Thursday, August 26, 2010
Life as a second is not an exact science as you are part of the team, yet not a part at all! (It’s life Jim, but not as we know it!) Pre-race meetings to finalise team gear, leave you sitting around with a mouth full of teeth, unless it’s about meals or tents. Packing goes more easily than normal, no bike or paddling stuff, only a tent, sleeping bag and treats for the team.
A Comrades injury to Nando left us with only 3 team members willing to race the distance, so the week before Swazi was pregnant with emails flying back and forth testing ideas for making a team. Abel stepped in and unfortunately pulled out, Nico in / out, Larry in / out, Hein in…..and finally we had found our 4th Crusader! (I’m not even going to go into losing our Team 4 x 4 to a gearbox injury on Tuesday!)
The Swazi Border….an anticlimax, as we had been told horror stories of hours spent in mile long queues over long weekends – luckily, not! So, without incident, we arrived at Nisela Safaris (Faaaar to the South). Team registered, we scouted around and found a suitable campsite to set up tents enough for 16 people, but we were only 7. (More stuff for the seconds to pack tomorrow, but who cares, the team was comfortable!) At this point, the seconds were expected to swing into high gear. “Where is my Hoejockapivvy…..anybody seen my Thingammybob……I’m sure I packed an extra Widget?!” Much scouting around for missing items of clothing, stuffing and discarding of extra gear.
Exhibit A: 10 Race boxes, 2 tents, 1 gazebo, 4 camp chairs, 2 x K2 canoes, 4 MTB’s, fridge, table, stove, 2 cooler boxes, 3 water drums, 3 adults, food for 4 days, numerous groundsheets and assorted other necessities.
Exhibit B: One standard size station wagon Subaru.
………and it all fitted. Just!
Actually there was a fair amount of shuttling back and forth and re-packing which went on between transitions and the Mercedes and trailer, which were full of gear, too.
Nisela Safari’s put on a spread for supper, fit for a king! A 3 course meal, with hot & cold vegetables, assorted meats, pastas and a spread of desserts, however race briefing beckoned and we set off to find seats. Later, rather than sooner, Darron arrived and warned us about the ‘added value’ in store for the teams. Many were left wondering what they had let themselves in for.
Race morning…up at 5 a.m for the start at 6, not much to do, but see them off and collect Hein’s life jacket from Anita. Then pack up the 4 bikes - drive to the 1st transition down the tar road and into a dusty field. We have lots of time as they will be in at around 9, so we plan to be there before 8. Arrive last and start pulling boxes out of the car. The ground sheet is somewhere on the bottom. Wait! The’re here already! Quick! The boxes….. The team is in high spirits and have moved up the field quite a bit already. They grab the bikes and some fresh food and are off in 15 minutes. Boxes back into the car and we are gone in a whizz, leaving other teams looking at us wonderingly.
1st Overnight Transition….. this was on the dam at Big Bend, with reasonable showers (no hot water) and loads of space for camping. The rest of the day’s transitions needed 4 x 4 capabilities, so we shuttled the Mercedes through to the dam and found ourselves the first to arrive. We left the car and trailer sitting in solitary splendour, next to a tree on the grass. Then off to the bike / canoe transition where we were the last to arrive again. Luckily, this meant that the first teams had already transitioned and the best spots were already empty, leaving place for us to set up the gazebo and settle down for lunch.
At around 3 p.m, Team Lickety Split arrived and being hot and thirsty, have us scurrying around mixing drinks for water bottles and tea in mugs. Orders for sandwiches came in thick and fast. The next time we would see them was going to be late that night, so they needed to pack dry clothes for after the canoe leg (expecting to swim a bit) and food for later.
The put-in was difficult, being a choice between a small crack behind the weir in scary fast running water, or a larger area further along, right up against a huge bush of reeds and before a L-bend of note! We chose the easier put-in, but William and Hein elected to swim straight away. Maybe they thought to get the nasty bit over first?
Then the ‘offroad’ drive following the canals through the sugarcane fields to where we had to wait for the team at a bridge. Here they once again surprised us by arriving sooner than we expected.
We were told to warn the team about a sharp right bend and a submerged bridge that could only be navigated by using a metre wide sluice on the extreme right (under another bush) Booby trap of note! We were driving right next to the teams paddling and traded insults, until we found the submerged bridge and stopped to cheer and shout warnings. To their credit both boats navigated this without mishap, while the preceding team and the following teams both swam.
