Thursday, May 17, 2012

Kinetic Expedition Africa 2012

Pennypinchers Adventure racing Team on Expedition Africa 2012
Check out some pictures from Bruce Viaene and Kintetic on the link below
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“Expedition Africa 500km was one of those races that reinforced why we do this crazy sport. It was fun but hard, beautiful but harsh, long but feasible, remote but easily accessible, exhausting but exhilarating........It was just how an adventure race should be BEAUTIFUL.” Is what Netski had to say as we travelled back from Port Alfred on Sunday?

To write a report on a 500km race is really difficult , there is so much that one wants to share , so many “if only you were there “ moments and so many places where you wish the photographer or TV crew were there to catch a special moment. Add to this the fact that we had a race that had no drama no huge war stories to tell and very few war wounds that can be shown in public I will try to weave a tale of our amazing race around one of the most beautiful regions of our country.

As always half the battle of an Adventure Race is to arrive at the start of the race with four healthy, keen team members. We achieved this and felt really comfortable as this team had now been together since January 2011.We had also done quite a few races together as well as organised two trail runs and spent some happy times together with our families ( all important aspects of building a team). At this time we had also developed really good relationships with our sponsors (Pennypinchers and GU being firmly behind for the past couple of years).
Heidi's attention to detail!

We arrived at The Halyards Hotel in Port Alfred (the race HQ) and headed straight to the dinning room to enjoy the first of many meals there over the next couple of days. Once we had done that we were quickly able to make up our bike boxes and wrap them in the packing tape (from Pennypinchers of course) after that came a quick an easy registration and some photos in front of the Kinetic/AR world Series banner and then back to our room to sort out the last bits of gear and relax before the briefing at 19h00.

Pre leg 1 BRIEFING- I always feel that the race has started once you start the briefing and are given the maps. The briefing was short and to the point. Two important points were 1 If you go through gates into an area that is game fenced do not sleep there keep moving and 2 Do not climb over a game fence because you will be in Big Five territory!!(Some teams did see elephants and rhino and others heard lions roaring later in the race).
Stephan also basically OK ed the use of Google Earth prior to the race so straight after the briefing some teams scuttled off to laptops and tried to look for hidden paths and short cuts. We took our maps all rolled up and headed to the room for a cuppa and hit the sack. Garth and I would do the maps after a good nights sleep.

Team Kit check Sunday Morning

Pre leg 2 MAPS,KIT CHECK,BOXES,BIKES AND PADDLE BAG HAND OVER- Sunday morning saw Garth and I hit the maps ,joining them all together and then plotting our route which became very real as we joined the check points with different colour pens. Jeff and Netski packed the team food and the paddling stuff into their boxes and bags. Our slot for the kit check was 7h40 and we were ready to lay out the bare minimum of kit on the floor to be checked before finishing the maps and a massive buffet breakfast. By midday we were set and had a small lunch and handed in all our stuff. One then feels slightly naked with out the choice of putting more food or clothing into a box, or adding something to your bike. Everything you have forgotten will have to be carried by you for at least one leg if not more before you come to the correct place to use it.

Pack in the last of GU for 4 days

Leg 1 Orienteering Hike 17km- We started just after sunrise at the troposphere in Bathurst after a short taxi trip from Port Alfred. This high point had a view of 360 degrees and the whole area of the route would be visible from here. On the stone wall were the names of the original 1820 settlers who came to that area and the distances to their original farms. We would get a really good taste of the country side that these pioneers tried to conquer fresh out of England all those years ago. The blast of a vuvuzela broke the chill of the morning and all thirteen teams headed of at a fast pace despite all the lies about “taking it easy”. We tucked in behind what would be the race up front as Merrell and Red Ants blasted off. We were comfortable picking up the check points one after the other. We then went of the beaten track and soon realised we were on the wrong ridge line and with no choice we beat a new path to the Bathurst Dam coming out at the checkpoint but definitely not on the planned route! Back on track we moved in to shuffle mode to T1. My heart sank seeing only 3 team’s boats lying on the grass. Merrell had left 1hr 40 ago! With a bit of fire in the belly we hit the water determined to make up lost time. We paddled right through Castle Lite and Capestorm WACAD and down to Port Alfred

