Final team arrives

Final team arrives and the party is on

Team Flud arrives after 150 hours on the raos

It is almost inconceivable the mental strength the back runner teams on the Expedition Africa must have had to keep going, knowing they were never in the prizes, yet they did. Two teams in particular must be congratulated for their fortitude. Team Cape St Francis team made of two ladies rather than just one as with the rest of the teams, finished late on Friday night after some 134 hours on the road with Team Fluid, the last team to cross the finish line on Saturday afternoon after over 150 hours on the gruelling course of this year’s Expedition Africa.  These are the real heroes of the event for they were not racing for glory but just the reward of achieving what must have seemed impossible at times. But they persevered and finally achieved their goal – to finish.

As written in a previous post last week, it is those who make up the back runners that make events such as this the success they are. Be it the Comrades, the Dusi, King of the Kromme or a community fun run, they don’t make up the numbers; they are the heart and soul of these events.

With the ending of this fantastic event many locals will be left with a void in their lives for a few days for there is no doubt it captured many of our lives for seven days. So many joined in by volunteering their services by manning the many control and transition points on the challenging course through some of the wildest and beautiful parts of the greater Kouga. These volunteers must be thanked for without their help this event could never have been the success it was. Camped out in the cold of night waiting hour after hour for the next team also must have had them wondering what they had gotten themselves into but they too persevered and stuck to their posts.

A word of thanks must got out to Stephan & Heidi Muller for bringing Expedition Africa to our region and for brightening our lives with such an exciting and prestigious event. Almost a year in the planning, their organisational skills are quite honestly, incredible. The logistics of planning and running such an event are quite simply mind boggling! Moving kayaks and cycles from one transition point to another in time alone was amazing.  So too was their reporting on the progress of the teams with their live tracking and continuous stream of news on social media. To see some of the great video of the event go to the official website expafrica.live.

Tired bodies and no doubt minds, gathered along with volunteers and locals to celebrate the event  at Cape St Francis Resort for the Prize Giving on Saturday evening.

First prize and free entry into the AR World Championship to be held in Colorado, United States later this year were, if you don’t already know, Team Skylotec Adventure from Sweden  with second place going to Team Thunderbolt AR from Australia and in third, the leading SA team, Team Nevarest Jabberwok.

Fasie Malherbe added to the occasion with a surprise where he offered a team voted for by the other competitors, a choice of a 10-day holiday for 10 people at any one of his properties – Cape St Francis Resort, Casa Malcampo situated in the small fishing village of Tofo, in Mozambique or Villa Tapenade in Croatia. The teams voted Team Cadena Challenger from Mexico as the lucky recipient of the prize.

Thankyou Stephan and Heidi for bringing Expedition Africa to our shores. It is an event that will live long in many of our memories and certainly many of us will be glued to social media next year when you repeat the event for the fortunate community of the Namaqualand Coast.

The finish Line

More teams expected to finish Expedition Africa today

Those looking to support the participants in Expedition Africa on the Wildside, at the lighthouse and Cape St Francis beach are in for a treat this morning for at least six teams should reach the finish line during the course of the day. There is presently a heavy fog over the coastline that may slow the progress of the teams on the last leg of the race but this should lift offering a sunny but cooler day.

Four teams are home and dry with Skylotec Adventure (Sweden) crossing the finish line first and completing the 514km Expedition in 82 hours and 11 minutes with Thunderbolt AR (Australia) 2 hours 27minutes further back in second and the first South Africa team, Nevarest Jabberwock, coming in third 45 minutes with Nantes Adventures (France) in fourth place.

The one hour penalty imposed on both Skylotech and Thunderbolt on the second to last leg of this arduous race saw Nevarest Jabberwok make up good ground on the leaders but not enough to take line honours. Well done Nevarest Jabberwok for you can proudly hold the South African flag aloft on the podium.

