Bull of Africa 2008
Jude spends 2 weeks in South Africa to participate in the Bull of Africa, an expedition length race through some beautiful country!
It was an awesome race, but unfortunately Dave had an accident on the ascend during one of the treks. A rather large rock landed on his arm and he had to be taken to hospital. He is ok and luckily only has soft tissue damage. No broken bones or damaged nerves, ligaments etc. He should be fine again in a few weeks. But that meant we lost a lot of time and my other team mates lost their motivation too. We continued together for the next leg, but they stopped after that mtb section. I then continued racing with other teams and had an awesome time, meeting heaps of new people!
Read on if you want to know what we did…
580 km in 7 days:
- 10 km trail run
- 20 km mountain bike
- 20 km kayak
- 25 km mountainbike
- 70 km hike
- 65 km mountainbike
- 25 km kayak
- 55 km mountainbike
- 50 km hike
- 90 km mountainbike
- 35 km coasteering
- 70 km mountainbike
- 4 km kayak
- 5 km hike
My first day in South Africa was spent in and around the local airport as we were desperately trying to get our equipment from Jo’burg to the start of the race. With the last bike finally in the car we drove straight to the briefing and dinner at the Inkwenkwezi Game Reserve, already spotting some local wildlife on the way in.
The next day we cleared all competency checks and it was time to finalise packing and preparing as we had a very early bus trip to the start of the race in the Amathole Mountains.
Buses to the start left Belugha at 3AM on Saturday morning and at 9AM we were finally off. Running along the golf course until we hit the first hill – a steep one – and soon we were stuck in a traffic jam up the ridge. Our navigation was spot on and soon we found our first CP. As we were only carrying small water bottles, we filled up at every stream with fresh water as it was quite hot. After the trek we were back at the golf course where we picked up our bikes for a 20km mountain bike. This stage started with a fun and fast downhill section, followed soon by the long and slow uphills. We only collected 1 CP before we arrived at the dam for a kayak / rogaine section. Seven CP’s were located around the dam and we needed to collect 5. The first CP was compulsory for everybody and was located at the base of a waterfall which we found after hiking through a beautiful gorge at the bottom of the dam. We couldn’t find our next CP and left after 20 frustrating minutes. Later we found out that nobody had managed to find it…grrrr.
After the paddle it was back on the bikes for another 25km. This ride would take us into our first night as we finished the paddle just after sunset. It was getting quite cold after the sun had set. My bike box at the next transition area had ice on it! We had some food and left the TA to start the first long trek feeling really pleased with our progress.
The trek was long, cold and difficult with lots of long ups and downs and some very, very steep slopes. Because of some miscommunication we ended up hiking to the top of the waterfall instead of the viewing platform. And after that we struggled to find the start of the Amathole hiking trail and decided to sleep for a few hours between 3 and 5.30AM. In daylight it was easy to find the trail and the next 10 hrs or so we hiked to CP11, a hut on the track. My knees were very painful after all those steep hills and I had a few blisters too. After a short stop at the hut we continued the hike to the top of the next mountain. Again we had some trouble finding the right track and even when we were on it we lost it a few times. It was the section to the next CP that was really hard to find. We tried a few different routes, but without being able to see where the cliffs are and where we could pass, we eventually decided to go for the safer (and longer) option. Early in the morning we slept a few hours again, not realising there was a trekkers hut just around the corner! We eventually got to the top of the mountain with the CP and I nearly stepped on a rinkhals there – a rather poisonous snake that had probably been disturbed by so many people on her hill top… She wasn’t big (just over 1m), but certainly kept an eye on me as I went around her. We met team Dark Horse (with Luther) at the top and on the way down via the gravel road we saw one of the Dutch guys hike up to the CP whilst the rest of the team was having a snooze and a picnic near the bottom of the hill. We were not impressed! (and I felt ashamed to be Dutch too!).
We passed 2 more teams on the way to CP13 (at the junction of 5 fences) and were very happy to see people again after our stuff up with the navigation the previous night.
Not much later we arrived at the TA to pick up the bikes again. I was also very happy to see our first foodbox as I was running out of food. The leg had taken a lot longer than we anticipated.
Another miscommunication took us down a long road – we should have turned off half way – and we found ourselves in out of bounds area!! Oooh this is bad…
Luckily the rest of the ride went ok and with the help of some friendly locals we found some nice shortcuts. Between CP17 and 18 we were told to take a shortcut through the field, along a fisherman track. That turned out to be an awesome downhill section on single track! Dave had a spectacular but painful over the handlebars stack and I think he might even have had a mild concussion.
Not much later we arrived at yet another TA where we slept another few hours before heading out in the kayaks again to pick up 2 CP’s. It was a lovely paddle with some headwind to make us all wet and soon we were on our bikes again.
We crossed a river and had to hike our bikes out on a very, very steep slope with no tracks at all. I lost one of my lights here…!! Damn.
