Roughly in order: Anticipation, Excitement and Confidence followed by Confusion, Impatience and then Pity. Disappointment. Bitter disappointment. Resigned disappointment. Incredulity. Pride. Awe. Admiration. Respect. Respect. Respect.
Finishing 28th is not the first, second or third they had hoped for, but finishing this race at all after a series of setbacks, has proved, from the range of quotes available on the topic, that “commitment is finishing what you started even when you don’t feel like it anymore.”
One of the team’s bike’s lost its gearing system soon into the second bike leg on the mountainous tracks on the second day, when Merrell was comfortably in the front pack. Despite the best roadside mechanics, they could not get it beyond a single speed and limped 50km in to transition. Dot watchers, unaware of the problem, were horrified to see many teams, including compatriots Team Painted Wolf, overtaking them. They continued strongly through a 45km trek, regaining some positions and then met up with their bikes again where more attempts were made to fix the unfixable. This time their fate was sealed. They put Tatum on tow and together managed the 70km to the next transition.
“We had the choice then to give up or to take a bike offered by a team which had retired, which would automatically make us unofficial, as the rules specifically disallow this, or to stay ranked and work out an acceptable way to get to the finish.” With 24 hours of canyons and river paddling and a 5 hour caving section still to navigate, the team had to work their time backwards from 08h30 Tuesday morning – the opening time of the local bike shop - before the next 99km cycle leg.
This meant two long, frustrating waits during which time their minds had a chance to settle and their bodies, ironically, recover although there was no more need for speed. They finally crossed the finish line after 125 hours, 30 hours behind the legendary New Zealand champion team Seagate while fellow South African’s Sanlam Painted Wolf had secured 4th. In 26th position, there were still 70 teams behind them.
It was a unanimous decision to finish the race properly. “We came here to try win. That changed due to circumstances beyond our control and so we changed our focus. Life is unpredictable and this sport is a reflection of exactly that.
“We’re disappointed that a little twig in a derailleur forced us out of the competition that we trained so hard for,” admitted captain Graham Bird. “But the training, for us, is an integral part of our lives, not a sacrifice of our time. So I would hardly call it a waste.”
As Don said, weeks ago, “We are all pretty much content with where we are in the AR scene – we have nothing to prove to anyone.”
What has been proved, again, is that this team is an honourable stalwart of the world adventure racing scene, exuding maturity and class in a very primal and raw sport.
Heartfelt thanks to their main sponsor Merrell who has been with them for six years as well as sponsors Black Diamond, PVM Nutrition, Ocean Eyewear, Squirt Lube, Island Tribe, ButtaNutt and Llama Bar. Photographer Kirsten Oliver navigated her own way around the course to vantage points with a vehicle generously supplied by Ultimate Car Rentals and captured some incredible images of the team and surrounds. See them all on the team Facebook: Merrell Adventure Addicts