Tenacious Capetonian Stephanie Von der Heyde has jumped at the opportunity to do her second Berg River Canoe Marathon from 5 to 8 July, and urges more women to accept the challenge to take on the tough four-day, 240km odyssey from Paarl to Velddrif.
“Do it! Don’t let the war stories put you off,” she insists. “I sat in a canoe for the first time in my life in 2020. The Berg was my first major K1 river race. If I can do it – you can.
“My advice is just to do the distance prep. The Berg demands a really high suffer fee, but if you pre-pay the bulk of it in training, the race itself can be epic fun,” she advises.
Women did not take part in the Berg for the first fifteen years, and trailblazers like Cheronne Botes, Ritzie Heyns and Marinda Hartzenberg in the eighties paved the way for more and more women to take their place on the start line in Paarl each year.
Despite the hardship of the long days on the Berg River through the middle of the Western Cape winter, Von der Heyde says the atmosphere around the 62-year-old event is special.
“There’s something so majestic about the Berg,” she says. “The distances, the cold, the epic camaraderie… it’s magic.”
“There’s also such a great vibe and sense of support from the race community, the seconds and the spectators… even the trees give out cuddles as you make your way down,” Von der Heyde adds with a rueful smile.
Despite having completed the iconic race once, she acknowledges that there is more to be learnt about managing the gruelling journey to the Western seaboard, some of which she learnt at last year’s Berg.
“I will never forget the tide and the headwind suffer-fest on the final day,” she recalls. “I was mentally prepared for an easier, shorter home stretch, and a bunch-gees kind of day. Wrong!
“I also rookied my juice system on the final day and had nothing to drink until Oordraplek. This year I will treat it with more respect.
“I loved day three. The scenery is unreal.” she points out.
“I also loved making new friends on the river. I can’t really speak Afrikaans, but there’s something about being stuck in a tree-block with someone that transcends the language barrier.