Raid in France Adventure Race

It's taken a while, but here's a report on the Raid in France... There's also a video here

Before the Apex race in May, I said it would by my first and last expedition race. It didn't
quite go to plan, but it was a very memorable introduction to long races and I decided maybe
one more...

So I found myself in Buis le Baronnies in the south of France at the end of August,
preparing for the 2011 Raid in France. I was to be racing with Dave Spence, Caz Bullard and
Kev Honeyset, so I would definately be the least experienced member of the team! We arrived in Buis a couple of days before the start, and passed the time building bikes, shopping (mainly for cake), practicing our rope ascending and arguing with the event organisers over whether our candles were big enough. Sadly they were not and we had to get new candles.
Team Accelerate (l-r): Dave, Kev, Caz and me
The race was advertised as a “Back to Nature” event, part of which meant that we would not have access to our kit barrels very often. A very complicated system of bags would make sure that our bike and kayaking kit was in the right place, but essentially we would have to be self-sufficient for three legs of 30hrs+. This explained why the kit list suggested a 40 litre rucksack. It was at this point one member of our team noticed that the 20 litre OMM rucksack looks a lot like the bigger one when you're packing in a hurry!

The morning of the start arrived and at 6am we met in the centre of Buis. We were then bus-ed for a couple of hours to the start, warned about the dangers of Urds, and were ready for the first paddle leg. I was pretty nervous as we packed the boats and prepared our portage slings, there were a lot of very fast looking teams around! We carried the boats down to the water and assembled behind a vague start line across the water, then someone (probably) shouted “Alles” and the chaos began! I remember Kev saying something along the lines of “just get a paddle in the water if there's a gap”. As 50 teams tried to squeeze through a narrow rock archway there were boats sideways and the wrong way round, it was brilliant. It was 1.5km to the first portage, where we carried the boats for a while then passed them to race officials who threw them down a hill for us. Then back in for a 20km paddle to the end of the first kayak section.

Leg 2 was a trek along a river. It was about 7km I think, but basically as it sounds, we ran/trekked through a river which varied between ankle and waist deep. It was the middle of a hot day so this was quite welcome, although the bruises from slippery rocks not so much. After the trek we were in around 15th place and feeling good. Next was the first bike leg... This proved to be a bit of a monster! The bike legs in this race made up a big part of the total race distance, and trekking looked to be a small part of the race. This was until you realised that about 20% of the bike legs were hike-a-bike sections, as I recall always up massive hills. As we headed into the first night this started to get hard, but the views as the sun set were amazing. I don't have the exact time for each leg, but that first bike leg took somewhere in the region of 24 hours.

Before we go on, a disclaimer... I think this is the order things happened, but I could be wrong!

Next we had a trekking leg, which also included canyoning and caving sections. We had some issues with the caving map and despite finding the control relatively easily we emerged from the cave back at the entrance, so after some cartographical discussions went back for a second attempt. The cave was huge and very impressive. The canyoning section involved changing into wetsuits then sliding, climbing and abseiling down a canyon. Caz turned down a marriage proposal from the organiser, but not before we had all had a quick swig of his wine. Nice.

Leg 5 took us back onto the bikes and into our second night. This leg was not quite as brutal as the first bike section, but there was still plenty of time carrying our bikes. On this leg we had a fair bit of bad luck, particularly with Dave's bike which had a broken chain and two snapped spokes. We also all had punctures, and ran out of water at one point (we had to collect and purify water for the whole race). There was some great riding though, and some steep drops off the narrow ridges we were on. We took two hours sleep during this leg, and can confirm that a Terra Nova Laser can sleep four in luxurious comfort.

It was somewhere around this point that we were joined by Gordon, our 5th member. It seems that the feeling of having another team member is a common one during these races, and as we all felt we were missing someone we gave him a name. Gordon even helped Kev up a hill at one point.

The mountain trek (leg 6) was a low point for me. I struggled for a long time to stay awake enough to put one foot in front of the other, and when the others would stop to navigate I would collapse for a two minute sleep. I don't know how long I was useless for but it felt like a long time! Having slept during the previous leg we knew we would miss the cut-off for the long mountain trek stage, and were short coursed at this point. We had a spectacular view of the ridge the leading teams would be on though. Leg 7 saw us back on the bikes and more one-legged riding from me (the bail-ready position). I think it was on this leg that I went over the bars and landed on my face. Bike training at home is all very well but it seems I need to practice more on a narrow ledge, in the dark, without sleep.

Leg 8 was a highlight of the race for me, the descent of the Drome river. After another couple of hours sleep we started at about 3am, and it was pretty difficult to follow the course of the river accurately in the dark. This meant we spent a lot of our time jumping out of the boat to pull or push ourselves back into the flowing section, and unfortunately did not do the ends of our paddles much good. I reckon we could get jobs as gondoleers though. The Petzl gods were also not on our side during this section and we had a number of problems with lights. In our boat all the batteries ran out, whereas Dave unfortunately left one of his lights at the bottom of the river. Shortly before it got light we reached the checkpoint halfway down the river, and were warned of a tricky section coming up. Lets just say one of our boats was more successful than the other, and Kev and I were grateful when the sun came out to warm us up...

Leg 9 (if I am in the right order) was another massive highlight for me. As part of a trekking leg we completed a Via Ferrata type course, followed by an amazing 210m abseil. The views all around were spectacular, and it was a very odd feeling as the overhanging rock fell away and I dangled hundreds of metres above the ground.
"We've just come from the top of that big one behind us..."
Leg 10 was our final bike leg, and we hoped Dave's remaining spokes would hold on. The full leg was 100km but we were short coursed again, and found ourselves in a cafe in a small village with two hours before the compulsary coach transport left. Luckily the owners were happy to provide sausage, chips and coffee. This tasted fantastic, but we were all a bit disappointed not to be able to ride the remainder of the leg. After some fun trying to get the coach working (five tired adventure racers cannot push a coach) we were off and soon all asleep. The restart would be in the morning, with teams going 5 minutes apart for the remainder of the bike leg and final trek. A nice bit off chaos to finish then...
Enforced stop before the finish
We felt rested and decided to race as hard as possible, and caught (I think) six teams during the remainder of the bike. Of course, this all meant we were then stuck in a huge queue along the final ropes section before descending to the finish, which was a little frustrating in sight of the village! We finished off with another amazing abseil and I soon forgot my frustration, being chased down by a cameraman also helped! From the bottom of the abseil we trekked through some serious undergrowth, if they weren't a mess before our legs certainly were after this. Finally we got the last stamp in our passport and headed home in the only fitting way for Raid in France... by trekking up a river.

We finished 10th in the end, in a time of 93 hours and 12 minutes. Raid in France was a fantastic experience and I have learnt a lot about this type of racing. Maybe I should just do one more...


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