Friday, March 25, 2011

The Garmin Wartrail 2011

Jeff, Lettuce, Netski, Garth and Chris (in front ) at the start of War Trail 2011

When D4 Productions owner, cameraman, producer, editor and all round athlete Andrew King asked me during a TV interview why I do the War Trail I didn’t have to think to long to come up with an answer. Returning for my third War Trail and hopefully not my last was an easy decision to make despite the fantastically full sports calendar that confronts multisport people in this country. Chris saw it this way "This time last year an unexpected personal curved ball prevented me from being able to participate in that years Wartrail Challenge. Nothing was going to prevent this from happening again in 2011, especially as I had identified it as being the way I wanted to celebrate my 50 years young on this planet of ours."
The three day stage race consisting of a 65 km wilderness mountain trail run/hike , a 135 km mountain bike ride and a 65km paddle down the Orange river means that there is no where to hide behind a weak discipline and each athlete needs to be trained well for all three days. Throw in some high altitude, unpredictable weather, remoteness and a bunch of great organizers, marshalls and competitors and the match is made.

So this is what ladies winner and Pennypinchers Adventure Racing Teams lady member had top say “You know it is so hard to write about the Wartrail without writing a 5 page report. It is such an amazing race that NO report could do justice to it except that one has to go and races it yourself and experience " it". It's the "it" part which is so hard to explain, how can one make a 65 km trail run in remote mountains, a 135 km mnt bike and a 65 km paddle sound appealing to 'Joe the soap' it more sounds like madness but jet every year we return to put ourselves thru what looks like on paper HELL. It's the remoteness of the hike, the mountains, rivers, the climbs on the bike, the Marshals, the camping, the food, the competitors, the organizers and lastly Saffy who make it what it is. You don't ever get one of the organizers sweeping every day, sorting out admin due to flooding rivers still in his kit while the rest off us have been fed and dozing in our beds and yet he has a big fat grin on his face and time for everybody. It is just simply one of the things one has to do in ones life and that's it.
Thank you to all of you making it what it is and to our sponsors Pennypinchers, GU, Earth Scout and Blue Steel Sports”

Chris "Friday 18 March our trusty VW Transporter was packed in the early hours of the morning and it was not long that I was joining my special team mates from the Pennypinchers Adventure Racing Team en route to Lady Grey to make amends for last years absence.
"Better still Gisele, my gorgeous other half was part of the seconding team and for a first time Dael, Lettuces’ gorgeous other half was also part of the crew. This was a first and the omens were good that my 50 th was going to be legendary ! Lettuce in his wisdom had also included an up and coming young Trail Runner – Nick Cuthbert, from Oakhill School here in Knysna to assist Gisele & Dael with what would become some seriously challenging seconding duties. For Nick this would be a chance to mix it up with many of the Multi Sport celebs, who up till now he could only draw on from his regular “Go Multi “ Magazine.

Our camp was quickly set up (thanks to the loan of pop up tents from Magnetic South). A hearty meal at the Lady Grey country club got us to the race briefing which scared the day lights out of our seconds with horror stories of roads being washed away and muddy wallows along the way to Balloch.

We woke up at 3:00am for coffee and Future Life which since the Otter trail and Southern Storm last year has become a firm favorite of the teams. The full moon shone brightly over head as we stood around under the Garmin banner waiting for our names to be called at the roll call. Our bags filled with Gu Brew and pockets bulging with Gu Chomps and Gels. The race started and after 750 m we crossed a stream which with the rain had risen about 75 cm so it was wet shoes for the day. Netski took off marking the other girls ,Tatum from Merrell and Kirsty Scott. Garth and I stayed in voice contact as we started the 10km climb to the first check point high above Lady Grey. Passing the checkpoint in the dark we started the long traverse along the ridge line. Jeannette pushed hard and came in as the first lady after taking a shorter quicker route to the finish than the nippy Kirsty who was following the GPS track. Jeff once again took it apon himself to help out a lady who had sprained her ankle and helped her off the mountain. This spirit is what makes the War Trail a special event with all the athletes having top look after each other due to the remote location.
Chris had an epic day put and said this about the last two legs to Balloch "approaching Cp4 Avoca my knees went into another realm and the discomfort was unnerving. All I could do was to manage my pace as carefully as possible as I had to finish this monster – self preservation now becoming the priority. Along the Dragons Back I was now on my own and in many ways it was a soul enriching moment as I would not have anyone around to assist – I had to make it happen solo. My descent into Balloch being the most pathetic thing you could have witnessed ….going backwards was the only way out …..being about to turn 50 was making its mark !
The over night spot of the Balloch Caves saw The Team resting weary legs and sharing the stories of the day and re fueling on great food provided by the organizers.

