We have all heard the sayings: “men don’t ask for directions” and “women can’t read maps”. A reader sets out to conquer the the Nav Challenge. Not only is it unlike any normal cycle or running race, but it is also the perfect way to test these old sayings and … “myths busted!”
A little overview on how the race works. Teams are given three hours to navigate their way to as many check points (CP’s) on a map as possible. Each CP is allocated a certain number of points and the objective of the day is to get as many points as possible and be back at the start/finish before your 3 hours is up or face negative point penalties.
It all seems pretty simple, when you get your map at registration and plot your route it seems that getting all 400 points will be a breeze. It is only until you get out onto the terrain that you realise how flat maps are when compared to the “unflatness” of mountains. Contour lines can only tell you so much when staring at the 1:25000 map you are given.
At 08:15 on Saturday 03 December, our mixed team, Brokespoke Mountain set off, sure of our route choice. On receiving the point allocations our route choice made its first change of the day, and we promptly turned our bikes around and rode back through the CAPESTORM “start” banner, startling a few of the 08:20 starters. We were off to the “Afrikaans Taal Monument” a beautiful building that towers over the town of Paarl. I say “towers over” because to get there you have to go up! Up and up and up, we were planning on getting this CP towards the end of the race and I am very glad we changed out route choice because I would not have been very enthusiastic about climbing that hill with 3 hours of riding under my belt (Its all about your route choices). The good thing about this CP was that you could see exactly where you were heading. It’s pretty easy to get to a point when you can always keep it in sight. 20 points down, 380 to go.
Our team must have been the only cyclists in our batch to choose this route as we were completely alone making our way up to the monument. It is in these moments that you need to be confident about where you think you are going as it sometimes gets a bit unnerving being alone in a race.
On our way up that wretched hill we came across a road that lead through the Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve and onto the next couple of CP’s, and here came our second route change of the day. It seems that this was the popular choice as we started to come across other teams making their way through the reserve.
One of the biggest rules in navigation races, and also one of the hardest to adhere to, is: DO NOT FOLLOW. This is something that mountain bikers and runners alike pick up because of races that we do that have a marked route. In navigation it is always best to follow the map and not the team ahead of you. 6 bicycles were stopped on the side of the road near to where we thought a CP would be. The description teams were given about where to find the point was: “Pumphouse”. You could hear the pumphouse so my partner gallantly jumped off his bicycle and ran down the hill. I waited. And waited. After what seemed like 20 minutes a team came up the road and told us that they had found the point further down. All I could see was the blinking of my partners red helmet in the sunlight as I screamed down to him to come back up. I am pretty sure that most of Paarl knew that someone was looking for “Hutch” at 9am on Saturday morning.
Back on the bike, CP clipped and over with. When further along the road, we came across a cyclist waiting for her partner at the entrance to a hiking trail. Another note when doing races like this is to make sure you were at the race briefing and have read the race notes. The girls were trying to get a CP that was worth 0 points for the cyclists. On hearing this information, Paarl was soon informed that not only was someone looking for “Hutch” but “Peg” seemed to have gone missing too.
The next 2 checkpoints were pretty straight forward, and by straightforward I mean that they were on the same road and if you went straight and forward you would find them with little hassle. It was at this point that we realised there was no way we were getting all the CP’s and instead of doing more climbing we were going to cut our losses and stay on the flatter roads (Third Route choice change).
Check points on the 2 dams had me fighting the desire to jump in, but with the heat we were riding in I may not have gotten out again. We had decided to skip the checkpoints on top of “Paarl Rock” which was a bit sad as I would really have liked to climb the rock, but in retrospect we would not have had the time to do it anyway (Fourth Route choice change).
CP 18 had a wonderful surprise waiting for us. The boys and girls at High5 had set up a refreshment station with juice and samples of their bars, we may have taken more than a couple, and it was good to get some food and electrolytes into the system.
It was time to leave the mountain and we started the journey back down towards town. It was right about this point that I was very happy about our route choice changes; the road we were now using to descend the mountain was initially our choice to climb it. Lets just say that more than one prophanity would have been uttered if I was going to climb that hill, it was long, and steep and I would not have been a happy camper.
Now to tour the wine farms, we searched 3 or 4 different flag posts until we found the one we wanted and surprised some of the patrons having brunch by popping up through the bushes 2 metres in front of their table. Things were going pretty well. The goats at Fairview seemed unamused by our presence, and a few farm dogs used guerrilla tactics on us as we turned a corner. We escaped with all limbs intact even if nerves were not.
Heading back to town we were determined to get 4 more points before returning to the start/finish. With time flying we had to pick up the pace. CP 1 proved a bit of a nuisance when we finally found it and I had to do my first acrobatics act of the day by climbing through a barbed wire fence. By now the locals had cottoned on to what we were doing and everyone seemed very keen to help us out, whether we wanted it or not. Pointing and shouting when they thought we were going in the wrong direction.
We had 1 CP to go and then back to the start. 7 minutes and counting. We could see the dam that the checkpoint was at, but a fairly high fence and a dead end prevented us from getting to it. Looking at the map; to go around was going to take a while, and time was ticking by… More acrobatics saw me climbing the fence, much to the cheers of the local children who had been watching us make our decision. A scramble through the bush and up the dam wall I now saw that the dam may have fenced off on our side but was quite picturesque on the other. Picture a gaggle of geese swimming, a small child tanning on the jetty, and a couple of teams who had already finished the race showing off their goody bags to friends. I must have been quite a sight crawling up from the bushes and running toward them from out of nowhere (Its all in your route choice).
Another jump over the fence and we headed back to the start. Crossing the line with 3 minutes to spare and to the very appropriate “Sexy and I know it” (our team song from a previous race) playing over the sound system. We were hot, sweaty and bleeding in places, but that didn’t stop us from doing a small jig as we came over the line.
We had changed the route that we first chose 5 times and were unable to do any of the adventurous CP’s (paddling and sliding down a fireman’s pole) but we were still happy with our choice and excited with what we had achieved in the time we had. 250 points isn’t 400, but it’ll do for us. One of the best things about these races is that there is never one set route, you have to be thinking on your feet (or pedals) at all times and be ready to make changes when they need to be made.
Now it was time to relax with some complimentary champagne and strawberries in the shade and wait for the last teams to arrive. If that didn’t suit you, our host, Laborie Wine Estate has a morning market with fantastic food and drink to satisfy all appetites.
Being in a mixed team brings about many challenges in itself, comparative skill levels, the ability to listen to each other and really to make it to the end without murdering your partner (it is for this exact reason that some couples tend to avoid racing together on navigational type events). All of these mean nothing at the end of a race when you have a handful of strawberries, a glass of champagne and are toasting the wonderful morning you have just had.
After the race, my partner and a few of the other teams decided to use one of the gifts in our amazing goodie bag and go for free cheese and wine tasting at Fairview Wine estate. The perfect end to a perfect outing in Paarl.
Thank you so much to Kerry and Jody and all the helpers on the day. We can’t wait until the next one!