After my completion in 2017 with my 19-day duathlon challenge I started to think how much can I really run each day consecutively, so the idea was born for #WheresWillie2019. Again, as before there had to be a reason for this challenge and same as previously, I decided to raise funds and awareness for African Tails. I have been looking for a while at the Cross-Cape route which is marketed by Cape Cycle routes.
This particular route originates in Stellenbosch and then extends itself across to Plettenberg bay making use mainly of dirt roads connecting a multitude on towns through the Cape, Overberg, Klein Karoo and Garden route. Overall distance 744km’s one way. But the problem is the distance was not far enough. So why not double up the route? The idea was born to cycle the route by means of bike packing one way unsupported and then use Plettenberg bay as my transition point from bike to run. Then leave the bike there grab my backpack and then run the same Cross Cape route back unsupported but by means of an Ultra a day. So, the trip was planned and the training started mostly offshore where I spent most of my time stuck on a field support vessel training on a 20,9-diameter helipad. How do you train for multiple Ultra’s? I am still not sure.
On the 10th September 2019 I left Dirtopia just outside Stellenbosch and started with #WheresWillie2019 in aid of African Tails. Day one was planned to stop at Greyton. This day got the legs working properly by climbing Hellshoogte pass followed by Franschoek pass. Looking at the route there were multiple passes in the days to come especially once I get closer to the Klein Karoo and Garden route.
Day 2 was from Greyton to Swellendam. This day was highlighted with a lot of dirt roads, dust and heat. After this day I knew that form here onwards that the trip will have some serious days of hard grinding in the seat waiting for me.
Day 3 was from Swellendam to Riversdal. This was meant to be the shortest day but unfortunately, I missed a turnoff which lead me to do an additional 19km’s and a climb into a pass marked as T1. So much for an easy day.
Day 4 I knew wouldn’t be easy as this was another two-pass day Garcia Pass followed by the red dragon called Rooiberg pass. The pass has the tendency to force even the toughest cyclist to some serios swearing. After fighting with Rooiberg pass or slaying this dragon for most of the day I rolled into Calitzdorp. One of the toughest days out there for me. This particular day also announced the fact that I was now officially in the Klein Karoo region.
Day 5 The dirt road leading out from Calitzdorp to Oudsthoorn followed by Herold this was a great stretch of dirt with a mixture of all elements some climbs, fast sections and some long straight sections which was consumed by gearing up and pushing on. The main aim each day was to try and escape the heat. In the Klein Karoo there is no escaping the heat after 10 am in the morning. I overshot my stopping point this day as I could not secure accommodation and my folks scooped me up after the long day in the saddle as they reside in the area.
Day 6 My folks returned me to the previous day’s stopping point and I pushed today for Knysna and climbing a multitude of passes followed by Montague pass, Swart river pass, Duiwelskop pass, 7 passes esc.
Day 7 was the final day on the bike I left Knysna early morning straight into a climb up to Gouna forest into Kom se pad through a section of the Knysna forest. This was an epic stretch of riding, nice and cool with the lush green trees hanging over the road. I arrived in Plettenberg bay just before lunch time and rewarded myself with an Ice-cold beer. My folks came up to assist me with the bike pick up and bringing my running kit for the next leg of #WheresWillie2019 unsupported challenge.
The ultra a day kicked off on day 8 and boy was I in for a serious school day, I pay dearly for it. Getting off the bike after 7 days and using different muscle groups my body was in for a serios surprise. I just could not get into a decent running rhythm; the backpack was breaking my back in half; the weight was unbearable and it felt nothing like I had trained with. Some serios thoughts of pulling the plug started to filter into my head. How could I have been so stupid what was I thinking. But saying this I have been in this position multiple times before with my previous challenges. So, I blocked it all out. I manned up and started to work on the hills and looking for a sweat spot. Just after 45km’s I ran out of water. Luckily, I knew of a fresh little stream after I dropped down from Gouna forest. All I had to do was just get there. Running an Ultra on day one was hard work. I arrived in Knysna on 58,48 km’s cooked and feeling very sorry for myself.
The following day I went out after carefully after repacking my backpack the previous night and I concentrated on my stride and pace. Baby steps. The body was aching but at least I knew the pain and this was familiar territory for me. This day was the shortest Ultra of the trip as I had to break it up due to accommodation issues on route. The day finished at 46,09km’s.
