(a bit written by Piers with a lot of Plagiarism from Phils web site)
One of the most extreme adventure races in Southern Africa happened over the long weekend at the end of April in the Kingdom of Swaziland. Darron and Anita Raw, of Raw Africa, hosts of this race, once again saw to it that there would be no lack of thrills and spills in this year’s Swazi Xtreme. This year Phil and I did it as a pair (Team Jeep Voetsek – see website www.teamjeep.co.za ). This was the 6th year in a row we had entered this event – with varied success in the past from wins to 6th place. The pro event would see the racers tackling a 250km monster while the sport event would be a 180km staged race over 3 days, opposed to the non-stop format used in the past. With the best and most competitive field of teams ever gathered at a Southern African AR the pro race was set to be a humdinger.
Most racers arrived at the start venue at Waterford Kamhlaba College near Mbabane midday Friday the 27th of April. With a forecast cold front and the wind picking up, the racers set up camp preparing for what was to become an epic race of epic proportions. That night, race briefing and map plotting took place. While the points were pre-plotted, route choices were numerous and would ensure for exciting racing at the front of the field. Meanwhile the wind was gathering velocity. Getting a good night’s sleep the night before a long AR start is not the norm but racers managed to bed down at a reasonable hour. The wind howled through most of the night buffeting tents and causing concern for many no doubt.
Waking up to an overcast sky with gusty winds and rain, seemed to be an ominous sign. A scheduled 6h30am start on Sat was delayed to 8h30am for safety. The rain eased and the race got under way in frantic fashion as usual. The top teams redlining it as only they can, to try and gain a psychological advantage in the early stages. The first leg was Mtbing and relatively straight forward to the first transition – T2 in the pro event. We arrived with the first few teams to finds the point had not yet been placed by the organizers.
From there we hiked to a mine that had bats swooping around us, confused by the unexpected visitors to their domain. Exiting at the top of the mine we proceeded to abseil unassisted next to a waterfall. From there we continued on the hike via a few check points – Ngwenya North peak - the second highest point in Swaziland at 1800 m and then onto T3 (transition point to meet our seconds and change disciplines to MTB).
Leg 3 was biking again, punching CP’s on the way to T4.
The epic was now going to unfold as we headed out on foot. A 35km hike including 3 kloofing sections, a good dose of AR bundu bashing and a swim thrown in for good measure down a hydrogorge used as a small hydropower station for the now defunct mines where we were to set up our own abseiling points down a 60 m deep kloof.
The first kloof consisted of an 8m water jump, a +/-12m bum slide, 2 smaller bum slides and water jumps. The 2 nd kloofing section was not so much that, as a 6km hike down a shallow river which brought us to an icy swim across a hydro dam. After getting out carefully another kloof awaited at the bottom of the dam wall.
Due to a major mishap some power station engineer had turned off the bypass pipe thus increasing the flow in the very tight kloof to a flood, trapping teams. The adventure racers were rescued and the race was stopped. We then did a short hike from there racers at T6 where we met our seconds.
All the racers and their seconds then headed for T7 at Maguga Dam where we would spend the Sunday night in the compulsory stopover. The following morning the race would start at 7am with the whitewater rafting leg down the Komati River.. Phil and I overslept and ended starting about 30 minutes after the last team at about 7am.Darron arranged for water to be released so the river would be full enough to paddle. The river had not been paddled in many years with up to grade 4 rapids – that’s big – and a grade 6 waterfall, was going to make it interesting to say the least.
Just as we were catching the back markers – only because they had flipped there raft and some teams with drew due to the fierce rapids – we were pulled into a huge eddie and up against a massive rock creating a large washing machine. Our croc tipped sideways and Phil was immediately pulled into the hole. I was fine as I pulled myself onto the boat, Phil unfortunately had a good 3 minutes down time beneath the boil under a huge rock. After yelling for him and searching the river for a while, I assumed he had drowned - but he somehow slipped round the rock and recovered after blacking out floating down stream and survived– although now we decided to go really carefully down the remaining river and make sure we finished the rest of the race.
At the end of that leg T10 awaited, which was the start of a hike which went up a gorge with a continuous cascading waterfall to T11.
The last leg was a bike leg but of epic proportions with a short hike up a mountain before riding through to the finish.
We ended up doing the following - MTB 36km, Hike 5km, Mine caving, Unassisted Abseil, Hike 11 km, MTB 23 km, Hike 12 km, Kloof and bum slide 1km, Hike 14 km, Kloof 3km, swim, Hike 7km, race stopped for night and restarted, then paddle 10 km in Komati, Portage round the gap, Paddle 7km to water fall, portage, paddle 1km, Hike 13km, MTB 50km, Hike 2km, and final 15km MTB to finish at Ponata River Ranch in the middle of Swaziland about 60 hours after staring. We ended up
being the only pair (Team Jeep) that finished the event - a lot due to fantastic seconds (Adam and Tanith). About 6 complete teams finished the event out of 23 starters.. See Darron and Lisa’s race report on www.ar.co.za
In the Pro event the top 5 teams who officially finished the long course were in 1 st Team Cycle Lab Kzn, 2 nd Team Red Ants, 3 rd Team Sterling Light, 4 th was Team Samurai and in 5 th overall and only pair to complete the long course were Team Jeep Voetsek.
Somehow the pain and stress of the event is quickly forgotten – Alzheimer’setting in, so I guess we will be back for more hectic adventure next year too.