Saturday, 11 July 2009

Looking back, I can only smile...

As you have probably deduced from Mike’s blog, things got pretty nasty out there and the race ended up being a lot harder than we were expecting. The tandem really made things hard for us and every day we wrestled with it to get through the stages. It was mainly because it was so heavy, I guess and the fact that tired legs and heavy bikes don’t work well together.

We were expecting to struggle on the portages but actually made up time on the others over most of the portages (except Stettyns). Mike would play mule up front with the bungee attached to his backpack and I would push, pull and wrangle from behind and the technique worked really well as long as the bush wasn’t too thick or the trail too steep. When things did get steep or bushy, carrying was the logical option.

We also had a slight advantage on some of the more technical downhills, where the tandem with its long wheel base and grippy tyres enabled us to ride where others were walking. (We didn’t gain much in time but definitely had more fun on these bits)

The uphills are what really nailed us though, those long, grinding, granny gear climbs that went on for k’s at a time. Where the others were spinning in granny at 5-6km/h we were working really hard to maintain 4-5km/h and it was less effort to just walk at 3-4km/h. Everyday had plenty of long climbs and when the weather turned bad and the surfaces became wet and muddy, things got even slower. Thick sand was also not kind to the tandem – we would approach sandpits looking for tyre tracks that floated over the top, only to try and follow them and suddenly come to a dead stop. The weight of the bike and riders meant we instantly got bogged down and had to walk.

The fact that we had to walk so much is what ultimately led to the injuries. Eventually Mike’s knee/ITB was so bad that it hurt him while riding or walking and he really had to grit his teeth for us to keep moving forward. His determination impressed me and I was amazed at how he pressed on every day and often late into the night. Some days though we just had to stop short and rest. This usually worked out well enough as the following day we would have good legs again and play catch up by putting in a long day. On more than one occasion, by stopping short we actually dodged some of the bad weather which was an unexpected bonus.

Our technical problems with the hub were due to the failure of 3 of the 5 bolts that hold the left side of the hub together – the bolts sheared off and this created enough play to upset the shifting mechanism housed in the hub and to allow oil to start leaking out. This meant we lost our bottom 7 (easy) gears and rear brakes (due to oil spilling onto the back rotor) Unfortunately this meant a long walk up Swartberg Pass and cautious descending down into Gamkaskloof. On the flipside, we got to really take in the views of the surrounding, snow dusted peaks and we even had time to build a snowman. Thanks to everyone involved in the rescue mission to get the spare back wheel to us – Johan, Gavin, Steven and Tim – it was great to finally have a working bike again and we had no further issues after that. I would use exactly the same geared hub again in the future, it never froze up in the cold and performed flawlessly in all the mud, where others were struggling with incessant chain suck, bent hangers and mangled derailleurs. The only ‘maintenance’ we performed was to spray off the mud now and again and lube the chain. (If I had to guess at what caused the failure, I’d say that the high loads being applied when we were (briefly) hammering across the rough, corrugated roads outside Willowmore may have had something to do with it but then again, it could just have been bad luck...)

After finishing this year, I came to the conclusion that despite the challenges of doing it on the tandem, this race is just hard. If you want to try and race it, it's going to hurt and you will have to spend most of the time camped well outside your comfort zone. (hats off to Tim for his remarkable effort, he really put himself through a lot of hardship to do what he did.) I also realised though that if you were to ride it a stage per day, it could be a totally enjoyable undertaking. We had some great days where it was a real pleasure to be moving through the remote countryside on a bike. Even bad weather couldn’t spoil the fun on these days.

We also met many interesting people along the way and it amazed me how they have chosen to live their lives in some of the most remote parts of the country, taking nothing for granted, surviving off the land and yet seem totally content in doing so. We experienced real country hospitality and genuine friendliness from all of our hosts and it often made it harder to leave the next morning.

We both found that during a typical day on the trail, one goes through many ups and downs, both physically and mentally. During those times when you are really hating it, you just have to keep going, knowing that the feeling will pass and things will improve again. On the tandem you can sense when your partner is going through a rough patch like this and then it's up to you to dig deeper and work a bit harder or try to be more positive, knowing that when you are struggling, your partner will do the same for you. When you are both struggling at the same time, it’s really hard but that sense of mutual responsibility keeps you moving forward, however slowly. I think the best moments for us coincided with the times when we both felt strong at the same time – on these days we rode well together and were really enjoying ourselves.

Highlights of the trip for me were riding across the top of Black Fountain on those brilliant singletracks; relaxing at Slaapkranz after a short day’s riding (with Andre the farmer and his dog Jesse); the day after Stuttgart when we just managed to sneak over Struishoek as it was getting dark (great nav. Mike) and our 2nd last day riding from Montagu to Trouthaven, when we were joined by Steve and the entertaining duo of Marnitz and Carl. Actually there were many more highlights along the way, every day had its moments. There were moments of bleakness too: the long, dark and freezing cold night riding into Chesneywold; those old railway tracks before Brosterlea; the toothache at Romansfontein, the sore knees from pushing big gears; fixing a puncture in the freezing rain; the seemingly endless sandpits around Anysberg…..

A week has passed since we finished and getting back to normal life has been interesting. My thoughts are always drifting off to something that happened out on the trail and I just can’t seem to get enough food in. I’ve only had one night of decent sleep so far, waking up a few times during the night seems to be the new norm. I’ve also had to resort to a few urgent power-naps at strange times of the day to keep going. I guess it will all pass and things will eventually get back to how they were before.

But things can never be exactly as they were before. There are so many memories and moments from the ride that will crop up as reminders of better or worse times, so many new people met along the way whose words and ways stick in your mind and so many places that we passed through on our little adventure that inspire you to go out and discover even more…..

Thanks Mike for the adventure and for being a fun riding partner. Well done for keeping going when it hurt and for keeping the blog going through it all so that the fans at home could share it with us.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Last Word

Back at work going through my email - doesn't compare to being on the trail.

As hard as the ride was this year I have not been traumatised sufficiently to declare "NEVER AGAIN!" Far from it. We had a big undertaking this year and were brutalised by our non-compliant mount, but as I sit here I am already mentally planning my next Race Across South Africa.I would love to do this race again - on a normal bike. The difficult portages of the Umkomaas and Vuvu valleys as well as Stettynskloof are just begging to be revisited and I can't wait to hack my way through them again.

But where to get the time again? The race is only 3 weeks long whereas the training and preparation steals 6 months of your life, tearing you from loved ones, friends and work. This time is hard to factor in to your day to day existence.

Now that we are out of the saddle I have stopped taking anti-inflamatory's and now all the aches and pains are evident. They are remnants of the battle behind and the victory gained in the face of adversity. Every twinge is a sweet reminder of where we were and what we were doing just a few days before. You have to love this race. It teaches you so much about this great land, its people, oneself and your fellow competitors. Years of gained experience crammed into a few short weeks.

My brother also rode this year finishing yesterday. Now when I chat to him about Vuvu, Mahlekhalonyane, Osseberg or any of the many previously unknown places along the way he too will be able to visualise the exact location and relive the beauty and challenge of passing that way.