Day 2 is a 135km cycle over three big climbs including Lundeains Nek. The weather was once again kind and it was cool with some clouds to keep the sun at bay. Many athletes were already talking about the paddle on the flooded Orange River that was still to come. This distraction did not make what is a very tough cycle go away and it was only late in the day that the last riders trickled in to Madlokwane on the cliffs above the Orange River.
Chris was cheered on by locals on the side of the road chanting Go Madala Go, he had this to say "The dreaded knees had returned to haunt me yet again and my pace again being slowed down to a snails pace. This leg turned out to be on of the hardest challenges I have had to endure for a very long time – I was paying the price for the lack of preparation and only had myself to blame.
An “angel” in the form of fellow Garden Route participant Nikki Smit was what eventually got me through the day and we both rode from Sterkspruit to Mdlovakana together and offering to tow me up the inclines towards Herschel was the turning point for me – THANK YOU Nikki, your tlc made sure I was not still out there now licking my wounds."
A real treat was at hand for Jeff, Jeanette, Nic (seconder) and I who had finished the cycle and were asked to go and hand out new school shoes at the local school. Bob Skinstads foundation had raised funds for the shoes and we were privileged to be allowed to go and individual hand over 100 pairs of brand new school shoes to the kids in this remote rural area on the banks of the Orange River. What a great experience it was to see these kids light up with the new shoes that we personally fitted on each little foot.

Jeff,Nic,Hano,Netski and Lettuce hand out shoes for the Bobs 4 Good Foundation

Back to the race, Jeannette was now firmly in the lead of the ladies race while the guys were all happy with consistent days and looking forward to the paddle.
The Orange River was swollen like a python that had eaten a herd of sheep. The river whirled and swirled and boiled as it forced its way down the valley towards Aliwal North. This sight split the emotions of the now very weary athletes. The paddlers of who there were a few were excited and couldn’t wait to get on the water. The organizers were told by them that the other legs were not changed because there was too much water so the paddle must go on. As usual race director Adrian Saffy came up with a solution which was safe and allowed every one to complete his event. Proficient paddlers would paddle the final 65 km leg to Aliwal North. Non paddlers would be given the option to start just over half way and paddle the last 30km to the finish. Jeff was our non paddler and we packed him of to the half way mark. A nervous Garth bravely decided that he would join the paddlers and risk is brand new boat and paddle the full leg. Chris, Jeannette and I were nervous but ready for the paddle. Jeanette needed to paddle easily and just stay in her boat to win the race having created a good lead on the first two days. I was hoping for a good paddle to make up some time on my fellow competitors.
A very swollen Orange river flowing at over 1000 cumecs
(the Fish River marathon runs at 26cumecs)

Aliwal North arrived very quickly and despite a couple of swims from some team members who shall remain nameless it was not long before we were all sitting in the shade at the Riverside Lodge cheering in the rest of the field. Our seconds had a slap up breakfast at the lodge (the first bit of luxury for them in three days) and then took it apon themselves along with Bev Coetzee from Storms River to help with the time keeping as the organizers were all busy insuring that the paddlers were safe on the river.

When all was said and done it was once again the Garden Route that came out tops with 2 of the top men and the top lady coming from The Nature Sports Capital of South Africa. Graham Bird (Knysna) from Team Merrell won the men’s race in a record time followed by Hano Smit (Karatara) and Jeanette Walder (Plett) won the ladies from the very talented Jean Hackland from Team Jeep. Chris Crewdson one of the founder members of this team completed the event a couple of days before his 50th birthday. Chris had a couple of long days out there but really showed that this is a sport where the mind must be stronger than the body to succeed. Well done Che Che.
The whole Team including three weary seconds who on some days one felt had a harder job than the racers tackling washed away roads and packing up wet tents. Thanks Guys you were awesome.
Chris has a final word" Morale of the story make sure your preparation is done in line with what challenge lies ahead. Now that my support base along the way classifies me as “Madala” well this only reinforces the fact that your body will reach a certain point where the mind can no longer make up for what it lacks physically.

I still could not have asked for a more incredible adventure to celebrate my 50 th and thank you to all my team mates, super seconds, fellow participants, Pure Adventures organisers and staff, for yet another most memorable Garmin Wartrail. To Garth who now carries my PpART cap and top – may it bring you many brilliant memories too – ENJOY being a part of this special team.

Che Che signing out ! "

With all four members of the Team that will be taking part in the 500km Expedition Africa Race in May easily completing the War Trail I think that this team is ready for our next challenge.
Bring it on!!!!!!

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