Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A training outing for the Swazi seconds – also known as Kinetic Adventure : 25th July

8 Legs (Run, MTB, Paddle, Run, Paddle, MTB, Zip Line, MTB, Paddle & Obstacle) Distances guessed at 22km MTB, 6km Run, 600M Zip line, 1km paddle.

Participants: Mike Underwood & Sue Belcher. Both hot in training for fetching and carrying!

Venue: Paddle Power near Pelindaba.

A check of the web site for Paddle Power carried a promise of hectic white water and steep drops over a weir! Discussions ensued as to whether we would need life jackets (with our swim at Yster Vark still fresh in our memories) but since Mike’s lifejacket stayed in William’s car all week, the issue was never resolved. Upon our arrival we were pleasantly surprised by millpond flat river water, a bank festooned with lashings of sponsor banners and tables dripping with race gear for sale. The air was chilly near the water, but with a promise of heat to come. Layering was the order of the day for Good Adventure Racers – such peeps well represented by Lisa, Carine, Alex Pope and their teams….all of whom were well represented on the winners podium, at race end.

All legs were pre-plotted on Google maps, which we collected after each completed leg. Stephan upped the anti, by supplying a race card with a barcode on the back, which was to be scanned into the computer after each completed leg. Each CP had an alphabetical letter to match to a letter on your race card.

Leg 1 could be done in any order – choice of North or South. We went North because it looked good, along with around 15 other teams and having decided to avoid congestion at all costs, conserved our energies by jogging gently and chatting, until we were happy that our CP was relatively free of the crowd. Picking up our punch for the rest of the race, a gentle jog back past Carine to greet the marshall who recognised the team and asked where were Nando and Adri? Mike warned me that it was a devious plot by our rivals to slow us down and to watch out for further delaying tactics!

The MTB transition was made even speedier, when Mike decided that his missing bike pump could become a fatal problem and we decided on a 5 minute detour to the carpark to get it – worse luck, it was not in the car either, so we made do with just an adaptor for my pump. Actually, this was a good decision in light of Mikes puncture later in the race!

Now the CP’s had to be done in numerical order and we quickly picked up CP 1 through 4, with only a 800m detour down the steepest hill, to check out the gorge & view, before turning back past other lost racers to CP 4. Hightail back over the river bridge, transition to paddling back over the river again, for the next run leg. Now I can only think we were tiring without traditional stops for breakfast, because we stormed right past CP 8 and bushwacked into 9, telling other racers who were amazed to see us pop out of the tall grass, that we were following our race plan to confuse and mislead other rival teams!

Transition to MTB, quick bite to eat, peanuts (you have made at least one convert William!) and a false start down towards the river, no…back past the carpark and finally out for our ‘long’ MTB leg. Relatively uneventful, with only one short detour. Chatting to other teams, a chicken run over the Muldersdrift tar road, with a blind rise and motorbikers doing 250km/h……into the lodge grounds and a search for the correct zip line tower. One of 9 fixed lines Stephan had told us. Ah, there it is all covered with USN banners and flags! Promised to be the slowest of the lines, we were still mightily impressed by the speed with which we winged over the valley. More impressive still, was the speed and skill with which the zip line crew, strapped us in and sent us off! Almost no time wasted hanging around this CP, no time to have breakfast, only welcome drinks supplied by USN.

Once again Mike and I added some extra mileage to our route, but were soon back on track, until mike says “Stop, I’ve got a flattie”. With only minor grumbling about Bruce having messed with the inner tubes (Sorry Bruce, we take it back) because it turned out that the tyre was slashed and even slime could not stop that hole! We wondered whether it was once again a fiendish plot by our rivals to slow us down? A quick change of inner tube and after much pumping, Mike unscrews the adaptor ……..and the inner valve……and we begin again! Fortified by a 5 minute rest and more peanuts, my brain synapses started firing again and I suggested that we convert my pump to presta – then for some more pumping!

Back on the road again, into transition, a short paddle down the river to hand in our race punches, back to the obstacle, up and over ……..and the first sprint of the day! Through the race finish…..stone last and just 2 minutes before prize giving! Whoop, whoop! We were perfectly happy!

