Monday, February 6, 2012

RED ANTS RUMBLE – 27/28 Jan 2012

Team Bitterender – Johan, Jaco, William and Sue

Venue: Stanford Lake College near Haenertsburg

It could have been called “The Race where you got your money’s worth”, but anybody who knows the area would have guessed as much! So when Red Ants said we were to get some 3700m of ascent, we knew we were in for a treat! Unfortunately it was a bit of a shocker for the 2 new members of the team, Johan and Jaco, but they ‘rose’ to the occasion magnificently (excuse da pun)

With the clock standing at 13 weeks to Expedition Africa, Lickety Split is hoping to finalise the team members for all the warm-up races. Johan and Jaco were both bitten by the AR bug (and quite possibly some other toothy bugs too) at the last Kinetic Full Moon but had a trying time and were looking to get some quality time with an experienced navigator. So they teamed up with William and I as Bittereinder, a team who’s main goal was to have fun and finish comfortably. Before hand, we organised a couple of paddle, hike and bike sessions, to sort out seating arrangements in boats and forge the necessary team spirit for a group about to spend plenty of time in each other’s pockets.

The trip up was uneventful as we were lucky enough to leave early and miss the traditional Friday afternoon snarl up in traffic. Time not being a problem, we decided to take the scenic detour around the road works to Haenertsburg and got a foretaste of the kind of hills we could expect. Bike drop-off at the village hall was accompanied by phone calls to missing members, still waiting at the detour. Back at the Adventure Centre, we started our tent city on a beautiful grassy bank, as we were to host 5 tents eventually. Here was Nic Mulder waving his camera at anybody standing still and looking like a serious adventure racer – still don’t think we qualify!

So started the mad scramble of registering, pitching camp, unpacking and generally wondering where our all important bits of gear were hiding? Supper soon followed – a much appreciated dish of lasagne! Time for race briefing, only to be told by Brian that we were waiting for several teams lost to the roadworks. So it was back to the tents to look for all sorts of important items which miraculously seemed to be missing! No whistle, no drybag and from the cursing outside, Jaco had lost his bladder too! Anyway, the extra time allowed us to find everything. Who could have guessed..the whistle still firmly attached to my backpack – exactly where it should be!

Race briefing finally rolled around and with maps in hand, William had a chance to use his latest toy. A distance counter to log up leg-time and speed predictions, which were right on the money! Though we did manage to finish a full half hour before predicted time, in spite of our best efforts to make a five day event of the MTB leg!

Leg 1 - 5km orienteering:

True to our team name, we started dead last, having let the rush go. Nic Mulder helped us along with an instruction to get on with it! Unfortunately, by the first OP we had already overtaken some teams. William chose a clockwise route which would have gotten us round very efficiently, if it was not for the usual Orienteering snafu which can occur when I think I’m clipping OP 5 and William believes he’s told me OP 4. Rats! That added an extra km to the outing (but it was still early in the race) which put us back in second to last place at transition. Happy and singing in the dark.

Leg 2 - 10km paddle:

As I’m sure many teams did, a quick rush over the road to put into the nearest water, much wiggling around in the boat and repacking of backpacks, only to take 3 strokes and take out on the far side for a(nother)portage! We had no idea there was a channel until after the race, though it helped to hear that Lickety Split (with their navigator in boat) spent much quality time in that channel! It only took us around 10 minutes to portage, retrieve shoes lost in the swamp and drag ourselves back into the boats. The waterfall was quickly navigated too and then we settled down for an enjoyable paddle. Somehow we had started moving up in the positions, in spite of our best intentions to stay at the back.

Leg 3 - 7km hike:

Nicky handed us the map and having watched other teams set off in completely the wrong direction earlier, made sure we had it facing the right way up before we took off down the road. Her lovable doggies very kindly offered to lighten my trail food bags of all my droĆ« wors, but I hung onto it for later. Somehow, although we usually stick to the road in preference to bundu-bashing, this time we bashed across the river directly to the trail, instead of following other teams up the road and across the river by the bridge. Boy was that a good choice, as it set us up perfectly to find CP 1 onwards! I lost count of how many teams we met going the wrong way along the trail, having missed CP1 completely! Happy and singing in the sun. A quick photo shoot with Eric at the cemetery and onwards we led – speculating on the origins of the town as we passed.

Leg 4 - 50km bike:

Here started the Real Adventure Race! Bikes collected at the hall, we set off knowing we were in for a bit of a climb, but completely oblivious to quite how hard it was going to be in the heat of the day! One hill crested, followed by another! The team slowed down to a walk, with many stops to drink and pour water over William who suffers on hot district roads! In spite of this, I was determined to ride the whole way and was doing quite well, only to be overtaken by William pushing his bike! I discovered that if I worked really hard, I could just about keep up with him! Luckily, we are training for expedition sized legs, otherwise I might have been a little disappointed in our time of 7 hours for this leg. Needless, to say, we managed to greet most of the back end of the race’s teams as they overtook us. We stopped for a minute to check if a member of a two man team was OK, when passing them in the forest on the side of the road. It seemed he was suffering from heatstroke and was waiting for Aderic and his ambulance.

