Category Archives: Race the Wild Coast (South Africa) 2016

How to Prepare for an Ultra-Endurance Horse Race

One of my favourite things is when a stranger (or sometimes friend) pops me an email or PM on Facebook and says “I am thinking about applying to (or have been accepted to) the Mongol Derby or Race the Wild Coast.  Where do I even begin?”

I love sharing the spirit of adventure with like-minded, or at least equally crazy folks from near and far.  But an open ended question like this…. how do I even begin to tell you what an amazing experience it is, what you are about to get  yourself into, and even worse, what should you do?  I never like to give finite plans because everyone is different in the way they do things, everyone has different goals, everyone will have a different experience, and there is never just one right thing to do.  I can however give you my opinions to consider and help shape your plan to the best ride of your life!

race the wild coast

1. Start talking to people

If you aren’t one of the people who have already dropped a line in my inbox, why not?  I am happy to chat about my experiences as are a lot of other race veterans.  Chances are you have someone within your extended network that has done it.  Suss them out and start talking!  If all else fails, email the race organizers directly and find out more about the races.  They may even be able to point you in the direction of a veteran in your area.  Why do this now?  It will help decide which race to shoot for – which one suits you the best and hopefully land you a mentor for the rest of the process.

2. Just apply, say yes, and sort out the details later

Usually I would never recommend this to anyone.  I am a meticulous planner and this could land you in some deep dog doo, but when it comes to your dreams sometimes you have to take the leap.  Signing up and having the end goal will help you mentally get your shit in order.  It is going to make you accountable for everything you do in the next 6-12 months before the race start because everything will merit a question “does this get me closer to my goal?”  Its a huge undertaking, bigger than most people will ever take on – and that’s before the race even starts.  Being a little afraid of the enormity of this challenge is going to give you some serious perspective but you will get there.

Another benefit to getting one of the first horses... quality scratching time!

3.  Budget Budget Budget

These adventures don’t come cheap, in fact that’s probably the part that scares off 99% of riders considering these adventures and probably accounts for at least half of the conversations I have with starry eyed riders.  At the top end Mongol Derby will set you back about $30,000 CAD, with the more recently introduced races coming in much cheaper, but still in the range of a half decent car.  You need to find a plan to raise this kind of money for your entry fees, flights, equipment, local travel, accommodation and food, day trips, gifts for family and sponsors, training costs.  You need to think of everything ahead of time and get your dollar value.  Here is where having a mentor can help you.  What you need to do yourself is have a plan – whether its build your savings (or back to the KD diet), take out a loan, or trade your future wedding for it (yes, I know riders who negotiated this with their family!).  Unless you are a big name rider already with big name sponsors, expect to foot the bill yourself and maybe you will be lucky enough to get a few product sponsors to help with your gear.

race the wild coast
Photo credit to RocketHorse Racing

 

4.  Get fit – off the horse!

These are grueling races and you are going to need to be in the best shape of your life if you want to be successful.  Start with a personal trainer, I used Heather at Equifitt before the Mongol Derby and highly recommend her.  She gave me a plan and exercises to prepare me, and I have used these lessons ever since.  A few major tips that you might not have thought of?  Build up your shoulders so your backpack won’t kill you after one day of riding.  Stretch… a LOT –  before and after every ride and at the end of each day.  Lastly, hike or trail run… a LOT as well.  Depending on what race you pick and your luck, you may be spending a lot of time running or walking on your own 2 feet.  Be prepared!

Aprilfest sat IMG_9352

5. Get fit – on the horse

Something that makes me cringe is when I hear riders say “I am going to ride all the naughty ponies, the worse the better” when referring to their riding program for Mongol Derby.  Eek!  This is the worst idea ever!  Seriously, if you can’t yet sit a buck or rear or runaway, you have no business applying for these races.  Putting yourself on the worst horses is only going to put you in danger of hurting yourself before the start of the race – having invested that $30,000, do you really want to risk that?  Better idea, start volunteering at and riding in endurance rides.  Get on decent horses and get used to the feeling of riding all day.  Your muscle memory and mental strength will develop – this will be far more beneficial in the long run.  Added bonus, if you compete in endurance, you will have a better understanding of basic endurance rules and the required horsemanship that comes along with managing yourself and a horse over long distances.

Coates Creek 2016-341

 

6. Get your gear in order

Start this early.  Way earlier than you think you need to start it.  Lots of riders have shown up to the start camp having never tested critical components of their kit.  If you can sort this out early, you will have a lot of advantages.  First being peace of mind.  Second, you will never just look in your closet and pick out a perfect kit (and if you can… please call me, I want to know your secrets!) so you will have time to get it right.  You are going to go through several backpacks, pants, shoes and who knows what else trying to perfect your kit (but you will always bring stuff you don’t need and need stuff you forgot so relax just a little bit!) Use your mentor to get suggestions, then put everything to the test.  What works for them may not work for you.  Work through equipment issues early then start riding in full kit.  Know exactly which pocket you have put each item in, become a pro at rolling up your bed roll before riding every morning, know how to program and reprogram your bloody GPS.  Use the last few months of your training not testing out new shoes or messing with how to tie your equipment to yourself… but riding every ride as you would when the big day comes.

my ger mates working on their tack
my ger mates working on their tack

 

7. Connect with other riders

In our year of the Mongol Derby, winner Sam Jones made a facebook group well in advance for all of us to connect and plan day trips.  It was the best thing we could have done, because we could share our training stories, meet before the race, and just get really comfortable with everyone.  It took a lot of pressure off and most of us are still great friends (as evidenced in my post Mongol Derby adventures!) who see each other on a regular basis.

Strong like Ghengis (Chinggis)
Strong like Ghengis (Chinggis)

 

8.  Enjoy the ride

Accept early on that there are things you can perfect, and then there are things that you will never ever be prepared for.  The task ahead is daunting but no matter what happens, you are going to cherish the memory.  Allow yourself to be happy and excited, don’t fear the challenge, but embrace it!

 

Headed up the hill to where we would swap, looking back at the herd following us.
Headed up the hill to where we would swap, looking back at the herd following us.

