Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Day of contrasts

First 80km brilliant. Hot and cold patches. The beauty of the Baviaanskloof, feeling strong and knee niggle nowhere to be felt. Left Cambria at 5.45am

On to Dam se Drif for a fab lunch.

Set off for second 80km.

Oh my! The wheels fell off with more than 50km to go.

Thereafter a mental, emotional and physical struggle to the end in Willowmore.

Arrived at 9pm completely shattered.

Another 170km tomorrow...wonder if I'll make it.

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Monday, June 29, 2009

I didn't want to talk about today

It was one of those days where things seem to go pear shaped. Sean broke his second hangar and after stopping to help, we carried on but quite easy.
But my right quad had other ideas. It just wouldn't work and I battled to ride...which is no insignificant problem.
It was also a day when it just felt one day too many. And there is still a long way to go. I felt really tired today and another injury was too much.
I took some anti-inflams and strapped the knee and miraculously I could cycle almost painfree but limped the portages. I reckon we walked about 15km today.
It was also a day that I would love to have ridden fresh. Technical climbs and descents to die for.
But I was focused inward again trying to get myself through the day. I was even deciding who to phone for sympathy.
The magnificent downhill into the Baviaanskloof gave Doug and I a boost and we got a whole lot of momentum for the 11 river crossings. Sightings of kudu also kept us going.
So here we are at Kudu Khaya in Cambria stuffiing ourselves with banana bread and other.
I am feeling chirpier and can face another day.
Well done to Andrew and Tim who have finished already.
Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A general view

So we are ~amount of days into the ride. I don't know what day it is or even how many days we've been riding.
It's still baby steps with a goal for each day and sometimes even smaller achievements.
I remember blithely writing a post a while back about being fit for the first six days and building on that.
It hasn't really worked out. The first 8 days were pain in the left knee and a sinus headache causing a lot of trauma. I am riding much better now and you would think things are in a groove. But I seem to ride into more niggles. The sinus turned into a head cold and a cough which persists. My right achilles is playing up as well as my right quad.
Oh and the butt is welded to the saddle to the point that even when I am sitting on a couch, I can still feel its presence. I think this is why my quad hurts - overuse from standing to ease the sore butt.
The eye puffiness is a thing of the past so mornings are much better.
I suppose all these "ailments" come with the territory and I mean this literally. I would normally never lug my bike into and over the places I have been, much less ride in these weather conditions.
But despite all of these aches and pains, I am really enjoying myself.
Today was a fab day although it rained most of the day.
We left Toekomst and meandered about a bit looking for the route around the water. Then the rest of the group made a nav error and we weren't to see them until later this evening.
The three of us (Doug, Sean and I) decided to have an easy day to Bucklands (100k). And we did.
We rode the most amazing route through the Gwaas Valley which was characterised by scrubby bush and a huge range of succulents.
Then there was the winding descent through Perdepoort. Even with mud and rain in my eyes, it was beautiful. There were moss and lichen covered thorn trees in one section of the ride and huge ancient prickly pear bushes.
Cold and wet we stopped at the Emergency SS but no one was home. I was pretty hungry and gatvol of bars but found some fruit cake to sustain me.
Eventually we popped out at a place called Kleinpoort and there was a roadside cafe where we stopped for toasted bacon and egg saamies. A lifesaver.
Doug produced a tiny bottle of Jack Daniels to complete the meal and we covered the last 30k to Bucklands in just over an hour and a half to be in by 4.30pm.
You must understand that to have an average speed of over 15k per hour is phenomenal in this event and it was our best so far.
Hannes and his daughter Lisa welcomed us and we were able to wash bikes and do some much needed maintenance on them.
What a great day it has been. Crappy weather and loving it cos I know it's not something I would voluntarily do, beautiful scenery that our country has so much of, excellent company and new spaces, people and experiences.
So we keep moving on, all the while getting closer to the end goal.

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Saturday, June 27, 2009

We smoked it today

Finally, we had a brilliant happy day of riding.

