Expedition Africa Tests Teams
Adventure Racing tests endurance, outdoor skill and team work by putting teams into new situations and locations, where they can explore and adapt to new challenges. The best races take teams to places they could only have dreamt of and ask them to try new skills and to find it in themselves to finish.
Expedition Africa achieved all this when the AR World Series race took 59 international teams to Rodrigues Island last week. It’s a place most of the competitors had never heard of before, and the small Indian Ocean island proved to be an astonishing and perfect destination for an expedition adventure race, thanks to the management of Stephan and Heidi Muller from Kinetic Events and their team.
It was a surprising destination, and one no one else would have had the audacity and ambition to attempt. The island is only 108 km² in area, and 18km by 6.5km in size, and a full length expedition race is typically 400 to 500km and includes a wide variety of outdoor locations and challenges – how could you hold a successful World Series expedition race on such a tiny island?
Just getting everyone and their equipment there was a logistical challenge as the travel involved a final hop on small planes with limited luggage capability, and adventure racers have a lot of luggage! The teams bike boxes arrived by ship and any luggage left behind was whisked to the island by event partner Air Mauritius, who helped make it all possible. Even the SPOT trackers on the race were on the edge of satellite coverage, so updates were a little delayed.
Come the day of the start everything was ready, and many of the teams had already explored some of the island, but over the coming 5 days they would get to know it much, much better. They were also about to be acquainted with the island sailing boats usually used for net fishing, which for Expedition Africa would become their mobile transition and transport around the island. They were setting off on the first ever sailing based adventure race!
For the start teams were sailed out to a buoy by a local skipper and had to jump overboard to get the first checkpoints by diving to find them underwater, then the teams had to swim back to shore. Race reporter Adam Rose described what happened; “They didn’t know how strong the current was. They didn’t understand how difficult it is to identify teammates in a sea of bobbing heads. They didn’t appreciate how hard it would be to communicate in windblown chop, snorkels catching crests, choking on seawater.”
It was tough start and a rude awakening to the power of the currents and tides which would affect all the teams once they took charge of their boat, which had the rudder removed and which they put their own sailing rigs on. (Some were much more successful than others.)
In the days ahead they sailed around the island, heading to off-shore islands and finding checkpoints in coves and caves, on beaches and cliffs. There were groundings when the tide left them high and dry and boats were hauled across muddy foreshores, and times when they could not battle the tide or the currents swept them off course. Navigation and tactics became a whole new challenge and teams had to adapt and survive.
Between the sailing sections the course took them all over the island on foot and bike and the whole course had an incredible 109 checkpoints! The island is hilly, with some steep climbs and dense bush in places, and teams who underestimated how hard a course could be on a small island were in for a shock. The highest point on the island is Mont Limon at 395m, yet the course included nearly 8000m of ascent and descent!
The route took in some of island’s tourist attractions, like the giant tortoise sanctuary and a visit to the nature reserve on the nearby Coco island, and there was ample chance to stop at the local shops and engage with island life. It also visited remote spots, some of which even the team from Rodgrigues said they’d never visited before. There were new challenges brought to the island by the race too – a via ferrata was installed on one of the cliffs and there was an abseil off a local bridge, which had never been done before.
As the race unfolded it developed into a close race between 3 past winners and for a while the youngest team in the race Keyhealth Nevarest raced with the leaders as well. (They finished 4th and won the youth category for teams with a combined age under 110 years.) Team Merrell Adventure (RSA) fell back into third in the final stages and it was left to Blizzard AR (Russia) and Greener Adventure CykelKraft (Sweden) to battle it out to the finish.
They were racing side by side on the penultimate stage until a small navigation error by the Russians allowed the Swedes to pull away and make the final 3km Stand Up Paddle to reach the finish line on the beach as winners. Their winning time was 70 hours 48 minutes, just 21 minutes ahead of Blizzard.
The Swedish team prepared meticulously and said afterwards, “We thought the logistics would be important because you don’t want to lose time in transitions. So we put in some extra time making a good plan and then waited to see how race turned out. A bit surprisingly the race felt very close to a ‘normal’ adventure race, but nicer because of the shorter legs. It’s a concept we liked and hope to see in future races.
“We has a stable race and a good spirit in the team, feeling hungry to push hard. We had a lead over the 2nd team but got caught when stuck at low tide. The race restarted with the trek including the via Ferrara. After that we raced closely with Blizzard and the race was on fire for the last 3 legs, bike, trek and SUP. We raced hard and on the last trek we were together at the second last CP from where we out-sprinted them in the canyon down to the beach and then we had enough time to cruise on the SUP to the finish.”
Blizzard AR said, “At first we were a bit frightened of the concept of using boats as transitions. But we’ve trusted Stephan’s and Heidi’s experience and it was a good choice. We focussed not on paddling but on using a sail and those stages with the sail were our favorites. Actually one of our team members had a dream to sail in an adventure race and his dream came true.
“The race included a lot of short legs and had really great dynamics as well as new experiences such as swim & run. We found that sometimes the currents can carry the lightest teammates and by the end some of us started loving those swims. The caves were different and really beautiful, and of course the sailing at the start and the finish on SUP were truly scenic. In fact we had a race at Paradise!”
You can see all the results, course description, reports and photos at; http://www.kinetic-events.live/
The race video is available at; https://www.facebook.com/kineticeventsafrica/videos/904914116555761
Photo Credit Bruce Viaene, Kirsten Oliver