Wednesday, 11 July 2007
Have you ever had the experience of going to the movies and at the end of a profound and moving story nobody moves or says a word when the credits begin to role and the theme tune starts to play. It is only when the screen goes blank and the lights come on that everyone (normally there are not many people at movies that really touch you) silently makes their way to the exit. This race has been that kind of experience for me. I finished days ago but had to be there to see the last man home. Hanging on to the race until the last moment. Thinking through the experiences of the last 3 weeks and savouring the memory of every day. But the lights are now on and the show is truely over. This race now belongs to those who follow.
Talking of credits I have decided to give a snippet of my impressions of the people who rode the race around me.
Maarten, Tim, Hannele and Lee I didn't get to know but certainly enjoyed their antics from a distance. Well done guys (and gal)
Rohan - Started and ended the race with Rohan. We didn't spend everyday riding together in the beginning but overnighted at the same support stations. Once through Struishoek we spent the rest of the ride together as constant companions. He rode sections that I walked as his damaged shin made riding a lot less painful than walking. At the top of each climb he would flop down and wait for me. It was his drive that kept us moving forward.
Adam - An amazing man. Only 6 weeks training to do a 3 week ride! In the last few days when I was struggling he would drop back and walk with me not because he was tired but just to keep me company. When I lagged I would see him looking back often to make sure I was OK. Thanks Adam and well done on a spectacular achievement.
Jannie - Quiet but determined. At one stage during a miserable snow storm I joked that I was going to stop riding for the day and seek shelter until the weather improved. Jannie looked at me totally horrified and bolted for the door, got on his bike and headed off into the storm. Near the end we sensed he was like a tethered race horse and were happy to see him charge off with Xolani and chase down the group in front. His riding over the last few days was wonderful to watch. Will always recall fondly the time we got out my little cooker and had tea together at Mariazell Mission and his impromptu birthday tea in the bush.
Xolani - "Xolani the Navigator" Navigator he was not! Xolani was an absolute delight on the ride. He is strong and determined beyond belief for someone so young. When all of us were reduced to pushing our bikes Xolani would pedal on slowly waiting for us at the top. His simple explanation - "I hate walking." He could win this race if only he could navigate. His best miss was at Elandsberg. Emerging from a track at the end of a portage section we came out on a road 100 metres from the farm house. The lights were on and our only decision was to decide if the driveway to the house was on the left or the right. Xolani said he knew and started going right. After 50 metres we told him it wasn't the correct way and then turned around and rode back 100 metres into the sign posted driveway and the comforts of warm tea, food, bath and a bed. Xolani was right behind me when we turned around and was following me. Somehow he forgot to turn into the driveway (and it wasn't dark yet!) and was fetched 2 hours later many km's up the road by the farmer.
Andre - A powerhouse of a rider he would zoom past us on the climbs on his single speed, legs pumping like steam driven pistons. Incredibly generous with advice. Saw him during the early stages of the race spending time with the racers wanting to make a break, drawing them maps and explaining the scratchy bits to them so that they could charge on ahead.
Andy - As I have said before he was the Genuine Nice Guy. Early on we were riding in a big group and he got in before me. I arrived to find Andy there. He showed me where I could sleep, explained the location of the showers, food etc.. That's just who he is. Obstacles were faced with glee and mountains were made for riding down at speed - no track necessary. Andy has a love of life and a love of riding. He does however have reservations about the necessity of self navigation. After all it does interrupt the riding.
Earle - A strong and determined athlete who had to come to terms with a debilitating injury early in the race. He showed fierce determination and finished the race against the odds. Would spend time alone not because of the need to get away from us but the necessity to get his leg up and rested as much as possible. Quick to smile in spite of his pain. Hard not to really like someone like Earle.
Kevin - Spent a wonderful few hours wandering around lost in the dark, in a forest, in a thick fog with Kevin. At no time did it seems to faze him. Took it all in his stride. Shared many a cup of trail side brew with him. Kevin I will remember for the way he sat on his bed in Masakala poring over his maps with a perplexed look on his face. When I asked him what he was thinking about he said "We need a strategy!" I commented that I didn't really care about a strategy and that I was just going to stick with the group for a while. "That's it then!" said Kevin, "That's a strategy right there - I need a strategy, now I have one."
Steven - Unflappable, cheerful and there for the full experience. Steven once commented that 26 days seemed a little limiting and that he wouldn't mind spending twice as long to just suck in the richness of the whole experience. The look on his face last night showed that although he did "race" through the route he lapped it all up and found it entirely satisfying.
Dillon - Had an unfortunate fall on morning two but made a remarkable comeback. Incredibly independent and so didn't really engage with the group dynamic. He quietly exited the race and we never heard from him again.
Glenn - Forest as I like to call him after his first night spent sleeping on the forest floor completely lost. He got as far as Rhodes before illness got hold of him leaving him no option but withdraw from the race. However, that was not the last of him! He was well and truly out of the race but he still followed it constantly. I would get Sms's from him almost daily and then he magically appeared on the road near McGregor near the end. He had flown to Cape Town to meet the riders and welcome them to the finish. He did some shopping for us and spent the last night with our group at the last Support Station pampering to our needs. A quiet, humble and totally nice guy. The sort you want your daughters to bring home one day. Forest will be back in 2008 and will be a rider to watch.
