Sud Raid Adventure Race

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Team Dutch Direction Enjoy Alpine Adventures at the Sud Raid

Team Dutch Direction / 14.09.2021See All Event Posts Follow Event
Dutch Direction enjoying the riding at Sud Raid
Dutch Direction enjoying the riding at Sud Raid / © Team Dutch Direction

After reading about the inaugural edition of the Sud Raid in the Hautes Alpes we figured we couldn’t miss it, being a team that has its roots in alpine climbing and mountaineering. The envisaged 96 hours, 400 km and more than 13.000 m of elevation gain would for sure be a challenge, but like fellow Dutchies Team XPD Holland and the other 37 francophone teams we were very excited about the race.

On Sunday the fun started with a prologue: orienteering through the narrow streets, local hills and even the small stream in the pretty village of Veynes. The 14.5 minutes we needed for this made us the 25th team to depart the following evening, at approximately 4 minutes past 8PM.

However, we were so occupied drawing in routes on the 30 different maps for the 12 exciting stages that awaited us that we missed our start time. This meant we set off for the first stage (roller) somewhat late, but we weren’t too bothered about these few minutes in the grand scheme of things. It also soon proved that our pre-race worries about our (lack of) inline skating skills were unnecessary, we quickly started overtaking teams and made good progress.

Master skater Jop led us over the obligatory parcours, and within an hour (faster than the predicted best time!) we arrived at the first transition area. A quick change into our trail running shoes and then we set off for the first big challenge of the race: 30 km of trekking with 2000 m of elevation gain, with lots of bushwhacking and absent trails.

Our first attempt to cross through some forestation proved unsuccessful, so we changed our strategy and stuck to a longer and more hilly route on better trails. In particular CP3 was very tricky to find, which was also shown by the large number of teams searching for this checkpoint. Eventually Mike and Jop concocted a plan which led us to the beacon and puncher, yes!

Meanwhile, we had already had two hours of company from our 5th team member: Doggo, a black dog happily trotting along, seemingly unfazed by the prickly bushes and steep scree slopes.

Time Out in the Storm

The following CP’s were far but pretty, with a literal and metaphorical highlight, the enormous cliff of “Montagne de Céüse”. We climbed up the via ferrata, but due to the ominous thunder at the same time another team came down without having punched the checkpoint.  We decided to at least find the beacon, and upon arrival we were (albeit somewhat grudgingly) allowed - as the last team - to rappel down the 80 m rock face. Even for us, experienced mountaineers, quite an experience!

Due to the thunder we had to wait out the remaining stopwatch time at the next TA, to limit exposure high up on the mountain. We quickly made the long descent, and despite a small navigational error briefly leading us off the map we eventually found the next transition area. After a 45 minute nap (the obligatory waiting time because of the abseil) we assembled our mountain bikes and set off for stage 3.

The MTB stage was worlds apart from the first trekking stage: every hour we reached another CP, and despite the varying surface (asphalt, gravel and singletracks) we progressed rapidly. We did experience that French mountain biking is significantly different from riding Dutch trails: lots of downhill, large drops, tight switchbacks and often large exposure to the side of the track.

Luckily the four of us managed the technical trails well, but when the road got easier again the 40 hours of being awake got to us and it was time for a first short nap in the grass on the shoulder of the road. Some hours later we took a proper 2 hour-nap in an empty barn, after which we tackled the stage’s final climb to the ‘most beautiful view in the world’.

A New Plan of Action

Truth be told, the vista over the Lac de Serre-Poncon was stunning, and what was even better is that we only had to roll downhill from here to reach the next TA - even though it was quite a detour (we missed the ‘obvious’ option of taking our MTB’s for a swim to shortcut this…). In the meantime it had become very clear that our initial time planning was ready for the bin - our factor 1.3-1.5 times the best time was way too little as we were doing about twice the best time in these first three stages. But not all was lost: since we had made the first deadline we would be able to continue ‘short course’. So we adapted our goal to at least make all the deadlines, do the fun CP’s and interesting stages and while doing so collect as many ‘easy’ checkpoints as possible.

In teams of two we then paddled over the beautiful blue lake, and after two CP’s (to save time for the subsequent swim-run stage) we directed our kayaks back to the TA where we decided to slot in a bit of orienteering along the shores of the lake. With the very detailed map we easily found the nearest checkpoints while soaking in the beautiful surroundings, and 45 minutes later we returned to the transition area where we prepared for the swim-run.