Possibly the achievement of all the teams whether they finished or finish in four, five or even seven days, should be put into perspective with something many of us are more familiar with, the Comrades marathon. 500 kilometres equates to about six Comrades and although the teams will have travelled on foot, bike and kayak, none of it was on a nice level paved road with the direction clearly marked. Rather their travels took them through thick bush, uneven terrain including mountains, valleys, streams and rivers. To further challenge their progress they have had to navigate their way to each of the many checkpoints where the slightest error would result in losing time and slowing their progress. Added to this is that every team could only be as fast as it slowest team member in any particular section.   Certainly the cycle legs make up a lot of distance travelled and speed up their progress but the three kayak legs of some 65kilometres (almost a Comrades in itself) had teams paddling against incoming tides and headwinds, making their progress all the more remarkable!

But spare a thought for those teams who still have to endure another night or two out in the open battling the elements and the terrain. These are the true heroes of the race for as with any event be it the Comrades Two Oceans or the school cross country, the glory may go to the front runners but the guts goes to the competitors who make up the backbone of any event.

Don’t forget to get to Cape St Francis Resort on Saturday evening for the “Welcome Back Party” where  both live music and a DJ will be there to help celebrate the end to this epic event that has captured the attention od so many throughout the Kouga region.

Expedition Africa Finish Line in site

Expedition Africa Finish Line in site

It is almost inconceivable that some of the teams that just 72 hours ago set off along the beach at Cape St Francis on the epic 500 kilometre Expedition Africa will soon be crossing the finish line at Cape St Francis Resort. To travel 500 kilometres by kayak, foot and bike  in just a little over three days seems  implausible yet a few of the teams will achieve just that in a few hours time.

Waiting at T9 at the Gamtoos river mouth yesterday morning to see the first teams complete the long 25 kilometre haul by kayak down the Gamtoos I had a chat with race organiser Stephan Muller  about the progress of the race. Interestingly he explained the front runners had lost significant time early late Monday night and early yesterday morning having had to traverse the course in the pitch dark. Asked if this meant his prediction of the finish time would be a lot later than anticipated, he explained it was very much swings and roundabouts. What was time lost in the dark would mean that these teams would now traverse a section of the race intended to be done in the dark on daylight allowing them to catch up those lost hours.

Standing on the banks of the Gamtoos one of the group assembled at T9 spotted movement on the river. Straining old eyes I finally spotted a spec in the distance that ever so slowly drew closer and closer. Finally looking no worse for wear Thunderbolt AR, an all Australian team landed their kayaks, carried them up the steps of the jetty and set them aside for collection by the race logistics team to collect. Now one would expect them to rush to the inviting spread of the refreshment table but not so, they immediately set about preparing for the next leg, a run to T10 in Jeffreys Bay, showing almost no evidence that they had just covered some 300 gturling kilometres in just over 53 hours with virtually no rest with Bernadette Dorman, the lady member of the team (pictured below) looking as ‘fresh as a daisy’.

Bernadette Dorman

Bernadette Dorman, the lady member of Thunderbolt

Whilst all the attention is naturally on the athletes, thought and thanks must be given to the many, many volunteers for without them giving so freely of their time, this race would not have been possible. Some of these volunteers have been at their posts at control points through the cold nights and long days waiting for the very last team to pass their station before packing up and no doubt heading for home, a warm shower and a good sleep. Well done and thanks to all those who gave of their time.

Thought must also be given to the amazing logistics team that brought this amazing event to the Kouga region but more on that in a later post.

Bu the time you read this there may be a change in the standings but at present Team Thunderbolt leads narrowly from Team Skylotec with East Wind and Nevarest Jabberwok  a distant third. It appears from the liv tracking that the two leading teams have finished the final cycle leg and are heading on foot for the daunting sand dunes of Oyster Bay.

If you can take a bit of time off work or are in the Cape St Francis area this afternoon, it would be great to gather on the Wildside or near the lighthouse to cheer these amazing athletes home.

Team Skylotech (Sweden) approach the old Gamtoos River bridge

Team East Wind (Japan)

A wave from Team East Team East Wind (Japan) as they pass under the old Gamtoos River Bridge

Expedition Africa opening eyes

Expedition Africa opening eyes to the beauty and history of our area.

Following Expedition Africa has not only been a rather interesting exercise in managing one’s social media activity but also renewed this scribe’s interest in the beauty and history of an area where I have roots dating back to the 1800’s. Although aware of these roots I really never paid much attention to the history of the Gamtoos valley, wonders of the Baviaans or indeed the entire surrounding area. That was until Expedition Africa that has made me so much more aware of just what an amazing area we have on our doorstep.