To all of you who read the blog/posted comments or SMS'd us along the way - thank you. Blogging is tough work when you are exhausted. Knowing that it held some value to people following the race made it all worthwhile.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Final Day

Today all we had to do was get through Stettynskloof and then make our way through to Wellington to cross the finish line. For those of you who are not familiar with the Stettynskloof portage, it is a completely natural 7 km rocky valley where there is no activity except the occasional team who come through to remove the alien Hakea that have invaded the valley. The natural vegetation includes millions of proteas, river reeds and a whole host of fynbos varieties. It looks beautiful until you start moving through it. There is an ill defined path that runs about half way up, after that you are on your own. The bush is so thick in places that it can take 20 minutes to cover 20 or 30 metres. We got off to a bad start when the rocky terrain disagreed with my gammy leg. I had barely covered 500 metres before being reduced to a whimp. Glenn did an amazing job today. He basically moved the tandem through the kloof on his own. He alternated between pushing it and carrying it on his shoulders while I limped along behind. Hauling it up the steep final climb was an awesome feat.
While in the valley we detoured to have a look at the Shackleton air crash site. To see all the debris scattered about is a bit eerie. People died here and the mangled remains of something built to fly lying in a remote valley is sad.
We exited the 7 km valley in about 8 hours 30 mins and took another 3 hours to the finish where David said a few kind words and Earle Wakeford ( I rode with him in 2007) presented up with our finishers blanket.
The race is over and a tandem record set. The job is done. We rode it a few days slower than we should have but perhaps that is better as the bar has been set low enough to entice the next pair to have a crack at beating it.
Glenn has been a great riding partner. It takes a special combination for two people to slog away at a race like this for 21 days. In our case it worked well as not a single word was uttered in irritation or anger over the whole race. They say that if you can ride a tandem in a race and remain friends afterwards then you are truely friends. After a 21 day race of this nature that makes your friendship really special. Thank you Glenn for making this possible.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Day 20 - Montagu, McGregor, Kasra, Trouthaven

Just over15 hours today, 165km. Leaving Montagu this morning I was stuck by the number of lit dwellings on the farmlands. We have become accustomed to seeing lights at intervals exceeding an hour and sometimes for 8 or 9 hours. After dropping down Ouberg Pass yesterday ( a continuous 20km + run ) there has been a dramatic change in the landscape and weather. It is noticeably warmer and the short scrub typical of the karoo has been replaced by mass cultivation, particularly grape vines. Francois had mechanicals today. His rear axle seized up. Yesterday he got a bike shop to sort a few things out on his bike and it seems they got it a bit wrong. Last I heard he went to find the closest farmer to get some tools to sort it out. As I write he has yet to rejoin us.
We have been joined by Carl, Marnitz and Steve. They caught up with up last night and we are travelling together today. Steve got his bike sorted out in Willowmore and joined the others and has been riding with them since. Carl and Marnitz have called a truce and are now riding together and enjoying their ride.
Leg is better today after good rest and sleep. I iced my ankle and knee and strapped the ankle and am actually enjoying the riding today - for the first time in many days. We are riding much faster today and attacking hills that we previously would have walked. Mostly because it is now less painful to pedal than walk.
Looking forward to finishing tomorrow.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Day 19 - Finally some sleep in Montegu

By the time we arrived in Montagu at 11h30 this morning we had been on the road for over 30 hours. We had only covered 220km since leaving Die Hell at 5am yesterday. We lost precious time struggling with the damaged hub which was only sorted out by the time we had been on the road for 11 hours. Going up Die Leer took longer than single bike as expected. Our run from Rouxpos to Anysberg was frustrating as the jeep tracks often ran along stream beds which the tandem just wallows in. The long walk in and out of Die Hell with a crippled bike was felt in my legs and ankles in particular. We arrived at Anysberg nearly 3 hours later than expected. Glenn had done all the front work up to that stage and opted for the rear seat on the way out of Anysberg to Montagu. I only managed 2 km's before it became apparent that neither my legs nor arms were up to the job. At this stage Francois suggested a 10 minute power nap. Setting the alarm for 10 minutes we lent back on our packs and feel asleep instantly. Waking up we continued our assault on the most uninspiring jeep track you could hope to find. The total length of the track in and out of Anysberg is 66 soul destroying km's. By the time we found better riding my right leg was wasted. My ITB was screaming for mercy and the tendons in my ankle were so sore they rendered the leg useless. Glenn had to dig deep and drag my wasted carcass into town. Our 30+ hour effort reduced to entertainment for onlookers rather than a cunning tactical manoeuvre. Instead of catching a few hours sleep and heading onto the final support station of the race we have accepted that we will have to take an extra day so have stopped to lick our wounds.
We will leave "all nighters" to the pro's in future. But hey, how many people do you know who have witnessed 2 sunrises on a single ride? It is Glenn's birthday today so that was my gift to him. We are currently sitting in a time-warped 1980's era Wimpy in downtown Montagu wondering "What were we thinking?"

Day 18 - Die Hell, Rouxpos, Anysberg

It is now 3 in the morning. We have been moving since 5 yesterday morning. We are sitting around the table debating the merits of pushing on to Montegu another 6-7 hours up the road. We have been moving for 22 hours already and are a bit tired. We got a slow start this morning with the tandem still crippled. Glenn impressed up with his skills going up The Ladder. For a large part of it he hoisted the bike on his shoulders and walked up the near vertical face. At about 1pm we found Tim James next to the road with our new back wheel. We got it on but didn't have the right tools to fit the disk rotor. We rode to the next support station without rear brakes where Tim promptly got to work modifying the disk so we could make a plan. He ground off a few bits and on it went! All this while we got some food into our mouths. Thanks Tim. Thanks to to Gavin Dex in Jhb for getting the wheel shipped at short notice. Big thanks to Steven Thomas for collecting the wheel and getting it to Tim who then drove it through to us. Thank you Tim. And a thank you to Johann Rissik for getting the rescue underway.
We have lost a day with the hub failure and it looks unlikely that we can get it back. Riding here has been hard work. Lots of sand and constantly having to change riding lines has added few hours to our travelling time.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Day 17 - Prince Albert to Die Hell.

Took us 10 hours to cover about 65km today. That did include 1 hour of parking off in the sun drinking tea and later stopping to make a snowman. Our bike is wounded. The hub is not working. We don't have the 7 low gears so have to walk every uphill. To make matters worse the hub is now leaking oil which is getting on the rear brakes rendering them completely useless. The downhill sections today were hectic so we stopped a few times to clean up the rear disk. To do this we scoured them with fine mud whick we then rinsed off. Worked well.
We wanted to push on to the next support station after this one today but when the gears packed up we had to change our plans. Unfortunately there is no cell reception where we are so could not communicate our intentions. Thank goodness Francois rode on ahead and got it sorted. He arrived just before the info office closed. They had made no arrangements for us to stop for the night even though this is supposed to be an official support station. Another race office short coming. This is not a place you want to arrive at to find it in darkness without a clue of what to do next. This place is wierd. Once you enter the gate you ride for nearly 15km down a jeep track through thick vegetation to the info office that keeps normal working hours. They only had lunch packs for us and no breakfast or drinks. Fortunately I have tea, coffee, condensed milk and half a dozen packets of instant oats so we are well set.
We are hoping to get our spare rear wheel tomorrow which should have been shipped from JHB today. The last thing I did was give Johann Rissik the details of what needed doing to make it possible. When he drove off that was our last contact with the world as we left Vodaland. We are hoping to get an early start to get out of this hole via Die Leer so that we can get the bike sorted. After wallking every uphill today we are desperate to get moving and get done with this race as soon as possible. As soon as we have cell phone reception we can see what happens next to fix the bike. I am hopeful that all relevant parties will pull a rabbit out of the bag and we can get on our merry way sooner rather than later.

