I sit here thinking what I should title this report and the first thing that comes to mind is ‘Curse of the World Championships’. Now don’t get me wrong. I mean that with some respect, but also having now done a few World Champs it seems that when a race event / organiser is awarded the World Championships for that year, their well-established and successful races of the past have to go through tremendous changes making the race simply complicated and unachievable.
Last year after the World Champs in Portugal, the Bimbache Extreme race director introduced his race to the AR world and said in no uncertain terms that his race would be a race from point A to Point B: a “traditional” race. The fastest team will win the race and one could only conclude that we would go back to traditional racing where teams don’t get to choose what they do and you don’t need to race with a spread sheet calculator in your pack. If you fall too far behind the lead team you are simply short coursed and that was it. The teams did not have to make this call, the race director makes the call for teams at a certain cut off and those teams go on to a shorter version to make sure they make it to the finish.
This newer version where teams choose which legs of a course they want to do makes keeping track impossible not only for the people watching back home, but for us the racers. It is very demoralizing. Ryno’s comments in the days leading up to the race was very fitting, “Guys I am so looking forward to this race because we get to race hard traditional AR style. If there are two teams ahead of you it probably means that you are in third place”. This was our expectation and what we were lead to believe this race would be.
Today we received the official results and Cyanosis finished 13th overall. We were out there for a top 10 finish and we worked hard especially in the final three days, with Cyanosis picking up pace on the latter legs while most other teams slowed down. We never knew what we needed to do to gain places and how hard we needed to push and when so we were in fact left to our own devices and to try and manage ourselves with no help from the organizers.
Let me start the actual race report a few days before we left for Spain. As I am sure you can all imagine getting prepared to go racing is a tremendous undertaking on its own. For example, I like to have my bags packed about 4-5 days before we even leave for the airport. This giving me more time with the family as opposed to being too stressed out to spend the quality time with them just before I leave. In Ryno’s case he is a perfectionist and he is very intense when he gets his gear together. It is reported that he spends a lot of alone time during this period as he becomes less approachable; this makes Ryno such a great asset to the team as his attention to all the detail could potentially be missed by the others and it is so important for us to have him do what he does. On the other hand our team Nav “Nic” puts his gear together 1 or 2 nights before we leave. This seems to give him more time to do whatever else he has on his plate before stressing about the race.
We all met at the airport fairly early on the 29th September to make sure that we had no hassles with our bags. We each took a team bag and the hard plastic bike crate. Weight is a luxury we do not have when it comes to airline weight restrictions, so we managed to get all our gear checked in and paid 450 Euro in total for the bike boxes. The flight itself was as good as it gets in Cattle Class and Ryno and I tried to watch every movie on the plane that we could in the time we had. We did not sleep much on the plane, but that is par for the course.
We arrived in Zurich on the 30th September as we arranged our flights with a stopover in Switzerland. Nic’s parents live in Switzerland and they collected us from the airport and took us to their beautiful home that overlooks the Alps for breakfast. A shower and a lovely breakfast with the Mulders was a great treat for the team before we headed back to the airport for our final flight to Spain. We arrived in Madrid that afternoon and waited around for the organizers who we had arranged a transport package with. As this race was an unassisted race, most teams would rely on the organizers to move them and their race drums around where necessary.
There were some teams that opted for self support, meaning that they could have their own assistance that would move their team drums from transition to transition. The race organizers assured all the teams that this would be monitored and that they would not benefit from support. This is a subject of contention on it’s own as there was doubt that as the assisted teams had their gear moved around, that those supporters would not attempt to add or remove things from supposedly sealed drums. I am of the firm believe that if a race is unsupported “NO” outside support is allowed, period.
At the airport we met up with our fourth Team Cyanosis member Jen Segger who flew in that morning from Canada. Jen raced with Nic, Eugene Botha and I in the 2008 Bull of Africa where we withdrew from the race with less than 16 hours to go from a close fought second-place battle with a medical emergency. Jen jumped at the opportunity to again race with the Cyanosis team, as she got a taste of what we were all about in 2008 and knew that we were going to World Champs to not simply participate in the race, but to race hard for a top 10 finish. We used this time at the airport to further discuss team roles and goals for the race until we managed to get moving with the organizers. We were all loaded and put on to a bus for a 1.5 hour bus trip to Avila which was North West of Madrid.
Avila, would be the start city for this year’s World Champs and it was a fitting place to start. It was simply beautiful, with a huge medieval wall surrounding the main city itself. We were well accommodated in a hotel called “Four Poles”, which was 2km away from the wall itself and overlooked the south side of the wall. We did not have much time to do anything as we got to the hotel rather late on Thursday night and were eager to get some dinner as it was already 19h30 or so. We quickly learnt that dinner in Spain is not early. We were told that dinner would be served at 22h00 that night and 21h00 Friday and Saturday night. The one thing that I noticed during these dinners is the aggression of the waiters. There is certainly a language barier as they do not speak nor understand English or many other languages, and I suppose the sheer volume of the racers but them under pressure. They served you a three course meal which you sat at the table and they brought to you with pace. Hopefully some of that speed would rub off to us during the race.
