Thursday, 16 May 2013
Special Report: Expedition Africa – 4 to 11 May 2013
EXPEDITION AFRICA EXCLUSIVE REPORT FROM THE MERRELL ADVENTURE ADDICTS
Adventure Addicts - Donovan “Tiny” Sims, Hanno “Smelly” Smit , Craig “Farmer” Carter Brown and SanMari “Sannie” Woithe
Photos from Andreas Strand and Bruce Viaene
Graham Bird Report:
For the first time since discovering this wonderful sport, I sat on the sidelines as my team competed. I came here to help get the word out about this great sport and more importantly about this world-class event that Stephan and Heidi Muller and their team put on. It was a new challenge for me, and gave me an even better perspective on the sport of Adventure Racing and the people that do it. The challenge? To get through the 545km route that Stephan put on. For the top teams, to get through as fast as they could. For the mid teams, to build on their past experiences and push the limits further. For the novice teams to finish and get an understand and develop a love for Adventure Racing.
Adventure Racing like no other sport sucks you in and becomes part of your core being. Your Soul. Every time I complete an adventure race, I learn more about my self and come out feeling fulfilled and recharged to cope with the modern lifestyles that consume our time. This aside, some of the most joyous moments for me as an Adventure Racer, is watching the Novice teams going on this voyage of discovery. There was a lot of suffering, a lot of pain, a lot of joy, a lot of happiness, a lot of tiredness and ultimately a lot of accomplishment over the course of the past week. Each person in the race went through these emotions. Many times each day. Seeing the joy and fulfillment, as they crossed the finish line having traversed a world class 545km Expedition race and realized that they can achieve anything has been overwhelming.
So, even though I did not get to race this expedition, the experience of following the event and watching these athletes on the voyage, has been has been just as fulfilling. I leave here with my “batteries” recharged and my SOUL rejuvenated. Thank you all 124 of you that embarked on this expedition. It has been an inspiration watching all these awesome athletes competing against one another and more importantly competing against themselves………..and winning!
Hanno Smit Report:
The Addicts’ assault on EA 2013 was always going to be tricky. We were thrown into the turmoil of finding a female member for our team as well as replacing our team Captain, Tweet, due to injury. This meant that we were going to race as an inexperienced team essentially and it also meant that the navigation was going to be shared by myself and Sims, something not easy to pick up to a high level after years of hibernation as a navigator, when I last raced with my good friend James Stewart.
The voids were filled bravely by SanMari Woithe and the old hand, Craig Farmer-Brown, who last year filled in for myself. SanMari, better known as Sannie, stepped in at the last moment and came in on absolutely no experience other than what we taught her in our crash course just before the race! Craig on the other hand is an old salt and with his strength and commitment, was an easy choice. Having said this, we still had to race for a podium and that meant that we could not afford to “ease” into the race, but instead we had to maintain a pace that would be competitive. The true expeditionary length legs was a brutal introduction, especially for the more novice racers as the physical impact is so much more severe than many shorter legs. This eventually took its toll on Sannie and by T5 it was game over for her. Blistered feet became Sannie’s nemesis and with a final trekking leg of at least 10 hours still waiting for us, we knew we were going to crawl to the finish.
With the incentive of a podium out of the window and with the knee/calf injury of Don’s from a bike wipe, we were left without charge and having weighed up the risk of further injuring Don’s knee for the sake of finishing, we decided against carrying on. This disappointing end to our race did however not subtract from what we have learnt and experienced with this expedition. The Drakensberg did not disappoint and revealed its true nature during the race, eventually being snow covered after the initial warm start to the expedition. Thanks to those who supported us and to my valiant team.
Donovan Sims Report:
The past week finally meant the start of the much anticipated 545km Expedition Africa in the Mont-Aux-Sources region of the Northern Drakensberg. The race kicked off Monday morning with a 75km hiking leg that had us catching our breath at 3000m above sea level. This was an amazing start to the race with breath taking views. The next leg was a short MTB ride that had me taking a tumble and needing some running repairs at the next transition. Next was a great leg for the Addicts, a 76km paddle across 2 dams and some awesome rapids. We managed to catch a few teams and come off the water in second position.