                                                                                  Back at the start line as tourists on Saturday after the race

Leg 2 Hike from Port Alfred to Kenton on Sea 25km

The sea was too rough to paddle to Kelly’s Beach so the boats were left at The Halyards and we ran the extra 4kms to the T2 and a welcome cheese, gerkin and salami sandwich. We pushed hard in the transition to try and break contact with Castle Lite which we did and then had a good hike through the sand dunes and coast to Kenton on Sea. On this leg we caught up with local heroes Husquavana and also Iala. The Russian girls kept overtaking us here and eventually we caught up with them at the swim across the Kariega River at sunset. T1 was at Homewards Restaurant on the beach and we were greeted for the second time and certainly not then last by the enthusiastic and helpful volunteer marshals from the ILALA Gap year group.

Leg 3 Paddle up the Kariega River.20km Warnings watch out for Elephants on the river banks. We hit the water as the moon rose above the dunes and started a long paddle on the full tide. I had paddled here before so knew the lines to stay n the deep water for most of the way. A couple of hours later we were directed to the bank by the marshals and immediately set off along the road to towards a check point on the Bushman’s river about 10kms away

Leg 4.Hike from the Kariega to the Bushman’s river.17km An electric wire cattle grid (actually designed to keep elephants in) shocked Jeff into reality sometime in the middle of the night. We hit the Bahamans River and followed our way around d towards the transition. Lights flashing in the sky drew us to the river and we saw Olympus putting their boats into the water. We assumed it was the transition and headed down to the water only to find a river bed with thigh deep mud. We headed across got covered in mud only to find that Olympus had portaged this muddy section. We then got into the map again and realised we were a couple of kms away from the transition and headed back upstream.

Leg 6 paddle Bushman’s river17 km .We crossed the river and got into our boats and paddle to the dam that kept the sea water out of the farmers irrigation and had a great portage dragging our boats with bungee cords and ski poles to the deep water of the Bushman’s river avoiding the muddy stretch encountered by most teams .The monotony of paddling at night makes it really hard to stay awake so there were numerous times when a dropped paddle banged against the canoe and woke the owner up. Sunrise saw us back at the sea at the Bushman’s River mouth hall. At last we would see our bikes

Leg 7 83 km bike- This bike leg would take us back up the Bathurst and towards Grahamstown. The ride climbed constantly and by lunch time we had reached Bloukrans Farm. Here we would leave our bikes for a rope section and short orienteering before getting on our bikes again for another 47 km.

Leg 8- Rope work and orienteering.3km  The old steel bridge at Bloukrans was the site of a tragic accident years ago when a train derailed and great grandfather of current owner Grant helped rescue many of the survivors from the wreckage. With a Tirolien tight rope traverse and an abseil under the belt we bashed our way up stream to a check point before taking the tiger line up  ravine to search for the final cp on this leg a beacon on top of the hill. With the beacon clipped we headed back down the hill and bumped into the chasing pack of the Russians, Castle Lite and Capestorm.

Leg 10 47km bike We jumped on our bikes and pushed on to make the most of the last bit of day light. We did realise that the orienteering in the dark would slow the other teams down so we made hay while the sun shone. We nailed the checkpoint in the quarry and carried on climbing towards Grahamstown. After by passing Grahamstown it was basically all downhill to the mid way stop at Glen Boyd Game lodge. Here beds, food and white rhino waited for us with the first two being the most important. Luckily only the huge piles of digested grass on the road told us of the presence of the rhino. What a place to stop, for the compulsory 5 hours. Lappies from the Cycle Asylum Shop was on hand to give our bikes a wash and lube while we, repacked bags, Garth sorted the maps for the next leg, and ate before stealing 3 hours of sleep.