On Friday morning we were scheduled to do our registration and ropes assessment. Each team was given a time slot for this and would need to be there for their appointment time. We had an early reg and assessment slot and sailed through this with little to no fuss at all. The ropes assessment was a quick test to see if you could get yourself in to your harness and Jumar up a rope that was attached to a tree. We finished this up and we then headed to town to purchase all our proper race food. With this being unsupported we would need to purchase food and keep it in a race drum that will be designated for food only. We would be given a total of 4 drums, one for trekking, one for paddling, one for MTB and the last being for food. We would only be able to collect these drums Saturday morning so we needed to make use of Friday to go out and purchase food for the race. Our approach was to move up and down all the isles to see if there was anything that we may need or that we could use during the race. We managed to get a few tinned foods and collected a lot of pastry type foods. We also picked up tinned coke, iced tea and some fruit like apples and oranges. We would later learn a very valuable lesson about this food drum later in the race.
Now satisfied that we have overcome a huge hurdle by getting some food for the race, the team started settling down. We went for a 20km odd ride on Friday afternoon just to loosen up the legs and to look around Avila.
Saturday was the start of serious business as teams would have to collect their race drums and would need to start working on what goes in where. During the handout of these drums teams were given a copy of the race stages / legs, this would help teams work out what needed to go in which drum. It was clear though that food was not to go in any other drum but the allocated food drum. We all got our gear separated for each drum and we started packing the drums before we needed to be at race briefing.
Briefing was to take place after all the teams marched from the hotel, on and across the medieval town wall and to an auditorium where the actual race briefing would take place. Briefing was literally lost in translation; done in Spanish with an English translator to interpret the Spanish welcome speeches and race overview. The race director kept referring to the race or course booklet that teams had not yet received and would only receive after the briefing. This would give teams little to no opportunity to field questions to the organizer should they have any. It was later learnt that some teams managed to track down the race director over dinner and fielded some questions to him on a one to one basis. This meant that if you were not there at the table for a question of any importance, you would not know. This was a little strange approach but if the race director was so sure of his race book there should be no questions as we were told in the briefing.
Sunday 3 October was finally here, the ARWC 2010 start was now upon us. The team was ready to get started and wanted to get day 1 over with as we all knew that it would be fast and furious with little let up till teams settled in. We were given a weather report during the briefing on the Saturday night and were told to expect cold wet condition on Sunday and Monday and clear from there on in. We woke up on Sunday to cold weather; we could see the weather had defiantly changed from the previous two days we spent in Avila and it was now cold and overcast. We headed to the start but quickly realized we actually did not know where the actual start was. We followed some local teams who seemed to know more than we did and arrived at the start at around 08h05 technically 5min later than the published race start time in the original information. We later found out that the start had been moved back to 09h00 in the race book so we needed to huddle up and try and stay warm for the next 55min.
The first stage of the race was to be a 4km “Urban Orienteering” leg and in true orienteering tradition, teams could tackle these points in any order. “5,4,3,2,1 GO” and all the teams set off through the opening gate in the town wall where the “O” maps were pegged on a line. Nic quickly looked over the map and we were off running around Avila looking for the check points to make notes. The time allocated for this section was 1h00 and we managed to get all our points within 40 min and were now off to the first real transition and a 75km MTB leg. The transition went smoothly for the team but we got held up while the race official looked to hand out PC cards to teams. Each team had a number on the PC card and she was trying to hand it out to the correct teams but eventually the teams started grabbing cards and shooting off, whilst she insisted on looking for # 15 (our team) loosing valuable minutes on some teams. Eventually as she could now not find card 15 she gave us a card and told us to write our number on it. We were now off on our MTB leg. In the back of your mind one thinks, “this is only 75km, how tough could it be”. The stage was 75km with an ascent of 1995m and the fastest indicated time for this leg would be 4h00 and the slowest 6h00.
We were still on a good pace, not letting off the gas at all and were well placed in the field. We were all working hard and knew that we just needed to maintain a flat out high tempo for as long as possible to stay with the lead pack or close to them. The stage was tough, we climbed and for every ascent / climb there would be a descent. However, it soon emerged that the descents were not as rewarding as one would think they were; technical and slow going. If we hit any flat sections on this leg we were riding directly into strong headwinds that seemed to change direction every time we changed our direction on the bike, so the going was once again slow and hard. We headed to S3 (Section 3) where we would change from MTB to what the race organizers described in the race book as “Specific Orienteering”.
S3 – Specific Orienteering was an 18km Orienteering stage with a twist which all teams found out about at race briefing. The teams would do the first 12km together and the teams would then split in two pairs and do the remainder 6km in pairs on different courses.
The weather had now closed in and was now a steady rainfall. We quickly transitioned from MTB kit in to our First Ascent trekking / running shorts and our trusty Salomons for a 12km run around in a forested orienteering heaven. Each team had to check in with a marshal and we were issued with the first map for the 12km o’ section. Nic quickly got the team on a route that he was happy with and that we could complete with relatively good speed. It was an amazing section as the rain fell in the woods, the mist and everything seemed to have closed in around us, making this section specifically beautiful. We hit all the CPs with relative ease. It was as if Nic had already mapped this area before as he took the team to each location with precision. We finished up the 12km leg and needed to again report to the marshal to receive the two O maps that would split the teams.