Day 10 I had some company as a friend a renowned marathoner Willie Coetzee came out to join me for a 54,28km day which would finish in Herold. We smashed some serios passes including Montague pass right on the hottest part of the day. Right at the crest we found as small bitter sweet cool mountain stream that saved our lives. This stream gave us the power to push for the last bit into Herold. It was great to have the company along the way and taking my mind off the mileage.
Day 11 was the push back into the Klein Karoo, another cooker and no escape from the heat. Luckily no big climbs and I started to work on really getting into rhythm. This section took me past the Paardepoort pass towards Oudtshoorn which would be the stopping point.
Day 12 stood out even when I was planning the trip as this was the longest section of dirt road between Oudtshoorn and Calitzdorp. There was many rolling hills and heat and I ended up being 10 hours out on the road. Arrived in Calitzdorp half delirious without water and extremely tired.
Day 13 again I had to face Rooiberg pass this time luckily without my bicycle but there would be no downhill reward after each climb. The morning started with a light drizzle which made for cool comfortable running. Most of the day it rained so it was jacket on jacket off, as I made my way towards Van Wyksdorp. I arrived wet and happy in town.
Day 14 I started to push harder as I was settling in, the backpack was getting lighter and I started to find my groove. Only major obstacle was that I had to clear Garcia Pass later the day before I could get to Riversdal. The pass was energy sapping but seeing Riversdal just past the crest kept my spirits up and I pushed through to complete another ultra on a distance of 62,92km’s
Day 15 I had to make my way to Swellendam and this was probably the most beautiful part of the run, the section I missed during the cycling leg I found and this was a great section of Jeep track with the most phenomenal vista’s. The day was stopped at Grootvadersbosch area on 61,04km’s. I arrange for a pickup to cart me back to Swellendam again this was due to accommodational issues in the area.
Day 16 would see me go through Suurbraak – run a section on the N2 until I could reach Swellendam. I dreaded this section the most as it is not a great place for running. Pushed a bit harder to clear this tar section. Before I knew it the Swellendam turnoff popped up. I kept on pushing past Swellendam onto the next section of dirt until my stopping point at Waboomheuwel distance for the day 59,05km.
Day 17 was an absolute cooker of a day out. I made Riviersonderend just in time to restock on water before I could continue and finish off mid-point between Rivier and Greyton. My wife and son came out from Cape Town to cheer me on for the last bit and pick me up as we had to stay in Riviersondered.
Day 18 an early start again to get back to the previous days stopping point. Today was the push past Greyton and make my way towards Franschoek. I stopped just next to the Thee waterskloof dam at the Draaiberg turnoff on 59,25km’s. It was another hot day out on the dance floor but my spirits were high as I knew Stellenbosch was waiting just behind the mountains for me.
Day 19 my wife took me back to the Draaiberg turnoff. Today I felt the strongest I have felt since starting, my backpack was a lot lighter since I started 11 days earlier so I really went for it, picked up my pace to 5:50 and went buzzing into Franschoek pass. Obviously in the pass my pace dropped a lot on the climbs, but I felt strong and good. Unfortunately, I pushed too hard and on clearing the pass I could feel that my right leg was not performing as it should and there was an agonising pain starting just below my knee cap extending down to my right foot. Arriving at Franschoek I had to do a loop round the outskirts to conclude the days km’s to finish my Ultra at our accommodation for the night. This day was finished on 53,25km’s. One Ultra left to go.
Day 20 was a happy but painful start I had Hellshoogte pass waiting and my right leg was really giving issues from the word go as I left Franschoek. The previous nights icing and anti-inflammatories did not help. Luckily it was cool and there was a light drizzle. Each km’s I had to concentrate on placing my foot down perfectly not to aggravate my injury any further, which made for really slow and painful running. I cleared Hellshoogte pass and dropped down towards Stellenbosch. At the intersection I turned towards Dirtopia (Delvera) and made my last assault. Neil Ismay a founding member and serving board member of Africantails joined me on the last stretch up to Dirtopia. The light chat kept my mind away from my injury which was great. On our arrival at the farm my son Liam and Dalene Swart joined in for the final 5km’s of trail on the Dirtopia trail to wrap up my final Ultra and overall mileage of 1500,66km’s for the trip.
#WheresWillie2019 was my first multistage unsupported trip and there were some seriously hard days out on the road. But this is what makes these challenges special after all. All my efforts were to raise funds and awareness for Africantails and that is what kept me pushing each day. https://www.givengain.com/cc/whereswillie-2019/