Friday, July 31, 2009

Move Over Paris Hilton

She has no idea of the Simple Life. The 3 weeks of the trail brought home how much clutter we have in our lives, not just stuff, but noise, traffic, people, information bombardment. An endless list of things that crowd our existence.

Before I forget, I want to list the simple, pleasurable aspects of the trail.

Clean air - living in a city causes us to forget that the very air we breathe is polluted beyond measure and that daily, we are processing gunge in our systems. I was able to purge my lungs in crisp, cold, sometimes moist air and I imagined my blood running rich red rather than with tinges of blue from CO2.

Space - I could see forever. There were views of mountains, plains, sea, scrub lands, rivers, everywhere there was room to feel free. City living is crowded and claustrophobic. People simply don't have space living in complexes, driving in traffic and rushing through malls. My personal opinion is that road rage is the result of cramped living. We lash out because our personal space is invaded by selfish, self absorbed city dwellers.

Rhythm - we moved to our own music. Time wasn't relevant other than 26 days to achieve our goal. We rode, walked, ate, slept as we felt. We escaped the treadmill that is our usual life and got in touch with our inner orchestra.

Taking back control - we were completely in control of our own lives. No bosses, family, businesses pushing and shoving and competing for attention. No one told us what we had to do or suffer consequences. We made our own decisions and lived by them. There were no expectations so no disappointment.

Soul time - there was no obligation to be with people or to ride with them. We chose how we wanted to ride without falling into trap of safety in numbers or group demands and dynamics. Riding alone was a privilege that one doesn't get in the cities. Relying totally on our own abilities, strengths, temperament under all conditions left us stripped bare of pretensions.

No clutter - no choices. Just one change of cycling kit kept us free. Possessions do not make us happy, they complicate things. When I compare R2R and the variety of clothing I had to RASA and the lack of choice, I was way happier with less. I remember flying down a hill feeling exuberant because everything I needed was on my back and I could ride forever if I wanted to.

So Paris Hilton...get a real life.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Can one ever have enough single track?

It was with some trepidation that I headed to Botswana for the Subaru Kalahari Challenge. Since finishing RASA, I had done two spinning classes, one 50km ride and a bit of running. My Achilles seemed to have cleared up but I didn't feel ready to tackle 185km over two days.

Even worse, my partner was Malcolm (of Plett to Cape Town fame) who is also known as The Terminator. He likes to race hard and I was worried I would let him down. We headed out of Joburg on Friday afternoon via Magaliesberg, Zeerust and on to the border. The border crossing was a breeze and we saw a couple of other cyclists there all making the trek to the Kalahari. Gabarone was a lot closer than I expected for my first visit to this country.

We were being home hosted by Angus and Alex Boxshall-Smith on Friday night and we arrived to a warm welcome by the locals, many of whom are regular supporters of The Sabie Experience. Also staying with Angus and Alex were Adele (editor of Ride Magazine) and Craig who always rips me off about the colour of my bike. I happen to like the colour of my bike! What great hosts they were. Nothing was too much trouble and we were made to feel completely at home.

The temperature was dropping fast and when we arrived at the house, it was close to 2 degrees. We had been warned about how cold it would be at the campsite the next night and if this was an indicator, we were in for some bitter temperatures.

The race caters for 100 teams of two which keeps it small and intimate, just the way I like it. So instead of being anonymous in a crowd, there were loads of people we connected with while riding and socialising.

The route is really, really flat. It was more than the 200m of ascent advertised for day one. Probably about 600m but it means that it is 95km of hard work. There is no respite for the legs as there are simply no climbs or descents.

The sand wasn't as bad as I thought and very little was unrideable. Where it was deep, the route simply went around on *gasp* single track.

I reckon the route is 70% single track with another 25% being jeep track and the rest some gravel. The single track is pure, natural and unadorned. This means that your clothing gets ripped to shreds by the thorns so long sleeves, old jerseys are a must. My windproof jacket was left hanging on a tree and when I eventually got it back, the was a huge rent in it.

The twisty turny bits have you guessing at times and you can see flashes of colour as riders weave in and out of the thorn trees. Some riders, me included, ended up doing circles as we missed a turn and had to maneuver through the bushes to get back on track.

I started the race feeling strong but the voice of reason kept reminding me that I need some kms to warm up and that speed was not my friend. I chased hard to keep up with Malcolm but ended up at the first water point ahead of him. Head down, he had raced past a turn and only got back on track a couple of kms later. Good. I had a chance to catch my breath. I have to mention that riding with just a camelbak felt like riding with nothing at all. That was a new sensation!

But more importantly, I could feast on the spread at the water point. It was simply unbelievable. There was juice and coke and water but, there was also: potatoes, eggs, doughnuts, chocolates, apples, naartjies, bananas. Hell, who needed to carry on. There was also a full bike mechanic service there too.

