Struggle is evident in every angle of the Namaqua landscape. This is equally true of the plants and people who survive and grow in this harsh place. There is something particularly compelling about a land and a people who have suffered – there is a richness, an abundance despite the deprivation, a pathos that creates a depth of character that cannot exist in easier climates or circumstances. Namaqualand has Grit. It moves me, it puts a lump in my throat and makes me want to lie face down on its scarred surface and feel its heart beat against mine. (And that was even before the race so it couldn’t have just been pure exhaustion.) I suspect we all felt it from the moment we came over Nieuwoudt’s Pass and looked down on the endless Knersvlakte for the first time. The emotion of the place bubbled over in the opening ceremony as we listened to Heidi (Muller of Kinetic Events) and Monika (De Jager of Namaqua Tourism) welcome us. The particular sentiment Namaqualand evokes is one of the elements that will etch Expedition Africa 2018 in our minds forever as an unforgettable recollection.
Our estimate is that we covered 635km in 144 hours, bagged 34 check points, gained and lost about 10 000 m and slept for 13 hours. We stuffed around with bike boxes for at least as many hours as what we slept. We experienced utter elation and complete despair, we froze and boiled (substantially more freezing than boiling), crashed through impassable undergrowth, fell off our bikes in semi comas induced by sleeplessness and consumed more calories than what I thought was humanly possible. We also laughed more than what is entirely decent under these conditions.
Team GRITnyamezela (Sakkie, Spoedniek, Doring and Ramkat*) set off from Doringbaai (the Bay of Doring) filled with optimism and galvanized into action by the distinctive call of the Bank Cormorant. In the disappointing absence of an actual Bank Cormorant, Doring turned in a flawless imitation. It is a particularly stirring call and is comparable to the sound of peristalsis/and or to the noise that often shortly precedes a projectile vomit (and I should know!). We darted along and up and down the cliffs, narrowly missing a rock fall and were elated by our first opportunity for spring boarding off the misfortune of others when team Castle Lite (like the Pied Piper with a couple of others behind) came hurtling back in the wrong direction… teams spread out quickly along the beaches beyond Strandfontein and soon leg 1 was in the bag and we had our first sighting of Oom JM (Jacques Marais) and Dudley (Dudley Wessels) at Transition 1.
And then began the mother of all paddles from the mouth of the Oliphant’s River. I have never paddled uphill, into a headwind and current, through mud before (that joy is usually reserved for cycling) but there always is a first for everything. For 3 hours we battled into the wind and current, freezing waves breaking over the front of the boat, battling to keep our craft on a straight course. And then the wind died down, or the river changed direction, we were bathed in beautiful golden sunlight, we fraternized with Darryl and Nolan of Team Designer Gold, were awed by the otter gamboling down the river (effortlessly) ahead of us and admired the black crowned night herons. And this was of course the first mood swing. Life was amazing, we were invincible, the bridge (the first milestone) was surely just around the corner and despite the bumpy start we were certain we would be in by sunset! We were feeling so fabulous in fact that we staged the first performance (of very very many) of our team mantra/poem/battle cry/rap to the (bewildered) Team Designer Gold. We each got to say 2 lines and it goes like this:
Syrysoos n bakkie
En Ramkat, sy is flippintaai
Maar as syhonger is, danraaksykwaai
Pasopvir mal ouoomSpoedniek
En Doring Dylhyskrikvirniks
Die vasbyt span gaanjulleblikssssss
So there we were, high on our own awesomeness for an hour or so, until it gradually dawned on us that we were stuck in a time warp and that the Oliphant’s River would never ever end…the sun set and the cold seeped deep into the inky blackness and still the bridge did not appear around the next bend, or the next or the next. After what seemed like an eternity of paddling we heard the distinctive shouts of JM who was halllooooing us from his position up a tree/dangling off a cliff/ on a tiny island. “Where’s the ***&&&&&$$%%% bridge???” Was our only ungracious response to his enthusiastic greetings. “Bridge? Oh its at least 3 or 4 km further up the river”. OMG omg! If there are stages of despair, we sunk a couple of notches. 4km to the first checkpoint at the bridge beyond which stretched millennia of further paddling torture. By this time my embarrassingly pansified tennis elbow was angrily demanding an intervention and stridently suggesting drugs. At long long last we were there and the unexpected warmth and local Jerepigo, the presence of JM and Duddles and the insanity of mistaking a bridge across a busy road for a good spot to strip off all my wet clothes in the headlights of the astonished local farmers got us going again for the second leg of eternity on the river. The relief when we eventually stopped after 11 hours on the water was short lived. Paddling a big heavy unwieldy boat beats the hell out of dragging it up vertical sandy riverbanks and along endless sandy ups and downs to the place we could eventually lay our troublesome burden down. I said goodbye to my boat with ZERO regret (I may have even kicked it) and stumbled along in the direction of Transition 2. It was so impressive and we had already been out there for so long that it almost looked like it could be the finish line. The path was lined with bonfires, the enormous farm shed was a hive of insane activity, the volunteers were astoundingly attentive and best of all it was warm and dry and there was unexpected FOOD in the form of snoek and sweet potatoes along with the delightful aromatic chicken curry I had left to defrost in transition box A. If it wasn’t the finish line then maybe we had died and gone to heaven?
