Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Swazi Extreme 2010. Team does it again

When it became clear that the PpART was not going to make the “Big Trek” to Swaziland for the final running of the Swazi X I popped off an email to Shane Raw founder, captain and manager of the Swazi based Team to see if they had any late withdrawals like they had last year when I joined the team three days before the event. As bad luck would have it Shane had just broken his arm (“he fell off a ladder”) and the team was a member short. After some emailing and slow communication Shane picked up the pieces and got the team organized. The Team for 2010 would be Hillary Pritchford (paddler and more recently trail runner), Deon Bruss (retired paddler, farmer and adventurer), Gordon Johnstone (clothing manufacturer, mountain biker and paddler) and James Stewart (farmer, adventurer and super-sub).
After a lot of logistical nightmares the four Team members arrived at the start venue Nisela Lodge just south of Big Bend in Swaziland. Here we met up with the other new member of the Team Jaco Strydom our last minute second from Pretoria (and what a second we uncovered here, his contact details will remain the property of the Team for now.)This is what he had to say on his blog
Seconding for the team was just about as hard as doing the race. They arrive by canoe and 5 minutes later they are fed, rehydrated, refilled, changed into cyclists, and on their way. Then we pack the boats and the camp and charge to be at the next transition point before them, get their running gear ready, food and water ready... and so on through the day (and sometimes into the night).
Along to help Shane with his broken arm and Jaco with his broken foot was Shane son Braden (what a bundle of energy he was).As usual the evening before the race got gobbled up repacking vehicles and sorting out the maps for the next day. I think we were definitely the last team to hit the sack on Friday night.

It was all too soon when the alarms and Jaco kicked us out of bed to get us up to the start by 5:45 am. The race briefing was quick and after a count down the race started well for everyone except us. Hilary and shot back to the car to get a chest strap for Deon’s pack. There was a mad dash of towards CP1 at the end of the old airfield a couple of kms away. With a confident bearing on the map we went straight there and had already over taken some of the teams who had bolted away. The next couple of checkpoints guided us through some bushveld and across some sugar cane fields. After running with Team Thule (which included Knysna local Kate Southey "This years race was much like the experience you have as a child when you have your first 'gobstopper' - there's no easy way to the end, you just keep going until it's done. The Swazi was one monster gobstopper that took teams through 3 days of non-stop racing, up and over the Lubombo mountains by foot, back over by bicycle and almost into Mozambique by canoe") for a bit we parted company with them as they started doing the Pro Course while we headed into Transition One with a couple of teams ahead of us. The next cycling leg took us through more cane fields and cattle farms to the start of the paddle leg on an irrigation canal. With warnings about low bridges and “flumes “we set of to catch up with the other teams that were ahead of us. With some quick portaging and good paddling (to be expected from this team) we took out first at the end of the paddle leg and were heading for home. An Op point that was opposite a disused road that was shown as a proper road caused us a bit of a delay but we got it in a few minutes and then with compass in hand took the tiger line thru the bush to the finish . The cattle paths were not to overgrown and the gamble paid off and we arrived 25 minutes ahead of the “Silent Assassins”. Day one was in the bag but where were the curved balls from Darren we asked as we relaxed in the camp????

A quick portage around on of the low level bridges helped us into the lead

During the evening the Pro teams came and went from the camp. Most of them already with the hollow eyed stare that one gets after a long day on the trail. We were fed and watered by our trusty seconds and hit the sack early excited about the fact that tomorrow had a 17 km river paddle through the Usutu Gorge.

Braden gets ready for the paddle on day two at our well organised camp

Day two started with a quick bike leg down to the river where our K2 s were waiting. There was an unsupported transition from the paddle to a long 20 km hike so we needed two carry quite a bit of water for the paddle and hike legs. Our boats were loaded and we headed down to the river about 10 minutes a drift of the Silent Assassins and a couple of the faster biking teams. Within 5 minutes we came across all the teams that were e in front of us at a weir. We portaged over the weir quickly put in and paddled through the rapids at the bottom of the weir. Here we paddled with Kobus and Donovan and Carter from Team Jabawock for a bit. Hilary and Deon’s paddling experience now came to the surface and their lines around the sand banks and through the small rapids were sublime. It was not long before we were soaking up the isolation of the Gorge and extending our lead.” The second day started easily enough with Jamo and Deon slowing us down telling Hilda and I not to rush. The second leg was a paddling section on the Usutu which was spectacular’’ Gordon.

After about two hours I pulled out the map and suggested that we should start looking for the banner and the marshals for the take out. A dead crocodile caught our attention and a bit further down stream we asked a local if he had seen anyone with a bakkie and trailer. No was the answer. The transition on the map was marked as couple of hundred meters from the Mozambique border so I suggested we carry on to the border just in case the map was incorrect. There is no fence, rope, pile of stones or landmines that demarcate this border we found out a couple of kms down stream. “ I think Jamo had a wicked little plan up his sleeve and sent us on a sightseeing mission into Mozambique, this wasn’t the end of the world until we had to paddle 4km back upstream. Then it did become a problem. Besides the fact that we had to paddle against a very strong current we were egged along by a wild looking local with long dreadlocks and a stick who was chasing us, all I could hear was panicky gasps from Hilda who feared for our lives. As it turned out he was a just a friendly fellow trying to tell us where we had to get out!” Gordon
Swaziland is certainly one of the most beautiful places I have been and km seem to tick by without us even noticing – the paddle was stunning – a bit too stunning as we decided to add a few extra km onto it – Mozambique is wonderful as well, first time I have paddled across the border and it wasn’t even that hard J anyway back to the race – being about 25min ahead of the rest of the field – our little excursion set us back an hour. We hiked hard! We each had our ups and downs but the team pulled together fantastically the focus was truly there!
We turned and slogged our way back against the current which had bought us so swiftly into Mozambique. Over an hour latter we arrived at the transition to see the banner in the tree where we had stopped and Hugh Raw there to check us in and load our boats. With clean socks and a roll from our packs we headed up hill out of the valley about an hour behind the Silent Assassins and Swazi Moto who despite paddling sit on top fluids had also beaten us to the take out. The hike went well with us taking every opportunity to use the cattle tracks to short cut the road and get to the transition. The last bike was short and fast and we managed to over take Swazi Moto who had punctured and had forgotten about a check point on the way. The day ended with us only 23 minutes behind the Assassins. We would go into the final day with everything to play for.

