Really, the beginning of a new year should be marked by the start of KAEM rather than something a random and pointless as new year’s eve. A whole year has passed since the full moon when it all happened and EVERYONE should be encouraged to celebrate the significance of that fact with the same enthusiasm as we do. As usual there was pandemonium and mayhem all over the Augrabies Lodge and the Augrabies Falls car park as runners and crew began to arrive and both emotional reunions and hilarious introductions played out all over the place. “Noooo ways Phil! I haven’t seen you for a DECADE and you look YOUNGER than last time! Guys, this is Julian, he’s been entering KAEM every year since 2012 but he keeps falling off stuff and breaking his neck or whatever. Jeepers keep him away from the falls then!”
Socialising and catching up are tempered by the endless packing and unpacking and repacking of kit. It seems completely impossible that one can spend so much time organizing 8kg of stuff. An outside observer would be forgiven for thinking we were absolutely bonkers or supremely inefficient. This is all in preparation for the official kit check that takes place after the race briefing. Estienne put’s the fear of God into the foreign and new runners by cautioning them not to sleep too far from the camp because of leopards, not to play with the black/cape cobras and or puff adders (like David Ball), to remain calm and stationary and blow our whistles in the event of a snake bite (as one is inclined to do), not to emit stress hormones around the swarms of bees, not to try to out-run a veldt fire but to charge through it with our extremities covered in wet clothing, to be vigilant about the colour and quantity of our urine…..
Its always interesting and panic inducing to see how much everyone else’s pack weighs (somewhere between 6 (how? HOW?)and 10 kg), to compare food and to see what are the non-negotiables for some:
Altie has freeze dried apple crumble for the dark moments (with a sparkler), Julie has an inflatable pillow, Karien has whiskey, I have olive caviar, herrings, a spice rack, Henry has a slice of his wife, Margaret’s fruit cake wrapped in foil for every day. John brings a giant steak with masses of fat on it for the first 2 nights, Gary has parmesan cheese, whiskey and bright funky clothing, Estelle has mascara, lip gloss and an ipod…
It seems that the racing snakes derive their happiness from winning rather than from material things because they have shakes and protein bars made from crickets..…really. This would make me unbearably sad. I would be in a deep depression by day 3, weeping weakly into my shake while everyone else sat around braaing steaks or guzzling whiskey.
I am delighted with my pack (thank you Philip Boardman, its like loaning someone your wife. Next level stuff! I worry she won’t be the same when I return her.) Thanks to Philip I don’t have to carry my steak in my hand like a baton for the first day, the pack has expanded to contain everything I need. I look pregnant, just not really and the wrong way round (thank God).
So I am planning for a slightly different slant on things this year – sort of Nigella of the desert, (just with neither the cleavage nor the glamour….in fact without much access to sexy ingredients either. Oh dear.)
30 min to the start. Whew! All the final prep has been done, bags are straining at the seams with all the last minute additions, the final rituals have taken place (mine involves the exactarrangement of my pigtails to ensure they look erect and jaunty. Not flaccid. It is impossible to feel powerful if one’s pigtails are not at quite the correct angle.
Day 1: 25 km
It is an unspeakable relief to finally close the last zip, realize that it is what it is, decisions are over, there can be no more debate about whether my Woolies Bruschetta will fit in (sadly not). As usual the relief and excitement of the beautiful start line with the diverse flags (Turkey, Belgium, Luxemburg, Germany, Canada, UK, Czech Republic, Ireland, Spain, Cornwall…) is too much for everyone and we all set off faster than we should. Released at last into the desert that will be our home and our nemeses for the next week. The 2 river crossings in the first few kilometres serve a natural selection function and suddenly everyone has spread out. I found myself trotting along with John and Ian (Jeepers, I can’t seem to get away from these 2!).
The beautiful purple mountains and the distant river immediately dominated the horizon and very quickly it felt as if we were all alone in the world (um…. except for Ian and John, of course). The solitude and the space is immediate (or would be…). Ed commented that when he saw the view he was the happiest he has been in two years. I think we all know what he means. In the first few kilometers we spotted a couple of giraffe, some runners barely missed both an ostrich and a couple of springbok sprinting across the road and the requisite skeletons began to appear. The sheer volume of things that have expired within a km radius is always a bit of a wake up call. In all the elation of this race one has to remember to respect the Kalahari, anything can happen, a lot of stuff can go pear shaped very fast.
Jeep tracks gave way to sandy river gorges (as they always do, despite Estienne’s promises that this year, as a courtesy to Nadia, river beds would be eliminated. Ja, right!) We were mostly grateful for the strong wind which kept temperatures down, except for Estelle (who weighs virtually nothing and worried about being blown off her feet at one point). She commented that she was grateful for the first time ever for her backpack which helped keep her featherweight self grounded. Before we knew it we were all sitting around the gazebos dribbling and staring like we always do for the first 30 min after our arrival (although Julie has insisted that we re-brand the dribble/stare as meditating. It sounds more elegant, apparently.)
This is going too fast! Day 1 is done already and I can’t help wanting to slow it all down. Everyone is in camp, everyone is in great spirits. No issues or injuries (although John’s hamstring is not on top of it’s game. This may impact the performance of Team Border which I was hoping would dominate the field). This is a first in my experience, there is always someone who drops out on day 1 from the sheer shock to the system if nothing else.
Day 1 continued…
So my computer was whipped away before the end of the actual day, which meant that the in-camp shenanigans were excluded from yesterday’s report. We can’t possibly have that because all the hilarity in the tents and round the braai is what its all about.
