Polar RS 800 Review part one:

It was the Christmas holidays, nobody was in the office and all of a sudden the “low battery sign” on my Polar RS 800 came on. I have had the unit for about 2 years so this was to be expected at some stage. Bugger, what to do now? I went to various stockists of Polar in the hope that they would have a clue. All I got was blank stares. It just looked so easy.

The RS 800 has a user changeable battery. That was easy enough to figure out. Finally after much searching the Cape Union Mart Canal Walk branch sold me a battery for R80! I was on my way when suddenly Mel mentioned that I would probably lose my warranty claim if I did this by myself. Even the manual did not allude to this…..????

I try not to be too much of a technophobe and I really did not want to train without my watch recording all the things it records.

Monday 5th Jan did not arrive soon enough and I called the ever friendly Travis at IHF Products (the South African Polar distributor). I explained the situation and that I had a race on this weekend (Bay to Bay on the 11th). He said that “if everything went to plan I would have my watch back by the weekend”. Cool- if everything went to plan! So off into a Speed Services envelope my watch went. Me holding thumbs.

The one week running without my Polar I felt like driving without my seatbelt- Naked!

On Thursday I had not heard anything from Polar so I called. Ok this took quite a bit of effort as the line was engaged for hours. Once I got through they said they had the unit and the battery change would cost R100. They mailed me banking details. I did the transfer within the hour. The next morning I received an SMS saying that I could collect my unit from the post office. Yes there it was. New battery and all.

So what is the point of all this?
There are so many gadgets on the market these days that all claim to do wonderful things. In fact when making a purchasing decision, there are often several brands which meet our needs. At this point I would seriously consider after-sales service. I have owned the Polar 625 before this. Unless something drastic happens I will stick to Polar as my first choice. The products work and have the right features and their after-sales service is fantastic.

Incidentally a colleague of mine has sent his three units in to a competitor. Hmm let’s see how long they take to repair these?

Steenberg Ridge scramble

A brief description of the fantastic scramble just above Lakeside.
A new year and a new adventure. All Cape Tonian’s have seen it. Very in your face in just the right light. Right there in front of you, up on the hill, just at the end of the road. The M3 that is. Steenberg Ridge is the broken ridge running up the side of the hills above Lakeside. Just park your car at the pub at the start of Boyes Drive and walk to the first bend on Boyes Drive. From here take a vague path until this levels out and continue up the hill to the left of the blocky gendarme. The initial climbing starts up the obvious white, stepped faces. This little warm up gets you onto the crest of the ridge and the crux pitch. From here continue up the buttresses to the large rock window just below the top. You will now be on Steenberg Peak, close to the Naval antennae. Follow the cairns to the jeep track which is easily followed to the Silvermine East gate on Ou Kaapse Weg.
And so with none of the above knowledge I followed my old climbing friend Gareth up this little adventure on the 2nd of Jan. I was advised to bring rock shoes and chalk. But seeing as my chalk bag was a solid block of caked chalk from exactly a year ago I only managed to scratch together two (yes one left and one right) climbing shoe. Somehow they had mysteriously shrunk while gathering dust in my cupboard for the last 12 months or so.
The story of my caked chalk bag is one that I am not certain I want to revisit. It involved no free-climbing on my part just carrying a very heavy pack filled with metal a very long way up a hill only to be rained on for 36h straight while not losing my sense of humour.
The route finding was surprisingly straightforward on Steenberg Ridge with the odd cairn to be found on ledges along the way. The rock is solid and gear seemed fine to me, but then I was not really looking. The overall grade would clock in at 11 or so.
What a grand way to start the New Year!

Hex Traverse 13 Dec 08

Hex River Traverse report:

Fairy Glen, Thomas Hut, Perry Refuge, Pells and down in 9h13.

I am still trying to get this blog up and going so am playing catch up with recent trips so here goes:

I had long heard of the great Hex Traverse. Despite climbing and walking several isolated areas of the Hex River Mountains I had never connected any of the dots. Today was the day.

Friends of mine Duncan, Gosia and Dan had done one of the standard traverses and wrote about their experience. I quized them a bit more and let the idea brew a little longer. A few weeks ago I realised that I would be in my old home town Worcester with nothing to do for most of a day…..!

That is all I needed I figured. Roger Steel did not need any pursuasion.

Our plan was to start from Fairy Glen, walk up to Thomas Hut via Fonteintjiesberg to Perry Refuge, Across the Pell’s and down to a waiting car at the bottom of Waaihoek. Simple in theory.