After the endless admin of drying kit, refilling bottles and bladders, packing socks and warm clothing, replenishing food supplies and plotting a route it was time to confront the Knersvlakte*. The Plains of the great Gnashing (of teeth). I love that name. It conjures up so many images …the place of gnashing and wailing – it would be dramatically comic in a way that I utterly adore if it wasn’t very probable that some unfortunate early settlers died there of thirst and heat and deprivation. Team GRITnyamezela however was determined to make it out of the badlands alive. It was soon after we entered the Knersvlakte that Sakkie first requested the Superman Cape of Awesomeness. This was a very critical piece of team equipment because it is visual evidence that a teammate is struggling. Primarily the Cape means HELP! Putting the Cape on forces your team mates to slow down to support its wearer with games, stories, jokes, regmakers and fizz pops (and in extreme cases even Jaegermeister) while taking care not to go streaking ahead so as to ensure that the wearer does not become increasingly glum, demotivated and ultimately despairing as his/her teammates frolic off over the horizon. The cloak also has super powers, which seep into you while wearing it. Seriaaas.
The first full night out is always difficult and the endless hours between 2am and dawn felt like the original dark night of the soul. (“In a real dark night of the soul, it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day”. F. Scott Fitzgerald). At one point during the endless night we passed team Parallel who were attempting to sleep and whom we didn’t notice bedded down just beyond the reach of our extraordinary Extreme Lights. I was right in the middle of an animated trilogy with a projectile vomiting theme (intended to prevent Doring and Sakkie from slipping into a sleep coma) when we heard a resigned “Hello Kim” from the shadows. What it is to be recognised deep in the Knersvlakte in the middle of the night by complete strangers by your voice alone. I pondered on what this could mean……Is it possible that I talk more than most?
First light is at a leisurely 6.45 with sunrise a whole lot later. Adventure racing makes you appreciate the sunrise. I will never take it for granted ever again. Thank you thank you thank you for the unspeakable relief and blessing of light! First light on the Knersvlakte was something special…other than glimpses of the Japanese** team cheerfully (and very quickly) clocking up extra mileage in the completely wrong direction (their delightful pattern which emerged early in the race) it also revealed, between the endless paving of rock and stones, the most exquisite plump baby succulent thingies with fabulously brave little bursts of perky petals emerging from some of them. They had clearly become over-excited by the recent unseasonal rain and had mistaken autumn for spring in that ditsy flower child sort of way.…they made us insanely happy (more mood swings).
