Monday, April 20, 2009

The FC Quiz

Despite a slower week, we had a ball on the weekend which brought the hours ridden this week to roughly 14 which wasn't bad considering how tired I had felt. Those hours were mostly crammed in over the weekend.

Saturday turned out pretty perfect with a new route opened up linking two of my favourite rides. On the way, we saw warthog, and duiker and the vegetable farmer. We rode through a narrow gorge which was so reminiscent of the Kruger Park that we expected to see more than just the little buck.

The rides we have done lately test more than fitness. After this weekend, we realised that they are also the best preparation for meeting adversity head on. Whilst not doing mega distances, they are tough physically and mentally. It was almost a case of last man standing but with stretched senses of humour, we got to the end, tired but satisfied that we had persevered.

So in that light, I started collecting quiz questions with multiple answer options. How about adding yours? I bet we could put together a whole training bible on the scenarios faced at one or other time.

Here are mine so far (all based on true life).

What do you do when faced with the following scenarios:
  • The group disappears round a corner and you cant find them? Do you a) wait where you last saw them knowing they will come back or b) turn around and go back to the car and refuse directions or c) test your tracking skills and follow the tire tracks?
  • Your tire slashes on a gnarly rock - do you a) plug it and keep pumping, b) replace with a tube or c) grin and bear it and take the tar road home to prevent further drama?
  • Your saddle breaks one post. Do you a) hitch a ride home, b) see as a test of your ingenuity or c) strap a tube around it and suffer the merciless teasing and nicknames for your discomfort.
  • Your chain suddenly starts grinding against the front derailleur. Do you fiddle with it initially and straighten what appears bent. b) leave it cos it isn't your bike or c) service the bike at the coffee stop?
  • or the most famous one of plod up endless valleys with your bike on your back and you receive a note from the race director saying "You are in the wrong valley, go back". Do you a) obey his instructions cos he is all powerful, B) laugh because you realised this several valleys ago, c) plug on because you have the correct route in sight or d) lose your sense of humour completely.
So what are your quiz questions?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

"Waddilovisms" are Catching

We'll head out on the same route as last week (now we know where the first path is) and when we get to the big gate, we will head to the right instead of the left. Wind our way to Harties Dam, head back to the Bridal Trail and return through the veggie farm and saddle again.

Does that not sound as if it was written for the Freedom Challenge narrative? For those who have some experience, it is very reminiscent of some of our instructions. And now I am falling into the same mode. SFY.

(sorry for you)

Those who were there last week may know exactly what I am talking about but it will be a mystery to the others. And this is just what to expect when you undertake this venture (R2R or RASA) for the first time.

There are increasing calls for this year's maps and narrative on the forum but really, it doesn't make the slightest bit of sense until you are there, interpreting the unique sayings and indicators in real time.

Ask the crowd from last week.

What I now realise, from having dabbled in waddilovisms quite unintentionally, is that it makes me really powerful. Oh yeah. I'm the only one who knows where we are going and where we might end up (I say might but actually I really do know). Everyone has to be super nice to me and buy me Magnum ice creams at the stop. They also have to ride at my pace or pretend to be unable to keep up so I don't get offended.

Head off in the wrong direction and you might get the sms saying "head south and meet us at the chicken pie". Actually, that did happen - poor Steve.

The thing is, precision is not the name of the game when it comes to the Freedom Challenge instructions. The trick is to interpret them accurately and hopefully get the knack before you run out of road.

So I am helping everyone here, really I am.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tired is an Excuse

In my previous life, I was a paddler. I aspired to great heights and trained day in and day out to reach my goals. A Hungarian coach also added to the discipline and focus required to be someone and get somewhere. I guess some might call it dedicated while others may see the regime as quite anal.

Along the way, I adopted the training mantra "Tired is not an excuse". This helped me push harder, reach further. Giving in was not an option.

And now, I hate any form of training programme. Show me a structure and I get a panic attack. I am happiest going with the flow and riding how I feel. The years have mellowed me and I realise that there are other ways to attain one's goals.

Over the last three months, I have steadily built my base without feeling that I have overdone it or that I am being pressurised into "must" ride instead of "want to" ride.

Until this week.

All of a sudden, I am tired. Both mentally and physically. And in this reincarnation, tired is an excuse to take a break and back off. We had some great rides over the long weekend but all of them seemed to take more effort than normal. I felt sleepy and couldn't wait for the end. I also find that this is when negative thoughts start to edge in - just the merest hint of shadow in the mind.

So, time out. I will probably spin a little, try to run a little and next week, I will be off for a full seven days while I am at the MTN Panorama Tour. And so April will come to an end.

Then it is May and a new start with only the Freedom Challenge to plan for and to dream about.

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Mini Freedom Day

What a ride today turned out to be. Quite unintentionally, we did a complete dress rehearsal of a typical day on the Freedom Challenge.

Four RASA riders (Doug, Steve, Sean and me) and one R2R rider (Derek) headed off at 6:30 this morning for an unknown distance but estimated to be about 60-70km. Well that was spot on at 61km but it was over 5 hours of riding and a 7,5hour day!

