Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Durban Dash Up 2016 - Final Thoughts.

After 36 hours on my bike I appreciated the low-key finish that is typical of endurance cycling events. The field is stretched out so far that organisers and supporters watch the trackers and time their trek to the finish to welcome in their specific 'gladiator'. I returned the following day to see in the balance of the finishers who, having all slept over in Heilbron, managed to finish within a short while of each other. 

Finishes like this, devoid of fanfare and blaring music, as well as the absence of a paid hype-master on the microphone, are just my cup of tea. It means you know everyone who has come to see you finish. They are not there by chance and they are all genuine in their praise. I was moved by the number of people that took the effort to schlep down to the finish line to see me finish my race. I won't list them, but you guys know who you are. I extend a hearty thanks to one and all. 

So what did I make of the race? It's hard, but probably not hard in the way you would imagine. The cycling is not the hard part. The hardest aspect of the race is staying awake. 

If you have never done a really long ride you might think that riding nonstop for 36 hours is an insane idea. It's actually not that hard, particularly if the weather conditions are okay. People often ask how I do it. The answer? You must just have the desire to do it. Once the thought has been planted and desire takes root the rest flows from there. 

Riding nonstop is a choice. If you want to do the Durban Dash, Up or Down, then you can opt to stop over once or twice and enjoy the hospitality of a B&B host and let the darkness pass while snuggled up in fresh sheets with your head cradled on a soft pillow. And what's not to enjoy about that? 

To Andy Masters, thank you for your unwavering commitment to getting events of this nature off the ground in SA. They are interesting and a lot of fun. They also attract a great bunch of likeminded cyclists. 

Lastly, the million dollar question - would I do the Up ride again? 36 hours is not fast enough. I think I can do it in 32. 

Durban Dash Up 2016 - Vereeniging to Thaba Trails

Twenty minutes after leaving the garage shop I was on the outskirts of Vereeniging. Traffic was light and it was cooling down. I knew the route to the finish was flat and with a slight tailwind it should be fast. 

After calculating the distance I had ridden I realised that I had overestimated the distance to the finish by 10 kilometres. It occurred to me that if I put in a solid 90 minute effort I could crack 36 hours. That meant averaging over 25 km/h. I was up to the challenge. After all, I had been at this for for over 34 hours so another hour and a half wasn't that much of an ask. I had worked too hard and too long to be denied the satisfaction of cracking 36 hours. 

Traffic was light and the wind held. My headspace, body, and bike synced into a comfortable routine. I entered a state of flow. If it's not a term you are familiar with you might identify better with the term, in the zone. I rolled along at over 30 km/h without much effort. 

20 km from the finish I saw a familiar smile. A riding buddy, Gavin George, and his wife Juliet were parked next to the road. They took a few snaps as I rode by and then headed off to the finish to await my arrival. 

At one point, when crossing over the R59, I had to cycle into the wind and my progress dipped below 20 km/h. I kept one eye on the time and another on the intersection up ahead that would get the wind back in my favour. Crucial minutes ticked by. It was going to be tight. 

By the time I had ridden through Eikenhof to Kliprivier Drive it was 4:50 pm. I still had 3 km to go. It was predominately downhill to The Mall of the South and then it was a short sharp climb to the finish at Thaba Trails. I set myself small targets. 2 minutes to the traffic lights, then another 3 to the bridge. That would give me 5 minutes to  grind up the last climb to Thaba. As I turned off Kliprivier Drive into Thaba Trails I could see Andy and a small gathering waiting for me a hundred metres away in the parking lot. It was 4.57 pm. I had done it, I was going to make it in before 5 pm. 

Monday, 10 October 2016

Durban Dash Up 2016 - Scampering to Vereeniging.

The turn toward Vereeniging couldn't have come soon enough. The sun beat down on me and I was tired. I wanted to get it over with. 

That part of the country is ugly. The countryside is littered with the remnants of human endeavour. It's as if the sticky residue of human failure had settled in the grease trap that spans the Vaal river around Sasolburg, Vanderbijlpark and Vereeniging. There are abandoned buildings, piles of rubble, scars in the earth from past schemes where land rehabilitation was never on the cards. Perhaps some of it was from mining or farming ventures that failed, or perhaps they flourished for a season before they moved on simply left their mess behind and moved on to decimate some new piece of ground. I figured it would be softer on the eyes, at least for a few short months, once the rain came and tossed an obscuring mantle of green weed over the human debris. 