Mike - Ordinary Cyclist basking in the satisfaction of completing the toughest expeditionary mountain bike race in the world!
Last night went out to watch Kevin and Steven get to the finish. They were tired but elated. They seem to have made to most of their last day. Not being fond of early rising (Kevin's 2 am "Lets get going" on day 2 seems out of character) it seems they started off a little before 7am and only just made the 8am start on the portage. The rules of the race state that Stettynskloof portage may only start between 4am-8am. I heard that Steven was under the impression that the portage could be completed in 6 hours - would have been a new record if they had achieved that. In practice it took them 9 hours. We hung around for hours waiting for news of their successful summitting of Stettynskloof. Zero cell phone coverage over the previous 24 hours meant we were uncertain as to their plans. They finally arrived at Ashanti in Paarl at 21h25.
Tuesday, 10 July 2007
Yesterday I returned to the top of Stettynskloof to wait for Andre, Andy and Earle to claw their way out. From the top it looks like an idyllic seting, the perfect valley. The reality of getting through it is entirely different. It is hard. For the uninitiated and the outside observer it may seem a cruel and unusual punishment, and it is. But it is not insurmountable - I did it and I know. The morning I set out for the kloof I was at my lowest physical point of the race. I have lost a lot of weight and something I ate in the previous day or two didn't agree with me. At the first sign of trouble I paused and reminded myself that I was not going to let this last experience cloud the memory of the race. When we found ourselves entombed in a 10 foot growth of man-swallowing proteas we laughed, clawed our way out inch by inch and regrouped and pressed on. When I fell headlong into a ravine landing chest first onto a rock I reminded myself that I was going to crest this kloof with my sense of humour intact.
Climbing to the top yesterday to get a view of the others coming up I marvelled at their ability to climb the near vertical face with their equipment and bikes strapped to their backs. I struggled to walk up a lesser incline armed only with a few cans of Coke. Yet the previous day I had done exactly the same as they were doing. As they came over the top they were elated. Completely exhausted but elated.
Waiting for them a bit later at the finish was a special moment. I relived my finish the day before. Less tired and more focused I was able to fully appreciate the enormity of what we all had achieved.
Andre was truely elated, Andy as always had a huge smile on his face and Earle said very little.
Andre had finally earned his blanket after illness forced him to withdraw last year and the challenges of bike problems this year. To compound his challenge he rode the race on a single speed, non-suspension bike. He is a strong determined man and I was glad to see him finish.
Andy, all-round nice guy, embraced the challenges of the race. When others said "Thank goodness that is behind us!" Andy would say "Wow!" At the top of Stettynskloof that is exactly what he said.
Earle damaged his ankle a few days into the race and has soldiered on ever since with the ankle getting worse by the day. Its not a pretty sight. It is with him that I identified the most with yesterday. He is stronger and more determined than I but pressing on with an injury of that magnitude was an enormous undertaking. This race seems to have taken its toll on him. Like me he has lost a lot of weight, but he has also endured a lot of pain. We rode a large part of the race together and only became separated when the difficulty of walking down a particularly long and gnarly poratage slowed him down. At the finish words were unnecessary. A clasp of the hands and a hug were all that were necessary to convey mutual respect. Well done buddy - job well done.
Before the race the question was asked "Should Stettynskloof remain?" There are both proponents and opponents. The answer is simply - Yes. The version of the kloof we rode through is a more sanitized version of what went before. The kloof of yesteryear that Ben, Cornell, Wessel, Amy-Jane, Xolani, Gerrit and others battled through has been made a lot easier through the cutting of the path that covers just over half its length. There is enough of its virgin state left to pose a serious challenge and make us appreciate the achievement of those who went before. It is a rite of passage that that makes you get to the end and wrap the finishers blanket around you with a sense of pride and unparallelled achievement.
Monday, 9 July 2007
Got an early night last night as I went to bed feeling like I did before Stettynskloof, really nauseous. Today I plan to head back to the Kloof. Not to walk it again but to show my support for my fellow competitors, Andre, Andy and Earle, who will be passing that way this morning. Hope to able to go back tommorrow for the arrival of Kevin and Steven.
Blog is not done yet - stay tuned.