We looked over the Maps and the plan was that Nic would tackle the map with more challenging CPs and Ryno would take the easiest 8 CPs needed. It was quickly established that we shared a few CPs on our Maps whilst other CPs were relatively close to each other anyway. So we decided to stick together as a team of 4 as much as possible in order not to loose time. When we got to the split where Nic’s CPs were over a small hill and a more technical run away we decided that Jen and Ryno would clip their three remaining CPs that were relatively close to the transition and Nic and I would run to the more technical CPs. This would give Jen a few extra minutes to gain some needed reprieve from the hammering of the fast pace. Nic and I clipped our last CPs and ran back to the transitioning but managed to get there before Ryno and Jen so we quickly got our MTB gear ready for the next leg while we waited for Jen and Ryno. They did a fine job coming in less than 5min after Nic and I, so we were all together again preparing for the next section, a 76km MTB leg in the now pouring rain and with temperatures well below 5 degrees.
S4 – MTB 76km, with an ascent of 1582km, taking the fastest teams 6h30 and the slowest teams 10h00. I still remember saying to Nic, this can’t be right it is only 76km and Nic said yes 76km with a 5kg+ backpack and some tricky navigation in the dark let alone the fact that it was now properly raining and bitterly cold. This MTB was tough, and I don’t mean tough because it was long. I think what made it tough was the fact that we did the full leg in wet weather gear. We highly rate our First Ascent wet weather gear (Dry-Lite jacket and pants). In fact, I commented last year in Portugal ARWC that this waterproof top is by far the best piece of gear I have. This year it once again made a difference, until we hit a tar downhill section at 45kph and the rain was pouring down our faces into the waterproofs. No matter what we did, we were wet, which just meant that we would be getting cold as the light faded. Nic’s navigation was spot on, we made one or two mistakes and I mean mistakes by the fact that we missed a turn on a nonexistent path by 60m.
We all felt like we were working well and that we were keeping a good tempo with a few teams around us. It was good to see some well known teams with us as well so we were happy that we were doing the business. This leg was long and I remember that we picked up a peloton on the climb after two teams were sitting about talking over their maps and we came past. They quickly hitched a ride and stayed there. Nic would stop and look at the map, have a quick chat with us and we would be off. As we stopped the two following teams did the same and this carried on for some time.
Even when we decided to hike our bikes up a section these teams did the same. Eventually when the technical Nav was over they pushed on ahead on the tar road only to be caught again when a decision was needed at a cross road. We were nearing our next transition which would be another tricky section where two people would paddle and two would run for CPs.
S5 – Kayak Trekking – Nic & Jen would do the first paddle 10km + 13km and Ryno and I would do the Trekking and paddling 15km + 8Km. Nic and Jen set off on their paddle while Ryno and I headed off on our trekking section.
We would not consider ourselves navigators in Nic’s class, but would consider ourselves comfortable to read a map. Being well in to the night, it was very dark and Ryno and I ran out with our goal of reaching our first CP and heading to the waters edge to swap to kayak with Nic & Jen. Well, Ryno and I spent more time than we would like to have looking for this elusive CP. In fact, the 35 min gap we put into Team Merrell Adventure Addicts was quickly dissolved when Graham and Tatum came walking up the road. Ryno and I were getting rather frustrated that we were wasting so much time on this CP, but needed to make sure we got it. We had a good understanding with Merrell that we would look for this CP together. We all looked for an additional 1 hour going up and down where we thought it was.
I went up this one path that looked right, but we all agreed it was not doing what the map said the path should have done, so we abandoned that path for another lower down. Eventually we committed to the original path and followed it for longer than we thought and there it was. It was annoying and frustrating for Ryno and I but we were please we managed to locate it and now all we needed to do was run to the water’s edge where we had Nic & Jen waiting for us. We ran together at first with Graham & Tatum and then we decided that we needed to run the entire way and not walk any sections to make up some lost time. We reached the water’s edge where Nic and Jen were huddled up in a van with some other racers that were waiting for their partners. We did the quick change and Ryno and I were off on the paddle.
By the time we reached our first paddle check point it was starting to get light and it would make our paddling navigation easier. Nic had warned us that we would have a headwind but did not feel anything till after we hit the first CP and u-turned to head back towards the transition and collect an island check point. We paddled and paddled and I remember Ryno saying to me “Mac are we moving?”. The headwind was so strong we had a fair bit of chop to deal with, let alone the headwind. We hit the last CP with no fuss and paddled back to the transition. We managed to get in to the TA before Nic and Jen, so Ryno and I could use this time to get our paddle gear sorted and get our MTB gear back on for our next leg.
S6 – 63km MTB with 1852m climbing, this leg was relatively uneventful, or that is what I thought till Nic pointed out two major highlights to this 63km MTB section. I think the first major incident is just after we pulled away from Merrell and were climbing ‘again’, Nic slightly in front of me, and Jen and Ryno about 20m behind. Nic came to a sudden stop and yelled to me to activate the “SPOT”. I still remember looking at him thinking what the hell is he on about as there was no reason that I could see till I actually got next to him and I saw a mountain bike in the bush on the right hand side slope, and a guy lying with his head down the slope. I immediately activated the “911” function and the “Help” function on our SPOT device as we were shown to do during race registration.
