Monday, May 20, 2013

Expedition Africa 2013

Expedition Africa 2013

A new look Pennypinchers AR Team headed to the Drakensberg for the third edition on Expedition Africa. Helena Ferreira joined regulars Jeff Willcock, James Stewart and Garth Peinke on the trip to the Northern Berg

.” When I got the phone call asking me if I would be interested in taking part in EA 2013 I did not have to think twice, didn’t have to think at all!

The four very short weeks leading up to the race was filled with mixed emotions. After spending some time with my soon-to-be teammates the nerves settled and I knew that these guys will push, pull and carry me through!” was Helena’s response to the late call up caused by the “great news “ that Team stalwart Jeannette was pregnant.

We would be joined in the 500km adventure race by 31 other teams including 11 overseas teams (5 of these teams are ranked in the top 10 in the world).As well as all the local favourites, Merrell, Cyanosis, Red Ants ,Olympus, WCAD, Castle Light and old war horses Energy.


Attention to detail Heidi Muller from Kinetic gear


Sunday morning saw all the teams head to the local school for a tree planting ceremony with the local school kids all singing and dancing.

With two farmers in the Team we made quick work of planting the tree
Eating again Garth .Dinner the night before the start at Mount Aux Sources Hotel AWESOME

When the race route was revealed at the race briefing it was plain to see that the race organisers Kinetic Gear had upped the ante from last year and that the 500km of running, climbing, paddling and cycling would be a real challenge. Winners of the last two editions Merrell Adventure Addicts would line up with the unfamiliar underdog tag against some of the best in the world.

At the briefing 36 hours before the race start

Taking a novice into the race we needed to be conservative in our approach and could not afford to go out to hard from the start and this left us off the pace and constantly chasing our rivals .

After packing and plotting our maps we had Sunday night to consider our plight at the foot of the mighty Drakensberg. “After arriving in the dark and drawing the curtains from our bedroom window in the morning confirmed this all together with Woody’s comment, "boys it’s going to get ugly out there, those mountains are big!"

 The weather looked good up until Friday so we had 5 days to finish this challenge. This weather caught all the teams at the end of the week.

My new all time favourite Adventure Racing Picture. Thanks Bruce Viaene

Leg 1

Run/hike 79km (4430 m of vertical climbing)

Highlights-It got ugly as Woody predicted with him getting the first round of cramps before the chain ladder (maybe that extra plate at the buffet on Sunday night helped??). Crossing the source of the Tugela and Orange rivers, experiencing racing in snow drifts and across icy rocks. Standing on the edge of the Tugela Falls at CP 6. The falls were half frozen and the view spectacular. This is the second highest waterfall in the world falling some 900 meters. We climbed 4440m vertical meters in this 79 km leg and the navigation was a real challenge and a sign of the things to come. Finding the Rockeries Pass which is a 40m wide gap in the escarpment in the dark with no moon was a great boost in confidence for my navigation to start the race. What was amazing was also watching the dew on your shoes turn to ice as the temperature dropped after dark. At this stage we also realized that the best place to be after dark was off the mountain and that even with all the compulsory kit we were carrying you would still be freezing cold if you had to stop for any length of time.

Low light- taking 5 hours to cover 5km and descend 2000m on The Rockeries Pass that was just a huge rock slide. Arriving at T1 to find out that we had made a route decision that had put us on the back foot and off the pace. We will never know if we would have been faster on the Ifidi Pass but we had lost contact with our rivals. 

 Leg 2

Cycle 39km (150m loss of altitude)

Highlight- We had realised at this stage that we would not make the dark zone on the paddle (an area where the rapids were too technical to paddle in the dark so the race clock keeps going but all teams had to pull of the river at CP 14 until first light). This would allow us to catch up with a whole bunch of teams that had pushed hard to try and make it there before dark. So we took an easy ride to T2 to collect our boats. This easy leg might have just seen us take the foot off the gas and loose focus for a bit.

Lowlight- seeing how far the dam was from where we would receive our paddling kit (4kms). Here we had to carry our paddling gear as well as swim across a corner of the dam to get to our boats. With 75km of paddling ahead we were grateful to have rigged up our boats with back rests.

Leg 3

75km paddle

Highlight- paddling at night with zero visibility due to thick mist and sometimes ending up paddling onto the bank or down rapids that you could not see. We passed a couple of teams who had decided to sleep on the banks of the river due to the low visibility. We did get out scouting one small weir as we were waiting for the roar of the compulsory portage of a big weir but for the rest it was hit and miss as to whether would swim or making through the small rapids. I am sure in day light it would have been a whole lot more fun. Garth had this to say then a paddle that will stay embedded in my mind for many years to come. With the network of dams and rivers flowing from one to another     made for an exciting paddle. Never have I paddled, at night, where you can see more by turning your light off than having it on. And no there was no aid from the moon. With a maximum of 2m visibility and having to stop to hear in which direction the rapids were, made for very interesting paddling. Swimming at 2am in the morning down the odd rapid was rather fresh!!  After being cut off by the dark zone we continued on again with some larger but now visible rapids. Awesome! 


Being the last team to shoot the Tugela Falls rapids before the course was closed because it was too dangerous was great

Lowlight- falling out of the canoe more times than I have in the last 20 years. Losing all our juice bottles and food in the dark and mist.

