Kingdom Enduro, Lesotho.
A few weeks ago a friend Peter and I flew down to the Kingdom of Lesotho for Africa's most Badass Enduro! The Kingdom Enduro is a 3 day EWS qualifier Enduro in the mountain kingdom of Lesotho which lies within South Africa and entirely above 1,400 meters (4,593 ft) - Interesting fact - Lesotho has the highest lowest point of any country in the world!
Peter and I had a couple of reasons for wanting to head to this event. Firstly it sounded Rad! Billed as Africa's most badass Enduro, we both felt like we needed a bit of that in our lives. Secondly we both run our own Enduro races in Uganda and Kenya and we were keen to get more experience as how other folks put their events together. The Kingdom Enduro was also an EWS qualifier, and we wanted to know more about that. So we signed up, bought flights and hired a car. We flew to Jo-burg and then drove the 5 hours South and across the border into the incredible mountain Kingdom.
The event is a 3 day Enduro - with 4 - 5 timed stages each day. We wanted to have a nice warm up and really enjoy our trip so we flew in a few days early and set up at the Roma Trading Post where the event was based. We met up with Darol, Christian and Rene, the collective minds behind the event and spent two days running shuttles and testing out a few of the stages, helping the crew to check on the marking and adding a little extra tape here and there. It was a great eye opener to the steep and loose fast and at times very wet stages we were due to race just a few days later.
After 2 big days riding we took a day off to keep ourselves fresh for the upcoming three days of racing and took a drive out to the much talked about Semonkong Falls. Some good local knowledge from the boys meant we called in for a tasty lunch at Semonkong Lodge before driving and a short walk to the falls themselves - an incredibly impressive 200m waterfall. Unlike many such sights in Western countries here it's raw and untouched, no guardrails or walkways here, just rocks, cliffs and stunning natural beauty. We used the hour plus drive each way to read up and teach ourselves about the Basotho people and learn a little about their culture. The Basotho are horseman who live in the mountains and protect themselves from the often harsh elements with distinctive blankets and hats. We bought ourselves some hats hoping to blend in.
By Thursday afternoon most of the 40+ other competitors had shown up plus the media crew and a few other folks along for the weekend. It was a great crew, literally buzzing with energy and stoke, some of South Africa's finest Enduro riders, industry figures and a couple of guys and girls from the EWS. At briefing number 1 on Thursday evening there was an air of excitement and anticipation and then a few notable groans at the 5.30am breakfast the next day.
Day 1 was marked by rain! Lots of it! As a result the first stage of the day got cancelled due to too much soft mud - mostly for the liaison - worried we wouldn't make it round the whole day. That meant we started on Pressure Cooker, the soaked, muddy smiling faces at the bottom of our first stage said it all. A combination of hanging on, lots of sliding and lots of dubious line choices for most as well as some flat out pinning signaled the event was rolling!! Next up was one of my favourite stages of the weekend, 'Quickie' and we ended on 'Lesothosaurus' where there are actual real dinosaur footprints along the trail. A non-timed ride through 'The Vagina' brought us back to Roma Trading post for some much needed bike maintenance and cold beers!
Day 2 and another 5am start and a shuttle out to God Help Me Pass. Luckily the weather was way better today. We raced God Help Me, Bushmans, XXX and Love It. A huge day with hundreds of meters hike-a-bike climbing and some incredible technical riding. Big smiles and incredible stoke all round after today. For me I had some great riding and some bad riding but I learnt a lot. My best results came when I was relaxed and chilled, when I tried to push too hard I had some big crashes losing almost 20 places on XXX after bending my bars and having to stop and get the multitool out! The start of 'Love It' a near vertical set of switchbacks was absolutely sweet and set us up for an incredible last stage of the day.
Big shout out to the mechanics who came along - I needed a new chainring chain and shifter cable after giving my bike some serious abuse on day 2!! Thanks Sproket & Jack!! I still owe you money check your email!!
Day 3 was set to be the most technical yet, but a bad weather forecast meant it got cancelled last minute. Most of the riders were secretly pretty stoked after the first 2 days taking a serious toll on bikes and bodies alike. A few of us did venture out in a quick break in the weather and ride the infamous 'Freefall' a gnarly boulder garden that drops down into this awesome banked dirt barrel that twists side to side down to the river. We should have packed lifejackets for the resulting crossing with the rain runoff!! It's a shame the weather turned we had ridden a couple of the other stages earlier in the week - Barking Dogs and Stoner all located in the Romarena were absolute classic trails but with heaps of off camber sandstone would have been treacherous in the wet.
After plenty of Beers on Sunday afternoon and prize giving we all said our goodbyes to new friends - some of the guys leaving in the night to drive back to Cape Town, some smuggling themselves back home across the border after poor passport choices! The Kingdom Enduro certainly lived up to it's name as Africa's Most Bad-Ass Enduro and was a week filled with incredible riding with great people!! I'll be back for sure!! Highlight Real below!