This was the race course presented to us at the race meeting prior to the race:
Kayak 11 km
Trek 12 km
Kayak 5 km
Trek 80 km (incl rope work)
Canyoning 10 km
Cycle 120 km
Kayak 67 km
Trek 40 km
Cycle 230 km
I was feeling quite nervous on the race morning as I saw the waves break, they looked huge to me! The start went off with the blow of a vuvuzela and we ran along side Tecnu down to the water. Me and Jacob in one boat and Helén and Christian in the other. Somehow we managed to time each wave perfectly and all of a sudden we were out of the break zone. Looking back we saw the other boat coming out of the inferno just behind us. What a great start! Out on open water the swell was big enough to make you feel all alone for a few seconds then all of a sudden you see another ten boats around you.
As we were approaching the beach to exit the sea and carry the boat into the river at least three huge breaks made our boat tumble and turn, but Helén and Christian apparently got a perfect surf almost all the way to the beach. At T1 we collected our backpacks and the GPS tracker and continued paddling towards the trek. The trek went on a hiking trail, first by the river side and then up on a plateau for a few km. We were running together with Cinober Adventure at a good pace, but coming down towards the river again we had to let them go due to some cramps. This was unfortunate because as we found the river we immediately went downstream. Had we turned our heads to the right we would have seen CP5… Now we didn’t realise our mistake until we found CP6 and had to turn back all the way to CP5. Anyway, we finally reached the boats again and set off to T2 and the super long trek.
This trek took took us along a few beaches before going inland. We managed to come to the ropes having only one or two teams in line in front of us. We took the chance to eat and dry our wet feet for a while before descending 100 m down to a river. The view was stunning.
As the sun went down less than an hour after we did the ropes you realised how dark the nights were going to be. No street or city lights, and just a thin slice of the new moon in the sky. Everything around you turned pitch black and the headlight turned things grey. Roads were endless and had small huts here and there. It felt like each hut hosted 2-3 dogs and they were barking like crazy and charging towards us before the hut owner shouted “ STAY !!!” in a bossy manner. Fortunately all the dogs stayed… But it took a while to get used to this scene being played over and over. The highlight of this first night was clearly reaching the CP at the lodge, they served cold coke which tasted great after drinking only electrolytes diluted in chlorine water.
During the second day the heat started to get to us, but we tried to keep a decent pace having the whole team in a tow line. In the afternoon, we found a supermarket in a village were we stocked up on food and drinks, as we had underestimated the time for this stage (actually we underestimated the time for all stages except the first one). Our feet had started to hurt a lot too. Some impressions from this day was all the kids looking at us with big eyes and following us wherever we went, the man training his mule on the hill top in the middle of nowhere, the 7 year old kid herding 5-6 huge cows with a very bossy voice and a stick and the smile and the big hug Helén got when we payed a woman to walk through her garden instead of around it. As day turned to evening turned to night we decided to take our first sleep. Two hours under a tree, just before entering the canyon.
That canyon was such a tester. It felt like it was going on forever, the 10 km took us around 12 hours. In retrospect it had probably been wise to sleep longer and do the canyon in daylight as our speed during the dark hours was extremely low. It was also very hard to find the bypasses at the places were it was impossible/too dangerous to walk in the canyon itself. I think we spent 1.5 hours trying to get past one certain section of cliffs. At one point I heard a rumble behind me and was so certain it was a huge rock tumbling down the sides. Helén thought it was an elephant… turned out to be a wild boar! I spent the last couple of hours in the canyon thinking “we’re almost there now”, and it was such a relief to reach the end. One good thing though was that the cold water reduced the pain in the feet who had been under stress for almost 48 hours as we reached T3 to hop on our bikes.
During T3 both me and Helén got medical attention to our feet. My big toenails got three new drain holes in them which reduced the swelling and the pain significantly. Our feet felt great now.
The bike started of with a long, super steep uphill. I had a heavy back pack and as I was grinding the lowest gear it felt like my front wheel was going to lift off the ground. We eventually reached the top and then had a fast, flowy ride to a check point by a waterfall. Beautiful!
Finding the next check point turned out to be more troublesome. It was going dark again, and we spent around 4 hours finding the CP riding back and forward on numerous trails and roads through a village where both kids and alcoholics tried to give us advice on the direction. One kid tried to trade his homemade flashlight (a candle in a can) for my Silva light on the bike. I had to turn the offer down… As we cycled along these village trails the local kids kept running after us, bare feet at speeds around 20 km/h and there were at least ten of them surrounding us. We heard their steps for several hundred meters… Impressive! Anyway, we finally co-navigated with team #29 and managed to find the CP. The next CP was giving us trouble too, but not nearly as much. After that CP, the navigation worked better and we kept riding until we were all super sleepy. We hid our bikes in some bushes and ourselves next to them and got another two hours of sleep. As I recall this night, there were hills, a lot of hills! There were very often streams in the lower ends of the hills and it was super cold descending! As the dawn broke we realised what a fantastic landscape we were surrounded by. Endless green hills with huts spread all over the place. Speaking of hills, they were definitely present for the rest of the bike section. Each steep uphill was followed by a super bumpy downhill. My shocks were unfortunately locked in the no suspension at all mode, which made the descents extremely uncomfortable. All the bumps also got to my feet which had started hurting again. No pain, no elevation gain! The final section of the bike section was quite fun. We had to descend into a valley and climb the other side to find the road towards T4. We found the road onto the ridge, and the hike a bike trail down through a ravine. After a couple of hundred meter the trail split and after consulting some locals we met out there in the middle of nowhere carrying wood sticks on their heads, we decided to go right. That descent was awesome! And took us down to roughly 70 m.a.s.l. After that all we had to do was climb back up on the other side. At first the incline was rideable but soon became steeper and steeper and we had to push until we reached the top, which was around 600 m.a.s.l….
