Words & Photos: Jacques Marais
How do you cope with shooting a multi-disciplinary event over 24 hours when the weather gods have decided to put you and your gear to an elemental test? Read on and wise up …
The Merrell Eden Duo (or MED to those in the know) has become a bit of an institution with adventure racers throughout South Africa. If you’ve ventured into Sleep Monsters' territory, you won’t be surprised, as this is a race that has served up more than a decade of outdoor action along one of the most gorgeous sections of the Garden Route.
Shooting the Eden Duo is never an easy task, as it involves 150 km of trail running, mountain biking, paddling, and canyoning through rugged terrain, often with limited access to remote sections of the route. So the only way to get there is to run or hike in, or otherwise miss out on the majority of the action. This makes your choice of gear extremely important. When I say gear, this not only focuses on the key camera equipment, but also on the backpacks you use, the apparel you wear, and the shoes on your feet. I’m fortunate to have access to both Sony and Merrell equipment through my synergy with them, but more on this in the photo tips below once I’ve given you the low-down on the event itself.
The involvement of sponsors Merrell over the past few years has seen the event boom to an even greater extent. A fresh new crop of AR athletes has become involved in more accessible multi-disciplinary racing, especially through the inclusion of the new Eden Lite, a 50 km race aimed specifically at younger athletes and family members. However, the cherry on top this year for me was the inclusion of five elite French racers from Merrell France. The arrival of Team Raid not only enhanced media interest in the race but also made some of SA's top AR units sit up
and take notice.
All of a sudden, the coveted podium spots were not a certainty for the usual SA AR suspects, so it was no wonder that a frission (if you'll excuse my French) of excitement was tangible amongst the racers at registration on Friday evening. Before them lay 24 hours of hard-core racing along a 150 km route, consisting of gruelling trail running, mountain biking, and paddling legs. Due to heavy flooding, the edgy Kaaiman's canyoning leg had to be cancelled, while some of the running trail segments had to be re-routed to keep the athletes safe.
The start gun at 7 a.m. saw a bunched paddle start setting athletes off in a literal froth of foam. A quick transition after half an hour on the river saw them on their bikes, heading into the fynbos of the rugged Outeniqua ranges, via the tortuous Montagu Pass. The two French pairs had a distinct disadvantage with their heavy Synergy canoes against the K1 and K2 boats, but they soon started clawing their way back into the race.
They dropped the SA mixed pairs (Tatum Prins with Cas van Aardenne, and Graham Bird with Susan Carter-Brown), and it took hard work from the cream of our Saffa AR crews to match the pace.
MERRELL Adventure Addicts’ hard men Don Sims and Hanno Smit rate as some of the toughest buggers out there in AR land, and they gave it stick accordingly. Around halfway into the race, they had pretty much staked their podium claim in the Male Pairs category.
Despite their heavy boats, borrowed bikes, and lack of knowledge of the route, the French mixed pair of Magali Moreau and Anthony Rabeau pulled off a blinder of a race. In the end, the Addicts' mixed pair of Graham Bird and Susan Carter-Brown timed it well to snatch victory for SA on the final 10 km paddling leg.
All in all, Jan Heenop, his 24-7 adventure crew, and all the Merrell staff put on a spectacular event. Few race village atmospheres compare to this one, and Merrell CEO, David Palmer, who competes in the MED every year, can be justifiably proud of what is now unarguably SA's longest-running adventure race.
Special thanks must go to Attie Bedeker, probably the best driver I've ever had at an event; every time I had to run onto a section of the route, or meet him somewhere, he was there early and ready to rock and roll with his Amarok - huge kudos to him for this!
Shooting in wet weather comes with a whole host of challenges, but having the right equipment means you can get the shots that really matter. I would not have taken the Merrell Eden Duo on without the following pieces of photographic gear in my kit bag or on my body.
1) XPERIA PHONE
This may sound ridiculous, but a waterproof phone means you can fjord streams and swim into lakes, while remaining connected - this makes social media a cinch. www.sonymobile.com
2) OUTEX SYSTEM
This latex cover with Carl Zeiss glass ports allows your camera to remain functional, but completely waterproofs it, without adding unnecessary weight. www.facebook.com/OutexSa
3) M-CONNECT FOOTWEAR
The Merrell AllOut Rush must rate as some of the best shoes to wear if the terrain you’ll be covering varies from rocky promontories, sandy beach, and muddy forest trails, to high fynbos trail in the Outeniqua peaks. www.merrell.com/ZA
4) SONY CAMERAS
I’ve only been shooting on Sony now for a few months, but there’s no going back. Innovative ideas like full-swivel/tilt flash heads, flip-out view-screens and EVF (electronic view finder) systems enhance the shooting experience to such an extent that - once you’re used to it - you are unsure how you coped without it before. www.sony.co.za
5) ULTRASPIRE PACKS
My Titan vest pack, with its light-weight construction and minimalist design, forces you into a less-is-more mode of thinking. This means I am shedding weight by using my Sony NEX system more and more, especially now that the A7R mirrorless camera is available in full frame and with 37 megapixels. www.ultraspire.co.za
For more information and results, check out www.merrell.com/ZA or www.24-7adventure.com