On Monday 9 September, less than 2 weeks before the planned start, I decided that I wanted to join them on the adventure, also doing it on a motorcycle. At that stage I just needed to escape a bit and I thought it would be an ideal getaway weekend. Dirk booked a fourth person at all the accommodation spots, and I started to feel the excitement of the trip. By lunch time that day, I was starting to play with the idea of still trying to run it. The new 3 day time span was going to be tough, and for the next couple of days I negotiated with Dirk on how to try and fit the 10 passes into 3 days in a way that will be doable for me. He was very accommodating, and we worked out a plan that I just might be able to pull off. The main thing was that I was going to be very dependent on Dirk and especially Gerhard, as they would have to do quite a bit of waiting for me.
The plan was roughly as follows:
Day 2 was going to be the difficult one, with 60km where 27 of them are on high altitude: a killer for an oxygen breather.
As we drove down to Lady Grey on Saturday 21 Sept, I thought that we should try to do Joubert’s Pass that same afternoon still, just to be easier on my legs for the next day. The others were very accommodating again, and as they prepared the bikes after the long drive. Dirk quickly dropped me off at the edge of town, to enable me to get a head start on them. By then the realisation of me attempting to run the Ben10 kicked in firmly as it was a nice uphill, reminding me of what was to come for the next 3 days.
Joubert’s Pass first 8km was at a fairly steep gradient at times, which involved a fair bit of power-walking. Unfortunately there were some raging field fires in the area, which made it a bit unpleasant.
Both the bikes and the bakkie eventually passed me on my way to the top, and Gerhard was waiting at the summit to assist with the photo at the Ben10 sign. This was also a habit established for the next 3 days: Patient waiting by Gerhard and the bikers.
The last 2.5km was a very pleasant and fast downhill sprint, as my legs were still fresh. A feeling which I would soon long for again.
It was quite a long drive to Otto du Plessis from Lady Grey, but at least I had fresh legs to start the day. Otto du Plessis was done in the easier (faster) direction for a runner, as it was more downhill. This hurts the legs more, but I was not complaining. Well, not yet anyway. There was still lots of climbing waiting for me for that day.
Knowing this, forced me to take the first 3 km uphill fairly easy. We all met up at the summit point for the customary photo and I proceeded with the final 7km downhill. I did not want to sprint down at too fast a pace, as I knew the downhill might hurt my legs and there was still some 30km of running after this pass. The downhill was easy going, as running any technical sections, flattened it out quite a bit. I waited at the bottom of the pass for Gerhard, we played around in the stream taking some group photos, and off we went.
By the time Gerhard dropped me at the bottom of Barkly Pass, it was just about 12h00. For me, being a trail runner, Barkly pass was the one that I was not looking forward to as it is the only tarred pass of the 10. I tried to run off-tar wherever possible. The bikes and Gerhard went on to check in at Mountain Shadows Hotel, while waiting for me to complete Barkly pass.
Barkly Pass’s gradient was fairly OK, as I could run most of it. The views on the pass made up for the surface, and I think this will be absolutely gorgeous in summer when it is lush and green. My first mistake of my Ben 10 attempt also happened here, as I ran out of water some 3km before the summit. Luckily no serious issue, as it was only 4km to the hotel.
Once I reached the top of Barkly pass, I took a photo at the sign board, and proceeded to run down to the Hotel where I met up with the rest. I had a quick pitstop to refuel the body, and off we went to Bastervoetpad Pass.
I started Bastervoetpad at about 14:15, and soon after I started, it was becoming cloudy and misty, and light rain started to fall. Out came the warm clothing but by the time I reached the summit where Gerhard was waiting for me my hands were freezing, as my gloves were not sufficient. Gerhard had some motocross gloves which he lent to me (these came in quite handy the next day on TTT as well). The run down Bastervoetpad was very enjoyable, with some of the most beautiful scenery enhanced by fog and clouds. It was still raining very lightly at times: perfect running conditions. I actually managed to run down some 10 minutes faster than the 4x4, as running over the difficult sections was much faster than negotiating them with a 4x4.
Bastervoetpad was a highlight for me in terms of beauty, and at some stages I was standing in awe: The rock formations together with the fog and mist made it such a beautiful afternoon. As I was alone for most of the pass, and for entertainment, at one stage I found myself even talking to the cows, asking them if they had any idea how privileged they were to experience this beauty every day. There was no response though, which was probably a good thing as I didn’t feel like losing my mind just yet. The day ended on a perfect note with a lovely dinner at Mountain Shadows, where we saw Trygve Roberts of www.mountainpassessouthafrica.co.za. Not wanting to interrupt his meal we waited until he moved to the buffet table before we hurriedly introduced ourselves and had a bit of a chinwag about the challenge.
