Race Report: Jonathan Ham – A1 Gariep Dam

My 31 hour study break

The Gariep Dam A1 adventure race was one which I had been looking forward to for quite some time. In fact, since our previous race in Swaziland I was anxious to get a chance to prove that I was, in fact, able to send our team in the right direction. Many nights were spent studying maps of past races, analysing previous mistakes and constantly reminding myself that without good navigation, you will never be successful in an adventure race.

As the date of the race approached I started to get really excited; this was going to be an old-school, tough AR in an environment that I’d never raced in. Some of the top teams in SA were going to be there and it was going to be cold – very cold.

We didn’t have the most ideal build-up to the race, my dad and I got lost on our way to registration the night before, and the rest of the team arrived after 12 that night – they would only get in 4 hours of sleep before 31 hours of extreme physical exertion. I met our 4th team member: Iain the morning of the race and secretly hoped he was up for what lay ahead.

We started in sub-zero temperatures with an awesome run on a ridgeline while the sun rose over the mist that covered the Orange River – this was an absolute highlight and Kudos to Adrian Saffy and Castle light AR team to starting the race off on such a good note.

Other highlights of the race:

  • Riding over the orange river on a one-way steel bridge through the mist
  • Finding a sneaky CP 7 that all the teams ahead of us missed – this put us in the lead of the race for the rest of the bike leg.
  • Riding and running next to various herds of animals – I’ve never seen so much wildlife in a single race  
  • Paddling to and then climbing an Island that gave us an awesome 360 degree view of the huge Gariep dam
  • Not having any major navigational issues – Yay!
  • Trekking by moonlight in the middle of nowhere, under the stars with absolute vast silence and your teammates’ footsteps for company
  • Every time we reached a transition and got to eat some of Iain’s fantastic food
  • That finish line feeling

Some lessons learnt:

  • -9 degrees C is really cold – some good First Ascent skiing gloves work wonders, as does space blanket over your feet and adequate cement pills…
  • Cable ties become brittle and break when it gets so cold – rather use rope.
  • Read instructions, read them again, and again and ask if you aren’t sure – penalties aren’t fun.
  • Paddling is an important part of AR and should be trained for.
  • Everyone makes mistakes, even the pro’s, BACK yourself!

Thanks as always to the great team members that I had the privilege of racing with – you guys are tough beyond measure! To our amazing seconders/supporters Warwick Ham and Annabelle Latz, you guys made this whole experience that much more enjoyable. To our amazing sponsors and team  @Nevarestteam, @FirstAscent your gear kept us warm in these extreme conditions, @KeyHealth @ToyotaSA.