Archive for February 2009
Marianney-Foley Bridge (upstream)
Last weeks flooding Mixed Doubles Kzn Champs on the Umzimkulu River had everyone on red alert driving to this weekends Drak Challenge. The ‘Change a life’ boys arrived in Underberg late Friday night, helmets and all, ready to put their recently acquired skills to the test. Surprisingly the rain of late didn’t make any impact as none had fallen in the correct catchment, so the river was running at a low level. Good for some – k1’s, terrible for others – K2’s.
Day 1 – 26km
The start was a frenetic affair. Paddlers lined up with their kayaks 60m from the river. Bumping, shoving, as they sprinted madly to get into their canoes first.
Len Jenkins impressively accompanied Ant Stott all the way down the tricky Day 1, the duo dominating the front of the race. Grant and Hank were next in. There was a three way cat fight (not in the nasty sense) in the girl’s race, one second the difference. Carol Joyce first, then Robyn Kime and Michelle Erray. I enjoyed Lucas Mthalane’s company for the second half of the day. Not adding much value to the last 4km of our partnership as I sat on his wave, pap as a snoek in the hot Cape sun. We finished 22nd & 23rd respectively. Not being a focused paddler anymore, I was undercover, racing my Vet age group. Finishing 2nd behind local farmer Gavin Tarr. Zonele Nzuza came in soon after us. Tom Ngcobo had the paddle of the day, charging down the river, leading the B batch across the finish line (his time was 1min 50sec faster than Lucas and I). Loveday Zondi’s little brother, Mzamo cracked the top 50. The notorious Black Murray rapid as usual lay claim to weary unsuspecting paddlers, turning their day upside down.
Day2 – 39km
A most welcome thunder/lightning storm bombarded the Drak Gardens catchment overnight. Paddlers were greeted with a half meter increase in river level. What an inviting sight, considering today is 13km longer than yesterday.
Paddlers within 20min of the leaders left in elapsed time. Hank’s race came to an abrupt end when his canoe folded on Taylor’s weir. Taking no prisoners, Grant put the hammer down and started grinding in the classy Stott and Jenkins duo (at one point he was only 30sec behind). He posted the fastest time of the day by 1min 41sec to Ant. Ant and Len paddled 36km together until Ant outfoxed Len at the ‘Heaven & Hell’ Rapid. He crossed the finish line 41sec ahead, to claim his 6th Drak title. Eastern Cape, Cradock local Greg Louw out sprinted Jacque Theron to get a brilliant 4th position. Hard to believe Piers Cruickshanks won the K2 Non Stop Dusi 2 weeks ago, when he came in 6th.
Michelle Erray got her first win on her first attempt at the Drak. The Umzimkulu Nyami Nyami got the better of Robyn and Carol when they had multiple swims.
With all the smaller streams adding their bit, we caught a substantial amount of water enroute. The Gorge was less technical than usual, gnarly rocks blanketed with huge roller coaster rapids. Glen Haven savaged countless boats that took on the regular right line. Those who braved the unconventional left option, sailed through unscathed.
Lucas dropped off the pace early on, fatigued from his tremendous effort in his first Non Stop K1 Dusi. Mark Mulder and I cunningly caught and passed eight paddlers in front of us, using all the tricks in the book – from holding impossible conversations, hogging the fast lines down rapids, to juggling positions in the bunch to suit our needs. All this a desperate attempt for me catch my top ‘Change a life’ paddler, Tom Ngcobo, negotiating the swollen river like it flowed through his backyard. I sneaked past with barely 2km to go, and in so doing remain top dog in my ‘Change a life’ posse. Zonele, Mkhonzeni, Nhlanhla, Kwanda, Skhumbuzo and Richard made it into the top 100. Thomas Ngidi paddled with Tracey Diesel to claim 2nd in the mixed.
The boys embraced the challenge of the testing river conditions, loved the weekend outing. Tomorrow, it’s back to the drawing board to discuss the plan of action for the 6 months going forward. Having had a taste for mtb biking last week when I gave them two bikes to play with, they are excited to the Nth degree.
