Merrell Eden Duo

reports311009_1Team Parallel | Many people can honestly say they enjoy the following:

  • Endless moonlit walks on the beach
  • Lush forested river valleys
  • Views to the sea from miles away on top of a mountain range
  • Historic mountain passes
  • Swimming in the cool waters of natural rivers
  • Losing yourself amid the smells and sights of the fynbos, plantations and forests

Adding the points below to the matching ones above, if your answer is still yes, then the Eden Duo is for you:

  • …involving 20km of trudging along the thick sand of the beach at high tide in the dead of night, interspersed with picking your way over rocky outcrops by the light of your torch.
  • …from which you must clamber up the side of and over the top the adjacent mountain face via an eroded and overgrown path
  • …as you try to make out your transition in the far distance in the distorting heat waves, noting that you still have an excruciatingly long way to go
  • …,although cycling up the Montague pass is surely less fun than cycling down it
  • …at 05h30 on a chilly morning, with your map and mandatory equipment
  • …and wondering where the hell you are

We started at 5 am on the beach, half and hour before sunrise, but it was already light enough to see. The sand was hard enough to run on, and we set off at a good pace, a hundred competitors all still laughing and joking and glad to finally be off. Up to railway line, through the old tunnel and down into the kloof. Some rock hopping and bush-whacking and next thing there was no way around the body of water ahead except through it. A couple of hundred metres of swimming was enjoyed in the lower reaches of the tea-coloured Kaaimans, steam rising off sweaty bodies. Soon the field started to spread. The river dried up a bit as we headed up it and various routes were possible across the pebbles, driftwood and bush. I spotted two guys heading off to the right and heard one say “ek onthou dis hierdie kant toe” so I called Laurent over and we tailed them. Locals. My number one rule of AR navigation is, carefully pick the team you are going to follow. You definitely don’t want to find out after 5km that they are clowns like us. So the 4 of us creamed the 10km kloof and headed up the steep tar road, still running, into Saasveld where our bikes would be waiting.

Our newly acquainted second, Danie, was waiting there as promised. Off we went for a 35km bike ride, exploring first some single track trail laid out for the recent XC nationals held there, getting lost a bit and then navigating our way around a dam and on towards George, collecting some optional CP’s along the way. Up to now, we were still going out of our way to locate all the optionals, because we were surely going to kick some ass on this race. However, reality was slowly creeping into the back of my mind as I saw the hours tick by. Finally, we reached the base of Montague Pass, this was the crux of the race, we told ourselves. Going up Montague pass went well, initially, but an hour later we were pushing our bikes (It was 5km/h pushing and 7 km/h riding) amid spectacular scenery, wondering if perhaps the top was around the next hill. No it wasn’t, the pass just kept winding onwards and upwards. We stopped for some ice cold water dripping out of the rocks and saw a peculiar-looking short train full of tourists steam overhead on a bridge, waving.

A few hundred metres further on, the train had stopped and the assortment of tourists including some of large, pink, khaki-clad ones were now cracking beers and squinting at the view. One chap encouraged us with the words “is that the best you can do?”. Thankfully we were near the top, marked by “Amanda’s Grave”. Presumably from Eden Duo 2008.

Down the other side, we clocked over 62km/h and enjoyed ourselves again for the first time in a while as we cruised in to Herold Wines. Again, a surreal feeling of being separated by a glass wall from the tourists enjoying cold white wine and gazing at us with pity.

Danie had decided to outdo all the other seconds and had put out camping chairs and laid out a spread on the tailgate of his bakkie of everything we could want, from ice-cold energades to biltong, eggs, chips, delicious home-made sandwiches, sweets, peanuts and raisins. A sight to behold.

Now for the hike. A 25km crossing of the Outeniqua mountain range, in the heat of the day. If we were to make the 4pm cutoff, we had to complete the hike in 4 hours. We set off determined, with full backpacks and water bottles. However, we strayed from the path of righteousness. Ignoring the waypoint in order to take a shortcut, we headed straight up the nearest saddle to sight the path shown on the map. Arriving at the top of the saddle after climbing a fence and bushwacking uphill, we discovered our mistake. The path was there all right, only 800m away and clearly visible, but a gulley left us no option but to traverse a densely thicketed slope of 45 degrees to get there. This unpleasant task took us over half an hour. Once on the “highway” we accelerated. It wasn’t long before we were descending down into a deep kloof. The forest canopy closed above us and we could hear water and also “what was that?”, voices above us and ahead. We looked across at the mountainside opposite us and then slowly raised our eyes until up there, way, way up above us, we could make out a team slowly clambering up the zig-zag path. It almost brought us to sob.