Leg 3 was characterised by good navigating and good choices…we left a number of teams bashing their heads against tree trunks and hopelessly shrieking “Cathy….Cathy!” in the riverbed (One of our favorite images inspired by Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights) and when we recognised Ratelgat in the distance we decided to bugger the conservative road option and make a beeline for it. Who could guess what insane obstacles may be hidden in the nooks and crannies between our current position and the distant Transition point but there was something unbearable about voluntarily moving away from it instead of towards it. It was a good move and we were at TP 3 before we knew it. After much stuffing around with bike boxes we set off on the insanely long ride to
Wuppertal. Team GritNyamezela made a lucky choice by rejecting the tempting: save “20km by hiking your bike for 2km” option. Our good fortune in avoiding what turned out to be a 4 hour nightmare of hoisting ones bike through fields of sinking mud and up a mountain littered with boulders the size of small countries and devoid of any actual paths gave us a lot of joy retrospectively (especially after hearing descriptions of Saffy’s facial expression and strings of expletives). Instead we got to (mostly) ride up the breathtakingly beautiful “Hel se Pas” at sunset which is a memory of such exquisite splendor that I will hold it in my heart forever. Then the sun set for the second time and the cold set in the dreaded mood swings returned as we cycled through the endless darkness towards the NieuwoudtvilleKerk. One thing kept me going: I had a good feeling about the Nieuwoudtvillekerktannies and the quality of food we could anticipate from their checkpoint. And they didn’t let us down. The checkpoint was a ray of beaming light and warmth, angelic beings bearing steaming plates of lamb pie and soetpampoen ushered us into the long awaited kerksaal. Monika and her band of many maatjies gave us a hero’s welcome and made us feel as if we were her very favorite children before we tucked ourselves into our sleeping bags on a hard cold floor for our first power nap of the race.
It took an insane amount of discipline to be back on the road in 3 hours heading out into the cold and misty drizzle at 2 am knowing that hours of freezing muddy darkness and lurking sleep monsters awaited us. Thank heavens for the Japanese (Korean, Vietnamese, Tai, Cambodian…) Team who allowed us to springboard off their extreme (though cheerful) misfortune. We had miraculously found the checkpoint in the misty darkness (in a ruin a couple of hundred meters off the road) after an endless climb and were heading down a pass with tangible relief when we saw headlights approaching us from the opposite direction. The Japs had cycled past the checkpoint without finding it and were now heading at least 10km back, uphill, into a headwind and driving rain, to find it. They showed no outward sign of grumpiness. How? HOW?
When the sun came up many hours later we were miraculously in the Cedarburg with its spectacularly distinctive rock formations. We stopped at a sheep shed for a breakfast of champions (tuna and Pringles) and once again all was right with the world and our happiness levels were spiking off the charts. That was until we started the 53km climb into Wuppertal. On the 20th time that I went through the process of thinking (optimistically) “I’m really certain this must be the top of the hill/climb/mountain/universe” only to come around a corner and see the road and my team disappearing into the clouds I was obliged to request Ground Control to Major Tom (code for “it’s a disaster”) AND the Cape of Awesomeness….sad fact is that on a bike the cape seems to swivel round to the front and recalibrate to become a bib of not so much awesomeness. Although the bib is not as impressive as the cape, it’s handy for mopping up snot, tears and dribble. The most overwhelming problem I experienced on EA was the fact that my newish cycling shorts removed 2 perfectly round grafts of skin from each bottom cheek and turned the raw patch into a blister the size of a R5 coin before popping the blister and converting the spot into a bloody wound. My skin came off with my shorts on arrival at Wuppertal. Bear in mind there is nowhere to get clean or administer first aid so I reversed into a bike box together with a wet wipe and Peter (Spoedniek) brandishing a spray bottle of methylate – it was like performing surgery on the beaches of Dunkirk…
By the time we had finished the endless admin of cleaning the bike, undoing the bike, packing the bike, reinforcing the disintegrating bike box with meters of duct tape, (we could have saved 6 hours just by having a canvas/plastic sleeve for the box as many of the old hands did) posting all possible items into the bike box for later retrieval, reorganizing food and warm kit for the next leg, refilling bottles and bladders, repacking the Transition box and lugging boxes to the trucks, forcing the increasingly unappealing freeze dried meals into our reluctant bellies, trying to dry our waterproof kit, we were finally issued with maps for the next 2 legs an hour or 2 before sunset. What to do? The next big trek was deep into the Cedarburg with a checkpoint on the top of Sneeukop. It wasn’t called that for nothing. It would be utterly freezing to spend a night out and hyperthermia would be pretty much a given unless there was some good shelter to be found. (During the course of that night the Swedish team pressed their SOS button and had to be rescued. And they are SCANDINAVIAN, FFS!). After much deliberation Doring and Spoedniek proposed that we should bank sleep for a few hours in the warmth and shelter of the Transition before heading off in the early hours of the morning on the more conservative route (short cuts across raging rivers and up steep gorges didn’t seem like a good idea in the dark). They predicted that the sun would begin to come up as we prepared for our assault on Sneeukop. That seemed like a good idea and we all agreed that we would bank sleep now (ahead of schedule) and push through the following night without sleep.
