Thursday 29 October 2015

Navigation fun on mountain bikes

Two Sundays ago we had the 5th mountain bike orienteering (MTBO) event of the season. There's one more to go - on Sunday, 22 November at Groenkloof Nature Reserve in Pretoria.

In a nutshell, this is what MTBO is all about...

You start individually in a staggered start - an interval of one or two minutes between participants.

 There are three courses: short (8km), medium (15km) and long (20-22km).

At the start you get a map on which the checkpoint locations are marked.

Also all the tracks and paths are marked and the thickness of the lines indicate how big or distinct the track is. Vegetation indicated (green, beige, dotted) is useful, but reading just the black paths will get your around the course. This is not rocket science! (children can do it).

And then you start and ride from checkpoint to checkpoint (in number order) until you get to the end.

There will be junctions where you have route choices but for the rest you can do what you want. It's like treasure hunting on your mountain bike - excellent fun.

And then it is good entertainment to shoot the breeze with other bikers afterwards to compare routes.

Attendance at MTB O is low - sadly. It's helluva fun and gives a great twist to mountain biking. It's like mountain biking with an objective - to gobble up checkpoints as you race around the course. Of course, you don't have to race... you can ride as you wish and enjoy your time out there and the scenery.

I hope to see you at Groenkloof on Sun, 22 November 2015.

Wednesday 14 October 2015

7th fabulous FEAT

The 7th annual FEAT event came and went last week Thursday and it always takes me a few days to digest the wonderfulness of the event resulting from the sharing of stories by a wonderful group of adventurous people.

I wrote about FEAT Kids the other day - the first one here. FEAT Kids has been immensely successful in Canada - but less so here. Not for the quality of the talks nor adventures, but for attendance. Nonetheless, I do hope that this will improve next year. Every one of the 'kids' would have been just as divine on the FEAT stage. I'm hoping that FEAT Kids will grow in stature to parallel FEAT.

FEAT was great - a smooth event with great talks. I really hoped to fill the Linder Auditorium - we were 100-odd short last year. We were a bit less this year so perhaps next year will be the one where we line the rafters too.

As for the talks and the speakers...

I am indeed charmed to have the fortune and pleasure to interact with a superb group of people. Throughout the year I communicate with a bunch of adventurers around their expeditions and it can be challenge whittling them down to select only 10 for the FEAT stage. I look not just at extremeness of adventure, but for variety in type of adventure, accessibility and sporting discipline. I could easily put another 10 wonderful people on the stage every year.

Let's see who stood on stage...

Beautiful Linder Auditorium. The venue seats just over 1,000!
Everyone - Colin, Bianca, Pete, Andrew, Tim, Duncan, Hazel, Bernie, me, Keegan, Jean and Nic.
Andrew Porter has spent a lot of time on his own - and with friends - in wild places, like the top of the Drakensberg. 
Bernie Theron trekked across Iceland, on his own, over 27 days.
Father-and-daughter pair Colin and Bianca Cooper go on back-to-basics, low cost cycling adventures all over SA on their steel frame, back-pedal, single-speed, indestructible Qhubeka bikes.
duncan Paul was a late bloomer, coming to adventure only 15 years ago. And has he caught up! He has done a variety of adventures but spoke to us about the Yukon 1000, an unsupported race down the Yukon river.
Hazel Moller puts Forrest to shame. She is an incredible ultra long-distance runner. She spoke to us at FEAT about running 10 x Comrades distances (from JHB to Durban) over 10 days (the 10th being Comrades)
Jean Craven has done the six inter-continental swims and it all started when he was on honeymoon 15 years ago. He stood on the Rock of Gibraltar, looked across at Morrocco and thought something like, "It can't be so hard to swim that".
Keegan Longueira started off his adventures by using his December varsity holiday to cycle from Witbank to Cape Town. After three of these he went BIG by cycling from Cairo to Cape Town - and in World Record time.
FEAT Canada brings back past speakers to MC the event and so I adopted their approach this year by inviting Peter van Kets to join me on stage. We had good fun together up there.
Nic Good is an adventure film-maker extrordinaire. He shared a bunch of elements from his 20 years of travels and film making.
Peter van Kets not only had his arm twisted to be our MC, he also was enticed into speaking about his recent expedition to Svalbard.
Tim Biggs totally charmed the audience with his stories of kayaking expeditions on the three main tributaries of the Amazon. First to last expedition took place over a period of 23 years. Inbetween these - and still going strong - Tim has done dozens of other kayaking expeditions.
We go into edit the beginning of next week. Videos of these talks will go up on the FEAT website and also FEAT South Africa Facebook page for you to enjoy too.

