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Charging Buffalo’s Break Field Apart

Day 2 of Expedition Africa has been a very exciting one. It focussed around leg 6, a 59km trek through Baviaanskloof. A mix of canyons, rocks, river crossings and long reeds (Grootrivier) to mask crossings adding to navigation challenge. All along with animals. Big ones. Baboons who like your food and buffalo’s who do not really like you at all. This is some wild Africa they are enjoying.
The crux of this leg though was an enforced darkzone at night. Darkzones, contentious at times, they can on occasions have a bearing on who wins or loses. But how you manage it matters. Often it involves some strategy to make the most of your position. The race planner on this occasion has done a great job. Whilst it affects the middle/end of the field back it won’t affect the outcome of the race winner.
Magnificent but protective of his home.

Why a darkzone on a trek leg I hear you scream out – buffalo. Big cranky buffalo who don’t like their sleep disturbed. Usually people in this area would carry a rifle for safety. For teams it’s a spirit of adventure and an air horn. Apparently the buffalo’s like to “charge” at intruders. Tired legs of a racers against a charging buffalo is not good odds. Hence the darkzone and a few local experts to assist with safety. Should the race have been put through here – absolutely. It is “made in heaven” AR perfection. Wild, dangerous and beautiful. Remember the name Baviaanskloof. Everyone in this race will.

But first they had to get to the trek leg to enable them to start it as early as possible, to allow maximum daylight to try and make the distance. How – by riding hard in leg 5 and sleeping another day. Push hard to then push with everything you have hopeful of some respite afterwards.

At the front of the field this leg gave opportunity to those who would put it all on the line and push their limits to make it through in one day starting at 4am if you were lucky – or later if further back in the field. Merrell Mentors hit the start at 6.45 am approx. Teams would just would have to give everything and they did. Two notables are teams Hardtale (AUS) and Da Dingle (IRE). These two must have a previous bad experience with the buffalo as they raced you could say “above their weight” into the top 12. Or perhaps this is the teams showing us they are on the rise in adventure racing. Either way they were on a mission to get to the “other side” and they did.
Local Heroes – NEVAREST JABBERWOCK (Sth Africa).
Matt Bacon leading Hardtale from the front.

The leaders are starting to show their race faces. Several teams are looking a step above the rest. They are 25 SKYLOTEC ADVENTURE (Sweden), 26 THUNDERBOLT AR (Australia), 09 EAST WIND (Japan) and local favourites 08 NEVAREST JABBERWOCK (Sth Africa). Check the current leader board but these four are looking prominent enough to say they want to win badly. Make mistakes though and there are at least another 4 teams ready to take their positions. Skylotec and Thunderbolt AR seems to be locked in the ring for supremacy and recently they must have seen each other. Thunderbolt AR took the lead for a little way but Skylotex snatched it back again. The recent ARWS races have had some serious competition at the front showing that the standard of teams is very strong across many nations.

What about those teams that didn’t make the end of the trek leg. Well a night in the Baviaanskloof will allow many stories. How much sleep they got I’m not sure but strange sounds in the night might add to the insomnia index. One of those teams who enjoyed camp was Merrell Mentors – just falling short of the trek completion. This is a team made up of one AR legend Donovan Sims and 3 Expedition Africa newcomers. Merrell Adventure Addicts a top 5 in the world rated teams are giving back to the sport they love with Donovan lending a hand. Using their skills to mentor others and even race with them. True champions.
Lead photographer Bruce Viaene saw Merrell Mentors this morning (abbreviated report):  “So, I spent about 40min this morning trekking with the team in the canyon. I saw them around 6:45 (still very dark), team seemed fine but not too cheerful. Michelle had a terrible night last night and pushed her bike a lot (it was a really brutal ride) and was starting to get clear headed as the sun was coming out. Don feet, Michelle’s knee and now Troy’s calf have slowed the team to a fast trek, they’re doing no running which is fine.. you can’t run in that canyon. Otherwise they’re well and their main goal right now is to get past CP18 (the next dark zone cut off). I must also add that there was a swim of about 5m in very very cold water. We all stripped down to keep our gear dry. Obviously the Sims brothers had no skaam but Dean and Mitch were a bit nervous. “At least I’m taller so my bra didn’t get wet” was Michelle’s reply about the swim. Also they hadn’t slept a wink.
Merrell Mentors – Donovan Sims on the left – his bro on the right. How special for these two.
The sun has just come up for day 3 and it will be as exciting as day 2. Some teams are already making un usual shapes in the live tracking – so navigation is playing its part..
To top it off right as I type this live report comes in:
“Thunderbolt AR arrived at Transition 7 first! The team raced extremely well last night, gaining a lead on Skylotec. The organisers are completely blown away by the efficiency in the team when it comes to passing through the transition as fast as possible. Thunderbolt AR are already on their 4km rope work trek, which will zipline them straight into T8. Skylotec are expected to reach T7 any minute!”
Get on the live site and enjoy this whilst the African action burns a new route in adventure racing history. If you hear Lion King songs coming through any live video you will know Thunderbolt AR are close by. The team have gone loco with the excitement of Expedition Africa and what it offers. Exploring, discovering and having fun. And yes they are good riders.
Locals Team Fluid! Doing their first EXPD Africa. Check the faces.

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