Race Report – Expedition Africa 2012

20120507_Merrel_ExpeditionAfrica_Event-2251-1Graham “Tweet” Bird’s report:

It has been a while now since we finished Expedition Africa, but as with all Adventure Races, the memories linger for along time. As in previous years our team had set goals and objectives for the year ahead. We had decided to travel overseas early in the year for the World Series race in Ecuador hosted by the Huairasinchi AR. This race got the better of us and for the first time in 9 expedition races we had to withdraw. This was tough on the team and strengthened our resolve to be even more focused and stronger for Expedition Africa. It is always a privilege to race in South Africa. We have such a beautiful country and terrain that is made for Adventure Racing, expedition racing to be more specific. With the race now being part of the Adventure Racing World Series, we wanted to race hard and ensure that we had a good competitive race after our disappointment in Ecuador.

In the final month leading up to Expedition Africa, it seemed our misfortune was continuing when first Hanno and then Tatum had to withdraw due to injuries. Finding a replacement for Hanno was simple and we did not have to look much further than our team reserve, Craig Carter-Brown. Finding a replacement for Tatum proved more difficult and in the end we were spared this problem when Tatum recovered in time to take her place in the team. This was a huge relief for the team. Over the past four years our team has developed a strong bond and good understanding and it would have been challenging going into a race with tw20120507_Merrel_ExpeditionAfrica_Event-2285-4o new members.

Final race preparations, gear checks, race briefing, course marking and gear hand-in was made very simple by the top class organization of Stephan and Heidi. We were finished all the necessary by Sunday lunchtime and had a full afternoon and night to relax before the 500km’s. After all the pre race stress of getting the team to the start line, it is always such a relief to just start the race and get on with it.

The course proved to be relatively simple from a navigational aspect, with not much scope for different route choices. We had decided on a race strategy and stuck to this from the outset. We wanted to go out hard and keep pushing to the end. The nature of the course allowed for this to work perfectly, with six relatively short legs to start, before heading into the longer legs. Though we were surprised by the gap we had managed to open up on the rest of the field by mid camp, we were delighted by this and resolved to keep the high pace all the way to the end. As the saying goes “it is not over till the fat lady has sung” and we did not want to run into problems in the second half of the course and lose our gap. In the end we managed to cross the line in 64h30 just over 10h30 ahead of the second placed team.

After all the pre race stress in ge20120507_Merrel_ExpeditionAfrica_Event-2410-12tting a team to the start line, we had a perfect race. Something very rare for AR. As usual the team worked brilliantly together and Craig fitted in perfectly. The organization of the event was world class. Stephan and Heidi Muller did an absolutely fabulous job and their passion and enthusiasm for the sport shows in the quality of the race that they present. They are aiming towards staging the AR World Championships here in South Africa in the next couple of years and in order to achieve this they need the full support from all the Adventure Racers in South Africa. We all need to put Expedition Africa on our calendars for next year and make sure we fill up the race. We need to show the world that not only do we have world-class organisers, but also that we have ALOT Adventure Racers whom compete in their races. This will bring the international teams to the race.

It was truly a privilege to be at the finish, watching and cheer all the other teams across the line. It was touching and deeply moving to see so many “novices” finishing their first multi-day expedition race. Seeing their joy and happiness at overcoming something that seemed so daunting at the start and their passion for Adventure Racing being ignited made me realize again why I love this sport so much. It teaches you that anything is possible if you let your mind believe it. It allows you to get back to nature and away from the stresses of the modern world. All this together with three like-minded teammates!

Bring on Expedition Africa 2013. Bring on AR World champs in South Africa.

20120507_Merrell_ExpeditionAfrica_Event-4758-44Tatum “Hobbit” Prins report:

Expedition Africa is certainly going to be one of those races that I won’t quickly forget. We always say the hardest part of racing is getting to the start, well this year that certainly proved to be the case. Smelly was out with a broken collarbone and just a week before the start I told the team I couldn’t race. Luckily for the team Craig Carter Brown jumped in but finding another girl at such short notice wasn’t as easy. Just two days before we were about to leave, circumstances changed on my side and I could suddenly race. There was a lot of relief but at the same time a lot of anxiety and uncertainty whether this was a good idea. For the first time in my 9 years of racing I doubted the power of AR.

I shouldn’t have worried. The gun went off and with that so did all the concerns. It was as if a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders and I could just focus on the team, the race and again living my dream, Adventure Racing. We set off at a good pace with Team Red Ants but with Tweet’s great navigation we got ourselves an early lead which we held onto for the rest of the race.