Musing from atop a mountain pass

10h30 Tuesday 30th June. Here we sit on top of the Swartberg Pass drinking coffee. It it amazing how your race can suddenly change. 24 hours ago we were mapping out our final assault on the finish. Today we are chilling in the sun with the finish tucked away in the back of our minds. Our "trusty" Rohloff is broken. We have instituted a rescue plan but it will take time to take effect. In the mean time we are relaxing for the first time since the race started. The mountains around us are truley majestic, regally draped in snow.
The 3 of us travelling together (us and Francois) have come to the same conclusion - this race has not been fun. There has been an hour here or there that we enjoyed but overall it has been arduous. The tandem has been harder than we imagined and the weather has been tougher on us than in the 2007 race. Add the new tougher routing of the race and I would have to say that a par finish to my day 21 finish in '07 would be a day 23 finish.
The race for the podium is over. Tim is chilling this morning after a great race. Andrew has clinched an impressive 2nd spot in the cycle event while he waits for the paddling leg of the Extreme Triathlon. Sure there are clouds over the adherence and application of race rules etc. but the race director needs to tidy those up. We are just hoping to finish to law down a tandem record for others to aim at. Behind us Carl and Marnitz are engaged in there own personal battle for bragging rights. Francois summed it up in 4 words 2 days ago. "this rubbish must end!" (ed. One word changed to make it suitable for sensitive blog readers). I think this sentiment resonates with most riders at this stage of the race.
While I am rambling on I must tell you a little about the changing country side and the economic realities of farming. We have come across no wealthy farmers. At best they live normal middle class lives. There was a time when a livestock farmer could make a living off of 1000 hectares of land, and that in the good grazing areas. The carrying capacity of farms in the Molteno/Cradock region with good grazing is 1 hectare per sheep. As we moved south it changed to 3 hectares per sheep and in the Willowmore area it is 5-7 hectares per sheep. In the 1 hectare per sheep regions the farmers were suggesting that 5000 hectares is the viable size of farm to make a living. So when you need more hectares per sheep you need so much more land. That would explain why the occupied farm houses are many kilometres apart.
Coffee is done. Now to amble along and sleep in Die Hell tonight.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Day 16 - Willowmore to Prince Albert

172 km day in 14 hours. Better than the nearly 20 hours it took us to do a similar distance yesterday. Given the terrain and weather conditions today was rather pathetic. The day was good and the route flat. But we do have a handful of excuses. Firstly, we are seriously sleep deprived. Blogging instead of sleeping doesn't help but the 'fans' are demanding.
Secondly, riding the beast is hard on the butt and regular butt breaks are necessary.
Thirdly, riding up front is hard work when every inch of the riding line has to be carefully picked and ridden, particularly at night when it is hard to differentiate between sand, mud and the good stuff. It takes about 5 minutes for your shoulders to start cramping. It feels like someone is pushing a blunt knife into your shoulder blades. I have piloted the bike for over 5000km in the last 6 months and it still works me over. Nursing my ITB problems in the past week has meant Glenn has had to captain the beast for the best part of each day. Today he was feeling a bit off colour so I took control for the last 4 hours and my shoulders and neck ache.
Lastly, the Rohloff hub our secret weapon for trail reliability failed! This must be a world first. These things are supposed to be bullet and bomb proof. We have lost 6 gears in our range of 14. We have 1 and then 8 - 14. So we can crawl up hills or ride flats and downhills. Johann Rissik the 'go to guy' in Prince Albert leapt at the chance of fiddling with a legendary Rohloff and rinsed and filled the hub with new oil. Will see how that works in the morning. Hopefully all will be good. Failing that we need to make a plan to get our spare one out of the store room back home and onto the bike. Going to make tomorrow a rather long day if it aint fixed. At worst it will give us a good excuse for the longs days and extended walking sessions.
The right knee is still very sore. By the time I get into the support station I hobble around in pain. But only a handful of days left so must just suck it up.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Day 15 - Cambria to Willowmore

19 hours 45 mins! Today we started at 04h30 with the objective of getting to Willowmore which is the support station beyond Damsedrif. It is a long double of 175km that should have taken about 16 hours. A gentle rain fell for the first 8 hours and we squelched through sticky wet clay for the last 25km. To add to our troubles my knee started hurting badly at the 70km mark leaving us to struggle along for the balance of 105km. We eventually rode into a freezing cold Willowmore at 15 minutes after midnight. Now to catch 40 winks and ride the 170km across to Prince Albert in the morning. My butt is tender, my shoulder is sore and my leg aches something horrible and I can barely walk on it without wincing. Today was incredibly tough.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Day 14 - Bucklands to Cambria

12 hours today. Battled to get going but finished feeling strong. Weather was great today. In places it was hot enough to have just a short sleeved riding shirt on. Big haul out of the river valley, 400 metres of climbing in 3 km. Ride across and down the osseberg was awesome. Glenn's technical skills are impressive. I just sat at the back and made a point of not looking at the track. The last bit through the river valley includes wading through the river no less than 11 times in about 5 km. Once my feet are cold and wet the fun runs out.

Day 13 - Toekomst to Bucklands

Today was in total contrast to yesterday. We were on the road for 11 hours today which included a 45 minute lunch stop as well as a 45 minute siesta next to the track. The track side snooze was unplanned. We stopped riding and I sat down resting against my back pack enjoying the warm sun and promptly nodded off.
We started the day with the stars bright against a cloudless canopy. The temperature was well below zero but the wind was not blowing for a change. The surface had dried out and it was possible to ride. Only snag being that we had no riding legs! We just trundled along slowly making sure we got to the next support station before dark.
Glenn has a swollen knee from his fall the other night as well as toothache which he has been suffering from for 4 days now. My knee was a bit sore today and my butt is really uncomfortable in the saddle. I have even started using anesthetic cream to stop the pain and it helps a bit.
Well riding today we found a Kudu stuck in a fence. It had obviously tried to jump the fence and got its back leg trapped in the top 3 strands. There were signs of it trashing around trying to get free. By the time we came past it just lay there exhaused. Francois freed its back leg and we left it to recover.
I heard a funny riding account that is worth passing on. Dave Barr is riding with the batch A riders that we are moving with. A few days back he raced ahead to get to a gate to open it so that the others could simply ride through without stopping. He overlooked the fact the the gate was paired with a cattle grid. While he was fiddling with the gate to open it, the others simply rode through the grid opening much amused by his antics.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Day 12 - Van de Venterskraal to Toekomst

Soft day today. Too much wind, too much mud and too much cold rain to be fun. To add to our misery we sustained a side wall gash of the front tyre at speed less than an hour into the ride. Sorting that out in the pouring rain with an artic wind blowing a gale really tested my resolve.
We do carry a spare tyre but we have a DIY tubeless setup ("homeless tubeless" using a 20 inch BMX inner tube as a tubeless strip) with deep section rims (downhill spec) just getting the tyre off the rim is hard work requiring 3 extra strength tyre levers. I swear the cold must have shrunk the tyre because it didn't cooperate. Then we had to decide if we should put an inner tube in or try go tubeless with our spare. With all the thorns around an inner tube is not a good option. With our setup not being genuine tubeless we always face the possibility of the tyre not sealing on the rim even with an inflator. In the end we just opened the tyre sufficiently to stick a patch on the inside wall over the 1 cm cut. Fortunately it worked and we were on our way in 20 minutes. 20 mins sounds excessive but we don't have quick release skewers. To get the front wheel off you need to remove no less than 8 bolts. Glue and patches don't like water so Glenn used an emergency blanket to make a "tent" to keep the elements at bay. Then it took an age for the glue to dry sufficiently to apply the patch. We tried to speed up the process by lighting the glue - an old Indian trick taught to me by old man Pillay at my local bike shop - but with all the wind the lighter was as much use as lock-jaw! While all this was going on the rain was streaming down, we were getting covered in mud and our fingers were turning to ice lollies. Shivering from the cold we then had to scramble up a path that was as slippery as fresh snot. Knowing the route is a pleasure because after all this excitement it only took us about 20 minutes to catch up with the guys ahead.
This is our third mechanical problem. Two days ago we tore a valve stem. Yesterday I had difficulty trying to clip into the left pedal on a fast, bumpy descent. At the bottom I discovered that the pedal casing was "missing in action" and only the shaft was left. We had the good sense to bring a spare pair of pedals so that was a 2 minute fix.
So far our Rohloff hub has worked well. Mud is ugly and takes no prisoners with the drive train. If we were using a conventional "cassette derailleur" setup I have no doubt that the mud would have caused it to fail. As it is, our Rohloff "gear box" is doing good. We push big torque through the pedals. Today we were wheel spinning on a slope without moving forward. Already some riders have experienced drive train failure and I expect many more will. The wear and tear brought about by riding in mud can reduce a bike to trash in a single day. In a multi-week event like this mud can be a race ender.
At the end of todays ride we only covered a paltry 50km in 6 hours. Arriving in Toekomst we were easily seduced by the promise of laundry and good food. Having to layer up for the weather makes your clothes stink. Arriving late last night meant no washing. The next 2 support stations don't offer washing facilities and quite frankly I have gotten to the stage of finding the odour of my clothes repugnant! The other factor mitigating against moving on is our tactical options. The next support station in 100km ahead, which in wet conditions would mean another long night. Only got 5 hours of sleep last night and the leg is starting to twinge again from todays mud ride. Going to recharge here for today be then re-charge!
The race this year has been more arduous than previous years because of the weather and the extra "interesting" bits the race director has added. Some of them described as "mostly rideable" but aren't! One of the other riders staying here today commented "I just want to ride my bike!" Sounds like a reasonable request for a mountain bike race doesn't it?

