Expedition Africa: Rodrigues – Catch up

It’s back to the real world now of day jobs and studies for the KeyHealth Nevarest Expedition Africa 2019 Rodrigues team. This week they took a moment this week to reflect on the adventure race that was, the race where they spent nearly four days non-stop exploring the a little island in the Indian Ocean.

Expedition Africa 2019 Rodrigues…… ‘What was your……’

Biggest surprise:

Jacques: I was surprised at how strong everyone in the team was and that we managed to carry on going for that long. Seriously found some new personal limits of my body.

Emily: Coming out the water after the first swim/snorkel in 2nd position.

Jonathan: The diversity of the terrain over which we raced. It was incredible to find that on such a small island there were areas which resembled terrain from all over SA. From the rocky, dry West Coast to indigenous forests with huge towering trees and lush undergrowth; there were rolling, grassy hills that you’d find in the Transkei and kloofs straight out of the Magaliesberg. Of course, the extensive reefs and super harsh, volcanic rock of the islands were completely new to us and interesting to race over.

Michael: Maybe how much swimming there was.

Biggest challenge?

Jacques: The first swimming leg. I’m not at all a good swimmer so all the swimming legs were hell for me. But the first leg really got me panicking at a point and I started doubting that I would be able to make it through it…

Emily: Staying awake on the last night.

Jonathan: Dealing with the disappointment of an error that affected the whole team negatively and set us back a couple hours. It almost doesn’t make sense that a decision – taken in the space of about 5 seconds – can wipe out the hard work, the utter relentless movement and the refusal to give into sleep of your team. I probably did this twice throughout the race and upon realising each mistake, was, understandably, quite disappointed. All you can do is apologise to the team, and keep going. In reality this was incredibly difficult and I can only thank the team for helping me through – they were gracious in accepting the situation and motivating me to carry on. It’s actually quite incredible now that I think about it, how each of them played a part to get my mind back on track; Michael chatted to me about the situation, allowed me to vent and provide various excuses; Jacques was just incredibly enthusiastic – as if I’d just improved his entire race experience and seemed happier and stronger than ever!; Emily also spoke to me about various things, completely unrelated to the race which provided a useful distraction (I think she even made a few jokes if I remember correctly).

Michael: I am rather comfortable in water but to swim with the pack and kit makes it rather slow. I will definitely do it like the Swedish team with a pull buoy and paddles if I had to do it again.

Favourite part?

Jacques: Can’t pin point an exact favorite part of the race. Pretty much the whole race was spectacular. Got to see the diversity of the island and some insane sunsets and sunrises. The abseil was awesome although we did it in the night. But just experiencing everything with the team was amazing.

Emily: Swimming at night with the jumping fish. The sun rising whilst on the boat was also heart warming. There were actually so many!

Jonathan: The regatta at the start, the zipline across the canyon, the night sailing/paddling between islands and every sunrise and sunset – sorry I couldn’t choose just one.

Michael: There isn’t a favorite part as each leg really had some special moments, but definitely I can say the whole idea of racing on a small island in the middle of the Indian ocean that I hadn’t heard of until 18 months ago.

Best memory?

Jacques: Night swimming, with the fish all around us being drawn to the lights.

Emily: The whole race is a memory ranking no. 1 in my bank at the moment. It’s impossible to pick one bar in the symphony. It’s the way it all came together that made it so spectacular!

Jonathan: Wow, there are a few, and many that I’m sure I can’t recall. At the moment one that comes to mind is of our team, sailing from T5 to T6 as the night started to fade away to a beautiful sunrise, the water and islands all around us. It was just an incredible, silent moment – a group of people doing something unbelievable together on a tiny boat, near a tiny island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. That was very special.

Michael: Just moving along in the middle of the night half drunk because of the little sleep and just talking sometimes as most of our team is mostly introverts. In the end it’s more the whole experience with the team, just knowing everyone is also tried and sore but you motivate each other to keep going. Getting into the “AR Shuffle” (a rather slowish jog)

Worst memory?

Jacques: We got lost in the last cave and ended up squeezing through tight spaces with wetsuits and lifejackets and all the gear. Oxygen was also at a minimum so got a bit of a negative mindset at that stage. But passed quickly afterwards.

Emily: Getting lost in the caves!

Jonathan: Finding out that the cave section we had been crawling through for the past hour with extremely narrow spaces, high temperatures and low oxygen was a dead end and thinking that we might get lost and die down there.

Michael: The moment Greener Adventure and Merrell passed us at Cocos Island while we were wading through the water with our boat probably a kilometer away, and knowing it would be very difficult to catch them again. That is the moment we fell out of the podium.

Funniest moment?

Jacques: Michael and Emily after taking caffeine pills. They got very talkative and made lots of jokes. Also Michael losing his temper after every stumble.

Emily: Swimming with Jacques.

Jonathan: Our entire team laughing hysterically while walking down a deserted road on the last night. I can’t remember what we were laughing about and it probably wouldn’t be funny unless you’re sleep deprived. Listening to the team discuss whether a tree was actually a rock with carvings on it, and their hallucinogenic descriptions of the tree/rock was also pretty amusing.

Michael: Everything was rather funny after I took a caffeine pill. I had a lot of energy but when that wore off I crashed rather hard.

