2006: Team Jungle's report - Lisa de Speville
Team: Lisa de Speville, Evan Price, Bruce Fordyce and David Vlok
Support Crew: Zoe, Denzyl, Charmaine and Keanu
It all began in October-ish last year when I received an invitation to attend a 'Celebrity Auction' dinner and had the fortune of being seated at the same table as Bruce Fordyce. As a keen ultra distance runner, I could not have had a better placing and although I didn't have the dosh to 'buy' Bruce on the auction, we did get to chat.
He told me about a new show he was working on, with David Vlok, which was in the pipeline and at that stage had yet to be confirmed. Bruce mentioned that they were looking for 'different' events for their show, in which he and David would participate. I replied, 'If you want different, let's chat'. Bruce called the next day and we made an arrangement for lunch.
At lunch I presented him with a number of 'different' events, including trail runs and AR's. 'But,' I emphasised, 'if you want really different then adventure racing it is and there's no other race to do than Swazi Xtreme'.
Bruce confirmed in early January that the show had received a green light from MNet and that they were in for what would prove to be the biggest adventure of their lives.
While I was away in Hawaii and Patagonia in January and February, communications began between Darron and the production crew in preparation for April's race. On my return in March I met with the crew to present a show-and-tell of 'What is Adventure Racing?' I then meet with Bruce and David the following day to do the same, adding in chatter on clothing and equipment. I then gave them a comprehensive kit list with firm instructions to begin assembling their gear.
Fast-forward through a month in which I sourced goodies from Salomon (Trail Sport backpacks - thank you Salomon), First Ascent (Adventure Light Jackets & Fire Storm fleece tops) and RAM Mountaineering (Princeton Tec EOS bike/headlamps and Black Diamond Contour Trekking Poles); things the guys just didn't have. I was also fortunate to receive a positive reply to my teammate search from Cape Town racer, Evan Price (Team Tension Structures).
Bruce and David are both very busy puppies and they're away a lot. This is likely the primary explanation for the absence of responses to my emails confirming gear, checklists and even an evening to meet to finalise goodies and pack their backpacks. The secondary reason: they just didn't seem to be taking me seriously and I was slowly beginning to realise that they just didn't get it... that they just didn't realise what they were going into.
Well, the Monday before the race - when we'd still not met up and I still had received no confirmation from them on equipment - I lost it, sending a rather stern email to Bruce; an email that earned me a nickname that had something to do with Uber Lieutenant, derived from a top rank in the Nazi forces. How could I begin to explain after this, to a virtual stranger, that I'm actually quite sweet?
We were scheduled to leave on the Wednesday late-morning and it was only on Tuesday night that I finally got to see Bruce and David. Although I'd asked them to bring through all their gear (as per the gear list), Salomon backpacks and race crate, it didn't quite happen exactly like this. David had quite a bit of stuff. Bruce had none. Yeah, I was stressing.
While it may seem silly to stress about gear, in my mind it was crucial. It's the first step. AR is about gear; thermal clothing, lights and spare batteries and even munchie bags. If a team is ill prepared before they even get to the starting line, the success of their race is already compromised. We have to carry mandatory gear that is specified for our own safety. More than anything it is for those 'What if' situations. What if we get caught on a mountain in a storm? What if one of us is injured and we have to bed down for the night because a chopper can't get in until morning? That's what it is all about. Equally important: the more comfortable you are in a race, the more pleasant your experience. There is a hard way to do things and a less hard way to do things. And more than anything I wanted their experience out there to be a good one. (Bruce & David's Basic Equipment List)
Evan flew up from Cape Town on the Wednesday morning and we set off for Swaziland with our production convoy. David was in another of the Imperial vehicles. Bruce would come through on Thursday morning.
Fast-track to Thursday afternoon...
Evan and I met up with Bruce and David at the Malkerns Country Club and with cameras buzzing around our team like flies, we set about packing their backpacks, Ziploc bagging everything and sorting ropes gear (Thank you to Gravity Training for the harnesses for Bruce and David and rope work with Bruce before the race). We also met our support crew - Zoe (she owns a cycle shop in Mbabane, www.adventuresport.co.sz), Denzyl, Charmaine and Keanu - who had volunteered to take care of us over the weekend and to whom we will be forever indebted. They took such good care of us (and our bikes) and we were wonderfully pampered.
