Race Report: Carla van Huyssteen – Expedition Africa: Namaqua

There are not many words, images or stories that I can tell that can fully tell the story of my Expedition Africa 2018 journey in the Namaqualand. And that is probably the beauty of the race and journey, you have a truly rich and intimate experience with the people around you, your teammates, seconds and volunteers at the time of the race, and the only way to really experience the race is to become part of it somehow.


In all honesty, I did not have the best build up over the last few months building towards the race, lots of changes in my personal space left me scrambling a bit for time and routine and I got really really sick just two weeks before the race. I was unsure if I was actually going to get myself to the start line, but just persisted and prayed that my health will be okay for the race. I was very lucky that my last flu symptoms disappeared as the adrenaline kicked in on the start line.


My teammates, Ruan, Malcolm and Michael reassured me they will take it easy on me and they kept their promise, kind of☺

It is impossible to go through all the emotions of the race and luckily for us, our race journey was well documented by our two team photographers, so I can only try highlight some things we went through.


The race village was in Vanrhynsdorp…what do we know about Vanrhynsdorp…well the traffic cops take their jobs verrrrry seriously and even a slight traffic offence like athletes catching a quick lift to the hotel by holding on and standing on the outside of the Fortuner, late in the night, will get noticed and 3 traffic cars will trap you at your hotel entrance, a proper movie scene. We did feel like naughty kids and tried to talk our way out of it, they, however, did not budge…


The start of the race was in a small fishing village called Doringbaai, and the first leg of 8 started there on the beach, dunes and rocks next to the beach. We caught a bus to the start from Vanrhynsdorp and once we disembarked, we knew there was no turning back.


After a starting ceremony, we waited for the clock to tick to 9 am that the gun can go off and the journey can start.


The start was chaotic, with all the teams running in all directions. Trying to keep 4 people together got quite challenging. As expected people dashed off as if on a 20km run instead of a 500km AR but that was kind of to be expected, but soon the pace settled and we were in it…. Our team has strong runners and bikers, not so much paddlers, so running into T1 in the lead did not come as too much of a surprise to me but did set the tone for the next few days to come, us gaining momentum and a lead through our strengths and losing a bit of momentum through our weaker points. The paddle being a definite weak point. But in all honesty, with the amount of time and effort we or I, have put into paddling, basically zero, it is amazing how well we paddled. The 50km paddle, UPSTREAM (reeealllyy??) with the headwind sapping all our energy, was quite a toughie, physically and mentally.

I want to say that the paddle was enjoyable, but in all honesty it was quite disheartening, a super long hard slog in slow boats and with sore backs and wrists…that said, I tried to find moments in the race and each leg of the race, that I can highlight as enjoyable, and there was definitely a small stretch of river towards the end of the paddle, when Ruan and I got a chance to paddle in the boats with the paddle seats, (FYI: paddle seats for the plastics are essential to create some sort of comfort for non-paddlers!!)  and the wind had died down, and the flow of the river was very weak, that I managed a smile and had a bit of happy chatter with my team mates…the other moment in the paddle that was kind of manageable was the portage section…so actually walking with the boats was better …. That’s how little we enjoyed that long paddle section 😉 ☺ never the less we finished the leg with a crazy hike with the boats to T2. My teammates were champs, they managed to find a way of carrying the boat without we having to carry but rather me carry the bags and it really helped me a lot!


T2 was awesome, a warm welcome and the best sweet potato and snoek!!


The next leg (LEG 3) was a long hike/run where we once again made up some good time, passing many teams on the initial section of the leg but with some difficult navigation sections saw us losing some ground again, and that’s the just of adventure racing. The navigational aspect is huge, and Malcolm having to take most if not all the navigational responsibility is quite strenuous. He did really well as a navigator and the times we did get s bit stuck or lost, the nav was super tricky due to the weather conditions.


In T3 we slept for the first time, about 90min, before heading out on a 200km bike ride, yes the longest ride I have done in many years! The quick rest really helped rejuvenate our energy and we dashed off in the early morning light.


The bike leg (LEG 4) had 2 options, a 2km hike-a-bike or a 20km detour on steep gravel roads. We chose the hike-a-bike…along with more teams than expected. We were going along pretty smoothly until we started catching the back end of a couple of teams. We thought we had gained a lot of ground but then realized why they were going so slow… they looked like they where playing stuck in the mud…but it was no game… they were just stuck in the worst clay mud imaginable. Kilometres of clay muddy terrain stretched ahead of us like a minefield, the mud was so thick and ferocious that our bikes seized after about 50m riding or even pushing it in the mud. We tugged and carried, cleaned and scraped mud off to try move forward but it was a seriously slow process. I definitely doubted our route choice multiple times but there was no turning back, we were in it and there to stay it felt like.

After hours of struggling and moving only a few km’s on this long cycle leg, we finally got to the hike of the hike-a-bike section and the general loss of sense of humour was evident. It was very tough and steep technical terrain. We urged on with all the other teams slowly gathering at this point hiking back to back up the climb. If there was ever an uncomfortable thing to do, it is carrying a bike…even more unconformable than paddling, and that says a lot!


