Last week, South Africa’s top Adventure Racing unit, the Merrell Adventure Addicts, finished the World Adventure Racing Championships in 5th position. The annual championship saw 67 mixed person teams from 25 countries, set off on a 800km, non-stop journey “Coast to Coast…..Border to Border” through Costa Rica.
Teams navigated with compass and map, trekking, mountain biking, kayaking and rafting as they collected compulsory checkpoints. Being an expedition, the teams needed to be self sufficient, carrying their gear and food between designated pre-packed re-supply boxes. Other than a compulsory 4-hour midway stop, teams raced non-stop, night and day, with the first team crossing the finish line having collected all the checkpoints being declared the winner.
The race had teams starting on the southern border with Panama, heading west for 95km on Mountain Bikes, where the teams changed to kayak and portage a grueling 157km in the Bay of Dulce and the Mangrove Swamps on the Pacific Coastline. Teams then headed back inland for 101km on the bikes before trekking east over Costa Rica’s highest mountains and remotest jungles on an arduous 92km leg that saw teams spending 40hours and more in the wilderness. After a short 40km bike ride the teams rafted 33km down grade 3 & 4 rapids before a bum numbing 90km paddle to and along the Caribbean Sea. It was then back on their mountain bikes for a massive 160km mountain bike ride north to the Nicaraguan border, before heading south again for a final 23km rafting section to the finish in the rural town of Puerto Viejo.
After 168 hours (seven days) of racing, Swedish Thule Adventure Team won the event. The South African Merrell team of adventure racing stalwarts Graham Bird and Hanno Smit, together with the relatively inexperienced siblings of Craig and Susan Carter-Brown completed the course in 180hours (seven and half days), having only slept 13 hours throughout the whole event. Craig having stepped in at the last moment to take Donovan Sims’ place on the team after being diagnosed with Leukemia one week before the event.
“The race was more about surviving the course and making sure you did not get injured and ill”, commented team captain Graham Bird. “We had a consistent race and paced ourselves brilliantly”. The team experienced all varieties of obstacles through the seven days with extreme heat, humidity and tropical rainstorms in the low lands and mist, wind, rain and cold in the high mountains. Foot rot and feet infections was a major problem for the majority of he the teams and Merrell managed to get through relatively unscathed, allowing them to push through on the final stages to claim the coveted top 5 finish.
Having finished 7th at the 2011 World Championships, the team knew they had the potential and ability to mix it up with the top teams in the world. “We are very happy with our 5th place finish.” Graham Bird, team captain. “We had a great race and enjoyed racing with the top teams in the world.” The team will now enjoy some much needed rest and recovery before they start their build up to Africa’s major adventure race, the 500km Expedition Africa in May 2014.