South African team Merrell Adventure Addicts are in the Pantanal, at the very heart of South America for the very soul of Adventure Racing as they are about to compete in the World Championships 2015.
The best teams in the world are arriving and the best of those will win what is already predicted to be the toughest World Series competition yet. The Pantanal is an unforgiving wetland landscape, sharing little with the navigators, who must find their way around a 700km unmarked course over largely flat terrain that changes dramatically from year to year and season to season. The mountain bike legs are relatively short simply because the organisers had difficulty finding regions where it would be viable and kayaking dominates this race. For many trekking sections the teams must carry inflatable pack rafts which they will need when the land disappears underwater for kilometres at a time.
“It is great to finally get here and start the final process of preparation. The team is ready and focused and looking forward to getting out there. It is going to be a gruelling race – looking after oneself and one’s team will be imperative in such a harsh environment. We thrive on this.” Says Graham ‘Tweet’ Bird who captains the team with old hands Hanno Smit and Donovan Sims. Robyn Kime participates in her third adventure race, having competed with the team to win Expedition Africa and come second in Australia’s XPD this year. She is no stranger to world championship competitions, having already represented our country in both canoeing and trail running.
Team Merrell arrived on Sunday into the wall of heat and humidity that smacks one in the face here and the only dissent amongst the team was whether to condition the body to the sweltering environment or to enjoy the days before the inevitable by embracing AC in the rooms.
Not to be disputed was the urgent necessity for insect repellent as the mosquitoes made up the menacing welcoming party. Along with Merrell who consistently kits out the team with quality performance gear, South African sponsors have got our teams’ backs and they arrived armed with plenty of Island Tribe sunscreen and Ocean Eyewear against the sun, PVM, ButtaNutt and Llama bars against the hunger and sleep monsters, Squirt Lube against the chafe and Extreme Lights fighting the darkness for them. Black Diamond trekking poles will be used against the stingrays. As for the piranhas, anacondas and jaguars they’ve been warned about, the team is confident Hanno’s singing will do the job. Despite this infallible weapon, they are required to also carry a machete with a 35cm blade and a flashing strobe light which local farmers hang around the necks of their cattle at night to ward off predators.
Shopping in the local stores they have supplemented their boxes with coconut flavoured everything and learnt that, when asking directions in Corumbá, everywhere you want to go is two blocks away. Anything further than that is ‘very far.’ The idea of racing non-stop for hundreds of kilometres over at least five days in the wilderness that constitutes the other side of the river is beyond explanation to the bemused townsfolk. However they are likely to come across the enigmatic cowboy Pantaneiros out there who live and travel thousands of miles on horseback through this region with their livestock.
The strategy they have decided on since being here? “Don’t stop.” Said Tiny Don Sims. “When we went shopping and one of us had to wait outside with the bikes, we melted. If we keep moving, we’ll be okay.”
The race starts on Saturday 14th November 2015. Follow the team’s progress on the Merrell Adventure Addicts Facebook page, updated with photos and info from the field, where you will also find links to the live tracking site