The short article on Expedition Africa ‘s website yesterday on the natural phenomena of the Bergvenster natural arch created by natural weathering of the Enon conglomerate and the manmade Philips Tunnel, the first tunnel scheme in South Africa certainly piqued my interest to start exploring a little more. https://fireflyafrica.blogspot.co.za/2013/11/phillips-tunnel-in-hankey.html

Although Natal born & bred I have ties back to the Gamtoos area where my great grandparents must have farmed (I wonder if I can make a land claim) and where my grandfather CJE ‘Charlie’ Smith’ was born. Schooled in Cradock,  Charlie went on to play cricket for the then Transvaal earning his Springbok colours at Wanderers against Australia in October 1902.

But I digress so back to the race.

The ‘dark zone’ in the Baviaans was always of major concern to the organisers and it seems for good reason for one of the leading teams. Skylotech. The Swedish team, one of the favourites for top honours had an encounter of an African kind when they came face to face with some buffalo. There was no danger as a patrolling buffalo watch team were there to intervene and the Swedes were able to continue unscathed but with a story to tell their childern and grandchildren in years to come about their encounter in the African bushveld.

Several teams managed to get through the dark zone before it was shut down to ensure team safety so those who beat the clock certainly have a huge advantage. Thunderbolt (Australia) seems to have grabbed the lead from Skylotech (Sweden) with East Wind (Japan), Nantes (France) and the leading South African team Nevarest Jabberwock in hot pursuit.  The leading teams will have started Leg 8 by the time you read this post. Leg 8 sees the teams having to do some rope work before getting back onto their kayaks for a paddle down the Gamtoos. No doubt we will see the leading teams jockeying for position over the next few hours. My money is on the Swedes starting the run ahead of the Aussies on the run into Jeffreys Bay.

To see the route that Expedition is following there is a very informative video on YouTube

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HaM9D3NZh4k

that will give you a better idea of where they have come from and where they are going when read with the live tracking http://www.kineticgear.org/gps-tracking/

 

What a weekend in St Francis

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What a weekend in St Francis and a little further afield

The weekend kicked off early with the ‘Meet the Teams’ function at Cape St Francis Resort. The Sea Vista Marimba Band set the mood with their energy and even had a member of the Japanese Expedition Africa team joining ig the dance antics of this vibrant group of youngsters that have improved in leaps and bounds since their recent return from China.  It was great to see the support of the local community joining in the celebration of what is undoubtedly the biggest event yet hosted in St Francis. Let’s hope this encourages other big event organisers to look at St Francis as a potential host to their event. Possibly golf’s SA OPEN?

Come Saturday morning and all the participating teams in Expedition Africa gathered on our beautiful Cape St Francis Beach for the Flag Ceremony. From the beach they wound their way, flags aloft and waving, to the Lighthouse.  An awesome spectacle that was enjoyed by a good crowd who had gathered to witness the teams as one by one they laid their team tiles on a map of Africa that will remain in place, hopefully for generations to come.  Those who chose not to make the effort missed a truly memorable event that culminated with Mayor Elza van Lingen unveiling a plaque marking Cape St Francis and the most South Eastern point of Africa. If you did not attend this splendid event you really should take yourself over to the lighthouse and have a look at the memory Expedition Africa team has left behind.

Expedition Africa organiser Stephan Muller with Kouga Executive Mayor Elza van Lingen

And so Sunday dawned, well not quite, for before sunrise the Expedition Africa teams assembled for the start of this epic race. And before the sun peeked over the horizon the teams came under starters orders and then they were off, 156 souls embarking on an adventure that will take them through some of the most beautiful parts of Kouga including some areas seen by few.

Chasing the race as a spectator was not without its challenges for these guys really get a move on and in no time at all the had run through the port and on to the canals where at last followers could catch their breath as the teams took to kayaks to paddle the canals and up the Kromme then the Geelhout, a paddle that would challenge even some of the more paddling community of St Francis Paddling Club. It was soon apparent that some were more accomplished than others at the art of paddling as the field stretched giving spectators a chance to see the teams in action.

