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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Report on Iditarod by South African Adventure racing club

June 2005
Adventure Racing in Kwa-Zulu Natal

Mark asked me to write my thoughts on Dimitri's presentation to our KZN AR group, so here they are.
I am not a journalist, I didn't clear what I've written with Dimitri, so it is really only an impression of him and the meeting.

Dimitri Kieffer is a medium built, unassuming average looking person with a twinkle in his eye and a French accent.
He has an interesting haircut at present and I forgot to ask him where or how he got it.
It consists of close cut spirals around his head. It probably should alert one to the fact that he is a bit different.

After the ususal rigamorole with the data projector and technology he started to tell us about his trip across Alaska in the 1800 mile Iditarod from Nome to Anchorage.

He has been racing the long distance races for a number of years now and his CV is interesting in that it starts off with the conventional comrades type races, moves to the 100 milers, then to 300 milers and then makes a quantum leap to the 1000 milers plus.

His background includes adventure racing and all this lays a solid foundation for his epic trips.

When asked how he trains he admits that he doesn't really have a training programme as a lot of his time is spent recovering and preparing for the next epic. It is obvious that the strongest part of him is his mind.

The main focus of his talk was not the physical stresses or problems, but the sights, incidences, people he met and little things that he hadn't realised when planning.
The sights he experienced were generally for his eyes only as he was pretty much alone after the first four days, when the main dog race was long gone.

His seconding consisted of collecting his gear and provisions from the post office of the next town where he had mailed it to himself, and the hospitality of the people.

In the wilderness, he kept himself entertained with the Aurora Borealis (Northern lights), his mp3 player and his thoughts. He dedicated a day to imagining himself falling off a cliff and having his life flash before his eyes, except he had a day to look at his life in a flash.
Esoteric stuff, we could probably all do with. He saw a pack of wolves skeletonize a caribou in 5 minutes, leaving a clean skeleton and some entrails in a patch of pink snow.

In the harsh environment he got to understand snow shoes first hand, how to pull and push a sled, how to fix a sled with limited material, and all the problems related to gear.

He found that a camel pack froze very quickly and, only after experimentation, that an ordinary thermos was the best way to carry daily drinking supplies.

Frost bite is an ever present enemy and he explained how important planning is for stops and simple tasks, like toilet stuff.
Four layers of gloves make anything problematic and things like chocolate are really only good for breaking your teeth.
He used a pair of Montrail Susitna Gortex running shoes and had no feet problems once.
The Gortex water proofing and a pair of gaiters kept him dry and mobile. This blew my mind. I have started to do berg hikes in my Montrails and even though people tell me I need a good boot, I actually don't believe them.
Dimitri proves this. 1800 miles in thick snow at -30 C is a good test for a running shoe. He used the same shoes in the desert across Niger and said they were also great for that, keeping sand out and breathing in the heat.
He spoke on the local people, the inuits and the indians and how different their lifestyles were. We saw pictures of cars buried totally in the snow, waiting for summer when they will be renovated and used until winter literally buries them again, Snow ski's, snow shoes an ski's are the winter transport and in summer a lot of the area cannot be traversed because of swamps, black flies, bears etc.
Dimitri showed how a mind is opened by adventures such as this, and how sterile and unchallenging city life really is.

Although we face real threats every day, little has to do with the environment, mostly it is people who are hazards. He did mention how he avoided some towns, but also mentioned how the amazing the people he met were.
From ex navy seals to everyday folk who just happen to live in a harsh environment, we realised how adaptable man is.

When asked what his plans were for the Freedom challenge, he commented that he hadn't even bothered about the Comrades as his biggest concern was the bicycle, (he isn't a great rider) and the berg marathon, (he hardly paddles)
He hopes to reach Paarl with enough time to learn how to K1 effectively. His legs were sore after a 10;47 Comrades, but when he left on Friday morning he looked for all intensive purposes happy.
Richard lent him a bike carrier and he was getting organised and settled in to the long haul (2200km) ride.
Dimitri was riding on wrong side of road at one stage but Richard reminded him that this is South Africa and everything returned to normal.

Update: Having just spoken to David Waddilove (10.30 20/6), Dimitri had a rough day first day getting lost and arriving at 1:00am at the checkpoint. Wessel Cronje left at four on the second day to try and make an early break from the bunch, but everyone is back together now and climbing into the Maluti mountains at 3 degrees Celsius.
They are all cold and trying to buy socks and mitts from local trading stores. Since Wessel tried for the early break there has been tension in the group as everyone seems to be realising that it is a race. Politeness prevails, but a general wariness is evident as everyone wonders who will be next to forge ahead.

Updates will be posted on .

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