Just Chaps thanks Iain Paterson for sharing his epic riding adventure:
Race day dawned bright and early, a dry but breezy day greeted us as we went through our final kit preparations and mentally steeled ourselves for the challenge ahead. Start was at 10AM to allow easy river crossings in the first few km so we had a grueling wait until it was eventually time to saddle up and head to the start. This proved to be a challenge in itself with a trek along a sand track then a steep climb up a boulder field to reach the flat plateau that was the start. All the horses made it up easily but this was a bit of an eye opener for the riders, if this was just the route to the start, what was the rest of the race like?? With gathering excitement, we lined up on the start line and then we were off!
Keen, fit horses made for a chaotic first 5km with riders being wiped out by trees and loose horses careering past, not the usual sedate start of an endurance ride in Scotland! We eventually got going though and I put myself into the group of riders near the front, helping set the pace, determined not to be left behind at this early point. The going was smooth with lots of space to canter, but we all kept our horses steady to preserve them for the many miles ahead. The first real challenge came at the Mntentu River, before we would tackle our first deep river we had to descend a tricky rocky escarpment with only a narrow path to the bottom. I reached this descent first and hopped off to lead my horse down, he followed like a mountain goat, I had no idea horses could be so nimble on their feet! We reached the bottom unscathed having jumped from rock to rock and headed to the river which, although deep, the horses didn’t have to swim so we made it across easily. The rest of the run to the vet gate was over open hilly country which the horses coped with brilliantly, and we made it there fairly easily.
The vet check was on top of a hill straight after a beach section which meant that we had approached quite quickly but my horse pulsed down to below 64 very quickly and we would begin our 40-minute hold where the farrier could replace the shoe I had lost early in the loop. 40 minutes flies by when you have a crew to help you look after your horse and yourself but when you are fending for yourself it positively vanishes! Hazzan and I left the vet gate in the lead with a minute’s advantage over the next riders and at this early stage in the race two distance groups of riders were already forming. The other riders caught me quickly and we spent the rest of the day taking turns to lead and navigate. This section included some tough climbs including a section up out of a gorge where we had to cut across the cliffs to get to the top, a scary moment when you just had to leave the horses head alone and trust that he knew where to put his feet! This was not too bad in the light of the day but towards the end of the section, with some of the most challenging riding still to come, the light began to fade.
We descended and then ascended a tricky rocky gorge as the last of the light left us and this is where we all began to get worried and I had my first setback, everyone was in a hurry so got on their horses and rode into the dark rather than waiting for each other, I was last to get on my horse and he put in a nasty jump as I mounted, sending me over his head and onto my back, ouch! Thankfully he didn’t run off and I was able to mount and try to follow my GPS into the darkness, hoping to find the other riders before the infamous rocky descent before the vet gate and compulsory overnight hold at Mboyti. We did catch up thankfully and then started one of the scariest half hours of my life.
The route took us down a steep boulder field which would have been difficult to navigate in the light but in the dark was nigh on impossible. We were all dismounted and marvelled at how these horses neatly descended through seemingly impossible boulders until we eventually reached the beach below. A quick canter in the dark along the beach saw me catch up with the leading riders again and we all turned off the seashore towards camp, only 500 metres to go! However, in that 500 metres there was a lagoon. A dark, uninviting mass of water which we had to cross to reach our end point, there was no way round, the two riders who tried turned up 30 minutes after we were all safely vetted having got completely muddled, so we just had to ride into the oily black. My horse being the most confident in water had to lead which was very scary as I couldn’t tell when he was going to disappear from underneath me into the cold water and we would have to swim for a bank we couldn’t see! However, his feet thankfully stayed on solid ground and we eventually waded out and made it to camp, thank goodness! A quick untack and vet presentation and it was time to get a good night’s sleep. 77km completed 273km to go.
Tune in tomorrow for another bite.