The next morning the ice was lying quite thick on the vehicles outside, and after breakfast, we proceeded to Rhodes via Barkley East so we could first fill up the jerry cans for the motorbikes. It was just after 10:00 when I started the long run up Naude’s Nek. My legs were somewhat tired, but surprisingly in a better condition that I’ve anticipated. I knew that this was going to be a long day and if I somehow could make it through this day, I might be able to complete the challenge. The furthest that I’ve run before in a day was 50km, and the 60km for the day on top of the fact that it was done on ‘used’ legs, made it a challenge. I reached the summit of Naude’s Nek in good spirits, but had a bit of a scare when I saw how far the end was from there. The next 14km was downhill and it felt like forever. Maintaining motivation becomes harder, especially when you’re alone. There were times when I felt like talking to Mr Roberts about the location of the start of the pass at the eastern end, I felt it could’ve been shorter. Some 2km before the end though, I encountered Dirk on his KTM, as he came back to look for me. To have some company on the last bit of the 32km run made it a lot more bearable, and I could sprint down to where the others waited for us at the eastern end of the pass. I did Naude’s Nek in 11 minutes more than I had planned, and reached the end in a time of 4h11min.
I had an hour or so to refuel the body while Gerhard drove me up to Tenahead lodge to start part 2. It was about 15h20 when I started TTT. I knew it would be dark by the time I finished, and by now I was very much focused on completing the challenge. The altitude and my tired legs had quite an effect on my expected pace, nevertheless it was a very enjoyable pass as the beautiful views and excitement motivated me to the end.
The remoteness of TTT, gave it a very special feeling. The pass is very undulating, with a few steep sections to negotiate. The surreal feeling of running in such unspoilt remoteness helped to forget about the pain and stiffness starting to set in.
The last 5km were freezing cold and I finished with 3 layers of clothing. That final uphill to Tiffendell felt like it took forever, but the joy of completing the day made it all better. The drive in the bakkie down Carlislehoekspruit Pass was done in sub-zero temperatures. Gerhard and I were welcomed with a warm plate of food that Dirk had arranged for us. Bobotie had never tasted this good!
There was a time earlier when I thought about doing Carlislehoekspruit Pass the same evening after TTT, because descending it would be a lot faster and would make the last day with Volunteershoek and Lundean’s Nek much easier. Although my mind was seriously contemplating it, after the day’s 60km or so my body just would not agree.
At 07h00 the next morning when the others were getting ready to go for breakfast at Rubicon Guest house, I was dropped at the start of Carlislehoekspruit to start the 15km ascent. The going was slow, as the previous day had taken its toll.
This pass was basically just one long uphill. My hiking poles came in very handy, and my arms could help a fair bit as my legs had still not yet recovered fully from the previous 2 days’ efforts. There were some very very steep sections, but it was just a case of: one-foot-in-front-of-the-other.
Our timing was good though, as I just about got to the top when the 2 bikes arrived, followed by Gerhard with the bakkie. And so off to Ben Macdhui we went. By far the most technical and steepest pass of them all, but luckily also short at only 3.85 km which took me about 50 minutes to mostly walk up. My hiking poles came in very handy here as well. The views from the top were very rewarding, and this was the point at which I definitively knew I was going to finish the challenge.
My darkest moment of the challenge came when Gerhard dropped me off at the top of Volunteershoek Pass. I told him: “Ek is nou glad nie lus hiervoor nie”, but once I got going it became OK. I told myself: “Only 25km to go”.
Volunteershoek was mostly downhill and by this time even running downhill was an effort. The flat sections in the beginning was very difficult to run on my tired legs, and I welcomed the presence of some special birds to allow me to do some birding, and add some species to my year list. There were some sections where car tires were buried into the road, to allow more traction for the 4x4s. This was not a problem for me, and I could not help to smile when I saw the sign at the bottom saying “4x4 only”, as my 2x2 did a fairly good job of negotiating the technical sections.
Once finished, Gerhard took me to the start of Lundean’s Nek. I started the 10th and final pass at about 14h00.
This last pass was just a case of mind-over-matter. The first 4.5 km was uphill, with lots of walking, and very little running done. I did not even see the snake on the signpost at the summit were I took my photo, and with only 10 km of downhill remaining on the Ben10 challenge, the mood were starting to swing in the right direction. By that time, it was also quite hot, and with no cellphone reception since Ben MacDhui, I was starting to feel lonely out there. With 3 km to go, I suddenly received a message or two, and the words of encouragement from friends back home was very motivating, causing a few sub 5min/km kilometers (downhill assisted). At about 15h45 the Ben10 Eco Challenge was completed on foot. I finished on a very emotional high, with a high 5 and an ice-cold drink from Gerhard.
This was probably the toughest thing I’ve done on foot, and I felt grateful and humble to be able to complete a dream.
Stats according to my Garmin watch:
Total Distance: 154.4km
Total Elevation gain: 4729m
Pass with slowest pace: Ben MacDhui @ 13:51/km
Pass with fastest pace: Otto du Plessis @ 5:58/km
Average pace of the challenge: 8:05/km
Stats according to me:
Most difficult Pass: Naudes Nek, based on those final brutal kilos
Most beautiful Pass: Bastervoetpad"
Editors note: Thank you Jaco for a well written article. You've set the bar for others to follow. Our heartiest congratulations!
PODCAST: A discussion on Day 2 of the Ben 10 Eco Challenge Tour. Click to LISTEN.
FEATURED PASS OF THE WEEK.
In keeping with the theme of this week's news, we feature Jaco's favourite pass.
* * * * * B A S T E R V O E T P A D P A S S * * * * *
New passes added this week:
Sondagsnek (R317) - a short, but scenic tarred pass between Robertson and Bonnievale
Words of wisdom: "Don’t let yesterday take up too much of today.” ~ Will Rogers