The road ahead, a frayed black ribbon draped over the dusty and disfigured landscape, was littered with an endless stream of cars, taxis and buses. I kept a watchful eye lest two vehicles converged on me from opposite directions. A bicycle has the status of a rodent when the road becomes too narrow for two vehicles +1. It behoves the +1 to rather be prudent than cling to ones right of way. On the upside, sleep monsters don't thrive in these conditions - I was wide awake. 

I crossed the Vaal river into town and entered the normal fray of urban traffic. At least now there was some semblance of order and predictability and the road was wide enough to navigate without the risk of becoming roadkill. 

I kept a lookout for a shop. My eyes were hungry for ice cream, crisps and a bottle of water. I was almost through town when I spotted a garage shop off a street to my right. I threaded through the traffic and made my way to the shop. 

The shop was cool thanks to effective air conditioning. While tempted to linger inside and enjoy the coolness I knew it would be a trap. I grabbed what I needed and sat on the pavement outside. 

It was almost 3pm. It was still hot and I was hopeful that the temperature had passed its zenith. I wasn't sure of the distance to the finish and thought is was about 60 km. That being the case I wasn't going to finish before 5 pm. My audacious goal of finishing in 34 hours had lapsed. My 36 hour goal meant a 5 pm finish. At least I should make it before sunset which was my softest goal. I ate my ice cream, munched on my crisps, and filled my water bottles. Sitting on the curb in the heat of the day, watching the ebb and flow of life through the surrounding shops and roads, 60 km seemed a long way off. 

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Durban Dash Up 2016 - Once More unto the Breach

Shakespeare was obviously an endurance cyclist. Why else would he have written:

...thou and I have thirty miles to ride yet ere dinner time - Henry IV Part 1, Act III Scene 3.

I had more than 30 miles to ride before the sun went down but in the Bards day dinner was midday. 30 miles would get me to Vereeniging where I could stop and get a lunch snack before pressing on to the finish. 

The brief stop with the agitated shopkeeper did little to keep the sleep-monsters at bay. The side wind had intensified and the road continued to be boring. The scruffy verges teased. I was desperate for a power nap but there simply weren't any options. 

Up ahead I could see a bend in the road. It was a good sign. It meant I was getting closer to the turnoff to Vereeniging which would put the wind at my back. Unfortunately the bend meant I would be riding into the wind for the next while. 

Rounding the bend I could see the gloomy edifice that is Sasolburg. It glared down on me from the horizon. Maize fields gave way to open land. The settlement of Coalbrook was visible on the slopes below the brooding ogre.  

The change of scenery should have put some distance between me and the monsters tugging on my eyelids. Alas, it didn't. The lugubrious atmosphere that surrounds Sasolburg is enough to wipe the smile off a court jester. 

I saw an abandoned building a few hundred metres from the road. I rode over and gave it the once over. It was situated in the middle of a huge field that had recently been burnt and was good distance from from prying eyes. Once inside I wouldn't be seen from the road or from the houses in the distance.

I propped myself up against a wall enjoying the shade offered and closed my eyes. I was out of the sun but not out of the wind or out of my imagination. The wind swirled around the enclosed space. My brain swirled around what might happen if someone snuck up on me while I was asleep. I was surrounded by building debris. It wouldn't take much to incapacitate someone with a brick or two while they slept. In less than 5 minutes I was back on my bike. 

The turnoff that would turn my wind foe to friend was only a few kilometres away at Coalbrook. I knew it would be a mixed blessing. While keen to get the wind on my side I knew the road traffic over the next 35 km to Vereeniging was going to be hectic. Once through Vereeniging it would be easy going to the finish. But first, I needed to get to Vereeniging. 

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Durban Dash Up 2016 - Heilbron to an uncharitable place.

The ride from Heilbron through to Vereeniging was going to be tedious. The 52km stretch of road from Heilbron to just short of Sasolburg where you turn toward Vereeniging is straight and boring. Add traffic, a crosswind, and a road without a rideable verge and it's not fun. Apart from the first 18 km which is a gentle climb the rest is mostly flat. Did I also mention that it is boring? 

The landscape is completely uninspiring. I guess the drought hasn't helped but I suspect the grimness is not so much the result of drought as the farming methods employed. That part of the world is maize country. Being pre-planting season the fields were barren. Some had been ploughed while others were post-harvest scruffy from the last season and were waiting for the first rains before their turn with tractor and plough. 