Our photographer, Martin, told us he drove down that road earlier and that they all unbuckled their seat belts to be able to jump out of the car just in case it lost traction on the gravel! The view from the top was amazing and the descent towards T4 was too. Although I almost smashed into a cow who wasn’t watching her step when she walked straight out onto the road. We reached T4 at dusk.
T4 was moved due to extremely low water levels in the river, meaning our bike ride was around 160 km and the kayak was shortened to only 17 km. We got word that it should take around 4-5 hours and expected a canyon-like paddle with hurting feet and a lot of carrying of the boat. Anyway, at T4 three of us saw to our feet again… Due to us being a lot later than expected we also had to do some strategic thinking on our light situation as we were quite low on batteries. The kayak leg started with 2 km of carrying the super heavy boats and all the gear down to the river. To make a long story short we had huge problems here. The team got split up at the carrying section due to a split on the trail. It took us some hours to have everyone and everything reach the riverside. As we took off we hit a sand bank straight away and had to get out of the boats to push. This went on for quite some time and it was extremely hard to see anything at all. Eventually we stopped at the side to catch some sleep. After that we had a better ride down stream but I think Christian was still sleepy as our boat went slalom all the time… Reaching T5 was a bliss!
T5, more medical attention for the feet (Doc: look at this foot! Helén: that’s the good one!), dry clothes, hot sandwiches from the resort, sleep and off again for a 40 km trek. Helén had now taken over the navigation from Jacob and led us straight up a mountainside for roughly one hour. Once again the view from the peak was amazing, a 360 degree view over the landscape below. From the peak we followed the ridge going east, looking for the trail leading down to a road. We found it more or less directly and spent in total two hours from the peak to the road. Later we met a team that had a five hour bush wack all the way down and we felt lucky. We continued towards the next CP and as we found it we had started running low on water. Luckily we found a house with a water tank where we filled up all our bladders and also our dry meals. I’d say that almost all streams we found were dry, except the tidal river we had to cross after our refill… Christian went first and called back, it all seems ok! He had water to his knees and was walking confidently until he was suddenly swept away by a wave. The depth apparently came suddenly. :) We all followed and as we reached the deep part and had to swim we realised how strong the current was. 20 m of swimming swept us even further sideways! Now the trek followed the beach for some time and we had to follow kettle trails to climb the mountain sides by the beach to avoid being crushed between a tidal wave and the cliffs. Quite a strenuous effort and our speed from the early hours of the trek dramatically went down. We eventually reached a small village where we met team #29 who was taking a long stop due to illness on one of the male team members.
At this village we had the route choice of continuing along the beach or take a trail inland. For us the original plan was to go inland but as we hit what we thought was the trail a local came and called no no and with body language showed us that it was unwalkable. “Come, road“, he said and took us back to the beach pointing and kept saying “road, road”. We decided to follow his advice. We looked and looked for the trail but didn’t find it and eventually decided to follow the second route choice. More beaches, more kettle trail cliff climbing and low pace. The feet were hurting and at dusk we stopped to sleep and dry the feet again. As we continued four hours later Helén could barely put her feet back into the shoes… After navigating our way out of the narrow trail system we finally found the road towards the next CP. Our speed on this road was around 1 km/h due to the feet, in addition to that Christian’s stomach had started to live it’s own life. Just before dawn we stopped for sleep and foot rest again to continue to the CP in daylight instead. As we woke up, a girl came running sooooo graciously on the road, bare feet of course. I never felt so slow and inflexible in my life! It turned out the rest didn’t help us that much. The speed was still painfully low and the ever so happy Helén was now quiet. As we finally reached CP24 around lunch we stopped to rest. Team #29 caught us, and told me they had been resting 15 hours where we last saw them. That says a lot about our speed, or lack of it. They had taken the inland route choice and found the right trail. A two hour walk for them… As they continued we took care of our feet and slept again. When it was time to get going for the last 12 km to T6 and the final bike section, we took off together on an uphill trail. Only this time it was a no go for Helén, her feet had finally given up and we decided that this is it. The decision was mutual and we were of course very disappointed not to complete the race, but it still feels like the right choice, even now two weeks after. There is a lot to learn from this, both in terms of preparation but also on how to act during the race when the feet start hurting that early. But that’s another story.
Over and out,
Oskar and the rest of Outnorth