December was a memorable month here in the UK, not only for the harshest flooding on record, but it was also the time in which I decided to buy my first house and undertake a tonsil operation. Not too much going on then.
Plans for adventures in the coming months leaned very much in favour of sunshine and the dry. After 6 weeks or so, I felt strong enough to consider the proposition of taking on the Kinetic Events Double Moon Adventure Race, a 225km nonstop adventure race across the stunning South African Drakensburg Mountains. I was racing with Ico, a local South African who i’d met at the Joburg2C. He’d kindly come over to nurse me back to strength and tempt me to race again once I was fit.
I flew in to Johannesburg with a few days to go, almost enough time to sort out my bike issues and have some form of acclimatization to the shock of altitude and heat. After some time in Clarens rafting, running and biking we drove to race base, the aptly named Dragon Peak resort (Drakensburg is the Afrikaans for ‘Dragon Mountains’), which is nestled in the northern region of Kwa-Zulu-Natal. On the drive towards Winterton, we passed the Sterkfontein Dam, where i’d dipped my toes many months before during the Joburg2C. Happy memories gave me flutters of excitement ahead of exploring this dramatic and awesome landscape.
Race morning was an early one, following the inevitable late night of packing, planning, laminating and scratching my sleepy head to work out what goes in each box. My previous experience racing the Open 5 with Ico saw me leave a vital running shoe in the van, so I wasn’t keen to repeat my dozy behaviour. At 6 am we piled onto the buses and left for the start line. Our lack of sleep was clear; we almost forgot some vital Rand, which would later satisfy our hunger with ice cream and crisps that evening. Shouting out the window as the engines started, Ico’s Dad threw us some notes and we hoped it would be enough.
Ready for the first stage, we were to be trekking for 25km until our first transition. As the count down concluded, the start saw teams flee frantically towards the optimal route. I’m a slow starter and like to break my self in, with the thought that i’m here for a good time and a long time!
Coming from sea level and minimal amount of training in my legs thanks to the operation and monsoon weather conditions, the heat and altitude hit me hard. We were racing mostly at around 2000m and with some serious African sunshine beating down, it took it’s toll not just on me, but plenty others. After four hours we’d completed the trek and took on up the road on our bikes to the start of the river paddle. Ico’s background in white water and raft guiding paid off, I sat in the front as we smashed down the low river for around 10km, blighted only by projecting rocks or children! Locals from the townships played on the water’s edge, dive-bombing and chasing us down, trying to grab the boats and our paddles. I’ll admit I was a little nervous what might happen if they mobbed us, but Ico skillfully steered us down the river, passing more teams that launched out of their boats as they speared rocks and unruly rapids.
Hydration was tricky in this race as we didn’t see official water points since leaving T1 until we got to T4, so preparation and conservation were king. Living in the Lakes, water is not the common concern! The second bike ride was to be around 90km, weaving us through farmlands, and past small villages, mainly all dirt track roads that led us to some seriously steep and relentless climbing for the last 30 km. Our navigation had been spot on, but as darkness kick in and we missed a turning on the road, we found ourselves back tracking a few kms to find the checkpoint. Locals crept out of the dark as we stood by the road. I was a little nervous, but their efforts to help us despite never having seen a map were commendable!
I was struggling at this point with the heat of the day and the altitude, which seemed to be sucking vital energy from me, yet we kept passing teams and ticked on into transition, a traditional hike-a-bike stage thrown in for good measure. At the transition, I elected for a sleep, knowing that this was a race to be enjoyed and not suffered – it was my twisted version of date. A few hours more than I would have liked, but feeling fresher and good to go, we set off on the character building out-and-back paddle, hauling our heavy plastic sit-on-top a total of 20km. Back on land, with the sun shining and daylight recharging our spirits, we took off on the next bike leg for another 45km.
Much of this was road, riding by the townships we’d come through on our way in and passing the road sign where hours earlier we’d stood puzzled figuring the map. Despite not loving tarmac in adventure races, we motored through the miles and it gave me a chance to recover as I smashed in silly amounts of banana cake.
Ico’s family had been a great support, following us to each transition point. Sure enough, they’d made it to the final transition as we made the final grinding climb to the top. Revived with sugary tea (yes, they have proper British tea with milk!) and rusks, I felt almost new again as we changed into out trekking kit and my trusty Inov8 trainers.
Happy to be trekking in the daylight, we made swift progress on this stage and the navigation was fairly simple. As they say, a change is as good as rest and we found ourselves shifting efficiently, with the same moving time as the winners. For a rare moment, our legs came alive again, the realisation that we were soon to be finished. Ico and I began running to the finish but we had one final challenge as we came back into the grounds of the resort; the abseil over a clif, which can only put a smile on your face to finish!
Running together through the arches, we were met by Ico’s family and Heidi – one of the race organisers – with open arms and cheers, ready for a beer and a rest.
I’ve been lucky to see and experience an incredible variety of South African landscapes in the last year. Without a doubt, the level of organisation at the races I’ve completed as well as and the friendliness of its people, diversity of its cultures and beauty of its wild animals makes it a place I’ll keep returning too.
Oh and the fact that you can get a good cuppa!
For more information on the events they offer, go to Kinetic Events.