What really stood out for me was the condition of the road verges. Normally you would expect there to be some form of grass from the edge of the road to the farm fence. There wasn't a blade of grass to be seen. The verges were a tangle of dead weeds. Winter had taken care of them. 

I concluded that maize farming was to blame for the scruffy verges. It is fair to conclude that the strain of maize grown in those fields were genetically modified. That's an easy conclusion as most commercial maize in SA is of a GM variety - http://www.thejournalist.org.za/kau-kauru/gm-staples

Anyway, you might have noticed how clean maize fields are. They are generally free of weeds...and grass...and anything else that isn't maize. Clever guys in white coats who hang out in laboratories have created maize varieties that are weedkiller resistant. Farmers plant maize and when it gets hip high they spray the fields with glyphosphate (Roundup - the same stuff you spray your driveway and paving with) that kills everything except the maize. When they spray there is always a little drift and the weedkiller is carried over the fence and makes short work of any plants growing on the road verge. The first species to grow back in these conditions are weeds. Lots of weeds. A good example being khakibos. 

I've got nothing against maize farming or khakibos but it makes it impossible to find a good spot to have a 10 minute nap. The road verges offered no comfort in bedding (simply nowhere soft and friendly to lay down) or privacy (no cover offered by the scraggly remains) 

A roadside shop halfway to Sasolburg gave me opportunity to have a break. I went in and got a can of Iron Brew. It cost R11. I gave the shopkeeper R20. He asked if I had R1. I didn't think I did so told him to keep the change. He didn't like that idea. I didn't fancy lugging R9 in silver coins so I told him he could use it to help a needy person. The shopkeeper became agitated. He reached into his cash register and gave me R10 and told me not to worry about the R1. If he wasn't going to accept my charity I wasn't about to accept his. I checked my pockets and found a R1 coin which I handed over. 

I walked outside a little perplexed at his reaction. He followed me out and explained that he didn't believe in charity. If somebody wanted something then that had to work for it. He went on to explain that he would never give anything to another person. He would rather burn something than give it away. 

    "That's why we have so many beggars!" he added. 

I was keen to get on with my ride and didn't engage, I just muttered occasionally. With my cool drink finished I straddled my bike in the hope that he would stop talking. 

    "When a beggar gets R10 his profit margin is R10. He does nothing for it!" he continued. 

He kept on about the evils of charity until I was out of earshot. 

Durban Dash Up 2016 - Reitz to Heilbron

I was cold leaving Reitz and the climb out of town was welcome. Jason, still on the phone to me, was scouting ahead and giving me his take on the landscape ahead. The fog persisted so it was interesting to hear him describe the landscape around me. I remembered it from my last couple of rides but could see none of the landmarks. When the road flattened out he commented that it was getting very boring. That according to Google Street View. I told him that it was worse than that. Visibility was seriously curtailed so it was even more boring than he knew. 

We kept up the chatter for a long while before Jason decided it was late enough to track down a spot for me to have coffee. He said Google indicated a bakery in Petrus Steyn town and he was sure they would be open. He was going to phone them. When he called back it was to tell me that the tannie who answered his call told him the bakery was no longer in business. It was early and I imagined she didn't enjoy getting a call that early on a Saturday. Unperturbed Jason kept looking. He called me back with good news. There was cafe in town and he called and confirmed that they did serve coffee. "Although," he cautioned, "I'm not sure what kind of place it is."

The fog eventually thinned and the lingering mist was burnt off by the rising sun. I rode into Petrus Steyn under a clear morning sky. I didn't have to find Jason's proposed coffee spot as the first petrol station in town had an operating coffee machine. I grabbed a quick coffee and headed off toward Heilbron. 

Steve gave me a call and we tried to figure out where the rest of the riders were. John and Heather were last tracked near Kestell and not moving while Ted was last seen almost in Reitz but his tracker had also stopped updating. Kevin was last seen at The Border Post and Kenneth was nearing Winterton. My immediate concern was Ted. He was still within striking distance. I had to keep moving if I wanted to win the race. With Teds tracker not updating the speculation started. Steve suspected that Ted was through Reitz and his tracker wasn't updating. 