Day 11 - Stuttgard to Van der Venterskraal

Yesterday was a miserable day with leg problems. Last night I spoke to Doc Rudi who explained that the recommended treatment for acute ITB was rest but that that was obviously not possible. He then said I should do the following: Ice, Stretch, lower my saddle a bit, change my shoe set up to be more heal in and then take some Voltaren. What a difference one night and some good advice can make. After limping along yesterday, today we came out firing and knocked off 150km's of riding. It did take 16 hours but the terrain today was tough. Lots of walking up steep mountains. Unrideable sections and a steep rocky descent that took an hour. The wind today was unbelievably strong and cold, but at least there was no rain or snow.
This is thorn country. Found a HUGE one today that must be nearly 20cm long. They don't come bigger than that.
After pushing through the first support station today we got to the start of the Struishoek portage at last light. Francois was a little anxious and with good reason. Last year he and a few others spent hours lost on the mountain there at night. That has been the case with a few riders in the part few years. Struishoek by night was the perfect remedy for Francois. The whole thing took just over an hour. The only excitement came from Glenn. The only point that we differ on is what is rideable. Glenn believes every thing can and should be ridden. My view is that caution is sometimes more important than bravery. At least I an not the one with a huge gash on my knee from trying to ride down Struishoek at night.
We are now well into the second half of the race and are still well placed, top 5 I think. Don't really know what is happening with the rest of the field but believe there are a few bunches trying to chase us down. All good fun and we intend to keep the fun going as long as possible.
For all the aches and pains Glenn and I laugh a lot. We are starting to enjoy the race a bit more now as the terrain starts to suit us more. The mountains up to now have brutalised us. We have portaged as fast if not faster than most people over the mountains but at huge physical cost. We have also hauled the beast over countless fences and gates without any help, not because we won't get help but because it is not fair to make other people suffer for our choice of mount for this race.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Day 10 - Elandsberg to Stuttgardt

Today was horrible! Early in the ride my right knee started hurting. Pedalling was impossible without experiencing intense pain. To add to our woes the wind is howling. Riding into the wind is draining. We then had problems with the one tyre. Somehow the valve stem tore and we had to replace our home made tubeless conversion. It actually went rather quickly. Eventually the pain in my knee was so bad we resorted to walking more than riding. The last 15km over fairly flat terrain took over 2 hours. We ended up riding only half the intended distance and have gone to ground in the hope of me recovering sufficiently to continue tomorrow. The alternative does not excite me. There have already been 5 withdrawals from the race and I don't want to add my name to that list.

Day 9 - Romansfontein to Elandsberg

13h30. Owing to a professional foul committed the previous day ( we diverted around a portion of the route due to thunder storms ) we were only allowed to leave the support station at 10am, effectively a 4 hour penalty. The 4 riders who left at 6am found themselves coming off a huge mountain when the mother of all thunderstorms rolled through the area. At this time we were having a leisurely breakfast at the farm house. Just after 10am we ambled out the farm. The climb up Aasvoelberg is relatively simple. It is a stiff walk but there is a basic jeep track to follow. Along the way we met the farmer who was driving down from the top. He had given up trying to find his sheep because of poor visibility. He said were were lucky it wasn't snowing. He thought it was going to start the next day if not that very day. We then found some of his amusing sign boards while walking up. At the top visibility was down to 30 metres and the wind speed must have been around 70-80 km/h. It was freezing cold. We scuttled off the mountain as fast as we could down the Hofmeyer 100 miler horse trail route. Glenn will try ride anything so I sat at the back and clung on for dear life! We then headed off to Hofmeyer. Not very fast it must be said. A few days back I started showing symptoms of ITB in my right knee. I suspect it was caused by all the portaging we did in the first week. The pain when pedalling is intense. I have strapped it to reduce the pain but it still aches. When arriving at the support station last night I could barely walk on it. We arrived in Hofmeyer well after dark, 30km short of the next support station. Between us and a warm bed was a portage around the Elandsberg mountain. We popped into the Hofmeyer hotel and snacked on hamburgers and chips washed down with hot tea. Leaving HofmeyerwWe finally arrived at the Elandsberg support station 20 minutes shy of midnight. Navigating through that tricky portage was the highlight of my trip so far and I was pleased with my efforts. My travelling companions were not as impressed. They reckoned we should have slept in town and done the portage in the morning instead of wasting good sleep time.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Day 8 - Vaalbank to Romansfontein

A day to remember; a day to forget! Thunderstorms, rain, sleet, wind, mud and freezing conditions all combined to make today a hard miserable experience. We spent 15 hours in awful conditions.
To add to our difficulties both Glenn and I have developed knee injuries. I have the painful symptoms of ITB of my right knee and Glenn is experiencing acute pain located under his left knee. On the bright side we still have a good pair between us. Walking and riding are painful. I strapped my knee with duct tape which helped. The bad weather has affected the entire field. What was once an easy day (if 11 hour cycling days can be considered easy) is now a 15 to 16 hour ordeal. I suspect that a number of riders will consider shorter days opting to stay at intermediate stations until the weather lifts. Even the mighty Tim James has been affected by the weather.
Am hoping that by morning I am no longer hopping. We need to press on tomorrow to drop into the karoo to escape the possibility of snow.
As I lie in bed typing this I am aware of the thunderstorm raging outside.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Day 7 - Slaapkranz to Vaalbank

11h30 today. Day started with back to back mountain portages. The first 20km's took us 4h15 by which time we were clear of both mountains. Superb downhill riding by Glenn made short work of the Bontehoek descent and a mockery of the comment made by one of the competitors last year who complained that there was no reward for the climb as the descent was unrideable. To be fair he did walk 50 metres of it. I chose to remain off the bike for most of it and was rewarded with a good show. Later it got cold and drizzly so wasn't much fun. Tim and 2 others came into Slaapkranz last night. They started the day about 10 minutes after us and eventually caught up with us about 15km after the last portage. Tim has pushed on from here and will probably ride until midnight or a bit later to make the next stop. We are content to sleep here and move forward in day light tomorrow. Weather looks like it is deteriorating with strong winds predicted over the next few days. Weather is looking similar to what we experienced in the same area in 2007 during the race and it turned to snow which was no fun. We need to get off the high ground and drop into the karoo quickly to avoid to snow. Even then, there is one portage in the karoo that was snowed in during 2007.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Day 6 - Chesneywold to Slaapkrantz

Short day. We took 5 hours to cover 36km today with one portage. Started out with minus 3 degrees this morning. The ground blanketed in frost. We don't have legs today after yesterdays hard ride. There are 2 huge postages between us and the next support station and the prospect of hauling the Beast over 2 mountains and getting to the next support station late at night was enough to convince up that an early day with adequate recovery time was a better option. My toes are aching and my saddle area is tender. Riding a tandem means spending a lot of time walking up hills and when in the saddle it is just that - in the saddle. Standing and pedalling or even free wheeling is all but impossible. So with bruised toes, a tender butt and a shoulder that took a knock yesterday I am not in good shape. Fortunately I was able to convince Glenn to take a short day. We are still 1 day ahead of my race in 2007 so we are doing ok. Hopefully by morning we have some fight back in us.