We identified the guy as one of the ORION Health team members, but did not see any other team members around. We all quickly got into rescue mode and racing was now a non priority. Nathan (the guy laying there from Orion) was showing signs of severe injury as he had thrown up and was also in severe shock. Jen quickly got below him and supported his neck while Ryno got our space blankets out and started making sure he was as comfortable as possible. Nic asked for the emergency phone which I gave him and said that he would run up ahead to try and get signal to call emergency. Nic was gone for about 5 min odd when he returned with two other members of Orion.
Nic was unsuccessful with mobile signal and discussed the situation with Orion’s team captain upon finding them some hundred metres higher up the hill. Nic passed my phone to him, the idea was that he would try to get to high ground and make a call and Nic would return to the accident and use Orion’s phone. Nic returned and soon both Orion’s and Cyanosis’s SPOT GPS devices were transmitting 911 emergency signals. Using Orion’s emergency cell phone, Nic and I trekked to the top of the mountain to try and get signal. Just before we headed up Merrell arrived at the incident and they two activated their emergency SPOT. Now three teams had activated their SPOTS which would surely indicate to race HQ there was a serious incident.
It was very tricky trying to call emergency services especially when they talk so little English but it was incredible how quickly they did manage to mobilize. About 1h30min from when we first activated the SPOT device, two mountain rescue personal were putting Nathan into a helicopter and off he went to hospital. It turned out that he had a concussion, severe fatigue and fortunately nothing else major. We are not entirely certain how long he was lying there, but it could not have been too long. It appears that Nathan had been riding at the back of the team when he fell off the track, with the rest of Orion not immediately realizing his absence.
Be that as it may, I think the SPOT devices worked fantastically well. I think the fact that some teams did stop and offered to help, overlooking the fact that this was a race, was also reassuring that if this happened to me that they would do the same to help. All and all we spent approximately 1hours 45 mins at the incident. We made 100% sure that Nathan was put in to the chopper and the rest of his team were okay.
Just after the Orion emergency we had got back on our bikes to continue the race. Merrell had already gone on as there was not much more they could have done there. We continued to climb up and on to the ridge, when on the ridge we hit a fairly descent tar road and we were cruising along very happily till we heard a screech and a thud. As I turned around I saw Jen picking herself up out of a bramble bush and off the tar. For just a few seconds, Jen had closed her eyes and bam fell asleep and crashed in to the brambles. Now bruised and grazed up from the fall, Jen was well awake for the rest of the MTB ride. This leg was to get us from the previous paddle section to the next TA and the first of three inline skating legs.
S7 – 5km uphill inline skating. When we came into this Transition Area, Nic said that the road we currently crawling up about 1km from the TA, is the same road we will be skating down shortly. All our thoughts “ARE YOU ON CRACK!”. We quickly transitioned to our skates and all decided to walk down 85% of the fist hill and put our skates on and blade the rest of the way to the next TA. This was really straight forward and we managed to do this within about 35min odd. Just for added fun this skating leg required all the teams to carry a lot of additional gear such as all your ropes work, climbing helmet, bivvy bags and a tent for 4 people (team gear), as well as your trekking gear and food for around 18 hours.
S8 – This leg was a 9km trekking leg up the mountains where all the teams were warned about extreme weather and to make sure they are prepared for it. This first 9km trekking leg was to take us to the first ropes section in the mountains. Once we reached the ridge we could immediately feel the cold biting, fortunately the bad weather that was expected for this evening arrived a day earlier and caught us on the MTB the night before. It was a pity we hit this section at night as I can only imagine it was spectacular.
S9 – We reached the ropes section relatively easily coming down a big boulder and scree section. All you needed to do was to the left and you could see some other team’s headlights dangling on what looked like a massive cliff. The ropes section was so quick we managed to tackle this as a team within 45min and we were told by the ropes team that this is actually a spectacular area with incredible views. We finished up the ropes and set off on S10, the main 34km trekking section in the mountains.
S10 – trekking leg with 2531m of climbing, taking the fastest teams 14 hours and slowest teams 24 hours. We were also told that teams can expect at one CP a warm pasta meal for 10Euro each. This was now a highlight and a good goal for the team to get there quickly. This route was altered due to the sheer magnitude of the hike, sanity prevailed and the race director shortened the leg by removing two CPs from this hiking leg. These two CPs would have seen the teams hike on the ridge, drop down the valley and up the other side to collect a CP and then trekking back to the ridge. This was a welcome relief, but it did not make the trek any less challenging.
We trekked on a few paths and managed to hit a large path that was very well marked, the only gripe being that this path was not smooth dirt such as most of our SA hiking trails are. This was a purpose built rock pavement. Incredibly uneven surfaces made running along these section dangerous if you wanted to finish the race in relatively acceptable pain. We reached the CP that provided the hot pasta meal just before sunrise. It was in the middle of nowhere and we all had our thoughts as to how they get their food and drinks to this mountain hut. We did debate whether 10 Euro per person for pasta in tomato sauce was actually justified, until we trekked out of there and realized they had to have carried the food and drinks in to the mountain, or would have to have got it in by helicopter. It was remote, extremely remote and incredibly beautiful. We finished this mammoth trek just before midday; all we needed to do was MTB the next section of 22km to the halfway spot and a compulsory 4 hour stop.
