The Balele Tracks adventure race took place in the Wakkerstroom district on the weekend of 13/14 November 2010. The race had a shortest compulsory route of 100km, and a longer optional route of slightly over 160kms.
Most teams stuck with the shorter route, and only a few of the longer legs were tackled by the teams, most teams seemed to prefer collecting optional points on the cycling legs rather than the hiking legs.
Wakkerstroom is a wonderful village, rather unknown as a tourist destination, that has a rich heritage, both historical and environmentally. The race made use of a number of the heritage sites, visiting some hidden gems such as the historical Explosives store, bird hides, and the well hidden by picturesque Honey Moon valley (referred to in race as the valley of a thousand pricks). The farmers of the area, the local Wakkerstroom Heritage Society, and Bird Life South Africa all happily gave access to the various sites in support of the race.
Team Lickety Split spent over a year planning Balele Tracks which included eight trips by one or more members of the team to the area. Each leg of the route was trialled, and each check point was visited by 2, 4 or all 6 of the Lickety Split team during the planning. Special thanks go to Balele Mountain Lodge for accommodation during the scouting trips and again for the racers during the race weekend. If anyone is looking for a great place to spend a weekend away, give Balele Mountian Lodge a visit as it is great value for money.
As a team our goal was to present a well planned, organised and fun race, which would be achievable by first timers, yet challenging enough for the top teams. Each leg was structured with Compulsory points to direct the route, and optional Points to add challenges for the top teams. With the race taking place in an area with as much heritage as the Wakkerstroom area it was easy to include a semi-guided tour of the town, with check points at some of the key heritage destinations.
Adventure Racing is a team sport, one of the keys to doing well is being able to work together as a team, so to add a new twist to the sport the race included special tasks, to be tackled by the individuals in the team for a small individual reward (chocolate or cool drink), and while these were not particularly popular at the start of the race, they proved very popular toward the end of the day.
There were 8 teams entered in the race, 2 mixed fours and 6 pairs. 4 of the teams were able to finish the race, two teams dropped out for medical reasons, and the other two due to problems with their bikes. Two of the teams that successfully finished the race were doing an Adventure Race for the first time. Most of the teams entered were planning to finish the race and collect all compulsories and a few optional points if possible. Only three of the teams in the race went out with the goal to collect all compulsory and all optional points.
During race briefing the teams were informed: “Just because you are on a cycling leg does not mean that there is a road, just because you are on a paddling leg, doesn’t mean you will be in your boat.” These words were going to be prophetic on the paddling leg due to the high winds experienced.
In the mixed fours section of the race, Team Swazi Trails and Hawkstone were in straight race against one another. Swazi Trails rushed through the first leg in an attempt to get to the dam as early as possible in the hope of missing the swells caused by rising winds. Hawkstone went all out to collect all the points, but missed one of the optional points that was placed a 100m upstream of the plotted position. On the first cycle both teams collected all points and were on the water when the wind was up. The swells and waves were not as rough as they were the previous day but Team Swazi Trails experienced some ‘challenges’. On the 4th leg, the cycle the teams battled the first 10kms into the wind before being protected by the surrounding mountains.
Hawkstone experienced their medical emergency as one of their members was unable to manage their blood sugar levels successfully. This left Team Swazi Trails as the only mixed four team left in the field. They successfully completed the heritage tour through town, but wasted some time finding the explosives store in the pitch dark. A quick final cycle saw them home as Mixed Four winners.
In the pairs category, two teams, Kamotion and Encline, went out to collect all points, team Tzaneen A and B were trying to collect as many points as possible, while Vroom Vroom and Active Life were each doing their first race and were planning on finishing the race. Kamotion went out fast and soon had a large lead over Encline (Encline were by far the last team to complete leg 1) while the other teams took things in their stride and completed the compulsories as quickly as possible.
All teams did the complete second leg collecting all the points before getting to the dam. Most teams spent as much of the paddle leg on foot as they did in the boats, Kamotion being the exception who, due to nearly sinking their K2, turned the 17km paddle into an epic 25km hike, including a number of swimming sections.
On the next cycle Encline suffered a snapped chain, 6 broken spokes, a buckled wheel and a shattered derailer, taking them spectacularly out of the race. This left Kamotion an open field and they skipped a few OPs of the town hike and took the direct route back to the finish. The remaining pairs completed the paddle and cycling legs and spent the early evening doing the hike through town. New team, Active Life were the only team to find the elusive point in the Valley of a Thousand Pricks. Team Tzaneen A and B seemed to have no problem finding the explosive store as they turned off their headlamps and used their night vision to find the building standing in the middle of nowhere.
Overall the race ran very well with minimal problems. One point was placed a little incorrectly. Errors in some of the printing that were discovered only during the race were quickly sorted out without the racers realising the problem. The biggest problem experienced was finding that one of the farms that we had permission to cross had been sold and the new owner knew nothing about the race. A few phone calls got this sorted out, fortunately in our favour, so that the route did not need to be changed, however a new out of bounds area was added to the maps.
Lickety Split really enjoyed arranging and planning the race. In fact due to the feedback we have received, we will be planning another race during 2011, and we look forward to seeing everyone there again. Well done to all competitors in the race, and congratulations to our winners: Team Swazi Trails (mixed fours) and Kamotion (pairs).
Team Swazi Trails Winners: Mixed Fours
Team Kamotion Winners: Pairs
Lickety Split would like to thank the following for assisting in making the race as successful as it was: Special Event Medics (On site medic support), Erik Vermeulen (photography), Outdoor Freedom (prize Sponsors), Morning Star Express Hotel (Prizes), Do it Now (Free Subscriptions), T-Systems, Contact Marketing, Burlington Data Print (Printing), Balele Mountain Lodge, The Glass Studio (Hand Made Trophies), Bird Life South Africa and Wakkerstroom Heritage Society.
Balele Tracks: www.baleletracks.blogspot.com (for race reports, maps, documentation etc)
Outdoor Freedom: www.outdoorfreedom.co.za
Morning Star Express Hotel: www.morningstarhotel.co.za
Contact Marketing: www.contactmarketing.co.za
Do it Now: www.doitnow.co.za
Erik Vermeulen: www.erikvermeulen.co.za (and some photos on his Facebook page:
Balele Mountain Lodge: www.balelemountainlodge.co.za
For more information on adventure racing: www.ar.co.za
Final words from Kamotion:
A quick thank you to you and your team – this weekend’s race was enjoyable but tough and exceptionally well organised. I’d echo Hardy’s words when he said your team’s passion for the sport was tangible, for it really added to the enjoyment of the event. From your meticulous race info, briefing, rules to the extra effort you put in ensuring the maps were accurate and clear, it made the race all the easier and clearer, without much of the guess work I’ve had to employ in the past. Snapshots of the event still seem very vivid – from chancing upon rusting cars on the first bike leg, startling wildebeest on the plain, cycling along those train tracks at night, plotting points behind the train at 1 in the morning, blue cranes and sunrises and who could ever forget that paddle! Your marshals were always cheerful and enthusiastic – something which baffles me considering we were often the last team in transition! The special tasks were a lovely touch and something we looked forward to – cold coke! Many lessons have been learnt and I’m definitely all the wiser and stronger for it. Wishing you a well deserved rest until you start planning the next race – I await in (excited) anticipation for a race director’s races only get better! And in the meantime will see you out on the courses!