 


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The Upsides of Leading

Didn’t see this one coming after my last post, The Downsides of Leading, did you? 😉

If you are just coming to this blog for the first time, Welcome!  I know I have been doing a bit of a blitz for new followers and I really hope that you enjoy my writing and keep coming back.  To paraphrase, I have recently returned from South Africa where I competed and placed a remarkably close 3rd in the inaugural Race the Wild Coast, an adventure horse race of 350km of beautiful beaches, mountains, river swims, thorny forests, soggy clothes, chafed thighs, fantastic riders, and rugged horses.  I am writing about my adventure in a variety of topics until I feel like stopping!  So ask questions… you may just see a blog about it!


  1. You get to cheer on all the other riders

This was without a doubt the most fun aspect of leading.  We are a tight knit group and for a while we wondered if a leading pack would ever break away, because it was a bit of a vacation for this masochistic group of adventurers.  So at the end of each day when the other riders trickled in, it was not uncommon to see us cheering, and sometimes even pitching in to help them cool their horses.

The finish line compounded this tenfold, where on day 5, we scattered from the bar during breakfast, a handful of food in hand and climbed up, and descended the forested mountain in our flip flops to the beach where Malcolm would finish.  Oh but to get to the beach, we also had to row across a river in a dinghy.  Yup, we grabbed paddles and trucked it to make it in time.

When Malcolm’s head was spotted over the beach horizon, we went NUTS.  Then Malcolm dismounted his horse to give it a break, 20m from the finish line!  There was a collective gasp among us and Barry ran out to get him back on the horse to cross as a rider.  It was hilarious and the moment he crossed, he was swarmed.

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All us riders at the finish flags, I am in the middle in front!

 

2. You learn a lot from your fellow leaders

It became very apparent to me during this race, exactly why Sam won the Mongol Derby and Monde came close.  My main goal or strategy was to make sure I could keep up with them and while doing so, I picked up a lot that I can take home with me.

Sam rides fast, i mean really FAST!  But the amazing thing is she never over rides her horses.  She seems to have an innate ability to know exactly how hard to push her horses, and when to back off. She makes it seem effortless.  Matching her pace taught me what a competitive pace looks like, but I still have a long way to go before I have the same sense she has honed with her lifetime of experience.  She also commanded the horse stations – vetting in and being mounted before I could even figure out where to look for my next horse.  She is a master of efficiency.

Monde is a master of reading terrain to find the best route and has a lot of little tricks to save his horses for the long haul.  He is the very definition of riding smart and he certainly earned his win, taking impeccable care of his horses and of us too!  A true gentleman, he saved our sorry butts a few times.

3. You get more free time

Ok, I wanted to put this as a downside… but I simply forgot, so I am attempting to spin it as an optimist.  By leading, we were in early.  This gave us more time than the other riders to get things done in daylight – setting up our beds, preparing our supplies for the following day, pulling thorns from various body parts and treating wounds and chafe.  Then we laid about lazily sipping our Striped Horse brews and just enjoying life by the beach.

Why did I want to put this as a downside?  I could have definitely gone for another day of riding… or two… or just send me back the way I came, I’ll see you in another 4 days!  Chafe be damned.

striped-horse
Photo credit to Rockethorse Racing

4.  You excite the pants off the people tracking you at home

I have been there… following that little dot along the screen for a big race like the Mongol Derby, or this year’s Tevis Cup, its exciting!!!

Every so often when I was riding, I would think to myself, a bit astonished, OMG People are following us right now! And wondering if we had made allegiances, or if we if we were going to try to make a break for it.

Coming home, I saw how facebook lit up every time I took the lead, especially when I had the 33 minute lead on Asad (aka Ass-hat) and Sam and Monde closed in on me.

Its really cool to know how the excitement is being shared!

How cool was their tracker?!?!
How cool was their tracker?!?!

5. You learn that you  DO have it in you

After my non-completion in the Mongol Derby, I wasn’t sure if I could be successful in finishing Race the Wild Coast.  I didn’t go into the race with the mindset that I had something to prove (in fact I purposely tried to block that thought from myself), but it was an important element in my experience.  Finishing this race has been a huge confidence boost for me and I am forever grateful to Barry and Joe and all of the crew who worked tirelessly to put this together and gave me a chance despite my previous failure.

This race was DAMN hard, probably the toughest challenge I have ever faced, but if it weren’t so hard, it wouldn’t have been so satisfying.  To race to the finish with 2 of my best friends and top class riders, that was the cherry on top.

Photo credit to Rockethorse Racing


If you enjoy my writing, please consider supporting my adventures through one of the following links:

Donate to Sarah’s Adventures

Pre-purchase the documentary

I can’t do this without you!


Think you have what it takes?  Apply to ride in the 2017 race.

The Downsides of Leading

Throughout Race the Wild Coast, Sam, Monde and I led the group and we eventually dueled it out in a 500m sprint for the glory at the finish line.  While it was very exciting to call myself a “leader” or “winner”, this race was more about the adventure than a win.  If you are considering entering and expect to win, here are some of the things you will miss out on or quirks you can expect in your adventure.

1. Sleeping in

I think we seriously surprised the Rockethorse crew with how early we got in every day.  We rode FAST given the obstacles we faced.  This meant that we got in most days at 3pm-4pm instead of the 5-6ish they were expecting.  Originally the rules were stated that the time we rode in at would be the time we rode out at to keep you form being penalized at the end of the day – so if we arrived at the maximum end point at 3pm in the afternoon, we would technically go out at 3am.

Does that sound as awful to you as it did to me?  I am not an early riser and generally need an hour of stretching, complaining and coffee to do anything before sunrise.

Thankfully, they modified the rules as we went, adding holds on to all so that we wouldn’t leave any earlier than 5am.  This was more of a safety thing, as they didn’t want us swimming the rivers in the dark (rightfully so!).  So that was better… but Sam and I still set our alarms for 3:30 to get all our stuff ready in time… and she got the pleasure of hearing me whine, and huff and puff to put on damp tights in the dark.

