Race Report: Jacques Buys – Expedition Africa Swazi

Seeing the race legs description of Expedition Africa Swaziland, I was convinced that the organizers made a mistake with the elevation gains of each leg or that they probably measured it in feet not meters. Driving to Bulembu Lodge, playing host to the event, and seeing the never ending mountains in the area I knew we were in for a surprise.

The race set off with a trekking leg described to have around 900m elevation gain in a distance of 12km. The race organizers made sure we were properly warmed up with the first checkpoint (CP) description being ‘highest peak in Swaziland’. That’s one way to settle into a race rhythm. Our navigation were pretty much spot on with this leg.

We entered the cycling transition with Team Jabberwock hot on our heels and exited with Michael immediately having to pump his wheel due to a slow puncture. Didn’t lose too much time with that and quickly caught up to Team Red Ants leading the race at that stage. Michael had to stop again to pump his wheel. Jonathan, Emily and I went on slowly when we heard a scream from Michael and as we turned our heads he was lying motionless on the floor in a cloud of dust. Expecting the worst we rushed to him. Turns out his outcry was only an overreaction of cramps as he climbed back on his bike.

We played a game of cat and mouse with team Red Ants for a while then suddenly they were gone behind is and we realized we might be on the wrong route. We were still heading in the right direction but Jonathan and Michael doubted that we were on the right road. We asked a few locals for directions to the town that was indicated on our map we had to go through, figuring that we should get on the right road if we continue heading towards the town. Heading down to the town we saw Team Jabberwock in front of us and we knew that we were back on track. A few moments later we coincidently came across an unexpected checkpoint board saying ‘CP6’. The stoke of being back on route vanished as we realized we had missed CP5 that was about 16km back on the route that we skipped. The decision was quickly made to go back for CP5 as we didn’t want to end the race having missed a CP so we soldiered on up a hectic climb that was supposed to be a downhill for us, being passed by other teams greeting us with “ag shame” and “sheesh good luck” comments. Being out of contention for a podium spot we decided to take it easier.

After finally finding CP5 we decided to take a different route back to CP6 that we thought would be safer as we were nearing sunset. This route turned into a cross country mountain bike style track not at all safe to travel on, especially at night. Luckily we’re all a bunch of adrenaline junkies and really enjoyed this gnarly downhill section. 

Heading to CP7 we were confronted with deciding between an easy riding, longer route or a short route bound to become more difficult along the way. We opted for the latter and ended up ‘hike a biking’ (a well-known and despised term in adventure racing). Carrying our bikes on an overgrown and very rocky footpath we found 3 other teams scrambling around in the bushes searching for CP7. We joined the search with no luck of finding the CP. We finally decided to head on without it, super disappointed as we did all the effort to go back for CP5 with the idea of getting all the CP’s only not to find CP7.

From CP7 we were faced with yet another route decision. Either going back on the tough hike a bike path we came with then over a bridge to the kayaking transition or an easy riding longer route. This time we went with the easier riding route. This is where another curve ball was thrown at us as this route ended up being much longer than anticipated and a lot more climbing before a fast tarred road descent to transition. Our cycling leg ended up just shy of 120km and 3000m of ascending, almost 50km longer than it was supposed to be.

After some much appreciated hot chocolate and coffee at transition we were off on the kayaking leg of 13km which went by quite easily as there were no checkpoints on this leg. It was pretty cool being on the water with a full moon above us.

The cold set in at the last checkpoint and wet clothes from kayaking didn’t help the situation. Everyone rushed around to get everything in place for the last leg of trekking and trying to spend as much time as possible next to the camp fire at transition.

 

We started the last leg with an easy jog to get the body heat up again. The last CP was very close to the finish but yet again we had to conquer a very steep climb. On the plus side, we witnessed a spectacular sunrise as we went up the ridge. Luckily Jonathan and Michael’s navigation was on point for this leg and we found the last CP with ease before a straight line descent to the finish.
After 23 hours, being relieved crossing the finish line is the understatement of the year. But the finish line feeling is a big part of why we put ourselves through the suffering. It was an awesome experience to race alongside Jonathan, Emily and Michael. Suffering together always makes it easier.