Two weeks have gone by and I still cannot believe that I have had the opportunity to be part of something so extremely special as Expedition Africa 2018. It is hard to explain my emotions concerning this great event. I’ve been reading ALL the other reports and write-ups, and looked through all the photos of Expedition Africa 2018 and I still get goosebumps every time.
Firstly, I’m so grateful for the opportunity that was presented to me and for that I want to thank every sponsor, friend, family member and most of all God for the strength and talent to be able to do what I do. Along with this, it was amazing to do this, not for myself, but for every adult cancer patient out there that is fighting the fight of cancer every day. I salute you!
We trained, dreamed, planned and did everything that we thought was required to be able to be ready for this expedition. O, how wrong can one be?
For Expedition Africa we had to be a team of four people. So, Dewald and I called in two other friends to join us for this event. Marnus Shoeman and Alwyn van der Merwe. The team arrived at VanRhynsdorp at Maskam Guesthouse on Friday morning. This was the guesthouse where we as a team slept before and after the event. We were welcomed with the most amazing breakfast. THANK YOU MASKAM GUESTHOUSE! At the breakfast table there were lots of laughter and discussions taking place. I think the laughter was more of a stress releaser than anything else.
At 9h00 sharp, we arrived at Letsatsi Lodge, at VanRhynsdorp. The lodge hosted the event. When we arrived there the registration process started. We were required to go through various checkpoints – from checking our gear, learning how to use the tracker that will be with us the entire time, to getting our pink bibs that we would be wearing all the way!… Shame, if the pink bib could talk…
We were overwhelmed with all the people (52 teams representing 22 countries were present at the event) that we met and information that we received in a matter of 2 hours. We kind of felt disorientated, confused, scared, but in the same time excited, happy and exuberant.
At registration we also received two boxes, a box A and a box B. These boxes would ‘accompany’ us along the route. At some points we would get the Box A and at some points the Box B. These boxes were our re-supply boxes – we could put anything in there – from food to clothes to medical stuff. We had to pack these boxes and hand them in on the Saturday evening. To pack only two re-supply boxes for four people for 6 days is not an easy task, especially if the boxes are not that big…
Along with that, we also received a flat carton type structure that had to be folded into a box for our bicycles. So, the rest of the Friday, after registration, was spent building our bike boxes and planning what to put in the re-supply boxes and what to leave out of the boxes. Friday evening we had a welcome walk through the town where all the teams walked with their national flags from the tourism office back to Letsatsi Lodge. It was an amazing experience to walk with our flag and be proudly South-African.
Saturday, was also mostly spent on planning, packing and more packing. We arrived at Letsatsi Lodge at around 18h00 and handed in our bike boxes along with our two re-supply boxes – I’m pretty sure that our boxes must have been the heaviest boxes out there… After we had handed it in, we felt like school kids after an exam. You hope and pray that you have answered the questions correctly and you do not want to speak to someone who has also written the same test, because you are too scared to hear his or her answers. So, we quietly disappeared back to our guesthouse to pack our backpacks for the race. That night we were all quiet… I think we all just took a moment to try to take in all that had happened during the past 2 days and starting to focus on what would happen within the next 6 days…
4h30 on Sunday morning, we woke up. Not saying much, just all of us doing what was needed to be done. From eating breakfast, showering for the last time in 6 days, spending a little bit more time with family and then packing the last few things into our backpacks. At 6h00 we arrived at the Lodge again. All the teams drove together to the starting point of the event. As we drove along in this long queue of people, many things went through one’s mind. The start was at 09h00 on the beach at Doringbaai – Doringbaai is a small village on the coast. It was cold, misty and the sea was tempestuous!!! We said our good-byes and with mixed emotions we approached the starting line. We, as a team, prayed, and knew that this would be the start of a journey that would never be forgotten.