 

2. Breakfast

Related to above.  We were up so early neither our stomachs wanted to eat, nor was there much to pick from… it would NOT be fair to ask the crew to get up at 2am to serve us!  Nope nope nope!  There were lots of lovely snacks – peanuts, biltong, fruit and granola bars.  So for 4 days us leaders subsisted on that.  Considerably better options than mutton soup and airag, but we did get a little tired of peanuts by day 4!

We also got to hear from the mid to back of the pack riders, who happened to arrive in a vet check just in time to get omelettes.  We were super jealous!  BTW the food is amazing on this trip, so I would recommending not being a leader, just for the culinary delights!

3. You found the problems first

I believe it was day 3 when we set out before dawn along a road and after about half an hour, we came to a padlocked gate with nowhere around.  Apparently we had also beat the park rangers.  Thankfully, I had brought along a phone and was able to call for help.  Joe (one of the organizers) came to our rescue a little while later and we were able to laugh about it, but poor Louise had just caught up to us and was held at the gate for fair timing.  I can only imagine her horse must have been P-Oed to be left behind.

Another time, the rangers were at the gate, but seemed a bit confused about us being there and wanted us to sign liability waivers (was supposed to be worked out in advance, but I think we still surprised them).  It was a pretty funny delay, filling out liability forms on horseback.  Not sure if the people behind us had this issue or if it was sorted by then.

Sometimes trees were down or the navigation needed some modification.  There were a few times we spent a lot of time searching for a new route, when the people behind us could follow our hoofprints.  The best was when a tree was down at less than chest height and Monde went off on foot to find a new route.  He found one in less than half an hour, and I swear… to get us through, he chopped down a tree with ANOTHER TREE!

3. You miss out on some great stories about gettin’ ‘er done

We have tonnes of good stories from the trip, and everyone’s were a little different, but listening to the other riders, it sounds like the best stories come from riders who got the short straw of horses, or perhaps had more bad luck come their way.  Ingenuity and humor lead to the best memories.

My favorite story was that of Malcolm, who was trailing significantly and whose horse just wanted to quit.  Clever as he is, he found a young boy who would run along with him and encourage the horse forward for a few Rand (currency) per kilometer – until he had to get home to be in bed because it was a school night.

4. You spend a lot of time staring at a purple line

Navigation in the race is along tracks, not waypoints, and it can be very trick to see where you need to go.  There are lots of cattle tracks and hidden entrances, so you need to ride with your GPS in your hand almost all the time.  Even riding as a team of 3, we all needed out GPSes out and would pipe up to the leader occasionally “NOOO RIGHHHT!” because it was very easy to get on a wrong track.

I would say this goes for everyone who rode, but as I mentioned above, those behind us would have tracks to follow, which I am sure would help take the eyes to the beautiful scenery a little more frequently.  In other words, I can’t wait for the documentary so I can see all the things I missed when staring at the purple line!

5.  You are constantly surprising people

At one point during the race, I complimented Barry (one of the Rockethorse Organizers), on how smoothly everything was running.  He had a good laugh at me!  Honestly, things seemed to run so smoothly from our perspective as riders, but it sounded like they had a bit of a time keeping up with us.

There were a few vet checks where we arrived before they had a chance to set up.  The crew were amazing about making it work and prioritizing, we barely knew they had been there not ten minutes before we arrived.  Good people can iron out kinks and make it look easy.

We also arrived at one camp where the tents were not yet set up (of course we volunteered to help, but the amazing crew insisted!), apparently the van and trailer had been sideswiped on the highway and pretty much totaled.  How is that for a kink?!  Again, it seemed like no big deal to us riders because of how quick and efficient the crew were.

Lastly, and this was a good laugh for us, the finish line.  Apparently, everyone was expecting us to come from much more inland than we did.  So to the surprise of everyone waiting at the line, we popped out close to the water!  There was a bit of a mad scramble to get the cameras and the drone within range to capture our finish, and they got us just in time, but I can only imagine the heart palpitations they must have had, thinking they weren’t going to capture the winner for the documentary!


So there you have it.  These are by no means complaints or regrets.  I am so proud of myself to have stuck it out in the lead and to have raced a good race.  I could not have been happier with the result.  However, now that that has checked off the bucket list, I would definitely return and do the same trail as one of the 10 day trips they offer so I can just go and enjoy.  If you are considering it, I would recommend you also do both… the scenery is worth a trip itself, but the thrill of racing and the self discovery when tackling the challenges set forth in a race environment are totally different and worth it too!  Its amazing what you can do when you set your mind to it!

Apply to be part of the race in 2017


Starting line.  Photo credit to Ian Haggerty
Starting line. Photo credit to Ian Haggerty

In October 2016, I raced in the inaugural Race the Wild Coast, a 350km self-guided adventure race along the eastern coast of South Africa.  These are my stories from my adventure.  If you enjoy my writing, please consider supporting my adventures through one of the following links:

Donate to Sarah’s Adventures

Pre-purchase the documentary

I can’t do this without you!

Race the Wild Coast – Wrapup

In the past, my adventures were written day by day, stage by stage, or in another similar logical order. I would like to introduce chaos with my posts about this race… because, well that is just what I feel like!

So instead of telling you what happened when (Ashley did a pretty good job of doing that while I was there, and the documentary should have this basis covered too!), I am going to choose a few topics and cover them.  So if you have any questions about certain aspects of the race, please comment them below and I will make sure I write a post about it!

In the meantime, I have been campaigning around magazines to publish my story, so I do need something about my overall experience.  So to whet your appetite, here is the quick and dirty about my experience in the race.


Starting line. Photo credit to Ian Haggerty
Starting line. Photo credit to Ian Haggerty

Waiting for my airport transfer, hopped up on coffee and excitement, I broke a sweat.  In only a few hours I would be meeting up with my best friends from around the globe to take part in the inaugural Race the Wild Coast.

We had all signed on and pinched our pennies to ride 350km in an endurance race style event from Port Edward to Kei Mouth, South Africa, one of the most beautiful and untouched places in the country.