10 km short of Heilbron Andy pulled up. I didn't need anything and just stopped for a short chat, although I did share some of my fruitcake with him before he dropped a bombshell. As he was leaving I wanted to confirm that Ted was still 60 or 70 km behind me. He chuckled and said, "No ways, he's in Petrus Steyn!"  Then he drove off. 

I couldn't believe it, Petrus Steyn was a mere 38 km behind me. Ted was closing on me and closing fast. I scampered into Heilbron and met up with Andy at the KFC where I ordered a breakfast bun, coffee, soft serve ice cream and a Coke. When I questioned Andy again about Teds whereabouts he chuckled and apologised. He'd got the place names mixed up. Ted was still in Reitz. It seems that Ted hadn't fared too well in the freezing fog and was taking a timeout to thaw out. 

My closest competitor was 84 km back. I could relax. The race was now mine to lose. I had a little over 120 km left to do. The wind was picking up and it was getting warm. I'd been in the go for 29 hours, this wasn't going to be a doddle. 

Friday, 7 October 2016

Durban Dash Up 2016 - Reitz for Coffee...or not!

Jabbering away to Jason while I rode certainly helped me stay awake. We tried to figure out how far back the ever present Ted was. It seems Ted had opted to take a tar section rather than the gravel road "short-cut". But, instead of going left at the bottom of the dam toward Phuthaditjhaba he had opted to head West toward Harrismith to get onto the M5. Some people may think it was an odd route choice but no so I. The distance difference is negligible. But the biggest advantage is that it's a lot easier to say "I headed toward Harrismith" than to say "I headed toward Phuthaditjhaba." Yes, I had to Google how to spell that. It's not a name that sticks and I don't know how to say it properly either. 

We worked out that I had a lead of 60 km on Ted. It wasn't a big lead. I was 380 km into the race which left me a little over 220 km to go. I hoped that I could average 20 km/h to the finish. I would need to stop a couple of times so that would add at least an hour. But Ted would also need to stop so the stoppage time wasn't important. I had at least 11 or 12 hours of riding. I reckoned Ted could close me down by 10 minutes per hour. A 60 km lead equated to about 2.5 hours as the route between us wasn't too arduous. The "science" indicated that if Ted and I kept moving at our relative speeds (him 10 mins per hour faster than me) I should pip him to the finishing post by 30 minutes. I'm not sure my methods qualified as science. In fact, they were anything but that, but the processing of this dubious data kept my head in the game and before long a saw a road sign the indicated that I was a few kilometres shy of Reitz. The fog was so thick I was well into town before it was obvious. 

Jason did a quick check on Google Maps and said I should find a garage shop open even though it was only a little after 4am. I was sceptical but he was fairly certain because the images on Google Street View gave him a sense that it was a 24 hour convenience store.  He was right. I got excited at the prospect of a cup of steaming caffeine - warmth and wakefulness. 

First thing I saw as the doors slid open was a sign on the coffee machine, "Out of Order".  I was tired and cold and unimpressed. My next coffee opportunity was 40 km away in Petrus Steyn... hopefully. 

I wandered around the shop and settled on a bag of Lays Salted Crisps, a can of Iron Brew and a Magnum ice cream. From coffee to ice cream - yeah, very weird. But the eyes want what the eyes want. 

I sat out on the front step of the shop overlooking the forecourt. It was busy for 4:30 am. A couple of young men, clad in farming fatigues, arrived in their Hilux bakkie, bought something and headed out to start their day. As I sat there I became aware of how cold it was and how inadequately dressed I was for the cold. Just then a youngster (mid teens) arrived on his bicycle. He was barefoot and wore short pants and a button up cotton shirt. He greeted me then ran into the shop to buy a litre of milk. Milk in hand he hopped on his bike and headed off into the dark streets of town. 

I got Jason back on the phone and told him my sorry tale about the lack of coffee and how cold it was getting. At his suggestion that I put something warmer on I told him there was long climb just the other side of town and that was going to warm me up. Being the responsible citizen that I am I deposited my empty can and packets in a  forecourt dustbin and got back on my bike. My next opportunity for coffee was a good few hours away.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Durban Dash Up 2016 - Really cold and boring

The section from Kestell to Reitz is a tad under 70 km. It's not particularly challenging, mostly flat and fast... kind of.  It's always flat, but it's only fast if the weather is good and you don't have 19 hours of nonstop pedalling under your belt. 