We headed through the Cradle of Mankind, over the many rocky ridges towards the Magaliesberg, rode the reknowned single track called The Bridal Trail and headed back through a farm growing tomatoes, carrots, onions with strong fertiliser.

We did loads of cattle track, path finding and back tracking, a LOT of fence climbing, a bit of guesswork, bike repairs, lunch stops reminiscent of Banchory and a bit of path spotting from across valleys. It was a very physical ride with a lot of pushing, walking and lifting and technical riding but an absolutely perfect snapshot of what lies ahead in June.

An added bonus was the herd of Gemsbok, a couple of Wildebees (one of whom charged straight into the game fence before dashing off) and a myriad of insects and butterflies and bird song.

The apple pie and cream at the end was superb. I'll let the pictures tell the story.

(Scaling the game fence over and under)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Initial Start Groups are up

So the start groups are confirmed with some minor haggling going on. Its great to see the two single speeders in my group - Steve (R2R) and Andre (RASA). I know I am going to be humiliated on many climbs by these two.

I've met Chris briefly on a ride in Tokai so that hardly counts as "knowing" someone but 6 days will change that status.

And the Long Bike - the tandem - is also in the group. I suspect this was arranged because Doug and I were trained to help them over fences last weekend. I don't think so!

And of course, my good friend Doug is there to keep me bolstered when I need it and I hope to return the favour if required as well.

The rest of the group is new and of the 13, eight of us are going the whole way.

But keep your eyes on the first batch which has 5 extreme athletes doing the triathlon - a 2 day trail run to Pmb, RASA followed by a 2 day canoeing event on the Berg River - now that's cuckoo.

And of course, Tim James starts in the last batch because he will just keep passing all of us on his way to the finish.

The race is starting to feel very real now.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Random Thought List

Its impossible to capture everything the mind thinks, conceives and discards with respect to the race but I thought I would try by making a list. (The Myth laughs at me and my lists until I caught him with some). So here are some of the latest thoughts....

  • My head is in a good space and I see feel really positive about my undertaking. Every now and then I get a little frisson about the pack being my only support and the potential to pack it wrong. I stay away from anyone getting over analytical as I have made the decision to only look at all of this in May.

  • Training is going well and I can feel that my base fitness is solid. I am not really focusing on speed or intensity. But I have been pretty consistent and I feel confident in where I am at so far. Easter weekend is an opportunity to do some good mileage and then I would have had another good month of cycling.

  • I wonder who will be in my start group? One friend (Steve) rides to Rhodes while Doug is in it for the long haul. We know that our alliance is only as good as our bodies and bikes, and we may have to leave each other at some point. Will I gel with others and will we have a good dynamic after we leave Rhodes. That's part of the excitement and trepidation.

  • The ice cream boxes - what to put in them. There are the basics but I spend time in the supermarkets trawling the shelves looking for ideas. As mainly a chicken eater, I am not sure if the home cooking in the Karoo will be to my taste (don't do lamb or beef) so I need to have some options here too. Salty and sweet items also have to go in.

  • Thank goodness for a tax refund so I don't stress about finding the cash to replace all the parts on my bike before I start. This becomes an expensive exercise and you can't stint because it may mean the difference between finishing the race or dropping out. Shopping around on the internet and creating wishlists also helps with the budgeting.

  • Stories, stories and more stories. Training with some of the old hands from the race is never dull as there is always a funny story from the previous races. Someone ought to capture them for posterity. Maybe I will keep this blog going and start getting some of them down. At last year's R2R, we created our own legend by discovering a new, much longer way up Lehana Pass on the last stage into Rhodes.

  • Once the MTN Panorama Tour is over (one of my events), I can start to focus entirely on the race without guilt. That's six weeks of thinking that lie ahead - awesome. I wonder if I can think myself through the race? Maybe I can think myself warm and dry at times? Then there are secret thoughts and public thoughts. The secret ones all deal with the doubts and fears, while publicly is the happy, excited face. Clearly I was made for a race involving some planning and strategy as I am happiest with the planning.

  • I am yet to question why I am doing this. That can wait until the trail. But it is an interesting question - why would anyone ride 2300km in mid winter with a heavy pack on their back. I am not sure if anyone has a real answer but I think it is more of a personal journey for everyone. We are doing this for very different reasons - escape, challenge, meaning, masochism, space - I doubt anyone is there merely to ride their bikes. I think I must ask this question on the way. I remember Danie (he did the extreme triathlon last year) asking me an open ended question on a climb - "Tell me the story of your life." he said. I could only look at him in disbelief.
Thinking, thinking, thinking - its just so cool.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

It all comes together bit by bit

Saturdays are usually couch time...after a serious bit of training though. I love the guilt free feeling of parking off, having a little doze knowing that my work is done for the day.

Today - NOT. So we knew it would be a longish day because that is what we set out to do. A 90km mountain bike ride as a test of fitness as well as a bit of mental prep. The route was my responsibility and I opted to add the extra loops on early in the ride and have the option of cutting distance at the end.

