Lickety Split at Full Moon

I was sick, on and off, for a month before doing the Kinetic Full Moon race in Bethlehem. My fitness was the lowest it has been in the last few years. But I don’t miss races unless I absolutely have to so I teamed up with Sue as Team Lickety Split to do the 120km race. 

Kinetic races typically vary from being very easy to about moderate in difficulty. Mostly it is just up to the racer and their team mates to ensure that you finish a race. Occasionally weather interferes in the team’s planning (anyone remember Full moon Bronkhorstspruit, or Double Moon in the Northern Cape). In the end Kinetic races are there to be finished.

We decided to take it easy and went through on Friday night. Sue had bike problems and was in and out of the bike shop all week before the race, even as late as Friday afternoon, so we got away late and reached the camp site at about 23:00 the night before. This still gave us more than enough time for a Wimpy breakfast and packing etc before the race started on Friday. With me not being able to stay awake for more than 16 racing hours at a time we packed a good selection of bedding and comforts for the night time transition, also watching the weather report for the previous week we knew that warm clothes were going to be important so in they went.

The race started with a peaceful, rather uneventful ride down to the Ash river.

The river paddle was far more of a challenge than a peaceful flat water river should have been. Strange eddies abounded in the river waiting to tip over unsuspecting paddlers, while irregular rows of willow trees crossing the river behind blind corners made quick thinking and quicker paddling important. We saw 3 swimmers, including a boat tipped over by a willow branch, before we ourselves were tipped over by one of the evil eddies. We came around a tree and suddenly the boat tipped over in about 0.001 milliseconds. Just before we reached the dam we went over the only ‘white’ water under the bridge rather uneventfully after everything else, and stopped to collect some other teams missing cap. On the dam we experienced 5m high waves, ok probably close to 1m, but when you aren’t a water baby they could as well have been 5m high waves. I have only twice experienced heavier water than that on a race. But in the end, we were surf-skiing the waves into the transition and with the wind and waves behind you, those 5m waves are much more fun.

I was absolutely freezing in transition, and stripped off the wet clothes and just wore a fleece. Unfortunately this meant that some of the planned warm clothing for the night cycle got left behind which later came back to worry me. I had a cup of really bad hot chocolate that tasted heavenly just because it was warm.

The first hike was a very pleasant jaunt through the country side. The map was accurate to almost the finest detail as it was only 2 years old (what a privilege), we used the opportunity to compare short cuts across country to road speed and were pleasantly surprised at our progress. We picked up a pair on novices that were looking for the check point in the wrong kloofie and carried on. I tried to give them a few navigation guidelines such as you can’t always believe the trees, fences and field markings as these change often, while roads and rivers remain the same. Once darkness fell a small mistake made us walk an extra 1km to the dam as I followed the road instead of the fence. Sometimes tiger lining is a good idea, especially if you can follow a fence while doing it.

Back at the transition I had a short lie down, that lack of fitness was starting to hurt, before rushing through the transition and getting out on our bikes. My water bottle was actually already frozen. The start of the cycle was a pain with fences, gates and cows all over the place, once we hit the road things went well, even if rather slowly for me going up the hills. After the checkpoint I struggled to get going and got more and more tired. In the end I was pushing my bikes up 1% gradients with Sue waiting patiently and then even letting me rest at the top of each hill. I think we got passed by about 3 teams, they could not rest as they had no warm gear on and must have been freezing, we were properly prepared and I was at times overheating because I had too many clothes on. Sue at one point even let me sleep for about 5 minutes but it did not help much. Overall those last 10 or 15 kms were done at about 7km per hour (on BIKES!), man was I pathetic.

At transition we had a brief fight about how long I’d get to sleep, Sue insisted on 1 hour, I said 2, in the end I agreed on 1 hour and set the alarm for 1:30. <evil grin> and then used the snooze button to Sue’s disgust. Sleeping with 3 blankets in transition was an absolute pleasure, it was nice to be prepared.

We got going on the night hike as soon as possible, only about 20minutes slower than Sue wanted. We disappeared into the night, and immediately ended up at the bottom of a cliff, so much for good navigation…. So we went around the cliff and skirted most of the valley behind the ridge trying to maintain out height as much as possible. In the end we dropped through the valley quite high up before heading up to the trig beacon. Walking uphill uses a lot of energy, and therefore generates a lot of heat, pretty soon we both wanted to stop and strip off some layers and have a bite to eat. One of my long term enduring memories from AR will be from that stop. We were sitting on the side of a hill looking back across the Free State, on our left was a valley running northwards, on our south a kloof that looked about 150-200m deep, above us the full moon shining brightly on the exposed rocks all around us. Now that’s why I do ADVENTURE racing.

We continued to the top of the hill where a team was waiting and wanted some help on their route choice to the next point, I said I thought their route choice was correct and what sort of landmarks to look out for on their way there. Off we went following the ridgeline all the way to the Abseil checkpoint, pretty straight forward but looking at the route afterwards going through the valley might have been faster than the ridge line. One thing I notice about my own navigation is that sometimes I overestimate gradient and think valleys are kloofs instead of gentle valleys. At the abseil we got our harness and gloves and climbed another 15m up to the abseil point. We got hooked up and started down, first reaching a small ledge before dropping into free fall for about 35m. As someone that does not particularly care for heights, abseiling is often my least favourite part of a race, this time, with the free fall and the full moon behind me showing my shadow bright and clearly on the colourless featureless rock if was a most surrealistic experience and the first abseil I have truly enjoyed.

After the abseil we quickly hiked around the mountain, went up the wrong kloof and backtracked to the next checkpoint. We then followed the kloof up the left bank and ran out of bank having to climb 60-80m up bare rock and scrub bush to the top or the kloof before walking along the top of the cliffs to the last check point. Unfortunately the last point was about 40m below us in a lovely cliff area (like the rest of the kloof). We spent about 30 minutes looking for a way down but from later info we should have gone a lot further along the top to find a way down, before deciding it was firstly not safe to try descend without knowing where to and secondly we were running short on time to finish the race. So we turned around and left the point, having probably been at the exact point we needed to be, just 40m too high. This hike is my all time favourite AR hike, it was not easy, but not too tough, navigation was challenging but not difficult, terrain and views were fantastic all the time, even the abseil will stay with me for years to come.

At transition we had an opportunity to thank the farmer and his wife for being allowed on the property, while laughing at Wiehan’s reaction to our box packed full of sleeping bags and blankets. A quick bite to eat and we were on our way. Being in full daylight again my body had forgotten all the trials and fatigue of the night before and we cruised the first 15km without a problem. The last 15km I felt tired and slow but was probably travelling about 3 times the previous nights speed.

We finished in 23:30, just in time for our now famous, finishing during prize giving. As always we got clapped into the finish. We had breakfast and got some lovely prizes, Sue continuing her record of winning the good prizes at the race with a new pair of shoes to go with her two backpacks already won.

Our thanks to Stephan and Heidi for organising the race, to Cindy, Wiehan and Lizelle for marshalling and doing photos, to all the other marshals that were there. Special thanks go to the land owners for allowing us to cross their land.

AR is a special sport, we have easy races and we have difficult races, in the end I enjoy the memorable races and this full moon race is certainly one of my all time favourite races.

Team members: William Cairns, Sue Belcher (mixed pair)

Author: William Cairns | Team Lickety Split | Kinetic Full Moon, Bethlehem, 1-2 September 2012