Less than 1 km out of town I rode into thick fog. Visibility was down to 30 metres. Normally not an issue as, unlike a car which covers almost 30 metres per second at 100 km/h, I was trundling along at a mere 7-8 metres every second. I had all the time in the world to take evasive action should it be required. Although I'm not quite sure what there was to evade, except boredom. The thing about boredom is that it is a massive challenge. Sleep monsters thrive on boredom. Hemmed in by fog all I could see was the road ahead. The occasional road sign, reflecting bright from my bike light, was as exciting as it got. It's really hard to stay focussed when there is no mental stimulation (there are no navigational challenges on a 60+ km stretch of straight road) and nothing visually distracting to keep your mind going. On a clear night you can see the stars and generally see the skyline. If the moon is up then it's a visual feast. 

Before long I was "nesting". 

That's not a word that you'd be familiar with in context with cycling, I just made it up. When I start nodding off on the bike I instinctively start scanning the bush next to the road looking for an ideal spot to have a quick snooze - that scanning action is what I call nesting. I tried fighting the urge to sleep by turning up my music and singing along but that quickly became monotonous and annoying. I eventually stopped at a farm gate and lay on the ground and closed my eyes. 

In the distance I could hear two owls hooting. My shoulders ached so bad that I couldn't get comfortable enough to nod off. While I tossed and turned I could still hear the owls. For some reason my mind turned to a book I had read a few decades back - 'I heard the owl call my name.' In that book a young vicar who is suffering from a terminal illness is sent to work among the people of the Kwakiutl Nation in British Columbia. One night he hears the owl call his name which, according to tribal belief, foretells of imminent death. Shortly after hearing the owl call his name the vicar is caught in a landslide and dies. The owls now had my undivided attention. I listened carefully and was glad my name wasn't "whoooo". Thoughts of presaging owls and death by landslide pushed the sleep monsters back. I took advantage and pressed on toward Reitz.

The hordes were soon swarming and once more I found myself  nesting. But what about the aching shoulders? Perhaps, I thought, if I tried laying flat on my back my shoulders wouldn't hurt. I found another short driveway leading to a gate and lay flat on my back. The silence was absolute. I could have heard an ant walk across the ground. Then the crazy thoughts returned... If I was sound asleep would I hear a face biting jackal creeping up on me? Do jackals even bite faces, I wondered, or is that more the style of a hyena? Certainly no hyenas around but I was fairly certain there was a jackal behind every clump of grass. Not surprisingly sleep evaded me. At least I got to rest my eyes and exercise my imagination. After a 10 minute break I was back on my bike. 

It was getting really cold. My Garmin indicated 3 Celsius. I was still in short gloves and shorts with a lightweight windshell. I wasn't keen to layer up. I find it a lot easier to stay awake when I am cold. Adding warmer gloves, another jacket, and leggings would simply encourage the sleep monsters. As it was, I wasn't coping too well with those beasties. 

Visions of frothy-mouthed jackals kept me going for another 10 km before, once again, I caught myself nesting. I needed a new tactic to stay awake. It wasn't quite 3 am but I needed someone to talk to. My son Jason pulled the short straw. 

"Hey Dad, what's up?" 

I could hear that I had woken him from a deep sleep. I explained my need to make small talk and he was game to chat. We jabbered away while he made himself a cup of tea. Before long he had his laptop open and was tracking my progress. 

Monday, 3 October 2016

Durban Dash Up 2016 - Into the Dam Mist

I knew it was going to get nippy when I passed below the Sterkfontein Dam wall. The cold cascades over the wall and fills the valley below. But that problem was 25 km away which would take me about an hour. Once there I was prepared to quiver for 30 minutes or so as I was sure it would warm up as I climbed out the valley and over the next ridge. In the meantime I was looking forward to an hour of easy riding. Ted's imagined snores energised my legs. 

Just around the corner from The Border Post I ran into the first mist of the night. In places it was fog. The difference, as detailed in an earlier blog from this year, is visibility. At times I could see no more than 50 metres ahead. Approaching cars, which would be visible for many kilometres on a clear night, appeared out of the murk and were gone in the blink of an eye. 

My breathe fogged up which is usually an indication that the temperature had dropped into single digits. I checked my Garmin and sure enough it indicated a temperature of 8 degrees Celsius. I don't trust the temperature of the Garmin when the sun is out because it's on my handlebars and basked in sunlight. As a consequence it over reads. But some folk love it - "Hey dudes the ave temp today when we went for our 100 km ride was 55!!!!!!" 