Due to the restrictive starting hours we could only enter Fairy Glen at 7h00 and drive past the lion den. The inhabitants were thankfully sleeping and not looking too hungry! A quick 95 min up to Thomas hut saw us fill bottles and bladders to the brim. It was going to be a warm day and the promising looking clouds from earlier did not seem to be hanging around for much longer.

3h to Perry we reconned and we almost made that cutoff if it was not for the magically disapearing GPS which decided to depart our company unanounced.

We did not actually go down to Perry but rather continued to traverse high along the large horseshoe into the heat of the day. We thought we had enough liquid with us an certainly enough time. Just before the first steep gully we met other folk who were going in the opposite direction. Heavy packs and all. They did give us a few sips of nice juice though which was much welcomed.

Finally we got to the very nice pools just before Pells and refilled our bladders and bodies. The short climb up to the ridge and a call to say we would be another hour.

Down, down and more to finally reach Mel who had brought cold juices and a very happy welcome!

9h13. Not bad for a day at the office. I can not believe that nobody has done this before in a day. It is very doable and fun. Certainly more of a fast walk than run. In fact we did not run anything significant but walked pretty much non stop all the way. 3,5 l of liquid capacity and energy food.

Addo Elephant 100 miler May 08

Addo 100 Mile Trail Run race report or surviving in the bird cage

I was stunned, completely stunned. I could not believe it. Was this a dream, or had I actually just been run over by an ostrich? This tall bird (at least a foot taller than me) had run into me head-on and floored me. I don’t remember falling, or how long I was down or how I got back to my feet. I just remember having to dust myself off and staggering on. I was 40 km into the longest event of my life and certainly did not expect this! Here is a shortened version of the article which appeared in SA Mountain Sports issue 25.

The Addo was to be over double my longest run ever! I had planned meticulously. Nutrition, timing, where I wanted dry socks or a fresh pair of shoes (one size larger than my normal shoes because your feet swell over these long distances) was thought about and planned weeks before I set off. I was to travel from Cape Town to the race in the Addo Elephant Park in the Eastern Cape with a merry crew. The 1st of May saw us arrive in Addo at the briefing. I certainly was nervous about the task which lay ahead the next day. My aim was 1) to finish and 2) to finish in under 24h and earn the silver belt buckle.

The start was at 6h00 outside the Kirkwood Hotel the next day. A short section of tarred road lead us into the hills and phenomenal surroundings. There were some pretty serious hills from early on. Estienne (the RD) had warned us that the early section followed an old fence line (in other words take a straight line between two points come hell or high water). I soon found that I was running by myself. Walk up the steep, steep hills and down the other side just to do more of the same. There was mist in the valleys and the sun was not making itself known yet. Magic to be out in the hills.

All went very well until CP4 at 34 km. 3h38 into the day and I was going strong. We had a short flattish section of out and back. This was the first time I got a chance to see the other runners. I had never met Bruce Arnett before but he was looking strong in first and AO Okreglicki in second. Jo Mackenzie and Mimi Anderson were chatting away a couple of minutes behind me. In fact they would catch me at all CP’s and I really enjoyed having them around. They were having fun and that really reminded me why I was there.

Then suddenly the ostrich got the better of me. It happened so quickly that I had absolutely no time to react. (Apparently the thing to do is crouch down and make yourself as small as possible. Ostrich’s can cause serious injury with their claws. I am told that I was lucky.)

Forests and rivers followed that were real pretty. Sneaky detours spared wet toes. The going underfoot was serious 4X4 stuff with quite rough rocky terrain. Just what we had signed up for!

Out of the foothills it was. Up, up and more steepness until we finally got onto this amazing ridge and CP 8. 70 km and 7h33 into the race my pace was good. I changed into a fresh pair of Continental Divides at this point. A quick check on all toetsies did not reveal any immediate issues. We followed this blunt ridge for 15 kays or so. The views were magnificent. Then down steep dirt roads. Too steep to run so a shuffle was the best in saving the quads. I was glad to get down to the farm at CP 10. 88km and 11h36 down. A couple of slices of orange was a refreshing change from the Hammer gels, bars and Perpetuem I had used up to then. Suddenly the light started fading quickly as I entered the forest on the river trail section. Mimi and Jo caught up to me and it was a real motivation to hear their chatter in the darkness. Steep switchbacks took us over 300m of altitude gain up and into the darkness to Zuurberg Inn (CP11, 96 km and 12h49). We had finished the technical section (thank goodness) and the rest of the run was on dirt roads (some only passable by 4X4). The night was quiet and not too windy as we headed up the Zuurberg Pass. The first bit of nausea hit me somewhere around here. Just too much effort to get a gel down. Squeeze, swallow quick, rinse mouth, spit, psyche up a couple of minutes for the next mouthful…

