Inspired by Banff film festival and after a touch of tequila, Emma and I thought she should run from the west coast of Africa to the east. This is our story of dreaming up the idea, researching it, planning, training and running the distance.
The temperature has got a lot warmer bringing butterflies and jazz. Jazz is like quality dark chocolate it flows better when the temperature is hot. Emma runs alongside the Waterberg Plateau an impressive rock feature 405 square km over 850 million years old full of rare species. One day I plan to come back.
However, there is a downer as both Garmin watches go blank and don’t switch on again. It’s odd that both watches have gone within a day or so of each other. Perhaps naturally, there are suspicions that it’s someone’s fault, but we don’t know why they’ve stopped or who’s fault it is – which is all rubbish for team dynamics.
The watches were hugely important as motivation for Emma and they measured the distance. Surprisingly, well to me anyway, the car, the bike and the watches all recorded different measurements.
Warning Geek Moment: Car mileage is affected by how inflated the tyres are and by the road surface. In addition, we inflate and deflate the tyres depending on the road surface.
I’m not so clear on what affects the bicycle. The watches are GPS. Maybe the bike isn’t accurate because Mike on the bike doesn’t travel in a straight line! He’s not wobbly by nature – it’s tricky on a bike to go at jogging pace on a sandy track. Anyway, instead we try giving Emma the Garmin GPS 62S which I’d bought for the car. I imagine its not great having to run with a sat nav in your hand. Equally, I’m impressed its still working well after weeks of being in a sweaty paw swinging back and forth, out in the midday sun, and occasionally dropped. Definitely a piece of kit I’d recommend.
Along the route we stay with a lovely farming family
The family let us use their tools and pretty much build the shelves we needed to bring order to Cleo. Emma and I left Mike and Woocash working hard but video evidence shows that the guys at Omega Campsite did all the work. Slackers.
The nice family also gave us sausages and mince. We didn’t just take take take, happily, Woocash fixed their lawn mower. All things mechanical are fixable by a mechanic. But huge thanks to Omega Rest camp for being so generous.
Whilst Woocash and Mike were (pretending to be) busy bashing and sawing I got to cycle beside Emma as her support. Fabulous to be out the car and having a natter. It’s surprising how little we get to chat. Before I get to play, I have to cook breakfast first and when I tipped up the salt pot, the lid fell off and a whoosh of salt went in. I thought it’d be fine, I’ll put more honey, cinnamon and fruit in …
I’m going to count it as an up moment. On the grounds, everyone was happy laughing at me.
Cycling alongside Emma, we spot a large animal in the distance and can’t tell if it’s a dangerous one. We can’t get Mike and Woocash on the radio. We cautiously go closer and discover it’s … a … cow! But, you know, it could have been a lion or buffalo. An up, as we didn’t get eaten.
I also ran 1.2km with Emma that day. That’s all. It’s hot! My head feels like it is about to explode. Emma runs another 50k or so. Clearly, she’s the athlete, I’ll stick to cooking … er.
Lunch is delicious thanks to the donated sausages (and my expert cooking ) – fried sausages and onions with mash potatoes and pancakes (there’s no milk but water seems to work just as well). All cooked on the Ezy Stove that I am falling in love with. It’s a lot of carbohydrates to make up for the salty porridge.
Dinner is also pretty good:
I slowly fried the onions until soft, added garlic and cumin and Namibian special spice (I think its like a braai spice). Then mince (fried until its brown) salt and pepper, fresh tomatoes and lemon.
We don’t have a fridge so it’s protein overload. Spirits in the team are much happier after a good meal.
On 15th September we arrive in Grootfontein. It is further than expected to get there, sometimes the map distances aren’t accurate, which is a definite down as Emma seems to be in a lot of pain. We go searching for ice bags for her. There isn’t the range of products you can get in the UK. So the pharmacist kindly gives Emma ice to put on her knee. It’s good that we take a longer break than normal for lunch.
