Expedition Africa 120km Bronkhorspruit

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Team Cyanosis Win the First ARWS Africa 2021 Race

Clinton Mackintosh - Team Cyanosis / 14.04.2021Live TrackingSee All Event Posts Follow Event
The podium at the first ARWS Africa race of 2021
The podium at the first ARWS Africa race of 2021 / © Kirsten Oliver/ARWS Africa

It has certainly been a while since Nicholas and I have adventure raced; the last AR we did was Eco Challenge Fiji in late 2019.  With Covid-19, the South African AR world was a little upside down and is yet to normalize, so when we saw a race being planned again, we needed to dust off the racing cobwebs and get our team at the races. It is just in our blood!

The team for this race would be Clinton Mac (Captain), Nicholas Mulder, Tracey Campbell, and as Darren Berry was not available, we roped in some young blood in the form of Ruan van der Merwe.  Ruan comes with a lot of experience racing with some other top SA teams. He is incredibly strong on foot, which we believed would come in handy given that this would be a sprint race (by our standards!).  Flat out racing for +/- 10 to 12 hours was our expectation.  

The Cyanosis team is spread all over SA with Tracey based out of Port Elizabeth (PE) and I being in Stellenbosch.  Thus, we would need to travel 1400km up north for this race to join Nic and Ruan in Gauteng for a race in their backyard, which was held about 80km north-east of Pretoria.  One of the main challenges with AR is not necessarily the race itself but getting the complete team to the race with all their gear.  Tracey flew to Johannesburg separately from her wayward bike, a reminder of what can happen when you travel to races.

The race venue village in the hidden Wilge Valley, north-east of Bronkhorstspruit, was clearly well thought out and well planned with the necessary Covid prevention protocols.  The registration was seamless, and teams were literally in-and-out, quickly collecting their gear boxes and paddle bags.  We had already received the race book a few days before the race, so honestly there was not much more preparation to do.  The gear boxes would also be noticeably light, with unusually little gear in them. 

Leg 1 – Trek 13km Through The Mountains

At 6am on Saturday morning we were off.  From the start, one just felt that the teams were going to drive the pace as hard as possible, and would see who was still around at the start of leg 2.  This first leg was a little mountain run, so as we left the start, we immediately hit the first climb. Gone are the days where teams would ease into the races; or perhaps that’s reserved for the longer 250 – 600km races.

The leg was rather spectacular, with a beautiful mountain top run, and a steep fast descent off it to clip a CP next to the Wilge River.  We had a fast flowing and rocky river crossing to find the better “running” line on the far bank, followed by a few more boulder hops and river crossings as we made our way down river to the next CP. Teams always listen intensely to the race briefing, and the description of this river tended to put some fear in to people. The river swims were a far cry from the cold water we expected and were actually fairly warm as we approach the end of summer. Team Songlines pushed the pace really hard on this leg and made a small break on the chasing pack which included Cyanosis, Jabberwock and Pinegold.

Once we crossed the river for the final time at the end of the gorge and started the final 2km section to our boats and Leg 2, we lifted our pace significantly to gain a slight advantage over the teams that were with us at the time.  This would make sure that we didn’t have anyone sitting with us riding our waves and watching our lines on the river paddle leg.  We knew we would lose some time on the paddle leg to Team Songlines, who have multiple paddling champions in their team.  We would need to make this up on the following bike leg, so our goal was to limit the damage down the river.

Leg 2 – Kayak 12km Down the Wilge River

Our transition was relatively quick as there was not much to do except put on our PFD’s / helmets and put our kayak’s in the river and we managed to start the paddle with about a five-minute gap over the chasing teams.  This really was a cracker of a river to paddle. We had some really good flowing water with a few rapids and a few route choices with various river channels to make. 

Tracey and I even managed to go up a line that turned out to be a dead-end. We had to pick the boat up shout out to Nic and Ruan to go “RIGHT” and portage our boat back to the main river line. The river had a few obstacles to negotiate but it was truly very entertaining. 