We met in the airport Steers restaurant and all anxiety dissipated as we caught up and met the new additions to our group – 13 riders in total, most of whom had a Mongol Derby under their belt.  This was not your regular crowd of pony trekkers, but to us it felt like we were about to embark on a fun vacation instead of a remarkable race.

We really had no idea what to expect on our way to base camp, and were pleasantly surprised to find it well appointed from comfortable cots to camping showers fueled by campfires.

For the next 3 days we drew and tested our random team of horses, learned about the course and race rules in detail, and refined our riding kits – the 5kg of gear we were allowed to carry with us for the entire 5 days allotted to riding.

race the wild coast

I drew a formidable team of 2 Boerpoerd horses and one young arab.  Gerber would be my first ride, he was easygoing and sure footed, a great confidence booster, ensuring that I wouln’t have drama at the starting line.  Ramkat was my second horse, he would ride the shortest distance, but would have to climb the most hills and swim the most rivers.  He was so bold and clever!  Asad was to be my last horse, more endurance type supposed to help me speed through the flatter sections toward the end of the race.  Our training ride didn’t go so well, he was very spooky and I was worried about how he would handle after I was exhausted from 3 days of riding.

On race day, we had a very unexciting start on the beach, everyone quietly passing the line together. We all stayed together for the first leg of the race.  After the first vet check, the group split into 2 and I remained with the leaders. Through the next leg, we lost another one or 2 to the other pack. Gerber and I came in again with the leaders and vetted down quickly, allowing us to be one of the first out in the morning.

race the wild coast
Photo credit to RocketHorse Racing

Day 2 was slow, we had the most difficult terrain to ride on, and the morning rain caused everything to be slippery.  29 kms took over 4 hours to complete, but we had lots of beautiful scenery to enjoy along the way.

We had our first horse change, where the vetting area quickly became chaotic.  Horses in and horses out!  I was second through the horse change, and Ramkat was turbo charged!  I was tossed an egg sandwich as I swung my leg over his back, and galloped off with a look of determination and egg sandwich on my face.  We quickly caught up to Monde, the leader, and the 2 of us decided to ride together as we passed through the town of Port St. Johns – a hippie beach town where even at 10am there were already drunk parties through the streets.  Sam Jones, 2014 Mongol Derby winner caught up to us partway through town and the 3 of us rode on.  African music blared out of parked cars and people cheered at us, trying to get us to sprint and race for their entertainment.  I’m sure they were disappointed.  After all of that, Monde asked me “hey Sarah, do you want to fix your bit now?”  I had no clue that I had forgotten to attach my bit to the reins, and had just ridden a fresh “machine” of a horse through the town.  Oops!

race the wild coast

The 3 of us stayed together for the remaining legs that day, which included our first swim and several other climbs and descents which made us think “they have to be joking.” We arrived into the finish camp for the night way sooner than the organizers had expected, and we had to have a mandatory delay in the morning so we wouldn’t be swimming rivers in the dark!

The 3 of us went out first again in the morning, and determined that having to wake up at 3am isnt the only downside to being the leaders, we came across a gate that was padlocked shut!  Thankfully, I had brought a phone and we soon had help arrive.  Halfway through this day, we got our 3rd and final horses.  Fresh and nervous, Asad gave me some bucks and wiggles on our way out, but settled nicely as soon as we stuck him behind Sam’s horse’s bum.  We did try to lead once, and in 2 strides, he had 2 major spooks and Sam and Monde agreed that this horse should not be our leader!

race the wild coast
Photo credit to RocketHorse Racing

We spent the rest of the day with a butt in our face, but moving well, and again we came in so early that we required a delay the following morning.

Day 4 and we knew based on the pace we had set, we would be finishing this day.  Almost a bit bittersweet as I don’t think any of us were ready to be done riding.  We ended up with a slower pace than expected, in the morning there were some navigational problems (such as a fallen tree which required some rerouting, Monde spent close to a half hour finding a route for us and we were so grateful!).

race the wild coast
Photo credit to RocketHorse Racing

With 2 legs to go, both Sam and Monde’s horses had lost a shoe and they were required to wait a half hour for the farrier to arrive.  I set out on my own, in the lead, but not confident after Asad’s behaviour the previous day.  I wanted to try, see if he had lost some of his greenness.  Unfortunately, my fears were met with a 5mph giraffe trot as he looked everywhere except where we were going, and refusing to move out on his own.  He was wasting a lot of his energy spooking and I was wasting a lot of energy trying to get him forward.  At one point, exhausted, I broke down and cried on an endless beach.  Growling and crying “why wont you just move!!!”.  I had held it together until the thought crossed my mind that I might finish my journey hating this horse and being miserable.  After riding for 4 fabulous days, I didn’t want my adventure to end on a sour note.

I was actually relieved when I looked back over my shoulder and saw Sam and Monde just behind me.  Sam reached over and gave me a hug.  Together we can get this done!  I tucked Asad in behind them again and once again, he was forward and happy and clearly not as tired as I was!

race the wild coast
Photo credit to RocketHorse Racing

The last leg went smoothly together, and we agreed that on the final stretch of beach, when we saw the finish flags, it would be a gallop to determine place.  The horses kicked up their heels, and for a sweet 500m, Asad gave me his first honest effort of the race (haha).  We couldn’t quite catch Sam and Monde however, as they were first to the beach and their horses were nice and fast!  We finished 3rd by 20 seconds and I couldn’t have been happier. Monde took the win and Sam earned 2nd.

