Friday, August 3, 2012


Bad Medicine on the top at breakfast break
(Final team: Sue, Larry, Tobie, Jaco; Super-second Mike and Team manager and serial SMSer William)
Why is it that the best laid plans of mice and adventure races so often go astray? True to form on Friday morning, there is an email from William (indispensable navigator) to say that he has a mysterious virus and will not be joining us for the race in only a couple of hours from now! We had already met up on Thursday night after work, to drop off all kit for packing in order to be able to leave directly on Friday and get a head start on the traffic....well that was the plan anyway. So a flurry of emails later, William had organised Larry aka Team Lava (who it would seem is available at the drop of a hat) to pack up and spend the weekend racing with us. (My thanks to his long suffering family!)

Which is how we found ourselves jostling to NOT be the one to have the responsibility for navigating what is potentially the most difficult navigating weekend we have seen so far! Finally we decided on a democratic view, but Tobie who is our newest addition to the Party offered himself up as Speaker of the House.  He had no idea what was in store for him! Three hours later, we were still on-route from Randburg to Edenvale to pick up Larry at home, navigating through rush hour traffic - do I hear Con saying “Guys this is my swan-song, I’m NEVER doing this again!” Actually the drive was not too bad, but got us to Coromandel at the rude hour of 10 p.m. (There goes the plan to be fast asleep by 8!) Luckily Jaco had gotten there before us and organised bunks in plush double beds, reached through a ballroom sized bathroom - no doors, so no bathing done that night! Just race registration, pushing of race gear into backpacks, laying out of at least 15 bits of clothing (for the anticipated freezing 4 am start) and into bed, lights out.

Map plotting was at 3, so we staggered out of bed at 2.30 am, feeling our way past the 80km racers in bed, vainly hoping to sleep until their somewhat later start time. Race briefing ran late, leaving us only 10 minutes to grab our bikes and load them onto the car, before saying goodbye to Mike and lurching out into the dark - last as is our tradition. The maps were pre-plotted on 1:50 000 scale and we were surprised to find that we had only 1 x A3 area to cover - all on the same property! On and up in good adventure racing tradition, took us past the waterfall and above the clouds to the very top of the escarpment for a sunrise view to rival anything I have ever seen! Not before we had spent a fruitless half hour searching for CP 3, lost down a rocky scree, deep in a gorge. When we arrived, Team Geronimo were backtracking, soon followed by Bad Medicine and ourselves all scouting up and down in the same area. My rule is not to spend too much time looking, so when Geronimo left without the point, I decided to gather up the team from the 4 corners of the globe and follow as well.
This is why we race!
It can be noted that there is only one way to go from the top of the world, and that is down, so down we went. We had been warned that there was a no go area in the gorge after CP7, so in a vain attempt to avoid it we tried to track around it on the ridge, looking for an elusive CP 8 which was not far away. Our inexperience in reading altitude and distance started to show here. After an hour of searching and ‘democratic debating’, we agreed to backtrack and use the gorge anyway. (I wondered where the devil Bad Medicine had gotten to as they were with us at CP7 - you got away from us there, Mark!) There was a clearly marked path along the side of the cliff, taking us above the forbidden gorge. If only we had only walked 10 metres down the gorge we would have seen this, but hindsight is a wonderful thing!