Day 5 - Vuvu to Chesneywold

15 hour day. We started the day by scuttling up Lehana ahead of everyone else. We did start about 10 mins ahead of the next couple of riders but managed to hold that gap. This achievement wasn't without a price. The tandem is heavy and difficult to portage with and we paid the price ending th day totally wasted. We were first to arrive in Rhodes. After a quick lunch we headed off to Chesneywold a further 68km up the road. We walked plenty of hills and managed to get in before the other 4 who followed us from Rhodes. The temperature dropped below freezing and made the last 15km seem like a lifetime. Eventually rolled in at 21h30. We were happy to be out of the cold and off the bike.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Day 4 - Malekhalonyane to Vuvu

12 hours today.
Day started at 05h10 with 8 of the riders from Batch A who we have caught up with. Getting out of the support station was tricky. The Batch A riders going to Cape Town went off on their own mission and took a bit longer than us to get off the ridge. At one stage they were a few hundred metres from us and then we never saw them again. When I left the others to go to bed at 20h30 they were not yet in at the support station. More about that just now. We were really slow for the first hour to the start of the Black Fountain single track section arriving there after the Ride to Rhodes riders. They didn't have to drop off the ridge line and simply rode out of the support station on the public road. Given the difficulty of getting off the ridge they were about 3 km's ahead of up when we hit the public road. We past them crossing the river and they eventually caught up. Th conditions this morning were horrendous for navigating. Th narrative is visually based, such as "head up to the water tanks on th ridge above the village". The whole landscape was covered in thick fog. Fortunately we knew our way across the valley having done it on 3 previous occasions. The other 3 riders then joined us for a fast ride through the single track section. They seemed to enjoy the riding as they didn't have to deal with the challenges of navigativion and could just focus on the fun of riding a stunning part of our country. Eventually we had to head down the Vuvu valley. The Rhodes riders didn't have to ride the valley so made their way to Vuvu on the public road arriving a full hour ahead of us even though they rode nearly twice as far. Neither Glenn nor I have ridden the Vuvu valley before and were a little apprehensive about it given the tales told by previous valley explorers. It was horrible. The navigational challenges are enormous with plenty of scope for big mistakes. It is unpopulated, overgrown and often has no obvious tracks to move down. As mentioned earlier the other riders had not emerged from the valley more than 3 hours after dark. It is a nasty entirely unnecessary section that is going to get people in trouble. I do not want to get stuck in that valley after dark. One rider chose not to in through and used the public road instead incurring a time penalty which is a far more sensible option if you suspect you might not emerge before dark. As it is we got out with only 30 mins to spare which is tight. Having now completed only 5 of the 27 sections of the race I must say the changes to the route since I did it in 2007 have raised the level of difficulty to the point that the average person is going to battle to complete the event without incident. Tomorrow we take on the big portage of Lehana which we expect to be difficult given the challenges of man handling the tandem over obstacles.

Day 3 - Banchory to Malekhalonyane

14 hour day today. We arrived at Masakala at 12h30 after a good ride through the Taylorville single track and left again 20 mins later and raced through Queens Mercy arriving on the ridge line above Malekhalonyane just as it was getting dark. Eventually made our way off the mountain and arrived just after 8.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Day 2. Centacow to Banchory.

Hard day. Only covered 86km in 14 hours. Climbed some big stuff today. Legs are tired. Lack of sleep is showing. Only had 4h30 sleep in the past 2 days. Stopped at an intermediate support station and had a good meal, hot bath and had laundry sorted out. Thanks to Martin and Margie of Banchory for wonderful hospitality. Had a couple of low speed spills today. The first was interesting as I got stuck under the bike and Glenn got stuck in a bramble bush. We both needed help to get out and the others just looked on laughing and taking pictures. Our bodies are sore all over. Every muscles is under the impression that they are entitled to an opinion, and they are all voicing them. This barn door on wheels (supposedly a tandem) is hard work. It has yet to buy into our vision of getting to Cape Town as easily as possible. It clearly has no intention of moving forward without putting up a fight .

Monday, 15 June 2009

Coffee time in the mountains

It is now 07h30. We have been on the go for 3 hours so far. Most of it uphill. Our method for hauling the Beast up the mountains is to tie a bungy cord to the bars and then connect it to one of our back packs. Currently enjoying a cup of coffee courtesy of my little stove. Sun is coming up and the temp is 5 degrees

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Day 1

Today was really tough. 156km in 16h20. The tandem is really hard to keep moving. With two human passengers loaded with trail luggage the total rolling weight of The Beast is just over 200kg. There was a lot of climbing today and that is the toughest part of riding a tandem, particularly one that weighs as much as it does. We got the the first support station just behind Andre and Francois. Andre is riding a single speed so that was an outstanding effort. After tea and some food the four of us decided to push on to Centacow an interim support station about 48 km further on. Not an easy task when we were all so tired and so late in the day. At 17h15 we headed out to use the last 30 minutes of day light before continuing on in the dark. It took us 5 hours to get there but we were satisfied with that given our fatigued state, the lack of day light and the tricky navigation of the part of the trail. On arrival we were treated to dinner and hot showers and feel well pleased with our days effort.

Great way to start the race

Shoulder still not is good shape. Have patches and drugs so hope it gets better quickly. Now at the start about to set off. Hard day ahead I suspect.

(editor's note: Good hair-cover should be an advantage in the bad weather to come)

Saturday, 13 June 2009

And the final weight of the Beast is. . . .

27.4kg ! Oh my greatness this thing is a monster! This is the weight without water in the bottles. I am hoping all the fences and gates along the way are manned by caring marshals who open and close for us and lift it over fences while we look on. As for Lehana and Stettyskloof. . . I don't even want to think about those and the other dozen or so portages along the way.

Friday, 5 June 2009

The Art of the 9 Hour Taper Ride

With just 10 days to the start of the race it was time for a gentle ride to fit in with the concept of tapering your training before a race. The idea is to slow your training intensity to keep in form while rebuilding your body from training depletion. In other words, stop riding hard and be strong at the start of the race.

Well yesterday I spent 9 hours engaged in just such a taper ride. 9 hours!! Yes, I know a bit extreme I admit but it wasn't the plan at all. My guess is that we rode for about 5h30, spent 2 hours drinking cofee and eating soft and browns (Wimpy double up breakfast with soft eggs and brown toast)and then spent an hour and a half fixing punctures - actually one puncture several times. For the inexperienced I must point out that you should always take a pump, tube, puncture repair kit, tyre levers and ideally a tubeless repair kit with you on rides. Yesterday I had ...... a bike! This was only my second puncture in 4 years of riding with tubeless tyres. Obviously I have been riding for more than 4 years. For the first 2 months I rode with tubes.
I have become so blaze about punctures that I have been riding for the best part of the last year without any spares. I do however make sure I ride with better prepared riders.