In Grootfontein, after many kilometres without one, we also manage to buy a brake calliper bolt, which is brilliant. Brakes who needs them? We do! Cleo is fat and heavy; running someone over would be rubbish. And we can fill up with diesel. Grootfontein itself is a beautiful town and feels safe and friendly. People go out of their way to be helpful and make sure we are okay.
That night we camp outside town down a side road, hidden behind a sand pile … only to discover we’ve camped on a short cut to a village a few yards away. Its fine though, no-one bothers us.
We meet amazing people, again. Liliana and Emil Schmid have been to 180 countries and been travelling for almost 30 years. We’re a bit star struck.
After getting some good advice we leave, reluctantly, and the kind owner of Loubser B & B (tel: 091 128 7347) gives us a lift to Woker Freight Services, who are the import agents. I’m bouncing with excitement to be getting Cleo. The agent comes in looking serious. He warns us that boxes in the car have been opened and things have been stolen. We turn silent and sit and wait to be taken to the car. All of Woocash’s mechanics tools are in there plus the stove and other essential items. Its a quiet journey to Cleo. I get out and check her over.
The metal chest is still padlocked. I am overjoyed, nothing has been taken. Cleo has been roughed up a little but no serious harm done. The plan to save time and money paid off. Now, its a 4 hour journey to collect Emma and Mike from the airport.
“What’s that smell?” I ask Woocash. Its a burning kind of smell.
Ten minutes later, water started spraying out the engine onto the windscreen. Cleo’s radiator hose had popped off.
With the help of a friendly Namibian, Cleo is swiftly back on the road but restricted to a paltry 45mph. We would never make it to the airport on time. With no way to contact Emma, I called a friendly taxi driver (Gunther) and asked him to stand with a sign and collect her and Mike from the airport.
It’s a bit late for an introduction. I’ve been part of the team for over a month. …
Anyway, I am 21 years old, which officially makes me the youngest member of the team, although the way my mini person drives me, you’d think I was 80. Maybe she’s 80, I don’t know. Too old to tell the truth about her age, that’s for sure.
How did I get involved? Against my will. I was happily living a gentle life in Norfolk, trips to the seaside, taking the dog for a walk, when this mini person came along and drove me to Manchester. I feel ridiculous, I am not a city girl, I don’t have the figure for it.
I was swiftly taken to the GP for a once over. Whatever. It did make me laugh though, when my mini person had to change my tyre:
The Cotswold way [Editor’s note: Emma’s practice run of 107 miles] was a blast. I love blatting round the country roads. It got a lot more fun after the specialist doctor, Julian, said I was indestructible. He had a proper poke and prod and called me, “Sluggish!” I’d like to see him carry four people up a hill. But, apparently, I’m to have some surgery and given new toys. Sounds good to me. I would like to be a bit speedier.
Tell you what though, that mini person has no sense of direction. I shall have to have my compass fixed or we’ll end up in Kenya. She’d get lost walking round a corner. And she doesn’t half fuss. So I dribbled a bit of green and puffed smoke on the hills. Get over it. I’m fine!
The team, are alright. I didn’t appreciate Emma saying I was “too fat”. Skinny thing. She needs more fuel, than is in her right now, to power her across Africa. Too fat! After I’ve been nice and kept the wind off her.
That Mike, had a proper skive too, I carried him and his bike up the hill. Who’s the fatty now, eh?
They’re all fussing about wrong turns, border crossings, baddies, lions, snakes and heat. The only thing I’m really worrying about is being poked in the side by an angry elephant or if they’re dopey enough to put the wrong fuel in me. As for the rocky roads, mud and sand. I say: “Bring it on!”
A huge thank you to Julian at Overland Cruisers for checking over Cleopatra, free of charge, and telling us everything we need to do to get her in shape.
A massive thank you to Tony for letting us buy her off you. She’s perfect.
And Mini-Max … I would not be able to do this without you.
