Showdown on the Garden Route

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‘Lets Get Outside’ just one of the taglines the Merrell brand and its products of quality outdoor footwear and clothing likes to be associated with. And that is exactly what contenders had in mind when signing up for the 12th edition of the Merrell Eden Duo (MED), get outside, connect with nature, get dirty and love every second of the experience. This was the message from the CEO of Merrell South Africa, and racer, David Palmer who welcomed everyone with Merrell’s current vision and placement in the outdoor market and commitment to the industry. Its was mother nature, however, who decided to jump that gun by dumping almost 100 millimetres of rain in the area a mere 24 hours prior to the starting from the Ebb and Flow camp in Wilderness section of Garden Route National Park.

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And thus race-briefing on the Friday night, prior to the following mornings start, was a somewhat electric affair. Race director, Jan Heenop was hit by a barrage of questions when announcing the route changes due to the rain. Competitor’s safety comes first was the message and in true adventure racing ethos the following morning, all arrived with a smile and a spoon of cement clenched firmly in their cheek.

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For the uninitiated, this is a 24-hour event covering a distance of 150 kilometres by foot, canoe and bike. Some would say that is a little crazy, yet when you are told that distance covers terrain like the Montague Pass, back over the Outeniqua mountains with a sprinkling of a 5, 10 and 5 kilometre paddles in between and a 20 kilometre beach run towards the latter stages of the race well then it is pure lunacy!!

This year the event had an additional cherry, or in this case croissant, in its already overflowing list of impressive credentials in that the French based Merrell Raid adventure team was coming to show the locals how it should be done. Their biggest competition would be from the impressive local team of the Merrell Adventure Addicts – a formidable bunch of hardened campaigners.

MED _15The two Addicts mixed teams of Graham Bird & Sue Carter Brown and Tatum Prins & Cas van Aardenne as well as the Addicts men’s pair of Hanno Smit & Donovan Sims were up for a French revolution. Having also chosen this event as a final tune-up prior to setting off to Costa Rica later in the year for the World Champs the Adventure Addicts were totally focussed and not taking things lightly.

The 7 am start was greeted by light rain and no wind, ideal for racing and the first 5km paddle leg to Touw River mouth. Cycling from there to Herold Wines via Montagu Pass the field splintered with the Addicts and French teams emerging at the transition. The Addicts men’s pair and defending champions, Hanno and Don, had already built a sizable lead on the rest of the field, which they continued to build on throughout the remainder of the course. The mixed race proved a far closer tussle with the French team gaining the upper hand in the first half of the race before the Addicts mixed pair of Graham and Susan realed in the deficit before the final beach run. It was then cat and mouse over the 20km run, before the Addicts managed to pull away on the final paddle to win the mixed race. “It was a fantastic day out and turned out to be perfect in all respects”, commented Bird. “Our teams performed brilliantly and it was awesome to see all the competitors out their enjoying the wonderful Garden Route”.

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As always it is not only about the winning but the camaraderie and friendships forged out in some of the most pristine surroundings nature has to offer. And for some they had more time then others with the final pairing clearing the last checkpoint at 1h30am. No serious injuries were logged although the beauty of the Outeniqua Mountains cast a spell over one entrant who lost his way and needed the intervention of race officials to find his way back to safety. Prize giving on Sunday morning was greeted by sparkling sunlight, mountains of scrumptious food and sightings of a variety of hobbling and limping styles. And so the curtain closed on another successful Merrell event, in spite of some last minute curve balls, slamming of boot doors and final goodbyes were said before silence returned to the Ebb and Flow camp.  Until next year as the French say, Au Revoir!

Words and images: Mark Sampson – Thribe Media

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