A 4 inch nail put their niceness to the test. 2 tubeless swatches and a chunk of glue almost fixed the puncture. If only I had followed my own oft given advice about topping up on tubeless tyre sealant every 4-6 months it would have been easy to fix. Apparently there is none in my tyres. Slow punture most of the way to Magaliesburg and back was the result.

Hard to believe I am supposed to be at the top of my game ahead of the Freedom Challenge and ready-for-anything. One sissy nail and the ride becomes a mini-mission.

The ride was good though. We tried a new good looking route and were rewarded with a 45 minute detour through aweful unridable terrain resulting in 200 metres of progress from where we started. At least we know one option that in not a viable route. Other experimental route worked well and chopped out a 5km tar road that is never fun.

Sitting on the grass drinking coffee at the Sasol near home talking trail rubbish with Derek was the perfect end to a good day on the bike.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Close encounters with Coco

Glenn says:

Considering the time and effort that have gone in so far, it would be a real pity to sideline myself with an injury right now, especially since Mike is still recovering from his sore shoulder and besides, he would never forgive me for making him pedal the Beast across the country on his own. So I’ve been riding really carefully and generally staying off sketchy trails and sticking to dirt roads but the singletrack habit is a hard one to break and yesterday I headed up a trail that traverses a mountainside before spilling out onto the lawns of a nearby farmhouse. Once you’re off the mountain, the riding’s not too technical but there is one thing that can still make it exciting – his name is Coco. He’s a shaggy old sheepdog and he doesn’t like bikes much….

Normally he’d be lying in the sun dreaming of dinosaur bones but yesterday he was on the prowl. So when I saw him run out in front of me, I took the cautious approach and slowed right down to a halt. Sometimes caution is a good thing but not always... He came bounding over and stopped about 2 metres away. His little sidekick, Bruno, was running rings around me, tail wagging furiously, so I thought the coast was clear. Coco then took a step forward and slowly tilted his head sideways, not so I could give him a scratch under the chin, mind you but to line up his mouth better with my half bent leg. As if signalling the charge, little Bruno went berserk and Coco lunged forward….

Instinct took over and my leg jumped out the way by stomping on the pedal, which sent me lurching forward. Luckily my other leg was in on the plan and obliged by stomping on the other pedal which sent me wobbling off across the lawn in a half wheelie with Coco in hot pursuit. The wobble turned into a sprint and thankfully Coco tired before me and gave up the chase.(although I only stopped pedalling about half a k further down the road!)

Rolling back into town a few minutes later with my heart rate back to normal, I took some comfort in the knowledge that if it did come down to a sprint finish at Diemersfontein, I think we’d be ok.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

It is getting cold!

Winter has finally arrived on the highveld.This morning it was freezing cold. For the first time this year I had to wear my beanie! I suspect that on the trail I will have to add 1 or 2 more cold weather items - like gloves and a buff.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

The Race is Almost Over

"The race is almost over" is a comment someone made yesterday. It might sound a bit odd considering we only line up at the start in 16 days time.

Having though about it I must agree that the race is almost over. Packing the race boxes and shipping them off is the last real activity before the race starts.

The first part of the race begins with the desire/dream of doing it. That progresses through actually entering, coercing your friends into joining you, getting on the forum, having countless dreams about the race, getting your first glimpse of the route, attending a race briefing, getting the updated maps and narrative and planning your boxes etc.. In between all of this is the countless hours and kilometres on the bike.

By the time you have shipped your race boxes you have lived the race for the better part of 6 months. All things going to plan you will be home with the race behind you in little over 5 weeks.

There is little you can do to be better prepared physically so it is now hurry up and wait for the start.

Packing the boxes is a little stressful, even the second time around. You are allowed to forward 2 litre icecream containers, filled with stuff to ease your race, to each of the 26 designated support stations. 2 litres is not that much once you start loading necessities and comfort food. Riders have opted for everything from loo paper to Jack Daniels. The last minute rush to stuff everythng possible into 2 litres is both expensive and exhausting. Now that it is behind me I can relax as there is now nothing I can do about it - what has been sent is done, we must live with the consequences of any oversights or mistakes. One rider in a previous year loaded his maps in corresponding support station (SS) boxes. Day 1 maps in SS box 1, Day 2 maps in SS2 and so on. The problem being that you need the day 1 maps to get to support station 1. Fortunately for this rider other events resulted in him not starting the ride....which is probably fortunate.

Carl, one of my guys at work yesterday admitted to having a dream where he had entered the race and was all excited. Most people I have spoken to who are doing the race have had at least one dream about the race - mostly negative ones at that. Carl is the first person I have heard of who is not doing the race and had a dream about it. Perhaps my excitement and anxiety is rubbing off on him.

So with boxes packed and shipped I can turn my attention to getting my bike in good shape and plannng and packing my backpack. A couple of fun rides chucked in and then it is all systems go.....

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Where can I get one of these?

If there is one thing that Glenn excels at it is his ability to eat non-stop. He is a grazing machine! When we ride together he stays off the subject of food for at least the first 20 minutes. After that he is constantly hooking stuff out of his bag and eating. Between bites he enquires about the next available food stop. We hadn't been out of the Wimpy more than 20 minutes the other night and he was already grumbling about needing to eat something!

I found the accompanying picture on the internet. It looks like a rugged off-road cooler box on wheels. I think this would keep Glenn happy for at least 10 hours. Where can we get one?

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Go Big or Go Home!

Firstly I must thank all of you who showed concern for my injury following the posting of the bruised shoulder picture. The interest it aroused was touching. I must point out that it wasn't a picture of my injury but rather a picture randomly downloaded from the internet. There are 2 similarities. Firstly, the person in the picture suffered this injury as a result of a cycling accident. Secondly, the coverage of the bruising was very similar to mine, except I didn't have all that awful colouring. My bruising was very faint. Even so, many of you knew that a superb in-form athlete like me was in better physical shape than the picture indicated.

As you can see from the attached picture I have made a remarkable recovery!

Yesterday Forest and I decided it was time to embark on a full test of The Beast and riders in race-like conditions. With this in mind we packed our backpacks will all our kit (yes, including the pot and stove to make tea) and headed out on the Tandem.

Our route took us from Roodepoort across to my office in Kya Sand where we were delayed for an hour sorting out the lighting on the bike and other work related nuisances. After we got going again we headed to van Gaalen's in Skeerpoort via the Home of the Chicken Pie and the cradle. We stopped for fresh brewed tea en route. Actually, more like hot milk as I had left the tea bags behind. After a quick lunch we did the bridle trail and then rode along the dirt roads all the way to Hekpoort. A quick scamper past Bekkers Skool saw us having dinner at the Magaliesburg Wimpy. As it got dark (6pm) we layered up, turned the lights on and wiggled the last 55km's home in the dark arriving at 21h45 a full 14 hours after we had left home that morning. Actual riding time was around 11 hours and we managed 160km for the day.

Surprisingly we were not that tired although the sitting part of the body was starting to feel uncomfortable in the saddle. I shows that if you back off a bit and keep the effort levels under control it is possible to ride for a very long period. If we were required to get back on the bike again today and do it again, we both thought it would have been ok.

I guess that means we are race ready as far as fitness levels are concerned.

Monday, 18 May 2009

A Tale of Two Rides

Friday saw a handful of us dashing to Magaliesburg and back. It was a fast and enjoyable ride. I covered about 106 km's in about 7 hours which included a 1 hour breakfast stop in Magalies. One of those rides where you feel you are strong enough to ride all day.