47km 12h15 1800m of climbing
Planned to get up at 2am (after only 2 hours of sleep) and get to the bottom of the portage for a 4am start. Woke at 2am to the sound of gentle rain - back to sleep. Finally got up at 3.30am and got going at 4.40. Was feeling a little nauseous when we left and it just got worse. Lost my breakfast half way to the start of the portage. Considered a retreat because of the demanding portage ahead and feeling fragile didn't help. Reasoned that I could get some more sleep and go up with the following group the next day. Bit the bullet and forged ahead. We got to the bottom of Stettynskloof at 6.00am. It was dark, drizzling slightly and there were plenty of clouds about. Adam led us through a rough track that had been cleared recently. The winding track crossed the river a few times. If your idea of fun is wading through rivers in the middle of a Cape winter in the dark with the thermometer in single digits then the Stettynskloof ramble has been designed specifically for you. If that is too tame for you then add a bike to your list of things to take with - along with your 10kg backpack. The first 6km went reasonably quickly, taking only 2h30. Then it got really interesting - the track ended! The next 6km took 5 hours! We followed the "Waddilove Line" for a short while - the odd bit a tape tied to a tree to show where the cut trail was supposed to go - apparently the work force gave up. At one stage it led us to a HUGE pile of rocks that looked like they had been quarried and then piled together. Rohan and Adam with bikes on shoulders just walked over them. I was not as brave and slowly hauled my way over. We went too far right and got stuck in the river growth. After about 20 minutes we had made about 20metres of headway only to discover that the Waddilove Line was on the other bank of the river. It took us nearly 30 minutes to cross back over. The density of the growth is staggering! You move forward inch by inch. At one stage we were over the river. We knew this because we could hear the water beneath us. As I stopped to contemplate how bizzare the situation was the "raft" beneath me gave way and I dropped into the river.
Eventually the Waddilove Line ended and we had to make our own route choices. At one stage my foot got stuck in the undergrowth and I fell head first into a ravine. Landed hard on a rock that has left a bruise and a few aching ribs over my heart. For the next few hours we plodded on eventually shouldering my bike for the last few km's and climbed out of the kloof. Adam, Rohan and I then sat down next to the track and brewed a celebratory cup of tea (always coffee for Adam) with my gas cooker. We wanted to celebrate our achievement, not only of the day but of the ride, without the intrusion of outsiders - we had done well. Getting back on our bikes we then spent the next 3 hours getting to the finish at Ashanti in Paarl. Our final time 20 Days, 9 hours and 50 minutes.
A short celebration and we were presented with our prize - a blanket.
Sunday, 8 July 2007
Saturday, 7 July 2007
During the race we have at one stage or another lost a couple of things. The first was my speed sensor on day 1 later replaced at Rhodes. A water bottle left behind at a support station and my fancy cell phone at Vuvu.
But, by far my greatest loss occurred today when I left a card my youngest daughter made for me before the race. It had the usual ‘best dad in the world’ stuff but the best part was a line about “you would also win at Ballet”. It has been on my map board since the start. A loss of unmeasurable value.
Triple stage today.
158 km, 14h20m 1870m
Got in late this evening. Hard day but we are at the final hurdle. This race has become the sole focus of what we do day after day. Looking forward to other options!
We have cranked out nearly 550km in the last 4 days and it hasn’t gone unnoticed by our bodies.
A few hours sleep and we start the big one.
Friday, 6 July 2007
After bombing on the previous day today was so much better. Rode twice as far but finished stronger. Doing a double today sets us up for an interesting finish. If we are strong tomorrow we can ride a triple stage and then finish on Sunday or if the wheels fall off we finish on Monday. Been an amazing journey so far. Tonight we dined in the local hotel. We don't have any fancy clothes so walked up the main street dressed in our cycling tights. Must look like a troupe of ballet dancers. Got some looks but we are past caring about that. Now off to get some sleep.
Die Hel is situated in the remotest of valleys. From what I can gather 2 trekboer families somehow made their way into the valley and stayed. A tiny community then established itself. We stayed in a refurbished cottage that was the first house in the valley to have a black wood-fired stove and that was around 1954. It seems that provisions and goods could be transported to the edge of the valley and then dismantled and carried down in pieces, as was the stove. The track down is called "die leer" or in english "the ladder". Until a road was pushed through in 1962 from the opposite end of the valley the ladder was the way in and out. We climbed out via "the ladder" this morning. The 1km climb took me about 90 minutes and it was physically demanding. You need to carry your bike or manhandle it over the big obstructions. My legs and shoulders were shot. We were hoping to do 2 stages today but I hit a serious flat spot coming into Rouxpos (Vleiland support station) and we (Rohan, Adam and me) decided that pushing on was going to make the day far too demanding. I had a shower, bite to eat and then fell asleep for a few hours before dinner. Am expecting Andre, Andy and Earle to come in soon. Now 21h15 and no sign of them yet. Wind is a little into them so perhaps made the going a bit slow. Hope to see them at breakfast.
They have just arrived at 21h20. Looking a bit tired but they have done a good days ride.
130km, 1880m climb, 11 hours.
Am so tired of waking up in the dark and then riding through the dark in sub zero temperatures waiting for the sun to come up. Hands and feet are permanently numb.
The first 70km saw us leave the Karoo. Reasonably flat riding but the corrugations and sand are brutal.
During army training (nearly 30 years ago!) we were involved in conventional warfare training and advanced day after day in torrential rain digging fox holes every night and then trying to get some sleep as they filled up with water. After a few days during a simulated attack, diving for cover, a friend dived on top of his rifle and broke a few ribs. He was stretchered from the battle ground sporting a huge grin. I tell this story to set the stage for a near race ending incident last night. We were barrelling along at about 25 km/h, down a boring stretch of farm road, well after dark and dropped into a small depression. I went from 25 to 0 in 2 seconds flat. I had ridden into a small soft gravel stream bed. Very nearly went over the handle bars. My state of mind at that stage was, "if I had fallen and broken something at least I could have withdrawn from the race with dignity".
