ARWS Croatie 2023

ARWS Croatie 2023

And finally here it is, the long awaited story of our race in Croatia for the World Cup of adventure racing. Have a good read!

As we used to say in our sport, having a competitive & complete team at the start of a world series adventure race (ARWS) is not at all a given, and it is already a huge success and also luck if we are able to be 4 people on the starting line, in good health, and with all our materials arrived on site. This is already half of the race done!

And this year, we were only 2 people (Susan Tschäppät & I, Francky David) from PowerBar Swiss Explorers team being able to engage ourselves at least in one ARWS race. So some significant weeks were spent till March to search for the ideal members to complete and match our team & spirits. And this is how we came to recruit Stéphane Logerot & Joël Martin in our team, both experimented French racers, who we felt knew what they were doing and in whom we placed our trust (and them in us!). And I had the privilege to race with Joël before, so I felt pretty much confident about their fit.

As we arrived all in Croatia through different flights or driving, the match within the team instantly worked, and it was with high spirits and laughs that we started to prepare for the race: 500km of running/trekking, mountainbiking & kayaking is no joke, and there is usually 1 day of stress packing, unpacking, repacking, and ensuring we are within weight allowances, and that we don’t forget anything.

When we registered for this world cup in Croatia, we registered for good weather and fun. The weather forecast was only promising fun… and 2 days and nights of full rain out of the 4 we were expecting to spend in the wild.

Finally, Materials check and weighting were done brilliantly through experience of old monkeys, passing the very strict weight control of the organization

Leg 1: Trek 32 Km

And off we go under the sun from the beautiful Slunj village, but the organizers had to shorten the course by a few kilometers due to river flooding everywhere in the country after massive rainfalls over the last weeks.

We start fast and we are with the top teams of the world, 400Team, Estonian Ace, Swedish Armed Forces, Blackhill for the first 2 kilometers. Surprise surprise PowerBar Swiss Explorers is in “ze place” and we spot worried faces from competition to see us at this level, their body shaking in heavy convulsions due to the shock of this surprise, having to re-assess their winning ambition for the race…. Ahahah Well…, after 2 kilometers (and still 498 to go!), we let them go away not to bias the world ranking, and we retreat in our slower cruising mode but still within the top 10 teams. The other Swiss team Alphadventure is slightly ahead of us.

All the checkpoints are found without any problems, and we cruise to the next transition for mountainbike

Leg 2: Kayak 25 km cancelled due to dangerous river conditions

Leg 3: Mountainbike 53 km

We are going through wild areas of Croatia and we can spot from one point of view endless mountains and forests without any sign of human beings or villages. Europe has still true areas of wilderness! We like that! The other Swiss team is overtaking us…euh wait…they were ahead of us! They are way faster but have made an orienteering mistake somewhere. We keep steady.

The rhythm is a little bit slow but we have to adapt to the pace of slowest team member, and I can see with pride the supporting spirit in the team, especially from Stéphane taking some extra extra extra weight (actually a full bag!) to ease the life of Susan at that moment. This is the first time in more than 10 ARWS that I see Susan a little bit slower, and this is somehow also reassuring she can be a human too with some temporary weakness (and as expected, she will bounce back quickly in next legs in terms of energy.

As we cruise and go up and down, orienteering goes pretty well, and we share this task between Stephane & I. Some paths by the river have been flooded and we have to reassess here and there our chosen route until we arrive at transition, just before night. And we are even welcomed by Pizzas, perfect for the mind and stomach!

Leg 4: Trekking & via ferrata 18 km

As we start through a steep uphill to climb to the summit of this leg, this is now the turn of Jojo to suffer.

Therefore, we walk gently by night till we reach the via ferrata. Susan is quite happy to do it by night to avoid any “freefall” view, and at one point she needs some helping pushing hands as the ladders are a little bit out of reach, a point where I will need myself 3 attempts to be able to pass it. As we do, the rain starts to fall…we don’t know it yet, but it will fall consistently and heavily for the next 48 hours…

Terrain starts to be slippery, and as we are loosing some minutes on a route choice… we see a team which seems to be lost and struggling, half sleeping and half heading towards a strange direction: this is the beauty of adventure racing in the middle of a rainy night, experience can be different from one team to the other. Soon Jojo is complaining about our decision to go for optional checkpoint 16 that is taking quite an effort to get it. With Stephane, we keep repeating we have to take it, otherwise, we are going to be put on short course. We will have to repeat a few times.

