By Patrick Cruywagen
With every step of the impossibly steep descent it feels as if Babe Ruth is crashing his heavy baseball bat into my quads. They are literally shot to pieces. I use whatever bush or branches within arms length to grab hold of and break my free fall as I lose my footing in the slippery foothills of the Outeniqua Mountains. On one occasion there is nothing to hold onto and I slide off the mountainside onto a soft bed of lime green ferns. Surprisingly they are more comfortable than any bed I have slept on and so I delay getting up. Eventually my running partner Jan Ham comes to look for me. Time to get up and try to finish this is the first stage of the 3 day Southern Cross Trail Run.
The unique selling point of the race is that each day is run on a different terrain form starting with the mountains, then moving into the areas legendary forests before finishing off along some of the most picturesque coastline planet earth has to offer. There is no denying the areas beauty which explains why the Garden Route is on top of just about every foreign tourists must visit places when they land in South Africa. Today’s mountain stage started with us runners being bussed in to a forest station in the foothills of the Outeniqua Mountains. With Race Director Hano Otto’s “don’t forget to enjoy it” words of encouragement still ringing in our ears we started with a gravel road climb. It carried on for the best part of an hour as we made our skywards. Gravel was replaus. The first stage had over 1400 metres of climbing in only 25 km of running. That is more climbing in one day than a monkey does in its lifetime.
Looking back towards the coast and where we had come from was a visual feast not to be enjoyed for too long as running and looking around on trail as technical as this is not recommended unless you want to practice your tumbling technique. We had to cross two rivers in-between the technical tracks and I practised my rock hopping so as to keep my shoes dry. Fortunately the sun was not out making it ideal conditions for trail running. Jan too had to visit the ferns but this was because his tummy was not willing to hold his breakfast and supper down any longer. Our hill running was not over and Jan was suffering from no energy and so we gracefully walked and then crawled up the last few big hills before enjoying the downhill to the days finish. The winners had taken 2h20 minutes and we were 40 minutes behind and in 6th place. The hills had broken me nad Jan’s tummy had broken him but this was trail running at its purest and most technical best. Slippery single-track, snot covered rocks and brutal climbs, the stuff that real trail runners enjoy with hardly any of that pussy gentle up and down jeep track stuff.
The second day moved out of the mountains and into the Millwood Forest. The first few kms were a gentle jeep track which helped one to ease into the long 30 km stage. Hiking trails soon replaced the jeep track and I had to pinch myself as I thought I was on the set for the blockbuster movie Avatar. Beautiful green trees shaded us from the sun as we gingerly made our way around the flowing tracks. A river flowed nearby and birds happily tweeted away, both Jan and I were in a happy place as we both felt strong. The day’s only water point came and went and we thanked the volunteers.
Now we were in wilder forest, on paths hikers or other crazies hardly ever come along. They were overgrown and we had to keep a look out for booby traps such as roots. Somebody flipped the hills switch and we were climbing again and again. My happy Avatar movie set became Apocalypse Now, except I did not have a M16 to blow away the Vietcong who had riddled my legs with bullets. We were in long dark tunnels of forest with no light at the end and only more darkness. Up and down and up and down we went, like a Jack in the Box on E. Thirty kms started to seem like 30 000 km. I now knew what it feels like to run with no training, not my smartest move, but one we tend to make more often the older we get. There is no such thing is muscle memory by the way. Just like the day before the last few kms was a gentle descent down to the finish line. We had once again climbed over 1 000 metres but the forest trail around Millwood had been a special experience. I would definitely be coming back to this forest to run and mountain bike.
The final day was shortest of the three and along the coastline near George. I had no legs left but had to somehow get myself around the course. Fortunately the start was gentle before the hills once again reared their ugly head. I walked the steep tough ones. Soon we were on a cliff next to the sea, just like on the Otter Trail; the salt air seemed to sooth my legs. I was once again in that happy place. At one stage we descended down onto the beach and rocks and had to clamber our way up the cliffs again. It was tough going but beautiful. Soon in the distance we could see the finish banners, one more loop through some bush tunnels and we were there. We had run for just over 9 hours for the 3 stages and this placed us 6th in the men’s category. I have run in the Kalahari Desert and along the Wild Coast but until you have run along the different terrain forms of the Garden Route your little trail running picture is incomplete. But don’t be fooled the Southern Cross Trail is a tough one with lots of climbing and technical stuff but the beauty and uniqueness far outweighs that. Just like in the classic R.E.M song here “everybody hurts” from the pro to the social runner, but you are in a place of unique beauty which kind of helps to make up for it.
Want to run in 2013?
For the details of the 2013 race see www.southercrossadventure.co.za or call Hano Otto on 0824452365.