Adventure racing is a bit Survivor does Amazing Race; but no-one gets voted off the island, competitors participate in teams of four and they don’t get to travel on planes or in cars. Feet, mountain bikes and kayaks will transport these rugged competitors over 500 kilometres of South Africa’s South Coast terrain during the 2014 edition of Expedition Africa.
Next week, 40 teams of four from 17 countries arrive in South Africa and begin making their way to the Port Edward Holiday Resort on the South Coast. They’re here for the 500-kilometre Expedition Africa multi-day adventure race, which starts on Sunday, 25 May 2014.
In the build-up to this gruelling endurance event, adventure racing journalist Lisa de Speville delights in telling people about the event. Her conversations with people go something like this:
“There’s this really incredible adventure race happening on the South Coast soon,” she begins. “There are 40 teams and participants from 17 countries. They’ll have to hike, bike and paddle around 500 kilometres from start to finish.”
“500 kilometres? For real?” the person asks.
It’s the distance that always catches attention. People gasp at the kilometres rather than the fact that there are people from 17 countries coming to South Africa to play on Kwa-Zulu Natal’s magnificent South Coast. Lisa answers the question anyway.
“500 kilometres isn’t really as bad as it sounds. The total distance is split into legs and between the different sporting disciplines so there could be say 40 kilometres of hiking and then 80 kilometres of mountain biking and then 30 kilometres of paddling… that’s already 150 kilometres. The crunch is that the legs follow one after the next… And it’s a race. So the teams just keep going from one leg to the next and the next and the next and the next. OK, so 500 kilometres is sort of as bad as it sounds.”
“How long is that going to take? A month?”
“No,” she says laughing. “The front teams will be done within four days and the slower teams have like eight days to get to the finish.”
“Four days? You’ve got to be kidding me! I take it that they stop at night to sleep?” the person responds.
“Nah, they don’t. Well, not really,” she replies. “When the race starts on the Sunday morning, the teams shoot off. They’ve got to find checkpoints and pass through transition stations and when they get to the finish they can stop. It may be four, five, six or eight days after the start… They do sleep but not very much. Two hours here, four hours there. It’s really quite incredible what one can do on very little sleep.”
“If they’re not sleeping much or stopping much, when do they eat?”
“They pass through settlements and can buy odds and ends from spaza shops but for the rest they arrive at the race with non-perishable foods in their race crates. Things like nuts, freeze-dried meals, cans of goods, add-water shakes and biltong. They pack food into their backpacks and replenish from their race crates when they reach the transition zones. The challenge is that they could be out on a leg – say a 60-kilometre hiking stage – for more than 24 hours or even more than 36 hours. They’ve got to plan how much food to pack to see them through. They mostly just eat on the go – munching constantly and then eating bigger meals in transitions.”
“How do they know where to go? Are there signs that they follow or have they got GPS devices?” the person asks.
“GPS?” Lisa laughs. “They don’t use GPS units – or follow signs. Team navigators rely on map-and-compass navigation to take routes between checkpoints and transitions. Teams can go where ever they want as long as they pass through every checkpoint and transition. There’s always room for error – especially at night – and it can be seriously exciting for people following the live online tracking, especially if tired, top-ranked teams are making mistakes in the later stages of the race. Supporters at home shout at their computers when they see their team taking a wrong route.”
“That’s incredible! What’s the story with these teams? Are these people professional athletes?”
“There may be one or two but the rest of the 200 participants are regular people with regular jobs and families and commitments. We’ve got 40 teams taking part in Expedition Africa this year with team members from 17 different countries.”
“You mean, they’re not all South African?”
“Nope,” Lisa answers. “We’ve got racers from all over South Africa – Cape Town, Bloem, Durbs, East London, Knysna, Jo’burg, Pretoria and everywhere in between. The big excitement is just how many foreign teams have been attracted to come and race in South Africa. Coverage during last year’s Expedition Africa was devoured by adventure racers worldwide and the race clearly caught their attention. Expedition Africa has built its reputation as a challenging event with excellent organisation and interesting routes in a magnificent country. The teams are going to love the Wild Coast with its dramatic coastline and rural settlements. The race is hosted by the town of Port Edward with everything based from the Port Edward Holiday Resort.”