Leg 11 Bike 123km- The alarm went off at 12:40am and we stumbled back towards our bikes and headed out into the darkness across the Fish River. We decide to not rush this leg as the navigation in the old Ciskei in the dark could be tricky. All went well and we all coped well up the climb from the valley back up onto the ridgeline as the sun rose. A regular pattern emerges as we traverse the Ciskei with flat roads along the ridges and then a steep and gnarly decent of the ridge across a river and then back up the other side to follow the ridge again. We stay on track despite some turnoffs that lured other teams down mountains and far of track. Towards the end of the leg we make a time consuming mistake when we look at what could be a short cut but soon realise that the road is over grown and we head back to the district road and see Capestorm come flying past us. They had ridden really well and hard and had made up an hour on us on the ride. We were careful not to get drawn into riding at their speed and carried on as usual but slightly disappointed to have lost such a big lead. About 8 km later we caught Capestorm sitting at a trading store drinking Coke looking slightly worse for wear after their big chase. Jeff and Garth went into the shop while I checked the map for the last bit of riding to Hamburg. The area was fairly featureless and with some soft sand and winding tracks we need to stay awake. Capestorm shot off again and we followed. Some sandy patches tested our sense of humour here as we headed towards the only feature in the area a hill where we would get the last check point of the day. We caught up with Capestorm again and with some friendly banter rode into Hamburg together very happy to remove our rear ends from our bikes.

Leg 11 –Paddle 20 km (two team members paddle 20km to collect 2 checkpoints while other two pack bikes away, do maps for the next 2 legs and rest).This leg needed careful strategy and not just doing the obvious one would think it obvious the Netski and I would paddle but for once she was actually feeling a bit tired and could have done with a rest. Jeff and I had paddled well on the previous paddle legs but Jeff needed to fix his seat post on his bike which was a tricky repair. Garth and I couldn’t paddle together because no one could do the maps and Jeff and Garth I the boat would have entertained the Hamburg locals more than I was prepared to put up with. So it was Jeannette and I who got into the Barges again sitting on the spare lifejackets to ease our slightly painful backsides for a paddle against the tide up and back the down the river. Hugging the lines away from the tide we opened up a gap on Capestorm and got back to the transition just before dark. A pair of Fish Eagles and a family of Red Billed teal did take the edge of a tough paddle of just under 4 hours.

Back at the transition Garth and Jeff had done all they could to get our stuff ready for the monster 58km hike leg that lay ahead.
Returning from the last paddle leg Lettuce and Bubbles dig deep

Leg 12- Hike Hamburg to Fish River Mouth 58km.This was going to be a killer leg. Garth took the map and was spot on with the first two checkpoints that got us back to the beach on the western side of Hamburg. With a slight lift in spirits we headed quickly down the beach in stealth mode (lights off) and missed the dry river mouth that would take us inland again. We over shot by quite a long way and by the time we were back on track again Capestorm were just in front of us. We hit the river with and over took them with the usual banter and continued up stream until we felt we were away from the coastal dunes and could head out of the river into the farm lands. This would be the last time we saw Capestorm until they crossed the finish line. The noise of frogs lead us straight to the next checkpoint and then with some good navigation from Garth we got back onto the beach and headed to Biga (we did have the hope of seeing Garths in-laws who live there) for a hot cuppa to keep us going along the moonlit beach. This was not to be as they had see Olympus and then went home just before we arrived. Once on the road out of Biga we decided to have the half hour sleep we had planned for some time that night. The air was warm and the navigation was going to get tricky again in about an hour’s time so we curled up under some thorn trees on some soft grass and slept well for 25 minutes. The alarm went off and we were soon on the way again. The next check points guided through some real Ciskei valleys and ridges and with a bit of bundu bashing we made it through without losing too much blood to the strangling Lantana weeds. Crossing the last river before heading up the hill to the beacon above the Mpekweni Hotel Netski donned the now famous shkrt (shirt/skirt) due some serious chafing issues. This was much to the boy’s relief as we were told to walk/run in front and we could at least set the pace for a change. The shkrt turned heads all the way to the Fish River Hotel some 25 km further away. After wolfing down the most expensive toasted sandwiches ever at Mpekweni we hit the beach and had a very fast leg on the low tide.
The now famous Pennypinchers shirkt

Leg 13 Cycle Fish river mouth to Port Alfred via,via,via,47 km

- There is never a straight flat route to the finish and although we treated to the final 5 km being down hill the rest of the ride seemed to be uphill. We passed pineapple fields and had detailed tips from pineapple farmer Garth along the way. Just as night fell we rode into the Halyards Hotel 83 hours after the start in 4 position less than an hour behind 3rd placed Olympus.