S11 – a 22km MTB to the 4 hour compulsory stop is enough to lift any team’s spirits. We nailed this leg fairy fast, gaining a few minutes on the teams ahead of us. We hit this transition and had a clear idea of what we wanted to do in the TA. We discussed on our bikes heading in to the TA that we would spend 30min as we arrive to get all our gear prepped and ready for the next MTB stage after the rest, and would also eat while we are doing this as we wanted to make use of the compulsory stop to sleep. We wanted to bank a good 2 hours plus of sleep in this TA. We had had a few small cat naps out on the course, but as you can imagine, these are nothing compared to sleeping in a sleeping bag in a relatively warm gym.
We all did exactly what we needed to do, taking 10min longer, but we were all fairly relaxed and ready to get some sleep. We woke up with 30min to go before we were scheduled to leave the TA and got all our admin done and stood at the race admin table 5min before we were to go waiting to be told we can shoot off. This was a class act by the team as we made 100% use of this compulsory STOP. We can be thankful it was in daylight, as it was light and warm to get some good sleep but on the other hand we did lose the opportunity of daylight out on the race route. Certainly a ‘Catch 22’ situation…
Oh yes before I forget, I need to tell you this is where our troubled food drum started to rear its teeth. This food drum we would see a total of six times during the race and all teams would need to store all their food in this drum only. We had all our race food inside this drum as well as any food we wanted in the TA’s. We had a lot of cans, some pastries and fruit and so on. Now this drum was being transported by the race organizers so they would be chucked about rolled around whatever it takes to move these drums. Some team food drums weighed an incredible 60kg, our drum was not close but heavy enough that one person would never pick it up.
So back to the food drum problem. At the TA’s there is no roof and quality shelters so the drums are left out in the open day or night and as these drums are being manhandled the contents inside get all mashed about. All or the majority of our cans burst open and leaked out in to the drum and the majority of the pastry packets burst and by now was mixing with the canned goods. By the time we got to the food drum at this TA and we removed the lid it smelled rather bad. Bad enough that we would have preferred never to go in to this food drum unless it was absolutely necessary. One would lose their appetite just opening this food drum, so looking for a food can that was covered in smelly other stuff was desperate stuff…
S12 – yet again we were on our MTB for a 34km ride which should have taken 2h30 for the fast teams and 4h00 for the slow teams. We were getting to grips with the race designers pattern now and we all knew that every time you climb on to your bike you would be in for a quality ride. (Certainly sarcasm in that comments as both Nic and I commented that so far every bike leg that we had done in this race was like a stage of the Cape Epic).
S13 – This stage of the race would be another Kayak trekking combo. We reached this stage well in to the night so we would be paddling 20km across a dam in the dark, where we would need to get out of our boats and trek on two different orienteering sections to find CPs. This was done in an interesting format as the teams would be given one double and two single boats to paddle. We decided that Nic & Jen would be in the double and Ryno and I would be in the two singles. We moved quickly on the water and made some good time. We reached the first section where we would need to get out of the boats and go and find a few CPs. Teams would be allowed to leave one person with the boats and the other three would need to go and find CPs. Jen was left with the boats so that she could get some sleep. We were back at the boats just over an hour and we were off again paddling to the next orienteering section.
We left Jen with the boats again and Nic, Ryno & I went running off to collect all the CPs. We were moving along very nicely and we nailed all the CPs until we got the last CP of the trek where the description for this CP was contour 970m above sea level. This was a ridiculous CP and we spent around one and half hours just looking for this CP alone. We split up and formed a search line and walked along what we thought was the 970m contour line. We searched and searched and eventually we discussed the option of not clipping this CP. As this section was considered an orienteering section, if we missed a CP we would be given a time penalty of one hour. Now we had already spent so long looking for this CP and Jen was waiting for us at the dam edge we needed to get moving so we took the penalty and moved back to the boats.
We later found out that the CP was not hanging on anything but merely lying on the ground and a lot of teams just stumbled on to it. I consider this sort of CP very poorly placed and marked and I do believe that in orienteering, finding CPs on a contour description is not common at all. It was a hit and miss for most teams and unfortunately we were one of those teams that missed this CP and collected a one hour penalty for our troubles. It is so frustrating not finding a CP that you spend so much time looking for and to find out it was laying on the floor in the grass. We got back to the boats to find Jen shivering in her space blanket; we discussed this in length during our paddle back to the TA that she got the raw deal. Nic, Ryno & I were running around finding CPs thus keeping moving and fairly warm and Jen was at the boats next to the water’s edge freezing cold. If you ask me I was pleased to be running about and not freezing my ass off on the water’s edge. Sorry Jen we took so long, we really looked for that CP as best as we could…
S14 – Another MTB leg that will move us from the dam to the next trekking and skating leg. This MTB was only 38km and again you think in your head, “Gee only 38km. I do that around the block where I live” but then you see that we will be climbing 1053m in 38km, which brings you back to the reality that this MTB was going to be another back breaker. It was now just before sunrise and before we got in to the full swing of this MTB the team decided to take an hour sleep. We managed to find a public toilet in a carvan park and slept in there for an hour before we got back to the business of racing. It is never easy to sleep on a hard cold concrete floor and then get up and race again. It takes a lot of will power to get your head and body back in to the mode and step outside in to the cold.
