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|Eden Challenge 2007|
Race: Eden Challenge
Date: 26 October 2007
Venue: Van Wyksdorp, Western Cape
Total race time: 41h30
Author: Nicholas Mulder
We knew we were going to be in trouble as we drove over the Rooiberg Pass. We were in the middle of nowhere already… somewhere in the most desolate part of the Little Karoo, somewhere between those bastions of civilization, the bright lights of Calitzdorp and Van Wyksdorp. The terrain was arid, mountainous, intimidating… and the weather guys said that that we were going to be sweltering in the mid-30’s the next day… the day on which we would start the 2007 edition of the Eden Challenge.
The drive down from Gauteng to the Western Cape had been uneventful. We had stopped over for a superb night’s sleep near Beaufort West and we were now arriving calm and refreshed in the Rooiberg region of the Little Karoo, ready to take on SA’s longest running adventure races the next morning. We wound our way down the narrow single lane on the other side of the pass, heading to Assagaaybosch Lodge at the base of Rooiberg. The two vehicles were packed to the aircon vents with 2 racing boats, 5 bikes, 3 cooler boxes, about 10 race boxes, 4 team members and 2 support crew. It had been a last minute scramble, but the team was relieved to have Ian Koegelberg drop everything at 24 hours notice and volunteer to accompany Liz Mulder as the team’s seconds.
The race started at the highest point of the Rooiberg Pass at 6am… 16 teams running down the road and onto the first jeep track snaking its way along the ridge to a check point (CP) on a beacon near the Rooiberg summit. Despite the severity of the Rooiberg Pass, this trekking leg ran along a ridge that still managed to climb from 800m at the pass summit to 1455m at the beacon. Thankfully the jeep track was in good condition and Team Cyanosis, comprising of Ryno Griesel, Nicholas Mulder, Arrie De Swardt and Susan Sloan set the early pace on the slow 16km climb. A front group immediately formed with Team Montrail, McCains Adventure Addicts (their South Coast squad), Tean Cape Cladding (a pair) and Kinetic USN. Slowly, as the leg lengthened and the track steepened, the field began to thin until only Cape Cladding and Cyanosis were left up front. From CP1 at the beacon, it was a short bundu bash across a fynbos covered ridge to another jeep track for a fast paced 9km downhill to transition (T1). Nathan Thompson and Ray Bentz of Cape Cladding were first in, followed a minute later by Cyanosis, both teams with a few minutes lead over the next 3 chasing teams.
Leg 2 was a 65km mountain bike leg through the most remote sections of the Little Karoo. After catching Cape Cladding, Cyanosis checked in at CP2 before moving onto CP3. What awaited us was one of the biggest surprises yet in SA Adventure Racing history… a green rugby field in the heart of the desert with throngs of school children waving pom-poms, banners and flags and cheering us on. As we cycled across the length of the field it quickly emerged that the rugby ball sitting in front of the posts at the 22 metre line was waiting specifically for us. With no-one in the team with a rugby background, Arrie drew the short straw and was delegated the task of ensuring that the ball sailed over the posts. With Salomon as one of the team sponsors (Salomon’s sister company is Gilbert) the pressure was on. To the team’s surprise (even Arrie’s), the ball sailed perfectly through the posts on the first attempt to rapturous cheering from the children on the sidelines. It’s not often that a sportsman with Number 1 on his back (our team race bib number) slots a penalty kick through the posts.
Cleared to continue with the course by the marshal, we then proceeded further into the remotest corners of the Karoo, with the temperature mercilessly climbing. The next CP was in the Kanga River Reserve, where a desolate landscape of thousand of small jagged ridges awaited. We located CP4 at the Managers Hut quickly before choosing the shortest, easiest route to the Pietsrivier and CP5. From there it was more shale-strewn jeep track en route to T2, with only the odd excitement (such as a 2m long Cape Cobra) to break our concentration in the searing heat.
We left T2 for a 15km trekking leg at the hottest time of the day. There was no chance of running on this section due to the dangers of overheating. We made a decision to follow the river systems to PC6, rather than a more direct route as we were worried about the undulating ground and vegetation. After circumventing the Mierjieskraal Dam, we quickly discovered that ours was the wrong option. We battled to find paths through some dense reed beds and were forced to cross game fences on a regular basis. It wasn’t long before the team was taking strain, with Arrie showing a bad case of heat illness. As we knew we probably had a comfortable lead, we took the luxury of slowing down to let him recover quicker, correctly guessing that other teams would probably have similar problems.