In the evening we registered, looked through the maps and planned our routes. Then we headed for Darron's race briefing. Sitting next to Bruce I got nudged in the ribs a couple of times, especially when there was any reference to sleep. The boys had been bartering with Evan and I all day about sleep, probably in response to our insistence that we wouldn't let them sleep more than 1.5-2-hours; if they were lucky. Sleep seemed to be the one thing they were concerned about. Needless to say, after Darron's briefing , which included warnings of the ferocity of the river and the magnitude of the race, the boys were as quiet as mice. By the time I returned to camp they were in their sleeping bags inside the tent.
In an interview on Thursday afternoon the tv guys asked me, 'So, how do you think Bruce and David will do?' I had three solid convictions: a) these guys are strong on foot, b) they would not give up and c) that we wouldn't have to bribe them to get them to do stuff. Even when they're uncertain or wary about something, they put their heads down and just do it. My only worry was that we wouldn't make cut-off times and would be diverted onto a shortened course.
Our spirits at the start were high and we set off with the rest of the field. On the 'island' in the river we made our first (and only error) thinking, 'the soccer field couldn't possibly be on the island, it must be on the other bank'. So, we messed with the Swazi Slo-Jo's for a bit before locating the CP on the soccer field.
The river was wet and wild! Bruce and I took a big swim on one of the rapids (before DSTV, which we miraculously made it through), Evan and David swam on another. Our scariest moment was getting stuck under a tree branch. Evan and David had been tossed from their croc with Evan's paddle getting trapped. As Bruce and I came through Bruce got whacked overboard and I got pinned under the branch. I managed to manoeuvre Evan's paddle and my paddle into the boat but unable to push against the force of the water, which kept my croc pinned, I was stuck. At this stage Evan was trying to move upstream to get me out. Eventually I realised that I could inch the croc horizontally, perpendicular to the flow of water, towards the end of the branch. Finally I was released and we continued downstream.
Walking from the take-out to the transition I overheard Bruce talking to his diary-cam, a hand-held camera we carried with us throughout the whole race to record our adventures. His words were something to the effect of, 'Now for the first time I'm starting to realise the magnitude of what we've gotten ourselves into'.
Our transition was smooth and had us out on bikes an hour or so before sunset.
Something I'd like you to note is that these two are not mountain bikers. They probably ride less than me; and that's a hard act to beat... I get on my bike once, maybe twice a year and it's usually for Swazi. Bruce is night-blind. He doesn't do steep downhills and he doesn't do rocky terrain. Those of you who were there can attest to the steep and gnarly terrain that this year's race presented. We pushed our bikes... a lot. I stuck with Bruce the whole time, chittering and chatting as we pushed up and down hills, getting on to ride less tricky sections. We figured out a neat system where Bruce would ride almost on my tail, following my flashing rear light and taking the same lines. We checked into transition around 23h30 on Friday night, Bruce and David both absolutely exhausted. We slept until 05h00, starting the big hike at first light.
We actually had a really good hiking section. Looking at the map I was hoping that we wouldn't have to stick to boulder hopping up the river, which is painfully slow. The boys wouldn't have enjoyed it. But we struck lucky and probably had 90% trail through this section. One thing I can let you in on is that Bruce and David don't to bundu-bashing. The language! They got hooked on thorn bushes, slithered on their bellies and tripped over vine-like vegetation. It was damn funny.
At the CP on the river we found Darron and the little chopper. News was that Kreature.co.za were only about 15-minutes ahead of us. On Friday night they'd reached transition just before us and had left that night to start trekking. We'd slept until morning and had made up much time. Bruce and David enjoyed this strategic element especially when we caught up to Kreature. Truth be told we didn't plan it but it did work out in our favour.
On and on, upward and upward we continued, stopping to drink from the 'water point' marked on the hiking map. By late afternoon we'd reached transition and again prepared for another nighttime ride, but now we had less than 30-minutes of light.