As part of our preparation for Emma to run across Africa, Emma suggested that we did a practice run of 100 miles! Its really hard to take someone seriously when they are utterly casual about a huge endurance event. On Wednesday 26th March we met up, looked at the Cotswold way, thought about things we needed and that was it. Thursday, I travelled to Norfolk and bought the 21 year old car we are taking to Africa and named her Cleopatra. Two weeks later we drove to Bristol to stay the night with a friend of Emma’s and start the trail in the morning. Emma’s running, Mike’s on a bike as support, and I’m in the car.
Friday (35 miles)
As soon as the 6.30am alarm goes off, I’m up making porridge and tea. Emma’s a sleepy bug in the morning which gives me a chance to get everything ready. Mike eats all of his and some of Emma’s too, I think, which is satisfying for me as the cook. When we get to Cleopatra, we notice a small green oily/viscous puddle under the front nearside wheel. I’m worried. I take some photos and send them to Lukas for a diagnosis. Its 7.30am so we get going whilst we wait for a reply.
Bath is beautiful but it feels odd. Emma’s about to do something epic and there’s no-one to see except Mike and I. I guess that happens a lot in the world. Emma, wanders off to the fudge shop.
Emma and Mike set off appearing very relaxed and I skedaddle to get things we need and chat to Lukas over the phone about Cleo. He diagnoses the fluid is grease from the front axle air vent and tells me where to look. I love poking around under the bonnet. It’s a giant toy. Lukas tells me I should be fine until I get it back, he’s a little concerned when I tell him I’ve got 500 miles to go. I’m a little worried by his concern and drive more carefully.
Cleo’s cigarette lighter doesn’t work, which means we can’t charge the sat nav (or phones) and her compass always points north. I navigate my way out of Bath by using the sun – seriously – I head east and then when I feel roughly out of Bath I head North looking for signs for villages near the first check point. And I make it! However, its way past the time so I hazard a guess that Emma and Mike have carried on and head on into the higgledy piggledy land of the Cotswolds and get lost. Well and truly.
Me “Excuse me, could you tell me where I am and where I’m going?”
Them “You’re off the map, about here, take the next left, its signposted Nowhere [or some place like that]”
The next left didn’t have a signpost.
This becomes a general theme of the trip. Fortunately, Emma and Mike are two of the most easy going people you can meet and are just happy to see me, even when I get to check points after them. They never complain about anything. Not once. Mike is a bit concerned about the amount we’re spending on food at one point. I like my food. And Emma, on Saturday night, gets serious about starting early in the morning. That’s as demanding as they get.
Happily, this time, I am early for lunch. Its a gorgeous sunny day and the birds are nattering away. A few minutes later, Emma and Mike appear trundling down across the field and Hayley (our guest for the day) pulls up in a car. It’s idyllic. I feel there should be more drama on a 100 mile run, not chilling in the sun. Lunch is delicious. Chicken, avocado, basil, tomato, salt and pepper – I made it myself. Mike falls asleep and Hayley and Emma are busy catching up and laughing.
After lunch Hayley and I head to the campsite and arrive at around 6pm at what looks like a stately home, (after an unquantifiable several mile road works detour, inability to find the campsite, food shop and a panic over Cleo puffing out smoke).
Not long after, Emma and Mike arrive both looking shattered. Emma wraps herself in her sleeping bag in the tent and is still cold. This worries me. She’s run 35 miles and the food isn’t ready yet. Eventually, Emma goes for a shower to warm up. Mike gets busy helping us get the fire going. I’ve splashed out on the first meal, and using the gas canister and the Kelly Kettle, Hayley and I manage to cook: mashed potatoes and broccoli, followed by steak and mushrooms. That’s better than I cook at home. But I believe food is important for this kind of thing. Emma is a lot better after food and a shower. The trickiest thing is persuading her that she doesn’t have to do anything, she’s running 100 miles. Kindly, North Nibley campsite lets us off £4 as a donation.