Two CP’s on little islands meant about 1600 m of swimming and 3 km of hiking. With all our rucksacks in two drysacks that were towed along by Mike and Nicole we easily made it to the first island, from where we returned to the shoreline that we followed on foot to save some swimming. The largest open water stretch of 650 m on end was slow but steady, although the temperature was dropping and the weather deteriorating. Without any dilly-dally we quickly continued, and through an apocalyptic hail storm we eventually reached the final pebbly beach from where we climbed up to the next TA.

Completely soaked we fled into the back of a minivan, which turned out to be an excellent dry and cosy (though somewhat smelly) changing room. With dry shoes and fresh motivation we left for stage 7 - more than half of the stages done already!

After the first hard trekking stage we were ready for anything, just as well, since we were presented with an appetizer of 1500 m of climbing through meadows and small trails. Halfway we encountered a lot of teams that were eating and sleeping next to a small cabin, but not wanting to lose any precious daylight we continued on. The terrain became increasingly tricky and more alpine, and we scrambled over the limestone boulders to eventually reach a very surrealistic sight from the highest point on a pass: a multitude of head torches was roaming around like ants in the karstified terrain below us, trying to find CP31-33.

Finding a Place to Sleep

Given the terrain we straightaway decided to tackle these points using compass courses, which proved very effective. On a high from such a successful experience, we continued, because this stage was far from over. Meanwhile, both Ruth and Mike had become very sleepy, so it was clear that we would have to find shelter for some sleep relatively soon. Unfortunately the mountainous terrain was rough and inhospitable, and upon arriving at the only, tiny cabin in the are, we found that another team had already squatted in the small shed. Because continuing without rest was not an option, we huddled into the front porch for some 45 minutes of snoozing before we moved on.

It soon became clear that this nap hadn’t been sufficient, so we were immensely grateful for the amazing volunteer at the next CP that happily pointed us towards his tent (including blanket and 2-person mattress!) that we curled up into for two amazing hours of sleep. Along the way Jop and Nicole had already concocted a suitable strategy for the remainder of the race: the last hard deadline was approaching fast and we didn’t want to risk missing it.

This meant that we had to skip the second via ferrata, and with a substantially higher pace we then trotted along to the next TA where only 15 minutes remained for reassembling our bikes and pulling all the required gear out of our TA-bags. Unfortunately, this also meant that we had to skip stage 8 and 9 (skate and orienteering), and that we would straightaway continue with stage 10: MTB. Partly thanks to our previous experience of the rapid transition during the CZAR in the Czech Republic, we relatively easily managed to meet the deadline.

A High Point Down in the Cave Checkpoint

After a short break on the local village square, we mounted our bikes for the remainder of the stage. The route was phenomenal with amazing forest roads and once again very challenging singletracks, and although there was a lot of bike pushing and a multitude of steep climbs we made good progress. One of the highlights of this stage (or maybe of the whole race) was CP61, which was located in a partially flooded cave. Thanks to the wetsuits from Canyonzone (thanks again Gertjan!) we defied the cold water and after an hour of exploration we found the CP.

Before the race we were afraid that this speleology adventure would leave us rather chilly, but this fortunately turned out to not be the case. Relieved, we continued cycling, and despite the very long last kilometer we reached the wintersports village of La Joue du Loup. Here we took another well-needed rest on our wonderful mattresses, also Jop and Nicole were now suffering from fatigue. Earlier we had already decided that we would skip stage 11 (orienteering), which meant that there now was only one stage left: 26 km of mountain biking with ‘just’ 1100 m elevation gain. A French team had lost their orienteering map somewhere during the earlier 75 hours of racing, so we were happy to delight them with ours before we set off for the final cycle.

In the dark it was still chilly, but the sunrise was near and there was sufficient climbing to warm up nicely. Again copious amounts of bike pushing, but the stunning scenery largely made up for the slow progress, such a pretty desolate valley! After one very speedy descent it was time for the last climb of the race, during which we conquered no less than 5 cols. On the last little summit we could almost see and smell the finish line in Veynes, and before tackling the steep and technical descent we took an awesome team photo.

Ruth apparently was the only one still sensible, because either due to tiredness or enthusiastic overconfidence Jop, Nicole and Mike all crash at some point riding down. Luckily without any major injuries, except for a solid cut on Mike’s knee. The trail end is signposted with a picture of a beer, which is exactly what we drink after having crossed the finish line. We made it, what a race, what an adventure!

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