Saturday, 10 December 2016
Racing The Munga 2016 - Getting into Race Mode
It was almost 4 a.m. After a day of being buffeted by a merciless wind it was good to lay back in the roadside ditch and enjoy the Karoo night. I had left the first race village 90 minutes before. Behind me I had left the bulk of the race field. There were only 6 riders ahead of me and there were a handful that were sure to follow. But at that moment I was completely alone. There were no lights, bike or otherwise, visible in any direction. I had doused my lights and lay back drinking in the peacefulness and solitude of the night. The race proper had begun.
It might seem odd to think that I was already 250 kilometres into the race and yet felt like the race had just started. Without doubt my legs and body knew I had been riding hard for the last 16 hours, but that had been with and around other riders. The first objective for every rider was to cover the 222 km to Van der Kloof Dam. For a handful of riders that was not their reality. A handful more never ventured beyond the dam.
The Munga is a hard race. It is set at the hottest time of the year through an inhospitable part of the country. Don't misunderstand that last statement, the landscape is brutal, the people on the other hand are friendly and helpful beyond belief. To traverse 1086 km inside of 120 hours might not look too difficult on paper. In practice it is unbelievably hard. It is not the sort of race where you bang out an 8 hour effort and then put your feet up and share a few beers with your mates before tucking up for 8 hours of sleep. The clock is always running, even while you sleep. To make the cutoff you need to focus on keeping your momentum. That means moving through race villages efficiently. Efficiently means forgoing your regular dose of socialising and sleep. It's a luxury the race format does not afford you.
This year the race leaders arrived at the dam well after midnight. Last year the first rider was in by 10 p.m. I myself had hoped to be out of the race village by midnight. As it turned out I only arrived at 01h50 and left at 02:14. I was already more than 2 hours behind my self imposed schedule. Even so, I needed 5 minutes to unwind and start thinking about the task ahead.
The aardvark was close but I didn't want to turn my light on lest I disturbed it. I was content to lay there looking up at the stars while it scratched around.