Our route choice that we traced on the map is not our best as we meet 5 or 6 team on our way back from CP 16 to a summit, climbing back un-necessarily 200 meters of positive climbing. Stéphane & I don’t tell Susan & Jojo to preserve the morale of the team. This will have no consequence for us though, despite having lost approx. 30 minutes in this approximate map tracing.

As we reach the transition all wet and cold, we find there some teams trying to warm up and sleep in a little chalet. We eat again a pizza, changing with dry clothes, and as we are hesitating between sleeping or going out in the rain on our mountainbikes, we decide on the latter as Stéphane and Jojo want to move fast!

Leg 5: Mountainbike 63 km

Making a decision to leave in the middle of the night in a cold and rainy night was not a one we made with happiness. But we are now out, and we will be cycling till lunchtime in mud and rain, and some first periods of tiredness.

As we arrive at the transition, we take the opportunity to eat and sleep 2h30 in a comfortable and dry transition area before leaving again for a trek.

Leg 6: Trekking 17 km

While we have made interesting route choice on this leg with Stéphane by cutting through the forest to avoid coming back on tracks we have already used, this stage will be for us probably the most boring of the race on loooong straight path lines in the mountain, and I will be even breaking there one of my trekking pole.

And we arrive in the middle of the night at next transition in a ice-hockey stadium where will stop for sleeping another hour in a technical office with plenty of picture of naked women on the wall. I cover my teammates with sleeping bags as they already fell asleep. We will sleep tight with good dreams, except Susan.

Leg 7: Mountainbike 31 km

Correct navigation on this leg but small note to ourselves, sometimes don’t trust the locals, typically this charming lady who wants to help us by telling we cannot pass through a specific mountain point with our mountain bikes, but that is better to do some detour. When checking the Livetracking of first teams, we can see they went straight the way we initially wanted to go. We are reaching still in a wet environment the next transition to trekking by crossing the border to Slovenia. The sequence of stages from there is quite complicated, and luckily Jojo who understood everything and masters the strategy puts us on the right track ;o)

Leg 8: Trekking 27 km

As we are leaving Croatia to Slovenia with our passports or ID cards, we are trekking at a good rhythm to do one of the most beautiful leg of this race through cliffs, mountains and super views at valleys below us. We will not meet anyone on this trek in a completely preserved wilderness. Small stop for feet care, demanding and steep uphill, and then we go down to next transition by sliding in the mud, and executing funny figures, dancing, as each of us will go in semi-controlled sliding. No injuries, we’re good to go!

As we reach the mountainbike transition by the end of day light, I realize none of us have our sleeping bag to make powernap. And sleeping without it wouldn’t be very beneficial, as I am already shivering from cold.

We decide then to eat something and leave directly to the next bike leg

Leg 9: River Kayak 21 km

Cancelled because of river flooding. Jojo still has to explain to us the team strategy on this one, and this for the next 20 years again and again, so that we finally understand ;o)

Leg 10: Mountainbike 115 km

We leave the transition, and as the captain of the team, I am a little angry after myself I haven’t thought and told the team to take their sleeping bag to sleep at the transition. It means we will need to sleep on the way, but the problem are: 1- where? 2- will it be protected from wind & rain? 3- it would need to be done before we reach the mountains at a 1’000 meters altitude, if we want to have comfort sleep 4-but wherever we sleep, we won’t have a sleeping bag, so no quality sleep.