At 09h00 sharp the race started and we all ran to get the first few checkpoints. We all ran as if this was a 10km race and not a race over 6 days covering more than 500km’s. However, we knew that it would settle down as soon as the adrenalin had calmed down. After the first few checkpoints we saw our friends for a last good- bye and off we took for the real race. We ran/walked along the beach towards the first Transition (T) area. At that moment we were still chirpy, happy and enjoying every moment of it. So, very focused and happy we quickly went through T1. From there we had to get onto the kayaks for a 50km paddle upstream along the river(with a gusty wind from the front). We paddled and paddled and paddled and paddled. And somewhere along the way we had to get to a bridge where there would be a checkpoint. Our mission was to just get to the bridge, how difficult could that be… Every now and then one of us would say: “The bridge must be around this bend”. And then there was nothing… It went on like this for hours and hours. It became dark and cold and I realised that our Expedition Africa journey had started. After a period of time, feeling like days, we arrived at the bridge – tired, cold and disheartened. However, we saw Carin, our friend and camera lady….. Before the race, we did not know that Carin would become more than just a friend and a camera lady. She became our lifesaver, our mentor, our driving force and the person who kept us all going. For the rest of the race we would look and search for Carin around every bend. Thank you Carin!!! After Carin had spoken to us and had given us hope again, we got back into our kayaks – almost ‘frozen’ and with sore lower backs and aching hands. We continued along this lonely, dark river for another 3 hours before we eventually saw a red light and knew that that was the end of the kayaking. We were soooo happy – but not for very long… As we got out of the water with these heavy kayaks which had to be carried (as we thought ) for a few metres only… we were unpleasantly surprised! How wrong can one be? We continued carrying and struggling in the dark with the heavy kayaks filled with water. At last we got to the point where we could leave the red kayaks which had, as it felt, had become heavier and heavier as we had stumbled along.. We left them there, along with a lot of emotions. We walked quietly into T2, cold, wet and tired. We were welcomed with hot fires, food and love… It was the best thing ever. It is amazing what a fire and a few happy, welcoming faces can do. Thank you!!!
We spent some time just to re-group and to recuperate again. We got rid of the wet clothes, repacked our backpacks for the next leg and rested for an hour. At around 02h00 on Monday morning we mapped our route for the ‘Knersvlakte’ and off we went into the darkness – leaving behind the hot fires and happy faces. We got off to a good start in the Knersvlakse. There were a few teams around us and we moved along with them, but then somehow, with navigating at night, we all scattered into different directions. We got the first checkpoint in the Knersvlakte quite easily, but then it was a long walk/ struggle to the next checkpoint that was along a ‘river bank’ (as we thought). For about an hour we walked up and down along the ‘riverbank’ accompanied by three other teams who also thought it was a riverbank. At some stage I decided to just distance myself from the ‘river bank’ and was then delighted to see that there was an other ‘real’ river bank. This river bank was about 3 times the size of our ‘river bank’. We lost a bit of time there, looking for the checkpoint, but eventually found the checkpoint along with 2 other teams. We continued walking/struggling through the Knersvlakte for more than 12 hours. We arrived at T3 at about 2h30 on Monday afternoon. During our walk in the Knersvlakte I realised that an old injury of mine was back… My shin was so sore and walking was becoming a problem for me. Trying to compensate for my leg and shin, I started to get blisters on my feet. So, I was very happy to get to T3 to be able to get the hiking shoes off my feet and to get on the bike which I believed would be easier on my body. We got new maps and planned our route. We had an option of a 2km ‘hike a bike’ or we could go around and do an extra 20km’s. As a team we decided that we would take the long route because of my injury and with the idea that we would get to that point during the night and we did not think that hiking a bike at night was a good idea. Later we would find out that that was one of the best decisions that we had made during our race. The teams who had taken the other option took much longer than us and had to cope with an extremely muddy area. We left T3 about 4h00 in the afternoon. We were very happy to be on our bicycles and a bit off our feet for a while. For the first 40km’s I did not have much trouble with my leg, but as it became cold again I started to feel it rather severely. However, we all motivated one another to get to the next checkpoint, because we had booked a hot meal for us at that checkpoint. Dewald had a hard time riding to that checkpoint. He was very tired and struggled to stay awake. After many hours on the bike we arrived at the checkpoint at about 12h00 at night on Tuesday morning. It was cold, but we were happy to be at the checkpoint. Again, we were welcomed with fires and a nice hot meal with coffee. And we saw our lifesaver… Carin!