We have officially named 2 of the Gazebo’s: We have “(Rule) Brittanica” which is full of Pom’s (under the dubious leadership of Harry.) They are occupying themselves getting bad tans and throwing their weight around (mainly trying to annex other Gazebo’s with rich natural resources). They are also trying to issue orders to anyone stupid enough to listen and impose their opinions on the colonials (Thank God both the Irish and Afrikaans contingent are staging a rebellion of sorts with a motley crew of freedom fighters including the Kroonstad Trio.) The other Gazebo to be named is “The Ghetto”. This is because the folk in it are larger than life and very loud and take up a LOT of space. It seems very full. When we did an actual head count we established that there were no more people in it than in the other Gazebo’s, but it certainly feels very crowded. Also we aren’t so sure of sanitation and stuff. The Ghetto’s neighbours were reportedly forced to medicate to bind their stomachs as Morgan feared a typhoid outbreak in the area and the medical team are resisting going into the Ghetto for obvious reasons. The people purportedly responsible for the lowering of the tone and the overcrowding are Julian (who has not fallen off anything to date), Pierre and Joseph. For some inexplicable reason Nadia is sharing their space, possibly in a supervisory role? It isn’t working.
Day 2: 35 Km 40+ degrees (allegedly, although this has not been confirmed).
The day began with a staggered start (4 start times between 6.30 and 8am) which is always great fun as it motivates the front guys to persistence hunt the folk ahead of them and the slower runners/walkers to try and elude the chasers for as long as possible. I get really into it in a “Lord of the Flies” kind of way and I think everyone enjoys it because its really sociable and you get to see pretty much everyone instead of only the folk who move at your pace. The first 5km were my absolute favorite, lots of sand and rocks and beautiful river views. We left the river via the same hole in the fence that we passed through last year. I chuckled to myself as I remembered having to help Morgan through the wire in 2017 by using my knife to give the fence an episiotomy. Fortunately no similar surgery was required this time round (to my knowledge). Here’s hoping that the sturdier folk made it through.
It was great fun running through the vineyards and high fiving the farm workers (who all looked as if they thought we were nuts as they lounged in the shade on their day off). And then it got hard and it didn’t stop for the next 30km. There was a very serious climb for starters (we were just commenting the previous day that the one thing that ensures KAEM is doable is the relative absence of climbing. Obviously Dallas and Estienne overheard this comment and decided that they needed to rectify things.) Uphill sand, rocky tracks, unexpected heat, heavy packs all seemed to drag on longer than 35km. The only wildlife I saw was an enormous Koringkriek / Parktown Prawn (which I thought about bringing along for Pavel to braai tonight, before remembering Estienne’s instructions not to tamper with the fauna). Somehow the views and the company and the amazing crew got us through. It is getting hotter and hotter as I type and a few of our comrades are still out there. Here’s wishing them strength and godspeed it would be amazing to have a full house again tonight.
Well done to Gazebo 8 who are challenging the legendry Gazeothree (of 2017) and so far have dominated by being the first full Gazebo in 2 days in a row. Toosie and Estelle have been working tirelessly towards this goal since 2017.
In addition to the usual dribbling/staring, there were rather a number of tears shed today on arrival at camp, I think this is a combination of suffering, relief and the receipt of moving and fabulous messages from loved one’s. I have no messages from loved one’s and feel like Norman No Friends or the only person not to get a Valentine’s day card in primary school. Thanks family and friends! (Luckily everyone in camp feels sorry for me and have promised to send me messages today. Sophie, bless her heart, offered to let me read her messages to feel better. They are in Flemish or similar.)
Ian briefly succumbed to a heat attack and had to get rather a lot of attention from Rambo and friends (this involved, among other things, putting ice in his shorts and belly button.) Although we were very concerned for our mate Ian, it was also the main source of entertainment in camp so far. When Ian started making inappropriate jokes about the bottle of ice in his pants we knew he was out of the woods and all started abusing him as usual. (I think he just wanted a drip so that he would be in a position to challenge Bennie tomorrow.)
Patrick is still here having made it through day 2! Yay!
Julie has placed on record that she expects kick-ass abs by then end of this race. She has made it clear that there will be a strongly worded letter written to the organisers if this is not forthcoming. (This is the actual reason she is doing KAEM , not because of orphaned baby rhinos which was only mentioned to impress someone.)
Mark Gallen (or possibly Peter) is able to fit his entire head inside the ziplock bag that he cooks his meals in. This is in an effort to both launder it and get the last bits out. It is immensely entertaining.
Day 3: 38km, 30 something with lots of humidity (but no miggies)
First some extra details about day 2:
So yesterday a lot of runners came in looking bleak having really struggled with the heat. A couple of them immediately needed intervention from the medics and there was an hilarious moment when Retha (who was dribbling/staring/meditating as one does) caught a glimpse of Gary’s feet protruding from the medics tent in puce/grey toe socks much the colour of a corpse I would imagine. She panicked and thought he may have expired: Oh my God are those his feet?? We had to reassure her quickly that his actual toes (under the socks) were a healthy shade of pink.
Something I only found out much later about day 2 was the fact that Sybille had her bottom inadvertently set alight at checkpoint 3 by Mich who had made a fire to smoke out the bees. He was waving a flaming torch around in an effort to encourage the bees to move on (if I have the story correct.) There seems to have been no damage (other than to her dignity) when the entire crew had to douse her nether regions to quench the flames. (This story may have been embellished/ exaggerated slightly in the repeated telling of it, maybe someone actually present at checkpoint 3 can clarify the facts).
