By Lisa de Speville
New Zealand team Seagate finished Day Two of Expedition Africa in first place on Monday night.
Haglofs Silva finished the day in second place with Tecnu Adventure Racing in third.
Our (media) day on Monday started really early so that we could drive through to the canyon to catch the front teams emerging. Course director Stephan Muller had predicted that we’d see them any time between 09h00 or 10h00 – closer to 10h00.
Boom! It’s 10h15 on Monday morning and we’re deciding what snacks and warm tops to put into our backpacks to take to CP16 (canyon exit) when Chris Forne and Stuart Lynch (Seagate) appear at the top of trail metres to my left.
Excitement! Asking how they were doing Chris mentioned that his feet were quite sore. After almost 80 kilometres of trekking this was hardly surprising. I didn’t realise that this would be a recurring theme, especially as darkness fell.
And then we waited. And waited. And waited. Live online tracking showed teams to be not far from us, race HQ let us know that teams were close… but time and distance down there are not relative to each other.
Having done this same canyon little more than 10 years ago in an adventure race – with Heidi and Stephan (them racing in a team and me on the tv crew hiking with the team) I can attest to its difficulty.
Water flows gently (not a gushing river) down the canyon, which has huge, steep sides where they enter it. There are bigger rocks and pools higher up. Throughout they’re scrambling on rounded, water-worn rocks. Many are slippery.
Sliding, stumbling and falling is inevitable. During the day slower sections will probably elicit a 1km/hr pace… At night, I’d bank my money on 500m/hr, which is what we did all those years ago – or slower! This is a very physical section.
Almost three hours later we saw our next team – Painted Wolf.
“John and I have never messed up navigation so badly,” says Mark Collins in response to my question about the navigation on the hike. “I hope you weren’t following our track online.”
In short, they misjudged a canyon, thinking they were somewhere they were not. They seemed to think that they’d already crossed the big canyon on their map – but it was just a smaller one.
And then 30-minutes later they found the big one – a gaping black chasm ahead. But they were in the worst possible place to cross it and ended up travelling too close to the coast. The way Mark describes it their route was less ‘as-the-crow-flies’ and more ‘all-over-the-place’.
Nonetheless, it still worked out ok for them and they passed two teams in the canyon.
“We saw one [Tecnu] and heard another,” Marks says.
And so it was that we saw Tecnu and Haglofs Silva appear not too long afterwards.
I ask Tecnu how the trek has been.
“Fine until now,” says Mari Chandler referring to the canyoning. “We’re glad to be out of there.”
I always maintain that canyoning is super fun for the first hour, tolerable for the next hour and ‘I-want-to-get-out-of-here’ for every hour thereafter. My theory holds.
And then we were off from the canyon exit and aiming to get to the section from where teams approach CP14. We found teams AR Switzerland and Cinnober. Both teams were looking a bit hot and they’ve had a bit too much sun. This aside, they were actually looking good.
Cinnober’s photographer, Martin Westerstrand, spoke to his team out on the route.
“They didn’t really say much,” he says. “Magnus [Albinsson], their navigator, is very focused. He’s concentrating on the navigation all the time. During the night they were climbing up some cliffs on the trek. That was scary for them.”
We shot ahead down a track through the tea plantation that was added to the map to direct teams towards CP14. We weren’t exactly sure where to find the CP so we hung out waiting for a team to arrive. It wasn’t long before we saw AR Switzerland.
Like us, they were struggling to place themselves and not sure exactly where the track had spat them out. Having followed other media people in, we definitely didn’t take the farm track indicated on the map but were instead on a parallel route.
Around the time I was asking myself, “If you’re not where people have told you that you will be, where else on the map could you be”, the team was asking a similar question of themselves too.
Phew! Problem solved and they were again moving in the correct direction. I suspect that some teams got the right track because both Cinnober and Havacrack (maybe others too) slipped past us.
We met up with Sportotal (Argentina) at CP14; just ahead of AR Switzerland.
Although the control description for this CP read “Start of trail”, Sportotal bombed straight down through scratchy vegetation. Photographer Bruce Viaene was following them so he was relieved when they located the trail after a hundred metres or so. He went about half-way down the trail and proclaimed it to be “incredibly steep and winding”.
Out here, darkness descends really fast. Back up on the spur we heard voices. Across the small stream we watched a horde of around five teams appear next to where our vehicles were parked. We sat down in the grass to wait for them to head in our direction.