Saturday (33 miles)
I’ve forgotten how slow, cooking is, on a gas stove. The porridge is not boiling and the 8am start is not happening. There’s a general sleepy, happy, feeling. Emma is stretching and Mike gets a brew going.
Once we’re all off, I am swiftly lost and take up talking to myself. We get on remarkably well but an extra set of eyes to look at the map and road signs would be more useful than a split personality. “Uley” I shout with joy for no-one to hear (it’s a village that means I’m going in the right direction). And am 5 minutes late for mid-morning break. Emma and Mike are both quiet. They went in the wrong direction and its dampened both their spirits a bit. Emma’s cold again and I worry whether she’s getting enough food in her. I shouldn’t really though, when I next see them, they are both chipper. Its an odd relationship, me dipping in and out of their experience. After lunch, Emma wants to push on as far as she can and gives me 5 options where she might want to be picked up from. I get busy with finding accommodation nearby. Happily, I find some out the back of a friendly pub. Emma and Mike call me to come and collect them. I’m there first (woohoo!) and surprised when they both come bounding up to me – turns out they’re both rushing on CLIF gels.
Sunday (39 miles)
Emma wants a quick, early start. We’ve no fuel for cooking so that’s easy. After the mid-morning break I have 3 hours until lunch. In my head, I plan a yoga session at the meeting point. But, decide I can’t miss Cleeve’s hill, the highest point on the Cotswold way, and there’s a chance I’ll see Emma and Mike and can cheer them on. I have a little faff parking the car, pick up my water, and not my phone, then set off upwards. Near the top, 1 metre above me, Emma runs by. That’s uncanny timing.
She looks worried, “I can’t find Mike. He wasn’t at the checkpoint.”
I pass her my waterbottle as Mike was carrying her water for her. She hasn’t had water for an hour. But, she’s much more worried about Mike. I promise I’ll call him and go back and look for him. I’ll be honest, I don’t think anything has happened to him, he wasn’t on a tricky part of the route. I’m expecting him to have moved on to the next check point. But Emma’s running a 100 miles and run about 80 miles at this point and I’m only going to do the thing that puts her mind at ease fastest. It takes me 40 minutes to get back to where Mike should be – no, I wasn’t lost, it was fiddly. I’m literally 2 minutes away (sigh!) when he calls to say Emma hasn’t arrived and he’s moved on to the next check point. I explain where I saw her, turn the car around and head for lunch. 30 minutes later Mike calls again. She’s not arrived. This is concerning. Have they missed each other again? Is she lost on the Cotswold way? Is she hurt? She hasn’t got water or communications, as her phone isn’t working. I go to the furthest point I think she could be, park the car and start walking back. I agree to meet Mike at a monument on the way but, he decides to wait a little longer. I’m asking everyone if they’ve seen a thirsty looking woman, with red curly hair, running the Cotswold way.
Then, they are both coming towards me on the path. And there’s just a bit of an atmosphere.
Apparently, they were waiting for each other in different places. Emma’s frustrated,
“I don’t know, I don’t know if I can make it up the hill.”
I figure annoyance will power her to the second option (but, obviously, don’t say that). We make some quick decisions and I join them on the run back to the car. Its gorgeous and I’m bounding with joy at being out in the fresh air and having found Emma. The tension quickly lifts. But don’t mistake me, that is not happening in Africa. I get back in the car and muddle around in single track lanes before arriving for lunch 2 minutes after Emma and Mike, who are both cheery when I meet up with them (I reckon they’ve been on the gels again).
My mum arrives with chocolate brownies, which makes everyone happy. Emma and Mike go for ice cream at the farm shop.
After lunch, dinner and campsite are sorted quickly, I’m half an hour early in idyllic quiet Broadway, reading the manual for Cleopatra. Emma and Mike come companionably up the road. I join Emma and run to the start of a hill. Then, Mike and I scoot back to the car, load up the bike and drive to the top (cheeky). We’re all getting giddy, the end is so close.