We set off relatively steady and then we got back in to a good rhythm. The navigation for this 38km leg was tricky and Nic needed to be on form for this as there were a number of small roads that if you missed would send you in the wrong direction for some time before you know you are actually on the wrong road. Nic was on good form here and we moved along managing to catch a team and pass them as we climbed up and up the hill banking ascent so that we could meet the 1000m odd needed for this stage. We decided to stop in a small bar yes a bar that was open at 09h00 in the morning for a quick drink and a snack. We did not waste too much time here ordering cokes, kit-kat’s and a packet of chips each. We each dropped that down the hatch as if it was liquid food that did not touch sides; we got back on our bikes and climbed out of this small village and headed back in to the mountains.
We turned off the small road and back on to the dirt where to our surprise we had the Merrell team come up behind us. This was a surprise to us we would have expected them to be ahead of us after we slept for an hour or so, but after chatting them, they too had slept, but slept out in the bush. We all rode this section together and to be honest it was great to see some friendly faces. One thing we all discussed during this race was how many teams appear to be so self absorbed and are very unfriendly to other teams. We rode the climb to the top of this mountain all together and just as we pushed for the top before the drop I discovered I had a mechanical. We were slightly ahead of Merrell at this time so I pushed for the top so that I could do some quick repair. I used a bomb to inflate the rear tire as I would not see any damage and got on the bike and rode off before we were caught but this did not help. I got off the bike and re-looked at the tyre to find out that I had a side wall slit and I had broken a spoke on the rear wheel. We quickly repaired this and put in a tube within 4 minutes. We quickly caught up to Merrell and we rode in to the next town together. Merrell pulled off to a garage and we went off to the TA. We spent around 45min odd in this TA and still there was no sign of Merrell who were sorting out their own bike repairs.
S15 – Trekking and inline skates, this section was going to be entertaining. As Nic pointed out we would be climbing high and that the skating section has more switch backs than the Tour de France. We managed to transition out of this TA before Merrell got in and we were well on our way again happy to be off the bikes for a while. We trekked to the next remote TA 6km away where we would find our inline skates waiting for us. We arrived at this TA and could not believe that the organizers wanted us to skate up that mountain. Again the thoughts that came to min were “ARE THEY ON CRACK”.
We all decided that skating was not going to be possible for our abilities and that we would walk the majority of this climb. To give you an idea how steep this section was this road was the main road to a ski-resort at the top of a huge mountain. They do not allow heavy vehicles on this road because of the gradient, what on earth did we bring these inline skates for????
Nic did say that when we get to the top of the switchbacks the road levels out before it climbs again so we can skate then. We managed to skate around 2km of the 8km skate section to the entrance to the ski resort. Being South African it always an awesome sight to see these ski resorts, huge building with manicured slopes and ski lifts that looked more suitable means of transport than what we were doing…
S16 – Trekking now we are on the business side of racing, we had a 27km mountain trek that would take us up over the mountains in to glacier pools. We did not know exactly what to expect on this trekking leg but Nic mentioned that we will need to work hard to get this done in the light. We set a goal and we all sprung back to life as if we were starting Day One. We knew that if we mistimed this leg, we would be in a whole lot of trouble trying to get out of the mountains at night. We climbed and climbed and got on to the ridge line where Nic wanted us to descend down a section that would bring us on to the plateau. We rounded the ridge and started heading down to a breathtaking view of beautiful grass lands and big glacial pools.
We hit this section with commitment and pace and did not hang around too long as we needed to climb back up over a saddle and down in to the next valley to collect a CP that was in another river just below another large high altitude lake. The water was clean and the surroundings here were pristine. This for me was one of the major highlights of the race. I was so pleased that we did this section in daylight. We climbed up and over the saddle and headed for our next CP just below the lake in the river. We clipped this CP and Nic said that we needed to head up again over that mountain to get out. We walked along the lake and could see a path that switched back on itself. This was our path out of here.
By this time the light in this mountainous basin was fading fast and only the tips of the mountain had sunlight on them. If you looked around you would see the remains of the snow that had been there from their last winter season. It was truly an incredible sight that I will have with me for many years. We got to the top of the path and now light was fading fast. Nic said that we need to make use of this light or we going to be stuck up here for some time. That was enough warning to get us running again to find a path that would take us down in to a forest that seemed so far away. We managed to find a track that took us down a ridge line and in to the forested area that we had seen from the top of the mountain. Nic suggested that we take a tiger line down as the forest roads switchbacked on themselves.
With fading light we all scampered down the forest hitting the road below and then back in to the forest to repeat the same thing 4-5 more times. We finally hit the bottom road and all we needed to do now is follow this road back to the TA where we would be back on to our bikes. We reached the TA in good time and we were pleased that we had one of the fastest treks in that section. We had made the call to get some sleep in this TA before the next MTB leg. Before we did we also discussed what was next for us. We looked over the race booklet and looked at the dark zone times for the paddle. We concluded that if we were to make the race cutoff we would need to make full use of the paddle and not get caught up at the TA for the dark zone. We concluded that as we were now not going to do S18 & S19 (S18 Trekking & Ropes 23km 4 -6 hours & S19 Inline Skating 11km 2 -3 hours) we would now be doing a 130km MTB that would take us past S18 TA and on to S21 the paddle put in. We needed to make sure that we would be on the river with at least 1 hour paddling down the river and we knew we would be dark-zoned on the river but at least we would make the race cutoff. Ok so that was our plan we all got a good 1.5 hour sleep in the hall and we were up and out of there back on to our bikes with a 30km bike leg to go.