20120507_Merrel_ExpeditionAfrica_Event-2579-17 The race itself was just perfect. With this I mean not just the race course, but from the simple pre race briefing, easy registration, gear checks and race instructions. The course was beautiful, one that made a South African truly proud and a foreigner in awe. We had paddling sections where we paddled right past Elephants. Where in the world other than Africa can you have this experience? It was a moment to remember. There were many more highlights in the race including mid camp where we watched rhinos and riding through the local villages in the Ciskei. All these were experiences that really made our race and our experience a truly African one.

Thanks once again to my boys for another incredible journey. One that holds some incredible moments, memories, laughs and ..singing. You guys were unstoppable this race and I am so happy I could race with this race with you. Thank you to Craig for stepping in and putting up with us. You were amazing!

An unbelievable thank you to Stephan and Heidi who yet again put on a world-class event, putting South African racing back on the map and made me feel proudly South African. You guys out did yourselves!

Last but not least, thank you to my friend…… Adventure Racing. You yet again taught me a lesson. You taught me the reason I love you so much. You taught me that nothing is really what it seems. You taught me again that you can put my life into perspective again and again and again. You taught me to never doubt you. You will always have the same affect on me and I will always be out there learning from you…you will continue to be the air that I breathe.

20120507_Merrell_ExpeditionAfrica_Event-3041-27 Donovan “Tiny” Sims report:

I remember driving out of Port Alfred, on the way home, thinking to myself “I can`t believe it’s over”. Expedition Africa, the race we had trained so hard for was over and had left me with some of the most amazing memories and a feeling of absolute accomplishment and peace.

This race was an adventure just getting to the starting line, losing a teammate and almost losing another just 2 weeks before the start. Race HQ and finish was in Port Alfred, just a ‘chip and a putt’ from my home. It wasn’t long before the quiet hotel on the water’s edge, “The Halyards”, was taken over by excited athletes, film crew, marshals and organisers alike. Stephan and Heidi really struck gold when they organised this venue as HQ, it was perfect……

The race started in the small historical town of Bathurst just 20 minutes out of Port Alfred. We set out on foot for an 18km run through the town before finding ourselves at the water’s edge of the Kowie River. We went with some of the local’s advice on the route choice and arrived there ahead of team Red Ants. After a really fast transition we were in our boats heading down river for the TA at the Halyards Hotel. The paddle went well and we soon found ourselves back on foot on a 20km run/hike to the Kariega river mo20120507_Merrell_ExpeditionAfrica_Event-4414-41uth. This was a beautiful stretch of coastal belt, which was absolutely full of bushbuck and duiker. At the end of the run we had a river crossing, which we had to swim, before reaching TA3.

It was back into the boats up the Kariega this time. This is truly a beautiful river to paddle on, we even had an elephant grazing just 10 meters from our boat. This had our captain very excited who decided we had to ‘park easy’ a while to take it all in. At the end of the paddle we saw Stephan grinning hugely, seemingly very happy with how the race was going so far. After another 18km run/hike we were back in the boats for a 23km paddle down the Bushman`s river. We were lucky hitting all 3 paddles with the tide and this helped us greatly in opening the gap on the chasing teams.

We were off onto our first cycle of the race, an 80km (warmer upper) taste of things to come. This bike went really well and we soon found ourselves on the farm were the ropes and kloofing was set out. With our trusted captain making some really good nav choices, these went smoothly. The ropes were spectacular rigged of an old railway bridge.

Back onto the bike for a 47km ride that took us past Grahamstown and onto midway camp at the game farm, Glen Boyd. There was a compulsory 5-hour stop here and I can’t imagine a better setting. We were treated to an amazing meal while watching 3 white rhin20120508_Merrell_ExpeditionAfrica_Event-5871-67os graze no more than 100 metres from us. We managed a 3 hour sleep in beds sent from heaven, before we were back on our bike for a monster 130km bike to the next TA at Hamburg. We saw we had at least a 5 hour lead on the chasing team, so it was decided to get into a comfortable rhythm on the bikes to grind the kilo`s out. We arrived in the quiet village of Hamburg around 23h30 to another warm welcome from the marshals.

Only 2 of the team had to paddle the 20km, out and back route. We decided that Craig and I would paddle giving Tweet and Hobbit a chance to rest (not that either of them needed it). This leg took us around 4h30 to finish (with some choice words along the way). With Tweet and Hobbit having ‘parked easy’, we flew into the next hike leg, which proved to be a 60km beast. This was the most challenging leg of the race taking us 14hours to complete. The route took us in a zig zag route along the coast, passing through Birah, Mpekweni and finally ending at Fish River. I remember at the end of the leg feeling really sorry for the back teams having to do the same in the dark. Now just a 43km bike to the finish and the much awaited couch session.

We arrived at the finish around 23h45 on Wednesday night to an amazing welcome. A job well done!!!!!