17th - Tom Ngcobo
27th – Lucas Mthalane
30th – Zonele Nzuza
53rd – Mzamo Zondi
59th – Mkhonzeni Gumede
75th – Nhlanhla Cele
82nd – Kwanda Mhlophe
92nd – Skhumbuzo Ngidi
99th – Richard Cele
The boys in the valley have been taking it easy, really savouring the month break after their 4 month intensive Dusi program. However the good rains of late have been too much of a temptation to resist, so we hopped on the Dusi two days ago.
I thought it would be a good thing for the boys to get rid of their ‘river wobbles (which Nagle dam just can’t emulate) before the upcoming Drak Challenge. We paddled from Finger Neck to Marrianney-Foley, on the 50 Miler course. Paddling around Cabbage Tree, past the First Saddles takeout, thus doing the tricky Bells and Pearl Harbour (last rapid before takeout – safely shot river right) rapids.
With the Dusi a bygone, it was lekker paddling with no pressure, not having to show the guys ‘this ‘n that’. Plus, they are four months the river wiser. Having said that, Richard managed to wrap his boat on the most insignificant grassy mound at the 2nd Saddles put in.
We still had 45min to go, so it was best he wait there till we returned with vehicle and trailer on our way back to Nagle. To limit his limp craft from taking a further battering – making it impossible to repair for Drak.
Lucas broke his cable, which he managed to fix with wire, ‘MacGyver’ style.
Members of the public were shocked to hear that my guys would paddle Confluence in Dusi. “But they are such good runners”, they would say.
My reply, “It’s the only portage on the Dusi that goes around the ‘outside’ of the bend in the river. Every other Dusi portage goes on the ‘inside’, cutting the corner. You have to run it extremely hard to beat a paddler and then you pay the price of that effort on Ngumeni. If you want to be competitive, it’s best to include the paddling the Confluence section in your box of tricks.” With Nagle Dam overflowing, Confluence was a magical level. The boys sailed through like experts. We loaded the trailer, drove back to find Richard. Spirits were high, Muscle Fuel chocolate milkshakes being drunk by all – what a great day on the river.
Come the 1st of march, two of the ‘Change a Life’ guys will take part in the Spur Adventure Challenge (18km MTB/5km trail run), at Groenkloof in Gauteng. I will participate with a black girl as my partner.
Also in March, we will take on the Garmin Wartrail in the Eastern Cape – 60km mnt run, 135km mtb bike, 60 km paddle on the Orange River.
Skumbuzo has started his swimming training for the Xterra offroad triathlon (1.6km swim, 25km mnt bike, 11km trail run) at Albert Falls at the end of March.
The only rule is: there are no rules (except getting past Finger Neck before 9:30am and Inanda Dam Wall by 3pm, these time cut-offs are only there to make sure paddlers get to the finish at Blue Lagoon before dark).
It is an amazing race to second as there are no seconding restrictions to where you can drive and the valley roads are free-for-all. Seconds too sign an indemnity that their paddler’s safety and wellbeing is their responsibility because there is no official safety from the organizers, eg. divers at Tops or Thombi, or watering stations.
The boys had a good sleep in the NCC club house and Parklanes Spar samp/beans/mince dinner packs and putu breakfast was a real treat.
The start gun fired at first light (5:30’ish). The top crews opted for the shortest route to get from the start to the bottom of Commercial Rd weir by portaging through Alexander Park. This disrespect (not resting) for the legs could have dire consequences later in the race. Piers & Bungi took out first, closely followed by the two ‘Change a life’ crews – Thomas Ngidi & Eric Zondi and school boys Zonele Nzuza & Nhlanhla Cele. In the singles, Lucas Mthalane tailed Mark Mulder as they hurtled down Earnie Pearce Weir.
So I took a different approach, “Do you realize that you could win R10 000 if you come first, that’s more than you earn the whole year. Don’t you the think the pain and suffering you might endure on that one day is worth it”. The next day Lucas phoned me – “I want to do it”.
The three doubles did the shorter Pine Tree portage instead of Campbells. Thomas and Eric stayed within 30sec of Piers and Bungi all the way through Day 1 of the regular Dusi. It was here that Thomas’s mother miraculously appeared on the Yellow Rock portage and handed me five frozen 2l water bottles for seconding her boy. Iced water on your head is the best thing when you’re pushing hard. She had a huge group of supporters that ‘olulated’ wildly as they ran past.
