Sarah Cuthbertson – The Downsides of Leading


Throughout Race the Wild Coast, Sam, Monde and I led the group and we eventually duelled it out in a 500m sprint for the glory at the finish line. While it was very exciting to call myself a “leader” or “winner”, this race was more about the adventure than a win. If you are considering entering and expect to win, here are some of the things you will miss out on or quirks you can expect in your adventure.

1. Sleeping in
I think we seriously surprised the Rockethorse crew with how early we got in every day. We rode FAST given the obstacles we faced. This meant that we got in most days at 3pm-4pm instead of the 5-6ish they were expecting. Originally the rules were stated that the time we rode in at would be the time we rode out at to keep you form being penalised at the end of the day – so if we arrived at the maximum end point at 3pm in the afternoon, we would technically go out at 3am.
Does that sound as awful to you as it did to me? I am not an early riser and generally need an hour of stretching, complaining and coffee to do anything before sunrise.browser.

Thankfully, they modified the rules as we went, adding holds on to all so that we wouldn’t leave any earlier than 5am. This was more of a safety thing, as they didn’t want us swimming the rivers in the dark (rightfully so!). So that was better… but Sam and I still set our alarms for 3:30 to get all our stuff ready in time… and she got the pleasure of hearing me whine, and huff and puff to put on damp tights in the dark.

2. Breakfast
Related to above. We were up so early neither our stomachs wanted to eat, nor was there much to pick from… it would NOT be fair to ask the crew to get up at 2am to serve us! Nope nope nope! There were lots of lovely snacks – peanuts, biltong, fruit and granola bars. So for 4 days us leaders subsisted on that. Considerably better options than mutton soup and airag, but we did get a little tired of peanuts by day 4!
We also got to hear from the mid to back of the pack riders, who happened to arrive in a vet check just in time to get omelettes. We were super jealous! BTW the food is amazing on this trip, so I would recommending not being a leader, just for the culinary delights!

3. You found the problems first
I believe it was day 3 when we set out before dawn along a road and after about half an hour, we came to a padlocked gate with nowhere around. Apparently we had also beat the park rangers. Thankfully, I had brought along a phone and was able to call for help. Joe (one of the organisers) came to our rescue a little while later and we were able to laugh about it, but poor Louise had just caught up to us and was held at the gate for fair timing. I can only imagine her horse must have been P-Oed to be left behind.
Another time, the rangers were at the gate, but seemed a bit confused about us being there and wanted us to sign liability waivers (was supposed to be worked out in advance, but I think we still surprised them). It was a pretty funny delay, filling out liability forms on horseback. Not sure if the people behind us had this issue or if it was sorted by then.
Sometimes trees were down or the navigation needed some modification. There were a few times we spent a lot of time searching for a new route, when the people behind us could follow our hoof prints. The best was when a tree was down at less than chest height and Monde went off on foot to find a new route. He found one in less than half an hour, and I swear… to get us through, he chopped down a tree with ANOTHER TREE!

3. You miss out on some great stories about gettin’ ‘er done
We have tonnes of good stories from the trip, and everyone’s were a little different, but listening to the other riders, it sounds like the best stories come from riders who got the short straw of horses, or perhaps had more bad luck come their way. Ingenuity and humour lead to the best memories.
My favourite story was that of Malcolm, who was trailing significantly and whose horse just wanted to quit. Clever as he is, he found a young boy who would run along with him and encourage the horse forward for a few Rand (currency) per kilometre – until he had to get home to be in bed because it was a school night.

4. You spend a lot of time staring at a purple line
Navigation in the race is along tracks, not waypoints, and it can be very trick to see where you need to go. There are lots of cattle tracks and hidden entrances, so you need to ride with your GPS in your hand almost all the time. Even riding as a team of 3, we all needed out GPSes out and would pipe up to the leader occasionally “NOOO RIGHHHT!” because it was very easy to get on a wrong track.
I would say this goes for everyone who rode, but as I mentioned above, those behind us would have tracks to follow, which I am sure would help take the eyes to the beautiful scenery a little more frequently. In other words, I can’t wait for the documentary so I can see all the things I missed when staring at the purple line!

5. You are constantly surprising people
At one point during the race, I complimented Barry (one of the Rockethorse Organisers), on how smoothly everything was running. He had a good laugh at me! Honestly, things seemed to run so smoothly from our perspective as riders, but it sounded like they had a bit of a time keeping up with us.
There were a few vet checks where we arrived before they had a chance to set up. The crew were amazing about making it work and prioritising, we barely knew they had been there not ten minutes before we arrived. Good people can iron out kinks and make it look easy.
We also arrived at one camp where the tents were not yet set up (of course we volunteered to help, but the amazing crew insisted!), apparently the van and trailer had been sideswiped on the highway and pretty much totalled. How is that for a kink?! Again, it seemed like no big deal to us riders because of how quick and efficient the crew were.
Lastly, and this was a good laugh for us, the finish line. Apparently, everyone was expecting us to come from much more inland than we did. So to the surprise of everyone waiting at the line, we popped out close to the water! There was a bit of a mad scramble to get the cameras and the drone within range to capture our finish, and they got us just in time, but I can only imagine the heart palpitations they must have had, thinking they weren’t going to capture the winner for the documentary!

So there you have it. These are by no means complaints or regrets. I am so proud of myself to have stuck it out in the lead and to have raced a good race. I could not have been happier with the result. However, now that that has checked off the bucket list, I would definitely return and do the same trail as one of the 10 day trips they offer so I can just go and enjoy. If you are considering it, I would recommend you also do both… the scenery is worth a trip itself, but the thrill of racing and the self discovery when tackling the challenges set forth in a race environment are totally different and worth it too! Its amazing what you can do when you set your mind to it!

Read more from Sarah about her Race