Race Report. Full Moon Drakensberg Adventure Race

Suckers4Adventure is a social team. We do adventure races because we love being outdoors, discovering new places and challenging ourselves physically against ourselves and the course. Make no mistake, social doesn’t equate to stuffing around and sipping cappuccinos at every opportunity, we do our very best … it just doesn’t happen at the same speed as the front teams. Our team consisted of Hanlie Meyer (Team Founder and Captain), Inke van Wyk (newbie with no fear), Brian Bear (experienced mountain biker and vasbyter) and myself Carl Scholtz (navigator and en-route conversation maker).

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Carl, Hanlie, Inke, Brian

Our goals. At Full Moon Swaziland we ended upon the wrong mountain at night and missed that one CP so coming into Full Moon Drakensberg, our goals were simple. We wanted to get all the CP’s, we wanted to finish with our whole team and we wanted to finish before sunrise (just because no good reason, just feels like you fast if you finish in the dark). Position and speed are really inconsequential.

For me the race was divided into 3 phases. First to get the kayak legs out the way as we are not very good at them, second the 61km cycle leg which is our regular sport and third the big 30km night hike which would be a big test of our navigation.

We got off to a great start … we weren’t last under the Start banner, nor were we last at the start of the kayak leg! Unfamiliar territory to us, we have learnt to be comfortable with no-one behind us. We managed to keep pace with those around us to the end of the first kayak leg, even managing to have a few boats behind us but our transition strategy was a bit involved so by the time we started the 1st hike we were almost in our regular spot at the sweeping end. The hike went fine at walking speed with easy CP’s and some lovely views over Sterkfontein Dam but on the 2nd kayak I really struggled, feeling nauseous and really weak. We somehow reached T3 and whilst Brian was off on the SUP, the rest of us started to get ready for the cycling leg. It seemed to take forever to delve through our well packed boxes, change clothes, eat food and get ready. Other teams came and left whilst we enjoyed the hot sun and faffed around, all of 30 minutes in transition … we do seem to love our transitions. I still felt crappy and whilst busy preparing the maps, offered a R1000 for an ice cold Coke … to my surprise one of the lovely and friendly transition ladies (Cherise?) opened her cooler box and poured me an ice cold Coke with ice (she thankfully declined the reward). She was elevated to hero status instantly! Can’t thank her enough, thank you again :-).

We were on the bikes, familiar territory at last. We weren’t last at this point … but pretty close to it. I was the strongest and most experienced cyclist in the team but as we reached the first hill, I had no legs and felt like death, I couldn’t keep up, it was rather frustrating but fortunately after about an hour my body started working again. I had become dehydrated and the heat got to me, school boy error really. Frustrating, never too old to learn again. Inke as a newbie cyclist manage to buy a piece of pristine Drakensberg property around a fast downhill corner but she’s tough as a nail and was up and going in a flash. The rest of our cycle was uneventful as we collected the CP’s along the way. The sun eventually set as we reached the last 15km of the cycle leg but the navigation was straight forward. As we approached T4, we could see lights up at the top of the mountain, it was pretty clear that is where we would be heading after the cycle leg, rather intimidating, those mountains are high! We reached T4 at around 19h30, 4.5 hours for a 61km cycle, way slower than even a relaxed weekend ride but at least we were still all together and with our estimate of 8 hours for the hike, still on track for a pre-sunrise finish. The wind had picked up after sunset and it was getting a bit chilly in transition as we went through our preparation for the night. We had passed a few teams on the cycle and others were taking a break so at least we were not last and even had others around that looked hardcore and very professional. We had somehow “rushed” through T4 in about 50 minutes, we really do love transitions :-).