Yeah, whatever. Unless you typed that from a hospital bed, while you were being infused with a fire hose, it never happened. As the sun was asleep I was inclined to believe the reading especially since it also felt chilly. Sub 10 is cold but I'm accustomed to riding in subzero temperatures. I had warm gear but it wasn't yet required. My core was warm and my fingers were still fine even though I had short fingered cycling gloves on, so I pressed on.

The temperature did drop a little more as I passed below the dam but it was still comfortable. As expected the temperature rose and the mist cleared as I climbed up the ridge on a gravel road that would get me onto the N5. 

At the junction with the N5 I stopped for a quick snack. I initially planned to sit down and enjoy a quiet 10 minutes. The trucks rumbling by in an endless procession meant that quiet was not an option. Then I thought of Ted and his fast Cyclocross machine. After barely 2 minutes I was back on my bike and pedalling. 

Even though it was around midnight the trucks kept rolling by. Many of them hooting or flashing their hazard lights in greeting as they passed. I guess I was an odd sight. After all, I was headed to the tiny settlement of Kestell that has a main street barely long enough to hang a street name and I'm fairly certain no one goes there on purpose. 

As I trundled along I was struck by the activities that continue long after the sun goes down. These trucks were delivering all manner of goods from cheese and milk to tractor parts. As I pedalled along I got a glimpse of the work done by these corpuscles that move along the darkened veins of our country while we sleep. 

None too soon I arrived in Kestell and made my way to the filling station to top up with water. The shop and forecourt (forecourt makes the place sound a lot more impressive than it was) were shut up tight as a drum but the ablution block was open. A passing taxi stopped and disgorged its passengers at the same time I arrived. I used the tap located on the wall near the ablutions to top up my bottles while tapping along with the music that blared from the taxi. The passengers were friendly enough and before long they had shoehorned themselves back into the mobile disco and headed off up the road. 

Before long the only sound was the gentle popping of gravel on bike tyres as I cut across some open ground to rejoin the route that would take me through to Reitz. 

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Durban Dash Up 2016 - Estcourt to almost halfway.

I left Estcourt on a little used road and headed northwest paralleling the N3 national road. 20 kilometres later the road ended and I turned west, crossed the N3 and headed toward the Drakensberg. My route over the next few hours would take me through Winterton and on to Bergville where I planned to stop and get some dinner. 

I had sufficient water so opted to ride through Winterton without stopping. Exiting town I saw Ted just ahead of me. He must have stopped. 12 hours into the race and only 1 minute separated us. This time I got to see exactly how much faster his bike was than mine on the downhills. On the first climb out of town the gap stayed at one minute. With every successive downhill he would increase that gap by 30 seconds or more. By the time I rolled into Bergville Ted was out of sight. With my thoughts now on dinner he was also well out of mind. 

There is a Caltex garage at the far end of town that has a small Maxis restaurant. I have to admit that I don't have a nutritional plan on long rides. I allow my eyes to shop for my belly. The eyes ordered a soft serve ice cream, a toasted cheese and ham sandwich combo (combo = add coffee) and a pot of tea. The tea/coffee/ice cream combo had them a tad confused. The confusion cost a few minutes and it was a good half an hour before I was back on my bike. But not before I shed my rain jacket and replaced it with a cooler wind shell. Sunset, and therefore cooler conditions, was 30 minutes away but I knew the big climb that loomed was going to keep me warm. 

The next checkpoint was at The Border Post, 45 km away at the top of Oliviershoek Pass. A phone call confirmed that Ted had pushed through Bergville and was a good 45 mins ahead of me. I passed Amphitheatre Backpackers, which was last year's checkpoint, at 7:10 pm which put me an hour and twenty minutes ahead of my time from the previous year.  At 7:30 pm I started on the 13 km climb up the pass. It starts off okay but kicks up in the middle before easing off near the top. Andy passed me when I was halfway up. He told me he was going back to Bergville to fetch Paul Erasmus who had pulled out of the race after battling with tyre problems since early morning.

I pulled up at The Border Post (taking its name from straddling the border between KZN and the Free State provinces, not between South Africa and Lesotho) a few minutes before 8:30 pm. The big climb of the race was now behind me. I couldn't find Liz but I did find Ted. He was exhausted. The climb had hurt him and he was getting ready for some shuteye. They didn't have rooms available but they did have two caravans and Ted had staked his claim to one of them. I'm guessing Paul would be take up occupancy in the other when he arrived with Andy. 

