No arguing with airlines and customs officials this time, Graham ‘Tweet’ Bird of the Merrell Adventure Addicts gets to roll out of bed and straight on to the course of Expedition Africa 2016 in the Garden Route. You know you’ve chosen the right place to live when it is the epicentre of a 520km adventure race encompassing mountains, sea, lagoons, rivers, canyons, harsh semi desert, lush indigenous forest and endless vistas of open space in all directions.
His three teammates, ‘Tiny’ Don Sims, Grant ‘Freddo’ Ross and Tatum ‘The Hobbit’s Back!’ Prins are rolling in from only slightly further afield, all refreshingly avoiding airports.
“It may not give us the advantage that everyone thinks it will” says Tweet of racing in home territory. “Fresh eyes see different route choices and we don’t generally train with a map looking for the shortest way to get from one point to another, we’re normally looking to extend our time out there on weekend rides!”
The organisers have let on that there are 18 legs with 15 transitions. This makes for a short, fast race which is not normally the Addict’s ideal. They are known to be less racehorse and more oxwagon, using their incredible endurance strength and strategies to their advantage over the long haul – which saw them step onto three podiums in their last four international races.
Despite this, Grant says “I’m excited about the number of transitions and shorter legs, a refreshing change after three day long treks in Patagonia. It’s going to be far more intense, with far more jostling for position; seeing other teams at bottle necks and transitions. But this brings a great element of fierce competition and sneaky moves which is always fun!”
“Knysna is magical, it’s going to be a pleasure to explore. “ he added. Although he admits he will be looking to take his revenge on one particular sharp piece of wood that sent him to hospital last year when he slipped and fell during another little overnight adventure in one of the canyons.
Expedition racing is demanding not only on the athletes but their families and colleagues too, who must suffer through the preparations and the absences, the messy explosions of equipment in every room, frantic searches for essential bits, piles of radioactive sports clothes, exclusive team jokes involving nakedness and sleepmonsters and a vague-to- complete incomprehension of what exactly goes on out there for days on end as they watch their loved one represented by (one quarter of) a dot ambling across a screen.
Yet such is the nature of true Merrell adventurers that they have managed to make this year’s EA a family affair with three partners also competing in three other teams – throwing babysitting and dogsitting arrangements onto the pre-race organisational list and giving supporters the option to now cheer for both mom dot and dad dot using the very effective live tracking system www.expafrica.live
Hanno ‘Smelly’ Smit (whose wife Nikki heads up the all girl Lunar Chicks team) is happy to let his normal team race ahead while he gets to meander through the Garden Route at a less frenetic pace – although possibly with more backchat – as captain of the Merrell Mentored pack. His three girls take on their first expedition race under the guidance, and navigational expertise, of one of the most experienced and philosophical racers around. While the use of cellphones is normally prohibited during racing, the three journalists, Fiona McIntosh, Shaen Adey and Sarah Hearn have special dispensation from the race organisers to be able to post photos and unedited emotions from the field directly to their Facebook page – providing inside out reporting and instant insight into what it actually feels like at midnight halfway up a mountain when wet, tired and not quite sure it’s the right mountain to be halfway up.
“Normal race reports are written days after the event and tend to glow with the smug hue of accomplishment, like a new mom with her freshly delivered bundle. But,” explains Sarah. “she wasn’t looking so content and virtuous during those contractions!
We’re all looking forward to having that self-satisfied feeling of finishing our first proper adventure race, but want to record the honest process of our individual and collective labour, which can only be done in the moment. No editing, no photoshop, and probably progressively incoherent.”
The Merrell Adventure Addicts will be racing as just ‘Merrell’ next week as they line up on Sunday 15th May to take on Kinetic Gear’s latest challenge.
Thank you always to our main sponsor Merrell who support us all the way, and to PVM Nutrition, Black Diamond, Extreme Lights, Ocean Eyewear, Squirt Lube, Island Tribe sunscreen, ButtaNutt tree spreads and Llama Bars – many South African products that have taken us around the world and stand behind us here at home.