By Lisa de Speville
Almost 81 hours after leaving the Port Edward beach on Sunday morning, New Zealand team Seagate returned to the town as winners of the 2014 edition of Expedition Africa on Wednesday.
Seagate led from the start. Early on they built up a cushion of time over the other teams that allowed them to sleep regularly for short periods.
Two-and-a-half hours later, Team Haglofs Silva (Sweden) crossed the line. They won here last year.
The rest of the field are working their way to the kayak put-in (T4), the mid-field transition (T5), the one at the end of the hike (T6) and the finish. Team Anger Management only got out of the canyon, ending the first hike, hours after Seagate completed the entire course!
There are still 38 teams out there.
Short course options
Looking at the teams as they are currently (Wednesday morning), course director Stephan Muller predicts that 35 of the 40 teams will complete the full course by prize giving on Saturday.
All teams currently on the cycle to the kayak put-in (T4) should complete the leg by this evening and reach T5 by Thursday mid-morning at the latest. They’ll hike all day (and into the night) on Thursday and then have most of Friday and Saturday to do the long 230km cycle.
There is a short course opportunity on the hike, which will see teams hiking straight along the beach to T6 – instead of heading inland (skipping CP22 and CP24). And there are two short course route opportunities on the cycle, which make it easier and trim a lot of distance from the route.
At this stage Stephan predicts that he’ll only need to short course the last five teams – those currently in the canyon and at/recently left T3.
Bloed & OMO have been doing their own thing since Day 1. They short coursed themselves early on and are making it up as they go along.
Teams really just need to hang in there, use the time available and they’ll make it.
When bad days are good too
Out in the field we have good days and bad days. They’re relative because the bad days really are good days too when you’re out here.
A good day – or a great day – is one where you manage to intercept the team/s that you’re looking for with only a short wait.
A bad day is one where you hurry-up-and-wait, often hanging out for many hours to catch teams. I can hear you saying, “But you can see where the teams are on the tracking”. Indeed, but the real world out here is quite different.
On Monday we spent hours in the canyon waiting for teams that were ‘close’. At 2am on Tuesday morning we waited two hours for teams that were ‘very close’.
Take last night too. My media companion, Martin Westerstrand, and I were looking for Outnorth Adventure. From late afternoon and along our route we made contact with other teams (always part of our plans) as we travelled to the location where we thought we’d best catch the team cycling past.
We waited and waited and waited. Fortunately we had sufficient internet coverage to follow their tracking online. We watched them take a dead-end road, turn around and then head 180° in the wrong direction, back where they’d come from. We shouted at the track “Turn around, turn around. Where are you going?” – to no avail.
We waited. And hoped. And waited. They took another wrong track. They backtracked and then continued heading wrong. We couldn’t wait any longer as we needed to get through to T5 to power up, write, edit and upload.
‘Our’ other team, Cinnober, were biking and not an option to catch; but we kept our eye on their track until the wee hours of morning and marshals were asked to please wake us when they got close.
Then, today, after seeing Cinnober come in to T5 – and leave a time later – we went off looking for the road to T4 and opportunities to intercept teams in the area.
Namaqua were just ahead of us and on the downhill were travelling faster than a vehicle. They looked well and gave us a hello and waves before disappearing around a corner.
Minutes later Castle Lite came past. I’m not sure whether they were all smiles to see us or because they’d made it up and over a wickedly steep hill (many of them, it seems) and had it all downhill to the transition.
And then, we waited.
With an EDGE signal – and occasionally 3G – we were struggling with tracking. Whatsapp kept us in contact with my friend back in Johannesburg and race HQ to find out where the teams were.
And then we saw Antimatter, coming along at a steady clip. Zoops! And they were past and riding strong for the transition.
I’d heard from my Jo’burg friend that Bring it on hadn’t had a very good route navigationally, with a good too many zig-zags. When they came past I shouted, “Have you had a good bike?”.
“No,” Sakkie Meyer shouted back.
“Have you been stopping at all the shebeens in the area?” I asked. Shebeens are informal pubs.
Laughter from Sakkie. He is known to enjoy a beer or two. “They serve coke and (something I couldn’t catch) out here so I have to wait for the finish.” And with that they were out of sight.
By now we were getting jumpy. A good three hours must have passed since we first got into the area. We decided to move. We knew that Outnorth were on a different spur but seemed to be correcting their route. We hoped to find them further along.