Back onto the bike (89km), it was on this leg that had many following at home thinking we made a navigation error BUT that was not the case. We simply chose the gravel road route around the mountain and it turned out to be a good choice, getting us into half way some 30mins ahead of teams we were cycling around. A 6hr break at midcamp allowed us to have bikes serviced, collect and replot new maps and get a few hours of much needed sleep. The next morning we were on our way again at 07h01, the start of a 56km hike. This was a beautiful but tough hike that had us around beacons, into mountain basins and before the end of the hike had us at the abseil (a 5 tear affair). Then a short hike into T5.
Unfortunately this is where our story ended, SanMari’s feet were in a bad way and she was not able to carry on. This was truly an amazing route for an adventure race, Stephan really showed his true colors when he set the course, there are not enough words to explain just how great a route it was. Stephan and Heidi and your whole Kinetic crew, well done on a fantastic event. To my captain, Tweet, I know I`ve said it before but thank you some much for the role you played in this great event. To my team mates thanks for the huge effort made in getting us to where we did in the race as effortlessly as we did. Pity we couldn`t keep it going. A huge thanks to our amazing sponsor, Merrell, for always making our racing so easy to do.
SanMari Woithe Report:
It hurts to watch the video at T5 where we finally decided to withdraw from the race and everybody had to say what they felt. Hearing and seeing my teammates’ feelings and disappointment will always be hard to deal with. I learnt so much from these guys over the past week. They have taught me life lessons that will stay with me forever. During this race and even afterwards, I went through so many emotional highs and lows. This race was a life changing experience for me. I learnt that the mind is a mighty power, right there in your own hands. What you choose to do with it, will always be within your own power. I learnt that never to have any preconception of what lies ahead. In adventure racing you need to be ready for whatever gets thrown at you. And in adventure racing you need to learn to communicate with your teammates, say what you need to say, even if it doesn’t feel right. The learning curve was steep the past 3 months, but in the end, inexperience from my side, caught up with me.
It was the first time in my life I spent so many consecutive hours on my feet without stopping or resting. It was the first time I paddled for 13 and a half hours non-stop. It was the first time I had to paddle rapids. (Apparently class 3?!) It was the first time in my life I abseiled in the cold, dark early hours of the morning through an icecold waterfall after hiking for 24 hours through the night. It was the first time I had to swim half naked, with a backpack through a dam at 1am and pretend that the water is not cold. It was the first time in my life that I had to keep patient when you are so stuffed beyond yourself and you have to scramble up and down roads and mountains for hours on hours in the middle of the night to find a checkpoint, not sure that you are actually going in the right direction, but just trusting the navigator. It was the first time in my life that I walked with hiking poles and thought this is the best thing since the wheel was invented. The odd 72 hours we spent out there, was tough as the pace was hard and I had to dig deep, and sometimes even deeper.
I look back upon this race only gaining knowledge, experience, hardship, friendship and walking out being a “richer” person. I guess this is what life is about, taking chances, doing your best, sometimes gaining, sometimes loosing, but always learning from the experience, because if you haven’t tried, you would never have known.
Craig Carter Brown Report:
31 Teams entered Expedition Africa this year. The race was located in the Northern Berg KZN and the start / finish was at the Orion Mont-Aux-Sources Hotel. The presence of the international teams made for an extremely strong field, with Team Haglofs Silva being the favorites with their current world ranking of 3rd. As a team we were quietly confident. We had a successful training camp at Kei mouth earlier in the year. The new look team had gelled well and we felt that a top 3 finish was a realistic goal. After seeing the route flyover and the course breakdown it was very obvious that this year’s event was going to be more difficult than last years. The entire course plus minus 500km was broken down into 3 hike legs, 3 bike legs and 2 paddle legs. This meant for long legs coupled with the difficult terrain, it was going to be a tough one.