Dinner time brought its usual fun and games and we were so tormented by the midges that Morgan (Karate Kid, because of the fabulous way he wears his towel tied around his head) treated us to the epic fail of trying to feed himself with his insect net still on. It was fabulously entertaining and he will be mocked mercilessly for this.
On a different note, Erica wrote such a beautiful note about day 2 that I have to include it:
“I sat with Fransa* at dusk talking about the Kalahari and the Khoi and dreaming about future adventures. Pella to Vioolsdrif Wild Walk, many moons to come….and while we were talking and sifting through the white sand , we unearthed tiny red garnets, little desert rubies. Reminding us how ancient and special this place is. Privilege.” Erica Terblanche
*Fransa is one of the contenders for the most elegant runner/walker of 2018. She is remarkably clean and wears a cotton dress over her tights. She is amazing.
And now finally about day 3
The morning was remarkably cool and windy, the weather gods REALLY smiled on us. Had it not been for this fact there would have been a LOT more casualties today. Before we set off (4 staggered starts once again to maximize persistence hunting joy), Bennie helped me repair my pack, which was down to 1 strap from the original 3. He was fascinating to watch. I had been stuffing around ineffectually with some cable ties and a knife when he decided to take over. I think my ineptitude was too much for him. Five minutes later my strap was as good as new and I am eternally grateful. Bennie is a man of many talents, just saying. Be like Bennie….
We started the day with a very technical steep climb out of a narrow river gorge and were gloriously rewarded with the most spectacular sweeping vistas at the top of the climb. (As I said, the only thing that keeps this race manageable is the lack of climbing…..)
Admittedly, because we are camping at the river tonight, there was a downhill trend (mostly) after that. 38km of rocky and/or sandy jeep track followed, always with the most vast and beautiful views to reward us when we could look up from the rocky path. Quiver trees were in abundance today (my absolute favorite), Craig spotted a snake, Erica saw a herd of kudu, Estelle and I spotted a lone Gemsbok (astonishingly, as we were engrossed in chatting at the time.) We also saw a lot of dead things lying around, today they mainly seemed to be dead legs and feet. Funny that. I had to step over a number of shin bones with their hooves still attached and felt extreme sympathy for the victims, we could all very much relate to their state of disrepair.
On a positive note, it is said that Harry shared his special fruitcake with Altie in a dark moment today (they are now exploring a possible adoption). Less happily, someone called Cynthia a Yank (she is Canadian and therefor obv very offended), Ian had to backtrack at least 2km to retrieve a forgotten water bottle, a couple of folk succumbed to Kalahari belly (but seem to have it under control), feet are starting to fall apart (I just heard a bloodcurdling shriek from the medics tent as Jan had her blister injected with methylate), but everyone was massively motivated to finish by the thought of the river as our destination today. The unspeakable joy of having a swim, washing ones stenching clothing and knowing that the opportunity exists to get cool and clean again before bed time.
We are all waiting for our brave Mama Nadia and her chaperone (Julian) to arrive and then we will be complete. There is a definite trepidation in the camp tonight as we try to prepare for the looming long day tomorrow.
“Coming down the mountain after CP 3, all alone on the sandy, rocky track….absolute silence and suddenly 40 Kudu came charging through the brush , black tails aloft, dust kicked up as they cross the road at high pace. My heart racing as my cadence suddenly match theirs for a short while until they disappear around the hill, taking with them a piece of the desert magic.”Erica Terblanche
“It’s the 3rd day and I feel better, the weather saved me. After 3 meltdowns yesterday I almost quit, but my tent mates helped me to make the decision not to stop. I cried the whole way through the last leg yesterday and for most of the night, but they carried me through. Awesome. I’m sore and sunburned and blistered but in better spirits today and pray that step by step I will get through. I can’t not finish. I have to do this. But I’m going to need help”. Este Bezuidenhout
Note: Toosie gave her a lollipop, Estelle gave her facecream (you have no idea what that means) and everyone else has been dispensing love, hugs and advice. She’s broken the back of this beast! We are so proud of her!!!
“Please send help. Being held captive and forced to run through the desert. Holding up ok but down to my last cheesecracker.” Mark Gallen(Mark came to the Kalahari under the false impression (possibly created by Andy or Peter) that he was going on an English walking holiday or similar…)
“Today’s wildlife sightings: 1034 x miggies, 1 times spitting cobra. Need new underwear.”Russell Nugent
Day 4: 78km. Cool (the word on the street is that Harry colonized our weather. For once we are not complaining.)
As usual before we get to day 4, there are some loose ends to tie up from the previous evening. Rain was threatening on night 3 and our Kamp Kommandant mentioned at briefing (after his rather stirring motivational speech to get us amped for the long day) that there was a possibility that we may have to evacuate camp which was set up in a river bed. Oh dear. Also it was cold and windy (so much so that a tent pole fell on Nikki’s head in the night) and I was grateful for the decision to bring my sleeping bag instead of a bivvy. Erica is less fortunate and looks like a bag lady at night with a figure hugging plastic bag as a top and a bin bag for her bottom half to insulate her insubstantial sleeping arrangement. Ronnie on the other hand has a glorious white onesy made out of something light and flimsy.