Friday 9 October 2015

First FEAT Kids yesterday

FEAT Day has come and gone and what adventures we had yesterday.

FEAT Kids was the first event of the day with a focus on younger speakers and a younger audience. Although public uptake and response from schools was dismal, through various channels we invited a bunch of teens who thoroughly enjoyed the talks and were quite blown away, especially as this was their first exposure to anything of this nature.

My friend, a past speaker and dad of one of our FEAT Kids posted this on Facebook this morning:

(L-R): Robyn Zimmerman, Keegan Longueira, Paige Raw, JeanJacques Wallis, Kai Fitchen, Sam Stainton, Bernie Theron and me. Photo by Darron Raw.
Dangerous company! I am not sure whether I should be a proud dad or worried about the influences of Paige standing between such a vagabond bunch of adventurers: Peter Van Kets a professional adventurer of oceanic proportions; Robyn Zimmerman, a Springbok Scout who challenges stereotypes; Keegan Longueira Guinness WR holder of the fastest cycle trip across Africa, Jean-Jacques Wallis, arguably one of the best parachute, wingsuit, base jump and speed flyers in the world; Kai Fitchen, youthful mountaineer and environmental conservationist; Sam Stainton, top-top sport climber and Bernie Theron, who hiked across Iceland self-supported... and personifies the spirit of adventure itself - don't plan too much - just do it! And of course Lisa De Speville - the queen of adventure in SA. #FEATSA

Darron's daughter, Paige, is the youngest speaker to grace the FEAT stage at only 13. And she charmed everyone with her well-presented talk. Her video is going to be a must-see.

I couldn't sum up FEAT Kids any better. My reply to Darron...
Darron Raw, father of FEAT Kids speaker Paige Raw, understandably concerned... But, considering that Darron is also a past FEAT speaker (October 2010) and is far more a vagabond adventurer than most, I think he can sleep easy about his daughter being in our company xxx
These FEAT Kids are hardly 'kids'. They're responsible and adventurous teens and young adults and everyone of them would be absolutely divine on the FEAT stage too. Having two events allows me to weight the FEAT Kids with youth and leave the more mature folk to FEAT - with a bit of youth for balance.

Bernie Theron

JeanJacques Wallis

Kai Fitchen

Keegan Longueira

Robyn Zimmerman

Samantha Stainton

Paige Raw

Saturday 3 October 2015

Roadtripping in the Northern Cape (part 2)

We woke from a good sleep at Witsand Nature Reserve and began the morning with the Botanical Walk. At 3.2km, it was a lovely meander through interesting vegetation and we especially appreciated the signs on the trees telling us what they were.

The trail. Lots of paw and hoof prints.
Thank goodness for the tree signs.
Some grasses were labelled too. That's the 'wit' sand dunes in the background.
After breakfast we headed for a viewpoint and then the dunes.

What a great information board

The wind was howling! Sand in everything!
Going up was difficult...

Coming down... lots more fun
And then we were off from Witsand and headed for Postmasburg... but via a road we spotted on the road atlas.

This pass over the Langberg was fabulous. We didn't take any photos (should have). Tight, narrow and steep. Not the place to tow a trailer nor caravan.

This is what it looks like on Google Earth.

