I knew all along that 36km (scheduled distance) through the Midlands forests of Karkloof would be tough. I didn’t know quite how much mud would be involved and couldn’t have fathomed I’d cover a portion of the distance hurtling through the air tens of metres above the canopy, strapped into a Village People outfit, doing what felt like a speed no trail runner had achieved before. It was brilliant!
A good night in the tent and a typically hearty race village breakfast had me on the start line shortly after 6am on a misty Friday morning. That was perfect for me. I just don’t feel like I’m in the KZN Midlands unless there’s a rolling mist framing the countryside. I was in the last group – batch D – and felt I had a good chance of scurrying through the pack to improve my rating for the Saturday.
Well, the opening clamber challenged that hope. After an easy trot out of the campsite, we hit one of the gnarliest uphills I’ve encountered. Rain in the night had rendered this rocky mountain slope more obstacle course than running track. For hundreds of hards ahead (‘hards’ was a typo, meant to be yards, but I’ve decided it is too eloquent to change) was slippery gunk, punctuated with rocks, all under a rather pretty arch of greenery. How the quads burned!
That lasted approximately 4 hours, although my watch had it at about 30 minutes. After piercing the Narnian Alps, a white, stormy sky hit us. But ahead was a beautiful mountain track, marked out by cosmos flowers. Rejuvenated, I took off as I had planned to do from the start.
If you’ve ever been ‘in the zone’ playing some sport, you’ll know what I mean when I say I felt unstoppable. Even stopping for pictures and bits of GoPro footage was a struggle.
The terrain kept shifting, too. River crossings, climbs, mushy descents that are best described as bum sliders, interspersed with quiet moments of solitude running solo through bits of woodland. This all happened through a constant drizzle, but in a very pleasant temperature.
Best of all was the canopy tour within about 6km of the finish. We had only heard of this days before in a newsletter and it, as far as I can ascertain, the first time such a thing has been included in a trail run. We would take on the first four segments of the Karkloof Canopy Tour: a sequence of high-flying slides below tight metal cables, usually while giggling with delight of screeching with excited fear. I considered the ‘chicken run’, available for those who couldn’t stomach the ride, but threw caution to the wind. Zipping along above the trees at a rate of knots turned out to be one of the funnest thing’s I’ve done. (We’ve even arranged a 10% discount for our readers.)
Despite a short spell getting lost after misreading a sign (hence 38km), I cruised across the finish line a happy fellow. I had conquered the day and was off to one of the most luxurious bush spas in the country: Karkloof Safari Spa…