My favorite comment of the day came from Pierre (after protracted discussion around his urgent need for a girlfriend). Poor Dalene suffered a minor injury tripping over the guy ropes and Pierre sprang into action to offer to comfort her. He managed to get his wires a bit crossed: “I am a storm in any port!” he declared with confidence. That he is! The rest of the Ghetto is all in perfect agreement. Another epic comment: Estelle was bewailing the fact that her legs were covered in gashes and bruises and wouldn’t look their best in her rokkie at the prize giving. Erica’s reply: “Toe maar, DIE’ ouenslaaikdit!” (the bruises and gashes, that is).The epic fail of the day was Nadia brushing her teeth with Germolene, and being so tired she didn’t even notice.
I have been neglecting to write about my fabulous food, but will make up for it today. Altie and I are planning to draw up a menu for the rest day (we planned this while I was watching her eat her freeze-dried apple crumble. She gave me THREE WHOLE SPOONS of it so now she is my new BFF. We are planning a sleepover at her gazebo for later in the week and I’m going to plait her hair on the rest day.)
My Kedgeree breakfast in preparation for the long day was simply epic. Delicious beyond measure and a perfect combination of carbs, omegas and protein: Woolworths precooked grains (multicolored rices and quinoa), with a full tin of smoked herrings, a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds and a dash of Nando’s chili sauce, seasoned to taste with rock salt and freshly ground pepper. All this while everyone else is eating Futurelife! My cup runneth over!
The long day is very challenging on every level and the first mental hurdle is the wait. Runners set off in small groups thirty minutes apart between 6am and 1 pm. This is to ensure that we all get to experience both heat and night running and also keeps the field more or less together. But the sitting around waiting is really hard. So much so that I was forced to have a follow up breakfast of chicken and veg soup, mature cheddar and a seeded wrap. That helped to pass the time until 11.30 when I finally set off with Robert (who’s belly has thankfully recovered), Ronnie, Craig and Estelle (who took of like a bat out of hell never to be seen again). The first two legs of the day were my favorite so far and were astonishingly beautiful, especially in the cool weather with the brooding purple clouds instead of the usual intense sunlight that often turns the view into nothing but a glare. Running up the increasingly narrowing Duiwelskloof, imagining the watchful eyes of leopards in the craggy caves and inhaling the unspeakably beautiful smell of a few rain drops on the dusty parched earth….I was so firmly in my happy place that I had to take a few moments to quietly (for once) express my gratitude to everyone who makes this extraordinary experience possible. A group who had left earlier (Retha, Este, Julie, Sophie) had been followed up the Duiwelskloof by a large pack of baboons, so their experience was slightly less euphoric.
I was treated to some springbok leaping effortlessly across the road directly in front of me and relished the solitude of running alone with only brief interactions as I passed someone or someone passed me. It is always a bonus to imagine which fabulous crewmembers would be at the next checkpoint – they all have an ability to make you feel like their very favorite child. I was especially delighted to know I would see Mich and Rolien at 2 checkpoints. In 2017 I ran most of the race with Mich and I thought about him often, especially on the long day.
I had the good fortune to hook up with Craig the dairy farmer (who is allergic to milk. seriiaaas) between about 25km and 45km and we got into a nice rhythm and ran along distracting each other happily with stories. I can’t recall the exact context, but he came up with a complete gem at one point which almost caused me to collapse in my (sandy) tracks from pure hilarious delight: “Ja, (he said sagely and with much gravitas) they get much stronger after they calve.” (This was with reference to woman runners.) Shortly after I met up with Craig we passed a glorious party bus of 4 (led by Owen and Fonnie – a faction of the Kroonstad Trio) who kept picking up stragglers until they were 8 strong. Apparently they took it in turns leading the bus, declaring time for group wee breaks(many), baked virtual cakes, called time for going fast and slow, learned and performed the Leeuloop song (by Robbie Wessels – the mind boggles) and even rewarded each other with a phone call to a special someone from Fonnie’s Nokia (when there was signal). I bet they will remember the long day forever. This is the camaraderie of the KAEM at its best. Brothers in arms suffering flat out but laughing through it all and getting each other over the line.
One of my highlights of the day was coming across a secret compartment in my pack that I had forgotten all about. I had stashed TWO pairs of A-Team socks in it and then proceeded to forget about it. I came across them by pure chance at about the half way mark and was emotional with gratitude. Nothing makes me happier than fresh fluffy socks (except a good meal perhaps).
We were treated to the most exquisitely beautiful lingering sunset – I was running along a plateau at the time and the sky seemed like an endless and magical world of color and beauty, with quiver trees and rocky outcrops silhouetted against the pink and silver sky. Wow! Another moment of extreme bliss.
I stopped for dinner at the second last checkpoint and had a brief instant (mid tuna and parmesan wrap) of semi melt-down when I realised that my special pain management treat planned for checkpoint 7 and carefully stashed in a very safe place was now nowhere to be found! Expletive!! I tossed everything out my pack in a frantic tantrum search before realizing I was actually fine and not in need of pain management after all. My joy levels were still pretty high and I didn’t require drugs, especially with the sparkly glitter rocks shimmering a path home in the light of my headlamp.
Despite all my waxing lyrical and despite the good weather and the beauty of the stage, a 78 km day on the back of 3 tough days with a heavy pack is always hard. Especially when it includes a lot of sand (uphill sand, flat sand, downhill sand). There is no one who didn’t have to dig deep yesterday at some point. I was relieved and grateful to see the lights of the finish with my sense of humor undented (mmmm….other than that drug loss moment).
One thing I know for sure, if you have not run along alone (or with a KAEM brother in arms) in the magical quiet of the Kalahari moonlight, you haven’t quite lived. Just saying.