We started out at 5.20 am with General Carl Crous marshalling his 10 troops. We had caught Derek (Gadget) and Sean (the Gardner) who had started the day before us. So the SS was pretty full.

We all trailed in Carl's wake as he charged to the Struishoek descent. That was a wicked descent as good as it gets on any mountain pass. Thanks to Dave and Verity for the extremely well marked white stones showing the way down through the thick bush.

Sean, Doug and I headed out from the bottom of the descent making good time by riding in an echelon and constantly rotating.

We reached the SS at Vandeventerskraal by 13H15 where a good lunch waited.

Mindful of the light left, we headed out to crack the last 50km.

What an awesome ride. The three of us had a ball. The descent off Kadoekop was an unbelievable 14km which was really wicked.

Then it was a final 15km to the legendary hospitality at Toekomst.

The weather was fantastic, the route stunning although a serious amount of pushing but another two stages in one day.

Thanks to everyone who sends messages and to Jean, Wendy and the Alexanders for the messages in my boxes.

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Friday, June 26, 2009

A bizarre day...again

So we left Elandsberg at 6.20 and were rewarded with a long fast ride towards Cradock. Crossing Baroda weir brought back fond memories of another life when I paddled a lot. We were flying for the first time since we started riding with an average speed of 20km hour.

And..there was no wind.

Some of the others in the group dropped off and then there were Carl, Doug and myself. What a great ride to Stuttgart, the next support station. We got there by 11 am catching Amanda by surprise.

Carl was cracking the whip as he wanted to do three stages in one. We wanted to achieve the double so were keen to press on.

We headed out by 12pm for about a 15k ride into the Garslandkloof. And that's when I lost my sense of humour for the first time. We rode hard to within 4km of the top and slowed to a muddy frustrating crawl.

Thick clay mud clogged everything and we lost an hour trying to get through.

Buts that's not all.

Next up was slush where the smow had melted into a mush and we had a 7k climb/push/slog to the top of the Skurveberg.

Winter wonderland any other time but not when your legs are toast from pushing through mud.

Finally we reached the summit which, I admit, was breathtaking.

Then I became an expert in downhill riding in snow. It was so bizarre to go through such a range of riding experiences. I wish I had a helmet cam. So I laughed a lot here and my sense of humour returned.

But light was fading and Doug and I rushed to get to Coetzerskloof before dark.

I lost my humour somewhere here again. Stumbling over rocks with a bike while trying to find a path, being ripped by thorn trees and the darkness deepening was not my idea of fun after an already punishing day.

But we stumbled on the track and worked our way through the valley. Then it was the final 8km to De Doorns SS.

Only to find they weren't expecting so many riders. So mattresses on the floor it was, a reuniting with Gadget and The Gardener and a job well done.

Two stages in one day!

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Another bloody day in Africa

It was the first night I had an unbroken sleep - much needed with all the physical stuff and head cold I was trying to get rid of.

The others left at 2am and Doug, Gregg and I settled on a 6am departure.

Well, our day started in driving sleet and the damn wind. We had a short start to the first portage over Aasvoelberg which was visibility dependant. I have to say that I found the conditions exhilarating because I knew it wouldn't be something I would normally choose to do...ever! The top of the mountain had disappeared in thick cloud so we went to the farm Goedehoop where we met the Terblanches who had been there since 1960.

After tea and beskuit, they gave us the alternative route to Hofmeyer.

Within 15km, the landscape changed to Karoo and thorn bushes by the zillion.

Initially the riding varied from a hectic headwind to reasonable. But then we got rain instead of sleet and the roads became sticky red mud. The upside were the farmers who all stopped for quick chat.

But the 50km from the farm dragged on and on with this constant battering by the wind.

8 hours later we arrived at the pie shop, absolutely exhausted, hungry, wet and muddy.

We were determined to make a full stage despite the weather and we were reunited with the others who had gone over the portage earlier.

So we all set out for the last 40km. As we left Hofmeyer, the sun came out to the west where we were headed and we all took it as a positive sign.