I think the highlight for me was being at the finish when the local team Husquvana finished on Friday, I don’t think I have ever seen such an emotional finish at any race. The local community came out in full force to welcome their team; everyone was in tears, EVEN our captain.

20120507_Merrel_ExpeditionAfrica_Event-2671-18To Stephan and Heidi, thank you so much for this AMAZING event. To the marshals and all others that helped in any way thanks to you to. To the landowners who were gracious enough to allow us a glimpse of their beautiful farms, a huge thank you.

To our sponsor Merrell, I cannot thank you enough for the support you give our team in allowing us to live out our dreams in “GETTING OUTSIDE”.

And now for my team Craig, thanks for being available at the last minute for us and being the machine you are that allowed us to race so easily. Hobbit, you were stronger this race than I have ever seen you, thanks for your continuous pushing that kept us moving on. Captain, I don’t really have words to describe just what you meant to me in this race, I feel that after each race we do I come away having that much more respect for you and your abilities. You guys RULE !

Thank you Elaine, Lofty, Captain`s “CUTE”, and Athena (my wife) for believing in us and supporting us. Tiny Don Sims

Craig Carter-Brown’s report:

I was given the late call up to join the Merrell Adventure Addicts in the Expedition Africa. To join the top AR team in SA to help them defend their title was a no brainer. After tying things up at work and spending two weeks in the Merrell seismic shoes (which felt good the first time I put them on) I was ready for Port Alfred.20120509_Merrell_ExpedtionAfrica_Event-6895-88

We all arrived early to do some filming for the international wild racers crew. It was lekker to spend time with team. The highlight was an afternoon spent at Sibuya reserve where we had excellent sightings of elephant and rhino. The Sibuya reserve is truly a magic spot and it was great to so many animals and birds in this coastal environment.

By now we all were super keen to get out on the course. The race started with a bus trip on Monday morning to Bathhurst. From a high point above the town we could see our playground for the next three days. Having discussed a slow start we soon found ourselves up front with the red ants team. The first decision came at the head of the Bathhurst dam where we decided to take the trail on the east side of the dam and red ants continued on the track around the west side. This proved to be a good move and we found ourselves at the paddle transition ahead. The next five stages saw us alternating between trekking and paddling. On the second paddle up stream from Kenton we experienced a once in a life time moment when we came across a bull elephant foraging on the riverbank in the setting sun. On the fluid synergy boats we were able to keep to within five metres of the giant. An awesome experience. Back to racing we had now built a healthy lead and saw our bikes for the first time at transition 6.

The bike leg took us through the night to our technical section. Sleep monsters snuck up every now and then but we all managed to keep a good pace on the bike leg. The rope section was based around an old railway bridge, which had been the scene of a tragic train accident some years back. The tight ropewalk and abseil went well with the local climbing gurus doing an excellent job with safety20120509_Merrell_ExpedtionAfrica_Event-6519-74. After this we headed down the river and up the side of the Kloof to locate two cps. On returning to our bikes we were happy to see no other teams bikes at the farmhouse, which meant that we had about a three-hour lead. The rest of the cycle to the half way stop took us towards Grahamstown. We past some scenic fold mountains on the way.

At the half way we received the maps for the rest of the race, a very good meal and a bed. This was a compulsory five-hour stop. Lappies from the local cycle shop was also on hand to look over our bikes. What more could anyone ask for. Leaving the half way stop there were still no other teams to arrive so we now had a five-hour lead.

The second part of the race had less legs, which meant longer harder stages. The 130km bike leg went smoothly with some technical riding in the dark. Tweet’s nav was faultless and before long we were back at the ocean. The final kayak leg only had to be done by two team members. Myself and Don headed up the estuary at spring low tide. This made for difficult paddling, as mud flats were hard to avoid in the dark. Jumping off the kayak to look for a cp Don found himself Up to his neck in mud. This made for a cold paddle home.

20120509_Merrell_ExpeditionAfrica_Event-7676-103The next hike leg back towards port Alfred was for me one of the toughest. The 60km involved beach running (shuffling), bush whacking (some serious thorns) and a number of river crossings. Tatum was super strong and set a good pace. Finally we reached the fish river golf course and new it was only a chip and a putt (43km bike) to the finish in port Alfred. The bike leg was done at top speed and about twenty minutes before midnight on Wednesday evening we rolled into the finish at the halyards hotel.

What great event Stefan and Heidi from Kinetic Gear put on. From the fantastic course too the small details, all organised to perfection. As for the team Tweet, Don and Tatum the guys were super strong and showed why they are the top AR team in SA, it was a privilege to race with them.

Final thought “The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round. Thanks guys for a great race Cheers Craig C-B

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