S17 – a 59km 1977m ascent MTB leg was no joke, this leg for me was one of the toughest not because it was physically challenging but because the road just kept on going and going and we were not moving at any great pace. Every time I looked up I could just see mountains all around us. I asked Nic what are we doing on this leg, where is the CP? Nic said to me that it is at the top of the mountain. I just could not see the top and every switchback we took seemed to not have gained any altitude although the riding was at a good incline I was starting to get rather annoyed and frustrated. This MTB just went on and on with no reprieve in sight. Nic told us as we reached the top that we had just climbed higher than Sani Pass on this stage and that we still had some more to go then mostly downhill to the next TA.It was now getting light and it was still cold, I had lost my cycling gloves and had been riding the last few legs without gloves. Already I had managed to cut my hand open on a barbed wire fence now I was facing the pleasures of having the tips of my fingers frozen and they were starting to crack open. I did not think too much of it at first but later this would bite me in the ass. We reached S18 TA and found our bike drum there.
We also learnt that we had made a major calculation error and that the dark zone was in fact not at the paddle put in but at the river put in. Basically the 78km paddle would start with a 20km dam paddle and teams could paddle the dam anytime. The dark zone only applied from the river put in at the dam wall, this meant that we would have enough time to do S18 & S19 and paddle to the dam wall before sunlight. The problem now is that we had not taken our climbing gear nor did we take along our trekking shoes. We discussed the option of going to do the inline skating walking to this section in our cycling shoes but this was not an option. This oversight was really lost in translation as in the briefing the race director said no teams will be allowed to paddle at night on S21 but again he said that all the instructions are in the race handbook. We really were of the belief that we did not want to miss the race cutoff on Friday and that the dark zone would affect us if we did not get on to the water by 16h00 on Thursday. We had no choice now but to move on and skip S18 & S19 we simply did not have the compulsory gear to complete these sections.
S20 – A 71km 1352m MTB leg that would take us to the paddle TA. We were now a dejected team as we felt we may have severely compromised our race. Ryno & Nic I think felt this the most, although it was a team call at the S17 TA, they were of the believe that the dark zone was at the paddle put in, not at the dam wall. Not much assurance and comfort from Jen and I was going to help but this was a team decision and we were all in this together. In the 2009 ARWC we were far too aggressive for the CPs and did not cut out OPs quick enough and got penalized by finishing way down in the field. This year we played it more cautiously and yet we still got penalized for that. We were now back on the bikes moving on to the paddle put in, we were now well in to the 130km bike leg and were also out of food. We managed to find a restaurant and another local team inside. This team had already ordered food and we wanted what they had, we asked the waiter for the same and at first he said no. Eventually after some assistance from the local team and a discussion between the lady of that team and the waiter guy we got a good meal. This took as around 40min to eat and get back on our bikes again.
This town or village was 1km off our intended route but Nic decided to go to route B and take us out of town without having to back track. It was amazing, we had cycled out of the mountains where we were in cold conditions and had to put on additional clothing. As we left the restaurant, only 15km away from the mountain, we were shedding most of our clothes in the incredible heat. It was as if we were cycling in the little Karoo now and the heat was hammering us. I could not believe how similar Spain’s vegetation and surrounding are to South Africa; most of the mountains we went to resemble the Drakensberg to some degree and the vegetation so similar.
We reached the paddle put in and we did not waste any time getting all our stuff together to get on to the water ASAP for the 20km dam paddle. We wanted to spend a minimum of one hour on the river before dark so we would have to work hard or our decision and our efforts for that day would be a total waste.
S21 – Kayak, again this leg was interesting in that teams were issued with one double and two single boats. We decided to stick to the same format from the past paddle where Nic & Jen would be in the double and Ryno & I would be in the single. We quickly concluded that Nic & Jen in the double was not going to be fast enough so I swapped with Nic and Jen and I then continued to paddle in the double while Ryno and Nic cruised along in the single. We had to cover the 20km dam paddle in super fast time to avoid the dark zone cutting our river paddle down too quickly. We had a fantastic wind that pushed us across the first 10km in record time but as we turned the corner to head to the dam wall we were pelted by a major side wind.Again this side wind brought along some waves that were pretty tough to deal with in any of the three boats but we all knew what we had to do. We were focused on our goal and we were all determined to meet it and not waste the efforts of our hard work during the day. We reached the dam wall and the CP where the dark zone was going to be in force and we motored over the wall. The instructions were clear; all 4 team members were to assist with carrying the double and the two singles. This meant that on the portage two people could not take the double and two carry the singles. We blitzed this portage like men and woman possessed.
Ryno and I threw that double on our shoulders and ran to the put in (don’t ask me how we did this I think pure adrenalin because when we portaged this boat; further in the river it weighed a ton). We dropped the double and ran back for the singles this whole portage that took some teams 1 hour to do took Cyanosis 20 min in total and we were back on the water. We were now on the river and our first major goal for this section was achieved, we had around one and half hours before we would be affected by the dark zone. We paddled hard till we reached a weir where we had no choice but to get out of the boat and portage, however the timing was perfect as we were 5 min away from the dark zone. We pulled the boats out and positioned them for the 07h30 start when the dark zone would be lifted.