Shoes drying after the hike out of the Usuthu Gorge

Day Three arrived and we were given our maps just after first light. This meant a lot of work to do before we set out on what would be the toughest and longest day. We were glad it was going to be long this would give us more time to reel in the race leaders and then hammer home the advantage. The day would only have two legs a short hike which would include an abseil and a pothole jump and then a long bike leg. The hike went well and soon we were at the abseil in second place.

We abseiled down a small portion of this massive Gorge

We had lost the early race leaders after we decided to contour around a valley instead of going thru it just after the start. After a bit of adrenalin we set of to the transition through the bush taking some not so well worn paths and picking up a couple of scratches along the way. The transition went way too quickly and I left not having eaten or drunken much having been focused on the next 5 pages of maps that would take us to the finish.

Shane makes one of his awesome "one armed rolls"

We turned of a farm road onto a rocky path that was fun to ride but soon became un-ridable even for our motor bike gurus Deon and Gordon. AS the saying goes what goes down has to go back up and we confronted a steep eroded path up the other side of the gorge where it was impossible to ride and the bikes were shouldered and we headed up wards. By now the Swazi sun was beating down and the temperature was rising but we were in the “virtual” lead and knew that it would be hotter in the valley when the others came thru latter. The never ending rolling hills finally got us onto a piece of tar road with the option of taking a slightly longer route thru the town of Steki and a garage with cold drinks and chips. Hilary and I were both feeling the heat and my quads had cramped into nice little balls. A liter of Sprite (for me) and Coke for the others and a couple of packets of salt and vinegar chips saw us on the road and dodging the Sunday afternoon taxis before we turned of the tar and back into the bush . This last 30 km were fantastic. We were in a long valley whose over all gradients was down hill with a couple of short climbs in between. As always the African sun which had risen so slowly in the morning before baking us dropped like a stone behind the mountains and had us rummaging around for our head lights. With the darkness came a couple more punctures and some silly mistakes in repairing them and once again we were under pressure to get to the finish.” we got onto the bikes thinking how hard could the following 70km be? Well it was tough and I think we all had our own personal moments of ‘hell’ during the course of the day. 4 punctures later and rushing to cover as much distance as we could while we still had light the sun went down and the stars came out and we still weren’t home. A bit of creative navigating by Deon and Jamo lead us up and down the course and a little over two hours later we were done after finally finding the last elusive point”. Gordon With only our head lights a couple of tumbles were inevitable but we were on the home straight and not even a chance encounter with a hippo was going to stop us (we never saw one but they were defiantly there). A short detour to the last check point of the race saw us ride onto the cricket field at Simunye Country Club to be met by our seconds and race organizers and start our stop watches for what would be a long 25 minutes to make sure we had sealed our victory. Half an hour passed with no other teams coming on t the field and the win was ours.

Gordon’s last chirp” Let’s just say things were a little bit more rushed than in previous years. I would have to put this down to the fact that my fellow team members were very thirsty individuals and worked on the very solid theory that the sooner we finished each day the sooner we could have a few beers. I was all in for that and had no complaints!

“I had big intentions to do some training or at least harden my butt and do a few rides before race day, as we all know how the second day on a sore butt is not nice. I will confirm that 2 pairs of cycling pants feels like an XL poo in your pants but it helps a little for a sore chaffed butt. I went into Swazi a little under trained and very conscious of the fact. I was relying on Gordon I don't run (I gallop), Hillary being a little slower on the hills because I knew she was wicked on the downs. I knew if I threw some random strategic doubt towards the direction we were going James might not falter but the others would slow down and check the map and I could rest. Well that all went out the window as we started, the team was so composed and solid and we went along at a steady controlled pace, the whole way” Deon

So Aieesh! Were victorious overall for the third year running and what a race it was, pity we cant race it again. Thanks to Darren, Anita and his team for making it happen.

“A big thanks to our super seconds – Shane (broken arm) Jaco (Broken ankle) little Braden (Adventure racer in training) and Tammy (the unseen Chef!) without these guys we wouldn’t have made it to the finish!” Hilary

To the whole team, Hilary,James, Gordon, Shane, Jaco, Braden and Tam.You guys are the best and thanks for racing with me and getting us to the end first.

Over and out ,I have finger cramp” Deon

All smiles at the finish line. We clean up quite well See below

From Left to right Shane Raw ,James Stewart,Gordon Johnstone,Jaco Strydom,Deon Bruss,Hilary Pritchford and in Front Bryden Raw

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