Monday, 28 May 2007

Playing in the rain in Cape Town

On the weekend of the 19 May I headed down to Cape Town. Although my primary objective was to teach a navigation course on the Saturday, my trip was well timed (thank you Michael) to allow me to take part in the Salomon Night Run on the Saturday night and Extreme O on Sunday morning.

The nav course, held in the Tokai forests, went well. It was a delight to meet the 19 Capetonians. Being in Joburg, it is easy to lose touch with people in the other Provinces, many of whom I only know from emails. When I landed on Friday night the wind was howling (as it always does) and by Saturday morning the rain had started. It would not let up the whole weekend.

After the nav course, Tim joined me and Michael to drive through to Montagu, the base for the Salomon Night Run and Scott Night Bike events ( Heather would have been with us but she'd come down with flu. Heather and Michael are off to China in a few weeks to run the Sunrise to Sunset 100 so her decision not to run was a wise one.

Rain, rain rain... like I haven't seen for ages. We went through the Hugenot Tunnel and the river running parallel with the road was pumping. You could have probably sent a 6-man raft down the rapids! There were white waterfalls plummeting down the mountains into the river - and these are not normally water courses; they only flow with run-off when it rains. Quite incredible.

Well, the rain only let up when we reached Robertson, which was illuminated by one of the boldest and brightest rainbows I ever seen. Montagu itself was dry, but with rain threatening nearby.

The Salomon Night Run, which Tim and I entered, and the Scott Night Bike follow a rally-style instruction format. You receive a race book with instructions in the form of arrows and distances; this is what guides you around the 12km (or shorter 7km) course. I had done one of these events in Joburg last year, with Heather (entries are pairs). It is wonderfully good run. Tim let me take control of the road book, while he led the way.

We ran on dirt roads and trails, between fruit trees and grape vines; it was a wonderful night and a super run. A new addition to the event, back at the event base at the Montagu Spa, was a real-time tracking system. The pairs were set off at intervals and on the tracking the spectators could watch pairs gaining on the one ahead (or losing time). They had a few teething problems with the system because of cell reception; the laptop at the base, running on a cell internet connection, kept losing signal (the Spa is in a valley walled in by cliffs). This system would be a gem at adventure races (I'm sure it would work online?).
Unfortunately we couldn't stick around to enjoy the bonfire and festive vibe at the finish as we had to drive back to Cape Town to catch a few hours of sleep before leaving for Grabouw and our next event, Extreme O.

When we woke up on Sunday morning it was still raining. Brrrr...

In the pre-event information we'd been told that the Extreme O event would have 4 maps; two of approx. 11km and two of approx 4km. There would be a Trail O, Sprint O, Hill O and Long O. My thinking was that we'd get the maps in a jumbled up order such that I could be doing the Sprint O first, Michael may be on the Trail O first and Tim would be on the Long O first. It turned out that we were given the maps in a specific order.

The first one was the 11km Trail O, which was more of a trail run than an orienteering run because we had to follow a fixed route, punching 4 controls en route. This Lebanon forest is lovely and I settled into the kilometers to enjoy the surroundings and catch up on news from Alvin Ward, an ex-Joburger now living in the Cape. The rain came and went with a number of good dousings.

Next map was the Sprint O, a 4km route with many controls spread throughout the forest. Most of this area has excellent runnable terrain with little of that nasty stuff (ground littered with branches when they trim the trees), which we frequently encounter in the Belfast forests.

Next up was the Hill O, another 4km route. The Hill O was exactly that - we headed straight up the highest hill in the area. On my way up the hill the rain again came down hard, but this time it was icy and I was getting chilled to the bone. When I got back to the transition I decided to retire to the warmth and protection of the car. Michael was there too. Tim stayed out to tackle the last 11km Long O route (he finished 4th overall).

All in all Extreme O is a good concept although not as extreme as when Paul Mitchell was the sadistic organiser. I'd probably like to see more orienteering elements, more controls and shuffled map orders. The event was well organised and the few entrants were committed souls to be out there in the rain. Really nice to meet some of the Cape orienteerers.

All in all a good weekend playing in Cape Town.

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