Asad was actually the first to pass the vet check, which made me very proud, and all 3 of us immediately took our horses to the river to cool.  We were so proud of ourselves and so was the crew, we had just proven their long standing dream of running this race was possible.  We remained for the rest of the day to cheer on the other riders as they came across the finish line, and cheered on the final rider who came in alone on day 5.

race the wild coast

Whether you are a competitive distance rider or just want to enjoy some amazing horses, company and scenery while challenging your limits, this race should be on your radar.  It will be held annually and applications for 2017 are now open.  They also filmed us throughout the race and are hoping to have a documentary ready for February 2017.  If you want to find out more about either, please click the following links for more info:

http://rockethorseracing.co.za/

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/rockethorse-race-the-wild-coast-sport-film#/

On another note, if you enjoy my writing and want to share some love my way, consider tossing a few dollars my way as a donation or by purchasing Eat Sleep Ride Repeat apparel by clicking the link below:

https://www.generosity.com/sports-fundraising/sarah-s-adventure-race-the-wild-coast

Your contribution will help me to pay off the small debt I accrued to participate in this race, which will help me focus on a new adventure for 2017 so I can keep sharing my stories with you!  Thanks so much!

Day 4 of Race the Wild Coast (The Finish!)

Sarah’s mount for the last leg of the race was Asad. Today of all days, he earned his nickname “Asshat”.  Sarah was one of the leaders of the race, along with Sam and Monde.  Unfortunately Sam and Monde each lost a front shoe off of their horses at one of the checks, leaving Sarah to continue out on her own.  If she had been on any other horse, she could have very well gained a huge lead over them and had gone on to win the race.  However, young Asad had a “baby brain” day.  He had a tendency to be herd bound so was not too impressed when he had to go out by himself. Add in a ton of spooking and Sarah was having probably one of the worst rides of her life. If she could even get Asad to go forward, he did so with his head up in the air like a giraffe and moved at most 5 miles per hour.  This continued for about 15km before Sam and Monde caught up.

race the wild coast
Photo credit to RocketHorse Racing

Despite the trackers showing them quite far apart, the three rode together for most of the last day.  Sarah said she didn’t know what she would have done if she had been out there all by herself.  The team approach to the end of the race proved very helpful in getting all three across the finish line as each rider brought something to the table. Monde had a touch screen gps, which proved quite useless when wet, so Sarah was able to help them navigate. Sam provided the encouragement and motivation for them to pick up the pace and keep going.  Asad quite liked Monde’s horse and was happy to keep up with the group. At times when the trail looked like it reached a dead end or it seemed like there was no way around, the three minds working together problem solved to get them through.

race the wild coast
Photo credit to RocketHorse Racing

When they neared the end of the race, all three decided to have a gallop-off for the winner, partly for fun and partly to add a little excitement for the cameras all around. (*Side note* If you weren’t aware already, the organizers of this race were filming every aspect in order to create a documentary when all is said and done. There is going to be some amazing footage and we can’t wait for it to be completed!) Even though Asad was happy to go forward to follow his buddies, he wasn’t quite fast enough to win, coming in third only a few seconds behind Sam in second and Monde in first.

race the wild coast
Photo credit to RocketHorse Racing

Sarah is feeling pretty good (now that she’s had a bath and is relaxing in a gorgeous guest house with a view of the beach!).  We’ll have to wait for her to return to civilization to get her recollection of the events but one thing she mentioned is that for anyone thinking about trying this race next year, go in with no expectations.  This is more a horse race than a rider race; your ride is completely dependent on the horses you are given. Part of the reason she was getting frustrated with Asad today was that she had ridden two superb endurance horses before him and had expected more out of Asad, forgetting he was the youngster of her bunch.  Had she received three different horses, her ride would have been completely different.

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Photo credit to RocketHorse Racing

Two of her memorable moments from the race are seeing dolphins playing in the water while she was riding down the beach and riding along the cliffs with Monde with very steep, long drop-offs and the helicopter right beside them filming. She was quite surprised at how close the helicopters got and how quickly the horses adapted to them.

She will be enjoying a party tomorrow, then relaxing on a day off and visiting old friends in South Africa from the last time she was there and then she’ll be on a plane back to Canada.

race the wild coast
Photo credit to RocketHorse Racing

Day 2 and Day 3 of Race The Wild Coast

Day 2 of Race the Wild Coast

I hadn’t received my daily call/text from Sarah but from following the tracker and the RocketHorse Racing Facebook page, she has successfully completed Day 2. It was a little worrisome for a while as her tracker had stopped but the one on her horse was still going. Coupled with the fact that I didn’t get my daily call/text, I was concerned that something had happened but all was well.  The tracker had just stopped working but the issues have been fixed. Rain was in the forecast today so riders were already wet heading into a day of swimming. The temperature today is around 20 degrees Celsius.

Today’s big challenge was swimming across the Umgazana River. Due to long periods of riding in wet clothes, Sarah said she was having a rough go from chafing, plus she had sand in her pants for the whole 75km. Hills were also a challenge this day as they seemed to just go on and on forever. You would think that you were at the top but over a crest and there was still more.  Her horse, Ramkat, took them like a champ.  Even though she could tell it tired him, he still had a ton of gas in the tank.

race the wild coast
Photo credit to RocketHorse Racing
race the wild coast
Photo credit to RocketHorse Racing

They are down to 11 riders as competitor Damyan has retired due to knee issues.

Sarah currently tied for first with Monde and Sam Jones (winner of the 2014 Mongol Derby, the year Sarah competed).  The way the timing works with this race is that the time you come in is the time you leave. Since Sarah finished at 3:51pm today, she will head out at 3:51am tomorrow.

Day 3 of Race the Wild Coast

Day 3 consisted of a beach ride along the coast to Agate Terrace where there will be the last horse change of the race. Sarah will switch from her superstar Ramkat to the young gun Asad (who she has been calling Asshat due to his antics).  The next leg of the race will include a swim across the Mngazana to the Kraal where they will be another vet check, then it is on to Hluleka, where the overnight camp will be.

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Photo credit to RocketHorse Racing

Since the frontrunners got to start Day 3 so early, they made it to the reserve where the horses were kept before race staff, only to find the entrance padlocked.  After some calls and rushing around, they were able to start on time.  Asad gave Sarah some troubles throughout the day with spooking, bucking, and running full tilt with his head in the air.  He refused to leave one vet check due to a pig in his sights. Not one to quit, Sarah convinced him that it was not a horse-eating pig and they took off. Despite Asad’s asshattery, he proved to be a very good swimmer.

race the wild coast
Photo credit to RocketHorse Racing

Day 4 should be the last day of racing for the frontrunners (some of the slower riders may take an extra day to cross the finish line). Sarah is currently sitting in third and will go out at 5:09AM South African time. Some of the slower riders will have a 3 hour hold to avoid the high tide at the Mbashe River.