Still we were happy to be moving forward again and amazed that Tobie was doing so well with the map reading! Unfortunately, he had other problems, his feet had blistered and he was hobbling - we had done around 15km’s so far. We did a First Aid stop and another....and another, but Tobie is tough and pushed on regardless. Clinton had warned us that he was forced to position the CP’s securely, safe out of the wind - we took this to mean ‘hide’ as CP by CP they became more difficult to find.....or was it tiredness on our part?
T2 came late in the afternoon, with the welcome view of Mike and Geronimo passing us on their way back down the mountain on the bikes!! OMG! they’re finishing the MTB leg and we’re just starting ours! We saddled up and rode out determined to make a good push, a push it was...unfortunately straight up a vertical climb! Now we knew why Alex’s eyes wandered when we asked him about the terrain going forward! Yes, the climb was vertical - I discovered my handlebars were above my head in places! On and Up! Tobie who had been looking forward to resting his feet on the pedals, instead found himself doing a punishing route march on foot! Welcome to Adventure Racing - where although it is a bike leg, it doesn’t mean there is a path, or a track, or even a grassy we found ourselves pushing and heaving bikes through a shrubby thicket, across a grassy ridge, past a dam, and up another hill to the CP. From there we needed to traverse another grassy ridge on foot towards the same road we had walked down earlier. We could see it from where we stood on the top. Unfortunately, the next CP beckoned.....and we could see the road through a saddle far below, where the CP should be.
Looking for the checkpoint.........!
Our choice - a 3km walk across rough ground, followed by a 5km ride down a rocky road in the dark versus a 3km hike straight down. The hike down just looked so much easier at the time and we were quite comfortable on foot by now.......! We did get down before dark and gained plenty of character along the way. Jaco and Tobie are now officially initiated in the art of Real Adventure Bushwacking! Added to that, we never got that CP which beckoned so charmingly! We beat bushes for an hour in the dusk, with the team walking easily 2km’s further up the road, before giving up. Back at the farm, we saw another team leaving, while we stopped to thank the farmer and change headlamp batteries. It became a recurring theme during the night, that one or the other of our members was riding without a headlamp until the next stop to change batteries. We met Clinton at T2, or rather we were found desperately scanning the map and our foggy brains for any clue as to where it should be, because the locked up police station we were at, was clearly NOT the right place! Luckily Clinton turned up with a convoy of cars, having chased a rumour that we were still up in the mountains! A quick top-up of water, food and new maps and we pushed on into the dark, stopping to put on extra layers at regular intervals.
All the hiking is REALLY starting to HURT!
I have done this climb before in the dark on a Kinetic race and knew what we were in for, but it didn’t seem half as steep this time. The CP’s were picked up slowly, and bit by bit we progressed. Unfortunately, we discovered that Jaco was mismarking the race card, having marked CP18 (cancelled) instead of CP19, so we were looking for a ‘pipe under’ when we should have been looking for ‘bush up above’, which confused us and slowed us down! In our sleepy state around midnight, we discovered that we had missed the CP under the road altogether and since we needed to find it, gritted our teeth, turned our bikes around and biked back up the hill. Larry showed that he has a special kind of fortitude, leaping off his bike and diving into tunnels under the road at every chance. On the third stop, we found the marked bunting Clinton had warned us to look out for, but try as we might, could not find a reflective board anywhere!! Now thoroughly chilled, we gave it up after beating all the bushes and holes in the ground (fighting off trolls....or was that sleepmonsters?) for a half hour and trundled home to the farm entrance - Tobie with tattered feet and Jaco cramping by now.

I have very fond memories of this climb! Normally, I am normally the only one in the team who stays awake all night, but this time (maybe because Jaco and Tobie were reduced to walking) we were moving very slooowly and I was fighting sleepmonsters hard! Larry and I would wait for the guys to pass us on foot and then saddle up and ride past them to the next turn, then flop down in the dust, for a power nap, before doing it all over again! In my memory, that driveway was 100km’s long! Telescoping forward in the beam of my headlamp endlessly! 2012 came and went.....and so passed 2013, 14 and 15! Finally we reached the top, just before the drop to the house. A bakkie passed us saying the guys were just my horror we discovered that Tobie had gone to sleep in the middle of the road and the bakkie had to wake him up to pass! The stuff that AR stories are made of!
The problem with transitioning at the start is that the beds are really comfy and it is sooo easy to just stop right there! However, Lickety Split prides itself on finishing all races, so we grabbed a 1 hour sleep (dirty clothing and all, straight into bed) and headed out before daybreak. Jaco declared himself done, but Tobie bravely gritted his teeth for the Spitskop climb! Once again we passed Bad Medicine, going home along that long driveway, and picked up some pointers on route choices. We managed to find a path heading in the right direction and changed our plan from following the firebreak burn we had originally picked out. As it turned out, it was a good choice. We followed our noses to the ‘dead carcass’ CP and followed the race briefing tips to the ‘pine tree in donga’, which left only the flag on the top of the koppie to track down! 25 minutes up and 25 minutes down, we were trudging back up the long driveway, passed by racers rushing back to Joeys in their cars after prize giving. Give a thought to the racers on foot, chaps......slow down so we don’t have to eat so much dust in your wake!

Our prize giving was a warm welcome from the Tswane Club and a 2L bottle of coke, then everybody took off leaving us alone in that huge, weird house.

I guess the other racers had managed to find some privacy to wash after the race, because we were left with only cold water, so the dream of washing off all the trail dirt was abandoned and we packed up quickly for the long road back. If we hadn’t had Mike to drive us, we might still be out there in a ditch, as we all fell asleep instantly and Tobie was still asleep 5km’s from home!

The distances I have for the race include all detours and short-cuts, but we managed around 75km’s MTB (hike-a-bike shortened the route) and totalled 40km’s on foot. I was wearing a pedometer which helped on the foot legs, when we started looking for an expected CP early, I could check it and say ‘ we’ve only done 3.5km’s and need to do 5 before we start looking’. Afterwards I had a look and discovered that I had done 21.5km’s on the second hike leg, but also somewhere in the vicinity of 25 000 steps!

Thanks go to Tshwane club for putting on such an interesting, challenging and well organised race. The views were Faaantastic!
Thanks to William, for volunteering your car, compass, map bag and keeping in touch throughout the race, and Mike for driving us and the bikes around all weekend (good help is hard to find), though the scintillating conversation was distinctly lacking on the way home! Thanks to Larry for jumping in and volunteering for all the dirty scouting work - you fitted into the team just like an old pair of shoes!

Here’s to the Blue Full Moon race in September! Whoop! Whoop!

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