After a cold miserable start this morning we rolled into Prince Albert, upon arriving at the guest house, were given a breakfast of muesli, yoghurt and fruit followed by eggs, bacon, toast, tomato, baked beans and mushrooms washed down with orange juice, coffee, tea and coke. A quick shower followed and we were off again.
A quick 8km road section was followed by a 7km section that gained 800 metres of altitude. Stunningly beautiful but having done it on a 1X2 would rather suggest a 4X4. A 35km section then saw us plummeting into the Gamkaaskloof Nature Reserve at Die Hel.
Tuesday, 3 July 2007
Finally out of the Baviaanskloof mountains. Had a late start as 3 of us are struggling with aches and pains. My knees and left ankle are protesting. Adam has a particularly sore knee and Rohan has a swollen and tender shin.
Jannie and Xolani left at around 1.00 am after only a few hours sleep and I think they knocked off about 250km today! We are at an intermediate station for the night somewhere between Willowmore and Prince Albert.
While I don't have saddle sores I do have saddle soreness. My butt and saddle are not on good terms right now. If they were a couple they would need serious reconciliation councilling.
Made good progress today but wonder if the physical demands were worth it. We started the day as crocks and today hasn't helped at all. But that's life and this is a race after all.
We know Andre, Earle and Andy are going to chase us down eventually but we just want to make it a bit more of a challenge!
The upside of this is the quality of the veld is improving from the over-grazing of years past. There is also a natural increase in the number of buck. Many farms have also been consolidated and converted to game farms. This also results in lowered population levels.
Today we continued our trail through the Baviaanskloof. Unlike yesterday, where it was devoid of people, today we encountered at least a dozen 4x4's.
We decided to do a single stage today as we realised that we are really tired. So much so that we have little energy left to enjoy the true majesty of the terrain we are passing through. Big climbs and fast descents characterised the first half of the ride followed by undulating roads into the stop.
Apparently there are buffalo and rhino in the area we rode through. At one stage a Parks Official stopped and asked us if we had seen his rhino. Pleased to say we hadn't, although we did see rhino and buffalo spoor on the road.
Conditions still a bit muddy under tyre which made tired legs a bit more wobbly. An early stop was really needed today. Anyone wondering how we do it every day must understand that it isn't easy. We spend every day on the brink of exhaustion. Within minutes of starting a day's ride you have had enough. Jannie muttered something yesterday that kind of sums it up - "robot mode".
I hear Lee's bike broke in half and is now held together with wire. He has been reduced to touring the event like our bunch which is a pity cause he made the race really interesting to follow.
Monday, 2 July 2007
Last night the 5 of us stayed at Bucklands. As they were expecting 7 of us we were moved to a cottage up the road. First impressions were not favourable. No electricity, no hot water, dingy and drafty. Its amazing how perceptions change. Got the donkey boiler going, fire started and kettle on for tea. We all had steaming hot baths and enjoyed sitting around the fire. The beds were the most comfortable and snug we have had. It started raining around midnight, which sounded lovely on the tin roof, pity we had to ride through it in the morning!
Morning found the rain still falling. Decided to leave at 7.00 because of the miserable weather. Spent the first 4 hours trying to scramble over a mountain and then climbed and climbed toward the Baviaanskloof in intermittent rain and through mud. We finished well after sunset. The Baviaanskloof is outstanding, however wading knee high through a dozen river crossings wasn't much fun.
Arrived near our overnight stop with no idea where we were supposed to stay so just went to the closest light and found an unoccupied house with food and our resupply boxes inside, very fortunate.
If you do the maths on our distance and time taken today you will appreciate how much walking we did. We reckoned we walked for at least 9 hours!
As an indication of the remoteness of the wilderness area we traversed today - we saw only 2 people as they drove past in the only vehicle of the day.
Legs not happy puppies today after 2 double-ups the previous 2 days.
Slightly tricky navigation but once again our luck held and we got it exactly right. Today we came across a cafe and ordered coke, tea, pie and chips. Hardly remarkable except that it was the first place we have passed that sells coke in over 300km. Such is the routing of this race. Our group is currently only 5 riders being Adam, Rohan, Jannie, Xolani and I.
Xolani had a hard day today. Punctured within 1 km of the start and continued with puncture problems all day. He spent the whole day following our tracks and at one point went over the handle bars at speed. He has no rear brakes, his front disk brakes are almost dysfunctional and his derailleur stopped working. We all spent hours getting his bike back into some sort of order. His tyres were a mass of thorns as I guess ours are except that he is the only one not riding on tubeless. He arrived at the support station about an hour after us looking like he had been dragged through a bush backwards several times. He has gravel rash and a swollen lip as a momento of his fall. Hopefully things will improve for him tomorrow.
We stopped under a tree along the route and celebrated Jannie's birthday with cups of freshly brewed tea and a slab of chocolate.