Another Canoe / Hike transition took place shortly thereafter. Here, we found ourselves handing out drinks and food to hungry paddlers from both our own and a couple of other teams who had misplaced their seconds. We had not been near a tap all day and were happy to still have enough for all. Some hot and lots of cold.
Back at the 2nd overnight transition, the empty field had sprouted a mess of tents, 4 x 4’s, gazebo’s and tired seconds. We were not sure we would be able to reach our campsite at all! Set up camp and waited. Lickety Split was due in about supper time and did not disappoint. Trish had made some delicious Macaroni Cheese and brought it as several frozen blocks. The test was to defrost it and re-heat in small pots on the gas, without turning it into cinders! It was also Con’s Birthday, so the secreted Chocolate Cake was unearthed and decorated with candles. It had survived the journey unscathed and was thoroughly enjoyed by us all.
Team transitioned and they set out on the arduous dirt road Hike Leg up into the Lebombo mountains, while we were left to drive to the next transition, at 10 p.m in a convoy of cars. We had to leave bikes at an unmanned transition – a school high up in the mountains. The road was long and very dusty and I felt sorry for the hikers we passed in the dust – managing to nod off in the back seat, in between moments of excitement. We had been looked at pityingly with our bikes tied so low to the ground, while everybody else’s were high and dry on roofs and trailers. Well we had the last laugh, as bikes were dropping off cars like flies, while the Subaru managed admirably!
Transition reached at around midnight and ‘Oh Woe!’ Hein’s bike has a flattie. And it look’s like it’s a tubeless too! We tried pumping, we tried spinning, we thought about leaving it for him to deal with, we asked advice from others, we stopped and watched it deflate at least twice……then we got stuck in and ripped off the tyre to put in a tube. At this point the convoy left us as it was getting early (after midnight) and everybody had already done a 20 hour day….. Mike was peerless at pulling out every last thorn, squishing through a swamp of white goo, which had not managed to quell the puncture and we left the bikes with a note and hopes that the repair would last….at least a mile or two! More fun was yet to come…..now we needed petrol and the GPS said we were too far from home to make it back.
So at one in the morning, Mike is asking his GPS for the nearest town and off we go into the night, down the mountain. Petrol found – Good they take Rands…more driving back to the Dam, where we brew hot chocolate at three in the morning. My 5mm thick mattress never looked so good or comfy!
DAY 1 OVER!
Day 2 dawned beautifully – the camp and I up at 6 for the start of the Sport Race. Smoke on the horizon from the sugarcane fields burning at night and a most stunning sunrise! I was under the impression that the team could arrive at any time, so was running around looking for matches to boil water and waking up Mike & Trish – not to be recommended. Eventually Trish checked with Anita who said that the team had only left the school transition at 6 a.m and would not be expected much before lunch. Back to bed, but now too awake to sleep anyway. We sat around, periodically chatting to Pro teams as they came wearily into transition. They told stories of loooong rides through sugarcane fields like a medieval maze. Stories of lost & found. I think you did good work there, Con!
Another transition and they set off on another bike leg. We had to move quickly now, as we were to meet them with the canoes not far away. A friendly farmer allowed the race to transition right on his doorstep in a most beautiful setting. Team in and transitioned, but now they were neck and neck with just about the last team, so it was quick onto the water for a trip down towards Mozambique. William asked us to repair a problem with his rear wheel which looked buckled, but without a workshop, about all we could do was move his brakes shoes apart.
Back to camp to pack up and top up with water and make loads more sandwiches. We did not expect to see a tap until the bitter end. A spot of indecision as to whether to drive the Mercedes to the next transition or the 100kms to the Race end point. Mike committed his trusty diesel to towing the trailer up the Lebombo mountains, with me following gingerly behind, bikes hovering dangerously over the road and dipping into every bump and ripple. Trish loves people and spent the entire trip lifting the spirits of the entire Swazi nation by waving and greeting everyone she could see. The people responded in kind! We were having fun!
Dusk brought an ominous cloud that got darker and wetter over the mountain, until finally it started spitting down and embedding the dirt which already festooned both cars. We needed to stop and drop off bikes for the team in a dusty field which was not supposed to be the overnight transition, but in light of the rain and anticipated schedule, we decided to set up camp then and there.
It was an excellent idea as it got much colder and very windy. The plateau on the top of the mountain was covered in mist and rain and I was surprised that not many other seconds had decided to do the same. Most teams were expected to arrive in the rain, transition on a groundsheet in the dark, hop onto their bike and go off on a 60km cycle! We settled down for a long wait, gazebo surrounded by sides so amply provided by William and gas stove set up to heat supper. Tonight it was Bolognaise, much anticipated after the previous night’s macaroni! Thanks again, Trish!
