Expedition Africa 2015 Day Five race report


Words: Sarah Hearn

“I feel alive for the first time today.” Not to be read as “Today I feel alive for the first time.” This was not an epiphany. It was the cry of a member of Team Park Rangers as they were midway across The Dam. The ‘do we swim or do we walk all the way around’ one.

Photo credit: Bruce Viaene

Late on Thursday morning, two breakfasts, three showers, dinner and a full night sleep after completing the race, we head out with the winning team, Merrell Adventure Addicts to the checkpoints that can be reached by car. They’ve greeted the other teams who have come in and want to show support to those who are still out there, and still will be for a couple of sunrises.

“It looks so short now. So doable.” Merrell had reached here at 04h00 and could barely make out the other side of the dam. Already cold, with the night air close to freezing, they had agreed to take the long way around. Team Estonia, right behind them, had done the same. Peak Performance had got there in daylight, donned the wetsuits they had carried, and swam. Sunshine and swimming are a happy couple. Darkness and deep bodies of water argue strongly with the mind.

Park Rangers had been grumpy when we met them pre-swim and indeed we find several teams with a not so subtle split. The one walking alone is invariably the navigator.

Both the last cycle and trek legs have been through forests and over mountains with tricky route choices.

Team Untamed have kept the dot watchers amused as the tracks of their route appear like the creative doodles of a person who has been kept on hold at a call centre for a very long time. They report that their compass is broken. “At some stage, North and South just switched.” Their nav man admits the errors were his, he had misidentified a road on the map and based a few hours of wandering around on that. “I then just got so stressed because when I needed to stop and figure things out, my team was standing there shivering and we had to get moving."

“But now I am finished.” He beamed. Whatever lines may have been cut through teams out there are erased as they sit comfortably and triumphantly together, moments after crossing the line.

Castle Lite is tracked down in good spirits fuelled with the best tasting breakfast they have ever had: Vetkoek – literally ‘fat cake’- being greasy, fried lumps of sweet dough, and oranges from a roadside stall.

Powerbar Swiss Explorers took themselves right off the maps they carried, heading back to the South African border for a while. We found them on a road going in roughly the right direction and went on ahead to meet them at a more photogenic spot, but they veered off on another adventure and have yet to be seen again.

How is it for them, still a long way from their pizza and beer, to see the winners, already clean and fresh and almost human like?

“It was so good.” Said Untamed. “ We knew we weren’t going to finish near them, and it was great they came to see us.” A person undertaking this journey does not compare themselves unfavourably to others. They may not be as fit and fast, they may not be as astute at reading the topography and maps, they may need to sleep a bit more, but they know that just to complete something that one thought at some stage impossible, is to win.

One team wins the race. But every person and every team takes away with them a sense of accomplishment that can only benefit every future thought and endeavour.

Perhaps seeing someone they know has already finished reminds them that there is an end to this.

Although ending has its own dilemmas.

“It’s easier when you’re racing. You don’t have to think about what to do that day.”