This being Zonele & Nhlanhla’s first attempt at Non Stop, they wisely dropped off the pace to settle into their own rhythem. Still two days to go.
Thomas & Eric made a meal of Bell Rapid and had to stop to straighten their rudder. So at the takeout to the Marianney Foley portage, they were now 2min 30sec behind. However at the put-in, they reeled in 1min 30 sec on the lead crew. Running too fast down the tar road saw them struggle on the next portage – Ngumeni. Come Umfula Store (Silver Pipe) they were now 4min behind after 4hours of racing. Inanda Dam bridge – 6min behind. Inanda Dam wall (3rd day)– 8min 40sec behind. It was on this portage that Bungi was in trouble. Hobbling behind Piers, who had to take the double canoe on his own.
The chasing ‘change a life’ combo caught 2min 50sec going up Burma, now suddenly 5min 50sec behind. Absorbing this positive information, you could see the renewed determination in their faces and a spring in their step, they sniffed blood from the wounded crew ahead.
We sped off to outer Ring Road, a 40min paddle downstream, to wait patiently in the shade of the N2 bridge. A tired Piers & Bungi stopped briefly to get water from their seconds. Hot on their heels, only 3min 30 sec off the pace, Thomas & Eric paddled past. Nearing the finish line, when they could see it was impossible to close the gap, that real fatigue which had been cast aside from the excitement of the chase, now gripped their bodies.
Watching them paddle across the finish line, arms raised in victory of having conquered Non Stop, was special.
Zonelele & Nhlanhla claimed the third position on the podium. A journey well raced.
Lucas passed Mark Mulder on Campbells bridge and was 3min ahead at the Guinea Fowl put-in. He stretched this lead to 3min 45sec at the Marianney-Foley put-in. Then the inexperience of having pushed too hard, too early, dug its claws into his weary limbs. From then on it was survival. Mark passed Lucas after Umfula store and stayed in the lead all the way to Blue Lagoon. Lucas managed to just hang on to second place, barely 1min ahead of third and a couple of minutes ahead of fourth. Absolutely shattered, he was still the happiest man – mission successful, as he had managed to earn in prize money what he earns the entire year – R5000.
STIHL NON STOP DUSI…
The amount of paddlers racing to get their late Non Stop entries in, is indicative of the amount of rain that has fallen in KZN lately – plenty. Nagle and Inanda are spilling over, which has not happened in the previous 10 months.
I have five warriors from the ‘change a life’ academy taking on the Comrades of Canoeing tomorrow morning. ‘Why not more guys’, some people have asked. One forgets how young these boys are, mostly 17 to 18 years old, Maritzburg to Durbs is a mammoth journey to tackle.
Thomas and Eric are paddling K2 (15th & 9th at Dusi). They are my two strongest runners and if all goes well, will hopefully finish in the top 2 overall. With the gameplan we have discussed, they will end up portaging a total of 30km with their canoe by the time they paddle across the finish line at Blue Lagoon. You must see the fire in their eyes.
Zonele and Nhlanhla are the other K2 (14th & 33rd at Dusi). They have the potential to sneak a podium position if they execute the perfect race – no swims or boat damage. Both had to get permission to miss school tomorrow as they are in Grade 12.
Till a week ago he was planning on seconding his mates. The daunting thought of doing the Non Stop was just too much for him until I planted the seed that the pain and suffering he might endure in the race could easily be offset by the lucrative prize money on offer. First prize – a whopping R10 000 (more than he earns the entire year) was just too much of a good thing to let slip without giving it a full go. Believe me, Lucas will dig to the bottom of his reserves and more to get onto that podium.
Five other ‘change a life’ guys will join the three vehicle seconding team. Tonight all the boys will sleep at the Drift in the Gym in the NCC clubhouse. Hopefully the noisy Thursday Dice fish & chips paddlers will not stay too late. Parklane Spar (Cameron McKenzie) have generously made ‘real’ food for the guys for dinner – Samp & beans, curried mince and putu, which I must go pick up just now.
Todays shoot for the E. TV evening News and the SABC news.