I wondered back toward the main building and found Liz. Owing to the lack of milk I had a cup of black tea which, while not my usual fare, was surprisingly refreshing. I cracked open my checkpoint box and stuffed my pockets with fruitcake and biscuits. It was going to be a long night and I wasn't expecting to find any shops open until after sunrise. I figured that the garage at Petrus Steyn, 180 km away, would be my first chance to get something other than water. A garage at Kestell, 60 or 70 km away had a tap so water was covered. 

Andy arrived back at 9 pm as I was leaving. I told him I had work to do. It was time to make hay while the sun wasn't shining. In other words, I had to put some distance between me and Ted. I thought Ted would sleep for at least 3 hours which meant that I should be in Kestell before he got going. Ted was playing a vital role in my race. Having him around was helping me maintain momentum. 

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Durban Dash Up 2016 - Mountain Bike verses Cyclocross Bike.

A few kilometres north of Old Halliwell Inn I rode through Currys Post. The stretch from there toward Mooi River was the section that made me settle on my mountain bIke rather than my road bike. With rain forecast I did not look forward to battling through mud on that dirt road section. In practice it didn't work out that way. 

We were running tracking apps and a quick phone call established that Ted had left Halliwell 10 minutes after me. I didn't know at that stage that he was riding a Cyclocross bike. I hadn't given any thought to his choice of mount. As I rolled off the tar onto the gravel road I realised that my fears were ill founded. There had been rain in Currys Post but not recently. The road was hard packed, smooth and fast. Just wet enough to prevent passing cars from throwing up clouds of dust. 

Ten or fifteen kilometres after leaving Old Halliwell I heard a bike behind me. It was Ted. So much for a mountain bike being faster over gravel. Ted pulled up next to me and we had a quick chat. He stopped to remove his jacket and I continued riding. I did more than continue riding, I rode faster than before. Ted closed on me in no time at all. I simply couldn't match his downhill speed. There was bike envy for sure. Added to that, I had finally realised what was wrong with my bike that needed attention. 

The bottom bracket (for the non bike techies that is the bearing unit through which the pedal axle passes) was creaking. I realised that I would have to stop and sort that out. My more immediate problem was a fast disappearing up ahead - Ted. I pushed some earphones in my ear holes and got some music running. Partly for distraction and partly to drown out the noise of the protesting bottom bracket. I kept in touch up the final climb before the drop into Mooi River but when I crested he was nowhere to be seen. 

I was initially planning on making a quick stop in Mooi River but as I turned into town I could see Ted about a kilometre ahead on the climb out of town. I had enough water to get me through to Estcourt so didn't stop. 

As I started the climb the noise from the bottom bracket could no longer be ignored. There is a collar on the left hand crank that is used to take up bearing slack. This collar has a pinch bolt to lock it up. The pinch bolt had come loose which caused the collar to tighten up against the bottom bracket bearings. The noise was caused by the protesting bearings. The collar was too tight to loosen by hand so a rock had to do duty as a hammer. It worked. 

It was nice to ride a bike that no longer squealed like a rusty gate with every revolution. Although I couldn't swear to it, the cranks seemed to turn with more ease. The other problem was still ahead. Far ahead. I could see a good distance ahead and there was no Ted in sight. Out of sight out of mind - I got on with executing my race plan without the distraction of Ted. 

I pedalled into Estcourt early afternoon and was surprised to find it all abustle. Certainly busier than the last time I was here. To be fair, last time I rode through in April it was sometime after midnight. Dave and Dawn Bell also rode through here in the wee hours and I remember Dave telling me about a garage shop that served a great cup of coffee. Last year I stopped at the first shop I got to and there was no coffee and the selection of treats was rudimentary. I decided to go in search of Dave's better option. I was almost through town when I spotted the shop. Sure enough they served coffee. I bought a coffee, a bag of crisps and a litre of water to top up my bottles. The coffee was okay, the cup less so. It leaked all over the counter. Fortunately the shop owner arrived back from mosque just in time and rushed over to give me a new cup. We got to chatting. The obvious question arose, "Where are you going?" 


"I mean now, today."

"Jo'burg. Maybe not tonight but I will be their tomorrow afternoon."

"Oh, be safe." He walked off.