As we leave just when it is getting dark, Stéphane realizes his brakes pads front and back are nearly dead because of mud and heavy rainfall of last 48H damaging them, and that the brakes are blocking his wheels. The rythm has considerably decreased, and while Stéphane is trying to fix the brakes, I loose on top my compass on the way. 3 bad news in a few minutes. This stage starts well…

Unfortunately for the bike of Stéphane, there is no spare brake pads, and despite some efforts, what is remaining from the pads is preventing the wheel to turn flowlessly. Our strongest athlete may become slightly handicapped and tired…what we will barely see during the race…

As we climb and we climb and we climb, Jojo is overwhelmed by sleepmonsters, and we move very slowly again, not to say we are hardly moving up. We pass by a village, we try 1 or 2 church doors but they are closed. We see a small pension hotel, knocking on the door but no answer, we ask a man in the street where we could sleep, and he tells us there is an hotel 15 kms from here opposite the direction where we have to it is a no go for us. This is the last village for us before climbing again in the mountains, so I tell the team either we sleep here somewhere (in the cold) – as we can’t sleep in the mountains most probably dying from hypothermia, either we ride all night. The team decides as a whole to continue and try to go through the night! As we leave the village, I see on the side of the road a school where I will learn later that the DAR Dingle team slept there, before being woke up by the police to enquire who they were and what they were doing.

We have hardly left the village, that we climb, and we climb, and we climb, and Jojo sleepmonsters start again. We’re moving very sloooowly, not to say we are going backwards. I am again thinking about my captain’s miss not to have thought about the sleeping bags. The night is gonna be looooong. We take 1 checkpoint very slowly in the dark (description: view point, so we see nothing), and we move at a very slow pace until we reach a kind of opened wall shelter in the mountain. It is protected from the wind, and as we move inside, we see a Belgium team sleeping there in all comfort…with their sleeping bags! I am thinking again about the miss and look at them with envy.

We all take a foetus position, and sleep all against each other to keep ourselves warm, but Joel wakes up after 15 minutes shivering and cold, and we decide to go. The Belgians who have slept there comfortably leave as well and congratulates us on our capacity to be able to take powernaps…which was not really what we wanted.

So we leave together, and the Belgians are much faster than we are in the cold night. Sleepmonsters are coming back again for Jojo and Stéphane this time. Again we are hardly moving. Stéphane lies down directly on the path and tells me he’s going to sleep here, and I tell him it is not possible, we are going to die from hypothermia if we sleep here, and I will need to call the organizers for a rescue and therefore this would mean an abandon. He immediately stands up, and says: “ah ben non alors!”, and jumps on his bike! We restart (slowly), but this is now the turn of Jojo to sleep on his bike, and then Stéphane to sleep again on the track. I tried to wake him up to move, but he tells me in French: “what, would you like to do a race against me?”. I burst into laugh. Those 2 are so tired, that we sleep directly on the gravel track exposed to the wind in a foetus position all against each other to keep ourselves warm. I asked Susan to come closer to my back as I feel a thin fresh air wind against it. 15 minutes later, Jojo wakes up stating he can’t sleep as it is too cold. But actually, I believe all of us slept a few minutes in this position, and we start again. And we are finally moving at a decent pace! I start to have some doubts on my navigation so I ask advice to Stéphane and Jojo, and this will be the final trick to wake them up. From there, Stéphane takes the relay on the navigation, and we’re going to find a hut a few hours later as the sun goes up where we will take another 30 minutes of sleep. It is freezing cold with high winds outside. Temperature of 4 degrees outside, so the rusticity and dustiness of the hut is still awarded a 4 stars ranking!

As we move on with still 25 kilometers to go and now that the sun is high and we have warmed up, I see Stéphane on the top of a downhill suddenly braking with his 2 feet on the ground in an acrobatic way. I think I am dreaming but no, he is really braking with his feet: his bike brakes have just died, and we don’t have any spares. First we are all happy that he is alive, it could have happened at a much higher speed with dramatic consequences. He is lucky, and double lucky that I have the same SRAM brake models, so I remove my front brake pads to put at his rear brake, and we continue both on 1 single rear brake for the rest of the leg.

We finish finally this leg in warm temperatures and discover the transition area managed by our beloved French volunteers in quite luxury conditions.

This is party time, eating, laughing, and even banking up 1H30 of sleep.

Leg 11: Trek 35 km

Just before we leave, we see the DAR Dingle team arriving, and they have by some sort of miracle some extra spare brake pads of the same model we need, and the captain Noël even spread me with suncream. Great spirits!