Saturday saw a similar handful of us riding from The Home of the Chicken Pie near Lansaria through to Van Gaalen Kaasmakerij (cheese farm - for those of you who don't speak Dutch) and back. I rode to and from the Chicken Pie and totalled around 116km for the day. Door-2-door it took 10 hours. We stopped near the cheese farm and again at the pie shop for a total of around 90 mins I guess. Was glad to be done with the ride when I eventually rolled in the gates. My "uninjured" shoulder hurt like crazy and I was tired.

Based on Fridays ride I was ready to conquer the trail in 7 days. Saturdays ride left me wondering about making the 26 day cut-off. Sunday I didn’t feel up to a ride and so declared it a rest day. Makes me wonder how I am going to manage in 4 weeks time when I line up at the start.

Tim managed to ride the same distance as me in the same time. A few notable differences being:
1) he did it in one day on day one of the race last year
2) in worse conditions
3) with a race back pack
4) …and climbed nearly 5000 metres whereas I barely managed 2500 metres over my pathetic 2 day effort

Clearly I need to find some race form and quickly if I want a 2 week taper before the race!!!

Thursday, 14 May 2009

So I guess I am a Wimp

First point is that whether you spell my present condition as Whimp or Wimp it makes no difference except that one is generally regarded as a Nerd Whimp if you acknowledge Whimp as the correct spelling which apparently very few people are aware of. So in order to avoid the appearance of being a complete woosie I declare myself to be a common or garden Wimp.

This condition came upon me this morning when I went to the GP to get some medical attention for my current irritation, being my annual sinus flare-up. While I was there I mentioned that my right shoulder was a little sore following the spill on Saturday past. I was given a piece of paper and directed to the closest X-Ray facility. The result is that there is no evidence of skeletal damage, in fact no evidence of anything unusual at all! In fact the supposed-to-be-injured right shoulder fared better than the non-injured "control" shoulder - being the left one.

So all the huffing, puffing, groaning and muffled screams everytime I have tried to use my shoulder over the past 5 days has been a figment of my imagination - apparently.

Accidents come in 3's I am told - lets for a second confine the 3's to bike accidents and just gloss over my son bending my VW Golf out of shape this past Saturday night. Doug was number 1, I will claim the second spot which leaves spot number 3 up for grabs. Good news is that the spot has already been taken. I took my imaginary shoulder injury out for a test ride on Tuesday evening with my regular Tuesday night riding partner - Bradley Francis - hereinafter referred to as Tumble Weed. Shortly after our ride started he zipped off up a footpath and promptly took a tumble over the bars - no damage worth detailing.

Come to think of it Tumble Weed is not the final 3rd of the accident trilogy. Cecil, my ABSA Cape Epic partner (2007) had a nasty fall one evening early this week breaking a bone in his hand and sustaining a cut lip and other abrasions to the face. This trumps Tumble Weed both in time and degree of mentionable injuries.

Beware fellow riders, Tumble Weed did not close out an active accident set but rather started a new one!

Sunday, 10 May 2009

... and we all rolled over and the one fell out...

Early Sat 9th May 5 of us gathered at the Sasol garage at the foot of Krugersdorp hill. The plan was to ride up Krugersdorp hill and then through Kings Kloof, AKA Krugerdorp Gorge. The ride through the kloof is stunning as the riding is challenging, the view magnificent and the sense of being far away from the city wonderful. After snaking up a jeep track one is rewarded with an exhilarating downhill. I always enjoy going with first timers down this section as it is tricky and a tad slippery with a lot of loose rock. The look of horror or satisfaction in the face of a kloof rookie is always worth seeing. Chris and I bombed down the hill and scrambled up the steep incline on the other side and then waited for the others to catch up. The lengthy wait was ominous - surely someone has been dismounted!

Eventually we saw the others coming down the other side and then crawl up the hill to where we were waiting. My comment of "A lag like this must have a story attached to it" elicited an apology from Doug, "Sorry for keeping you waiting so long but I fell off." He is such a mellow guy but apologizing for falling off was just too funny. To make matters worse he didn’t even fall off on the tricky bit. The jeep track leading up to the decent is a tad rutted and Doug managed to drop his front wheel into one of these ruts and ended up over the bars. He is well organized and produced a bandage from his pack and we strapped his wrist. He was obviously not having much fun and opted to head back to the car as soon as we exited the kloof. Fiona couldn’t bring herself to abandon him so kindly rode back with him.

That left 3 of us - Sean, Chris and I. We ended up having a pleasant ride to Magaliesburg where we wolfed down platefuls of Wimpy food. On the way out the back end of Magalies we had the 3 SAA planes destined for the Presidential Inauguration in Pretoria fly overhead in tight formation. About 20 kms after leaving Magalies a thunderstorm started building in the distance. By my reckoning the closest safe port was the supermarket near Sterkfontein caves 15 km’s away. We rode like men possessed and only just made it to the supermarket before the heavens opened. A coke, small bag of crisps, a big bag of crisps and a bag of biscuits later the skies had cleared enough for us to venture out. The plan was to ride to a spazza shop 6 kms up the road and then ride a further 7 kms to a coffee shop and so on, one storm safe location at a time. By the time we got to the spazza shop the storm had swung around and made the coffee shop a bad choice so we changed direction and slogged up a hill. Chris decided there was little point in riding all the way around a residential game farm when his farm was on the other side so made a plan to gain access to take the short cut through the game farm. Sean and Chris then proceeded to “cheat” by taking the shortcut while I continued on the “honest" route :)

The competitive side of me kicked in and I decided I would ride hard and try beating them to Chris’s place. Things were going well until I started cutting through the bush to get to the farm. The earlier thunderstorm meant there was a bit of mud about but not enough to be too much nuisance – or so I thought! Rounding a corner on a footpath at speed I discovered a patch as slippery as snot and before I could say “Oh Dear” my front wheel washed out and I was unceremoniously dumped on the ground. It is my experience that crashing seldom hurts, it is the getting up afterwards that hurts. I closed my eyes and just lay there. It was a peaceful few seconds before I reckoned the longer I lay there the more it would hurt when I eventually started moving. The good news was that everything still worked. The bad news was my right shoulder hurt like crazy. I pedaled to Chris’s place struggling to carry my bike over one fence. I did get there before the other 2 so the effort was not wasted. As soon as they arrived I scuttled off to finish the 10 km’s home so that I could get in a nice hot bath. I knew that as soon as the shoulder got cold it would be worse. And worse it is. The only way I can use my right arm now is with the help of my friend Myprodol. A trip to the Doc tomorrow is probably not a bad idea.

5 riders started the day and 2 able bodied completed the distance. Not quiet true as Sean did get a lift home with Chris as he was running late ( ... or tired, depending on which version of the story you choose to believe).

Doug did his wrist, I did my shoulder, Sean was “running late” and Fiona got soft! At least Chris had a good day out!

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Just Keep Moving

Glenn says:

So Mike hasn’t been sleeping well and I’ve been getting restless after a recent forced layoff. We are both quite consumed by our upcoming adventure and I for one am counting off the sleeps until we roll out of PMB on the 15th. Having gotten to Rhodes in ’07, I have some idea of what to expect but now going beyond and throwing the tandem into the mix means that there will be quite a few unknowns to factor in this time.

For one, most of our training has been done apart, as I live in Mpumalanga and Mike in JHB. I’ve been going through for training weekends every few weeks which has helped, as it has meant spending some ‘quality time’ on the tandem. ‘The Beast’ is not very forgiving if you’re feeling weak and although it rewards a determined effort with an exhilarating turn of speed, this comes at a price and is not sustainable for very long stretches. It’s a more powerful style of riding than what I’m used to, so I’ve been trying to get stronger and focus on recovery by doing things like intervals, hill repeats and sprints, together with the usual long grinds in the saddle. I’ve been doing all of this on my ‘tandem simulator,’ a 19kg freeride bike with a very similar setup and feel to the Beast. At least then when we do ride together, it doesn’t take me too long to feel comfortable on the tandem again.

