Podium position for South Africa at Expedition Africa

Expedition Africa 2017, trekking, adventure racing, Baviaanskloof

Team Nevarest Jabberwock celebrate after completing their 570km journey. Photo: Andreas Strandh

It was the sixth day of navigating through the Baviaans and Kouga region for some adventurers, and Expedition Africa drew to a close as the final team, South Africa’s Fluid Kayak, made their way across the finish line.

While Sweden’s Skylotec are still celebrating their win (82h 11m), and Thunderbolt AR are relishing their hard-earned second place (84h 38m), the journey of South Africa’s Team Nevarest Jabberwock will not soon be forgotten.

After being identified as the South African favourites ahead of the event, high hopes were set on the possibility of the team taking the win. When things didn’t go according to plan, however, the true grit and perseverance that they displayed to claim third overall (85h 25m) has left a deep impression on those passionate about adventure racing.

Discover more about how the expected 514km journey turned into 570km, and the thoughts of team navigator Cobus van Zyl  about the experience.

Expedition Africa 2017, zip lining, adventure racing, Baviaanskloof

Zip line that took teams into transition 8 for the kayak leg of the race. Photo: Bruce Viaene

Defining moment

Things looked good for Nevarest Jabberwock when they set off on Sunday, 14 May, and they paced themselves comfortably as one of the top five leading teams.

Disaster struck on day two, however, when the team missed checkpoint 12 (CP12) on the 89km bike leg.  To make matters worse, CP13 was not in position (rumoured to have been carried away with cows). So the detrimental error was only realised upon reaching CP 14. The turn of events added an extra 60km onto their journey!

As a sign of the true comradery that comes with this sport, Skylotec showed no hesitation is helping Nevarest out. They let them take a photo of their map and sent them on their way as they headed back towards CP12.

The situation looked pretty dismal, and the hope of even breaking the top ten looked slim.

Soldiering on

Like true adventurers, they were quick to pull themselves back to the path of perseverance, and steadily began moving up the ranks again. With all CPs in hand the team arrived much later at Boplaas Transition (T5) than predicted, and had to alter their strategy and forfeit some much-needed sleep.

With less energy and less rest than they’d hoped for, they set off at 3am the next day, covering a strenuous 54km hike through the rugged terrain of the Baviaanskloof.

They managed to cross the canyon (known as the ‘dark zone’) with ease, dodging the buffalo that had chased some of the leading teams!

In a phenomenal comeback, Nevarest Jabberwock paced a 97km bike stage (or hike bike stage) through the night to rise back up to fifth place.

Expedition Africa 2017, trekking, adventure racing, Baviaanskloof

The 59km canyon that took teams through an untouched part of African soil. Race organiser Stephan Muller predicted that the Baviaanskloof region would certainly be a highlight for athletes racing Expedition Africa 2017. Photo: Bruce Viaene

From a setback to a comeback

As the sun rose for a fresh start on day three, the team were in good spirits after finally getting a good few zzz’s. They zip lined to transition 8 and started the kayak stage, overtaking Team Nantes from France and slipping into fourth place.

Their next target was Team East Wind. After a 123km cycle and a quick change into running shoes for the final 48km stretch, they managed to pass East Wind and eventually gain a 10 minute gap!

When East Wind got terribly lost in the dunes, there was no stopping Nevarest Jabberwock who became the first South African team to cross the finish line.

Nevarest Jabberwock, Expedition Africa 2017, Cobus van Zyl, navigator, adventure racing, Baviaanskloof

Navigator Cobus van Zyl before the start of the event. Photo: Bruve Viaene

Five minutes with Cobus van Zyl

What was your initial reaction after missing checkpoint 12?

This is the first time in my 17 year AR career that I managed to make a mistake like this.

Usually I count the CPs to make sure they’re all there and that the route is in numerical order. This time though, somehow I didn’t.

After the initial disbelief, you pull all the files in your brain on how to best resolve the scenario. There were a lot of options to choose from but only one that followed the high road – go back and get that CP.

How did the team deal with such a blow?

Nobody actually ever said much about it, we just put our heads down and did it.

I guess what softened the blow for me was that I didn’t bother to look at how far we had to go back. Only upon reaching CP12 I realised that this has added another 60km to our race.

What also helped a lot mentally was the dark zone. We knew we would still make the 4am start from CP17 with all the other top teams, but we would have 60km more in our legs and 5 hours less sleep!

At that stage we saw three very strong teams that were all there for the win, who now had a big advantage over us. I watched our first place chances disappear very rapidly, but drew on years of AR experience: Adventure racing is not over until it’s over.

Take us through the excitement of moving back up the ranks?

We started the fight with Nantes and East Wind from early on, and knew we could still podium. On the last bike leg when we past East Wind I was starting to feel very optimistic!

At the last transition we caught Thunderbolt in transition and suddenly even second place looked possible! The Ozzies managed to fight us off until the end, however, even though we could see them in the dune fields at the last couple of CPs.

Is there a possibility that we’ll see Nevarest Jabberwock at the World Championship later this year?

World Champs for us depended on winning EA, because we do not have that kind of money lying around. We’ll regroup next week, but I guess it’s safe to say unless some millionaire sponsors us for WC, we’ll skip that. We are looking at racing in India Ladakh later this year.

Expedition Africa 2017 results

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