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. They offer 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 to 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.
Arriving on thursday afternoon, we had to quickly start shooting as the sun was dipping behind the mountains, and we started shooting just in time to get some creative registration angles. meet and greet and race briefing waas done quicly and it wasn’t long before runners made their way to their tents in order to get ready for the next three days of adventure that awaited them.
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 past Otter, bust as soon as my old faithful Ultra Verticals hit the trail and My Nikon warmed up, 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 mist 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 mid-pack 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. 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 runners hit a Nasty climb that really tested the legs.
On a clear day runners 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 drop 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. From here Runners made their way back to camp on a jeep track and this enabled them to warm up the body and open up the speed!
Day 3 off Golden gate Challenge is unique , runners start at 4am in the morning, in order to get to the top of the mountain and the highest point on route by Sunrise. We didn’t really expect toommuch from this day as it was only 17 km with about 8 km of that being jeep tracks. Man o man did I get blown away by what happened. I hitched a lift with one of the honorary rangers, to the top of the mountain. On the way there we couldn’t really see anything as it was still dark and very misty. We got to the summit just before sunrise, and the scene that awaited us , was one I’ll never forget.
A cloud blanket filling the valley below with the amphitheatre peeking out in the distance. The sunrise gave everything a magical colour an it was truly a golden morning. It was a view that only a handful of people ever experience. As the first runners got to the top, they were stunned with the view and how the morning looked. Some of the the athletes stopped just to take it all in, forgetting about times and competition, just trying to be there in that moment. I tried my best to capture the spectacular scenery in front of me, with interesting angles and cloud formations around every corner.
Some shots were misty and gloomy , while others was full of colour and energy. To date this was one of the best mornings of my life! Sven made is way up the backside of the mountain and he was in just as much awe of the scenery as I was. He fired away and got some pretty epic shots as well. After the last runners came past , we sat down and just drank it all in. The experience the opportunity of sitting on top of a summit, in the most beautiful country. Looking a the magic in front of us.
It’s moments like this that makes life worth it. When you can’t say or do anything ,you can only look and try to take it all in. From here it was a quick 6km downhill run back to the finish line for prize giving and Champagne breakfast Wildseries style!
So back to the intro, As humans we tend to feel unsatisfied very quickly, things don’t happen fast enough , the way we like it. We want to be in control, and if we aren’t, we tend to become a bit depressed and ask existential questions. Everyday life can sometimes just get you down. It happens to all of us,. Golden Gate however taught me that even though things are tough on some days, other days will be amazing and everything will be worth it. Sitting on top of a mountain, looking at a sunrise and just being in the moment, makes you forget about little things hat doesn’t matter in the longrun. If there is one thing that I would want to take away from golden gate it would be that, no matter where you are in life or how you feel. Look for the golden moments, the moments of pure beauty, even if there is mist or rain or thunderstorms above, focus on the good things in life , the moments where you can just be.