We'd decided to go straight on to this stage because a) it was way too early to sleep and b) if we whacked the ride on Saturday night we'd have a really good day on Sunday with just the kloofing, ropes and a swift ride to the finish. Bruce and David agreed.
Guided by Darron's OP point we took the rough and rugged jeep track down into the valley. Bruce and I walked most of it.
Time vs Altitude profile recorded on Lisa's Suunto T6. This recording was only started about 1h30 into the race.
Our total race time was around 58hrs.
Looking for the next CP, the 'new bush hut' on the river, Bruce and David made a point. The road - we presumed there to be a road leading to this new hut - was not marked on the map so we messed around looking it in the most logical places. They didn't get it: why was this road not indicated and how were we just meant to find something that wasn't shown. Why and how indeed? We knew exactly where we were, based on our altitude and orientation but we didn't know where the road would be. Darron did use OP points to indicate other unmarked roads and one here would have been handy. A well-spoken local gave us guidance and the CP was logged.
It was also on this road that Bruce had the first of two important moments of enlightenment. Push-biking downhill towards the transition we were walking together and Bruce again apologised for slowing the team down. My patience worn I explained that this wasn't an issue, that we were progressing and that we were doing great. More importantly, he was doing great. I told him to look up. Scorpio, Southern Cross, Orion's Belt and the expansive Milky Way were above our heads. It was just the most beautiful, clear night. I asked, 'How many people are doing what we're doing? How many people are able to do what we're doing? I'm always the chick in the team, crappy on the bike. I'm always the slow one. Now if I hear another word about this from you I'm going to punch you.'
Somewhere around here too, with Bruce already feeling more positive, we changed the batteries for his EOS. Well, this was revelation number 2. He could see clearly again! I cannot begin to describe the vibe that erupted. He was positive, motivated, the terrain was better and we were swiftly eating up the kilometres.
Earlier in the night I'd taught Bruce to skateboard - where you have one foot on the pedal and the other scootering along the ground, your butt off the saddle and over the crossbar. He'd gotten the hang of it. I'd also had a revelation that night as I gradually figured out what was going to work effectively to maximise our 'ride-time'. I began to learn about the terrain with which Bruce was comfortable and about the terrain that terrified him. I kept just in front of him, sitting on my brakes and calling out, 'Sit on my tail... skateboard... skateboard... sit on your brakes... ok, let's walk now'. By adapting my view to his perspective I was now making the calls and it wasn't just left to him to say, 'I've got to get off'. Valuable lesson learned.
This is where my admiration for what Bruce achieved just swells. We rode over stuff on Saturday night that would have seen us walking on Friday night and Bruce really got into it. Even at 03h00 he was motivated, chirpy and just really into the whole thing. It's really easy to forget that Bruce at 50 was doing the most difficult mountain biking of his life, at night. This is also a discipline with which he was unfamiliar and uncomfortable. Remarkable!
David... he's a better biker but when the sun goes down he gets quiet, fighting off Sleep Monsters. At around 4am when we were pushing up the BIG hill on the new road over the saddle, I left Bruce for a bit to talk to him. His eyes were barely open and he was hardly coherent. I asked, 'OK, tell me a joke'. This was his contribution.
'You know about the monkey in the tree smoking weed?'
'No,' I answered.
'OK. Monkey was sitting in a tree smoking weed. Lizard comes up to him and so Monkey offers him a drag. 'This is really good stuff,' says Monkey.
So Lizard takes a couple of drags and after a while starts to feel very, very thirsty.
'There a river just down there,' says Money. 'You can get a drink there.'
Lizard heads down to the water where he sees Crocodile.
'Geez, why are you so thirsty,' asks Crocodile.
'You see Monkey over there in the tree, he's got some really good weed, which I smoked, and so now I'm thirsty.'
Crocodile, the neighbourhood do-gooder, was shocked. 'We can't have this kind of substance abuse around here,' he said as he walked off to find Monkey.
Seeing Crocodile approach the tree Monkey's eyes were as big as saucers.
'Wooohooo Lizard, just how much water did you drink?''
It was really funny then.