True to form, Urban Kinetic outdid themselves with prizes for all the categories up to third place, and a table dripping with give-aways. Mike scored a puncture kit!! (wonder why?)…and I grabbed a Morningside Cycles service for my MTB. A beefy burger from the kitchen together with a boozy cooler, a relaxed chat next to the river with Mike and it was the end to another event thoroughly enjoyed by us both. Now highly trained and primed for any eventuality, we are raring to take on the supporters role, at Swazi Pro.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Hens Teeth

At about 8pm William and I climbed out of the car at Oom Dirks place near Loskop dam ready for new adventure. The stars greeted me happily from an inky black sky, scintillating with joyous freedom at the thought of ruling the night without any moon for a whole night. The beautiful night sky complete with Milky Way and all its nebula had been there all along since my last rural outing, waiting to astonish and lift the minds of the adventurers from the city.
Our minds were ready and excited, waiting to face a night and day of continuous human powered movement. The car was full of the equipment, prepared for whatever Hardy might have up his sleeve for our entertainment. The two canoes had made the journey intact, lashed tight onto the cars roof rack, and the bikes were on the back, repaired from their last outing. The girls arrived about an hour after us and we dressed and did our final preparation, filling water bladders and lubing the bikes. Our team comprised myself, Willaim, Sue and Adri. We all had some new kit to test. This year’s proliferation of Adventure Racing events in mid-winter has broadened the season for us to enjoy our sport, and following a fortnight after the icy adventures on the Noon to Moon at Bronkhorstspruit dam ,my three team mates who had all participated there had a new respect for the cold and new preparations for sub-zero racing, met eish, ne.
This night was fairly mild in comparison, probably at about 7deg C when we started.
I was a little apprehensive of my ability to meet the as yet unknown challenges, having become a happy chocolate eating couch potato for two months after breaking my collar-bone and having a metal clavicle fitted. I hadn’t even been out on my Mountain Bike in that time, having lent it to Bruce for the last race. An hour’s sleep in preparation brought us to race briefing at 9:30 pm, and then having an outline of activities helped us to concentrate more on detail planning than worrying. 3km paddling up river, a 4km hike, 3.3km in the canoes back down stream. We could just float (how easy), but Hardy mentioned RAPIDS! Then 7km Cycle, 4km hike,14km cycle, 14km paddle, 7km hike, end. Straight forward. Wonderful. Now its 11PM. Go!
Sue and I picked up our K2 and carried it on our shoulders the 800 metres to the river. Sue is tough. Testing my new Sealskin waterproof socks I tested stepping into the water. The socks worked extremely well, dry feet, warm toes. Sue steered sitting in the front, me at the back, testing my repaired arm for paddling. Not too bad, no pain, quite strong just a little apprehensive about doing this for 20km.
The beauty of nature intrudes into the race. Mist rises up from the river and engulfs the boat, swirling wisps disorientating as in the blackness it is your only reference. When thick you can’t see the reeds of either river bank, and then a gap swirls past and the stars shine reassuringly, looking down on these going on from above. We explore a few cul-de-sac dead ends, and battle with turning the canoe around in the tight space of each disconnected pond with many other lost canoes doing the same manoeuvres. Whoops, there goes someone capsizing into the cold waters, and I think that we mustn’t do that. No we just can’t. And so we feel our way up through the waterways in the night, and the adventure is definitely on.
We arrive at the start of leg 2 hike. Sue and I pull the canoe up onto high ground and take off our life jackets and new waterproof pants. Their design is poor, pulling down at the back. We won’t recommend those but we are dry, and so we climb the steep hill away from the river. We need to cross a barbed wire fence, but as William leans on it, it snaps, a deep scratch is ripped across his palm, and his hand lands on five barbs from the strands beneath. It’s very rusty, and the pain and inflammation becomes a companion for Will for the rest of the race. He wonders out load (very) how long since his last Tetanus jab. We just hope his navigation remains good. William is our navigator, an integral discipline of the race, and one that ‘Will’ enjoys thoroughly. Its serious business, with Adri seconding the role and gaining more experience in the art. We discussed the differences between Orienteering, Navigation and plotting. He gives us stars to walk towards, and we find our checkpoints easily in the dark, crossing little rivers and surprising cows in the dark. We are connecting with what’s real and finding nature, - and it is magic.
The hike is pleasant and my new dri flannel tights covered by thermal long johns are warm and comfortable. Its been 4 years since Will and I did our first race in Clocolan and nearly froze by not having the correct clothes or experience of what works for AR. It’s much easier now, and remarkable that distance and time are of much lesser importance compared to mental attitude. We complete a circular route and get back to the boats, put on our water proofs to prevent splashes wetting us and put on our frosty lifejackets and helmets, just in case. The current will take us back.