Back in the car and minutes along we got 3G signal and could pick up the tracking again. Mmmm… we were not hopeful but with other teams coming we decided to see what we could find.
Park Rangers and SandgropAR were first. Both on the last past of the steep climb. Even so, the teams were friendly – both were riding well and steady, pushing to get up this last challenging hill.
Onward we drove on a road better suited to mountain bikes than our van.
Looking across at an intersection we saw a team slip past. Tracking told us that it was most likely the Irish team, Beast of Ballyhoura / V Graph. We stayed where we were, not sure which road teams would come down.
And then Senseless came flying down a road on the opposite ridge.
Riding up to us Steven Yates remarked (with a wry smile), “It would be another climb wouldn’t it.”
“Have you had lots of them?” I asked.
“Well, what’s another one?” he said.
We did corny things like gather them together for a group photo and then they were off up the hill. Just as we were readying to leave, we saw Beast of Ballyhoura / V Graph returning to the intersection.
“Why didn’t you continue on that road?” I asked when they reached us.
It seems that a local told them they should not go that way and so they turned around. We drove this road out and it was correct (it junctions with the T4 road more easterly); but the shorter and steeper route upwards was better overall. Beast of Ballyhoura/ V Graph were here last year and so I asked how they were enjoying this rural landscape.
“The locals, they’ve just blown me away today,” said Ivan Park. “We’re out here suffering of our own choice and these people live so remotely that I wonder how they survive.”
I’m rather fond of this Irish team. They are usually cheery, even when they’re not at their best. And they’ve got lovely Irish accents. It’s a treat to talk to them.
With dark on its way, we were off again and headed for T5 at Cremone, a holiday resort across the river from the town of Port St Johns.
There we saw Castle Lite and, later, Antimatter. Both teams are old hands at this. They’re all looking really good and were going to sleep for a bit. Adrian Saffy is so much more with it than he was at halfway at Expedition Africa last year (he could barely string a sentence together). He’s his usual chatty self and was tucking into a delicious pizza.
Their new team recruit Liam Victor is doing his first adventure race. Not just his first expedition race; first adventure race ever. Walking into the room he proclaims, “I’m looking skinny. I’ve lost nine kilograms!”. He got asked to join the team three weeks before the event and between then and now he is considerable lighter.
Craig Powell says (again) that he is retiring from expedition-length adventure racers and that he’s going to stick to the two-day events. Expedition Africa 2015… I wonder if he’ll be able to resist the temptation?
Laura de Haast is great and her cut lip continues to improve daily. “It just keeps splitting open again occasionally,” she said. Like almost every other racer her feet are sore and sensitive. “I don’t know how I’ll get through this hike; but I know that I will.” Feet aside, she’s really looking great.
Ugene Nel and Mark ‘Lofty’ Loftus are awesome – as usual. They’re looking with it – just another race. Lofty was ready for a good sleep. Ugene was eating. When their team mate Didi Francis came in off the river, she was all smiles and walking evenly. She seems to be in great condition.
This is how a ‘bad’ day rolls. For me it has been a good day indeed because we’ve seen so many teams (always a bonus) and I get to tell you about them. Every team here is ‘my’ team. Martin’s day has been good in terms of being here, taking photos (of other teams for me) and seeing the sights of the Transkei. There’s little to complain about when you get to go where we’ve been.
Martin hasn’t seen his team for more than 24 hours. It’s definitely more challenging when you’re looking to catch specific teams. But that’s how it rolls out here. Like the racers themselves, we’re adaptable and tomorrow is another opportunity to see our teams.
The 40-kilometre Leg 8 hike from Port St Johns to T6 at Mboyti River Lodge is tough. During the day teams get through in 12 hours. It takes double this at night.
Even getting to the first checkpoint, CP22, has teams in a tizz – and it isn’t far from the transition. Reportedly Cinnober headed out for CP22 and returned to transition four hours later unable to find it… They didn’t return again so presumably they found it and continued.
Where most (all?) teams pushed on from the CP22, Castle Lite appears to be the only team to take the ‘easier’ option. Hit CP22 and backtrack to the road near the transition and walk along it to the beach. Follow beach until they need to exit it to get to CP23. They could gain some time here.
We could see more positions shuffling overnight – on both this hike to T7 and the 230-kilometre cycle to Port Edward.
See the full leaderboard at http://www.kineticgear.org/leaderboard/
Follow the teams via live tracking at http://www.kineticgear.org/gps-tracking/
Photos by Bruce Viaene and Andreas Strand