And then the person inevitably comes out with the cracker: “So who do you think is going to win?”.
“Aaaahhhh… ” Lisa says, rubbing her head.
“The New Zealand team Seagate stands out, for sure. Their captain, Nathan Fa’ave, is one of the most well-known, respected and experienced racers in the World. Their navigator, Chris Forne, is undoubtedly one of the best. The other two teammates are solid, experienced and strong. They’re ranked second in the Adventure Racing World Series and they’ve raced here in South Africa before so betting on them is hardly a gamble. BUT…”
“What?” the person asks, eager to get the scoop.
“Well, there are the Swedes to consider. The team Haglofs Silva raced here last year. And they won! They beat our very best teams in the Drakensberg, on home ground. That’s quite something. They’re ranked sixth in the world and they don’t just race for fun and sightseeing; they’re strong and experienced and they race to win. I’d also be tempted to put some money on the American team, Tecnu. They did really well here last year and they’ve put in loads of racing and training over the past year.”
“Any local talent?”
“PLENTY! Oh goodness! Where do I start? Merrell Adventure Addicts and Team Cyanosis are almost a given for top placements and they are both incredibly experienced teams and are able to beat the foreigners. But it’s never cut-and-dry in this sport. There are so many things that can go wrong over four days – just getting an intact team of four across the finish line is an accomplishment, never mind winning. I’m also expecting solid performances from Black Diamond and Castle Lite as well as Olympus, Jabberwock, PennyPinchers and Warriors.
But the wolf among the sheep may indeed be Team Painted Wolf. The Collins brothers, John and Mark, haven’t raced for many years but they’re made of the right stuff and back in the early 2000s they competed abroad… The thing is, I don’t know if they realise just how far expedition adventure racing has progressed these past couple of years. Teams push harder than ever before. They’re fitter, faster, stronger and SMARTER. And only yesterday Painted Wolf confirmed their fourth team member, a woman from Chile. She raced here in 2012.”
“Leaving it a bit late aren’t they?” the person observes.
“Better late than never! That’s for sure.”
And so it is that next week 40 teams from around South Africa and the World will start arriving in the South Coast town of Port Edward. The Russian team NoNameSport.ru is the first arrival; they check in this Sunday. Expedition Africa is sure to be the talk of this small coastal town.
With sunrise just before 07h00 and sunset around 17h00 the teams are in for short days and long nights. But, on the bright side, the weather should be sunny with highs in the mid-to-low 20s and lows in the mid-teens. Light showers could be on the cards.
Expedition-style adventure racing is something else all together. The race can be following online through insightful race reporting, Twitter feeds and Facebook posts. Live satellite tracking brings the teams into your living room and the race organisers, Heidi and Stephan Muller, request that they’re not held responsible for diminished productivity at work and extremely late nights during the week of the event.
Expedition Africa makes its base in the town on Port Edward with teams staying before and after the race at the Port Edward Holiday Resort. The event has been warmly welcomed by Tourism South Coast.
Event: Expedition Africa
Location: Port Edward, Kwa-Zulu Natal. SOUTH AFRICA
Distance: 500 kilometres
Duration: around four days for winners; eight days for backmarkers
Dates & times:
• Opening ceremony and official team introduction: Friday, 23 May 2014, 19h00
• Community project: Saturday, 24 May 2014, 08h00-10h00
• Start: Sunday, 25 May 2014, 07h00
• Prize giving and dinner: Saturday, 31 May 2014 at 19h00
• Final cut-off: Saturday, 31 May 2014 at midnight (161 hours)
Teams: 40 four-person, mixed-gender teams
Countries: 17 countries represented. Participants from South Africa, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, France, Germany, Ireland, Namibia, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland and USA.
Visiting media: South Africa, Australia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Portugal and Sweden.
• Live tracking, team information, feeds, leader board, photographs, daily videos: www.kineticgear.org
o hashtag: #expafrica
Event Organisers: Stephan and Heidi Muller. Kinetic. www.kineticgear.co.za.
Adventure Racing World Series: www.arworldseries.com