Lisa shouts out to switch off our headlights to use the natural light to see, but there is none, and we don’t take the time for it not to be scary. Its new moon, 2:30 am in mid-winter and we’re paddling on the Wilge. At places the current is quite strong, and suddenly Adri and William are having problems with steering, their rudder is not working. Sue and I slow down, but suddenly we go nose first into the reeds and the current spins the boat. I don’t want to go backwards down the river and I paddle furiously in reverse trying to straighten the boat against the strong current through the narrow section. The canoe wobbles from the effort and tips and next thing we’re over, capsizing into the mid winter midnight darkness. This is an incredible intensity of experience, a moment of acute awareness. All the thoughts of don’t and mustn’t and what if, and the cold reality of the water combine. This is adventure.
My life jacket bobs me up to the surface and I check for Sue, - she’s ok, also holding onto the boat, using it to keep together as we get swept through the fast flowing area. I can see how cold Sue is, but I seem to be OK, all those layers of thermals keeping me slightly warmer. I joke that my water-proof socks aren’t working. I call out to the others, telling them we are out, in the water. Rescue us. Take me home to a fire and bed, but they are having problems too, their rudder cable has snapped and they can’t steer. So Sue and I and the sorry waterlogged boat float into the reeds downstream. With super human effort we pull the boat out and empty it, but the cold is getting into Sue’s system. If we can paddle hard enough we can warm up, but we need to wait for the others who are crashing into each river bank side in succession. It’s cold and Sue starts shivering in the way you think it’s necessary to do something to prevent hyperthermia and there is no time to fix the other boats steering. We carry on, paddling to get warmer but it’s not too long before we are back at the place from where we had set out.
We pull the boats out, 300metres shy of the rapids that Hardy included in the downstream leg. We can legally portage around those and we carry the boats back to the camp. Sue and I go and have a warm shower. I stand under the water in all my clothes and wash the mud off, and then take off everything I'm wearing. You can’t carry on so sopping wet. Ok, so I’m nice and warm again, no hyperthermia for me, but surely this upset has ended our race, Sue looked very cold and said she didn’t have much in the way of dry reserve clothing. I put on a tracksuit and step out from the showers barefoot ready to find a warm sleeping bag and get some sleep, only to find Sue and the others already dressed in her cycling gear waiting for me to hurry up for the next leg.
I pretend I’m not surprised by this and pull on my wet waterproof socks, dry cycling pants and cycling jacket. My cycling helmet pours water on me. My Ledlenser headlamp is still working - remarkable, it must be very waterproof. And then we’re off into the night, first on foot about 1km to the other end of the rapids to get the checkpoint. We see other frozen capsized racers warming themselves at the fire, and are glad to have missed the rapids and more spills. Then it’s back to the base and we're on our way on our bikes. My saddle reminds me to train more.
After 7km we reach a checkpoint and transition to hiking. A short walk to a lovely waterfall and pool and then up a steep kloof scramble of about 250 metres assent to the top of the mountain. Route choices are available and Will decides to stick to the ridge and try and identify the correct spur from the top to find the next check point. We hike across the top until Sue spots a very thin sliver of moon just preceding the rising sun. There is solar eclipse for Easter Island the next day, so Hardy really did choose a very new moon darkness for us, on this side of the earth.
We have a bite of breakfast and descend into the forest valley, going deeper and deeper, like a trip in ‘Journey To The Centre Of The Earth’. It’s an incredible countryside, beautiful and fascinating. A hike around some spurs and over yet another hill bring us back to our bikes and we ride for 7 km finding checkpoints before getting to the place where the others are starting their final 14km long canoe leg. When we tell Hardy we can’t paddle because our boat is broken he looks at us incredulously like he expects good Adventure Racers would have fixed their boat by now, using bubble gum and plaster. Anyway, that choice makes us unofficial and we are now part of the Hoona Tand category.
We do a fun obstacle course and cycle the alternative 14km to the base camp racing each other on the way. From base we set off on the last 7km hike. It’s very technical, (read difficult) walking over loose rolling boulders, up onto a hill and back through several valleys and hills with rolling stones to test ankles, judgment and luck. We couldn’t find one of the checkpoints on top and so probably added three km to our walk while searching for it. Adri commented that being navigator for the team is like been a goalie in soccer, nobody blames you for losing the match but everyone knows you could have prevented it. Well, we’ve won the game, we’re the first team in. We arrived back just after 4pm (17hours 10 minutes) having thoroughly enjoyed our adventure. The race was an excellent mix of paddling, cycling and hiking. Thanks Tersia and Hardy and all the support crew for presenting us this opportunity to be out having fun doing the things we enjoy so much, with wonderful team mates for whom our admiration grows each race.

Lickety Split coming into Transition

We did ride all the way to here – it’s just the last little bit we walked... Promise!



Lickety Split at Tswane Ystervark and Hoona Tand Adventure Race

Monday, July 5, 2010