I chanced upon the Southern Cross Trail run when I read a rave review by a fellow trail runner last year. What attracted the RP and me most, was the fact that we were promised that we would have three distinctly different runs: a mountain run, a forest run and a coastal run. Given that the race village would be situated in Wilderness we thought this area would obviously offer all of the above in abundance.
Us trail runners always cast a wary eye to the weather reports and by early last week, there was some panic in the household. Heavy rains were forecasted for the Goukamma district where we would be running and the prospect of running in grim conditions was staring us in the face. I wanted to get emergency supplies of extra running shoes, but the RP said, “Don’t panic”. As soon as we boarded our afternoon flight to George the flight crew informed us of the heavy rains in the area, which clearly didn’t help to set our minds at ease.
We arrived in a miserable George still very wet from all the rain. It was freezing cold. Yes it gets very cold in Gauteng early in the morning in winter, but having cold wet weather for the whole day is a very rare occurrence and we are frankly not equipped to deal with this with any level of comfort. Seeing that we are the type of trail runners who like to restrict hardship to the trails we had booked accommodation in a Forest Cabin and not a tent. We were very grateful of these humble, but extremely functional little havens of comfort over the next three days. The most important features were the little electric heater that provided much needed heat in a wooden house and the awesome little shower with a seemingly endless, ample supply of warm water.
It started to rain again just before the race briefing and Hanno, the organiser, warned us that it would be extremely slippery underfoot, but that at least no rain was forecast for the next day. He also mentioned that it would be cold in the mountain and that we would have to ensure that we packed enough warm emergency kit. Having run in remote conditions in Lesotho last year we took this seriously and packed the type of stuff needed for survival in case we ran into trouble. When the morning came we were very nervous and in no mood to leave the comfort of the cabin, but dragged ourselves to the buses as we had a 40-minute drive to the start. It was bitterly cold when we waited at the start, but the morning air was fresh and the promise of great running weather was in the air. We were not disappointed, it was cold but ideal for running and the forecasts were accurate as the rain stayed away.
The route was excellently chosen with us starting out on jeep mountain roads gradually ascending into the mountains and onto the Outeniqua walking trail, by the time you hit the single track the field is nicely spread out. Hanno was however not lying about the trail being wet underfoot, it was muddy and slippery and dangerous and wet, wet, wet. Both the RP and I had a sit down experience where your feet just slipped from under you, luckily with no ill side effects. For large parts of the route the single track was virtually turned into a little mountain stream. The mountains were gorgeous though as we traversed the slopes weaving into and out of countless little kloofs. The nice thing about the route is that although there was a lot of climbing it was always on paths that would be runnable to those fit enough and walkable to us old age groupers of dubious fitness. There was none of the constant extreme rock climbing required that destroys the sense of humour in three easy steps. The downhills were however quite tricky in the wet conditions and required much concentration. The genius of our race organiser came into play again at the end with the last couple of kilometres on mountain gravel road again. Maybe on another day we would have been miffed on missing out on single track, but after the intense concentration required for most of the route it was a blessing just being able to get some easy running done (and mostly downhill) to get us to the finish. That afternoon back at the race village the skies cleared and that evening we were rewarded with clear skies and a beautiful display of stars over the Wilderness skies.
When the second race day dawned we woke up with sore bodies but keen to take on the Forest challenge, an even further bus ride was required dropping us on the wrong side of the mountain where a freezing wind was blowing, but the skies were blue and clear. We were fairly disappointed when the Forest stage started with a climb of note up a mountain to get us into the forest. Once again Hanno started us on some gravel road and when we got to the single track to climb up the mountain we had already sorted ourselves out in terms of our position in the field. The disappointment was short lived as we descended into the forest to be blessed with one of the best days on the trails we have ever had. The first water point was at the famous Groot boom on the Circles in the Forest trail.