 Leg 4 (89 km cycle)

Highlight-The last 1km of downhill single track to the old arms depot at Cathedral Peak. This leg took us back to the mountains via the SpionKop Game Reserve where a loop through the reserve provided some great game viewing. “Next 89km cycle took us along some fast dirt roads and railway lines until climbing again steadily back into the heavens only to rapidly decent again with the final section being an amazing mtb downhill track, with no room for error, into the halfway mark. A warm plate of real food and salad, and a block of butter (Lettuce) was a real treat for the tummy!  “Garth .Let me explain the last comment re the Butter. Butter is full of energy and dipped in salad dressing with salt and pepper makes a perfect snack


Lowlight- Knowing we would have to climb up the hill 5 hours later.

Leg 5 (59km hike/run) with abseil

Highlight-Finding the abseil point by dead reckoning with a compass in thick mist and darkness with Eugene from Team Energy. Abseiling down 5 waterfalls in the dark and cold. Helena showed huge guts here with only a couple of short abseils in training under her belt, going over the edge of a waterfall in the dark 5 times in a row takes some doing. The abseiling was the first challenge of the end of this leg the other was to get out of the kloof and get down the mountain to the road below which would take us to the next check point which in the dark would be an in and out affair although those in the day might have found the path along the river to the transition which we suspected was there but pitch blackness prevented us from finding it.

Lowlight- the last 5km of road to the next transition saw the whole team sleep walking down the road. The transition area was packed and it had started to rain so it was a fairly miserable place to be. Here Helena dived onto the first available mattress and curled up in her sleeping bag before we   had even checked in.

Leg 6 (cycle 169km)

Highlight- Despite knowing that we would once again have to climb up and over the escarpment we were fuelled by the fact that the end was now in sight and that the majority of the ride did not cross to many of the contour lines that we had experienced in the mountains. The weather was awesome and the kilometres ticked along nicely until I got attacked by the sleep monster at about 1:30pm (this is an old habit picked up in boarding school where my body craves a power nap at lunch time) After nearly riding of the road we pulled of onto a sunny verge and had a 10 minute power nap, this got me back on my bike and we continued at a great pace. We had to knock on the door of the general dealer in Gelukstad to get the pie and cooldrink we had been craving all day. Being an Indian General Dealer the choice of pies was Mutton Curry, Beef Curry or Chicken Tikka, very spicy and not great on sunburnt lips and empty stomachs – but we all wolfed down two each. This would fuel us well for the Besuidenhouts Pass – a long climb over the escarpment between Van Reneens Pass and Oliviershoek Pass. And then 15km of downhill to the Sterkfontien Dam

Lowlight: The only choice of pies in the Indian Trading Store in Gelukstad was Mutton Curry or Beef Curry.

Leg 7 (Paddle and Hike to the finish)

Highlight- none

Lowlight- we were told that in order to make the finish we be short coursed to the finish in the morning. This was due to the weather that had caused numerous teams to become lost in the mountains above the finish and some of them taking 36 hours to finish the 26 km hike to the finish. Short coursing is a reality in Adventure Race World Series and chatting to the overseas teams as many as 60 percent of the teams in these races will be short coursed. In fact in this race only 6 teams collected all the check points and the rest of the teams were short coursed to a varying degree. The fact that we were only short coursed right at the end was a plus I suppose. We did however get into the situation by not moving quickly enough to really have a choice in the matter.


Leg 8 – (50km cycle to finish)

Highlight-Awesome downhill’s

Lowlight- Freezing cold and wet. The adventure was over.

At the finish with good friends Team Energy – Thanks for the ride guys and girls

The first three place were filled by overseas teams after 5 days of nonstop racing

1) Haglofs Silva (Sweden)

2) Technu Racing (USA)

3) Raid Light (France)

The first South African Team was Cyanosis with favourites Merrell Adventure Addicts having to withdraw due to injuries to two team members. A further seven teams also withdrew due to one or more members not being able to continue.

“Carrying our bikes through thorn bushes, abseiling over, through and under waterfalls in the dark, finding our way down the mountain after a 20 hour hike on a “path” that in my opinion does not even faintly resemble a path, walking in a manner that will definitely get you pulled over by a cop for a breathalyzer test if done in town, shaking your head every now and again to wake up and figure out where you are” Helena Ferreira novice adventure racer

“The race was a true adventure and one felt that at all times if you made a silly mistake like slipping or falling or getting lost you would be in a lot of trouble. The new Team battled with the high altitude as well as new dynamic but take with it a once in a life time experience of true African adventure. “James Stewart

The support that we had out there on the course was unbelievable and I would like to really thank Cheryl Dempster who kept you all up to date on our Pennypinchers Adventure Face Book page. Also all the journalist especially Lisa from who really kept you all in the picture with her on the ground reports. Tweet from Merrell who took some amazing video to show part of what it was like out there.

Our sponsors Pennypinchers, GU, Earth Scout without you our journey to the race and through it would have been completely different and not nearly as smooth. My absolute best friend on this whole race was the GU Brew Electrolyte Drink Tablet. These little puppies kept the cramps, altitude sickness and dehydration at bay for 5 full days. They are light and you just scoop water from a stream pop them in and sip away at 500ml of flavoured fizzy water AWESOME.

The Kinetic Team, Stephan, Heidi and all you helpers thank for a once in a life time experience until next year when we will be ready for another. To the Warriors you guys were great and I hope that seeing us out there will inspire you all to greater things in time to come.

To Bubbles our fifth team member thanks for all the support and doing our shopping before we left I am not sure what we would we would have ended up with if we had left that up to Jeffery.

Helena well done and thanks for joining us at such short notice a really brave decision and we really appreciated you coming along.

Garth and Jeff good job guys here’s to the next one