And so began the magical day of happiness and tutus and pink flowers and cedars. It didn’t get off to the best start as Doring had a latent injury which he feared was rearing its head. We stopped to strap it which created some secondary issues around possible blistering. We were nervous about the day and the big ascent and how the ankles of Spoedniek and Doring would hold out. Also, we felt slightly idiotic in our sparkly tutus, which we had insisted on wearing in a moment of bravado as we set off from the Transition. We performed our poem in the moonlight, bantered with Bucket of Hope who we passed on the climb, frolicked through sleeping Eselbank in our regalia (giggling at the reception we would have got if anyone had seen us) and were soon feeling fabulous again. Best of all, our clever boys had timed things perfectly – we left the jeep track as the light began to flood the beautiful landscape and were deeply grateful for the daylight which allowed us to choose an almost perfect line to the base of Sneeukop where the real climbing began. I couldn’t imagine why no one had bothered to create a path up the 2000m climb to Sneeukop? Surely hikers had been going there for decades? So we toiled up the mountain, rock hopping and dragging ourselves up cliff faces and through shrubbery. We summited mid morning together with Addicted to Adventure, posed for ridiculous photos straddling the fallen trig beacon in our outlandish tutus before the freezing gale forced us to beat a hasty retreat down the route we had come and then over a saddle into Jandisselsrivier Valley. For the first time on the whole route so far we were out of the wind and it was WARM! Oh bliss oh joy! There were astoundingly majestic cedar trees just standing around showing off, masses and masses of feisty little pink flowers had emerged from nowhere, beautiful golden grasses danced in the warm breeze and tinkling streams chortled and cavorted down the mountain. And just when we thought it couldn’t get any better JM appeared like a mad mountain goat on steroids, ramping happiness levels to euphoric status. It was more or less at this stage that my greatest moment of joy transpired: Doring had been telling us about C. Louis Leipoldt the Afrikaans poet and keen botanist who had spent a lot of time in the area and had the town of Leopoldville named after him. I misheard him and was enchanted with the idea of the respected, austere son of Rhenish missionaries being an enthusiastic BOTTOMIST! The tired mind boggled with delight at the insanity of it all and I almost collapsed from helpless mirth at the delightful images conjured up by being a bottomist. And so we trotted along to Transition 4, with brief needlework breaks for Spoedniek’s feet (if I don’t make time for crafting, I miss it you know) and the odd springboard elicited by little patches of pale projectile vomit evident along the rocky path. Yay! Clearly someone wasn’t as utterly fabulous as us! JM and I had a delightful conversation about the comparative fabulousness of broccoli v kale, black sesame seeds v white. I was salivating with desire for something not freeze-dried at this point and discussion became very animated. Who would have expected another broccoli groupie en route to Algeria? Really it was just too much. Near the bottom of the descent towards Algeria we came across a fairly grumpy, depleted Bloed En Omo team of 3 and thought we would cheer them up with our poem. They were not our best audience to date. I think lets leave it at that.
