarette than the act of smoking. However, we have to smoke to access the drug (unless you continue to use those nasty and misleading e-cigarettes that do nothing to improve your health or assign you the right to call yourself a non-smoker). Exercise to access the endorphin rush is the same.

I grabbed some water and stretched. Almost immediately, reps of a local TV station approached and asked if I could act briefly in a video to help promote the next race. Certainly. They gave me one line to say: “Now it’s your turn to do more!” whilst using energetic body language. Noooooo problem, I got this. I thought it was a peculiar line to promote involvement in a voluntary race but whatever, this is Indonesia after all. They clothed me in the neon jersey and requested that I wear my hair loose. Okay, you asked for it! I was a sweaty, dirty mess and my hair was only going to complement that. I stood in front of the promotional sign and called forth my inner cheerleader character (I don’t actually know what that feels like but I’ve seen enough movies). Three, two, one, yep! Oh shit, I missed the cue… great start. Aren’t they supposed to say action? Try again. Three, two, one, go!

“Now it’s your turn to do more!” I exclaimed, shooting bubblegum butterflies and bullshit out of my ears. My voice took on the quality of squirrel high on Red Bull. Nope, not good enough.
“Please Ms Colleen, more spirit.” Really? Shit, I’ve just been asked to do the impossible. I tried, I really, really tried, like about 25-times tried. Each time, “CUT, more spirit ya… CUT!”

Finally I asked, “would you prefer I use an Indonesian accent?”

“What is the difference? What accent are you using?”

“American.” I swallowed my shame.

“How is the Indonesian accent?” They asked. I blinked, once, twice. No, they actually didn’t know. Fair enough. People say stupid shit about the Canadian accent all the time; it’s complete nonsense, eh?

“Now it’s your time to do MORE!” I stressed the final word as is characteristic of the Indonesian accent. They looked repulsed.

“No please do the American accent.” They requested.

“So like this?” I said it once more and yes, it was exactly what they wanted, precisely what I’d just done 25 times before each CUT. In the end I think they just accepted that they weren’t going to get what they wanted from me and gave up. But they gave me a little shoe bag with shampoo in it (misleading?) and thanked me for my efforts. I asked them to please email me the advertisement when it was ready. I’m curious to see how non-spirited I looked.

An hour later I decided to head back onto the trail to search for my friend who’d not yet arrived. He finally turned up, having just gotten out of a truck, which had transported the stragglers the last kilometre, for reasons unknown. My friend reported having been one of a small group of people collected and ushered onto a truck to sit and wait for 20 minutes only to be taken back to the starting point less than a kilometre away. It was an insensible, self-esteem quashing letdown for those who’d taken “pace yourself” like a court order. I don’t think he cared so much though, he was happy to check that off his list. I was sad to leave the jungle. I could have happily rolled around in it all day, a mess of sweat, dirt, and endorphins.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: