Thursday, February 23, 2012

The 2012 Unlimited Dusi Canoe Marathon

It was 1991 when I finished my  last Dusi Canoe marathon so when an old school friend of mine phoned me in December 2011 asked me to stand in for his normal partner I decided that I couldn’t say no. I booked flights and carried on with my normal adventure race training but tried to sneak in an extra paddle or so a week.

February 15 2012 arrived very quickly and the butterflies set in when I got my first view of the Ernie Pierce weir the first obstacle after the start of the race. I picked up our “goodie bag” at the Natal canoe Club and even though it was 10:30am bumped into a bunch of familiar faces and felt as if I had never left the Camps Drift club house 21 years ago.

A short trip up to the Dargle Farm which would be home for the next 3 days saw me spend the afternoon moving the peddles in the boat and making sure all my gear would fit the rather wide boat we would be paddling. My partner Gnu Griffin arrived in time for tea and we loaded the boat onto the bakkie and headed up to a mountain top trout dam to take the boat for a quick tap in the thick mist so typical of the Midlands. The boat felt a bit skew in the water but it was not bad and I was convinced that it would be fine once we hit the river.
Eyes close, mouth closed, at the bottom of Ernie Pierce Weir - Don't swallow the water
Day 1

Due to a "P" batch start we get to sleep in but then get hit by the rush hour traffic in Maritzburg. Our start is so late in fact we console ourselves that the leaders will have finished the whole day 3 minutes after we have started. The weather is perfect and we head of across Camps Drift towards the 4m weir / shoot that saw the leading ladies amongst others take an early swim. We shoot down and pop amongst the carnage at the bottom of the shoot and paddle clear. What a relief. The field spreads out a bit before Commercial Road weir which we shoot fine in front of a huge crowd including Gnus son and my nephew who are on a school outing to watch the race. 45 min latter and we start the first portage of the day. My legs were aching for a run but the paths are full of people so we get in the queue and walk to the top of the hill at Bishopstowe. The trip back down to the river is a bit quicker and we get back in to the water with a pile of other boats. A mixed doubles pair flips over in front of us in Tegwaan Rapid and our nose gets stuck in their cockpit. We back paddle just before the boat hits the first of many rocks and get the hell out of there. Before long we are out the boat again and slogging up the Guinea fowl portage. Some banter with some Michael house school boys passes the time as the snake of canoes on top of people went down into the Devils Cauldron (a valley which can get very hot and humid). The top of the hill is 20km to go for the day. We drag the boat at breakneck speed down Geoff’s road and get back in the flowing water. Maze saw me find an interesting line but we survived the tricky channels and started to focus for Mission Rapid (the biggest one for the day) Two boats fell out in front of us at the top of the rapid so our approach was messy but we hit the bottom on the right line and shot through at a very forgiving water level. With only a short portage and some small rapids day one was in the bag.After a quick check of the boat (hardly a scratch on it) we headed back to the Dargle feeling quite pleased with ourselves.

Day 2
At about 8:30 pm a sms tells us that we have moved up from "p " batch up to h batch and we will start at 8:15 am. I hit the sack and try and remember what Netski has said about the line through Tombi one of the bigger rapids of day 2. Friday is still nice and cool and we start on the water while half the batch starts on the bank to portage the Dusi Bridge weir. Back in the water after the weir it takes a lot longer and some careful paddling to reach the first Saddles take out. Here you portage over a hill and back to the river and then paddle upstream and take out again and go over a hill again and back to the river. This cuts out a huge S in the river. From here it is not long till Confluence where the Dusi joins the Umgeni River. This section contains The Cascades, Washing machine and Slide. We shoot them all and make it safely to Marian Foley Causeway, the half way point of the race. After the Umgumenis portage the “big Three” rapids await, Gumtree, thombi and Hippo. We are through the first two before we know it and slide over the Hippos back and off we went leaving carnage behind us. The are some fun rapids before the flat warm waters of the Inanda Dam. At the start of the Dam Gnus partner Rich meets us with cold water. I top up my bottle with water and pop in a GU Fizzy tab and am ready for the slog across the dam. We find another boat that is in a hurry and team up to reel in tons of boats across the dam. Day 2 in the bag. No swims and the boat still very much intact.
The clean water below Indada Dam at Umzinyati Rapid

Day 3
There is a slight drizzle and it is cool. What a pleasure. We ride slip the whole way across the dam and put in halfway down Tops Needle. The rive r has already claimed a few boats as we get in the wreaks are still stuck around rocks. Side shoot is a bit messy and Umzinyati was great fun. Gnus family follow us down the river past Little John and we say cheers to them after Graveyard Rapid. We portage Island and get in and slide back to the main rive r. The causeway is easily shootable but a car nearly drives over us not listening to the officials. We are nearly at Five Fingers and we hit a rock and swim. Luck is on our side and the boat and paddlers are fine but it took and age to empty and get going again. Five Fingers was great fun and we cruised Mango Rapid and hit the flat water heading for home. I ticked of the bridges off and soon the finish line came into sight.
My third Dusi since 1990, Gnus 4th since 2009 what a wonderful experience.
The low down
Day one 39km, 4hrs 12min, 3 GUs, quite a bit of portaging, fun small rapids, GU Recovery Brew at the finish
Day 2 42km, 4hrs 20min, 4GUs, 1 GU Fizzer to replenish bottle, awesome rapids, Gu Recovery Brew at finish
Day 3 37km, 3hrs 20min,2 GUs, one swim, nice rapids, Hansa Recovery drink at the finish.
My “find’ of this Dusi was my shoes. I have big feet so need a small shoe to paddle and portage in. The Inov8 285 was amazing. Good grip and enough cushioning on the downhill’s. It did not let in a lot of sand
In the bag!