Saturday, 30 June 2007
Friday, 29 June 2007
Got off to a grubby start slogging through mud. Took us 3 hours to cover the 20km's to the start of the Struishoek portage. The race leaders got lost there a few days ago and apparently took 9 hours to get off the mountain. We took our time getting our bearings and hit the "track" first time and got off in just under 90 minutes. Track is a kind description of the well concealed rocky rabbit trail down the mountain. Having made good time we headed off to Van de Venterskraal, inhaled a plate of food and set off for Toekomst. We expected a quick dull ride but had an amazing ride through a river valley hemmed in by towering mountains. Riding past buck and giraffe as the sun was setting was magic. The splendour of it defies description. Farmers are increasingly turning from traditional stock farming to game farming. As we pedal along we are aware of the good condition of the veld and the amount of game to be seen. Today was a really good ride. We are now being made welcome by our hosts Philip and Lisa Henderson. The first 5 cups of tea just about satisfied me.
What is your typical day like?
We get up at 5, eat, dress, pack and aim to be on the road by 6 - first light is at about 06h30. We ride with lights until there is enough natural light. At the end of a days ride - just after sunset typically - we shower, eat, wash our clothes and prepare our bikes and get to bed around 8-9pm.
Are any of you guys suffering with saddle sores from all that riding?
Apart from some of the leaders I don't think any of the others are suffering from saddle sores. We make a point of keeping our clothing well laundered. We also also spend hours walking every day so are not in the saddle as much as the leaders. The leaders are also bombing through support stations and don't have the luxury of getting their washing sorted out like we do.
How do you know where to go?
We are given 1:150 000 maps showing basic roads, tracks and often very basic tracks(which may or may not exist) We also have a selection of 1:50 000 maps for the scratchy bits. Both of these show contour lines which are absolutely necessary for orienting yourself through tricky navigational sections. We also (not always) get narrative instructions, such as "Go past the brick structure and turning right head west until you intercept a track cutting across the mountain (approx 3 km)" The distances on the narratives are very approximate give or take a few km's. Some of the descriptions are laughable. For example "as you round the corner about 3km from the last junction, turn off right and crossing the stream make your way up the the village." Well the 3km was more like 4km. Crossing the stream means abseiling down a near vertical rock face some 50 metres high, wading through a river and scrambling out of the ravine to the village 1 km beyond. Straying from the official route is punishable by being confined to a support station for x number of daylight hours, the severity of which is decided by the race director.
Are you guys getting lots of punctures?
I am only aware of one puncture and it was a rider without tubeless tyres. Tubeless technology is amazing, you ride over thorns without a second thought. They pierce the tyre but it seals immediately and you just keep on riding.
Where do you stay?
We generally stay in farmhouses. Through the area that comprised the old Transkei around Matatiele we stayed in guest houses mostly catering for traditional cultural experiences. Many farms through consolidation of farms have spare homesteads that they have converted into guest houses or hunting lodges and we are accommodated there. In Vuvu we were fed in the local schools and then billeted out to stay in local families homes. I stayed in a mud brick house with a basic tin roof and creaky door and a rickety bed. It was comfortable and they gave us loads of warm fluffy blankets. Walkerbouts in Rhodes by comparison gave us thin inadequate blankets and no towels!
Any more questions you want answered just add a comment and they will be relayed to me. Have lost my MMS camera phone and updating via my cheap and nasty phone with SMS.
Thursday, 28 June 2007
We had a real good fun ride into the support station after a big climb out the back of the park.
We had to haul our bikes over the 8 foot electrified game fence and were relieved to find they had turned it off for us. After an exhilerating single track descent of about 700m in just a few km's we were like a bunch of school boys racing home, hence the good time. They moved us 12km further up the road but that didn't dampen our spirits.
We have done our first double up of the race and the 7 of us travelling together are all strong. We have ridden a conservative race thus far and apart from being caught in the heaviest snow seen around Molteno in many years we are less than 2 days behind the leaders. They have put themselves through the wringer to get where they are and we have been slow, steady and comfortable with no navigational errors so far.
having burgers for lunch and then hitting the road again to the next station.
Can tell we are in the Karoo because of the thorns. Measured an acacia thorn 4 inches long. These litter the ground and are going to put our puncture resistant tubeless tyre technology to the test.
106km 10 hours. Snowed overnight.
Rode the first 30km through virgin snow 2 - 4 inches thick, with occasional 6 inch patches.
Energy sapping and mentally exhausting.
Visually it is absolutely awesome but for riding it is almost the ultimate challenge. Your rear gear ices up and your hands and feet get unbelievably cold. (Try standing in ice water in one of those caterers tin bath thingies - that's pretty much what we went through today!)
Spent 6 hours grinding through snow and slush and then, fortunately, we were out of the snow and drizzle for the last 4 hours to tackle the final portage of the day.
- The time near Matatiele when a girl flagged me down and asked to ride my bike and then wobbled a few hundred metres down the road and almost managed to change gears.
- The brief stop to play around with some guys playing soccer.
- Sleeping in a mud brick house in Vuvu where the occupants had vacated their home for a night so that their guests could be comfortably looked after.
- The generosity of the people who let us invade their homes.
- Riding through snow - not on my list of things to do but memorable nonetheless.
The list is endless and we are only halfway to being done. This race touches those who set out to do it. We all agree that what started out as personal ambition has turned out to be about the broader experience.