The first team to come past us, just as daylight faded, was SandgropAR, an Australian team. They nailed the correct path first; teams just the other side of the stream took their cue. SandgropAR said that they were alright but that their feet were sore and blistered.
And then the teams came thick and fast – one after another. Namaqua and Rustproof, Pennypinchers and Castle Lite.
Oh goodness! You know how it is when people have such sore feet that they can only walk with a ‘this-way-and-that-way’ gait? Hobbling. Yes. Hobbling. Very few (if any!) were on an even keel and the one word that resounded in the headlamp-lit darkness was “Feet”.
I asked Castle Lite’s Adrian Saffy what the problem was, why feet were so bad.
“Sand on the beach, wetness from grass, river crossings and hard hiking,” he replied. Addy is an AR veteran and as such racer I so didn’t expect to see walking on broken glass so early.
We made it back to our vehicles and meters down the track spotted headlamps off to the side.
“Who are you,” I asked.
“Black Diamond,” came the reply.
They had their space blankets and sleeping bags out and looked comfortably snuggled in a sheltered soft, grassy spot protected from the wind by tea bushes on one side and a row of low trees on the other. A great location indeed.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
“Feet. We’ve got bad blisters so we’re going to stay here instead of going into the canyon,” Leon Pieters tells me.
I express interest in his blister situation and he obliges. Ow! Big, fluid-filled blisters around both heels and various others. Both Ryan and Nici van Niekerk have trench foot with swollen, whitened, plastic skin that is creased and lined with fissures. James Lea-Cox has sore feet but fortunately no serious afflictions.
They’ve decided to bed down for the (long) night to let their feet dry out so that they can do better than hobble through the canyon in the morning. Going down tonight… the maceration could end their race by T3.
“We keep seeing headlamps of teams passing us. It is so disappointing.”
I reassure them that their decision is a good one. With feet like that…
Saying farewell and offering sympathies, we’re off again. And not too far along – headlamps! It’s Warriors.
Same story from them. Feet. They’re moving pretty well and were planning to work their way through the canyon tonight.
Last I heard a number of the teams that I saw at sunset have decided to sleep and tackle the canyon in the morning. I think this is a good move because once they’re in the canyon, they won’t sleep.
It is cold, the water is noisy, the canyon sides are steep and further down where they’re no longer steep, the vegetation is so dense that even crawling on hands and knees is not very effective.
It will be a miserable night and to sleep in the morning… burning daylight… not very efficient.
Although the night is long, this good, long rest and time spent tending to sore feet is time well spent at this stage in the race.
We’re at T3 now; the Mboyti River Lodge. I look forward to seeing what this area looks like in daylight. When I arrived at around 19h00 Arverne Outdoor were sleeping; according to Heidi they are fine and well. Cyanosisleft at 20h40 to begin the 120km cycle.
When Olympus arrived they set immediately to making chicken and cheese wraps, drinking coffee and getting warm. They’re actually looking really good physically and they’re interactive and chirpy.
Last night I received text messages from racers following at home saying, “Olympus are going in the wrong direction!”. I asked Tim Deane what this was about.
“We didn’t know where we were so we went up to the road to find ourselves. Relocation!” he explains, laughing.
This trekking leg took them a total of around 34 hours. They had about 2.5 hours of light in the canyon and did the rest in the dark. The canyon section took them six hours, which is actually good going. Olympus are looking in good shape. They had a slow transition, good food and a 90-minute sleep.
There are no other teams at T3 now (00h05 – Tuesday) and we’re not expecting any others to arrive for many hours.
A nasty night
Teams in the canyon are in for a nasty night. They have hours still to go until daylight and there’s no place down there to sleep. They’ve got bad feet and after spending 10 hours wet and cold…
Speaking to Black Diamond earlier about their feet, we asked them how this trek compared to the one they did at Expedition Africa in the Drakensberg last year.
“Much, much harder,” they replied in unison.
Transition 3 on Tuesday will look like a war zone with feet carnage. I hope I’m wrong; but I don’t think I will be.
Route change – shortened paddle
As expected, the low (and dropping) level of water in the river for the paddle leg is an issue and thus the cycle leg has been adjusted to transition (T4) further downstream. The paddle leg is now around 16km. I don’t think the teams will complain, after all it’s far better to do 16km instead of the initially planned 67 kilometres carrying and dragging boats. That would be torture.
Course director Stephan Muller is disappointed because a month ago the river was flowing strongly (no rocks showing!). He says that the river is inaccessible and spectacular – he really wanted to show them this treasure.
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