Rambo and Louis (bless their hearts) have created a paradise for us on the banks of the mighty Orange, we are all putting ourselves back together and doing our laundry and washing our hair with Omo (a useful tip from Toosie. Who needs salon shampoo!?) I would be lying if I said we do not fear the big, hot day tomorrow. But for now we are living in the moment. I am excited to make my long awaited pizzas this evening and to finally get the weight of my ingredients out of the pack. Special news and further detail on that to follow.
“Had a moment in the riverbed at 2.30 am this morning. Threw a tantrum and refused to go another step. But all to no avail. We finished it.”Karlien
“Ek het altydgehoorvan die KAEM Familie, nou het ekditbeleef. Nerens het ek op Comrades, Ironman of Cape Epic hierdie close omgeebeleefnie. Goedgereel. Kanniebeternie.Dankie KAEM team.” Paul Maree
“We are on a lovely walking holiday and have learned some valuable lessons from the long day:
1. Bring more cheese biscuits
2. Take more Harry
3. Wear gaiters or you will end up in the construction supply business.”
Day 6: stage 5, 48km (44’ at some point but probably hotter).
Jeepers! Someone just turned the heat up! That was hard. But before we start with the extreme difficulty of today, a brief mention about my culinary triumph last night. It completely exceeded my expectations on every level. Thanks to Rambo and Louis and the lovely boys for supplying a tiny fire which enabled me to pull off this desert pizza cooking conquest. So for 5 days I lugged bases, tomato paste, olives, olive pesto (with rosemary), Parmesan, mini salamis and chili around the desert for the joy and entertainment of eating it on the night of the rest day. And it was worth it on every level. I had meant to have a whole lot of them to share around but in the end there were only 2 because I got hungry and had to eat the extra bases earlier than planned. There were about 10 pieces to share with 54 maatjies…. it got quite competitive. (Actually 53. Harry refrained from competing because “you never eat another man’s rations”.)
Altie reckons that when she ate some of the leftovers of the olive pesto her ankle immediately felt better. (I considered making a poultice out of the dregs but in the end fed it to someone instead. It may not have worked and that would have been a waste).
There was a palpable sense of fear in the camp this morning as everyone prepared for what is known to be the toughest day of the week. The weather predictions certainly didn’t help. I had a brief moment of panic when I realised my scalp was getting too sunburned to allow the continued existence of my pigtails but thankfully Craig (of “they get stronger when they calve” fame) saved the day by producing some alcohol based suntan spray that enabled me to adequately slather my scalp. Whew. We set off in 5 groups between 6 am and 8 am and it was already hot by the time I set off with the 8am group. I decided I needed to occupy myself with something that would make me happy and so I trailed behind the racing snakes (I had no choice anyway), admired my pigtailed shadow and made up a rhyme that went like this:
“We do not fear this desert heat
In fact it makes us quite upbeat
We have had enough to eat
In tip top shape are our 2 feet
(lies, all lies)
Today we will not just complete
Our stage 5 strat is to DEFEAT!”
(failing which we will fall on our own penknives in a Gazebo 7 suicide pact (sort of like a cyanide pill) which will at least secure us an honorable discharge.)
I performed it for myself the whole way up the first riverbed and then for virtually everyone I passed. They seemed mostly confused, but gracious. I was hoping to catch up with John and convert it into a rap again (he does the beat box sound and the expletives) but he (and a number of others) had taken a detour and when we met up and I didn’t feel like it would be emotionally intelligent to insist on his creative input. Maybe later… A number of people took the detour, including Erica, who clocked up an extra 6 km as a result (but still came in ahead of the other women) and managed to have a brilliant attitude throughout the mishap. I think she will receive a Zen Garden as an award this evening, representative of her astounding mindset. Apparently a lot of runners (who didn’t get lost) were treated to a herd of kudu at approx. the position of the “detour”.
Stage 5 was super tough. There is no getting away from the fact. We are physically and mentally exhausted, many people have injuries and blisters and today was long and hot and difficult on every level. It was all about management out there: Manage hydration, manage nutrition, manage temperature, feet, headspace. Manage expectations and check point yearning. One sip Drip-Drop (electrolytes), 2 sips water, one foot in front of the other, run as much as possible….put something in my mouth at every checkpoint, practice my poem.
And then with about 2 legs to go I had the extraordinary good fortune of catching up with Harry, Peter and Paddy (who reacts positively to abuse) and suddenly things felt easier and more fun. Harry (70) is a retired Sergeant Major (really!!) and telling people what to do comes easily to him. Although I don’t usually respond well to orders, I found it surprisingly fabulous to obey his instructions to run/walk. The 3 of them were hilarious and wonderful company and the km’s ticked away quicker than I had hoped. Still, it was an enormous relief to stop. The walking wounded are trickling in, there are some folk who are over-heating, feet look trashed, there is an interesting heat rash, a lot of emotion, unrivalled camaraderie, an animated Brexit discussion (WTF?). We are getting it done. Together. One step at a time. It is just starting to dawn on us that this is our last night. How did that even happen? Hallelujah! SOB!
Its worth mentioning that the Irish and Boere were separated from Britannica in an effort to reduce conflict (and pillaging) but it seemed that they (Irish and Boere) missed their abusers (our own case of Stockholm Syndrome) so they are all back together again in the same tent tonight. Anything could happen….
Day 7: Stage 6, 26km, unbearably hot.
I know today is meant to be a mere formality…I mean what is a measly 26km when you already have 224 in the bag. But that’s the challenge of this day. You think it’s over but its not. This was my toughest day, hands down.