Fast forwarding to about two hours later, we had completed this arduous task and were now on some fairly level and runnable path. Except we weren’t running. We were rather tired, it was searingly hot and our knees weren’t happy. We stumbled on, slightly encouraged by the views of the Outeniqua mountains to one side and George and the sea to the other side, until we spotted our transition point in the distance and realised that it was still very, very far away and we would not make the cut-off. We continued walking. And walking.

We stopped at Saasveld to recharge our empty water bottles and continued via an optional check-point which was a sensible route anyway, in a river valley. Eventually, in the late afternoon, Laurent broke into a run for the first time in hours. He had spotted the transition! We arrived broken, our joints aching and our feet tired. We were immediately told we had missed the cut, but many teams had missed it and we could continue, but would not be allowed to paddle the immense body of water called Swartvlei in the dark as it would be difficult for the organisers to find us if we capsized or for us to reach shore safely in an exhausted state at night.

We were shivering from a lack of energy, but Danie sorted us out with his buffet and offered encouragement. Many teams were still out there behind us, slogging away in the foothills of the Outeniqua. That made us feel better. We were offered various choices, from driving or cycling to the end of the paddle to cycling the final river paddle. We opted for cycling to the end of the Swartvlei paddle, which meant that a) we would not use motorised transport b) we only missed the paddle not the beach hike, and c) our distance of cycling was almost as far as to the start of the paddle.

Off we went into the night, Laurent feeling much better now that he was off his feet and on his beloved bicycle, with his newly acquired Black Diamond headlight beaming the way. We made good time to Swartvlei in the darkness where Danie met us with hot-chocolate. What a man, what a second.

With the tide coming in, we had to little time to waste. We needed to get around Gericke’s Point and past the rocky sections before high tide, which was 3 hours away, otherwise we would be looking for paths on the rocky cliff face by the light of our headlights. Not a pleasant thought, so off we went a “light jog”. We made it around the point as the waves closed in and after half and hour or so we found ourselves on a long, white beach stretched out as far as the eye could see in the moonlight. A beautiful corona formed around the full moon and we continued at a fair pace.

But after several hours, we were zombies. Trudging along above the high-water mark at high tide, occasionally dodging the licking tongue of water rushing out from the sea, we stumbled ahead to the lights of the town of Wilderness in the distance, never seeming to get any nearer. The novelty was wearing thin. At one stage I fell asleep, kneeling and keeled over face first in the sand while I waited for Zombie-Laurent.

Danie surprised us by meeting us on the beach at KleinKranz, the first signs of civilisation, with a flask of coffee. We thought there would be 1 ½ hours left, but were wrong. Having stopped a few more times to dress blisters, we stumbled into town at 4am, after 5 hours. The standing joke between us by that time was “Light jog?” followed by pained laughter. I told Laurent that if he ever heard that I had entered another AR, he should phone the organiser to explain there had been a mistake. We finally arrived at the beach marshall, bathed in the glow of the orange streetlights we had been eyeing for the previous eternity. When we had first spotted these lights, Laurent had suggested that we should “pretend those are our destination”. Haha.

We were now set for the final leg, the paddle up the Touwsriver to the finish. At this point we were joined by a few more marooned sailors stumbling in off the beach, equally haggard.

Again Danie went beyond the call of duty by delivering to us his own personal canoe, saving us the dubious pleasure of using the plastic bath tubs (synergy) offered by the organisers. With this weapon giving us an unfair advantage, we quickly hauled in and overtook 3 teams on this last leg of the race. The dawn was imminent, a vague orange glow in the east, the moon had set and the Southern Cross was crisp and clear. Mist rose over the mirror finish of the winding river. It was picture perfect. Almost too soon to be believable, the Ebb and Flow campsite and then the twin burning torches of the finish appeared out of the mist. We arrived to a warm reception by a small crowd braving the cold and rose our paddles in a victory salute as if we had won the race.

The race director, Jan Heenop, was there to shake our hands and to congratulate us. We were stoked. We thought he would have gone to bed by now. Danie arrived, the 3rd member of Team Parallel, congratulated us and we basked in our achievement for a while.

24 hours of non-stop racing. We had missed the Swartvlei paddle, but it still felt like we had achieved something. Laurent had experienced his first race. We were older and wiser. And tired, very tired…

Team Parallel, Ronald Jessop

Members: Ronald & Laurent, with Danie as support

Merrell Eden Duo, 31 October 2009