Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Stettynskloof Revisited

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.


Anonymous said...

Hey buddy, you don't usually do much "warm & fuzzy", but this blog shows you are a man of steel with a heart of gold. Your blog today brought a lump to my throat.
I salute you, proud Knight of the Order of the Gladiators of Stettyn (KOGS)

Anonymous said...

Now you are no longer an ordinary cyclist.


Mike said...

Thanks Guys