My answer was that if one could do "Ride to Rhodes" then one could manage the "Epic" on a unicycle. Obviously an exaggeration but was meant to highlight the absurdity of the comparison. Neither is for sissys.
The best way of describing the differences is to say that the "Epic" is a mountain bike race suitable for roadies, while the "Freedom Challenge" is more suited to adventure racers.
Self navigation and the terrain are marked differences resulting in much slower average speeds.
Which is better? Depends on how much leave you have!!
Wednesday, 27 June 2007
Left at 6am when the temperature was 2 above zero, the warmest it was to be all day. An hour into the ride it started drizzling. 20 minutes later it had turned to light sleet. Within an hour it was snow and sleet driving right into us.
The snow and ice were packing up on my handlebars, the vents in my helmet and against my chest. My fingers were aching inspite of the fact that I had 3 sets of gloves on. The sleet was stinging my face and eyes. The countryside was being transformed into a postcard quality landscape.
I knew Jenny's Cottages was only 15km's up the road with the promise of shelter. Head down I fought against the head wind counting off the distance all the while my fingers growing colder. Finally riding into Jenny's we were welcomed into a beautiful setting. In the sheltered farmstead the snow flakes drifted lazily, settling on the tree branches. The pathway up to the house was layered with fresh undisturbed snow. We warmed up with tea, soup and sandwiches and sent out to fight on - thanks Jenny.
Within an hour the snow stopped and then we battled through the mud. Arrived just before dark to a warm welcome and a hot bath. Just heard it's started snowing again. Can't say it excites me!
Tuesday, 26 June 2007
Arrived at 17h30. Less than 12 hours today but really tough.
Max temp was 2° and that was at 6am when I started!
It dropped to zero soon after and stayed there.
Rode into a snow storm. Hard grind. Visibility less than 100m.
Even with 3 pairs of gloves (surgical, woollen and washing up) hands and fingers froze.
Tired... Cold... Hungry...
sms from Mike
Took 6 hours, that is considered good. The navigation in this race is crucial. You need to check and check again. One wrong choice can cost dearly.
The population density here is extremely low. You can travel for hours without seeing another person.
After our 6 hour portage we anticipated a relatively easy ride to the next support station, still about 70km's away. However, we didn't figure on a gale force wind.
At one stage we were walking down a hill because riding was too dangerous. One gust stopped us dead in our tracks and we had to lean hard into the wind to stop the wind pushing us backwards!
On the final few km's it got worse. While pushing the bike the wind blew the back end around completely behind me hitting my leg on the opposite side.
Forecast for tomorrow (day 9) is less wind but loads of rain. Not really the stuff fun is made of. Quote of the day is from Rohan. After coming down from the long mountain portage he commented "this really is not a route for recreational riders"!!!
Monday, 25 June 2007
Since just after lunch we have been riding in a very strong wind.
The weatherman predicted wind today of 55-65km/h, and he earned his dinner!
Earlier on while pushing my bike the wind blew my back tyre round - have left the road a couple of times because of the blustery wind.
Hope to get to the next stop in the next hour and a half....
Sunday, 24 June 2007
While on holiday many years ago we were sitting around in the late afternoon and someone asked "what’s the time?" The answer he got in return was "Wednesday, I think!" This pretty much sums up the attitude of the riders in this race. The important time is sunset.
After sunset the portages are impossible to get through. We then have to plan a later start for portages out of support stations, or really early ones to get to portages at first light and then into support stations before dark. This is the reason for the lead changing hands so often, because the placement of portages can trap people at the stations overnight allowing others to catch up.
Kevin got it the worst and I believe he has stopped short of the final portage for the night.
One of the group took a wrong turn and arrived well after dark.
We arrived to find Adam at the support station. He was riding with Xolani but after following Xolani down a few wrong routes decided he would try it alone. Adam is amazing, no other word for it. He only started riding a bicycle 6 weeks before the start of the race!
Glen, affectionately referred to as "Forest" after spending the night as race leader after Day 1 sleeping on the forest floor, stayed back at Rhodes where he has been for a few days and I have heard he has withdrawn from the race because of ill health. He was billeted with us last night and really looked grim.
Today we had a few firsts. First little section of tar road for the last few hundred km’s and first stop since Day 1 to have electricity. Paraffin lamps do create a certain ambience but electric lights are more convenient for our normal rising time of between 4 and 5 in the morning.
Saturday, 23 June 2007
Over the last few days we have trekked over poverty-stricken areas, and people have been incredibly generous and accomodating. Now when we get to a place that should be able to provide a high level of service, they just don't care!
The Onion Award to Mr Walker.
I struggled after only getting one hour's sleep the night before and the altitude of 2600m above sea level. At the top the streams are frozen. Stopped at a really top end lodge a few km's after going over. They welcomed us in for coffee, tea and biscuits following which we then rolled into Rhodes.
The "Welcome" at Walkerbouts Inn was in total contrast to the hospitality we have received along the route. They were unprepared.
When I arrived at a mission station at 3.30pm the race director informed me that I still had 45km's to the support station. He had arranged somewhere for me to stay near the mission. I told him I would rather move ahead because the only obstacle ahead was a river crossing that I could make before nightfall.