We reached the top, excited to get back on the bikes and ride, but the mud had caused chaos with our bikes, gears, and my pedals and cleats were so seized I could barely clip in and then once in, could not clip out at all…quite tricky. I had to forcefully clip in and out and I think that where I hurt my knee initially.

We cycled along knowing that an amazing hot meal awaits us at a church in the next town. A lamb pie, that I have been dreaming about for hours. And it was amazing!!!


What happened next: is not for sensitive readers… not that it is anything to hide, but only female racers will really understand. At the church, I realized MY cycle had started, worst timing ever. Luckily there were really nice ladies around that helped me out and my team was super understanding. I think in AR there is a lot of girls that will not enter into the sport for many such personal and ‘logistical’ problems and reason. But if you are open and prepared, there is no reason not to keep going or get on with the race. Yes, I was definitely a bit emotional about the whole thing, being tired, wet, vulnerable, but as a woman I think that just makes us mentally strong, to get through no matter what.


After the amazing meal, we pushed along, cycling km’s and km’s on open district roads. Definitely not my strong point. With a bit of help from Ruan and something they liked to call power hour, we managed to open up quite a big gap on the team around us and as hard as it was for me, that increased pace actually saved us, because we still managed to ride a huge chunk of the leg in the daytime. My most favourite part of the race was that 100 km’s through the Cederberg. Long downhills and big climbs, terrain I definitely enjoy more and am stronger at. Up and down we went for hours and the fact that we could still see made a huge difference. As the sun set, however, we still had at least 40km of riding left. In all honesty, we did not expect how long and brutal it was going to be. Climbing over 1000m in the last 20km takes a special kind of perseverance.


Once in the transition, we wasted no time getting some sleep in before heading out on leg 5, a supposed 45km hike estimated at 9-10hours. But oh how little did we know what was about the happen.


We had ridden so well in the previous bike leg that we were in the top 3 teams to leave the transition area into LEG 5. Again there were two major route choices, anti-clockwise on a path that we could not find, or clockwise on bigger open roads, but a longer less direct route.


We chose the latter, but what we did not know was the the mist had made it quite impossible to navigate once we got more into the mountains. There was nothing to nav from, no peaks in sight, white clouds all around. Malcolm tried his utmost best to nav and get us on route but it was kind of impossible. The wind was picking up, rain and mist hit us and soon we realized we where getting more desperate by the minute to get off the mountain. To make a long 33hours short, after debating what to do, most of us bordering on hypothermia and considering our safety, we headed west, down the mountain, hours later found a path with footprints, followed it and headed further down the mountain, till we approached other teams. We confirmed where we where on the map but could not imagine going back up the mountain at that stage, getting warmer and dryer was our first concern. In a few words, we headed down, found a hiker’s hut, got somewhat dry, decided to leave the CP point and continue on without it, a few km’s down the road, had a change of heart and thought if we could make a fire, dry our clothes we could get back up the mountain and get the cp..it is adventure racing after all… so that what happened. In a hut, we made a fire, dried our clothes the best we could, headed back up the mountain, hours later in the freezing cold, got the cp, headed down the technical pass, Malcolm without a headlamp, me with very sore ITB, it was quite slow going, we hiked and hiked, trying to find paths that seemed not to exist, hours and hours went by, one team after the other passing us, as our physical and mental state had deteriorated. Till at last we decided to sleep for a few hours. In a different hikers hut we found refuge and tried to sleep shivering away. 5 hours later, we woke up, to realize our alarm did not go off and we had slept 3 hours longer than planned. By that time, we had planned. Sore and cold we kept going but by that time my ITB was in a world of pain. I could hardly bend my knee, the pain was quite debilitating and I knew that I would probably not be able to keep going. There was still about 15km’s to go to get off the mountain and it felt like it took forever. Finally, the familiar face of Thomas van Tonder came running up to us and we made the final stretch to the transition point. Once there, I had a mini breakdown, disappointed by the fact that my race was over.

I tried to cycle the next leg but about 40km into the cycle my knee was just too sore. And permanent damage was a possibility if I continued.


With a very dramatic and emotional farewell, my team went on without me. I was very disappointed but it was the right decision. I would not have been able to do the 60km hike leg that was to follow and would potentially keep them from finishing altogether.


Once in the car and the emotions settling, I became a seconder, checking my team’s movements, wondering where they are and how long they will take. Settling into seconding mode was not that easy though. Another 30 hours later, I would join them again for the last cycle leg. A not so quick 60km bike leg back to Vanrhynsdorp. It hurt, my knee hurt, but I was glad to have crossed the finish line with the guys even if I did not complete all the legs. 6.5 out of 8 and about 85 hours of racing, is not too bad.


Well done to all the teams that crossed the finish line!! It was a super tough race!

Thank you for the all our seconders, supporters and family for the support and prayers!


2019 Rodrigues Island sounds like a ball! Hope to see you there

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