Unpacking the bike. I wait to film Emma as the sun begins to set.
The fields are a gorgeous colour of yellow flowers, set against green, on one side of me is a fading pink sky and on the other an almost full moon. Cars are rare and, mostly, all I can hear is the wind and the birds. I stop for a film shot, as I realise Emma will run right past me and then, race her the last 2 miles to the finish. Parking up the car in quiet and serene Chipping Campden, I head back down the Cotswold way with the camera.
Dusk, and Emma comes round the corner, friendly and smiling as normal. Jogging and filming is ridiculous. Emma’s more worried about me falling over whilst filming than the fact she’s run 40 miles in one day. You’d think she had run only a mile or maybe two. I run with her the last 100 yards. We can’t find where it officially finishes and wander around a bit confused. To be safe, Emma taps the War Memorial and Tourist Information. (The official point is the War Memorial.) 107 miles run in 3 days. Total running time: 23 hours and 38 minutes including detours and waiting.
To celebrate we opt for beers and wine in the tent and, a lie in in the morning.
Special Thank yous to:
Hayley for putting us up and feeding us on Thursday night, helping me set up camp and cook, and bringing lots of laughter.
Lukas and Jay (Mini-Max Garage) for advising me on what to do with Cleopatra.
Hayles Fruit Farm for letting us snooze in their car park and charging my phone.
Things I learnt:
Emma is never allowed off on her own, I know she’s done it before in South Africa but its a risk I’m not willing to take.
Emma needs a better water system so she can run and carry her own water.
I need a warmer sleeping bag and coat.
Mike needs regular brews.
We need bigger cooking pots.
We need a way to keep everything charged.
The best map we can find is essential and don’t rely on electrical equipment.
We’re a great team already. There will always be hiccups and annoyances but Emma and Mike are two of the nicest people you can meet. And Emma will always find a reason to laugh. They’re both pretty handy too.
I need a friend in the car before this talking to myself or the car gets out of hand.
Whilst Emma has been running about in the hills, I have been to meet a 4×4 specialist.
I loved it. I love the smell of garages and learning new stuff. Our conversation largely went like this:
“You’ll be needing a ground anchor”
“A ground anchor.”
“You’ll need a CV joint.”
“What’s a CV joint?”
You get the gist. Happily, Graham, although initially confused by my lack of knowledge, managed to work out where to start: with warnings about what will kill; an equipment list and; a quick look at his medal cabinet. No point in having medals if you don’t get to show them to anyone, that’s my belief.
Things that will kill us and other advice
We will need a winch. But, after we have attached a wire winch to the car, we should take the wire cable off and replace it with a rope. If the rope snaps and hits you, it will hurt. If the wire cable snaps, it could kill you! If there is a knot in the wire cable, stop using it. That is where it will snap.
Don’t use the army technique for doing something I’ve gone and forgotten, as it’s too easy to get it wrong. But as I don’t want to do it, I think forgetting it, is simply being organizationally tidy in my head.
Don’t tie on to the back of another car with a kinetic rope at any point that might break off and ping back at you. The energy in the rope will whip it extra fast, possibly into your face (okay, he didn’t say that exactly but, he told a story where it narrowly missed someone’s face). In fact, to be on the safe side, don’t take a kinetic rope.
Keep your ropes free of mud and thorns.
And I learned how to wind a rope on a winch – I feel strangely chuffed about this knowledge. I have a practical and useful skill.
A CV joint
A recovery rope – bought from an off road place to make sure its strong enough
Lifting straps – (2 metre and 4/5 metre)
Gloves (and don’t grip the winch rope, pinch it, else you could lose your hand or finger– is it just me or is there a theme emerging?)
Winch bumper with cow bar
After this, I got to look at photos of cars vertical on a slope, with one wheel on the ground and various other crazy positions. Graham, himself, was brilliant – friendly, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, patient and seemed pretty excited by the trip. What more could you want in a teacher?
If you know about 4x4s feel free to get in touch and give more advice.