Brazil may invoke images of bikinis, beach volleyball, flip flops and football but when the race info pack states mandatory equipment to be carried is a machete with blade of at least 35cm, a distress signal flare, a pulley and 3 carabiners, one gets the idea that participants in the upcoming Adventure Racing World Championships won’t be sipping caipirinhas while watching a Copacabana sunset.
Just six weeks from now, the top South African team, Merrell Adventure Addicts, will be lining up along with 40 international teams to commence a non-stop 650km race combining mountain biking, trail running, paddling and whatever else the organisers see fit to throw at them, in a supreme test of endurance and teamwork. As always, exact details of the route and course will remain secret until the briefing 24 hours before they plunge into the wild Pantanal wetlands, armed with maps, a compass and the knowledge that they will probably be out there on the move for five days and nights.
Team Merrell’s win at the World Series Expedition Africa 2015 event staged in Swaziland in May secured them a place at these championships, and their impressive second place finish at XPD in Australia in August reinforced their position in the pack of leading contenders.
Four members make up the formidable team heading to South America in November: Captain Graham ‘Tweet’ Bird, Hanno ‘Smelly’ Smit and Donovan ‘Tiny’ Sims who between them have thirty five years of racing experience, are complemented by relative newcomer Robyn ‘Yet to have a nickname stick’ Kime, who has brought a dynamic, fresh and consistently strong female element to the group this year. Grant ‘Freddo’ Ross is on the bench, fit and ready to samba at a moment’s notice.
All the athletes live and work in different parts of the country and follow their own fitness programme, each racking up sixty to eighty hours of multi-sport activity per month leading up to a big race. This is a massive time commitment but luckily just about everything they love doing constitutes training and much of it can be shared with partners and family. The long weekend saw them all riding and running, as well as Robyn paragliding the thermals, Tweet paddling the river with his dog, Don and Hanno – having read the cautionary note of stingrays and piranhas waiting for them in Brazil and sending a pre-emptive warning of their own – fished the Wild Coast stukkend with speargun and line.
“One needs a strong base level of fitness and technical ability in all three of the main disciplines.” says Tweet. “But beyond that, you’ve got to love just being out there; running the forests, cycling the single track, hiking the mountains and exploring the canyons. You can’t train for sleep deprivation. You just know you will travel to some deep, dark places within yourself while you’re out there, exhausted, cold and possibly lost, and you must trust yourself, your gear and your teammates to look out for each other. We draw constantly on our vasbyt reserves. And the guys’ fishing stories.”
Merrell’s new tagline is ‘OUT.Perform.’
“We hope to do just that and stand on the podium with the world’s best this year. The team is fortunate enough to have a great network of support from friends and family, and businesses that believe in the integrity of our lifestyle and invest their products in us. Main sponsor, Merrell, along with Black Diamond, Giant Bicycles, Island Tribe sunscreen, Squirt bike lube, Llama Bars, ButtaNutt Spreads, Ocean Eyewear all contribute to our successes and allow us to represent South Africa in this incredible sport.
Photo’s from Bruce Viaene