NON STOP DUSI – CHANGE A LIFE 1, 2 & 3….

Thomas & Nhlanhla negotiating Mission Rapid

In the valley the boys are survivors. Toughened by a lifestyle that most would find unbearable- no running water, no electricity and the bare minimum comforts. Numerous times I have been surprised at the rate at which they finish their monthly 2kg USN Muscle fuel… but I am not surprised as it is the only sweet treat they can indulge in – aptly called their ‘Wimpy milkshake’ as its so tasty.

Geoff’s Road at Sunrise….

In the week building up to this Non-Stop Dusi, there was no mention of rain on its way and with the generous water releases from the dams for the Dusi 2 weeks ago, the potential of decent water levels was not looking good. Apart from that, the valley was going to be mercilessly hot, and as dusi paddlers know, combined with high humidity, it makes the valley a dangerous place to be exercising come Midday – when this is the time when the front runners will be tackling Burma Hill with a canoe on their shoulder, pushing themselves way beyond the crazy point…. in fear that the opposition might catch up. Such is Non Stop, there is no way you can be the same person after as now “In Life, nothing will seem impossible”

Early Sneak portage….

Thursday preparation: filling 25litre water drums and an uncountable number of 2litre bottles to make up 200 litres of ice cold water and 80 litres of USN racing fuel – HP Cytopower and Epic Pro
Plus all the treats like muffins, bananas, grapes, jelly babies and salted baby potatoes and CrampBlock.

Since before Dusi, there was no doubt that 5 of my ‘Change a life’ Zulu’s would be racing Non-Stop. Eric (4th in Dusi) pairing with Michael Mbanjwa (3rd), Thomas and Nhlanhla and Kwanda and Richard. It was going to be a phenomenal show-down between these 3 crews. A last minute entry of Zonele and Sphamandla was also going to heat things up.

Thomas & Nhlanhla on Pine Tree Portage….

With the sun just waking at 5:30am, the field of 114 boats splashed across the start line. With 30km of running with a boat and 90km of paddling, this race is really for the hard-core athletes only. The cut-offs at certain places en-route are very necessary for all paddlers to be safely off the water by dark so there is pressure to keep moving steadily forward.

Kwanda & Richard – focussed….

There are no frills in this unique race: no water points or repair stations and no divers/marshals at gnarly rapids. Seconds have to sign indemnity for their paddler’s safety, so being a second in this race is a demanding day’s work- (I think it is actually easier to race!)

Lonely river….

Thomas and Nhlanhla, heads down and focused set a fast pace early on, surprising the race favourites, Eric and Michael. These top two crews cat-‘n-moused their way through ‘day 1’ and in a no-name rapid before the gruelling Cabbage Tree portage, Thomas made a careless mistake which allowed Eric’s boat to break away and then they put the hammer down. From here it was each ‘Change a life’ boat to focus on their own race and face the extreme challenges the day had on offer. Kwanda and Richard, both as consistent as ever in third spot, quietly got on with the days adventure, despite battling most of the morning with a malfunctioning rudder. Then halfway they skillfully ducked through a narrow pipe under a road on the approaches to Inanda Dam and closed considerably on Thomas & Nhlanhla who opted to portage. Behind them Zonele was nursing Sphamandla through his first non-stop dusi, having had a fast start, and having to deal with the consequences. As the day progressed, Zonele had to surrender to a slow walking pace on the portages, (even having a recovered Spha to portage the boat on his own at times) because of an excruciating painful knee.

Sphamanhla – tough as nails – new recruit to Change aLife….

By Inanda dam wall, it was a 12minute gap separating first and second place. .However at the top of Burma, Thomas and Nhlanhla had knocked 4 minutes into the leaders and another 30 seconds by Pump house weir.

Full speed down – leaving a trail of fibre glass on the tar….

The last hour became a real grovel with the extremely low water levels as the crews passed the released water and having to clamber in and out their boats about 10 times having to negotiate a dry river bed, scrambling over rocks on weary legs. It was a huge relief  for Eric and Michael to break the finish tape in 8h52min (over an hour slower than the existing record – which just shows how testing the conditions were). An exhausted Thomas and Nhlanhla were as relieved and happy to claim 2nd place, as were Kwanda and Richard in 3rd. Zonele and Spha pushed through their pain barriers, redefining their discomfort limits, crossing the line, broken but happy.

Eric & Bungi winning….the best feeling

Nhlanhla & Thomas all smiles….

Kwanda & Rich – Thumbs up…. a well deserved third place

Zonele, Jeans (their chief second) & Spha,  thankful to be at the finish….

By 6:15pm my Valley boys (or Mighty Warriors), were showered and feasting on chicken and bread, relieved to have their feet up. By this time only 40 of 114 boats had completed this monstrous race. No matter where you finish in the Non-Stop Dusi, you are a Mighty Warrior even more so those that spend over 15 hours negotiating the Valley of a Thousand Hills with a boat. Having raced this journey 8 times, I can honestly say, this Non Stop was the toughest to date.

I salute you all….

Unlimited Non Stop Podium – ‘Change a Life’ 

Thank you to Paddy for using his own vehicle and seconding Kwanda & Richard the entire way. The same goes to Jeans seconding Zonele & Spha from start to finish.

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