This ride took in lots of single track, gnarly, rocky track, some open roads and some technical climbs on jeep track. The grass at this time of year is seriously long and each of us would disappear from sight often riding blind as it was impossible to see the ground below. This resulted in a couple of tumbles by riders who shall remain nameless (for now).

The tandem, piloted by crazy Mike and stoked on this ride by Andre (single speeder) was both impressive and ludicrous. 22kgs of metal beast which had to be pushed up some of the climbs but made up for it on the downhills. Sadly for them, I didn't include enough of those. But get used to these names as they are all riding RASA and will crop up frequently.

We left at 6:15 and headed out to the Cradle of Mankind which offers plenty of variety and replicates a lot of what we will experience on RASA. Rocky cattle tracks, river crossings, a "toll gate" operated by a down and out person living in a shack (R5 pp) before heading into Winsome Vally.

Here we were treated to a 5 km gradual descent into the valley and sightings of zebra and Red Hartebees grazing in the open veld. Only in Africa. After crossing the Jukskei River we climbed a beast of a hill before winding our way through a little jewel of a valley.

It was here that Andy decided he'd had enough and took the tiger line home - wise decision. Weeks of escorting and protecting some of our political leaders had taken its toll on his legs and fitness. Oh well, election day is not too far away.

Then, as things do, Malcolm (of plett2capetown ride fame) and I lost the others. In the long grass, they took another route while we waited at the single track. You cannot see people at all at times and we figured out what had happened but then they were in front of us with only a reasonable idea of where to go. But the lure of the shebeen meant they would get to the meeting point eventually, which they did. Apparently Lucky Star pilchards are good for a hangover!

The long drag up the hill towards Gerhardsville was made more interesting by a panicky snake trying to wind its way across the road but found its way blocked by our wheels grinding past. I stopped and balanced on my bike to allow it space but the damn thing wiggled straight at me and under my bike just as I was losing balance. The language was choice but the adrenalin made the climb a lot easier.

An emergency pitstop led to the discovery of a cheese shop and coffee shop - definitely on the list for a return vist - to eat though. According to one of the staff, a bike like mine would be worth a cow in Malawi!

So we all made it in various states of disrepair to the Spar and wolfed down whatever looked good ( jam donuts and lucozade) and plotted the tiger line home. The tandem headed off in one direction and Malcolm, Doug and I in another. We covered 105km with over 7 hours of riding and boy, the beer shandy at the end tasted good.

My training over the past couple of months is definitely coming together as I felt consistently strong although by the end of the 10 hour epic, I was a little "fatigued". But there were some great things to come out of today.

The new saddle is the answer - 7 hours of sitting on that little black gel thing was the most comfortable I have been in a long time, a very long time, so I am chuffed about that and can tick one more thing off the "worry" list.

My bike was stripped and serviced by Shaun Mileson (mechanic to some of the bigger mtb teams) and it went soooo sweetly. He listed all that needs replacing between now and the start of the race so I can budget and shop around for the best deals. But this is going to make a major dent in the finances no matter where I source the products.

Doug had the misfortune to blow out his rear shock at about 15km into the ride which made him bob and weave all over place. Luckily, it happened now and not in the middle of the Karoo. You can plan as much as you like but things like this will happen so it is vital to try and prevent what you can and treat anything else with equanimity.

But we are on the way to the big goal and a long ride like this is a major morale booster.

(This is not me)

Friday, April 3, 2009

There are more of us than you think

So you thought that this Freedom Challenge thing was a small bunch of fringe lunatics? Well you're partly right but the scary thing is that we are adding to the ranks all the time. As of now, there are 40 finishers since inception which includes two repeat offenders.

After this year, there will be a few more.

Last night was a get together of past and future riders for a briefing on what to expect. If you pack nothing else, pack your sense of humour cos the tales of the trail are screamingly funny. But I suspect only in retrospect and with a touch of schadenfreude.

I must admit to feeling more relaxed this time around having had a taste of what to expect with last year's R2R and riding part of the trail in January. But every now and then, there is a small frisson of fear which keeps me from getting complacent.

David Waddilove was on hand to update the maps which by the way, when laid out end to end, stretched the entire length of a 30m passage! Tim James also popped in to add his value along with a bunch of others including seriously mad single speeder - Andre Britz.

But the loony award has to go to Mike Woolnough who is doing the entire ride on a tandem. His partner is nicknamed Forest for having slept out in the forests overnight on his previous attempt at the race. How do you spend 3 weeks looking at someones back - day in and day out??

Noooo! That is too scary. Imagine if they have an argument - no time out? But as they say, if they can't win the race, they might as well claim some other record.

There were also a few R2R riders who would be tackling the event for the first time and I am sure the look on their faces reflected mine a year ago...Oh my, what am I thinking.

But it was great to meet some of our fellow travellers some of whom we may see at the race and others whose paths won't cross again.

But somehow, whether you are a whip or blanket bearer, you are part of an elite rite of passage.