Ma Nature had other ideas and it was soon raining again. But we organised ourselves into an echelon and the kms ticked by and finally we were at the legendary Elandsberg portage. We didn't get it quite right and did some detours but the return of the sleet may have had something to do with it. It was quite surreal to see swirling particles through your headlamp and bike light. Even more so were the stars which eventually made their appearance.

Eventually we arrived at Elandsberg support station at 20H30 happy to see the end of a long tough day.
I believe it is currently -5 degrees Celsius outside.

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

While I have time

We arrived in Romansfontein at 14.30 and it gave us a chance to recover and do bike admin. I feel much more human.
Stefanie and her daughters are incredible hosts and have fed us to the hilt.
We managed to get all our washing done to get rid of the wood smoke from last night.
So we are sitting in borrowed clothes and drinking copious cups of tea.
We are reunited with Pierre, Louis, Mark and Carl. Carl is an absolute machine. The length of rides he is putting together are amazing despite broken shoes, stripped gears.
He was really worried for us yesterday although he has only met us once.
So hopefully a good nights sleep will hit my cold a bit and who knows what tomorrow will bring. It is what it is.
Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

It's all so weird

Yesterday was the most godawful day. The bitterly cold wind and rain made the route so slushy and miserable.

We were managing 8km an hour on flat roads and reduced to pushing bikes frequently. The rain was driving horizontally into our faces and all we could look at was the ground in front of us.

Eventually we decided to stop for lunch and pulled into a little shack next to the road. As always, the poorest of poor shared their fire with us. Shaking with cold we headed out again for the next stretch which was only 6km but was another push affair along a disused railway line.

At times the wind would lift our bikes into our legs as we pushed. When we reached the gravel road it was another 2km of pushing into the 65km headwind and driving squalls of rain.

It was getting dark and Doug and I decided to stop at the one and only farmhouse on the road. It would have taken at least 4 hours to do the next 20km in those conditions.

The farnhouse was deserted but we found two labourers who ushered us into the tractor shed. While we were there Bruce and Greg arrived and we sat huddled over the brazier they made for us.

We had no option but to bunk down. Luckily they had keys to a room with a carpet so we were out the wind. But a space blanket and all our clothes wasn't enough to keep the cold at bay. We shivered and shook the whole night.

With no cell reception we couldn't notifty anyone that we were safe but we were.

This morning it was snowing.

But a breakfast at Brosterlea makes the nightmare recede and we are on the way again albeit it in an unconventional fashion.

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Monday, June 22, 2009

Hard hard days

Today was long and hard. We started with a brutal portage with thick sticky mud followed by another similar one.

It was 5 hours of hard labour covering about 23km. In between we got rained on as well.

From the end of these two portages, was another 74km of riding in slippery mud. I soon dropped off the back slipping and sliding and protecting my dodgy knee.

I find with this event that I stay locked in the moment which keeps me turning the pedals over and not getting too overwhelmed by what still has to be done.

After a little dorp called Roussouw, I got hailed on. It stings. But I kept my new mantra going: it is what it is.

A wonderful descent brought me to an emergency support station called Moordenaarspoort. When I saw the other guys there, I felt relief that I wasn't at the back anymore.

This was at 17.00. I figured I could do the last 40km in about 2,5 hours. It was dark quickly but I felt that I was on an adventure on my own - no one around.

Unfortunately I had run out of water and food so when I lost the route and asked the farmer for help, I realised I was really really buggered. I could hardly string 3 words together. I still had another 14 to go.

Gerhardt and his wife made me tea and an avo sandwich. He offered me a lift which meant a time penalty tomorrow. This was already past 8pm so I called the race director and gladly accepted. The others arrived after 10.

The time penalty means I can only leave at 9 tomorrow which has one benefit. Maybe I can shake this cold I have but it does screw up our schedule. So we will have to re-strategise.

This race is very hard. But so far I am coping but it takes its toll.

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Saturday, June 20, 2009

6 days down and plenty of drama

So we had a plan and like all the best ones, it got turfed on day one. But in retrospect, it was good to slow down and take things easy due to the knee problem.

I knew that these first days were hard but forgot how physical they actually were. Everything hurts as though one has done major gymwork on every part of the body.

