Whatever time of day or night they arrived, each team was treated the same, whether they completed the full course, short course, as a full team or a partial team. Every finisher walked up to the finish stage through an avenue of flags to a crescendo of music, cheers and applause. They celebrated under the giant finish arch, perfectly framed for their finish photos. Champagne was sprayed, flags waved and each finisher was hugged and congratulated by Expedition Africa Race Director and ARWS CEO Heidi Muller.
Family, media, friends and supporters were invited up on stage for pictures with teams before they were taken to the race chill-out area to relax with friends and tell their race stories. Meals, snacks, cold drinks and beers were on hand for the hungry teams, who could now relax after 9 days of non-stop endurance racing through the Eastern Cape.
Many of the finishes were live streamed and on the finish line racers told their stories in many languages. Whether speaking in Swedish, Estonian, Spanish, Portuguese, or any of the dozen languages from this race, the spirit and emotion of the racers on the finish line was what came across. If the words were not understood by everyone it didn’t matter.
Teams had similar stories to share, of awe at the scale of the landscape in the Karoo and the Baviaans, of struggling with overheating and of the kindness of the communities who helped them along the way.
During the race teams have sought help and shelter from both the cold and rain, and from the heat. In the storms on the second night of the race teams had to retreat off of high ground. Nicola MacLeod of team Endurancelife Celts said, “We were lost and arrived at a game farm and wedding venue to ask for help and were invited in, fed, watched the rugby and were given a place to sleep. There were about 6 teams there in the end and the owners refused any payment.”
Later in the race, in the Baviaans mountain range, teams were dealing with heat exhaustion and stopping at every stream and farm to cool off. Cliff White of Strong Machine AR said, “The heat was too much for me and I was resting in every patch of shade I could find.” Most teams had similar experiences and it was fortunate the recent rains had filled all of the streams after 6 years of drought.
Many teams stopped at farms who gave them shelter and food. Brian Keogh from Moxie Racers (IRL) said, “We stopped with a guy who was totally off-grid and self sustaining and he was telling us about his lifestyle and that the only goes to the shops once a year.” Despite his isolation in the mountains, and having no idea what the race was about, this settler welcomed many of the teams from different countries. He’d chosen an isolated lifestyle, but for a couple of days the world came to visit him through the Adventure Racing World Championship.
It wasn’t only racers who needed help, another Baviaans farmer opened up a workshop full of handmade tools to fix a damaged media 4x4 and brushed off any offer payment.
The race organisation, medics, volunteers and media had their own adventures on the course as well. Race vehicles had frequent punctures and break downs, and some roads were washed out and impassable. One washout trapped a group of retired races, and the ropes staff who had set up the abseil, for 2 nights in a farmer’s house high above Somerset East. Pablo Lopez from Spain said, “The farmer was very friendly and we drank lots of coffee and watched the rugby. There were teams sleeping all over the farmer’s floor, safe and out of the rain.”
The race volunteers were working around the clock and in difficult circumstances to keep the race running and to support teams who needed help or rescue.
To keep such a big course open for 10 days is a major undertaking, achieved with the help of only 40 volunteers. These include international volunteers who have travelled from the USA, India, Portugal, Ecuador, Chile and France to join the race. Their translation and linguistic abilities helped with communication with the teams as well.
Keogh was grateful to Expedition Africa for allowing teams so long to complete the course. “Credit should go to Heidi and Stephan (Muller) for keeping the race open for 9 days. That allowed us to complete the course and it’s not an opportunity we get very often as we are usually timed out or short-coursed.” A quarter of the teams finished on the last day of racing, so the long race duration helped give many teams the same opportunity.
Keogh’s team was one of several made up of different nationalities. Many visiting international teams have been joined by South African racers, and others found a racer willing to join them from the international adventure racing community.
Moxie Racers were joined by Colombian athlete Catalina Castaneda as a late replacement. Castaneda doesn’t speak English and the others in the team spoke no Spanish, so they raced together without any spoken language to communicate, and completed the course in 189 hours 22 minutes, finishing in 26th place.
On the finish line Keogh said, “This really is a unique sport. In no other sport could you meet and share such am amazing race with a stranger. We have to thank Catalina for being such a great teammate and helping us get to the finish, she has been fantastic and we wouldn’t be here without her.”
When asked what it was like to race with 3 people and not understand what they were saying, Castaneda said simply, “We are adventure racers, so we do speak the same language.” That’s the international language of adventure racing.