Tuesday, July 3, 2007


Lessons, musings & other random thoughts about the Wartrail

Roughly the plan work as follows: enter some ridiculous event, stress about it, and then a week before the event, enter something even more ridiculous so that you forget to stress about the original event. So on the only training-run for the Mnweni-marathon (which was the stress-reliever for Swazi), Sam came up with the idea of doing the Wartrail: a triathlon, kind of. But we would do it the whoosie-way (well, as whoosie as a race like this would allow, at least): Liz would do the 60-odd kays of mountain running, I would attempt the 135 kays of mountainbiking, and she would paddle the 60-odd kays on the Orange River.

So I started to train in all urgency for this event: I rode as many D&D-rides as I could fit in, with the odd Induna or Magalies Monster thrown in for good measure. I was, after all, part of a team, and I had to be able to go the distance to not let them down. There were three all-girl-teams entered, and we were looking forward to a weekend of fun.

A week before the event, though, a dark cloud appeared on the horizon: Lisa circulated an email suggesting that her team (Lisa, Lobby & Daleen) would make mincemeat of the other 2 all-girl-teams. The war race was on!

This was not good news for team AR Chix, as our whole game-plan was focused around just one thing: to make the cut-offs and get an official finish. The team was in trouble and we had to change our game strategy somewhat. Each one did her bit: I took my bike in for a service to see if Mike could make it any faster, Samantha decided that a K2 was faster than a K1 and that I would paddle with her, and Liz Google-earthed the area to get as much knowledge of the routes as possible.

I even attempted to do some paddling-training with Weazul one Saturday morning before an orienteering-event (I had to learn to read a map as well), but that ended up being a sightseeing-tour in search of the island-crocodile (but that's a story for another time.)

Then it snowed in the Eastern Cape (and in Joburg) and WeatherSA's website didn't predict good things for the weekend. We tried other weather-sites for a friendlier prediction, but all of them were very specific about icy weather in the Eastern Cape.

The mountains surrounding Lady Grey were white with snow – snow lying on the lawns - when we joined the Big-bakkies-loaded-with-bicycles-and-boats influx into the small town late on Friday afternoon.

The hikers would leave at 4:30 on Saturday morning. We were planning to see them off, and then be back in bed by 4:40-ish. Tweet had some marshal-duties at the first checkpoint, however, and it didn't take much to convince us to go with … so within 5 minutes of the invite we were on our way to the runners' first checkpoint – with bakkie until it could go no further, and then a little over 2 kays on foot through thick snow and with a full moon to light up the way. Our checkpoint-duties included attacking the camera-crew and all the incoming hikers with snowballs (which disintegrated as soon as you threw them). Later, on our way down, we could see the silhouettes of the last two groups on a snow-laden ridge with the sun rising behind them.

Life was good.

Camping that night in Balloch – the snow glistened in the still-full moon while we waited for the hikers to come in. Huge campfires & a lamb-potjie brewing in the cave.

The next morning we had to outcycle a developing snowstorm :)

By the time we reached the top of Lundean's nek, it was snowing in Balloch where we camped the previous night. The temperature was dropping very quickly - it was already way below zero, if the frozen bladder-mouthpieces & frozen chocolates was anything to go by. From there it's a 14 kays downhill to the first checkpoint with the icy wind in your back - the bicycle just wanted to GO - WOW!

Having a very bad reputation with navigation, I was determined to not get lost this time. The instructions were very clear: Every time the road splits, keep right. So, there was this split in the road. The right one was closed for road works. The map clearly indicated that I must go right – so I did. And I saw bicycle tracks – well, at least 2 bicycles' tracks. Climbed up a very steep hill, and then some more. Kids asking me "Waar gaan jy?"
"To Majuba's Neck, can I go this way?"
"Ja, net om die draai," came the reply.

So I went around the corner, higher and higher. To a T-junction that wasn't indicated on my map. Stay right, were the instructions, so I turned right and climbed some more. No bicycle tracks any more. At last saw someone, asking for directions.

"What, am I in Lesotho?"
"Where's South Africa?"
"that way"

Around a few corners I could see the other cyclists far below – what an exhilarating feeling to
(a) know where I am and
(b) have to go go downhill to where I'm supposed to be!

Life was good.

The stretch between 80 and 120 kays was straight into an icy headwind, it was not fun. Sometimes the wind would be from the side; it would blow me from the left side of the road where I was cycling, to the other side of the road. Peddle back to the left side, just to be blown back to the other side again. I could see 2 cyclists ahead of me, but just couldn't catch them. Waited a few minutes for someone from behind to catch up with me while I raided my backpack for chocolates, but then gave up and fought the wind on my own again.

Life was not so great then.

At the next checkpoint I realised that I lost my map, so I waited for the next cyclists to come along. We cycled together for a while, with Adrian urging me to go faster - did I look, by any chance, like i was ABLE to go any faster, i wondered. But he kept insisting that I "race" the girls - as far as going at 10 kays an hour could be considered "racing" ... with the icy wind now from behind, I succumbed, but the break-away didn't last long - Dalene and Lobby outsprinted me on the last hill - there just wasn't anything in my legs left!

So now the AR girls (Dalene, Lobby & Lisa) and the AR Chix (Sam, Liz and myself) were tied … with Liz coming in a few seconds before Lisa, and then Dalene & Lobby coming in a few seconds before me. The whole race came down to the paddling leg.

My Suunto recorded a temperature of –3 degrees inside the tent on Monday morning. There was ice all over Sam's sleeping bag … frost gathered your jacket as you do morning-camping-things. Adrian shortened the paddle-leg because of the cold, so we could start an hour later.

To the amusement of those around us, we almost tipped the boat before the start. The water that comes from your paddle on the up-stroke, froze on our life jackets...Sam had a collection of icicles on her peak - very pretty. We had to get out of the boat a few times to get off rocks & sandbanks, & the thought of tipping the boat in that water was quite scary. For the first 2 hours in the boat we couldn't drink anything, because the bladder-mouthpieces were frozen again

The gorge was beautiful, and we paddled with Ugene, Lobby & Dalene & Vicky & a few other boats, solving the world's problems until someone would get stuck on a sandbank … then it's your turn to get stuck on a sandbank, & the others would catch up again. A few rapids & bubblies to test your balance.

By the time we could see the finish a kilometer away, my arms felt like they would break off. The boat was getting tippier as we got more tired, and we were in real danger of tipping the boat. The water levels were very low, so we zig-zagged across the river to avoid sandbanks, paddling much further than intended – the end just didn't come any closer! Then Ugene's boat tipped for no apparent reason, we got stuck on a sandbank one last time, and then finally Alex sprinted us to the finish … where he spectacularly tipped his boat just as he crossed the line.

The paddle very sensibly finished at a hot spring, so we jumped into the warm pool to thaw the frozen toes & hands before prize giving & the long drive back.

The slogan on a coke light can say: "Here's to living life light". There was only one can on coke light left in the cooler box, so we shared it, toasting the event and life in general: "Here's to living life."
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