Archive for February 2010
In the sweltering heat of the Valley of a Thousand Hills (over 40 degrees from 8am on), my 6 ‘Change a life’ boys raced like true valley warriors. With the help of the rest of the ‘Change a life’ squad who were assigned to seconding the different crews- filling water bottles with USN rocket fuel, pouring iced water over the well overheated ‘engines’, feeding and shouting endless encouragement, each ‘Change a life’ boat crossed the finish line, having redefined their physical limitations and superceding all my expectations, all in podium positions. I pinch myself in disbelief, surely this must be a dream. The only dream there was, is that of Thomas & Eric to win this race, which is no longer a dream but now reality.
WINNERS and 1st doubles crew, Thomas Ngidi and Eric Zondi, had a flawless race, spending the majority of the day building a good lead on the next crews- from 1min40 at Campbells Portage, 4min at Guinea Fowl, 7min at Mission Rapid, to having 14mins to play with going across Inanda Dam and over Burma. But it was on that mountain where they had to dig to those inner reserves. Eric cramped on the summit. He looked down at his legs, irritated they were misbehaving. To punish them, he simply pushed through it, the R30 000 first prize was too good a thing to let slip.
Behind them was non-stop tussling between Michael Mbanjwa/Piers Cruikshanks (cracked their nose of their canoe on day 1), Craig Turton/Kelvin Trautman and Greg/Craig Carter-Browns. The action didn’t stop here, as my other ‘Change a life’ crew of Kwanda Mhlophe and Richard Cele (5th place) set these three boats in their range-of-fire, putting in ahead of all three halfway in the race, after the grueling Ngumeni portage.
With a 2.30min gap at Inanda Dam bridge and with Burma portage looming, a 2nd place finish for Kwanda/Richard looked quite possible. However, the two chasing boats of Craig/Kelvin and Piers/Michael working together across the long flat stretch of Inanda Dam would disadvantage the ‘Change a life’ crew, who did manage to hold them off but with only a few seconds to spare going into the Third Day, at the Dam Wall portage. A brave but smooth move by Craig/Kelvin, shooting the high risk Tops Needle rapid, saw them move into 2nd place as Kwanda/Richard took the conservative option of putting in halfway down this Rapid. The generous release of water from Inanda Dam (40 cumecs), made for exciting white-water paddling. Kwanda/Richard, ran over Burma Hill, and incredibly held onto their 3rd position, holding off last years winners Michael Mbanjwa and Piers Cruikshanks.
For Thomas and Eric, it was the BEST feeling they have ever experienced, to be the first black paddlers to ever win a major race. Paddling down that home straight, the huge grins on their faces told it all. “Its crazy, I feel less tired now than I did at the start of the race” said an overjoyed Ngidi afterwards. Their winning time of 8h17, gave them a 9min cushion over Craig/Kelvin (8h26).
Kwanda/Richard, the surprise of the day, cruised into 3rd place in 8h38- both being novices to Non-Stop Dusi, raced their dream race to date. (Apparently Richard seemed surprised to be asked on every portage if he was feeling ok… as if “why should I be feeling otherwise?” and that would be followed by a huge grin).
Apart from the doubles action unfolding from the start, the top singles were playing cat-and mouse just behind. Last years winner and 2nd place, Mark Mulder and Lucas Nthalane were seemigly ready to challenge each other again, with the addition of ex-Valley boy, Loveday Zondi now working in Jhb.
Mark seemed to take early retirement into 3rd place as Lucas tagged Loveday all the way to Ngumeni portage. Here Loveday turned up the gas slightly to open a small gap on Lucas, who couldn’t respond so quickly. This gap widened when Lucas struggled going over Burma, whilst Loveday opted to paddle around. However with an hour to go, Loveday “hit the wall” and Lucas started to gain on his Valley compatriot at an alarming rate. If it wasn’t for Lucas’s swim at the notorious Pump House rapid (where Ant Stott and Michael Mbanjwa swam, losing the lead in the 2010 Dusi) their result could have been reversed. Loveday’s winning time of 8h58 was just over 3min ahead of Lucas in 9h01. Another surprise finish for team ‘Change a life’, was our ‘silent assassin’, the unranked Nhlanhla Cele, who came home in 3rd place, 9h05. Having not been ‘part of the mix’ for much of the day, Nhlanhla raced conservatively but steady… and in Non Stop - ’steady wins the game’.
Apart from my racing snakes outstanding performances, the other ‘Change a life’ Academy athletes were inc redible. For over 8hrs the seconds endured the scorching sun, rutted roads and dust through the valley from Pietermaritzburg to Durban. Always laughing and encouraging and making sure their racing mates were getting what they wanted and needed on the portages. I was humbled at yellow rock portage as Thomas’s Mom arrived with eight 2L bottles of frozen water (she got four families to freeze two 2L bottles).
In this heat, iced water was gold, this was an invaluable contribution considering our water supply was dimishing at an alarming rate. later it was necessary to hide two of these now half frozen 2L bottles on the Dam Wall portage (Day 3) for Lucas’s support crew to pick-up. To have local and family support throughout the valley and to have numerous family members at the finish line, this is really what it is all about. A victory can feel empty when it is achieved alone.
Having experienced the true elation of crossing that Non Stop finish line first, I can relate to the immense effort, extreme focus/concentration it took to steer that double canoe through all 3 days without a single hiccup. The billboards read in Maritzburg today “ZONDI/NGIDI MAKE HISTORY”. Thomas, Eric I salute you.
A huge thank you to my four efficient seconding teams. Iain, Peter, Jeannie - your help was invaluable. And to Cameron MacKenzie and Fritz Kamhoot for generously lending the use of their vehicles. And last but not least, to the ‘Change a Life’ boys, siyabonga kakhulu.
So where to from now? …a short recovery break for these Non-Stop Dusi warriors while a few others ‘Change a life’ athletes fine-tune for Drak Challenge (27th/28th Feb), then a new and challenging multisport year begins.
Big Question – can they pull off a win….
With Dusi chaos settling, I was spared a weekend to myself and could put a little focus on training for the ABSA Cape Epic MTB race (starting the 20th March). I met up with a group of 40 cycling fanatics in Sabie for a weekend of quality long training rides, led by legendary cyclist Andrew Maclean. I am still feeling like a ‘green cyclist’ with my non-shaved legs and baggy riding shorts… a good combination though for looking normal at Coffee shop pit-stops and for super comfortable riding!
With the past few days soaring heat, it’s hard to remember the last month of continuous drizzly and misty conditions, but what I can remember are the rains we had just before this heat wave. The rains soaked the earth and filled the rivers to incredible levels, peaking at 260cumecs over Guaging Weir the one night. With such awesome tripping opportunity, I took a few of my boys from Saddles to Mfula Store doing the Non-Stop route so missing out the whole of Confluence, (I think they were shaking at the knees).
…and the partnership saga for Non-Stop Dusi continues, as some of the top contenders seem indecisive as to whether or not they are racing. Whats certain is that defending champions Michael Mbanjwa and Piers Cruikshanks will be going for a win.
With no days to go before the early 5:30am start tomorrow, I have been busy sourcing seconds for my ‘Change a life’ crews – Eric/Thomas (3rd Dusi), Kwanda/Richard and Lucas (who will be braving it in a single again and determined to reclaim a podium position), and also Nhlanhla in a single canoe. Lucky for only having four boats to worry about this time around, compared to the 9 for Dusi, although the seconding is a much more involved experience because there are no restrictions as to where the seconds can go.
INCREDIBLE FACT: if Burma is part of your portaging itinerary, you end up running a total of 30km with your canoe on the day.