Merrell’s GREAT Weekend Invaluable to Expedition Africa Aspirants
Pics Carmen Froneman and Graham Bird
By now, everybody is aware that this year’s 520km Expedition Africa, World Series Adventure Race, will be played out in the Garden Route in May 2016. Fifty teams of four will put their bodies and minds to a very big test; attempting to complete the entire route laid out by organisers Kinetic Events, navigating through the wilds on mountain bikes, kayaks and on foot.
Twenty eight South African teams have entered, some of whom have never done expedition style racing before.
The unique thing about Adventure Racing is that any combination of four brave/crazy/determined enough people, can form a team to compete in a race alongside world champions of the sport.
Graham “Tweet” Bird who lives in Knysna, is the captain of the Merrell Adventure Addicts team, ranked #6 in the world, with 12 years of experience in the sport and countless competitions in his memory. His team will be competing for top honours in May, but his passion for Adventure Racing is such that he organised a training weekend for anyone who wanted to practise and develop the myriad skills necessary to succeed. Success, in this sport, can be defined as a podium position or even just survival.
“Having EA in the Garden Route this year has sparked so much enthusiasm amongst the sporting locals. It’s really awesome to see. We’re all going to suffer at some stage, but I want the athletes to be as prepared as possible in order to enjoy and excel overall” said Graham. The informal Garden Route Expedition Africa Training (GREAT) weekend saw 18 teams of two tackling a 160km course Graham had designed in the forests, rivers and surrounds of Knysna: the opportunity to spend 20-23 hours out there. The route traversed parts of the Outeniqua Hiking Trail, the local favourite KoffiePot, MTO Kruisfontein and Buffelsnek plantations, Diepwalle and Gouna forests. Faster teams collected more checkpoints and covered more distance, but all got to learn and discover so much – about their teams, equipment, navigation, nutrition requirements and the general workings of a race like this that involves many transitions from one discipline to another in a non-stop course.
This was a non-profit exercise and SANParks Garden Route Section and MTO Forestry kindly allowed access to their lands and trails. Although most local mountain bikers and hikers know many parts of the area, the route took them all to places they had never seen, highlighting once again the incredible diversity and magnitude of unspoilt spaces we are lucky enough to have around us.
The Montessori school offered their kayaks and trailer for the event, several people volunteered to help out at the transitions, camping out in the forest to make sure everyone was checked in and accounted for and Dr Olivier remained on call throughout. Graham was omnipresent, chatting with each team as it arrived at transitions, helping with advice, options and hot coffee before chasing them on their way again. The whole thing started and ended at Simola Hotel Country Club & Spa, whose staff graciously welcomed the troupes of dirty, smelly, exhausted adventurers and fed them well in blissful surroundings.
“It was a great learning experience and very well put together” said a tired but happy Drew Scott of Plett Adventure Team. “Thanks to all the land owners and marshalls and a massive thanks to Tweet for an invaluable training session, and for giving back to AR.”
“Excellent training” agreed one of Knysna’s other racing legends John Collins. “Only experience can put together a balanced route like that.”
The Merrell Mentored team raced together for the first time. Three complete newbies to the sport, Sarah Hearn, Fiona McIntosh and Shaen Adey, none of whom had ever cycled at night, let alone throughout an entire one, were guided by another well-known Knysna local, Hanno Smit of the Merrell Adventure Addicts. Their strong result bodes well, and is testament to the value of experience that, combined with enthusiasm and fitness, will get them through EA.
“I was on such a high, happy to be realising the open ended possibilities of my body and mind” said Sarah. “I also realised I need a new saddle and Squirt Lube’s anti chafe is going to get the prime spot in my backpack! The Merrell Addicts team have been amazing, helping us with so much gear and words of wisdom. They don’t even realise how much they are giving us just when they are chatting. Racing is in their blood. We’ve just been newly infected – or diagnosed - and now have to learn how to live with it.”
Andrew Robinson of Knysna’s Ultimate Cycling and his teammate Neil Ungerer are half of the Head over Hills team who collected the most checkpoints. Familiar team names Plett Adventure, Featherbed Painted Wolf, LunarChicks, Lickety Split and Ride2Nowhere were all present and are among others who will all see each other again in just five week’s as the training days count down to the start of EA on 13 May.
Photos are up on the Merrell Adventure Addicts Facebook page.