Wednesday, 11 July 2007

People of the Race

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!

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