Round 4 of the Adventure Racing World Series, Expedition Africa, was held two months ago in the Kingdom of Swaziland to great acclaim.
The country’s varied landscape, rich culture and diverse wildlife all contributed to a truly memorable experience! Swaziland has become the ‘Kingdom of Adventure’!
The race, organised by Stephan and Heidi Muller of Kineticgear, attracted 23 teams from all around the globe. It is popular with teams who want to experience African culture, landscape and wildlife on their racing expeditions, and Swaziland delivered on all fronts.
The race venue was at the Lugogo Sun Hotel in the Royal Swazi Spa Valley Resort, where teams were welcomed with traditional drumming and dancing at the opening ceremonies. Once on the 6 day long 450 km course the racers had plenty of opportunity to meet local farmers and villagers as they navigated around challenging and mountainous country. Temperatures were hot in the day and close to freezing at night and many teams had wildlife encounters as they passed through game reserves.
For some this unique experience and the challenge of completing an expedition length course together as a team were enough motivation. One such was the Royal Air Force team from the UK, who arrived as novice adventure racers, not really knowing what to expect, but determined to finish the race. Most teams new to AR start with a one day race, but this team were straight in at the very deep end and didn’t even have an experienced navigator among them. “Yes we’re pilots. But we realised that we pilots need to learn how to navigate!” They said.
Not that this stopped them completing the course in an impressive 15th place, taking 128 hours and 47 minutes to get to the finish line. One other team behind them completed the full distance and the rest had to cut the course short to get to the finish line, but completed as much as they could.
For the elite teams however the racing was as important as the expedition experience and the RAF team finished more than 2 days after the race winners Merrell Adventure Addicts. This team have been the highest ranked South African team in the AR World Series for many years and are past Expedition Africa winners, but for this event they had a new team line up and core team member for many years Donovan Sims was also returning to competition after recovery from Hairy Cell Leukemia, with which he was diagnosed only last year. Joining Sims and team captain Graham ‘Tweet’ Bird were the two new team members, Grant Ross and Robyn Kime, who was in her first expedition length race.
The race began with a trek straight up the bare rock slopes of ‘Sibebe’, the highest granite dome in the world and in the early stages it was the Estonian ACE Adventure Team who took the lead. This first trek was broken by a canyoning stage where teams abseiled and jumped among the rocks in freezing cold water, and experience which left them shivering even in the heat of the day. In these early stages the Estonian team was challenged by Swedish teams, SWECO and Peak Performance.
After passing through game reserves on their bikes and crossing reservoirs in their kayaks the teams then made their way towards the caving stage which took them deep underground and through narrow squeezes which tested their nerve. This was followed by a huge 155km, hilly mountain bike ride and it was on this stage that Merrell Adventure Addicts moved to the front.
They were caught again by the chasing teams at the start of the next paddling stage where teams were held overnight for safety reasons – that is hippos and crocs in the water! This Dark Zone bunched up the race again, but it allowed the leaders a good night’s sleep before the second half of the race and despite a late challenge from the Estonians it was the S. African team who had the stamina, skill and steely determination to claim the win in 72 hours 30 minutes, with Estonian ACE Adventure just 15 minutes behind them and Team Peak Performance of Sweden in 3rd.
The winners receive a free entry to the AR World Championships and team Graham Bird said; “Our team worked brilliantly as a unit. We just continued to focus on racing to the best of our abilities and race our own race. Grant Ross and Robyn Kime have fitted in perfectly and we look forward to building and strengthening our team performance as we prepare for XPD in Australia and AR World Championships in Brazil.”
Teams left the race with the memories of a lifetime from their Swaziland Adventure, a race international photojournalist German Cuevas called, “Almost the perfect adventure race.”
You can find out more about the AR World Series at www.arworldseries.com