And did you suffer any injuries?

Jacques: Luckily no injuries except some chafing from the wetsuit.

Emily: Nothing significant, we were very fortunate.

Jonathan: Many cuts and bruises but luckily nothing major. About one month before the race I was still struggling with a fibular stress fracture which fortunately healed quite well before the race. This only really started giving me issues about halfway through, and only on the trekking legs.

Michael: On the first running leg I sprained my ankle lightly but luckily with all the adrenalin flowing I managed to run through it – just taking the rough down hills a bit slower and then it gradually got better as the race progressed.


Describe this place to someone who hasn’t been there.

Jacques: Beautiful island with a huge diversity of things to do and places to see. Very friendly and accommodating locals always cheering the teams along. Seriously beautiful place. Felt like we were in the pictures you only see in magazines.

Emily: Rodrigues is like a first aid kit for life. Small, compact and unsuspecting but perfectly designed for adventure and restoration. When you start looking and and unpacking its contents, you realise it has absolutely everything you could possibly need and more. I do love Rodrigues. J

Jonathan: The island definitely surprised me but I don’t know how I’d describe it to someone who hasn’t been there…

Michael: Very small but everything an outdoor enthusiast wants is there. A good place to get engaged (!!!) –  that I guarantee you!

Was it what you thought it’d be like?

Jacques: The island was a lot more than I expected. An amazing place.

Emily: I really didn’t know what to expect. I had prepared to be in the hurt box for a few days… and I was but not as badly I’d anticipated. It was about a 500 times more hilly than I expected though. Also a gazillion times more beautiful and fun!

Jonathan: It was so much more than you’d expect: more valleys and mountains, more people and animals, more villages and roads and many more islets. I’d also describe the friendliness of the locals, their sincerity and enthusiasm towards foreign people and the incredible sense of community on the island.

Michael: Is some cases yes, like I thought we would definitely cross previous legs routes due to the size of the island. But in other cases we just got a whole lot more; like the caving – I really thought it was just going to be some small caving system we’d be popping in and out of, but the we did so proper caving in this race!


What makes an EA race different to other adventure races?

Jacques: The event surpassed all my expectations. Really didn’t expect it to be such a big personal life experience. All the physical and mental suffering only made the finishing achievement so much bigger. Can’t really describe the feeling. You have to do it yourself to understand.

Emily: EA is so much more than just an adventure race. You have to reach so far past your concept of what you defined as your physical limits. EA forces you to redefine the boundaries of your mind.

Jonathan: It’s harder and longer (than at least the races I’ve done). The focus isn’t just on the race but the entire EA experience – from the moment you arrive you are part of a group of people doing something special. This continues all the way through the opening ceremony, the start, the race, each transition, the finish and the closing ceremony, the flight back and then whenever you interact with someone who shared the experience with you.

Michael: I haven’t done any other expedition race thus far, and only two Eas. But compared to other shorter AR races the main difference is with EA when you stuff up with nav or mechanical issues or something, the race is far from over – just keep calm and manage it and then keep going because it is likely that something will happen to other teams as well; this was clearly seen on this race. Look after your feet, if you mess them up in the first two days you still have a long way to go on them.

How was the feast at the finish line?!

Jacques: I honestly can’t remember a lot about the feast at the finish line as I fell asleep halfway through the meal..!! (We finished at around 4am after pushing through sleep deprivation to get to the finish.) Only remember waking up later bummed that I couldn’t finish the meal.

Emily: Almost too good to be true.

Jonathan: Amazing! Fresh fish and vegetables were perfect after all the bars and sugar we’d had during the race. I think I even managed to finish off some of my team members’ food as well. J

Michael: In the photos it looks great and the vague memories I have of that night it was rather nice. I was rather zoned out as soon as we crossed the finish line.

What’s your message out there to others thinking of giving adventure racing a go?

Jacques: Start with shorter adventure races to get used to the sport before considering doing an EA. But it should definitely be part of your long term goals.

Emily: Do it for your soul 🙂

Jonathan: DO IT! The life skills that it teaches you are valuable beyond measure, as are the bonds you form with other people. You experience places and communities that change your life and you learn about your true self and your character (the good parts and the bad).

Michael: Go for it. If you are really uncertain start with the sprint adventures race, then move up to the Full Moons and some longer A1 races. Try one EA at least once in your life as it will really change your life.


A message to your sponsors?

Jacques: Can’t say thank you enough to all the sponsors and people who made this opportunity possible for me and the whole team. Truly an experience of a lifetime.

Emily: There really aren’t words to thank KeyHealth Nevarest, Toyota, High 5 and First Ascent enough for this incredible opportunity. Participating in EA Rodrigues was such a privilege and and experience I will hold with me for the rest of my life. We learned a tremendous amount as a team and I personally have taken some pretty significant life lessons out of this. The adventure family is real, bonded by blood, sweat, tears and unified by creation.

Jonathan: I can never thank you enough. I would never have experienced this island and this race without your support. You have played a part in shaping my life and I have learnt so much from this experience. I hope that the value in sponsoring an AR team remains clear and that we can continue to grow your exposure within this sport.

Michael: Without our sponsors this whole trip wouldn’t be possible. You guys really make it possible to let a junior team race on the international stage and compete against some of the best teams in the world.

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