I stuck my fork together with duct tape which meant that I could ride, but only slowly - not more than about 10km/h - because every time I hit a rock the wheel would abruptly change direction. I found the steering was a little more reliable when the handle bars were set at about 45 °. Even this was tricky as a jolt would still twist the wheel.
The road sufrace was rather bad in places so riding was often impossible. I arrived at the Vuvu at 10.30pm after 11 hours of walking/trickling down the road, giving me a total of 16 hours for the day.
When the shock broke at 11.00am I put in a call to Eben of West Rand Cycles in Johannesburg. He took the shock off his own bike and put it on a plane to Durban. He arranged for Mike of Leigh's Cycles in Durban to drive through and fit the shock. Mike arrived at midnight and had it sorted within an hour. So I went to bed knowing I could move on the next day.
Friday, 22 June 2007
Thursday, 21 June 2007
Now back to the frozen zone:
We left Masakala support staion at 6h30 toward Mataliele a few km's away across a flood plain. The temperature kept dropping, finally settling at 6 below zero. We were squeeling like pigs, because while we have warm gloves, they are buried away in our backpacks. and they are so tightly packed that finding the gloves on the trail would have been a time-consuming exercise. Eventually we stopped and searched through our packs, and spent a long time trying to put them on with lifeless hands.
Today, while short, included a spectacular section that entailed dropping into a grass-covered plain and heading mearly 20km's using various cattle trails that cross it.The instructions on how to enter the plain were typically imprecise (meaning: every group entered it a sifferent way). All around we could see the various groupspicking their way through the tracks, finally converging on the same spot on the other side. All in all, a great day out! I'm now chilling (editor: haha, funny dad) at a support station overlooking mountain ranges lightly coated with snow.
Wednesday, 20 June 2007
I have had a few sms's today to let me know I made a brief appearnace on tv this afternoon on a short update on the race. It showed me brewing a cup of tea on my skottel sitting on the side of the road on Day 1.
Today we passed a soccer field with a bunch of guys playing with a football. I stopped and showed them how to execute a back flick which was followed by either jeers or cheers, couldn't distinguish which. Later on in a different village we came across a bunch of kids engaged in a game of cricket. I asked if I could join in and was handed the bat. I missed the first ball and was caught off the second. All good fun.
"Where are you going" and "where have you come from? are easier to answer than for the inquirer to believe. When stopping at a little shop to get some coke we were asked the above 2 questions. The youth then settled down on a stone wall a short distance off to contemplate my answers. As we left he asked me what prize money we could win in this race. My answer that I could win a blanket was beyond his comprehension. The question that went unanswered was asked by a crowd of young boys who gathered around my bike and asked "How much does this bike cost?" in this, the poorest part of the country, how do you answer that?
I was sharing a room with 'my pal' Kevin, who proved to be a bit of a liability.
After listening to him snore lazily until after midnight I finally fell asleep, only to be rudely awoken at 2 am, with "Mike, I can't sleep, let's go!" At that stage of the fight I was in no state of mind to make a good judgement call, so I obediently rolled out of bed. And before I knew where we were - we didn't know where we were! We spent hours stumbling around a forest finally emerging at the town of Donnybrook, some 4 and a half hours (and 20km!) after leaving the support station. We were quickly caught and overtaken by fresh legged cyclists, who had left hours after us. So began a day that ended with 105km, 2500m of climbing and just short of 15 hours in the saddle. Sigh...
Monday, 18 June 2007
Their true colours will be revealed tomorrow. The first support station is roughly 90km which is reachable in about 6 hours by the real cycling machines, and 9 or 10 for the average rider. The second support station is another 90km up the road, but is all but unreachable given the cold conditions, moonless night, and really difficult navigation required. There is an intermediate stop between the first and second support stations, which only offers a place to sleep (and no food supplied). Those who push on to that station are out to race! It doesn't matter who gets there first, only that you get there. With the given conditions, nobody's going to push on, so we'll all start off on equal footing tomorrow. At least then we'll know who to look out for.
A fellow competitor commented that you can see who wants to race just by looking in their eyes...I wonder what he sees on mine?
Saturday, 16 June 2007
For those of you who would like to try this at home, here is the secret formula.
Take one state-of-the-art - titanium this, carbon fibre that - full suspension, cross country racing machine and add to it:
Large saddle bag
2 high power riding lights
1 tail light
1 spare tyre fastened to frame
3 assorted bags for carrying batteries, cell phone, energy bars, etc.
1 map board
2 water bottles
Extra sealant in tyres
Mix well together. Add 8kg backpack firmly fastened to 80kg rider (5kg above normal race weight).
The overall effect is to load the bike with 15kg’s of extra weight that would not be carried on a standard cross country race! Super – can’t wait for the portages!!!
Friday, 15 June 2007
POSTED BY MIKE AT 9:34 AM 0 COMMENTS
If you click on the 0 COMMENTS (it might have a number if there are other comments in which case you can read the comments and then add your own) you go into a screen that allows you to add a new comment. Have fun! Look forward to reading your comments when I can get to a PC. Will attempt to keep the blog updated daily via SMS.