 

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Photo credit to RocketHorse Racing

Only 90km left to the finish at Kei Mouth! Go Sarah Go!!

Day 1 of Race the Wild Coast

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And they’re off!! Photo credit to RocketHorse Racing.

The weather for the first day of the race was overcast and fairly uneventful. Sarah started off riding Gerber, her nice steady eddy, which was a very good strategic move as although Gerber is not the fastest horse, he is very surefooted and reliable, which came in handy when traversing the incredibly rocky terrain. While other horses were leaping off of the rock ledges, Gerber carefully manoeuvred himself and Sarah quickly, comfortably, and safely and were able to keep up with the other horses. We’ll have to see if she ends up bringing this one back on the plane with her!

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Not Sarah, but take a look at those rock ledges! Photo credit to RocketHorse Racing.

There wasn’t much swimming to do today; just some wading, which Sarah wasn’t complaining about as it was not the warmest day.  Day 2, however, will have more swimming as competitors will have to cross the Umgazana River.

race the wild coast
Photo credit to RocketHorse Racing.

75 kilometers of the course is complete and Sarah is in good spirits. She starts off Day 2 with Gerber and will switch to Ramkat part way through (who, hopefully, is having a better day than he was during pre-race training and keeps his spooking/bucking to a minimum!) 12 of the 13 competitors will continue on to Day 2 as rider Anthony has withdrawn from the race.  Sarah currently sits in 3rd heading into the second day. I will post Day 2 updates as soon as I hear from Sarah.

race the wild coast
Photo credit to RocketHorse Racing.

Pre-Race Training

Race Training

Race The Wild Coast officially kicks off tomorrow (Saturday) morning at 9am South Africa time or 3am EST. We get that you’re probably not that hard-core about getting up at 3am to watch Sarah’s tracker on the live stream (http://rockethorse.sportraxs.com/) but keep an eye on our website and our Facebook page for updates at the end of each day as Sarah will be calling/texting me to regale the day’s adventures.

The two days prior to the start of the race is race training.  Here, competitors will get to meet their randomly selected teams of horses, go over the rules of the race, attend a detailed course briefing, test out their kit and tack, and get a chance to test out their horses and practice their swimming skills.

Horse selection

Horses are randomly assigned in groups of three. Each team is pretty evenly matched with each horse having its own strengths and weaknesses.  Sarah’s team consists of Gerber (far left), a strong, steady-eddy, who may not be the fastest, but he’ll get you there safely; Ramkat (middle), Sarah’s favourite, who is fast, agile, and will just keep going; and lastly, Asad (far right), the stereotypical young Arab, who can be quite spooky, but is on his game when he’s having a good day.

race the wild coast
Photo Credit: RocketHorse Racing

Kit and Tack

Sarah found out that the accommodations at each check point were going to be more substantial than previously thought so she was able to lighten the load of the maximum 5kg she was allowed to carry with her. She didn’t mention having any issues with tack, however, those participants with a touchscreen gps were finding it very difficult as the water was wreaking havoc with the functionality of the machines (luckily, Sarah’s is not touchscreen!)

At the Mongol Derby, the satellite trackers they were given worked on a point to point basis. She was able to set it and go, free to choose her own path to get to the points.  This time around, the trackers are continual and she will have to stay on a fairly set path.  This means not only will she have to pack extra batteries since having the tracker on all the time will drain it faster, she will also have to ride with it in her hand more often rather than putting it in her pack until she gets to the points. Couple that with some hot horses and tough terrain, it looks like Sarah will have to get used to riding one handed pretty quickly. The riders each have a satellite tracker, as well as each of the horses. If we see Sarah’s tracker separate from her horse’s tracker, I’ll most likely be getting a phone call from her asking where on the map her horse is headed!

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View of base camp. Photo credit: RocketHorse Racing

Practice Rides

Over the two days, participants will have the opportunity to give their team a test ride. Not far from base camp was a spot to practice wading into the water. At these spots, the horses aren’t fully swimming but the water was up to rider knees.  Then riders rode through some fields, up and down hills, and through a bit of forest to get to a lagoon where they could practice their swimming (out to the sand bar and back).

Sarah didn’t mention having much difficulty with Gerber, which makes sense by the way she described him.  Asad gave her a bit of trouble when it came to the swimming part. Long story short: he’s a bad swimmer.  He kept launching himself while trying to swim instead of gracefully paddling along.  The tricky part here is going to be staying on as riders were told they needed to drop their stirrups for the swimming portions. He seemed to get the hint (sort of) with a few more attempts, so here’s hoping he has a good day when it’s Sarah’s turn to ride him.

On day one of training, Sarah was already trying to figure out if/how she could get Ramkat back to Canada.  “This is a Tevis horse”, she kept saying to me, while telling me how brilliant of a swimmer he was and how he scaled a rock face straight up with no hesitation.  After Day 2’s ride, she might have changed her mind. They are filming this race for a documentary so there are cameras and drones all over.  With a chopper flying overhead, Ramkat did a nasty spook, buck and spin and unseated Sarah. She landed in some soft sand and the only thing hurt was her pride.  Ramkat took off back to ride camp (not far away), leaving Sarah to do the walk of shame back to camp (with footage of this being caught by a drone flying above).

She isn’t connected to wifi and won’t be until the end of the race but expect some amazing helmet cam footage as I’m told the views are just incredible.  A storm rolled in Thursday night (with some of the loudest thunder Sarah’s ever heard) but prior to it hitting, Sarah captured a moment of swimming with one of her horses and the lightning striking over in the distance.

Best of luck Sarah! We’re rooting for you!!