We've been blessed with fantastic weather which has helped and knowing the route has mean't very little time wasted. We got in before dark on every day except the first where we did that bit extra.

I really thought my race was in jeopardy with the knee so there was an emotional toll as well.

Thanks to the Myth's "don't mess around" advice, Pierre and Rudi, the race is back on track.

Aileen managed to courier down spare tires and brake stuff for Doug, so we hope that is the end of that drama too.

There is so much to tell but it will all have to wait till after the race. I hope I remember it all.

But tomorrow, a posse of 6 riders head out on the next adventure.

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Three days later

Ok, first things first. Thank you everyone for the stream of messages. It is really appreciated.

Its been an interesting few days with lots of drama. Our plan was to try and catch up a few half days here and there so we rode an extra 20km to Donnybrook on day 1. This was 10 hour of riding time with a total of 12,5 hour day. Distance was 125km. Doug slashed his tyre which created havoc with our timing losing 45 mins. It was a long slog to Ntshikeni and we were glad to get there early and relax. My knee was really painful. Today was a fantastic ride despite a lot of pain. Nursing the knee meant taking it really easy and doing a lot of pushing. No navigational errors (thanks for the tips Stu) gave us a flawless day. A chat to the race doctor helped enormously - thanks Rudi.
So tomorrow is a shortish day. Big thanks to Mark and Nicky McLeod for going out of their way to help Doug with his tyre and brake issues. More when I can. Please send positive thoughts for the knee.
Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Biker chick going strong

Biker chick now well over beginner nerves and dashing for freedom!

It is great to have got day one out the way.

It is a great feeling to have got day one out the way. There is so much angst surrounding the start and now we are into it. We will establish our routines and get into the grind of riding every day. The new route into the Hella Hella Hell run was OK. We opted to stay dry and took a slightly longer route but didn't lose too much time at all. There was a lot of walking but we still made good time to McKenzie where we wolfed down toasted sammies, emptied our boxes into our bags (yay messages from family) and headed into the disappearing sunlight 40 mins later. Doug gashed his tyre which lost us some time but we made it here just fine. Another big day tomorrow (there are no easy days) Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The end of the beginning

Race briefing is over and we have all headed to bed for an early start. It was good to get here and to settle the nerves.
Aileen's dad fetched us from the airport and drove us to PMB. After checking in and a quick hello to other R2R riders, we headed off for lunch. For some reason we ended up in Hilton at a Polish restaurant with the real deal - handlebar moustache and accent.
A delicious pork, cabbage and mash meal later, we felt a lot better. We even got a thimbleful of Polish "wine" - 40% alcohol!
It didn't help me sleep later unfortunately. The other riders trickled in over the afternoon and we have now all met. There have been lots of war stories from day one already and lots of advice from friends through already. Now it is our turn.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Weighty Issues

So after close to 4000km in training since January, the sum total of weight is as follows:
  • Personal weight loss - Zero
  • Bike weight gain - 2kg
  • Pack weight - about 8.5 with water and battling not to add the little extras.
To me that is a net gain of lots. I can't see myself losing 10kg to compensate especially with all the goodies in my 2lt boxes.

I think there is a rude awakening coming on the first hill out of Pmb.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I have to agree with Gadget

Gadget wrote about the vast chapter of training and preparation that is coming to the end. Now we are about to open a new, shorter and more intense chapter in our mountain biking lives.

His thoughts are here. His blog post reflects much of what I am feeling now. There is a definite change in the mood of the riders as we get more focused on what lies ahead. There is less banter, more serious discussion about logistics and strategy and a whole lot of speculation on how the various contenders will perform.

There is a much closer eye on the weather charts and a last minute check and re-check of the back pack to ensure everything has been thought of. Flurries of last minute advice has been appearing on the website but it somehow fades quickly as you discard what isn't appropriate any more or just too late.

I find that some days I get a helluva lot done and other days I procrastinate on my list. But there aren't too many days left - 5 in fact.