We arrived at T3 as temperatures were cooling down at about 6pm and took some proper time out to rehydrate. We set off on the next monster bike leg that would involve numerous steep undulations. The first of these was Gysmanshoek Pass, a secluded dirt road over the Langeberge that doesn’t appear on any road atlases. Following that were some nasty up and downs as we traversed dirt roads across the front of the Langeberge in a westerly direction through the cool of night. We arrived at T4 at 10pm, the start of the trekking leg that would include a major abseil and kloofing leg. Due to safety concerns, this was a dark zone, and we would not be able to proceed in the dark. We settled down for an unusual nap until 3am, when the marshal would allow us to proceed. Thankfully, time lost in the dark zone would be credited at the finish.
Through the night, two other teams arrived in transition. First was the newly formed combination of Kinetic USN / Cape Cladding… with each team having lost members due to heat illness and bike mechanical problems the day before. Next was the official team of Rock Hard AR who had had a superb day 1 in the heat. Cyanosis was first out of transition, exactly at 3am, followed a few minutes later by USN / Cape Cladding. Rock Hard slept in for a while longer.
A tough hike into the mountains saw Cyanosis arrive at the rope section shortly before 5am, but darkness forced us into a further ½ hour wait before being allowed to proceed. The abseil was a superb 90m drop next to a waterfall. After a bit of a rock scramble against a cliff in order to get clipped in, we had a superb view of the gorge as we descended to the bottom, the rope technicians being kind enough to fashion a pulley to ensure we didn’t land in the pool at the bottom. On the 3km kloofing leg to T4, we were caught by USN / Cape Cladding, with whom we’d spend the next couple of hours in the upcoming bike leg.
The second day of the Eden Challenge was thankfully much cooler, with temperatures at least below the 30’C mark. We made the most of the cool morning, taking a tiger line for CP9 in Grootvadersbosch, where after a short search, we and USN / Cape Cladding found the elusive CP at a bridge over the Duivenhoks stream. CP10 had been removed due to concerns over the teams not making the upcoming paddle on the Breede River before the end of Day 2, so Cyanosis headed off alone for the nearest dirt roads on a longer, but faster route for some high speed cycling to CP11. Teams were racing with GPS tracking devices that allowed support crew and marshals to view our progress in various transitions… it was at this stage that we impressed them with an average speed of 28km/hr… but then it was a downhill! It was also at this stage that we started glancing at our bike odometers and doing some quick calculations. We were at the 170km stage of the race, yet we knew that we still had some extremely long cycles, paddles and coasteering legs ahead. We quickly realised that the 250km race that we had arrived to compete in was going to be extended well beyond the 300km mark! We decided that at least this was going to be superb training for our next major race, the Portugal XPD over 500km in December. We did take pity on the back marker teams though, who would struggle to complete the whole extended course in the given time.
After a high speed view of the village of Suurbraak, we ended up at CP11 in the Swellendam vicinity. After a bit of a search for the correct route away from the CP by the dam, we found a nice hiking trail that led us down a rideable route into the Bufelsjag valley, where we once again picked up the pace, heading for the Breede River. En route we made the most of a BP petrol station and its adjacent café.
The river paddle was 35km of tough, tricky river in racing K2s. The Breede Canoe Marathon is one of the mainstay on the national paddling calendar and is graded the same difficulty as the Fish and Dusi Canoe Marathons. Although we had experienced river paddlers in both Arrie and Nicholas, the decision was made to portage anything that we were uncertain of. We portaged the first big rapid, ‘The Wall’, which proved to be a real boat breaker. We then successfully shot ‘Lovers Lane’ – easy, ‘Good Morning’ – a fun and surprising drop, ‘Tooth ache’ – not a problem and ‘Cascades’ – luckily we found the chicken run. Things took a turn for the worse at ‘Dead Mans Corner’ however when both boats took nasty swims on a section we should never have attempted. Nicholas and Ryno’s boat almost got snapped in half twice, but some quick downriver swimming to save the boat and pull it away from rocks saved the day. The remainder of the rapid, as well as the final one, ‘Wham bam!’ was taken much more circumspectly, with portaging on both rapids. Even after then, there were still a couple of troublesome, unnamed rapids that the team decided to portage before arriving at the paddle take-out a few hours within the next dark-zone cut-off.