Thursday, 14 June 2007
Wednesday, 13 June 2007
I opted for a 30 litre adventure racing back pack as it is lightweight and has a pouch to take a hydration bladder. Carrying bottles is fine but the sub-zero temperatures we will be experiencing will turn bottles into solid ice. My hope is that the bladder neatly tucked up inside the pack will be spared! I will be packing a 1.5 litre bladder as well as two 750ml bottles in the pack. I carry two other bottles on the bike frame giving me just over 4.25 litres of hydration fully loaded.
My aim is to get my back pack weight down to below 8kg. The pack weighs 1 kg (ripped the steel frame support out – uncomfortable and extra weight I don’t need!) and the water will add an additional 3 kg. This leaves me 4kg to pack clothes, nutrition, spares, toiletries, maps and my gas cooker and accessories (pot, gas cylinder, cups – 2 in case I have company, teaspoons etc.), emergency rations, space blankets, medical kit, cell phones, batteries, battery chargers, etc.
The most important aspect is clothing. We will potentially have to deal with temperatures ranging from the mid 20’s down to -10 Celsius. Given those conditions, clothing choice becomes critical. Critical issues are volume (can’t carry a massive pack around), weight (I am not a Sherpa) and suitability. There is obviously such a thing as being too cold, but the opposite is also true. Careful layering seems to be the key. I have selected the following key clothing items – wick dry vest, short sleeve riding jersey, long sleeve riding jersey, long sleeve fleecy riding jersey, wind shell and a warm rain proof outer shell. For the legs I have opted to carry knee warmers, leg warmers and full tights. I will be carrying 2 pairs of riding shorts. Add 3 pairs of socks (1 set thermal), 5 pairs of gloves (short finger, long finger, thermal, wool and latex), balaclava and beanie. Had a long think about taking my goose down jacket but it takes up a lot of space and weight - a hefty 700 grams!
Riders who have competed in the ABSA Cape Epic will know the challenge of squeezing 8 days of riding gear into one of their generously proportioned bags. Well an Epic bag comfortably swallows at least 2 of my packs and I will be on the road for about 3 weeks. What’s more is that on the Epic you don’t carry your bag, it is sent ahead for you.
Once the clothes are shoe-horned into the pack I then take a 15lb hammer and pound away until all the other stuff fits snugly in my little pack.
I will be taking a spare tyre, but unlike Earle – “Man of Steel” Wakeford, a fellow competitor, I will not be carrying it on my back but rather taping it to my bike frame (pictures of the transformed race horse, now resembling a pack mule, to follow)
The good news is that not all the stuff needs to fit into my pack unless I choose to ride naked – apart from being impractical, at my advanced age it wouldn’t be pretty either.
So at least some of the weight is off my shoulders and is evenly dispersed over the rest of my frame. Shoes are a good example. I downgraded from my normal racing shoes to shoes that will do both on and off the bike.
The result is within my goal. Wearing kit suited to moderate weather conditions and a full load of water, my pack weighs in at just under 8kg! Sure this will creep up as I discover new essential items!
Monday, 11 June 2007
I dreamt that armed with a tiny piece of paper that was supposed to be a map, save that it was completely blank, I was trying to find my way along the route. All around me fellow competitors were riding around completely bewildered. For hours we just headed off in all directions always ending up back where we started! Hope this in not a premonition of what is to come.
Of the 2200km route (assuming you don’t add to it significantly by getting too lost) there is just over 328km of what is described as “Double or Single track and Portages” Portages are those bits you can’t ride, no matter who you are! This is where the scratchy bits come into play. This reminds me that I still need to design and fit a map board to my bike.
I see that Andre has just posted a picture of me out training – Ha Ha
Sunday, 10 June 2007
This all started for me when late last year a work colleague mentioned he had read about an extreme MTB race in the Getaway magazine. He couldn’t remember the details but fixed that with a quick phone call. Within the hour I had put in my application to join the next race.
A month later I received notification of my successful application and then nothing for a few months while we all waited for the race site to come alive. (See the Freedom Challenge link on the side of the page to access the Freedom Challenge site)
The last few months have been characterised by restless nights, countless visits to the web site and pouring over the route details and maps.
Not sure all that has helped but I am as ready as I’ll ever be. Probably not the best race condition I have been in – currently weighing in 5kg more than my ABSA Cape Epic starting weight, but, given the task that lays ahead a little extra weight won’t go amiss.
Where a little extra weight will be a problem is in my back pack. We have to carry all our clothes and spares with us as well as nutrition between check points. Check points will provide meals and a bed ranging from luxury to rudimentary. We have sent 2 litre ice cream boxes ahead to the designated check points with refills of energy bars, chocolates, bike spares and anything else we think we might need. I have decided that I will be taking a small gas stove along and have sent extra gas canisters ahead. The other competitors have latched onto my plan to take a stove and have had endless digs about my skottel as they call it! Even as I was typing the last sentence I received an SMS from a fellow competitor (who shall remain anonymous except that his name begins with Kevin and ends with Davie) mentioning my skottel!
My backpack contents have undergone a few revisions and currently sits at 8kg which includes 3 litres of hydration. Will work on it during the week and see what changes are possible and/or necessary. I have added a few accessories in the way of bags and pouches to my bike to take a bit of weight off my back.