People are magpies, indiscriminately hoarding items that may be of use. And when they pack for races, they tend to do the same, throwing in this and that ‘just in case’.
I asked a number of adventure racers to reveal the unusual items lurking in their backpacks and crates, whether they’re practical or sentimental kit choices.
To eat or to share
Tasty treats offer comfort to both the provider and the recipient, who may be the same person. Team Cyanosis’ workhorse, Clinton Mackintosh, has a thing for Sally Williams Nougat. “I pack at least four,” he says. “I normally use them for rewards. I set a goal and when we reach it I have a nougat.”
George, an experienced racer from Pietermaritzburg, presents a number of events. His treats vary and if you’re in a bad way he’ll probably share with you. “My special comfort snacks are for myself or for anyone deserving – someone with a real need,” he explains.
For others, treats are not just gastronomic delights – they’re a way to communicate with their teammates. Navigator Clinton Hardenberg is the brains behind Pretoria’s weekly Dark ‘n Dirty mountain bike rides. He uses his sweets to slow down the pace so that he has time to think. “I always carry a packet of jelly babies – they’re especially important for those really dark nights or conditions of thick mist. When I stop the team and say, ‘Let’s sit down and eat some jelly babies’ the team knows that I am actually saying that we are really lost and that I need time to find us on the map again.”
And after days of bars, gels, treats and sandwiches, reward your ivories. “I’ve got one of those small airline toothbrush and toothpaste kits in my pack,” says Garry Morrison, Adventure Racing Club’s orienteering captain. “A session of dental hygiene mid-way through a race always leaves me feeling great.”
‘Maybe I’ll use it sometime’ stuff
For George, water purification tablets and anti-inflammatory pills are a security blanket. They live in his first aid kit and although they’re rarely used, he likes to know they’re there. Cable ties and duct tape are common ‘accessories’ that find their way into backpacks. Hardenberg keeps duct tape wound around his hiking pole for emergency use. These situations could include ITB strapping, blister patching and the repair of a mountain bike tyre sidewall. “And,” he jokes, “it even deals with team members who are subject to verbal and other forms of diarrhoea.”
For years, the backpack of Team Cyanosis’ captain – and arguably the country’s top navigator – Nicholas Mulder, has been home to a child’s inflatable swimming ring (for floating his bike across water), Swiss Army knife, superglue and elastic bands. “It’s all weird stuff, but maybe I’ll use these things one day,” he laughs.
Pack a spare
A compass is a navigator’s steering wheel. G4 Challenge campaginer Richard Kolbe always brings a spare, which he gives to another team member to carry. “I’ve lost three compasses in adventure racing; once while crossing a river and twice when hiking in thorny bush areas where the compass string got caught on branches. Fortunately, in all cases, we had a spare.”
“A Leatherman-type plier tool is really useful,” says Hardenberg. “In one race I used it to tighten map board bolts, to loosen a trekking pole that wouldn’t extend and to cut a piece of wire from a fence to fix a rear derailleur flywheel that had come apart.”
Lauren Goulding, the captain of Team Dewpoint, an all-girls team, is never seen without a Buff. “If the weather is hot I soak my Buff in rivers to cool down and in the cold they’re excellent for warmth and to protect your face from the wind.”
The use of a towrope, for foot and bike stages, helps to up a team’s overall speed. “Sometimes I get to tow; other times it’s my turn to be assisted,” says Team Cyanosis member and ropes specialist Ryno Griesel. “This is the awesome nature of this sport; it is about being the fastest possible team and being open enough to accept assistance when you go through a bad patch so that you can be carried through to recovery.”
Non-elastic strapping tape, like duct tape, finds an obvious home on twisted ankles and foot blisters. Its application also extends to preventing chafing. Kolbe has used it under his arms, on his shoulders where the backpack straps rub and other prevalent chafe zones. “It works amazingly well; just a bit difficult getting off,” he says laughing.
Other practical essentials include toilet paper, gaiters, an extra pair of socks in a waterproof bag, a needle to drain blisters, light wind shell, sunblock and an anti-chafe formula (which can be used on the obvious places, as well as your feet, to prevent blisters).
Is less more?
There’s a fine line between packing too many things you’ll never use and being MacGyver, prepared for all eventualities. But before your pack gets bogged down with excessive stuff and weight, weigh up your trinkets with careful consideration, especially if you have a good number that have never been used. Let go. That said, what is most important is that you are reassured (physically and mentally) that what you’re carrying will contribute to your comfort and safety.
by Lisa de Speville
Adventure racing author, athlete and ar.co.za founder
Published in Go Multi issue 13.4 (November/December 2009)