Leg 3 – Cycle 17km Over The Hills

It was always our strategy to make sure that we started this cycle with some pace as we expected to lose time on the paddle leg, and that’s exactly what transpired.  Nic was spot on with his navigation and we hit all the CPs without hassle.  By this time of day, about 4 hours in, we could feel that the heat was going to be a factor. The pace of the front teams was not letting up and we were chasing a significant gap with Team Songlines about 30 minutes ahead.  We hit the last two kilometres of the cycle and descended down a concrete strip road, a fast and furious decent that we hoped we would not have to ride back up again!

When we go to the transition, we saw no other bikes. That implied that we had passed Team Songlines somewhere out on the bike leg.  We didn’t think about this too much, as we wanted to be out of the transition before they or the chasing teams of Jabberwock and Pinegold arrived.

Leg 4 – Trek 11km on the Rooikrans Hiking Trails

We were given a hiking trail map for this leg in addition to the usual topographic maps. This made navigation a lot easier, and we basically just folllowed the white and green footprint markings all the way. With no navigation required, we had to ‘put on our big boy pants’ and just ‘run forest run!’ This leg was going to be all about how you managed your effort, whilst keeping a fast pace up, in the midday heat.  We kept looking over our shoulders expecting to see a team chasing, but soon realized that we had at least a ten-minute gap as we got to the top of the main viewpoint on the trail. 

It was now getting incredible hot and there was no water available on the trail until we returned to the transition and our bikes.  By this time, the heat was starting to take its toll on the team, and we redistributed our gear to maintain the pace as best we could.  We arrived and departed the transition at the end of the leg without another team arriving, so if we could maintain our pace and effort for the final bike leg, we hoped we would be okay for the win.

Leg 5 – Cycle 67km Through Rolling Farmlands

When you are tired you start calculating the distances a little more carefully to know how much longer you still need to suffer for.  When we were finishing up leg 4 (the trek), I realised that although we were now on the final leg of the race, we had not yet reached the halfway point of the race. A 120km “sprint race”, finishing off with a final 67km (with 926 meters ascent) bike leg will introduce you to the hurt locker, if you haven’t already been there. I didn’t tell the team my calculations.

Nic returned from plotting the next set of maps to let us know that the magical concrete strip downhill that we all so loved on the previous bike leg, would be the first 1.5km of our ride out of the valley. It was quite something to see other teams descending (while we were pushing our bikes up it) and stopping to check their maps thinking they have made a navigation error.  Perhaps we were lucky not to have known in advance that we would be ascending this hill again later in the day, enjoying our leg 4 trekking loop a little more.

This bike leg was a tough one for our team. We had pushed hard since we got off the paddle leg, so we knew that we would be paying for it at some point.  The hope was that payment would only be due after we crossed the finish line as maximum effort inevitably comes at a price.  We needed to work as a collective on the bikes and rallied together, towing, pushing and doing whatever we could to make sure we were not caught. 

It was so hot when we got on the bikes that about two hours into the ride we were already out of liquids and had to stop at a small farmstead to ask for water.  It turns out the guy that who gave us some of his own precious drinking water (that he had to carry home a kilometre of so from a nearby spring) had run a few Comrades Marathons himself.

The final stetch on the bike to the finish was probably the best, as we descended for about 15km back in the Wilge Valley from the highveld grasslands. It amazes me time and time again how quickly we forget the previous hardships when we get close to the finish. 

We took the win, with Team Jabberwock about 15 minutes behind and PineGold soon after them. Team Songlines lost a lot of time on the first bike with a navigation mistake and never recovered back up onto the leaderboard.

It was so good to get back into the groove of racing again. Thank you to Ruan who joined the team and fitted in seamlessly, literally, and physically towing the line without question or hesitation.  A class race, well organised and well run by the Addicted to Adventure team in conjunction with Kinetic Africa. 

Thank you to all of the Cyanosis sponsors for the continued support of so many years: First Ascent, Petzl, Salomon, Mocke Paddling, Specialized and USWE.

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