Clive Leader - Surviving the X-Berg!
Easily one of the best races around - you have to be proper tough to compete! I am still kicking myself for listening to Rory and agreeing to a change in our planned route at the last minute as I was planning on finishing on the Friday evening.
For me the adventure of planning and executing your own route is the attraction and boy did we have an adventure!! After the Cape Epic I decided I didn’t want to follow arrows anymore and this delivered.
Drakensberg in March is perfect - not too cold at night to "survive" on a small rock ledge in the rain in wet cycling gear overnight and not too hot in the day!
Ending up on the rock ledge: From turn point 4 to 5 is only 15km and I took a compass bearing and we tracked as close to direct as we could. From turn point 4 there is a nice jeep track for about 6 km until we got to a sheer cliff where we could see a hiking trail on the lower slopes and decided to go for it. We skirted around the edge of the cliff to the north and literally slid down a grass gully for about 200m (not walkable) into a yellow wood forest. We kept going down through the forest feeding our bikes and climbing down after and then emerged into a river that we could not cross due to the sides being huge boulders so we swam our bikes navy seal style down the river for about 300m. We had descended over 600m by this time.
Once in the valley we were in swampy terrain, I think a little higher to the south we would have had better going but with the bikes it was not an option to climb up the other side. The grass we had to negotiate was waist high and very thick and very difficult to move in. This grass continued for about 3 km and we were now only 7 km from turn point 5. Wet hungry and running out of day light, at about 17h45 we decided to look for a place to spend the night. By sunset we were basically about 300m above the river on a rock ledge with another rock cliff behind us - we couldn't go up and we couldn't go down in the dark. We had to wait for daylight. We were wet, exhausted from fighting through the long, thick grass and Rory didn't have a decent jacket - the one he had was wet and not much good. I gave him my space blanket and he had his own space blanket (life saving device -I will always carry at least 3 space blankets from now on. They weigh nothing but are worth more than gold in a survival situation). I had a wind and waterproof jacket and a plastic emergency poncho. Then it started to rain! We were already wet from swimming so cold was going to be a real concern. We huddled down and sat out the night – cold, wet, shivering, teeth-rattling adventure.
By morning we were both exhausted. Our water was finished and our food consisted of 2 bite size snickers bars, a small bag of droëwors, 2 fast bars and half a bag of jelly tots. I decided to head down stream and not continue on our bearing to turn point 5. The route downstream at 5 in the morning was more long, thick grass and swimming down the river was our only option due to the bush on each side being too thick to move in. Swimming at 05h30 is not recommended after a night in the rain. We eventually found a cattle track and cycled back to the tar road. This route is definitely an option for trail runners -move fast and light, stay high and out of the swampy thick long grass and stuff. Without a bike I could get through.
Training must simulate what you expect from your planned route.
- Train carting, carrying and swimming with your bike
- Train mountain terrain and be prepared for anything
Have some survival training as anything can and probably will happen. The X-Berg Challenge is a war and I loved every wonderful horrible moment!
X-Berg Challenge competitor
2016 & 2017