And then JM was gone and suddenly it was night time (again) and we hadn’t arrived at Transition 5 in daylight as planned. The checkpoint was still miles away and the route from the Checkpoint to the Transition seemed dubious and treacherous and very very far and there was nothing to look forward to beyond the Transition but an endless night of cycling. The mood plummeted once again but was somehow partially restored by Major Tom and the fantasy of Clanwilliam and the 24h Steers that we simply knew was waiting there like a shining beacon of hope. Folk at Transition 5 were starting to get the look I associate with survivors of hostage dramas. There was much vacant staring and dribbling and hobbling going on. Feet were starting to fall apart and a number of teams lost a member at the infamous Transition 5. I was dreading another bike leg and had booked the Cape in anticipation of a bad night out. But the hilarity of Doring’s outrage at having to strip down to his bib shorts in order to ablute in the freezing night air and the hope of the celestial city of Clanwilliam (Planwilliam) and its wonderful 24 hour Steers beckoned us and we rode with determination towards our (imagined) goal. The sleep monsters were out in full force but we were distracted by the moon glinting on the Oliphant’s River to our left and later on the Clanwilliam dam and when we rode into the town at about 2am we were beside ourselves with hungry excited anticipation. We had approached the town from a strange angle, which is how we explained the fact that we didn’t immediately see the 24-hour Steers. But after having combed the entire town (which didn’t take long) there came a point where we had no choice but to concur: Everyone in Clanwilliam was fast asleep and there was no 24 hour retail outlet of any description, more specifically there was no Steers. We painfully transitioned from denial to rage to grudging acceptance. We were completely crestfallen. Crushed. Starving. Freezing. We had to sing Ground Control to Major Tom and perform our poem more than once. It started to rain at this point and we morosely took shelter under the awning in front of the Capitec bank on a dirty grey mat that suddenly looked rather inviting. In the absence of Steers there was nothing for it but to resort to Pringles. As usual. Across the road from the Capitec is a police station and in the window was a light. I thought I would throw myself at the mercy of the law enforcement in the hope they would take pity on us and give us a cup of instant coffee. There was nothing to lose. At least I could explain in advance that we weren’t trying to break into Capitec if we set the alarm off by leaning against the front door. I had a long conversation with the cops on duty, tried to generate as much sympathy and admiration as possible, hinted repeatedly that we were in desperate need of hot caffeine and eventually gave up when it became abundantly clear that they had none of the emotional intelligence, compassion or hospitality skills which existed in such abundance in all other Namaqualanders. They must have been uitlanders from Cape Town. Harrumph. So Pringles and a 5 min power nap it was then on the dirty grey mat, eyeballing a determined cockroach which was hoovering up my crumbs as they hit the mat (the 5 second rule is clearly universal). We woke up within minutes, shaking with cold and dribbling collectively into the grungy mat and headed out into the rain again. The rest of the night was an endless slog up a misty, muddy mountain into a headwind. The Chanas (all male team) were just ahead of us and one of them had their red tail light on the epileptic fit inducing setting which flashes like a mobile discotheque. In the thick mist it was particularly annoying. I focussed all my discomfort and exhaustion on that infuriating light as we climbed and climbed and climbed. Shortly after the misty blackness eventually turned grey we at long last spotted the signs for Zandvlakte and Transition 6. Another 100km down. The dreaded Kobee River Gorge was up next.
The Gorge made us nervous. Word from the troops was that it was much like going over the top. The predicted times were wayyyy out and we should prepare for a minimum of 24 hours with enough food and water for any eventuality. Once we were in it there was no way out but through it. We had no idea what to expect but we knew that our best chance was to head out there as soon as possible so as to maximise daylight. Once darkness fell, negotiating the terrain and finding the faint animal tracks (even with our astonishingly efficient Extreme Lights) it would be a very different ballgame. Frantic packing and preparation and compulsory kit checks ensued. As we set off, heavily laden with extra water food and warm kit we were all humming Ground Control under our breath. Our chosen route took us up a dry riverbed for the first couple of hours until it met the Doring and finally the Kobee. From there we disappeared into complete wilderness. The riverbed was a mass of animal prints (we made out leopard, otter, baboon…) and tangled with often impassable reed and thorny thicket. Slippery boulders alternated with deep pools and with steep rocky cliff faces hemming us in on either side there often felt like no way forward. There was nothing for it but to moervoort. And that’s what we did for hours and hours and hours, crisscrossing the river repeatedly in the hope of finding a non-existent path. Some time in the night we saw a lynx outlined against the rocks by our fabulous Extreme spotlights. We briefly joined up with the father and son team from Reunion which gave us some extra momentum for a few hours but at about 4am (and after I had fallen asleep on my feet and headed the wrong way down the gorge while insisting that I was right) we had to admit that we were becoming too inefficient to continue without sleep. We put on all our warm kit and bedded down in some reeds for a comfortless nap. Within seconds everyone was snoring. We were woken 90 min later by steady drizzle seeping into our sleeping bags. We hurriedly stuffed all our wet gear back into our packs before setting off again over the slippery rocks praying for daylight. It was beginning to dawn on us for the first time that we were moving so slowly that it was possible that we would miss the abseil cut off and be short coursed. That was not an option. A new desperation gripped us and we forced out tired bodies onwards. Shortly after dawn we stopped for a quick breakfast and I triumphantly hauled out a tin of herrings that I had been carrying around with me and saving for a bad moment. The delicious protein and oil (on a Pringle of course) was possibly the most delectable thing I have ever consumed. In my excitement and anxiety to share the delightful provisions with my team, I managed to tip some of the precious oil over my backpack. OMG! This was a massive problem on multiple levels. My first concern was the waste! I briefly considered sucking my backpack until sanity prevailed. By day 5 a backpack is a vile and stenchful thing that stalks its wearer like an evil spirit. Mine was particularly bad, combining the putrid smells of sweaty unwashed body odour, wet dog and rotting mud. Allow this combo to marinade together with rancid herring oil and suddenly one is moving into a whole different league. My teammates shunned me, insisting that I had “Herringitis”. Like a pariah I was forced to repeatedly blow my whistle and mumble “unclean…unclean” to remain downwind at all times and to camp on the very outer edges of the team real estate. They showed no compassion.