We weren't much past the bottom of the pass when I shouted, "STOP!". Celliers reversed and there on our left was a large bird. Like a seriously large bird. Not an ostrich, not a secretary bird, not a blue crane. A big, big bird.

We spent a few minutes watching it through binos until it got out of range. Celliers tried to get a photo but the bird was too far away. This is what he did get.

When it comes to birds I'm mostly dismal. When we got in range I did a Google search for 'large birds South Africa' and turned to the images. And there I found him. A kori bustard! A lucky sighting. Largest flying bird native to Africa and males are the heaviest bird capable of flight.

We headed through to Postmasburg, which is quite a happening town because of all the iron ore mines in the area. Bustling with activity and far bigger than expected.

We then took the R358 (becomes the R31) and then the R370 past Spitzkopdam to Jan Kempdorp, where we spent the night. If you're ever in the area, I can really recommend the place we stayed - Eden Guest House. Beautiful garden, luxurious rooms, excellent rates, warm and friendly and a delicious breakfast. The rooms look like the photos on their website. Exactly! The town is off the N18 (from Vryburg) and about 20km from Christiana, which is off the N12. It is well worth detouring here for the night if you're travelling Kimberley way.

The next morning we made for the N12 and a highway route home.

What a super two days of roadtripping we enjoyed.

Until next time, Northern Cape.

Roadtripping in the Northern Cape (part 1)

Two weeks ago I had the repeat pleasure of travelling to the Northern Cape to write for the Green Kalahari Canoe Marathon again (they have an active Facebook page with content from other events too). The race is organised by Gawie Nieuwoudt and this was my second time at the event. This year the race was over two days (Fri and Sat) and so we took a drive to Upington on the Thursday to get there in time.

Sneak peek at the Orange River on arrival in Keimos.
Ah... I do love the Northern Cape and my two days with the race following the paddlers from Upington to Kakamas were fabulous.

There's nothing quite like the starkness of the surrounding landscape contrasted with the lush green of the vineyards and then this surprising river flowing West.

Even more adventures were to be had after the race.

Gawie suggested to me and Celliers that we take the Blouputs road from Augrabies, through Blouputs to Riemvasmaak.

What a road!

This section of road descended into Blouputs, which is really just a farm, not a town.
The road gave way to this... a view of Blouputs.

We crossed the river - lovely bridge (used to be a pontoon thing) and then began the most incredible section of dirt road I've ever been on. This is a 'dumper truck' land - it looks like giants have been making mounds of rock. Rocks. Lots and lots and lots of rocks.

Just the beginning...
And then it went something like this
And this gem of a tree

And this large stone kraal
Nearing Riemvasmaak we saw some cars that had pulled over and two guys walking to our right, where we could see big stone cliffs. We asked the women what was there and they said the guys were walking to the gorge. We parked too and went walking.

Oh wow! I've run up the dry Molopo River bed during the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon and I've been to the Riemvasmaak hot springs on a few occasions. I'd never been above the gorge.

Looking 'upstream'
Looking downriver.
We did look down on the hot springs but ended up not actually going down to them. Instead we drove through the Riemvasmaak town and made for Kakamas and then Upington.

I have never been upstream of Upington and so I was surprise (but shouldn't really have been) to see dozens of kilometres of vineyards. Not as fancy as those between Upington and Augrabies, but acres of them anyway. I've also never been on the N10 to Groblershoop, which is where we were headed. Most striking were hundreds of communal weaver nests - mostly using telephone poles as their base structure. Sometimes we saw trees with small to massive communities.

From here we headed East on district roads and towards the Witsand Nature Reserve.

We helped two little tortoises across the road.

We got through to Witsand in the early evening with just enough time for a quick walk.

The highlight of our night here was seeing the two genet that came to our sliding glass door a few times. Totally unhurried, they were sniffing around and gave us a wonderful opportunity to get a good look at them. They really are beautiful. And those tails!

Not my picture. But our looked just like this. Common genet. 
And that was Day 1 of roadtripping -  a meandering route home.