Lost in the Land of the Volcano
All of the action on day 4 took place on the East Coast of Reunion, but in some very different locations as the field spread out. The leaders followed the coast southwards to the land of the volcano and they are now a day (or maybe two) ahead of the teams at the rear of the course who are still aiming to complete the pack raft stage.
The course planner clearly wanted this central part of the race to be about the less developed East coast, with its lush vegetation, deep canyons and volcanic terrain. Once the pack rafting was completed teams leaving TA2 were in the saddle for the first time in the race, riding through sugar cane fields and passing through the village of Piton Sainte-Rose. Here teams saw the first real sign of the influence of the volcano as the church here was half destroyed by a lava flow and rebuilt with the now solidified lava field still surrounding it.
There would be many more lava fields to come but the end of the stage was at the cliff lined cove of Anse de Cascades where waterfalls tumble into the sea. It was a busy place on a Sunday and the families out for picnics must have wondered what to make of the teams passing through. A short coasteering stage started off another trekking stage, following the coast line much of the way, but interrupted by a short bike ride.
This was to take the road through the biggest of the lava flows which tumbles right down to the sea off of the Eastern flank of Piton de la Fournaise. It is known as ‘Le Grand Brule’ and is a vast area of sculpted solidied lava, an indication of just how powerful the volcano above is.
And that is where the teams headed next, on a stage called in the media race book ‘The Onslaught of the Piton de la Fournaise Volcano’. In the team’s road book it was just; ‘Section E – Trek 3’ but the statistics made scary reading. Distance 32km & elevation gain 3150m.
The leading 3 teams who had opened up a gap on the chasers began their climb in the morning and seemed to find the final coastal checkpoint and then the path up towards the volcano summit easily enough ... but it was a different story for the teams following them. They were looking for the unmanned checkpoint number K20 (not shown on the race tracking map) which was innocuously described as ‘in the stream’.
It was right at the bottom edge of their map at a place called Takamaka, but the map wasn’t very clear and there was no stream to see as it was dried up and overgrown. Teams walking along the coast could not find it and became very disoriented climbing up small ravines and not finding the right one. Then they lost position and overshot becoming lost among small trails in the forest and bush which were off their map.
Lozere Team2 Raid just continued on down the coast, by a few kilometres, so they were well off the map before they finally turned around and others were moving up and down the coastline, searching and failing to find it. The Estonian ACE Adventure team were in 4th place but spent over 4 hours in this small area desperately searching – and they have 3 world regaining champs on the team!
The first to find the small kite in the jungle were Black Hill Salomon Opavanet (CZE) moving into 4th position in the race. This team were disappointed in their trek on the first day, when they were not feeling good, but since then they’ve steadily moved up through the field.
While looking for teams (which I couldn’t find because they were lost) I did come finally come across French team Absolu Raid Occitanie 1 just as they were asking a local man for advice. They had told me they were lost and had searched all the ravines, but now they struck lucky, very lucky! The man they asked was interested and helpful, so much so he set off down the track to guide them personally to where he thought the checkpoint was.
It was a risk for the team to take but they were desperate and their trust was repaid. Half an hour later they emerged from the correct ravine onto the main road with the checkpoint found and he lead them to his home, which was right by the ravine, to get some drinks. Then he changed into running kit and trainers and led the team up the dry river bed and into the forest to set them on thei r way up the volcano – maybe his is with them still!
Shortly after Lozere Team2 Sport climbed out of the bush and they looked a bit stunned and confused. All Fanny Frechinet could say was; “There was nothing. We couldn’t find it.” They were on the road at the same time as DSN74 Hoka who were in surprisingly good spirits, but had the same familiar story to tell. They stopped to eat and powder their feet before setting off up the indistinct trail.
They were followed by the Estonians, Columbia, The North Face Adventure Team and Cyanosis of South Africa. It will be even harder to find K20 during the night and you can expect to see more teams having a baptism of fire at the start of their volcano ascent.