The Magic was Felt at ARWS Round 2 – Expedition Africa

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It is a huge commitment for a team to tackle an Expedition Adventure Race, so when some of the world’s most experienced teams return to a race for the second year it’s a great vote of confidence for the organisers. Kinetic Gear, organisers of Expedition Africa, saw 4 international teams from their 2013 event return for their ‘Wild Coast 2014’ event; Haglofs Silva (Sweden), Tecnu (USA), Beast of Ballyhoura/V Graph (Ireland) and R’ADYS (Switzerland) all came back for more. 

They were joined by World No.2 ranked team, Seagate of New Zealand, already winners of Godzone Adventure this year, and by other visiting teams from Australia, Belgium, Canada, Russia, France and Costa Rica. (The Costa Rican team included last year’s AR World Champs Race Director Pongo Baker.) In total there were racers from 17 countries represented among the 40 teams, and the race delivered what they’d come so far for, exceptional racing on a challenging course through the South African wilderness.

The venue was at the Port Edward Resort and the race took advantage of the coastal setting when teams took to the ocean in their kayaks for stage one, where the heavy surf proved a tough first test – many were dumped into the sea and took a few attempts to get through. Race Director Stephan Muller wasn’t going to make it an easy start!

Caught in The Canyon

The top ranked teams quickly took the lead positions in the early stages, making good progress through 2 early trekking stages and a canyon descent. Their speed through difficult terrain was misleading to those glued to watching the live updates and satellite tracking as the teams behind them were to take far, far longer to cover the same ground.

Those teams will remember ‘The Canyon’ above all else in this race, as they struggled to make progress over the boulders in the hot and humid climate, and the condition of their feet deteriorated from being wet for so long. The slowest teams didn’t come out of the canyon until after the leaders had passed by again on their way to the finish … having already completed a further 160km ride, a 16km river paddle and another 40km trek!

The river paddle had to be shortened due to low water levels, but it is not unusual in expedition races to have to make such changes due to climatic conditions – both the races and the teams know they may need to adapt to nature.

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Footsore to the Finish

It’s common for teams to have problems with blisters and sore feet too, and being footsore was a particular challenge for many in this race. The early trek and the canyon left teams limping, kept the medics busy, and tested the team’s resolve to finish the course.
They may not have been racing for top positions or prizes, for most adventure racers those are not considerations at all, they just want to test themselves against the course and to finish as a complete team.

Of the 40 starters only 15 teams completed the full route in the 6 days the course was open, but the majority made it most of the way around and their perseverance was as impressive in its own way as the performance of the elite teams.

The Status Quo on the Podium

It’s not easy to rank teams in a sport as diverse and unpredictable as expedition adventure racing, but the AR World Series Rankings are a safe guide to performance and the race at the front went true to form.

Seagate of New Zealand are ranked no.2 and they led for the whole way. They were caught by Haglofs Silva (ranked 6th) and Tecnu Adventure (ranked 4th) at the final transition, but Seagate had been managing their race well and were sleeping ahead of the final epic 230km cycle ride to the finish line. Those extra hours of sleep ensured they stayed well ahead once they were on the move again and they crossed the line to win in a time of 3 days 8 hours 56 minutes to complete wins in the first two AR World Series races of the year.

Haglofs Silva were second and Tecnu third, then came the battle of the top South African teams with Painted Wolf finishing 4th ahead of their countrymen in teams Cyanosis, Olympus and Merrell Adventure Addicts. Three more international teams rounded out the top 10, with Arverne Outdoor of France in 8th, followed by R’ADYS Team Switzerland and then Nonamesport.ru.

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A Race to Remember

For all those involved it was a memorable event, not just for the spectacular beaches, densely vegetated canyons, impressive waterfalls or open grasslands, but also for their contacts with the local people in the settlements they passed through.
“I get emotional thinking about last week’s race,” said Adrian Saffy. A racer from Bloemfontein, Saffy has competed in every edition of Expedition Africa. “The locals accepted us into their huts and gave up their beds for us to rest. They would refuse to let us sit on the floor and insisted on laying mats down for us to rest on. They would run down into the valleys to pick oranges for us to feast on and also shared their precious drinking water from near-empty tanks.”

After the race Seagate’s captain Nathan Fa’avae gave Expedition Africa his vote as one of the top events in the world; “The landscape and the people are likely the things to remember. It was a tough course, some really hard bits, the roads in this part of SA are crazy, no such thing as a zigzag, just straight up. The organisation is amazing and a real credit to the team hosting the race, they have it dialled, one of the top events in the ARWS (World Series) for sure.”

Race Directors Stephan and Heidi Muller said, “At Expedition Africa we’re able to show the incredible beauty and diversity of South Africa through its people and landscapes. Racers pass through areas on foot, bike and kayak that normal tourists would never see of even hear about. It is out there that the magic of our country is most felt.”

They are already planning for 2015 and said; “It will be another epic destination; one that will entice teams to return once again to experience another wonderful facet of Africa”.

The next race in the AR World Series will be Untamed New England from 17th June.

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