We arrived at the Kubusi game farm and were give a very warm welcome with sandwiches!! Yummm. Down again on the jeep track followed by some seriously steep and rocky single track through the buffalo and crossing another river, followed by – you guessed it – another steep climb out on the other side. I seriously struggled to push and carry my bike up that hill and luckily had some help from Dave.
We arrived at the next lodge and Rob arranged a bedroom for us to sleep! Which meant we slept lots at this TA… The next morning we left at 4AM for another long trek again. This time with some ascending with jumars in the middle. We reached the jumar section after 12 hours and from the CP at the confluence of the rivers we had travelled together with team Kubusi (John, James, Leigh and Annette). As we reached the gorge team Cyesa also joined us (they were 3 at the time: Steve, Tim and Teresa).
And then disaster struck. Ian flicked the rope to check if the rope was free and a big chunk of rock came thundering down and landed on Dave’s arm!!
Ian and Rob went up together and I stayed back to ensure Dave was alright and would be able to make it up. We had to get out of there, but we thought he might have broken it! It took us a long time and Dave was in agony, but somehow he managed to get up 2 of the 3 jumars and hike around the middle one as it was relatively flat.
After another few hours hiking and a little break at the bhoma where the next CP was, we finally arrived at the next TA. The medical staff looked at his arm and he was sent to hospital in East London for some x-rays. He still wanted to race if he was allowed, so we decided to wait there until we had news. The next morning the police told us he was not allowed to continue racing, so we left as a team of 3 + Richard from another team. I was happy I asked Cycle HQ to look at my brakes as the brake pads were touching and it turned out they were broken! With new brake pads and a full stomach (they sold toasted cheese and tomato sandwiches at the lodge) we were on our way again on the bikes. After crossing the Kei river we were in the Transkei where the locals speak Xhosa – the language with the clicking sound. Absolutely impossible to pronounce!! And we struggled to even make clear to the locals which village we were talking about!!
At the first CP on this section we had yet another very warm welcome in the trading shop of Mr Russell Hulley. Sandwiches with peanut butter and cheese and tea as much as you wanted – just what I needed.
We picked up another CP and unfortunately on the way to the next one we had another (luckily small) navigational error. We rode the final part of this stage to Mazupa Bay on the beach which was so pretty. Absolutely stunning with the moon on a hard beach – easy to ride (apart from the rocky headlands where we had to carry our bikes).
Ian and Rob had lost their motivation to continue racing and I joined a South African team (Abel, Jan, Laura and Tania) that was still trying to finish the full course as well. It was my fastest time in transition ever (with the help of Ian and Rob who packed my bike box for me) as they were about to leave!!
At the start of this coasteering section we were pushing hard as we needed to get to CP 36 before the cut-off (if we weren’t there on time we would be put on a short course). Around 3AM they decided that was no longer possible, so we stopped for a quick nap on the track.
Abel, Jan, Laura and Tania let me navigate which was a great practise for me – I really enjoyed that. And it was fantastic to be able to travel with them and not have to sit and wait in the TA. I had some great conversations and learned that Laura is a very good ultra marathon runner, very interesting! Tania made some awesome hot chocolate in the morning – what a great way to start the new day…
We found the wreck and hiked on to Seagulls hotel – the next TA. On the way Steve and Richard rode past us on the bikes and Tim and Teresa hiked past. When I got to Seagulls Rob and Ian were already there. I had a lovely lunch (4 toasted cheese and tomato sandwiches!!) and started getting ready for the next bike section.
We were put on a short course, but still wanted to pick up all the CP’s from the short course. My foster team from the coasteering section were just going to try to make it to the finish line, so I looked for another team that still wanted to do all the remaining CP’s. That’s when I joined Steve, Tim and Teresa. They were similar in riding speed which was perfect. We did really well until the cold front came in. We crossed the Kei river with the pont (ferry) and collected the CP at the fish lodge. After 4 hours or so in the cold and horizontal rain we had to find a little track through a paddock, but as 3 of us were getting too cold to continue we rode back to the farm house we saw earlier. We tried to wake up the farmer, but failed. So we went to bed in the shed next to the garage which was open. Teresa and I had a good sleep on the bed and Steve used the chair after he failed to find a spot on the bed 😉 Poor Tim slept on the cold floor.
The next morning we were treated to some fantastic hospitality again and served breakfast in the house. Delicious! We called HQ to let them know where we were and that we still wanted to ride to the finish line via Haga Haga and the beach.
Some more horizontal rain, a very strong headwind and an incoming tide meant very slow progress. We left the beach at Cintsa West (our cottage was in Cintsa East) and from there it was a short trip back to Belugha – the finish. Still battling with the headwind, but without the rain, we were cheered on by a dozen cars with teams in them.
7 days and 5.5 hours after the start we crossed the finish line. A great feeling even though it was not within the time limit and not with my original team… But what a great team to finish the race with!
At the prize giving that night our stubbornness was rewarded with a beautiful handmade glass bull…
It was a great adventure and a beautiful course. Thanks to all the people in the teams that I shared this awesome experience with!