We had an amazing race with no war stories other than those of the route and the race. Jeff had a great race and was back to his old self again while Garth and Bubbles were rock solid as usual. It has taken over a year of hard work to get this team to be able to race so easily together. We never moved as slow as the slowest person, we hardly wasted a minute in transitions and our basic navigation was good. Some of our decisions would have been better with more race experience but that will come.

I feel very proud of our team and know that we have got a great team and that showed in our result.

“Our team worked like a well oiled machine our transitions where fast, our speed was consistent, our mistakes where corrected quickly, our games to keep awake where fun but most importantly our laughter was genuine

5 things I would do again;

-Race with team Pennypinchers anytime

-Race any of Heidi and Stefan races

-Wear my homemade shirkt to avoid more chafing

- Have Lucozade in the boxes

- Laugh

5 things I wouldn't do again;

- Eat as many sweets

- Let the boys go to shop to buy drinks I ordered Mango juice and got Cream Soda??????

That's all I can up with in this column it was just one of those races with not much of negative things happening.

Thank you to Pennypinchers for they unselfish genuine support who make it possible for us to race.

To GU whose unbelievable generosity of products keeps us going on and on and on

To Earth Scout who helps us look good which is a big task?”Netski




Thursday, May 3, 2012

Expedition Africa 2012

The count down clock on the website shows that there are 3 days 23 hours and 30 minutes left until the start of the 2nd edition of this race.

At this stage of the game it is all about the Team staying healthy and banking hours of sleep. Cyberspace is alive with requests for late replacements and one of the international teams have lost a member through injury at this late stage. South Africa's Merrel Adventure Addicts lost old hand Hano Smit to a broken collar bone and Cynosis lost Clint Macintosh to injury a couple of weeks ago also to injury.Team Kubusi lost one of the Williamson brothers to a sky diving injury so the old adage of " the  hardest thing in an adventure race is getting 4 members to the start line" is really being substantiated this year.

I have packed my race food and on the table it looks like a great pile of treats with trail mix (filled with cranberries and goi goi berries) , droewors, Future Life and the full range of GU Energy products (Gels, Brew,Recovery Brew Chomps and the new Electrolyte fizzy tabs). Packed into a couple of Ziploc bags it looks like what it is . A pile of food that I am going to force feed myself for 4 to 6 days.To my mother it doesn't look like enough but I know already it will be to much but I go on the shot gun approach and hope something will taste nice after two days of no sleep.

The compulsory Team kit of safety equipment is all sorted. Hopefully all that stays in its Ziploc after the compulsory kit check on Sunday. We really don't want to be trying to camp for too long under a shelter the size of a single bed covered in the irritating rustle of a space blanket or two.

The information that we have on the race is this
The total distance will be 500km, divided up as follows- 300km mountain biking,125 km on foot, 75km paddling. Also included is a 52 m high abseil and a Tyrolean Traverses ( a foofy slide type thing). The route starts with a series of hike paddle legs and it looks like it will be a full day before we see our bikes. With only 4 bike legs and the last leg being short it looks like we could be in for a couple of really long bike hauls. We will finish in Port Alfred but more than likely be bused to the start as all the teams will be in Port Alfred for the days leading up to the start.

The paddling legs will be on rivers as well as maybe one paddle on the sea. The sea paddle could be very interesting as the Fluid Kayaks that we paddle are not know for their wave riding abilities. Let's hope all the sharks that have been spotted here in Plett will stay here for a couple more weeks.

In terms of the country side we will cover my guess is that it will be all tough ranging from the massive sand dunes of Boknes to the spekboom of the Addo and Grahamstown area.The organiser has put some scouting pictures up and there are some great shots including some wild life so we could be going though some of the many private game farms in the area.Another plus is that next week is full moon so one gets to see more of the landscape at night and from a navigation point of view at least there is an horizon to work on.

All the rest will be revealed on Saturday night when we are given our maps and route books to study for 36 hours before we actually start at 7 on Monday morning.
Kinetic the organisers have imported great tracking devices so the race will be easy to follow live so go to the website and follow the links from Monday morning. If you are a face booker you can also see pictures on their face book page and maybe even send us a message out in the field. and