We leave quickly and we meet -before arriving to 2nd checkpoint- an American team which hasn’t found it and are circling around for the last 30 minutes. They decide to follow us, and as I take an azimut, I fall straight on the checkpoint. We walk fast with the team, we are in high spirits, the weather is beautiful, and the 48 hours of rain are forgotten (nearly…).

As we are caught up by the night, we validate a checkpoint at a waterfall, half sleeping, and as we move along, I see 1 hour later on a path a barrier indicating we have to take a right turn going into opposite direction to reach a checkpoint straight ahead of us. I execute the instruction. But after 5 minutes walking in the wrong direction, Stéphane stops me to do a check, and I explain to him what I have seen, but both Jojo & Stéphane tell me it was just a fallen tree branch on the path, and there was no barrier…. We go back and go through the tree branch to continue in the right direction ;o)

We powernap a few kilometers after, and Jojo wakes up all the team to go. Jojo is our official alarm clock and it is great to count on him also for that. We are gardening a little bit in the area loosing 30 minutes before we are put on the right track by…the same American team who followed us previously.

At the very end of this leg, this is the only time of the race, and only for a few minutes, that we see Stéphane temporarily a little bit weaker after all the huge work he has done helping all the team and carrying bags here and there for the last 70 hours. Jojo and I proudly take his bag and make pictures to record this exceptional true story. We have carried for real the bag of Stéphane, no jokes! We have a good laugh as Stéphane is half sleeping (but still walking!). Susan by the way, after a slow start of the race is back as a machine!

As we reach the transition, we decide to sleep before the final day of racing.

Leg 12: MountainBike 44 km

1 hour sleep later, as there is 1 Irish team still snoring in the transition area, we leave quietly not to wake them up as they are direct competitors to our 11th rank. And as we are about to leave, we see the other Irish team we like (Dar Dingle) leaving. We know we can’t let them go, but have to wait Susan to be ready. We finally leave 12 minutes later after Dar Dingle in a catch up mood as we don’t want to be overtaken by our friends. We speed, and we speed, and we speed again, I am in my red zone, and as Stéphane is excelling on the orienteering, nailing it like a pro, I am not even checking the maps anymore, and I give the punching finger to Jojo as I feel some exhaustion, and he is conversely in a flying mode. Suddenly after 30 kilometers or so, we fall head to head with Dar Dingle team that seems disappointed to see us, even though we are friends, while we are super happy and delighted to see them ;o) We finally caught up. We speed up further and distance them through superb orienteering skills of Stéphane and great speed of all the team, but they overtake us again in a small medieval city where there is a check point to validate in a small place, that we take some time to find, circling around. We are in time trial mode again, and we catch up again with Dar Dingle, until I decide as the captain to discuss with the other Dar Dingle captain Noël, and we agree on a truce to finish together this beautiful race. We have been racing so many years together, we both didn’t see any value in sprinting and pushing our teams to the finish line. Let’s join forces for the last leg and celebrate the end of this race together!

Leg 13: Kayak 15 km

Spirits are high on this leg, and we chitchat with the Irish team, and we joke within our team about ourselves and all what has happened during the race. Jojo who is kayaking like a pro and who complained many times about the kayak legs cancellation before, is happy and you can notice he is delighted. As the captain of this wonderful team on this race, I smile at the obvious happiness of my 3 team members, and this is a good reminder of how the good teams should be, being positive and supporting each other in the good but also the bad moments.

Finally after 99 hours of racing, we cross all the finish line bursting into pleasure, fun and exhilaration and celebrating with DAR Dingle.

For all of us racing for the first time together as a team, this has been a superb human experience, we really really really enjoyed racing together, with a great fit of personalities, positive mindsets and complementary skills.

Final ranking: 11th

And A BIG THANK YOU to my teammates Susan Tschäppät, Stéphane Logerot & Joël Martin for their immense performance, fun attitudes and great team spirit, and to Powerbar, our long standing partner

Adventure Race CroatiaARWS – Adventure Racing World SeriesSleepmonsters – The Adventure Racing WebsitePowerbarStéphane LogerotHeidi MullerGérard CapriniSusan TschäppätEXP AfricaAdventure Racing World Series – European Region

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