Golden Gate Challenge 2018
What are you doing with life. Why are you living ,working, chasing, dreaming , smiling ,crying ,hoping, eating ,breathing every single day….
Sheeesh big questions isn’t it? How do you answer something like this. Aren’t we all just trying to figure things out as we go along. Trying our best , hoping some good will come from it.
Flip, by now Sven’s tuning me about my depressing intro into this Golden Gate Challenge Photographic Race Photography report or dairy entry thingy, whatever you want to call it.
Driving to Drakensberg to me has become a symbol of freedom I guess. Getting in Peugeot boutique Hotel (changed to a ford Bakkie now sadly and gladly) and hitting the road for a weekend of photography, adventure work and good times has become somewhat of a drug to me. Every time we go down hilltop pass just outside Nelspruit I feel like, “this is it, living the dream again for another weekend”!
Running has shaped my life in many ways. It is part of me, and who I am. It is part of my work, part of my pleasure , part of my culture , part of my family , part of my daily routine. It is not totally me , but I would definitely be a poorer and grumpier person without it.
I’ve never been to Golden Gate Highlands National Park ,before this year. A pearl in the heart of the Free State Near the tourist town of Clarens. It is BIG MOUNTAIN COUNTRY. Sandstone caves , Bearded vultures, mountain Reedbuck , ridge lines , no fences and trails that makes my shoes drool. Freedom.
Is this the freedom that 200 other people were looking for when they signed up for the Wildseries Golden gate Challenge? I believe so.
We currently live in a refined world, where everything has to be perfect and in it’s place. A world where there is not a lot of space to step out of boundaries and just be. Rules , deadlines, time schedules, phone calls , e-mails, no downtime.
So what do we do to escape? We Run! And we are lucky enough that there is people out there understanding this need. This need for pure adventure, pure freedom, a feeling of just letting go and focusing on your next step.
The thing that is different at Wildseries events is that their main aim is to raise funds for conservation in the area that the race is hosted. They combine an epic adventure with awareness campaigns and fundraising for our wild environments. They work with numerous role payers to make a significant difference, offering people a chance to escape, and an opportunity to conserve the wild spaces that we love most.
I didn’t know what to expect from Golden Gate. I just knew that it was going to be beautiful. The race is run over three days where day one and two is between 25-30km and day three being a 17km run. I always thought Golden Gate challenge was kind of an easy walk in the park kind of run, nothing too technical, no real climbs, really just an easy trail for people getting into trail running. Man did I get my butt kicked! Of the 70km that the race covered in the park, 55km of it was probably on single track. Starting out at Glen Reenen Camp Site the race village for the weekend, day one winded its way up to the top of one of the many mountains in the area. Runners had panoramic view across the whole Golden Gate and with open and clear skies one could see for miles on end. Golden Gate Challenge and Otter was on the same day this year. I had quite a bit of Fomo not being at Otter, but as soon as my old faithful Ultra Verticals hit the trail and My Nikon took the first photo, otter was long forgotten. I found myself on one of the best and most scenic trails I’ve set foot on. Golden Gate played it’s charm on me for the rest of the day, and shooting smiling runners was just a complete joy! I soon caught up with Sven who headed out ahead of the runners. We both couldn’t get enough of what we were seeing. To be honest we were blown away by the sheer magnitude of the mountains we were working in.
We made our way back to the camp site in order to get some of the action of people going up the infamous steps and coming down the chains just over a km from the finish. The steps Brought out a lot of emotion and Sven managed to capture it really well. I decided to head over to the chains where runners make their way down a steep section of rocks aided by a chain bolted into the ground. After 27km of rough running a section like this is always a cool spot to photograph at, because runners are really tired and you get facial ons body expressions that you only get when runners are fatigued.
Back at the race finish runners were drinking cold beer and just soaking in the Golden Gate Scenery. Late afternoons in Golden Gate is pure magic. The sandstone cliffs lights up in an array Of different colours and shadow shapes. One has to be there to experience it first hand though.
Day two kicked of and wet and cold weather was at the order of the day. I made my way out ahead of the runners and I was greeted with light rain and a slippery trail. It is quite difficult shooting in these conditions , as the camera lens keeps on getting dirty and wet and being creative is the last thing on your mind when your main priority is just to keep everything dry and clean. Luckily the skies cleared up enough for me to really start getting into the flow of things when most of the midpack runners started making their way up the first climb of the day. Let me just stop and say this. When I talk about climbs in Golden gate reference, I talk about mountains. You literally climb from the valley floor to the top of a mountain. Steep slippery, gnarly, brutal, it is not easy. I soon made my way to little Serengeti, a section of trail that reminds one a lot of the real Serengeti, scrubs and bushes in open grassland with mountains surrounding you. I followed a group of runners from here all the way to Mountain retreat. When you run with a group they are at first shy of the camera, but as soon as they see that your only there to make them look cool, they relax instantly and let you do your thing. Just before Mountain retreat they hit a Nasty climb that really tested the legs of most of the runners.
On a clear day they would have views across the Freestate farmlands stretching towards Clarens, but most of the climb was done in the wet mist wrapping it’s fingers against tired limbs and bodies. I could see the spirits of a few runners dropped on this climb as it was quite cold and steep. Luckily the aid station at mountain retreat provided much needed jellies and cooked potatoes. A life saver when you are out on a run. Back at Race village Exploring Coffee and Thirsty Elephant kept most of the chilly weather at bay with their great coffee and hot cocktails. Day two was kind of the suffering day of the race. Most of the runners just needed to get this day done and then they knew they would finish the challenge. The last day of the challenge was unique in the sense that runners started at 4 o clock in the morning. I didn’t think that this was going to be the most scenic day out as a big stretch is run on jeep track. Golden Gate However just has a way of surprising you time and time again. One of the honorary rangers drove me and Michael one of the videographers to the highest point on route. As we made our way up the mountain my attitude about day three changed instantly, we emerged from the early morning mist to find ourselves litterally above the clouds just as the sun was coming up. It was a surreal experience. In the distance the Drakensberg Amphiteathre peeked out above the clouds. I litterally just couldn’t stop photographing. Soon the first runners came past and it was then that I realised it was going to be one epic morning out. With clouds rolling across the mountains and the sun casting it golden rays to illuminate the Mountain Grasslands everything just came together to make the perfect sunrise. I think I went into a haze for about an hour or so , as i was just trying to capture the scene in front of me! I’ve never seen runners be so happy while out on the run. Sven made his way up the backside of the mountain and he was just as blown away by sheer beauty of the morning. Most of the unners made theirt way past usto finish the last 7km of their run.