As always lets wrap up yesterday before we get ahead of ourselves. Stage 5 was very tough for a lot of people and it was a huge relief to have everyone home in one piece. It was touch and go for a lot of runners and the angel medics had their hands full dealing with nausea and stomach issues, incredibly high body temperatures, dehydration and shredded feet. By far the most interesting ailment was the lurid heat rashes being sported by a number of runners (Nikki, Sophie and Julie deserve a special mention.)
Some of us walked out to meet Nadia, Julian and Fransa as dusk was beginning to fall and as we walked I was struck by the beauty of our camp. When I approached the race village much earlier in the day in the full glare of the sun, tired and focused on getting off my feet, I didn’t appreciate the care with which the camp had been chosen and the loveliness of its setting. I’m so glad I got to approach it again at dusk, to see it in all it’s elegant beauty set among the ancient piles of rocks, the Bedouin type tents looking like a celestial city in the shimmering pink distance. (Thank you for all your care and attention to detail Louis and Rambo. You guys rock!)
Everyone was shattered at the end of a brutal day and the awards ceremony was fairly brief. There were no real surprises: Princess Ian was the Stirrer (of course), Harry was the recipient of the Duct Tape award, John was the Snorer for the second year in a row. Sarie was the Desert Mermaid (most glamorous and groomed), Este won the closely contested Hectic Tan Award. As always there was much banter and hilarity and large doses of well-meaning abuse. One of the highlights of the evening was having Harry demonstrate that he was able to wear his KAEM buff as a skirt (something that only a very few very petite women have managed over the years and certainly not something I can ever aspire to. It should be noted that Fergus may now also be in a position to wear his buff in a similar fashion following his unfortunate and unplanned hunger strike. This will make him only the second male ever to achieve this feat.)
The absolute best part of the evening (other than the exquisite red moon rising behind us as we all gathered as “Survivors” for the first time) was the fact that Altie gave me one of her precious apricot crumble servings. OMG. I have no words. The absolute ecstasy of that dessert.Nextlevel stuff. Indebted for life!
“I started the 5th stage 8 minutes behind Pavel who was in 4th place. I harboured the secret intention of challenging him or at least making him earn it. At the 42km mark, with 6km to go, I eventually caught sight of him. He looked as though he was struggling in the heat. Coming up to him I launched a limp-wristed attack with the crazy idea of taking 8 minutes on him in 6km. Looking back now I realize that my arms were moving faster than my legs. And Pavel was having none of it. He stuck to me like sh*** on a blanket. PAVEL! The People’s Champ!”Russell Nugent
Day 7: stage 6
And then today dawned and the anxiety of the staggered start began to take hold as we all waited around in the increasing heat, cheering our comrades off in small groups every half hour from 6am. Somebody came up with an excellent word of advice: “Don’t strip your thread out there today!” Indeed. No-one should ever strip their thread. I set off at 9.30 and pretty much everyone in my group immediately disappeared over the horizon (I worried about their threads…). Their sights were firmly set on beer. I really enjoyed having Fergus’s company for the first leg. (He is a very strong runner, of the finely tuned thoroughbred variety, and I only got to hang out with him because he was in a weakened state after being unable to eat for a number of days. I of course was in the exact opposite condition, having not lost a single gram……on the contrary.)
Fergus and I parted ways after the first checkpoint and I spent the rest of the 20km alone. As I said earlier, I found today spectacularly hard and I had to dig deep, do some power posing, practice my poem and finally be quite stern with myself in order to recover my joy and power myself to the finish. It was long and hot and supremely difficult. This is a mental race more than anything and you can’t allow yourself to slack off until you have taken the very last step. Some of our comrades really struggled over the finish line today and demonstrated the kind of bravery that you don’t get to see often in our coddled every day life. You are all Legends and I’m proud to know you.
Sooo well done to the speedster podium finishers: Bennie, Xavi Mark, Erica, Toosie Estelle, you are (humble and very lekker) Legends too.
The real hero’s of this race are the people who are out for the longest. It is incredibly difficult to be up in the dark before everyone else every day and home last. It is so hard to spend all day in the sun and on your feet and to have almost no recovery time. I am blown away by the courage it takes to do this every day.
KAEM is different from any other stage race I have ever done because it is a family in the truest sense of the word. Every crew member and participant is utterly invested in the wellbeing and success of every single runner. I don’t know how it happens but the level of camaraderie, genuine concern and love that develops in this extraordinary week is something astonishingly unprecedented. This does not happen at other races.
I suspect that my brain may have partially melted and I am currently overwhelmed by choices…especially FOOD, wardrobe and toiletry choices (I am accustomed now to having a toiletry bag that contains a ration of 1 wet wipe a day and my toothbrush and evening wear in the form of a buff and a comparatively clean pair of shorts). I think I can only face the idea of getting clean and (relatively) groomed in phases. I will hose myself down now and have an industrial scrub. Maybe tomorrow I will attend to finer details… The absence of Gazebo 7, the presence of the doors and windows and the chilly aircon are all making me anxious. I am planning to allow my brain and this uncommon experience to settle. Race reflections and many thank you’s to follow soon.
Comments (few and far between by this stage.)
En so breek die laaste dag aan. Heer het ekhardemense leer ken, en ek het baierespekvir elk eenwatdeelneem. Ons twee SA atlete, Bennie en Erica is so nederig. Ek is trots op hulle. Amazing dathullesaam met my die trail deel en bietjiegesels met die verbygaan. Eksalbaiemoedmoetbymekaarmaakomterugtekom, want dit was TOUGH. Paul Maree(and this is from someone who has done the Cape Epic a couple of times, Iron Man, Comrades the WORKS! Just saying.)