With darkness approaching for the 2nd time, a 45km mountain bike leg took Cyanosis away from the Breede River across typically undulating Overberg dirt roads to Witsand, near the coast. We once again pushed the pace, keen to arrive as early as possible and start the coasteering leg to the finish – we didn’t want to spend another night out on the course. We transferred onto foot for the last time and headed through the coastal fynbos in a direct line for the beach. We underestimated the dunes however and quickly realised why the nearby town got its name… those were some impressive dunes!
Hitting the beach, we turned east towards the finish at Vermarklikheid, some 15km distant. It was a full moon, so we were incredibly relieved to see that we had arrived at low tide, as the incoming spring tide would probably have trapped us underneath the sea cliffs on this section of coastline. We missed the CP marker as we worked our way along the coast, variously covering rocky beach, exposed rock pools and clambering around rocky headlands where the sea cliffs jutted into the water. We were forced to make a return trip of a few kilometres, this time above the cliffs, from where we could spy the CP we had passed earlier, attached high up to the side of a rock in the incoming surf. We found a tricky little footpath back down to the beach, clipped the point, then proceeded at a much higher water level to the Duivenhoks River mouth. Additional footprints in the sand showed that we had meanwhile been passed by the two remaining men of Kinetic USN (Garth and Donovan).
With the final transition on the far side of the Duivenhoks estuary, we had no option but to swim the 200m across the rising river. The water was fairly cold, making the dark swim uncomfortable, though under the watchful eyes of a marshal in a boat. Just before the final 50m, we entered the deepest part of the channel and were suddenly ripped 100m upriver by the incoming tidal pull. We had expected this, so we kept our nerves and completed the final section to be welcomed by our support crew with dry clothes and warm blankets.
A final 8km cycle up a steep hill took us to the finish at Vermarklikheid. Despite the severity of the climb, the vigour that we attacked it with, and the dry clothing, we were unable to warm up again in the 4am darkness. It was therefore with great relief that we crossed the finish line as official race winners after about 320km of racing in 46 hours. The reception at the finish was gratefully short, but unfortunately we were too cold and sleep deprived to celebrate fully, with the champagne not ending up properly guzzled at that time of the day. We retired very quickly to make the most of a 2 hour sleep before rising for prize giving, breakfast and packing before the 15-hour return journey home.
Jan Heenop, the race organiser once again laid out a superb route through one of South Africa’s most beautiful landscapes. The course was tough and long, but we enjoyed it. Unfortunately it was too long for many teams given the three day race time and many completed a shorter course finishing at the end of the Breede River. In the end only Cyanosis and Kinetic USN made it across the full race distance.
Eden 2007 heralded the arrival of some stunning new technology in the form of live GPS tracking of teams by a company called SportsTrack (www.sportstrack.net). We’ve raced with tracking devices before in international races, but the technology used here is a major advancement in both unit weight (120g opposed to 1.5kg at Primal Quest last year) and recording interval. Team locations were updated live on the internet throughout the entire race. This has great potential promise for the marketing of adventure racing, opening it up to a whole new world and a new meaning to having ‘armchair spectators’.
A GPS track of Team Cyanosis’ route, viewable using Google Earth (http://earth.google.com/) is available for download here. (Right click to save).
Team Cyanosis would like to thank its support crew of Liz Mulder and Ian Koegelberg, who provided superb support for the team. This was Ian’s first involvement with Cyanosis and he performed superbly, despite only volunteering to help us 24 hours before we left for the race.
Team Cyanosis is proud to have the following brands as sponsors:
First Ascent outdoor apparel, Foodstate vitamins, Buff headwear, Island Tribe sun lotion, Petzl headlamps, Salomon footwear and backpacks, Wiley X sunglasses, Form and Fitness sports supplements, Kreature.co.za outdoor and survival equipment, Lizzard wetsuits, Specialized bikes and accessories, Summit Cycles in Midrand and Suunto field compasses and wristop computers.