We hit the transition just after 05h00. Evan and I said that we'd be up at 08h00. Bruce and David wanted to sleep for at least 4hrs telling Zoe, 'Don't listen to anything Lisa and Evan tell you'. She was obviously still on schedule to wake us at 8.
Well, at 07h20 the chopper arrived, waking us up. David, lying next to me, asked, 'What is kloofing?' I tried to explain; 'You know when we were in the river and walking in the water and over rocks? That's kloofing'.
Then the TV crew arrived so any opportunity to linger in the warmth of the tent was abolished. Evan and I were both pleased. After a hot breakfast of Jungle Oats we left to start the kloofing, waving back at Zoe, Denzyl, Charmaine and Keanu.
Here Bruce and David did really, really well, especially on a rather daunting section where Evan led them straight up the side of a steep slope to get around the waterfall. We were hanging onto roots and tree trunks and not once did Bruce and David hesitate, following Evan's trail while I brought up the rear.
And when we got to the bottom of the main waterfall... Wow! Breathtaking.
Bruce did some rope work with Gravity Training (thanks Gert and Ryno) in the week before the race. David had done ropes stuff in the past. I was first up the jumar. David followed. Bruce was next with Evan last. Again I was just so proud of these guys. They did better than most and without cajoling they scaled this impressive ascent.
Finally across the traverse we were en route home. Like a herd of horses we bolted for the stables, enjoying our first bike ride in daylight through those lovely forests.
During the race David had asked, 'So what do you get when you finish? Trophy?'
'Nah,' I answered. 'Just the overwhelming satisfaction of having completed the race. Wait, you'll see what I mean.'
When we passed beneath the Finish banner I think they got it.
'This is the hardest thing I have ever done,' Bruce announced. Coming from a 9-times Comrades champion it seems hard to believe.
David's feelings? 'Great experience but I'll never do this again.' Bruce nodded in agreement.
I think that even more rewarding was when racers came up to us offering congratulations saying, 'Well done, we didn't think you would make it'.
I spoke to Bruce on Wednesday morning, 2-days after we finished. 'Looking now at a 9hr Comrades is a walk in the park,' he said.
'Yeah,' I replied, 'it isn't even half of an adventure racing day'.
Although this ranked as a non-competitive race for Evan and me, it was probably one of my most rewarding and memorable races. It is also one of which I am very proud. I'm proud because we had a really smooth race with lots of laughter and hundreds of funny moments. I'm proud because Evan and I defied all odds taking two absolute novices through Southern Africa's toughest race; because Bruce and David defied all odds as two absolute novices in Southern Africa's toughest race and because in many ways our three days out there turned two caterpillars into adventure racing butterflies.
Evan, it was an absolute pleasure racing with you. Your navigation was spot-on every step of the way and you race efficiently with no fuss, professionalism and good organisation. Our personalities complimented each other and perhaps at some stage we'll race together again.
Bruce and David, I take my hat off to both of you and am so proud of what you achieved at Swazi Xtreme. Even though I don't expect to see you at any other adventure races, I do hope that this experience was as rewarding as it was adventurous and that the memories of your time here will burn brightly for a long time to come. You have much to be proud of. Bruce, for me it was an honour to race side-by-side with an athlete I have long admired.
Zoe, Charmaine, Denzyl and Keanu, thank you for giving up your time to take such good care of us ('and for putting up with David', says Bruce). We were truly fortunate to have you in our corner.
Matthew and your crew from GrayWhite Productions, thank you for taking a leap into the unknown and for coming out satisfied and shining. I can't wait to see the show when it comes out in July. I love your style, love your work and am sure that your production will do justice to our sport, the teams and to Bruce and David's fantastic achievement.
Jungle (Tiger Brands), thank you for being involved with the show and for making it possible for all of this to happen. To Imperial for our vehicles.
Salomon, Gravity, First Ascent, RAM Mountaineering (Black Diamond and Princeton Tec), my thanks and appreciation to you for your involvement.
Darron, bottoms up. Another successful Swazi squared away. I'll be back for my seventh year in the Kingdom in 2007.
(Oops, this turned out to be longer than I expected...)