Camping next to the river in a dark zone is not all it is cut out to be. Although one would think luxury because you get to sleep, trust me, squeezing 4 people in to a two man ultra light tent is not the kind of rest one needs to recover. Before we got in to the tents we had a quick meal.
I am sure Nic did not intend this to be a quick meal because at the paddle TA Nic asked me to get some food together for tonight’s stop. So I took a tin of baked beans and a tin of pasta and three tins of iced tea from our contaminated food drum. I think Nic wanted me to bring more as I got a whole lot of lip service from the three others because there were only two tins (at least I brought a spoon).
We got up well before the dark zone lifted and we were ready to get on to the water the minute we could. The paddle was long and not very entertaining, except for a few drops that got your heart rate up. Other than that it was a slow flowing river and you needed to paddle every meter of it to move forward. This was a long and hard paddle and we just hoped that it would end fast. We eventually spent about twelve hours paddling this 78km paddle leg and reached the paddle TA at around 15h00 on Friday afternoon. It was now more of a reality that we just had around one hour to go and we would finish the 2010 World Champs. We still had no clue where we were positioned in the race so we just got on with it.
S22 – The final leg “urban orienteering” was a 4km leg that would see racers run around Salamanca collecting a few points that would need to be written down. This was really a run of honour and reflection of what the teams have done over the past 120 hours odd of racing. We finished this leg well within the allotted one hour and reached the finish line to some great cheering and applause from friends and other racers that had also just completed the 2010 ARWC.
Reflection – As I sit here I still find it hard to believe what we actually achieve when we do these sort of races and yet for some reason we go back year in and year out. Maybe it is the sense that we can only improve our own ability by gaining more experience that draws us back. Nic, Ryno and I sat down at the airport after the race and discussed the race and the past seven years that Cyanosis has been racing as a team and what we have achieved and what we want to achieve. I must be honest I was prepared to take a leave of absence from AR as I wanted to spend more time with my family and I was not clear on why I do this sport anymore, during our conversation a light came back on that I seemed to have missed for some time.
I told the guys this is not what I consider a holiday, a holiday is taking my family away to the coast or somewhere but a holiday includes my family. This is my chosen sport that I do with people that a care about and that we share a common goal. We get up and train every morning or every weekend not for ourselves but for the other three people in the team that you do not want to let down.
We recently raced a local race with Landie Visser and her excitement and enthusiasm brought back great memories of what we were 6-7 years ago. My personal conclusion is that the best is yet to come from Cyanosis not because we need to train harder or smarter (but that would help) but simply because we all needed a chance to get back to ground level and remember why we do this. We do it for each other, we are not a team that was put together by a panel of experts to perform a specific function. We are a team of like-minded friends that enjoy each other company and this has proved to be our winning recipe for the past 8 years.
The experiences we gain together cannot be gained in our everyday lives and one goes back to the old saying that has stood the test of time “together everyone achieves more”.
To Nic, you are an extremely talented individual and your talents and ability with the map in hand has led this team through amazing places and great success with a lot of ups and downs yet we still manage to come out relatively unscathed. Our trust in you is immeasurable and you are indeed a true adventurer….
To Ryno (AKA Macaroni) watching you come from a shy clerk to one of the strongest athletes I know has been a privilege and an honor. Your strength and ability to trek over mountains is unbelievable you simply have no boundaries when it comes to your ability to load yourself up with team gear and team packs and still keep pace with the rest of the team. You are an inspiration to everyone that you come in contact with…
To Jen, our Canadian South African, it is always a pleasure to race with you. Your professionalism and your commitment to reaching the finish as a unit is inspiring. We would like to thank you for taking the time from your huge commitments at home to once again race with Cyanosis. You will always be a welcome member of Cyanosis.
My last comment is this and is directed to race directors all over the world, please can we go back to traditional AR where we raced A-Z with speed. We do not want to use mathematics and spread sheets to calculate where we are in the race. We do not want to have to deal with penalties; if you miss a CP, you are not classified. If you fall 24 hours or such behind the leaders you are short coursed, no questions and no need for the racers to make this call. The very next TA you arrive at, you will be told the short course route you will need to follow and this route will take you to the finish line on the short course. It is become far too complex to race AR World Series events and one can only hope that sanity prevails.
Cyanosis AR Team is proud to have the following sponsors supporting them:
First Ascent outdoor apparel, Salomon and Crocs adventure, trail running and casual footwear, Petzl headlamps, Foodstate vitamins and supplements, SPN sports nutrition, Island Tribe sun lotion, Mule Bar 100% natural energy bars.
Specialized bikes and accessories, Summit Cycles in Midrand, Suunto field compasses and wristop computers, O’Neill wetsuits, BSC compression garments, Kreature.co.za outdoor and survival shop.
Author: Clinton ‘Mac’ Mackintosh | Team Cyanosis | AR World Champs, Bimbache Extrem, 3 – 8 October 2010
“We do it for each other, we are not a team that was put together by a panel of experts to perform a specific function. We are a team of like-minded friends that enjoy each other company and this has proved to be our winning recipe for the past 8 years.” This is my favourite part and the most nb part! I am such a chick! ha ha. Cyanosis i loved seeing you out on that course. Was great to race alongside you! Well done! May we race MANY more together! Ps Next time pop up to our room for bedtime stories! ha ha 🙂 Love Hobs
( Team Merrell Adventure Addicts)