Koppie X-ing Day 1
After crisscrossing 7 provinces (long story, if you are interested in the details come visit Stellies and we can chat over a glass of L'Avenir red wine or a bottle of Boston Brew... obviously no product placement advertising there ;-) we finally made it to the little Karoo town of Murraysburg. Murraysburg? Where is that, you may ask? Well if there is one thing that I learned in our Karoo adventure, it is that the Karoo is not just the flat landscape on the N1 between Laingsburg and Colesburg. To really experience the Karoo, you have to venture of the beaten track, or in this case the beaten N1. Which is why we were in Murraysburg for our very first stage race in the Karoo, the KoppieX-ing!
Registration was at Kweperlaan Guest house where we were welcomed by race organiser Willem Avenant's lovely wife Julie with her equally lovely Alaskan accent :-)
Willem and his team (mostly his brother Naude) managed to put together an amazing race pack. Each runner received a pair of Lundun sun glasses (really nice to run with!), a Karoo running top or T-shirt (you get to choose when you enter), A Karoorunning branded cup (must have a "koppie" for Koppie X-ing!), products from Africology and drinks from L'avenir, Boston brew, Namaqua and McNabs.
After signing in and some frantic last minute packing we were ready to travel to the starting point of the race, the farm Misthoek. My wife and I were the last two participants to make the journey, driving with Willem, his wife Julie and their adorable daughter Aileene in Willem's Land Rover, the indomitable Lilith. It turned out to be quite a game drive, with rarely seen Aardwolves and even a very rare Civit (OK, further investigations revealed that it might not actually have been a Civit, but it is just completely against the spirit of the Karoo to let facts interfere with a good story) making their appearances in the moonless Karoo landscape and Lilith ducking and diving through gravel Pot-craters. Arriving at the farm, we met the camp manager, Chrisna Smith, who quickly ushered us to our room for the evening. We were fortunate to be sharing a room with the "feeskomitee", Dianie Lamprecht and Helena Higgins (more on that later). Soon everyone was enjoying the fine Karoo cuisine of hostess Maretta Theron. Of course, in typical Karoo fashion, Maretta told me that, she really hope there is enough food... Judge for yourselves from the images below!
My wife and I were in bed fairly early, to get some well deserved shut eye for the following day's 30km. The "feeskomitee" were still "feestelik" for quite a bit before joining us later. Soon the house was quiet, only disturbed by the occasional bout of therapeutic snoring.
The next morning we awoke to the most beautiful Karoo sunrise.
Everyone was busy finalizing their preparation for day 1's running. At 07h00 we all marched down to the farm house for breakfast. Maretta again outdid herself with a scrumptious breakfast.
Then it was time to sing Happy Birthday to our birthday girl, Erica Goedhals who was celebrating her 50th birthday!
We had to say goodbye to our hosts, Jacques and Maretta Theron. It was a real privilege to experience their lovely farm and Karoo hospitality!
I get to start 5 minutes before the rest of the runners, otherwise I never get any pics of the front runners. I therefore had the first bit of Koppie X-ing entirely to myself. Well not quite, Jacques' dog joined me for the first couple of kilometers!
Willem explained to me the impact of commercial sheep farming on the area. Sheep farmers like to control the movement of their sheep, by erecting fences and camps. This means that they also control the movement of everything else... game, vehicles and also runners. Which brings me to one of the quintessential characteristics of Karoo running... opening and closing gates!
After going through the first of many farm gates I reached the foot of the only major climb of the race. It seemed like a good place to wait for the front runners. Luckily, due to my lack of fitness I did not have to wait long for Jakob Volmoer and Fran Siebrits to come steaming past...
While Jakob and Fran were running up the hill, us lesser mortals were wisely conserving energy by taking a more conservative approach, even though we really did not want it to be documented...
Luckily the views made up for any tired limbs and damaged egos...
I met up with the birthday girl again...
And also with my beautiful wife, who was running really well, lying fifth overall and second of the ladies, a position she would keep for the duration of the race!
We were blessed with a generous amount of cloud cover, providing cooler weather and dramatic landscapes.
Soon it was time to start our descent. It was not the most strenuous climb and also not the most technical descent. More or less the story of the race.
After the descent we reached the Aid Station manned by Willem's father, Paul Avenant and John & Renee Swanepoel. Meeting the final male member of the Avenant family all doubt was removed as to why Buffelsfontein Baardolie is a proud sponsor of the race (no prizes for spotting Paul in the image below).
The Aid Station was well stocked with fruit, sweets and savory treats. Water and energy drinks were also provided.
The aid station was only about 14km into the race, so there were more than 17km remaining. With the major climbs out of the way, I thought that the rest would be plain sailing. Unfortunately I underestimated the Karoo landscape and overestimated my own fitness...
A couple of kilometers after the aid station I said goodbye to Gavin Sacks, the last runner that I would see before the finish. Normally, if I am on photography duties I drift towards the back of the field during the race, which means that I capture most of the runners. Unfortunately in this case, the last eight runners were enjoying a much more scenic journey than the rest, which meant that they were too far behind to catch up with me.
This gave me the opportunity to enjoy the rugged Karoo landscape in solitude.
The route then entered a proper Karoo "vlakte", a flat stretch that seemed to go on and on forever... but as with all good things it also had an end :-)
I reached the dirt road that we traveled the previous evening to Misthoek farm. Willem was concerned that some runners might take the wrong turn off, due to the fact that the locals like to use his route markers as armbands. Luckily all the markers was still there and it was easy to cross the road and a couple of meters later get back on the right trail leading to the end of the stage.
This being an adventure we also faced a number of challenging obstacles, like major river crossings... Karoo Style...
The trail eventually reached Camp Visgat. Quoting Droopy Dog: "You know what... I was happy" :-)
I met up with Gavin again at the river. He unfortunately missed a marker and ended up running a fair bit on the second day's route before realizing his error and making his way back to the river. Well it was good not to reach the end of the stage alone! Also good to meet up again with my beautiful wife :-)
While most runners carefully crossed the river on dry ground, Genis and Tanya Pieterse had a different strategy.
Ayoub Banderker was recovering from flu so ran well within himself but he and Samad Razzak still finished in a credible time.
But of course the race isn't over until the feeskomitee, aka Team Purple crossed the finish line. Here Dianie Lamprecht is in fine form in the final stretch.
At Visgat, we were just in time for lunch, prepared by gourmet chef Erika Grebe from Karoo cuisine who took over the cooking duties from the Theron's.
The afternoon was mostly spend chilling and socializing in and around Visgat.
There was even time for some Yoga, courtesy of Fran Siebrits.
And of course time to enjoy the sponsors brew...
In the evening we were treated to an interesting talk about the Karoo by Isak van der Merwe from Badsfontein.
And in typical Karoo fashion the evening finished with a proper Karoo braai... Tjops, Wors, vetkoek & slaai :-) Happy space!
I must say the Koeksisters were especially evil...
As we prepared for bed at the end of an action packed first day we could snuggle up close to our loved ones, secure in the knowledge that our trusted devices were all safely charging... Safely metaphorically speaking of course...