When we had given up all hope of ever leaving the gorge, and made peace with the fact that we would be found decades later… with beards, (beating our heads against rocks and wailing Cathy….Cathy) the relentless gorge opened up a bit…every now and then there was a trace of an actual path and we could pick up our speed a bit. After 24 hours we finally emerged onto a jeep track and spotted a farmhouse in the distance. Civilisation! We were beside ourselves with joy and relief. But now we had to pick up the pace and run as much as possible to the next checkpoint if we were going to have any hope of making the cut off.
Against all odds we made the cut off with 12 minutes to spare, the last team to be allowed to abseil the imposing 100m rock face. 22 teams were less fortunate. Or not. Because now I actually had to think about abseiling 100m, I had efficiently compartmentalised that detail until this point. The sun was beginning to set and the sandstone cliffs were like burnished gold and it was all undeniably beautiful but beauty does nothing to dilute a fear of heights and so I simply closed my eyes and refused to think about it until I was at least half way down. Thank you, thank you, thank you to the beautiful men from Africanyon who lowered me off the cliff and spoke to me in me in rich sonorous Xhosa until I was out of earshot, making me feel like I was home (instead of dangling off a mountain way out of my comfort zone). I didn’t realise until that moment that a few words in a beloved and familiar language can carry so many kilowatts of reassurance.
From the bottom of the abseil site it was downhill all the way in the beautiful moonlight to the last Transition point where Liefie (bless her heart) mothered us and dispensed tea and hugs. Spoedniek’s feet were in a bad way by this point and I was worried that his slip slops had disappeared and that his options were to get grime in his freshly doctored feet or to put them straight into cycling shoes with no chance of drying out. I asked Liefie if any of the volunteers possibly had a spare pair of slops and before the words were out of my mouth Stephan Hugo was taking his own shoes off and offering them to me. There was something almost biblical about this simple act of pure kindness.
And then we were back on those bicycle seats for the last time, but first there was 90 minutes of circumnavigating the sandy farm roads, just to warm up and test our Grit until the bitter end. We joked that we liked Transition 7 so much that we returned to it 3 times in the confusion of the dark and the unmapped farm roads. Although the end was certainly in sight this was another opportunity for despair and a compulsory performance of Major Tom. For once we welcomed the mammoth climb that greeted us soon after escaping the farm, at least it provided an opportunity to get warm. This felt like the coldest night yet. The sleep monsters must have known they were running out of time to plague us and they certainly put their very best effort into derailing us on the last night. After Doring had fallen off his bike in the customary coma we decided that desperate times called for desperate measures and an impromptu Jaegermeister party ensued, complete with loud singing of various hits including our poem, uncoordinated dancing, whistleblowing and general mayhem. We also fantasised about the possibility of pressing our SOS button to tell Stephan that we were experiencing an emergency that could only be resolved by a blanky and a hug. This generated enough laughter and adrenaline to carry us almost to the top of the first pass where we eventually gave in and had a 20 min power nap sitting up against the embankment on the side of the road. Although I knew I was in an arid semi desert, there was something about the mist, drizzle and cold that reminded me of pine forests and the whole night I imagined the road to be flanked by pine. I could even smell them although I knew for certain that they didn’t exist. At the top of the pass a naïve adventure racer may expect a rewarding downhill, but we had matured enough in managing expectations to not be too surprised when the downhill turned out to be covered in shin deep sand. How thoughtful, Stephan had linked the 2 mountains on our last leg with a large, deep sandpit. His sadistic ingenuity was apparently boundless. And just when we thought it would truly never end, we had at long last come full circle and were heading back into Vanrhynsdorp and the paradise of Letsatsi Lodge, overwhelmed with love and relief and gratitude to God, to each other and to the people who made it possible. Pure Grit to the bitter end. Surreally it was all over and we had accomplished exactly what we had set out to do.
