Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Expedition Africa 9 -13 May 2011

Just how does one eat an elephant? Well one bite at a time, of course!
So that's what we set out to do....right from that first 'preparation' race in February. We tested necessary gear, sleeping times, ingredients for meals and transition strategies. Unfortunately, we were to discover that what works for a 'short' 250km race, does not fit an expedition race! Mainly it was about handling 4 hours of exercise, versus a leg of 16 to 20 hours. You are not just 4 times more tired, but something like 10 times more! Luckily, we also discovered that as the days passed, we became stronger to meet the challenge! Willia
m put some thoughts together about the journey we took.

Getting There

Once we got to the airport in Cape Town it was cool being able to collect a bakkie from Sue’s sister to use for the week. Man did we pack that bakkie to the limit, Sue and Nando sat with a pile of luggage between them on the back seat and I had a backpack stuck between my legs.

We had two tents per team, being almost the first ones there was fun and we sorted ourselves out, visited the shops etc before most of the teams arrived. We had a good meal in Hermanus on Saturday. Making large cardboard boxes waterproof is a bigger job than you would think and we spent a good few hours with packing tape
and black bags getting them waterproofed.

Race Start – Leg 1 – Hike/Orienteering – 14km
Due to high winds early in the morning the sea kayak was cancelled and we started in more traditional fashion with a quick hike/run through Hermanus, the highlight being the trip up Hoyskop a small koppie in the middle of town, and then the trip up the kloof behind Hermanus and back over the mountain with the wind howling around us.

Leg 2 – Lagoon/River Paddle – 20km
Most of leg 2 was a peaceful paddle up the lagoon with some wind in the later part of the lagoon making it a wet experience as the waves broke over the boat. Sue and Nando must have been soaked sitting in front of the boats. We struggled to find the river that fed into the lagoon that was our way up to Stanford a few kms upstream. In the end it was a case of everyone go in different direction until we found it, I fell waist deep suddenly and nearly had my foot trapped underwater – but at least we found it.

Leg 3 – Hike – 36km
From Stanford we retraced the length of the river and lagoon to end back on the beach again before hiking along the beach all the way to Gansbaai. Gansbaai has changed a lot since the maps were drawn up and we overshot the checkpoint by a good 2kms or so. We retraced our route got the point and finished the leg. At the transition we stopped for about 2 hours of sleep. (End of Day 1)

Leg 4 – Cycle - 140km
This leg felt like it went on forever. We cycled inland toward the town of Elim, just before getting to Elim we changed direction and headed back to the coast via the Agulhas National Park. We visited the Lighthouse, and saw a dead whale in the little bay as well as a dead seal later along the beach. Once finished with the beach we headed back to Elim where we stopped for a few drinks. Just outside Elim I buckled my back wheel and while we tried to get some sort of rear brakes working in the end I continued for the rest of the race with no back brakes. At transition we again slept a few hours. (End of Day 2)

Leg 5 – Hike – 47km
The hike started with a direct assault or about 5km through the fynbos up the side of the mountain. The alternate route was about 13km along roads. The fynbos was thicker than expected and it seems the alternate route was faster. Once over the mountain we had a similar choice of 8km through the fynbos vs 13km through town.

The option of stopping for breakfast in town won and we headed into Napier for a really good breakfast. Coming out of Napier is where Con’s feet started being a problem. The hike continued going over another 2 mountains and then finally going around a mountain late the afternoon. By this time Con could hardly walk and I think Nando’s back problem was really starting to hurt. Once darkness fell Con and I entered Zombie state and Nando and Sue kept us going. Con’s feet got progressively worse and in the end we called Heidi to organise him to be picked up, while the rest of us continued.

In transition Con had his feet seen to by the Medic – he got the full treatment including ‘staal drupples’ injected into the blisters to dry them out. At the time we did not realise that the major problem he had, was bruising rather than the blisters. (End of Day 3)

Leg 6 – Cycle 105km
After a good sleep, we chose to have a longer sleep to give Con the best chance of recovering we headed off again, unfortunately Nando’s back had not improved sufficiently and after a few kms he decided it would not be possible to continue and he returned to Transition. The rest of us continued meeting Erik on the way and stopping late in the afternoon in Greyton for a late lunch.

Leg 7 – Trek 23 km – replaced with Cycle 30km
Once we reached the next transition we knew that there was no chance of Con doing the Trek, as a team we decided to therefore ride around the Hike leg and continue on to the next transition. It was an easy Cycle being all on Tar roads, but the long uphill really got us down only to be replaced with the joy of the long downhill to Theewaterskloof dam. At transition we took it leisurely, having decided to skip the paddle and complete as much of the last day as possible. (End of day 4)

Leg 8 – Cycle 70km
This cycle made it over 200kms of cycling in a row. It started off just as dawn arrived and had us cycling in the mist over the bridge across the dam, before once again turning off onto dirt roads back towards Hermanus. Just before we reached the next transition we met up with the camera crew and while they were filming us Cyanosis arrived (by car) and handed out ice cold cokes as an encouragement to everyone.

Leg 9 – Orienteering – 4km
Sue and I did the short orienteering leg (pushing our distance on foot to over 100km on the Official race distances). Con lay on the grass and had a good sleep.

Leg 10 – Cycle – 8km
Off we went on the last cycle, a lot of it being on tar roads through Hermanus and Onrusrivier back to the start/finish area.

Post Race
We were about the 7th team to finish after 103 hours of racing. Officially we finished 19th due to losing a team member and the fact that we missed 2 legs of the race. We got some great trophies that I am going to treasure. The trip back was peaceful and unexciting. It was a wonderful experience that I look forward to repeating next year.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Racing thoughts

Team Lickety Split is on short finals for Expedition Africa, so I spent a couple of minutes today reading race reports from races similar to EA. Getting my mind around the race, so to speak.

Tatum Prins hit the nail on the head with this insight from AR World Champs - October 2010.

"This sport is so incredible. It has this way of humbling you. You end up having this love hate relationship with it. One minute you are crying and ready to call it quits and the next you are laughing hysterically and loving every second. All this changes in a matter of seconds. Quite simply, it’s a beautiful kind of crazy! Your highs and lows are amazing, so much so you can’t understand them. In fact I can’t even try. All I know is that AR sucks you in and keeps you there. It bares your soul. At times it rips it apart and just lays it open for all to see. It teaches you the importance of living life. It puts life into perspective. It teaches you to never give up, to keep looking forward. It pushes your limits. Emotional, physically and spiritually. It shows you the importance of having 3 friends as team mates because without them in AR you are nothing. They are your world for those 5 days. It’s you, them and the elements. Life becomes simple again."

It's going to be uber cool to be taking part in the same race with all the 'heavyweights' next week! Mighty Mouse.