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Photo credit: RocketHorse Racing

Cape Town Diaries, Part 2

When I last left you, I was gearing up for our cage dive adventure.  Unfortunately, that never happened!  We were up at the crack of dawn (which is beautiful from that great room we had) and we hit the road to head into the Cape Town Waterfront, as the tour wouldn’t pick up so far out of the city.  Then we hit a sea of red tail lights, and the clock kept ticking.  I made several calls back and forth with the tour operator and it became clear our case was hopeless.  THankfully she was kind enough to reschedule us to Sunday (tomorrow).

Might I mention, last time I was in cape town, I had booked a shark dive which got cancelled due to poor weather… third times the charm?

So what were we to do?

We followed the GPS to the V&A waterfront, where we were originally supposed to meet anyway, and decided to go out for coffee and then decide what to do.  Funny part was, the restaurant we ended up at didn’t have their coffee on yet, we were still that early!

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DCIM107GOPRO

After getting properly caffeinated, we were ready to start considering our options, so we started to wander to look for inspiration.  We ended up with the most touristy option, a pass on the hop-on-hop-off bus.  Believe it or not, I have never actually been on one of these, so we had a good time feeling a bit silly like a hollywood star-spotter on the deck of a big red double decker bus.

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DCIM107GOPRO

We got off downtown for some breakfast and shopping, but a lot of the crafts are either similar to what I brought home on my last trip, or just the same as we have seen in every other market.  It helped keep our weight light for the next stop: Table Mountain.

It was a hot and very clear day, I understand this is pretty rare for Table Mountain, so we will take it that everything (including bad traffic) happens for a reason.  Even just the road up to Table Mountain offered incredible views, but we weren’t about to stop there… up the cable car we went!

My plan before I got here was to climb table mountain, but still not 100% healthy since being sick (and wearing a bikini as underpants and casual shoes expecting I would be in water most of the day) I was ok with taking the easy way up.

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DCIM107GOPRO
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DCIM107GOPRO

We got to the top and the views were striking, enough to take your breath away.  But then I saw it, a dead animal. I bit back tears for this poor furry groundhog like critter, but then Lee said “Look closer.”  It was VERY hard to tell, but the thing was breathing, merely sunning itself and sleeping like the dead. Not actually dead.  What a relief.

I seemed to only take videos of the Dassis (groundhogs) because I loved them THAT much, so here is a lizard instead (and I will get to the Dassi later)
I seemed to only take videos of the Dassis (groundhogs) because I loved them THAT much, so here is a lizard instead (and I will get to the Dassi later)

 

These critters made my day.  I seriously loved them.  They were so lazy, simply falling over and napping anywhere.  They also had the ugliest faces but they were clearly trying to puppy face mooch for snacks.  They tried SO HARD, but their dark beady eyes and buck teeth were just not cute.  At one point I heard a girl taunting them with a popsicle “I would sure hate to be you!” she said.  It was amazing.

There were 3 walking loops on the top of the mountain which eventually led us to a gorge.  Coming up the gorge were some pretty tired, sweaty hikers.  Felt a bit less bad about wimping out of the hike.

I walked a few dozen meters down the gorge and stopped for a photo before we returned back, stopping to eye some lizards before returning down the cable car and hopping back on the bus. We stayed on the bus for the remainder of the tour and enjoyed the coastal drive back to the city.

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DCIM107GOPRO

When we got back to the V&A  waterfront, we toured around a bit and saw seals following some of the tourist boats, and sunning themselves on the docks.  They are HUGE and they smell SO BAD.  Definitely cuter in the water when they are playing.  If you come across one on the dock… maybe find another path.

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DCIM107GOPRO

It was already 4pm so we decided to hit the road back to Muizenberg, but instead we hit traffic again.  Guess it was an early rush hour!  So the drive home was very slow and when we got back, we cleaned up, and went over to the Striped Horse Pub across the street – something we had promised ourselves we would do because Striped Horse Beer is sponsoring Race the Wild Coast! The beer and food were amazing, Lee even licked the sauce up from his plate.

This morning, we had a surf lesson booked, but due to the live band at the hostel last night, plans had to change again.  We were leaving African Soul Surfer and headed to Camps Bay, so we took the opportunity to leave early and visit Simon’s Town, where we heard… there would be PENGUINS.

Yes please!

Simon’s town is so quaint.  The buildings are incredible and the naval base and sail boats make it feel very much like our Maritimes, you really forget you are in Africa. It just seems to almost exist in its own bubble.

Simons Town
Simons Town

Slightly past the town, we found Boulder Beach signs, parked, and followed a narrow path down to the beach.  “There are the penguins!” Lee pointed to the far side of the beach where a few people were gathered.  We walked over and enjoyed getting close to the penguins hiding in some rocks, and others hanging out on a large rock by the water (maybe about 1 dozen total).  We enjoyed watching them jumping in and out of the water and shaking their tails.  We were pretty happy with that, but I was HUNGRY.

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We went back to the car where Lee was ready to get in and go home, but I demanded to be fed.  Lets  just walk down this street over here and see whats close.  There was quite a large crowd walking down the road despite it not being a main street.  Perhaps thats where the food is?  Lets follow them.  Lee wasn’t convinced  we would find food, but I was sure so many people weren’t just wandering around by coincidence.

Turns out, we were both right, because just down the road… HUNDREDS OF PENGUINS!

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There was a nice boardwalk where they had fenced off the ocean side to keep people out of the penguin’s habitat.  Despite the fence, these ARE wild penguins.  We were the ones in the cages 🙂  They were so close and it seemed to be breeding season, as there were a lot on nests of fuzzy babies.  Some were more curious than others, one penguin even mimicked my movements, it was adorable.

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After that, we went for lunch on the water with some delicious fish and chips.  Best I have ever had, so fresh.

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The afternoon was less exciting to write about.  We moved into our guest house in Camps Bay which has an amazing view of the Twelve Apostles Mountain Range AND a sunset view of the water.  We have been up and down to the lower end of town where the beach is a few times, first to go shopping, then to tour around.  Its very busy and hard to find parking.  Thankfully, all these beach towns have what Lee is calling “South African Back up Cameras”, entrepreneurial bums who will point you to a parking spot and keep watch on your car for a tip of merely your pocket change.