CP 13 (110km and 15h36 down) arrived not a moment too late. I had left my Nano here as a treat for the night section. Plug it in and turn up the volume. Oh and espresso gels kicked in and gave me a much needed boost into the night. I tried to run for a whole song and then walk one. That did not last for very long. Made myself another deal. Run for a minute, walk for a minute, run… that just got me more tired and I slowed down. Darn! I had 9 ½ hours to cover 50km. I thought I would just have to walk at an average of 6+km/h including stops if I was to make my goal of finishing sub 24h! We headed up onto the plateau. There was a little wind and the temp was cool, conditions were perfect! Off in the distance I could see the lights of towns below us.
Finally I spotted two lights, they were close. That must be the turnaround?! I hoped and wished. I will be there in minutes!! On and on along this dirt road, on and on into the night, tunes and scattered thoughts my only companions. Minutes seemed longer than they should. Finally the lights rose onto a hill (oh no) then I saw AO’s headlamp bob toward me. My greeting was unanswered. A final hill and then I heard the voices cheer me on! Brilliant to see friendly frozen faces out here in middle earth. A quick drink of water and turn around (CP 14, 118 km and 16h49). Homeward bound! On the plateau I met Jo and we swopped encouragements. So where had Mimi gone? I had no idea, did not think to ask at the time.

The tricky stuff was all over and it was just a matter of beating the clock now. Could I maintain my walking pace of 6km/h or so? Running was proving to be too much effort for my brain and body. Just before the first of the long downhills. Jo caught and passed me easily. I thought of trying to put up a fight but realised that she was way stronger as she headed off into the distance. Minutes later I gladly accepted a cup of warm tea from her at the Zuurberg Pass Road (CP 12, 133km, 19h09). Tea has never been more welcome than this! Down the steep pass to Zuurberg Inn (CP 11, 140km, 20h17) and a refreshing snack of orange. I had 3 ½ hours left to do the last 20km’s give or take a couple minutes. (Not exactly a PB I thought) This was going to be close. On and on into the colder depths and finally some more lights. The mind playing tricks again telling me that Wellshaven (CP 15) was just around the corner. No just keep going. I was keeping a close watch on my pace and time to make sure that I was on target. Finally cheers out of the darkness and car headlights flashing at me. CP15 and 8km to go! (5 km to cross the main tar road and then 3 km to the finish at the rest camp in Addo) 1 ½ h to go! Focus and keep going. Whatever you do don’t slow down!

The medic drives past me. “You OK?, Just tired?” I nod.

The tar road. Look left, look right, look left again. Not so much. There is not a car in sight.
A minute later panic!
Somehow I have drifted off and missed the course and am not sure which way to go. Time is running out with 40 min and 3km to go to finish in sub 24h. Slow down, think! Retrace my steps to the last point I was on course. Then I remember the instructions of Estienne at the briefing to just run along the park fence. The marking tape appears again. Keep up the pace up this unending hill! Suddenly I turn a corner and am in the camp. I hear the cheers and clapping hands before I see them. I hug Jo, Bruce and Nadia and almost forget to cross the official finish line.

I am done! 23h39 and 3rd place in the men’s.
Smiles and several cups of tea.

The short walk to our chalet as the sky is infused with some colour seems to drag on for ages. Nothing hurts in isolation, my whole body is just very, very tired. After a short shower I crawl under covers and try to warm up. This takes most of the morning. I am drained.

All in all this is a brilliant event, one of the best I have done. Well organised with well marked paths everywhere. A nice mix of terrain underfoot. All of the folks involved were super friendly and very encouraging. I can only recommend it to anyone wanting to take part. Next year there will be a 100mile, 50 mile and 40 km events all on the 1st of May.

’09

A time to reflect and plan. Look at the past and at the future and see who we are and who we want to be.
Races for 09:
Bat Run
Hell Run
Two Ocean’s
Volunteer Wildfire Services Trail Challenge
Old Fisherman’s Trail
Hout Bay Trail Challenge
Puffer
Sky Run

hmm that sounds like a fair amount already. I am sure I will add to that as I go along.