After we filled our stomachs, we took our second sleep for the race. A two hour nap! At about 02h30 on Tuesday morning we got back onto our bikes, said goodbye to Carin and cycled off into the dark cold night. All went well, but at around 4h30, I just did not feel well at all. I really do not know what had happened, but I fell off my bicycle and did not feel good. The guys decided that I needed to rest and we cycled to a farm close by called Papkuilsfontein. At that stage I did not register much, was not much of a support to the team and I think they were a bit worried about me. There was no-one at the house, so we just sat on the stoep and fell asleep. I woke up later, cold and confused, and it was raining!!! The day was breaking and it was the start to another day in our journey. The guys made me a ‘k-way’ jacket out of my sleeping bag. They wrapped the sleeping bag around me and tied it to my body with some rope. It must have looked so funny, but at that stage not one of us was laughing at all. Just as we were leaving Papkuilsfontein the owners arrived – it felt like a miracle to see those people. I was so cold and confused at that stage… They insisted said that we get off our bikes and come in. Looking back now, I realise that they saw me and knew that things were not right. They welcomed us into their house, made a fire, gave me a shot of sherry and made us some hot chocolate. After about another hour I was back on my bike, feeling strong and was ready to continue with this race. We were focused again and began the long second part of the cycling leg. We cycled along various gravel roads for the rest of Tuesday. At about 08h00 on Tuesday evening we arrived at T4 – completely exhausted.. We were happy to get off our bikes after about 200km’s on the bike. My leg was swollen quite badly and I asked for medical assistance. They looked at my leg and shin and after a long discussion the medic then said that he was satisfied that I could continue the race and it would depend on my capacity to deal with pain. I asked him if I could do permanent damage to my leg and shin if I would continue. His answer was NO and that was all that I needed. I took two painkillers,( packed lots of them-in fact) and I was ready for the rest of the journey. We got our new maps and decided that we would take a good 5 hour sleep and start our trekking leg at around 3 on Wednesday morning to be able to reach the bottom of Sneeukop in the morning when the sun comes out. I was happy with a good night’s sleep to give my leg the opportunity to rest a bit. We got up at about 2 in the morning and at 3 we left T4 heading towards Sneeukop and then Jamaka at Algeria in the Cederberg. Coming from this area, we knew the area quite well and that made it easier for us to do the navigation. We trekked the entire day and reached Jamaka in the Cederberg Mountains at 9h00 on Wednesday evening. We did not sleep there and just changed into cycling clothes again and took off into the darkness at around 2 in the morning. At this stage it was a case of mind over matter. The body was completely exhausted but we knew we just had to keep on going. We got to the next checkpoint and we had another 40km’s more or less to Clanwilliam. Again, knowing the area, we knew that at Clanwilliam a KFC had opened about 2 months before, but what we did not know at that stage was that the KFC only opened at 09h00 in the morning… So, we cycled on determined to just get to Clanwilliam and there we would buy the biggest KFC burger we could get with Coke, chips and everything else. It all sounded so good. We kept on going; even though it started to rain. We just wanted to get to Clanwilliam. Just before 6h00 on Thursday morning we arrived at Clanwilliam and cycled straight to the KFC …only to be so disheartened – it only opens at 09h00. Plan B???? Wait for the petrol station shop to open up at 6 to buy a garage pie… At 6h00 the garage opened and we were the first people in the shop buying pies, chocolates, coffee and chips. We sat on the garage stoep and ate. It was the best thing ever at that stage. The rain got worse and we took a break to wait for the rain to subside a bit. We did the last few km’s of the cycling leg to reach T5 at about 2 in the afternoon. We realised that we were pushed for time and a quick transition was required. Carin was there again……. We were happy to see her, to hear her voice and to have her there inspiring us. My leg and shin got strapped up again; we got the new maps and at 4 on Thursday afternoon we took off into the canyon. They warned us about this canyon, but at that stage for some unexplicable reason we were so focused that I think we did not really register what all of them tried to tell us about the next leg that we were about to take on. We took off with heavy backpacks (we had to carry food for at least 24 hours along with abseiling equipment). They all told us to just get to the next checkpoint before dark and we would be fine – continue to hike up the canyon for the rest of the night. So, we raced to get to the checkpoint and just before dark we reached the checkpoint. Happy and inspired we continued along the canyon. It was cold and dark in the canyon. At 5 on Friday morning, we felt a bit lost and took a break and decided to wait for daylight. At 6h30 the sun came out and what a sad sight! We were kind of stuck in the middle of nowhere; somewhere in a canyon. We continued hiking up into the canyon and we started with our famous words…… the canyon will open up just around this bend. And then we went around the bend and there would be just more and more mountains and cliffs. Just around this bend and then the canyon would open and then we just needed to get onto the jeep track….. just around this bend, and then we would see the jeep track… This went on for the entire day….. At about 4 in the afternoon we realised that we would not make the cut-off time for the abseiling. We had to be at the abseiling site at 6 to be able to do the abseiling. Yes, so we have been carrying our abseiling equipment for more than 24 hours for no reason at all….. we got to the top of the canyon at 6 in the evening and we had to walk another 15km’s to the next T. The hike up the canyon took everything out of us. We ran out of food and were completely drained. As a team we decided that if we could get a lift to the next T, we were going to take it. At that stage I was enduring very much pain and I was not sure if I would be able to hike another 15km’s. A miracle happened –again! There was no cell phone reception and somehow this guy just appeared out of the dark and came driving up to us. We were so happy, and took a ride with him to the next T. We arrived at T6, and as always Carin was there waiting for us. Happy to see her, we got our bikes out for the last time. I got my leg strapped again, took some painkillers for the last stretch and off we went… Riding that last leg was tiring, but also so rewarding. Just outside VanRhynsdorp we stopped, prayed and just reflected on everything that we had experienced during the previous 6 days. At 12h00 on Friday morning we arrived at the finish line of Expedition Africa. We had completed our journey… To see all our friends, family and supporters was incredible and tears just kept on coming. As a team we looked at each other…
We have completed our journey. We have completed Expedition Africa and this journey has changed all of us for ever….