Particular thanks to our sponsors (Grit Property Group, Extreme Lights, Drip Drop SA) to the organisers Heidi and Stephan Muller who bring us to these wild places, to Monika De Jager of Namaqualand Tourism, to all the amazing farmers, landowners and volunteers (your land is beautiful beyond the singing of it but your people are your real treasure.) Thanks to Jacques Marais for the beautiful images and the shots in the arm of pure energy, to Dudley Wessels for his images but mainly for his wonderful warm beaming happy-making presence.
Things I have learned since EA 2018:
- I underestimated Expedition Africa. I was really quite blasé in the build up to it. I never imagined we would be chasing cut-off times. It was substantially harder than what I imagined and the unexpected conditions ramped the hardship up a lot. I rank EA 2018 as the second hardest thing I have ever done. (First place goes to my 413km non-stop Munga trail run attempt in 2017). In fact in some ways it was harder than the Munga because I have established over the years exactly how to manage myself when I am tired/hungry/freezing/grumpy. I know what to do and when to do it to get back on track. But when you are operating in a team it doesn’t matter that you are tired/hungry/freezing/grumpy. You need to negotiate sleeping/eating/ /kitting up and it needs to happen when it suits the team. My greatest suffering (other than the bike seat) was the cold. I was desperate to not sleep because (for me) sleeping out meant getting dangerously cold. On the spectrum I suffered more from cold and my team mates suffered more from sleep deprivation. I need to come up with a plan to manage cold better.
- Managing expectations is extremely important for mental health and wellbeing. Although optimism is an excellent quality in everyday life, it is to be shunned when adventure racing. If you are inclined to optimism, recalibrate, recalibrate, recalibrate. Do not think, “I am sure we will be in by sunset”. Think instead: “We may be in before midnight, if we are very very lucky.”
- The distances communicated by event organisers are not the actual distances. They are the shortest possible distance between points. Manage expectations by adding at least 30%.
- There are no free km’s and massive climbs are not succeeded by massive descents or in fact any descents at all (if they are, they are hampered by sand and/or mud).
- If you are absolutely unable to eat anything else, it is always possible to consume a salt and vinegar Pringle.
- Drinking Drip Drop is as good as having a drip stuck in your arm permanently.
- A sense of humor should be right at the top of the list of compulsory equipment.
- Do not underestimate the importance of creating an identity for your team. A seemingly idiotic rhyme can be an extremely bonding exercise and can create hours of silliness and joy. Our rhyme created equal amounts of happiness whether we turned in a stellar performance or oafishly forgot our own nicknames.
- Props are very important.
- Cardboard bike boxes are from the pit of hell.
- Leg covering is an excellent plan.
*Misty, Peter, Dylan and Kim
* The Knersvlakte is a region of hilly terrain covered with quartz gravel in Namaqualand in the north-west corner of the Western Cape Province of South Africa. The name, literally “gnashing plain” in Afrikaans, is thought to be derived from the crunching of wagonwheels as they moved over the hard quartz stones. The Knersvlakte is a Succulent Karoo and dominated by leaf succulents belonging to the Aizoaceae and Crassulaceae, with a variety of shrubs spread amongst them. The climate of the region is semi-arid with long dry summers, and rainfall occurring in the winter months.
**We derived a lot of joy from coming up with random Eastern variations for the origin of the Japanese team including but not limited to Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Tai, Cambodian…initially this was because we couldn’t think straight because of sleep deprivation but later it just became a challenge to come up with new Eastern countries.