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So again, I will sign off with the expectation of shark diving tomorrow.  Gonna knock on some wood.

Cheers!

 

Cape Town Diaries, Part 1

Desperately holding back a panicked cry and a stomach full of vomit, I fumbled in the dark with a circa 1800 key thinking “why would a place with a fingerprint scanner at the front door, use such ancient room keys?!”  A click and a gasp, then a race to the toilet at the far side of the hostel.

No, my trip was not off to a good start.  I spent the rest of that night wretching every hour, ensuring I met every female patron in the bathroom, who soon grew to pity me.  Perhaps it was the 22 hours of flying, or the water I drank in Turkey, but something wasn’t agreeing with me.  I spent the following day in bed, with the best trip I could do to the neighbouring bar around 8pm, to make an odd request of “Orange Juice to go please!”

Let’s rewind a bit.  On Sunday, Lee and I got on a plane at Pearson Airport in Toronto.  A little over 9 hours and a pretty decent sleep later, we landed in Istanbul, Turkey.  I know certain members of my family cringe as they read that, but we really had a lovely time!  We had pre-booked our visas so clearing customs was a breeze, then we immediately looked for a tour operator.  We found one that Lee seemed comfortable with (though I think we got a bit ripped) who offered to take us into the city for $100 USD and give us a tour around.

(Turkey photos will have to come at a later date as they dont seem to want to upload today)

They dropped us off at a rug store and a guide took us walking to the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia.  We did have to pay separately to get into the Hagia Sophia as it was a museum, but it was very beautiful.  It was a bit eerie, as the entire city seemed almost dead, and every hour or two echoes of prayer blasted across the city on loud speaker. Overall, we did feel very safe there and there were TONNES of kittens everywhere!!

We then walked back to the rug store with a couple options listed to us, and I think we just said “ok” to whatever he suggested.  Well, we ended up with close to an hour long rug sales pitch, and shooting the shit over a beer with his… cousin?… in the rug store.  So… I think we probably could have seen more for our $100 and I have a good laugh thinking about where we ended up – drinking beers out of fine glasses atop heaps of multi-thousand dollar rugs.  We did have a few minutes before our ride came and they had suggested we go to the cafe across the road for a turkish coffee.  Lee partook, I wanted to sleep so I just got a water.  Here is a tip: Get the coffee.

The light started to fall and all the shops lit up with the most beautiful lanterns.  I would love to see Istanbul at night, it must just be the most magical place!

Fast forward another 10 hours of flying and we were touching down in Johannesburg.  Side note – Turkish airlines is wonderful – good food, entertainment systems, and very low fare.  We only had a few hours in Joburg, just enough time to pick up my cell phone which I had pre-ordered online and grab a muffin.

Up in the air one last time for the shortest leg of our journey, a little over 2 hours to Cape Town.  Finally we had arrived!  All of our stuff came safe and sound too, so we headed out to get our rental car. We knew what we were getting into before we left, but it took both of us paying 100% attention to stay on the right… er left side of the road.  Backseat driving much appreciated! (to this moment, he has only entered the wrong side once)

We made it safely to our Hostel, African Soul Surfer in Muizenburg (outside of Cape Town) and immediately felt very welcome.  We also have the best room in the place, with the most incredible view.  That evening we went for a walk down the boardwalk and enjoyed watching the waves crash against the rocks.  That was all it took and we were beat… falling asleep at about 5:30pm local time.

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Next thing I know, I am tossin and turning, stomach lurching.  Am I going to vomit?  No way, I haven’t done that in years.  I am never sick.  Then the cold sweats happened and I knew I needed to move fast.  No time for shoes, no time for anything, running through a lounge full of people and sliding in to hit right on target.  As I mentioned before, this continued for the entire night until I was empty and then some.  The next day was completely lost.

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But it wasn’t all that bad.  If you are going to be sick anywhere, you should at least be somewhere you can gaze out at the ocean, mountains and continuous surf entertainment.

Today was much better, we actually got up and I stuffed a blueberry muffin in my face, food! At last, I could fathom the thought of eating.  We headed downstairs for our first surf lesson and squeezed into wetsuits.

Our teacher Doug, took us out to the beach and through some stretches and a brief jog as a warmup (I might mention, the day we arrived was 16C) before some practice pop-ups in the sand on our boards.  Then it was out to the water!  It was cold at first, but we warmed up quickly as the trapped water in the wetsuits heated up.  The waves were huge! (for our standards) but very choppy.  There were not a lot of surfers out there.  Doug helped us with the timing “Paddle paddle paddle… up!”  I nearly got up on my first try but my balance was a bit to one side.  The second try i stayed righted but only came up as far as my knee.  Several tries later and I was exhausted.  I had expected that I wouldn’t make it through the whole lesson (the most tiring part was fighting the choppy waves to get back out) and I told Lee “Last one and I am going in”.  Well wouldn’t you know, I managed to get a full stand in, for only a micro second, then the wave ended and it was much harder to balance.  So I jumped back in and waded back to the beach, I was happy with that.  Not a moment too soon too, because as soon as my board hit the sand and I lay down on it, the spins set in and I lost consciousness momentarily.  Yup, thats 2 days worth of lost food for ya! I came to quickly and watched Lee finish his lesson.  He managed to catch a wave and surf for several seconds and had to be a good 30m (way longer than you think!).  So proud!  I think next time we will see if Doug will hold our gopro for us!

In the afternoon we drove up to Somerset West to the Cheetah Outreach, where they have ambassador animals who they allow the public to interact with.  We visited with the cheetah first and learned a few things about them – apparently they only like lean cuts of meat so they can keep their svelte figures – us chubby north american tourists can pet without worry 🙂 We also visited the meerkat, who was a glutton for snuggles, and if you stopped scratching his chin or head, would stand up and start barking at you until you started back up again – no rest for the wicked.

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We finished the day with a long walk on the beach at sunset, which you cant really see from here as its behind the mountain, but made for beautiful photos.

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Tomorrow we have a tour booked for a cage dive with the great white sharks.  I will be sure to bring home some video to share!

-Sarah