By Sunday evening the entire necessary prerace organization that is part of expedition racing (packing equipment boxes and food) had been done and we were eager for the 6.30am start on Monday morning. From the starters horn the pace was fast. The first leg saw us heading to the top of the Amphitheatre up the chain ladder and onto the Tugela falls. The Merrell Seismic shoes felt really stable in the uneven terrain and we were mixing it up with some of the best racers in the world. Once on top of the escarpment, plus minus 3200m above sea level, the first major route choice of the race came into play. Teams could either stay on the escarpment for longer and head down the Rockeries pass or teams could go down the more technical but direct route down Ifidi pass. We chose the latter. The scene was something out of Lord of the Rings heading down the pass with extreme drop offs and ice falling all around us. The decision proved to be a good one, and we found ourselves first into Transition 1.
Heading out on the bike on Leg 2 we were all thinking about the swim later that night which would take us to our kayak leg. Unfortunately on the bike leg Don had a fall on some loose rock and injured his knee. A navigation error on this leg saw us having to do an additional plus minus 15km so we were back in 7th place by the time we reached transition. Don managed to get some medical attention; his leg did not look good. Leaving transition we soon found ourselves on the edge of Woodstock dam. Our Black Diamond Icon headlamps remained on our heads during the swim showing just how robust this product is. Once entering the water the temperature was not that bad. After thawing out on the far bank in front of big fires we knew we had a lot of work to do on the 84km paddle leg. Navigation on the water was extremely tricky with a thick fog settling over the water. Hanno managed to keep us on a good bearing and when the sun came out we started to catch the other teams. I really enjoyed a section of rapids where we managed to pass 3 teams. At the take out on Spionkop dam we had pulled up to 2nd position. Sanmari showed great bravery, as it was her first time down rapids.
The next bike leg would take us to the half way stop. Some clever route choices saw us coming into halfway in 3rd position all feeling in good spirits. The next leg of the race was to be a plus minus 60km hike. This was to be the breaking leg for the team. We left midcamp feeling good having had some hot food and rest and headed into the mountains above the Drak Sun into the Injasuthi area. During this stage, Sanmari’s feet, which had been suffering from blisters in leg 1, began to worsen thereby slowing the pace. We battled after Injasuthi to summit the lower berg and found several teams catching us from behind. Towards the end of the leg we tackled the abseil section, this was great. The cold water was a rather rude wake up at 3am in the morning. Reaching transition we were in a sorry way with Sanmari’s feet and Dons leg injury. They both had been brave to soldier on this far but unfortunately decided to call it quits at the transition.
It is always sad to pull out of a race especially when you have been racing for over 80 hours. Despite our bodies letting us down our gear did not let us down. Our Merrell racing garments kept us dry and warm in the difficult alpine conditions. Our Nikon camera captured all the action. There were times when I thought I would only find pieces when reaching for the camera as I don’t know how it survived all I could throw at it. Black Diamond products are hardcore and our headlamps did not falter once. The battery life one gets out of 4 AA batteries is amazing. The Merrell Proterra shoes proved extremely comfortable on the latter hiking legs. The square toe box makes it very comfortable on the feet.
Our bikes gave zero hassles at all, this stems from having a sufficiently lubed drive train. Squirt, despite being applied only 3 times, kept our bikes running smoothly for over 20 hours. PVM is easy to drink and provides energy in a very even supply. The sachets mix easily with the berg stream water and they provide a delicious refreshing taste, Adventure racing teaches us: As humans we are built in such a way that self-preservation is over emphasized. If you ask the average person how far they can run, take their answer, double it and times it by 10. That is the real answer. Only adventure racing allows us to get close to our true limits!
The Merrell Adventure Addicts wish to thank the following team sponsors who support our adventurous lifestyles:
Merrell - For supporting our active lifestyles and allowing us to GET OUTSIDE
PVM - For providing us with nutritional products to keep us going.
Black Diamond - For Icon and Cosmo head torches that lit our way brilliantly
Giant Bicycles - For providing the team with exceptional Anthem MTB’s
Island Tribe - For protecting us from the harsh African sun.
Squirt - For keeping our Bikes lubed and operating smoothly!
Glider - For Polarized eyewear
Facebook: Merrell Adventure Addicts
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