All the teams and the crew took turns to stand guard during the evening for an hour. Sitting in the quiet hours with a few relative strangers before a small fire has a powerful effect. For many, it’s quite a novel and yet formative exercise, vastly more intended for bonding than safety. Relative strangers were fast becoming, if not great teammates, deep friends. On the menu today was the heart of the Richtersveld Eco Trail. A winding track that comes and goes from the river to the mountains and back and, starts innocently enough, but then threads its way through such challenges as Hell’s Cradle; a scorching canyon of river sand. Also, Split Pass; a double option climb, all the while whilst being surrounded by iconic post card vistas.
The teams set off in small co-horts of 2 or 3 pairs, taking turns to navigate, make key decisions and decide the pace. It’s quite daunting doing something so very obviously adventurous and fun and knowing that you are being minutely observed by the instructors and crew. To have any chance of winning, you’ve got to have fun, learn and help and make it your job to help others do so too.
The temperatures started to soar along with the sweat. As with any serious off-roading, the groups experienced a few punctures and tumbles that slowed the pace, such that when the teams all joined up at Hells Cradle it was just past midday. Hells Cradle is a high sided, 3km long canyon with seriously deep sand. The heat gets reflected off the steep walls. As if this wasn’t intimidating enough, into this fun challenge a competitive element is added. A snaking route is plotted that all have to navigate for points awarded for the riding of it. It’s not at all easy and, made all the more challenging by the fact that each successive rider leaves a deeper mark more difficult for next. The competitors drew their start order out of a hat. The cheers for those with low numbers, turned to groans when the starting order was reversed!
When asked, most teams admitted that the strategy at the moment was more focused on making themselves better team mates and not making too many mistakes. They were not at the moment too focused on what others were doing, other than to also acknowledge that they were up against some great fellow adventurers. Despite this being a competition, it was obvious that everyone really enjoyed each other’s company. Kind of the whole point of Honda Quest.
Split pass is one such place that faults are easy to make. It has two routes; the more direct, rutted out, seemingly more dangerous and tougher. The other snakes up the side of the mountain in a less direct fashion. Though often called the “chicken run”, it is arguably the tougher, with sharp switchbacks of loose deep rutted shale.
This is where the CRF 1100L DCT shines. The dual clutch transmission and traction aids make something that for many would be near impossible, much more manageable.
With the sun low just off the mountains, we rolled into Oewerbos River Camp to sort out the day’s adventures. It had been a staunch, full, tough fun day. Along with the previous evenings interrupted sleep, there was no late-night banter, at all! Tomorrow, we head into the western trails of the Richtersveld. More sun, rocks and sand and more unexpected tasks.