Friday, June 6, 2014

Expedition Africa Svelkas Report 2014

EXPEDIDITION AFRICA – 2014, Svelka’s Race Report:

How does one truly explain an experience of this magnitude ...

6 days non stop. 150 + hrs racing. 13 ish hrs sleep. Breathtaking country. Brutal terrain. A solid team - no one could wish for better. Indescribable. So so hard at times. The highs. The lows. The laughter. The tears. I saw it all. I felt it all. Tears ran down my cheeks for the last 20kms. I felt so privileged. We had a great race.

Driving up to Port Edward, our team; James 'Lettuce' Stewart, Garth 'Pine' Peinke, Jeffrey 'Woody' Willcocks and Svelka 'Tats' Sharp were in fine spirits. The lovely Vojtek from Team Warriors was with us too and when he took a call from his sister, I heard him say to her “I'm travelling up with Team Pennypinchers and their strength is HUMOUR”. I know now that in a race like this humour is an essential.

From early in the race we realised feet could be a problem, early legsincluded 80k on foot and straight after that a canyon which took us 12hrs to traverse in water. And the blisters started ... relentless, huge blisters, majority of the teams suffered with this.

Medics assisted us in transition but the truth of the matter was they needed far more than attention!! Not a pretty site to say the least.

So before I divulge too much information on NASTY FEET, let's take a look at what all we went through ....

Leg 1:

Ocean Paddle: Well a hair-raising start for me for sure!!! The swell seemed enormous, actually it was enormous! The only way to get out was a lucky break ... and we had a not so lucky break, I looked up and saw a mountain of water about to break on us and it sure did! Rolled boat, boat hit head, felt like I was drowning only to be saved by my Captain! Thank you Jamesy! Back in boat and let's try again. Eventually got our lucky break and cruised behind the breakers the rest of the way, completely apprehensive for our beach break re-entry, which proved interesting AGAIN! Jeffrey & Garth are still laughing I KNOW. Every athletes word for that morning was “CARNAGE”.  Then a fast paddle up the Umtamvuna River.

Leg 2:

12k trek in the Umtamvuna Nature reserve. We were surrounded by tons of teams on this leg. A steep climb out of the gorge saw us traversing the plateau of the nature reserve for a while before descending back down into the kloof for about 5k of rock scrambling.

Leg 3:

5k Paddle back down the Umtamvuna River into our second transition. And the first time we see our re-supply box .... an overloaded re-supply box at that! Maps done, food made, packs re-supplied and time to head off.


Leg 4:

The first MONSTER leg, an 80km trek. Yummy curry wraps got us on our way and off on the beach we headed West. We met up with Castle Lite on this leg and spent the next 24hrs+ in classic company. The abseil came early in this leg ... I was silenced at the top when I realised it was about 70m further than I had ever abseiled in my life!! So told myself to toughen up, how hectic could it be! About 15m down and ROCKFALL! Now we know why we wear helmets ... rock hit me on my head/helmet and bounced off my upper arm! And did I yell! It was WILD. Adrenalin kicked in and down I got in no time, only to find Laura from Castle Lite with a bust lip, smacked right into a rock ... it was action packed for the girls.  Within the next day or two I had a big BLACK bruised arm!! Very proud of my war wounds! We spent the night and the next day traversing star gazed beaches, inland routes, river crossings and canyons. Highlights of this trek definitely  included; bushwhacking up a canyon, Jeffrey in the lead, dodging life threatening BOULDER falls... well done Woody getting us all out of their unscathed,  the lovely Mtentu Lodge CP - gee could've spent the night there and of course the GREAT banter between us and Castle Lite. Superb navigation by James,  in fact he steered both us and Castle Lite all the way, making sure we hit the entrance of the canyon by sunset.

Leg 5:

10k canyon ... how bad could it be??? We started at 6pm and emerged at 6am, that's correct 12 whole hours (night time hrs) of kloofing! And the water temp ... not warm! The first 3 hrs were great fun, the boys were in their elements trying to find different ways of getting all 4 of us over and down boulders that seemed to be the size of a 4x4.  The easiest way for me to get through it was like spidergirl ... I think I was on all 4's for 12 hrs, S.I.J displacement seemed inevitable! This was night 2 with no sleep, and the sleep monsters kicked in ... I slept crawled for hrs. The hallucinogenic powers of sleeplessness had all four of us constantly seeing the one and only checkpoint  (that just happened to be located right at the end of the canyon - hours away)! The canyon would've been much faster in daylight, we were unable to see our footing most of the way, but did it and were thrilled to see the path out (and the real checkpoint!) when we finally got there. 

Leg 6:

Mboyti Lodge was a welcome transition! 48hrs into the race with no sleep, it was time to knuckle down for a while! 3 hrs was mentioned ... sho! But by the time I had seen the medics with my feet that had started to take strain I had just over 2 hrs kip - PERFECT! And now our first time to climb on a bike, what a welcome relief to be off our feet – mentally true, but physically the feet were already so blistered and duct-taped up that just to merely clip in and out everytime we stopped to check maps was brutal. The ride started with an enormous climb out, think Simola hill ... well x 5!!! Garth had it right when he commented on the grader that past us and all that was heard was how it had to engage into lower gear upon lower gear to climb out. Then a lovely section to the beautiful Magwa falls. The route took us through Lusikisiki where we managed to stop bikes and all inside Kentucky Fried Chicken for some well deserved supper! The first and last time we would see real civilisation and a 'sit-down-meal'! What I remember of this 140km bike ride was UPHILL – steep sharp uphills. Sleeping on my bike! Racing to the top of the hills while our chief navigators were checking maps, dropping our bikes, collapsing on the side of the rode with a backpack still on, just for 20 winks or until the boys had checked the map and told us to move again. It's all quite surreal how you can fall asleep in 2 seconds, sleep for 3 minutes and feel revived! Well into the night and we finally stop for our first proper sleep on the side of the road: warm clothes on, into our bivvy bags, a bicycle wheel as a pillow and 3hrs kip ... BLISS! We were only meant to sleep an hour but not even an alarm under Lettuces head could wake us!!!