Some post KAEM reflections:
This may be the first in a series of reflections. I have so many random and disjointed thoughts that I have no idea how to herd them all into some semblance of logic or group them into themes, so bear with me.
My first post race thought is that this may well be the “oldest” KAEM to date. The average age in 2018 was 49.6 years young. (Oldest: Harry at 70, youngest: Pavel at 33. Only a handful of folk under 40). I wonder if this accounts for the rather alarming number of falls we had this year?) It doesn’t surprise me in the least that there are predominantly older entrants in a race like KAEM because we all know that endurance increases as we get older, that it is more about mental than physical toughness, and that experience is key. Still, 2018 seemed unprecedented. I wonder if it’s the start of a fabulous new trend? I have been utterly inspired by the 60+ brigade who were out in force in the Kalahari. It’s marvelous to know that we are good to go for another 30 years at least. (I hope my retirement annuities stretch to include race entries, what with inflation and all.)
Another thought that made a deep impression on me post 2018 is that KAEM is within the reach of anyone who commits to adequate preparation. This experience is all about a whole bunch of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. It is not just a race for the chosen few super athletes (although we have our fair share of those too.) This event is a testament to the bravery and commitment of very ordinary men and women who allow themselves to dream big and to the crew of supporters who move mountains to help them realize those dreams. There are runners who sacrificed their own performance on legs/days/the whole event to carry a comrade through (there are COUNTLESS stories I could tell and I don’t even know them all.) There are crew members who stay up all night, who walk for miles between checkpoints to make sure a participant is ok, who sacrifice the chance of FAR more relaxing holidays, who put up with our grumpy low blood sugar/lost pain treat moments. This is what I said at the end of day 5, but I need to say it again:
KAEM is different from any other event I have ever done because it is a family in the truest sense of the word. Every crewmember and participant is utterly invested in the wellbeing and success of every single runner. Really. I don’t know how that happens but the level of camaraderie, genuine concern and love that develops in this extraordinary week is something quite astonishing. This does not happen at other races. I think the norm is that (at best) no one really gives a toss if you drop out and (at worst) many are secretly rather delighted if others fail. Maybe it further validates them. But here someone will (literally) hold your hand, come out to find you, sacrifice their performance, give you their rations to get you through. Its pure magic and I don’t even pretend to understand how or why it happens but I know it does because I have witnessed it year after year.
Random thought number 3: Despite the fact that I am usually a fairly optimistic and cheerful person and despite the fact that I had the most physically comfortable and happy KAEM yet, I had (for no apparent reason) a really mentally tough final day. This gave me the (uninvited but undoubtedly beneficial) opportunity to practice some good mental discipline. Somebody said in a conversation on the rest day: “Perceived effort increases in direct correlation to negative thoughts.” Of course it does! I had to get her to repeat it so I could commit it to memory. I am not particularly inclined to self pity and negative thoughts but they have the ability to sneak up on you like a pack of wolves. Especially when you are alone and when resistance to them is lowered by tiredness or pain. One negative thought can reproduce like bacteria in a portalooand in no time at all you can be heading straight down the rabbit hole. (“I’m coming last in my whole starting group/ I am so useless, I am the loser queen of 4th place, I just totally don’t have what it takes, blah blahblah”.) I would never think or say stuff like that about/to my mates. In fact I wouldn’t say stuff like that to anyone who isn’t my mate. So why do I say this stuff to me? Within minutes of entering the downward spiral of despair, perceived effort ramps off the charts while actual performance basically stops. It’s a bit like throwing out a massive anchor or hauling on the handbrake. But self-pity is a very sneaky thing because it actually starts off feeling like an illicit pleasure. (Yum! I think I may just have a quick pull on this delicious self-pity! ) There’s something almost seductive about allowing yourself to slip down the rabbit hole. Clawing your way out isn’t nearly as good because it takes mindfulness and rather a lot of boring effort. With 20 km to go to the finish I had to practice getting out the rabbit hole. Practice HARD. With immediate effect. Anyway, we all know what to do; it’s the actual doing that’s the tricky part:
- Be reflective/self aware enough to immediately recognize, admit and apprehend pointless or destructive thoughts
Admit that they are bad for me
- Recognize that they massively increase my perceived effort (and reduce or eliminate joy/strength)
- Make a conscious decision to occupy my mind with something uplifting/funny/ for which I feel gratitude (plan in advance what to think about in the inevitable dark places. If in doubt think about Harry.)
- Smile idiotically until my face gets the message to the rest of me
- Be sufficiently disciplined to keep patiently bringing myself back to the right thought pattern (rather than slothfully) disappearing into the deep dark woods of gloom. (Anne Lamott uses the analogy of housetraining a beloved puppy: Keep bringing it gently back to the newspaper. Don’t kick it in the head the first time it screws up! Do this with your headspace.)
- Repeat (as often as necessary).
Random thought number 4 which is not unlike one of my post race thoughts from last year: Something else extraordinary occurs when a group of people are thrown together so out of their comfort zones and then pushed to the very edges of their previously perceived ability to endure exhaustion and agony. It’s much like going to war together or surviving a disaster. Everything is stripped away and we become more exposed to ourselves and to each other in a matter of days than we may in an entire lifetime of ordinary days and ordinary meetings. Hermien is sometimes able to capture that essence that is left after the stripping away. And that is why some of her images can move me to instant tears. We have seen the best (and most bizarre in some cases) of each other and witnessed the strength and the beauty at the core of our brothers in arms (even if only very fleetingly in certain cases 😉 and that is why friendships were forged this week that may last a lifetime. (Ok so it’s a bit of a pity we are all so old, lifetimes may not be that long..).