Old Brown Sherry out and supper heating on the gas. I popped out to check if our canoes had arrived on the last trailer and found instead…..our team appearing out of the mist. Cold, wet and far too early. What’s wrong? Seems they had gone ‘unofficial’. So the Lickety Split seconds roared into action, gave up our chairs and supper and swapped stories of mayhem on the river, a helicopter evacuation, and miserable conditions on the next leg. It was decided to miss the bike leg, get up at an unearthly hour, pack up and drive the whole team through to the beginning of the Day 3 leg. Good job we brought the Mercedes as it made it possible to do so! Team settled down for the night.
DAY 2 OVER!
6 hours sleep and we were woken up by various cell phones at 4 a.m. Somehow we managed to squeeze everything and everyone into the cars and drive for what seemed ages, through Siteki town, where we passed Pro racers on a hike leg, to the overnight transition, just in time for the 6 a.m Sport start. Once again a farmer’s field, lined by a cage of indignant geese, littered with groundsheets, bikes and porta-potties on a trailer. This long-suffering farmer also owned the helicopter that had been helping with the race, so periodically there was a coming and going of helicopter blades.
Everybody out of the cars, water brewed, breakfasts eaten, backpacks packed and the team set off on a long hike leg. I was happy to find a tap and we filled up all the drums again. Everything back into the cars again…..by now it had become a well worked pattern….everything in a certain place and order ………although somehow the race boxes never did seem to find an exact pattern, what mattered was that they fitted. Our very own Rubik's Cube. By now we kind of expected that the boxes would have become a little lighter, but I swear Hein went home with more in his box than he started with….in spite of everybody helping him to eat some of it.
Bikes back on carrier (again) and set out to the next transition. However, since we were already halfway there, we decided to drive on to the finish and leave the trusty Mercedes ….and pick a good camping spot! Leaving the field, we picked up another second in a bakkie, who accompanied us all the way to the Simunye Country Club. Unfortunately he was lost and did not want to find the finish, but rather his team at transition. Sorry for him, but we had some spare time and spent a couple of hours putting up the big tent, making lunch and sandwiches for the team and generally enjoying the surroundings and green grass.
Back past the Hlane Royal Game Reserve (saw some giraffe), up another dusty road to find the Hike / Bike transition in long grass. Once again we were last arriving and got a really good spot. The well oiled organisation springs into action again, gazebo out (as it was HOT) and begin unloading boxes, when…..Oh Crap! The’re early again! Team watered, waterbottles filled, most of the backpacks serviced, sandwiches whoofed down and the’re off! 5 Minutes pass and William is back complaining that his bladder is empty! Somehow it was missed in the rush. Lucky he discovered it so soon, as 5 more minutes and we would have been gone! Once again…last in….first out!
Trek back to the Country Club…once again the empty lawn has sprouted tents and gazebo’s, with 4 x 4’s parked right around the hockey field – THE END POINT! I had been lucky to set my tent door only 10 metres from the finish, so could lie in my sleeping bag and watch finishers…..which is what I did eventually. We were like cats on a hot tin roof, watching for finishers right from 6 o’clock, when the first of the Sport racers started coming in. Missing the previous night’s MTB leg had catapaulted the team to the front of the Pro race, so we expected them anytime….. now…..now…..later.
Let’s have supper first...then Mike & Trish wisely went off to bed. I was up every half hour clapping in finishers until after midnight, when I got wise and asked Anita when they were due? She replied that they had not yet gone past the last checkpoint, which put them hours away! So back to bed….just dozing when a team comes in….I hear Adri! UP! And clapping and laughing and hugging sweaty people! My people!
Day 3 over – the seconds race also over!
Everybody was still keyed up and supper was on offer all night, so we sat and ate and chatted until around 3 a.m. Another late night, followed by a buffet breakfast and a long trip home.
High Point: Team work and friendship – completing a(nother) race together.
Low Point: Losing William’s teabags and missing filling his bladder on the final day. The seconds who had so far done a sterling job lost all our kudo’s over that one small thing!
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Thursday, August 5, 2010
Team Lickety Split is about to leave for Swaziland where we will be participating in the Swazi Xtreme adventure race. The race starts 6 am Friday morning and continues to 6pm Sunday evening. Over the 60 hours we have to travel 250km using our feet, mountain bikes and canoes.
The team is William, Con, Adri and visitor Hein
Our Seconds are Mike, Sue and Trish