So the training has been coming along steadily and we’ve got most of our kit sorted out. We even have a strategy of sorts (we are going to have fun and we are NOT going to fall off) but still many doubts surface and unanswered questions remain: will we get down into Hella Hella in one piece on the Beast?(the new route apparently has some steep, sketchy bits), will we be able to get over Lehana’s in less than a day? What happens when we don’t agree on the navigation? How are we going to drag ourselves and the bike through Stettynskloof?

Fortunately we have one thing going for us – we both have a real blast when we ride that tandem together and as we turn the cranks and shoot the breeze, the miles always tick over quicker than we think. All we have to do is keep moving (and NOT fall off).

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Restless Nights

Uninterrupted nights of sleep are a distant memory. I just can't stop dreaming about the race. Judging from conversations with other entrants for this years race it seems to be a common problem. For the first timers the dreams are a bit generic as they have no idea what the route entails. Preceding the race in '07 I have weird dreams about riding around in some indistinct forest passing other competitors going in all directions. This years dreams are more vivid. I am now riding around lost in familiar looking country side - not familiar enough to know where I am but typical landscape for the various parts of the race. In one dream I am condemned to riding endlessly without ever stopping! We all wish we could ride forever until it is all you can ever do!

Glenn had a rest this past week owing to having a flu jab. His idleness had him resorting to a multitude of strategies conveyed via sms - "If we ride....... then we can.......... and be there in xx number of days!!" Thankfully his rest week came to an end before we had a chance to shake hands on a 3 day strategy to Capetown.

How long will it take? We have been asked by a few people how many days we expect it to take. Last time I finished on day 21. The record set that year ('07) was a day 17 finish. Tim James smashed that record last year by finishing on day 15. He did have at least 2 ordinary days (by his standard) so a day 14 finish should be easy enough for him this year. I suspect that he would not be satisfied with that and will be looking to finish on day 13. This is a huge undertaking but not out of reach of an athlete of his calibre. So how long will it take the Tandem Wranglers? To be quite honest we have no idea how we will stack up over the varied terrain. We know the bike is very fast over flattish undulating ground, such as the 170km stretch between Willowmore and Prince Albert. But, this speed does not come without a price. While we are able to rip across this type of terrain we do get rather tired. We have shown that we can ride technical stuff at a reasonable pace but cannot match competant solo riders. Portaging is another question mark. How fast can we move the beast up and over hard portages... we don't know.

It will come down to how long we can spend on the bike each day. Tim James in setting his 15 day record averaged 10km/h measured as distance covered each day from start to final stop. This is not that fast by normal standards but this is not your normal race. The tandem is tiring to ride as you are not at liberty to stand and pedal as on a solo bike. While pedalling you remain seated for 95% of the time. This is tiring on your butt, back and body in general.

Another problem is that everyone has bad days. You can also have good days which then have the effect of smoothing out your overall performance. 2 guys on a tandem having unsyncronized bad days and good days results in just loads of bad days. Loads of bad days = many days in the saddle.

So how long will it take? We would like to finish inside of my 21 day finish in '07. How much inside that time? Here is the dilemma. If we said 17 days and finished in 19 we will be viewed as having gone soft. If we say 20 and finish in 18 we will be over achievers. I think being an over achiever is better than being an underachiever so we hope to finish in just under the 26 day cut-off.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Training is Addictive

In my previous post I was moaning about being tired of training. In the 7 days ended yesterday I managed just short of 23 hours of training for the week. The best part is that it was generally hard riding. Yesterday, owing to a broken solo bike (see below), I took the tandem out for a solo ride. 25km's of ordinary terrain left me exhausted. Now I know that when I ride with Forest he is making some effort : )

On Saturday a broken chain resulted in not only a bust chain but the removal of the useful bits of my front derailleur. This can happen at anytime - just plain bad luck. As it was I didn't have any tools with me. Fortunately my brother had a chain breaker and a power link so we were up and running in a few minutes. Just before getting home I realised that I could still change up with the stubby remnants of the derailleur and a tap with the toe of my shoes would effect a change down. Good fun, as long as you have only 10-15km to get home.

While training with Andre in 2007 my chainring bolts fell out reducing me to frantically pedaling the last 50km back home. Imagine if this happened during the race! I carried spare chainring bolts in 2007 and the only thing that broke was my fork! Do I now take spare chainring bolts, a new fork and a spare derailleur? Clearly not, but it does highlight the fact that anything can go wrong on the race so one needs to get ones head around that and deal constructively with the issues as and when they occur.

As I was saying earlier, last week I was moaning about all the training. Today due to various irritating factors, such as having a job, I was unable to ride at all and that made me miserable. I am at the point in training where I need my daily dose of dust and blackjack seeds. When I don't ride I start getting aches and pains and become incredibly lethargic. Walking up and down the stairs at home becomes a real chore. But once my butt is in the saddle and my lid is firmly strapped on my head I can ride all day. The best part of riding at the moment is the perfect weather - clear skies with the mecury hovering in the mid to low 20's, it doesn't get better than this..... except this irritation called work!

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Training Training Training...

I am so tired of training. When I go out and do a 115km training ride I can't help thinking that if I was on the race I would already be 5% of the way to the finish. Knowing how difficult it will be on the tandem has made me train even harder than my previous attempt. Since Jan this year I have shed 7kg - no diet plan just 4000km of training. That puts me currently 3 kg lighter than my starting weight in '07. I am trying to put in a minimum of 15 hours a week with peak weeks of 25 hours. Work does have a habit of getting in the way!

It is hard to stay focussed as you wind up and down the various trails. As I get further from home there are scores of routes to choose from but on the close-to-home outward and home bound routes it is the same boring stuff. Even Glenn commented the other day that he is sick and tired of the one dirt road we trickle home on. It is trafficless but does get monotonous.

The tandem is now requiring some attention as it is showing signs of wear and tear. The one BB needs replacing as do the hub bearings. I replaced the chains again. Have got new stuff to put on just before the race to get it back to "new" condition. This is one expensive bike to maintain.

Riding through a rocky section this past weekend we took one huge pedal strike which trashed both pedals on the left hand side. Was able to get one working again but the expensive one is toast! Careless riding on my part.

Monday, 6 April 2009

On the road again

The Freedom Challenge - Race Across South Africa (RASA) 2007 is almost 2 years behind me now. Last Year I entered and rode the Freedom Challenge - Ride to Rhodes (R2R) 2008, a 600km, 6 day stage "race" that coincides with the RASA event. More of a non-competitive ride than anything. Still required long days of up to 13 hours on the bike to get it done.

I entered only 4 weeks before the event and had just a few weeks to coax a little endurance into my legs. Kind of worked. Rode really slowly finishing last every day in our start group. I found it really enjoyable, particularly since I only had to figure out a few bits of new navigation and after the previous event I had it more or less figured out.

2009 has me entered for the full RASA from Pietermaritzburg to Paarl (actually in Wellington next door to Paarl this year). As a twist I have entered with Glenn Harrison (Forest as we affectionately call him after his 2007 escapades) on a tandem. This will be the first tandem attempt on the route so will be interesting to see how we get along. I received the Tandem on the 18th Dec '08 and we headed out to the Maluti section of the trail the very next day and had 3 days of riding on "The Beast" as we call the tandem. With various stokers (the stoker is the person who sits on the back and just pedals) I have managed to crank out just over 3500km on the bike. It has been an interesting learning experience as tandem riding is a whole new kettle of fish. More to follow.....