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.