An interesting space to be in right now.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Tired of waiting

This last week is tough. I am tired of waiting to start and tired of talking. Now I just want to get at it. The irony is that I am sure there will be many times when I wish I was at home not doing anything strenuous.

I have a long list of details to be ticked off. Some are vital and others, well if I don't get to do them, tough. One minor crisis was the train trip to Pietermaritzburg. This would have been a highlight as we would have arrived in time to say goodbye to the group departing in front of us and had a relaxing day at Aintree Lodge.

A small problem, first class doesn't run anymore unless you travel on a Thursday! And third class - I don't think so. I want my comforts till the last minute. So a mad scramble to make an alternative plan. The Monk will take our bikes down for us and Doug and I will fly to Durban. His parents-in-law will drive us to Pmb. Not quite as convenient but hey, its an extra night at home.

The messages of support have been overwhelming and as Miles commented - "You must be stunningly brave or simply stupid." I think it is stunningly stupid actually.

Another highlight was the call from Stu on the Isle of Man for a last minute pumping of advice and support. He did the event last year and has been full of encouragement and suggestions.

So this is why I want to get on with it. Time to take all these positive vibes and channel them into riding across South Africa.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

How Many Pedal Strokes?

I have set myself the task of remembering my very first pedal stroke as I leave Pmb. I want to burn into my brain how it felt to start on this momentous journey because, after that one single pedal stroke, will be thousands more.

Which made me wonder. How many pedal strokes will I do between the start and finish. I think I need a calculator or the brain of some maths whiz on this one. But lets see.

If I take an average of 70 pedal strokes a minute (that's one leg only), that will be roughly 4200 pedal strokes an hour. If I ride an average of 10 hours a day, that will be 42 000 strokes per day over 20 days. That equals a HUGE 840 000 pedal strokes on one leg. (Oh yes, my other leg will also contribute its 840 000 cycles.) My cranks will turn over 1,680 000 million times!

My poor legs. And I haven't included all the pushing and carrying.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Portaging Skills

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Patience Please

Ok, so I can do the technical stuff up to a point but then I get blonde. But, this new Blackberry Curve...oh man, I love it.

My old Samsung collapsed at the MTN Panorama Tour at the end of April, and I bought a R199 cheap phone which did all the basics. And I was pretty happy with that because I had never really used all the features on the Samsung.

However, I would need something more sophisticated for the race because I knew I could blog direct from a mobile phone. So my entire decision was based on which phone was best for 3 weeks of my life. I considered the Nokia E71 and E90 but chose the Blackberry (weight was also a consideration).

I am so glad I did. I downloaded Twitterberry - straight tweeting direct to my site. Emails direct to the blog and no doubt, pictures from the phone, direct onto the blog site. And it was really easy to set up.

So this is where you will have to be patient. There will be some odd posts happening over the next couple of days as I refine my technique.

I do admit to writing this post on the laptop as its much easier to write down the thoughts at a keyboard speed than a mini cell keyboard.

So lets see how this technology rocks.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Wild Pendulum

So now we are into the final countdown. I feel like a pendulum that swings wildly from extreme to extreme.

One moment I am cavitating with excitement and the next...well the knot in the stomach feels like a python uncoiling its massive bulk.

The departure of the boxes was a huge relief and now there is an air of finality to the whole undertaking. The rides on the weekend crystallised my thinking in terms of the clothing mix and that is also a weight off my mind. There are just a few small things to buy and I am done.

My bike is currently in for its service and the replacement of a few essential parts. I will test it this weekend and then the waiting to begin will be really hard. There will be nothing else to do except stay healthy and relaxed.

Maybe we'll even get to talk about other issues instead of "thee race". Certainly a couple of mojitos with Aileen yesterday helped ...a lot!

We've even spoken about life after the race which seems so far away and it was good to focus on another dimension. The return to reality might be an unwelcome jolt after having nothing else to focus on but riding, eating and sleeping.

But in the meantime, we need to book our spot on the train down to PMB which reduces the logistics of getting to start considerably. A first class cabin costs less than R200 and the meal in the swaying dining car will be liberally washed down with wine to celebrate the start of the adventure.