We sent Leonard Flemming off to tackle inaugural African Waters Bokong Flyathlon with a clear brief. Catch all the fish, drink all the beer, crush the opposition, win the race. Fighting altitude, ego and a field of trail-running racing snakes, it didn’t go quite as planned. 

Leonard with a trophy river rainbow on a day separate from the race.

The inaugural Bokong Flyathlon  

Where: African Waters’ Makhangoa Community Camp, Bokong River, Lesotho 

What: A 20km trail run (the initial five-hour period was extended to six hours during the briefing) next to the Bokong River. Participants had to catch at least one fish during the run to qualify (maximum of three fish allowed, of which the length in cm would be deducted from the participant’s running time) and drink beer at the end of the race. The concept of combining trail running, fly fishing and drinking beer was born in the States:

Why: Flyathlon events are used to raise funds to improve river and trail projects. The Makhangoa Community Camp Flyathlon was arranged by African Waters to raise funds for rebuilding a footbridge for school children and community members to safely cross the Bokong River.

Trail-running river-crossing.

I glanced over the slippery cliff edge and for a moment entertained one of those fleeting suicidal thoughts that tend to come packaged with precarious heights.  

“I can’t breathe…”

“My whole body is aching.”

“I’m defeated.”

“I may as well… jump.” 

Brains do weird things when exhausted

Brains do weird things when exhausted. While enduring the worst muscle cramps I’ve ever had from running, I guess my brain went into gallows-humour mode but, the truth, is I did feel absolutely finished. While I am used to hiking long distances in the Western Cape mountains to reach relatively untouched waters, jogging nearly continuously for 20km in the thin air of the Lesotho Highlands (with a dad bod) was evidently a completely different ballgame. Altitude was taking its toll. The lack of oxygen gave me muscle spasms and had me panting like a dog chasing feral pigs.

Speaking of pigs, I was no longer worried about the main pig, a chap called Aidan du Preez, who had received special mention during the briefing the previous evening. You see, Aidan is an ichthyologist who works at one of the trout farms on Katse Dam, which the Bokong flows into. Tipped as the favourite, he had been training hard for this endurance fest by running and riding his bike in the surrounding mountains, so he was used to the altitude and familiar with the terrain. Being a fish scientist and a keen fly fisherman from a farm in the Eastern Cape, he was clearly also a clever fishy guy. Everyone considered him to be the main threat and the man to box out with a clever game plan. 

Submerged shot of a Bokong rainbow trout.
Leonard smiling before the cramps set in…

One does not simply flyathlon

On the subject of boxing, it probably makes sense to explain the challenges inherent in an event like this because, make no mistake, a flyathlon is no simple race. A bit like the bizarre mash-up sport of chess boxing where opponents take each other on in alternate rounds of chess and boxing, this race would require both extreme physical exertion (boxing/trail running) and calm, strategic thinking (chess/fly fishing for selective fish). And, of course, nutrition (beer). 

By the time I found myself on that cliff I was, however, no longer on Aidan’s back. Like an angry wild boar running away from catch dogs, Aidan was already kilometres ahead of us and I was certain that he’d be the match winner. However, the day before the race, Aidan wasn’t the only competition I’d identified.

Bokong flyathlon african waters

There was the boss man, African Waters‘ Keith Clover, a marathon athlete. He entered himself and his two pointers into the flyathlon. A bunch of Keith’s trail-running mates from the town of Hilton had also tagged along to Lesotho. They were all as slim as salmonids and keen fly fishers. Talk about stiff competition!

A Bokong smallmouth yellowfish.
The Bokong River.

Read the rest of Leonard’s story in issue 39. It’s free!

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