The month of May has been one of my most exciting on Mauritius this year, after April ended with a bang with the local windsurfing league’s first event (see previous post). I’m actually having to look at my calendar to write this. I started off with a few meetings to prepare for Lux* Sports’ Royal Raid, Beachcomber’s Mountain Bike tour, and a bunch of anoying admin stuff you don’t really want to hear about. On Tuesday of the second week I shot something entirely different: a culinary and cocktail competition between Attitude Hotels which was quite fun and I literally didn’t stop between photos and video. The next was for images in the group’s hotels for social media content, and Thursday/Friday was all about wrapping these up and preparing for a big weekend.
Saturday 13th was the 12th Edition the original trail running race of Mauritius: the Royal Raid, an event including races of 15, 35 and 80km. I agreed with LUX sports to shoot in the Black River gorges national park and looked forward to getting creative with a few key locations in mind. Arriving at the Black River carpark (the bottom of the gorges) at 6am, I would ride my mountain bike to the river crossing and hike up the Camphrier trail ahead of the 80km runners to intercept the leaders at the top, with the view. I did as planned, which was a decent walk with about 4kg of gear on my back (2 cameras + 4 lenses). Halfway up it suddenly occurred to me that I hadn’t locked the car… in fact I became certain about this but being parked closest to the beginning of the trail, widely visible to all runners and hikers, I decided the risk of something happening was minimal and kept going. Arriving at the Macchabee viewpoint, it turned out the first-aid / refuel team wasn’t even there yet. They showed 15 minutes later and the leader emerged stealthily about 30mins later, as if just appeared at the kiosk and looking rather fresh. Him and others said very little if anything, they refuelled, I got my shots and started to hike down to photograph others in the forest on their way up.
One of the images I planned was people walking or jumping over fallen trunks which was fun to see too. At that point most participants knew they were close to the plateau, tired but keen to get there. When giving some encouragements, a few expressed “c’est dur” (it’s tough). There wasn’t much else to say but many smiled and the vibe was really good. Quickly though I started to feel the return of an unwelcome visitor: IT band inflamation, not on one but on both knees. A first. I hadn’t been training and stretching assiduously at all so this was only half-surprise… Luckily the frequent stops for shooting helped and I had no choice but to carry on downhill. A surprising yet reassuring sight was one of the famous, older and stronger guys retreating, explaining he hadn’d been feeling right since the start (early in the morning) and just had to listen to his body – a crucial skill to cultivate in this kind of challenge. To put it in practice that way on race day inspires respect for sure.
When out of the narrow and steep trail called “zepaule” (shoulder) and back onto the wider track, race marshalls told me the first 4 had already ran through, after a ~15km loop on the plateau above (I definitely thought “damn these guys are fast”). The next planned spot was a part of track that looks like the 7-colored earth of Chamarel, a colorful and textured feature where the leaders were running downhill while others were still going up, roughly 35km into the race. Somehow it was really nice to see some friends in the heat of action, exhausted but happy and that put all the talking about trail running (on social media) into perspective.
Participants kept going past but before long the path was filled with a large group of hikers (50 people or so), moving along very slowly as people picked gwavas on the bordering trees as they went. Additionally, while they must have realised a race was unfolding, they made little effort to keep a clear passage, spreading over the whole width of the path and joking about being in my photos. Admittedly frustrated and annoyed, I made my way down to the river to find the first part of their group spread out all over the place, swimming or sitting down to eat and chat, often yelling profusely. After all a national park is there for all to enjoy and Mauritians are loud when they’re having fun! Good on them!
Still managing a few shots, I considered the 20min round trip to the car so I could lock it, but decided it was too late for that and headed for the Parakeet trail. The first section of this path steers away from the river at first, to then border it inside a beautiful and changing undergrowth. Runners eventually had to cross a smaller confluent where the scene is simply ferric. Many enjoyed the refreshing water and took the time to wash their faces and cool their backs, while I wondered how the wet shoes and socks would affect the ~600m climb ahead of them. At that point, after a few hours since the start, the whole area started to feel like a large “being” in a kind of nurturing way: all these people were pushing themselves surrounded by nature, which provided the challenge itself by its topography but also beauty, fresh air and water, and a complete disconnect from the day-to-day.
I couldn’t get enough of that spot and race marshalls stationed there were cool, but it would be good to have some images on the Parakeet climb. Twenty minutes later my knees were hurting again while I pushed on in hopes of finding a clearing along the trail with a bit of a view that never came. To my surprise I came across two little girls who had been swimming at the first river crossing “taking a walk” as they said, in their swimsuits, barefoot and carrying towels! “You’re a good 30mins away from your parents now, I think you should go back” I told them, but they said they were just going a little further. Luckily there were runners and race marshalls all over, no dangerous cliffs or similar, so I warned them again and carried on down. That short episode added to the feeling of health and security that the area was providing. That said I was pretty stuffed by then too and needed to save energy for the MTB African Championships the next day. With the sun descending, light filtered through the woods beautifully and the hike back was just really pleasant, still passing and shooting runners on the way.
In the end we were lucky with great weather, I loved spending the day in the gorges at my own pace (after the initial rush to the top of Camphriers), taking some of my best trail running photos and feeling tired but recharged by the vibes of nature and happy people embarked on a voluntary challenge. Congrats to all participants and organisers for another fantastic edition!
View the full photo album here.