This Is The End, My Friend
The last day of racing. Today was the busiest I’ve ever seen at Expedition Africa, with 50 teams crossing the finish in a single day, here at Les Cocotiers Hotel on the island of Rodrigues. The first teams arrived on Wednesday at 11:40am, it’s now Friday 20:30 and closing fast. For a race advertised as 150km shorter than normal, it sure didn’t feel like it.
The first team this morning was Castle Lite, paddling in on their SUPS at 3am to a raucous greeting despite the hour. Fan favourites with 9 Expedition Africa’s under their belts for Adrian Saffy, Garth Peinke and Craig Powell, Jo Mackenzie was the new addition, not having done any EA’s but with the Bull of Africa on her CV.
They looked tired, especially Saffy. Delighted to be taking 9th place (unofficially), they bellyflopped into the hotel pool in full kit, packs still on their backs. Saffy said, “the pool now has so much salt, visitors will think it’s the Dead Sea.”
The pool was a baptismal of sorts. French team Raid O’Brothers arrived in the hot sunshine, dropped their gear on the spot, all clothes bar underwear, and entered in a more considered manner. Then diving under, in a glorious, refreshing cleansing, gliding for a moment, arms outstretched. A pause, then a vigorous scrubbing, rubbing the sweat and grime and salt from every pore. I could totally relate, but didn’t really want to swim afterwards ðŸ˜‰ Bring on the chlorine!
Time and again teams finished with the customary champagne and photos but also with a rousing “Do you love Rodrigues? I love Rodrigues!”
The teams came in thick and fast. It was hard to keep up. The only factor that prevented it becoming total chaos was that Stephan insisted everyone finish on the SUPS, regardless of short coursing. Everyone had to make it to T10 on boats with bikes, since that’s where the Saffers would have their bikes packed for container shipping back to South Africa. Then followed a bike loop, and final trek to the SUPs. It’s hard to know which routes teams followed, with some dropping CPs, or even entire stages, to reach T11, but then there were only so many SUPS. Teams had to wait as boards were trucked back from the finish in sets of 8; the most I saw were 3 teams on the horizon at once.
Teams said the final bike and trek were fast, whether it was due to their eagerness to complete the course, or actual technical difficulty. If you got the line wrong, though, the trek was tough. CP103, CP108 – certain checkpoints were mentioned again and again.
If you’re going to race a Stephan course, you need to get into his head. That’s true of every race, naturally. In Expedition Africa, you know the trekking is going to be hard navigationally. There won’t be easy CPs. Some RDs will use obvious features, like a lighthouse on the coast. Stephan is far craftier but it’s not for difficulty’s sake. There is a logic, and you have to follow the flow. As a race director, you don’t want to give the impression of simply making up distance. It mustn’t be samey.
In the treks, we had a beach hike, an up-river hike, a down-river hike, a trek hitting koppies (hill tops), a tiger-line crossing ridges, and two canyons. Teams remarked that the course never felt boring, which is what they feared beforehand. It also took them through diverse terrain despite the small land mass – ancient jungle, grassland, volcanic boulder fields, limestone outcrops, nightmare tangled undergrowth. That’s just the treks.
As teams rolled in, the pool became increasingly soupy, the crowd more raucous, the DJ pumping out island favourites, until eventually the Rodrigues team arrived towards the very end. It was crazy. Hordes of locals lining the beach, having escorted them from a-far along the shoreline, as the team SUPped to the finish. Cue fireworks, dancing, ecstatic families, everybody bouncing off the energy and the joy. Jonny Clegg’s Spirit of The Great Heart thudded in the background. Such a grin on every face. Jabulani!!