Once out of sight spectating became a little more challenging and required a drive to Checkpoint Two atop a hill above the river valley. Some four hours after leaving the flat terrain of Cape St Francis beach and exhausting paddle, teams had to carry their kayaks up the steep and long climb uphill to the checkpoint before packing their kayaks into supplied bags for onward transportation to the dam where teams would again take to the water but not before a six or seven kilometre run,  back down into the valley and onto the dam at Checkpoint 3.

Checkpoint 2

 

At this point this scribe’s keeping up with the race was unfortunately done. The spirit was willing but the body sent more than a few warnings so I was unable to see all I had planned to on the opening day of Expedition Africa. Unlike the competitors in this awesome event I was able to traverse the general direction on the course  in the comfort of a vehicle, challenged  by climbing a couple of farm fences and a few hills yet by midday I conceded defeat and headed for the comfort of a Car Park John draught beer back at the resort.

Not too sure if I will be covering the next couple of days of the race as they navigate to more remote areas of Kouga and the Baviaans for the old ticker protested a little too much during the first days activity so I will take medical advice to slow down and rather follow the race on my PC monitor  for a day or two while I recover so that I can join in the spectating as the leading teams get closer to the end of the race come Wednesday. Crazy to think these amazing athletes can cover 500 kilometres in three days using their feet, kayaks and bikes but apparently they will, although a few of the slower teams will take the full seven days which is still an amazing feat.

And lest we forget! Congratulations to Hadyn Holmes of Liquid Lines and Byron Lockett on winning the Kromme Descent (more on that tomorrow).  And of course let us not forget the Southern Kings defeating The Sharks on Saturday. As an avid Sharks supporter it was not a result expected nor one easy to live with but the Kings were quite simply, OUTSTANDING.

To follow Expedition Africa visit http://www.kineticgear.org/live-coverage/

There are also a myriad of Facebook sites where you can get news and photos as the race unfolds.

More photos on https://web.facebook.com/groups/399708023551486/

Official Opening of Expedition Africa

The ‘BIG EVENT’ kicks off with Official Opening of Expedition Africa

The opening ceremony at 2:00 pm today is open to all so get yurself over to Cape St Francis and come and meet the teams participating in this exciting but gruelling event.

Expedition Africa logoAll is in place for the start of the biggest event yet hosted in our tiny enclave on the south eastern tip of the African continent. Today sees the official opening of the event here you can get to meet the organisers, the sponsors and of course the TEAMS!

The general public will get their first glimpse of the competitors tomorrow when they unfurl their team flags at the ‘flag ceremony’ before gathering at SANCCOB for the ‘stone laying’. The best vantage point will possibly be to gather at or near the lighthouse but maybe get there early as hopefully most of St Francis will be there to support this wonderful opportunity to promote our region and show our support for the competitors.

The race proper will start at 7:00am Sunday and although at time of publishing this article there was no word as to where the starting line will be, SFT has a sneaky suspicion it will start from the host venue, Cape St Francis Resort, or certainly in close proximity. If you can get your nose out from under the duvet early Sunday morning it could be worthwhile to make your way to the resort to watch and give these fearless adventurers an enthusiastic send off to their journey into the unknown.

Expedition Africa is not the only sporting event taking place in St Francis this weekend and the annual Kromme Descent also is being held this weekend. More’s the pity that there wasn’t a bit more coordination of the events for it really would have better to have held the events on different weekends. But too late for that now and possibly there may be a spectator spin off for again, and we (SFT) has no confirmation of this, we have a feeling the Expedition Africa route on day one may just see competitors kayaking up the Kromme.

If the EA and swimmers do end up on the river at the same time it may result in a little more boat activity on the river than normal at this time of the year and thus it may be an idea that boats either supporting spectating the swimmers respect the kayakers if they do indeed meet on the river.

The weather  is looking good for the weekend with sunshine forecast although the snow on the Southern Drakensberg may cause it to be a little chilly.

If you would like to track your team’s progress over the coming days there is a live tracking facility available at www.expafrica.live

Enjoy the weekend and Happy Mother’s Day to all the mother’s out there. Let’s hope you are spoiled rotten and the family treats you to lunch as breakfast in bed will be out of the question as you will no doubt be supporting the Expedition Africa or Kromme Descent swimmers.