A highlight was the stop to wade through the icy water in the mine (all 4 of us) and wandering through the cave for an elusive checkpoint. I managed to pass right through and find the back door, before shouts of “Gottit!” brought me slithering back. The quantities of left shoes had us guessing for a bit, before our heat-cooked brains finally made the connection between them and the New Balance flags. More uphills - we met Larry of Team Lava seemingly without his team who, when they passed us picnicing in the cool, declined to stop and join in. I should mention that Jaco hates hills! He said it several times, bitterly and with emphasis…”I HATE hills” Never mind, the uphills eventually came to an end at the next transition – then it was DOWNHILL!

Leg 5 – 15 km hike, kloofing:

This late afternoon transition, left us scrambling to get out on the hike leg and put in some serious distance before it got dark. The aim was to get both waterfall CP’s done during daylight – a good plan as it turns out! The hike into the kloof saw us meet up with Eric and his camera, for a chat and the exciting news that Lickety Split was doing really well!! Go Guys!

The kloofing was challenging, with every member of the team slipping around on the boulders, but only me actually making a serious dent in one knee. I asked for a bit of spit to rub it better, but nobody offered! The Garfield question put all the men in the water looking to see if there was actually any grafitti on the wall, but we came away without too much time spent looking, leaving only Jaco’s sock lost to the effort. I ask: who goes swimming in their socks? But evidently all three members of Bittereinder do! Jaco was left to make full use of William’s strapping tape instead. Dark descended inevitably and the multiple crossings of the river became a bit tedious. Being so small, I disappear easily; slipping and sliding on large boulders and left a slice of skin behind, on one evil crossing. At this point we had completely lost the trail. We knew where it should have been, but searching upriver only brought banks which were surely wrong, so we doubled back several times (crossing that river again……) I suggested a supper break and I guess the distraction turned William back to into Captain Fantastic, because he disappeared around the reeds and right back onto the trail! We even managed to help other lost souls (Team Assitport was also lost in translation higher upstream) back onto that road that led up out of the valley. Unfortunately, it was here that Johan began slowing down with an old injury to his knee and we limped slooowly uphill and back to transition. 20 minutes and a break…….

Leg 6 – 39km bike:

Midnight brought a cold wind and with Johan limping on a damaged knee, we decided to add an hour of sleep at transition. Since various teams had seen fit to stable their bikes in the warm gazebo, we showed grit and bunked down with one sleeping bag between two on the grass, trying hard to ignore insensitive racers shining headlamps on us. Unfortunately, this was the end of Johan’s race, so we decided to push on. 1.15am saw us eager to be away, off the cold mountain top and warming hands on the handlebars in the forest. It was to be a huge vertical descent between columns of pine trees, like Alice down the rabbit hole! Without the benefit of a sleep I’m not sure I would have roared down the rocky slopes quite so fast, but it seemed OK at the time. We stopped to decide whether Brian would have expected us to enter the private roads with conspicuous ‘Do not Enter’ signs, but keeping to AR tradition, pushed on trusting to the compass and William that we were still on the right track. However, one turn too many to the South when we should have been headed North, had us doubting ourselves and spending a fruitless hour backtracking up the vertical road (hike a bike) before deciding that we were in the right place anyway and heading back down. To our utter surprise, we were never passed by another team during the entire night’s ride!

Sunrise saw a welcome stop for a breakfast muffin (OH for some coffee!) then with no more excuses, onto the tar road and back to the canoe transition. In spite of knowing exactly where the turn-off was, we still managed to overshoot it in our sleepy state.

Leg 7 – 10km paddle:

A warm welcome by Nicky and a not too efficient transition saw us back in the boats and fighting sleep, now that we were sitting down. As we were one short, the obvious solution was for William to balance the second boat with all the backpacks in the back seat and go it alone. Note to self – pack some sort of a leash for towing in future!

It was lucky that the mist had lifted to some extent, but we still found ourselves paddling into the wrong bay, then back out again looking for the waterfall. I was fighting sleep and pink elephants in the front of the boat, but William was paddling like Hercules on his own. Jaco and I struggled to keep up!

Each portage was more than interesting with 2 boats and only 2 and a half paddlers, but with William and Jaco showing true grit and several trips, both boats made it around the waterfall and over the reedbank, then through under the bridge (with a spot of cursing by now) to an excited welcome by Brian and Mike on the bank. Whew! As always finishing is a bit of an anticlimax for me. However, I am always just as glad to have done so! Why do we do adventure racing………because it always feels so good when you stop!

My feeling about this race, is that it was just hard enough to be exactly what a good adventure race should be! Some interesting and exotic sites….and long enough to let you know that you had worked! Well organised with friendly faces at every transition. A big thank you to Red Ants and the other helpers who worked so hard to make it fun for us racers – especially to the marshall in the river. We still have no idea how you actually rode a bike with what looked like everything including the kitchen sink, into that far distant valley!

I look forward to racing with Jaco in future and am equally sorry that the gentleman of the team, Johan will be unable to do the long distances with us. Thanks to William for captaining and navigating a fantastic racing experience once again!

Thanks for the Ant Trail - Die Bittereinde(r)