Saturday, 27 June 2009
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?
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
Wednesday, 24 June 2009
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
Friday, 19 June 2009
Wednesday, 17 June 2009
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.
Tuesday, 16 June 2009
Monday, 15 June 2009
Sunday, 14 June 2009
Saturday, 13 June 2009
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, 12 June 2009
Friday, 5 June 2009
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
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.