Leg 7:

Finally a paddle ... off the feet completely!!! This paddle was shortened from 67km due to low water levels. By this stage the boys were more worried about my feet than anything else. The discussion in transition was how to get my feet through the next legs ... 'she needs hiking poles!', 'We carrying her pack!'.  We had a 1km portage before we hit the water, thank you boys for sorting the boats!!! The paddle was long enough for each of us to dip our heads a couple of times! Before we knew it we were out of the water and gearing up for the next trek leg.  However not before more medical foot attention! James and I had become familiar faces to the medics!

Leg 8:

Here things start to get interesting! We leave this transition fed and watered, ready to take on the 40km trek. It's sunset. Our first CP is a beacon, high up in the clouds! We manage to locate the CP fast but by this stage it is dark (and moonless!). We decide to try and make our way off these cliffs by bushwhacking through no man's land, no paths just dense thorny bush. It was at this stage of the race that our 4 man team became a 5 man team and ROB joined us. Rob was James's mate, actually Rob didn't exist at all but he hung around for a while!!  After spending 6hrs up there and seeing my team mates being sliced to shred's we decide it's best to get off the mountain and take the safe route (an extra 10km though), fumbling around in the dark just didn't allow us much option. We trekked back to the transition and decide to knuckle down for a few hrs. The medics woke me a little earlier to address my feet and pop me a Voltaren jab and off we marched again. We had cattle trails to contend with, river crossings (which I was carried across), tropical dense forests. Highlight was us deciding to take a 30min rest ... I sit down and quickly address my feet ... within seconds I have 3 men snoring next to me!!! I put my head down too and here you had 4 bodies (probably all snoring!) lying across a cattle path, fast asleep, MIDDAY. When I think of the beauty of these untouched villages we walked through. The friendliness of the locals. It's amazing to see the remoteness, the way these people live, the way they sustain themselves. The children. Woman carrying 50kg bags of maize on their heads for miles between their settlements. The way they carry water on their heads out of the gorges .... good training for next time I think!!! But these are the things we don't see everyday, these are the things that - as you hobbling along - make you appreciate the smallest of things. Our lives have been enriched. We finished this leg – not in the best of shapes! By this stage we realised that James's feet had taken their toll radically. We got into transition with James limping in on his heels, on hiking poles. Swollen and infected. We were told to immediately build our bikes no matter what time we were leaving this transition - and so we did. We spent a few hrs here hoping that time may help us and give James's feet the break they needed but it was soon realised that there was no way he could continue. After fab navigation and a competitive race it was a sad departure.

Leg 9:

And now for the MONSTER OF MONSTERS - a technical Trans Baviaans to finish this race!!! 230km cycle. The last 27 hrs were the toughest. My blisters were too terrible. But my team were angels, grace was granted in these two boys. My bike was carried. My pack was carried. Pushing me up hills and a hug when I needed to cry ... and boy did I have a cry! The technical sections were so hard for me, I couldn't clip in as it was too painful, so I couldn't ride it .... and could barely walk it! The boys sat me down in the grass, Jeffrey orchestrating the Cinderella shoe swap!!! They popped space blankets into Garth's shoes, put an extra pair of socks on me and drenched my feet and socks in BLUESTEELE. Garth then shoved his foot into my size 6 cleats and rode 230km like that! Thank you boys!!! The ride was adventurous, the boys by this stage had jippo guts for 2 days due to the water.  But we soldiered on as best we could. We caught Castle Lite, nice to see them again and also just to have some more laughs! We finished the last 40km with them. Cruising down into Port Edward I just couldn't believe that the end was in site. James waiting for us with 2 Kentucky Rounders each. We had a bottle of bubbly, beers, more food and then it was time for the shower I dreamed of and a bed to sleep on!


So this was it - my first expedition race! Wow! Like I started off saying .... not many words can explain it!  They said it was a tough one .... I wouldn't know, I was a novice. But Quintin's comment while I was having my feet duct taped for the how-manyeth time in transition said it all: 'So this is your first expedition race? Well baptised by fire then I would say!’

I woke up this morning, the first morning in a week not to share another sunrise with an amazing team but I woke up a different human being. Blessed by the beauty of life. Thankful for the tiniest things.  It really was an incredibly humbling experience.


To our sponsors:

PENNYPINCHERS - Thank you for the amazing sponsorship, without it we wouldn't be able to do it! I felt very proud racing with the Pennypinchers Adventure Racing Team. Thank you too for the lovely messages of support that came all the way from Head Office in Cape Town!

GU - The huge amount of GU products we were each given was amazing! Thank you.  At times, when the tummy's started, the only thing the boys could get down them was liquid and GU.

BLUESTEELE - Teams became our best friends thanks to you!!!! And nothing like a whole tube of bluesteele in between toes and smeared all over your socks when you don't think you can walk anymore!!!

EARTHSCOUT (The lovely Belen) - Thank you for your HUGE generosity in kit sponsorship. Forever grateful my friend!


And then last but far from least to my team: James, Garth & Jeffrey;  How do I ever thank you. Can't even tell you how nervous I was. Yet how honoured I felt. And at times before the race I doubted myself, you guys have been spoilt to race with the best (and so here and now I get to thank Bubbles too for the opportunity). You were amazing, caring, strong, funny! Couldn't have asked for 3 more solid guys to take me through my first expedition. It was an absolute privilege ... THANK YOU.

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