Tuesday, 8 December 2015

The Munga - Pre race jitters.

On the morning of the 2nd December while waiting in Bloemfontein for the start of the Munga. I received the following Sms;

Hi Mike, we have never met, I am rider 185, I wish you everything of the best, everything you need is right with you as you stand there now, the rest will be stripped away soon - thats why I believe you have every chance of success, all the best, Charl

Rider 185. You might wonder who it was and why it was worded that way. It was immediately obvious to me that this was a reference to a Freedom Challenge (FC) number. By identifying himself by his FC permanent number he not only established his credentials as a rider, he also established a level of empathy — I knew he truly comprehended the anxiety I felt and the scope of the task ahead. And no, I had not met him but I knew it was Charl van der Spuy. I have had the privilege of making all the FC name and number boards since 2008 so remember most of the names even if I haven't yet had a chance of putting faces to them. This message underlined the incredible bond that exists between FC riders.

The Sms came at a time when I had seen some of the other riders and felt a little intimidated by them. Most of them were a lot younger than me, very lean, and well muscled. I profess to be an "ordinary rider" for no other reason than I see myself as just that — an ordinary guy who lacks any special athletic ability but gets by with stubbornness and tenacity. I think is this aspect of my riding that ordinary, middle of the pack riders connect with. Rider 185 made me realise that apart from family and friends who believed I could finish this race, there were others out there who felt I was capable. It reminded me that I carry many people's aspirations, albeit vicariously, with me as I ride. Rather than a burden, I saw it as a responsibility that would make it harder for me to quit.

Another FC acquaintance is Munga race director Alex Harris. The journey that culminated with me sprawled in a deck chair at Diemersfontein Wine Estate in Wellington a few days ago had its genesis in a coffee shop in Randburg many years before. The conversation started, as many do with Alex, "You know what". Over the next 10 minutes, With much gesticulating, tracing of fingers over table cloths and fervour he spoke of putting together a race down the length of the Sishen-Saldanha railway line. The longest trains in the world (3.78 km's long) haul iron ore over the 861 km line. Therein lay the origins of the race name. Originally conceived as The Iron Monger it transformed into The Munga when the route was changed from Bloemfontein to Wellington. He wanted it to be a huge purse race, winner takes all. As we know, those plans were scuttled at the eleventh hour last year.

So there I sat at race briefing, in a conference room at the Windmill Casino and Hotel in Bloemfontein listening to Alex fill us in on the details of how it was going to play out. With all the i's dotted and t's crossed it was time. I had been sucked along in the vortex of Alex's vision and was pleased to see it take root. This thing was now real.

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