Things I would do exactly the same:
- Pack fabulous pizza ingredients and execute a food triumph on the rest day!
- Pack 10 pairs of socks and change them at the smallest hint of flagging joy levels.
- Pack a large zip lock full of foot powder and leave a magical trail of powder puffs across the Kalahari
- PLAY at every opportunity
- Create and inhabit a fantasy world of my own invention
- Form a first impression and then take delight in proving myself totally wrong
- Use dried chilies, smoked herrings, pizza slices as currency for other necessities (like apricot crumble).
- Leave my gps at home so as to avoid checkpoint yearnings
- Wear my amazing Merrell trail shoes that left my feet perfectly pink and blister free with intact nail polish
- Pack a mini spritzer/spray bottle
- Pack a very thin sarong to use as a sheet/skirt/changing room/shroud/girder of loins/cape of awesomeness/prop for drama in 3 parts
- Encourage Harry to continue to attempt to colonize everyone and everything (including the weather)
Things I would remember to pack/not pack:
- no revolting commercial freeze dried food (other than desserts)
- wax earplugs to block out the wind noises (both sorts) and the disturbing sounds of the “Ghetto”.
- vacuum packed cheese and salami sandwiches (clever hiking trick of Karlien’s)
- add a desert dessert pizza to my repertoire. I’m thinking nuttella, banana chips, mini marshmallows, toasted sesame…
Bizarre ideas that surprisingly seemed to work out:
- Ian’s idea to bring the Irish.
- Paddy’s idea to bring a great big novel along in his bag. Forever Young I think it was called. An apt title for the elderly but young at heart participants of KAEM 2018.
- And the winner: John’s utterly bizarre idea to run in 2 completely different shoes:
“To cut a long story short my right leg is appropriately 3 cm shorter than my left leg and foot also one size smaller due to a childhood hip disease I had for a few years resulting in an underdeveloped right leg.
So I’ve always walked with a slight limp as I don’t have any height adjustments to my right shoe. So when I run I can feel the height difference but I’ve learnt to live with it.
This year in preparation for KAEM I bought the usual shoes I run in, AltraLonepeak as well as a pair of HokaSpeedgoat II, which I thought I’d try again after buying the Speedgoat I a few years back. I was planning on seeing which pair I prefer and would use that pair to run the KAEM with. Unfortunately my left big toe was slightly touching the front of the Hoka and as we all know that’s a big no no for running 250k’s.
A week before leaving for KAEM I had a brainwave to try running with the Altra on my left foot and the Hoka on my right foot as the Altra has a zero drop sole and the Hoka has a relatively large sole, which as I hoped , would raise my right leg up so my legs would now be the “same length”. I tried running around the garden and it worked fantastically. My choice was made and I ran the KAEM with two different types of shoes. As they say “ never try something new before an ultra “.
I definitely could feel a positive difference on flat roads as well as running up hills and was very happy with my decision.
Now I’m stuck with having to buy two pairs of shoes before an ultra , which for someone with a shoe fetish is wonderful news.”
Where does one even start? I mean really?
- Nadia and Estienne, words fail me. Thank you for dreaming KAEM into reality. You have created a beautiful legacy.
- Dallas…you are enough of a legend for me to forgive you the river-beds. Thanks for all the hours of missioning that made this happen. Could you just please remember to bring your wife along next time?
- Thanks Gen, (the apparent calm at the centre of the storm) Simon (I want to be your groupie!) Hermien (an absolute force of nature – maybe a Kalahari thunderstorm?) Simone’ (the pocket sized dynamo), Dangerous Dave (exactly like the big bad wolf in my childhood Red Riding Hood). You are all astounding and somehow create a magic alchemy despite being polar opposites.
- All the medics from Namaqua Paramedic Services. Yho! I have a story about each of you but suffice it to say that you made each of us feel like the epicenter of the universe every time we saw you.
- Fiona, Chris (my special super man!), Jess and Nicole . You basically cobbled us back together again every day. My legs feel better than they did before the race started. You are the best!
- The entire crew. So totally invested in our wellbeing. How you make every one of us feel as if we are your very favorite child and there is no one in the world you would rather see. There is no way that this race could happen without you. Exhausted, filthy and boiling for the privilege of handing out luke warm water and enthusiasm/love/care to smelly runners…it takes a very special kind of person to do this day after day with apparent pleasure. How? HOW?
You all stand out and you are all astonishingly kind. We come back because of you. Thank you.
- The main manne in the Camp, TannieBrendes, Louis and Boys (Baby Rambo 1 and 2). Words fail me. How am I supposed to live without you? And those animal skin hats. OMG!
- Aquelle and OWK Wine Producers: The water and the wine. Thank you so much. Lifeblood.
- SAAB GrintekDefence Partners, the guys who kept it all together from a coms, visibility and tracking point of view. We are awed by you.
- Plato Lodge, Daberas Adventures and the landowners, thank you, there is no race without you.
- Augrabies Falls National Park, thanks for keeping us in such style before and after it all.
- Augrabies Falls Lodge and Camp, thanks for being the crew headquarters and feeding us like kings. I have stretch marks because of you. Just saying.
- Airlink, thanks for saving some of us a really long drive.
- Hydrastay, for giving us an energy boost when we needed one, aiding recovery, minimizing cramps.