For us the night trek leg was where the race really “started”, we felt fine physically but navigating through these mountains at night was very intimidating. Our previous team navigator had relocated to the Netherlands and I was tapped for navigational duties, which I enjoy as a mapping and tracking enthusiast but reading maps, estimating distance and keeping direction in the dark are next level compared to playing around on Google Earth. We had a few teams just ahead of us and that helped a lot as we could see their lights following the fence line and scrambling up the gully. Whilst finding CP8 up against the cliff face was probably a routine step for the top navigators, for us finding it and then finding our way up the gully was like winning an Olympic medal, it was a big thing! We were really proud of our team effort and reaching the top it was high fives and big smiles all round. It was also roughly about the same time that Jabberwock crossed the finish line to win the race. Perspective. It was just a pity the hike was in the dark as the views, some of which the rising full moon gave glimpses of, must have been spectacular. We made good progress to the vicinity of CP9, a height beacon about 200m to the right of the ridge path. In daylight the beacon would be visible from far, at night it’s almost impossible to know when one is opposite it and to start looking for it. We overshot it, relooked the map, walked around and eventually Brian spotted the rising contour towards the beacon and caught light on it with the handheld game spotting lamp. Another big victory for us, we were still on track to find all the CP’s!

Navigation was uncomplicated towards CP10 at the top of the massive Babanginoni Peak. We even saw some lights of teams in the distance behind us, clearly we were racing next level and acing the course :-), we felt like real adventure racers. The slope up to CP10 was ridiculous, it was like climbing steps, so we contoured a curve a bit to the right and to our surprise, the next thing we were at the top and claimed CP10! It felt fantastic! All downhill from here! CP11 was the CP that concerned us the most, the map did not show any simple landmarks to help us, no paths, no fence lines, no daylight to help see contours .. we were going to need some luck, actually a lot of luck. We struggled to find our bearings going down but eventually luck arrived in the form of the “boertjies” or Team Seuns of Donder. The first team we had intersected with since we left T4, they had caught up from behind. We were not sure where exactly we were on the map so I asked them if they could point on their map where they thought we were, they looked at me a bit perplexed, opened their map, which had only the CP’s marked with no route choices, looked back at me again and said they’re don’t really know but the direction of travel feels about right and in the general direction of CP11. That was about as scientific and expert as navigation was going to get and was good enough for us so we hooked onto them. It was a bit of a stop-go affair as we tried to work out how far we were from the CP and with 8 lights shining around like search and rescue lights, one of The Seuns eventually spotted it. We had found CP11 in the pitch dark night. It was another little celebration with lots of smiles, clearly we had arrived as a proper adventure racing team, I mean seriously, finding difficult CP’s at night in the mountains, we felt worthy! In typical world class good navigational practice style … we decided to just follow The Seuns, after all they seemed to know where they were going. It worked out fine and even though we took a bit of a wide route it eventually got us to near the Qwantani game fence. The sun had risen as we descended the mountain and we noticed several other teams just ahead of us, all chirpy and excited, pointing at landmarks around us and walking confidently in a Northerly direction. I was in navigational nightmare, I couldn’t plot our location on the map and was tempted to follow the group of chirpy teams that seemed to know. We hung back a bit, checked maps, looking as uncertain as we were, both about our own location as much as about the direction of the group ahead. We walked to a bit of high ground to check and got sight of Sterkfontein Dam and a clear view of the bay we paddled in the previous day and to our amazement we saw the game fence and the CP12 dam right ahead of us, the rest of the navigation was straightforward from here and it was like navigational stress vanished in an instant. We could see CP12 and the path leading us to CP13 and the finish. The race was over, it was just a short walk home, a massive release of mental pressure. We noticed our tired bodies for the first time after about 19 hours on the go, adrenaline and engaged minds had kept our attention all the time.

Heidi from Kinetic (and others) was waiting for us at the finish line, like she does with every single team that finishes the race. We are ok with a low key finish, we celebrate our victories internally and with one another as we approach the finish line, our pride of finishing doesn’t require a fanfare or a big party, we understand the top teams finished the previous night already and don’t expect people to stay up through the night and into the morning to receive us … yet, they do! Heidi does! We are tired, we don’t show much emotion, our minds and bodies are a bit dead but that reception makes us feel like we are winners! It’s an acknowledgement. It shows respect to individual and team accomplishments that is deserving to every individual and team that conquers its own shortcomings, doubts and fears during an adventure race. Only someone who has experienced that will understand. Heidi understands. Thank you.

We had finished Full Moon Drakensberg with our full team, we had found all the CP’s and only missed finishing before sunrise by 2 hours. We were satisfied, We were not last. We felt like we belonged. We are Suckers4 Adventure. We are adventure racers!

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