I dragged myself away and the two of us set off in pursuit of the teams that had passed us. reality set in when I developed lower back ache and started to feel quite tired. The pain in my back increased rapidly and stretching was too painful to try and release it. This time however, the pain was in the front of my legs which was unusual. Gritting my teeth we headed to the second water point where I could barely get off my bike and I hobbled over the a chair and sat down.

Once again, I was stunned at the efficiency and spread on offer. This also included two Myprodol. Stretching was impossible and even sitting still was sore. The ladies of Notwane all belong to a whiskey tasting club so I had two slugs of whisky while I was there too.

I shovelled Malcolm off as I wasn't sure how long it would take for the back to ease and worst case scenario, I would get a lift to the end. So there I sat and watched the riders come and go. These ladies had it all together. they cooked boerewors rolls for the riders which went down extremely well. There was: fruit cake, lemon creams, peanuts and raisins, fruit, doughnuts, chocolates, tea, coffee, marmite sandwiches, and more. Cold water and drinks were dished out in quantities and the bike mechanics lubed your bike as you arrived and did any servicing required for riders.

The best moment was when I was "accosted" by Louis, one of the riders in our start group at RASA. It was so out of context that neither of us were sure but it was a great reunion and we had a couple of drinks at the campsite to reminisce and swap stories.

While I was sitting there in the warm sun, Claire, who is a Body Talk practitioner, came and did some of her art on me. So the combination of head tapping by Claire, the 45' of relaxing and eating ala RASA, the anti-inflams and whiskey soon dulled the pain and I felt that I could perhaps ride to the finish 30kms away.

I set off gingerly but soon found a rhythm that was better suited to my lack of speed training and began to enjoy myself again. I soon met up with Matt (63yrs) and Nevile (53yrs) and the three of us enjoyed each others company to the end.

Alex had set up everything for her guests and all we had to do was shower and replenish. Not that I really needed it having spent waaay too much time doing it at the water points but my memories of RASA still stimulated my appetite. Angus had come in third overall despite an injured ankle which was a fantastic achievement.

The campsite was a higgeldy piggeldy affair with all shapes and sizes of tents. There was a full bike workshop, hot showers, and huge blazing braziers to keep the cold at bay. As the sun disappeared, the temperature plummeted and all the warm kit came out.

We were treated to a great dinner, mountain bike DVDs and a band who could barely keep their fingers warm, poor buggers.

In the morning, the condensation in the tent had frozen and 5lt bottles of water left out overnight were also frozen solid. I was warm all night thank goodness but apparently the temperature had dropped to -6 degrees. As I tried to fill my hydration pack, the water turned slushy. But the fires were roaring again and kept the cold away until the start.

We headed out at a much more sedate pace and my back was fine and so were my legs. This time I paced myself better and Malcolm would let rip with his stunning new bike and wait for me down the road. We worked our way through the field and soon arrived at the first water point. Once again, a feast!

I loved this stage. The bush was pretty and more interesting, there were bigger trees and the riding seemed faster. Also, its easier to be happier when pain free! We hooked up with a couple of riders which made the time between water points seem quicker but I was feeling tired again. I figured out (too late) that I should be drinking more carbs not just water. I was riding harder and had less reserves on tap so hello, get with the programme. At the next water point, I downed an Energade and put some USN in my camelbak for a constant drip of carbs. Malcolm had one of the best steak rolls he has ever had while I shovelled in doughnuts.

From then on, we rode well to the next water point and I was good to go all the way to the end. We caught some teams and dropped others and it was great to finish strong at the Gabarone Yacht Club.

Alex had once again done a sterling job in bringing our kit so we could shower (ugh - ice cold) and have a few beers with all of our new friends.

Its taken me 3 years to get to this event and it was worth it. Its a great way to start shaking off the winter blues and start getting in shape for the new season. The people of Gabarone are incredibly hospitable and made us feel so welcome.

See more about them here. Thank you Seamus, Kim, Alex, Angus and everyone else who put together this lekker race.

....and no, there can never be enough single track.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Perfect Science

Hindsight. Oh so perfect. But actually, not so far off the real thing.

I wondered before I started the race, what I would wish I had done differently. I was pretty certain that "training with the pack" would be one of them. But a little different to what I envisaged.

My weakness has always been my lower back and additional weight triggers back pain and huge discomfort when riding especially climbing. Well, for some bizarre reason, that issue never surfaced. But where I would train more with a pack would be to develop better leg strength, practice stretching out quads, hamstrings and especially achilles.

I wanted to run more in the build up but injuries prevented this. I reckon, though, hiking with a load heavier than race weight is ideal. Anything on the trail to strengthen ankles and legs for what they will do is a bonus.

With back pack and bike on backs, I was carrying around about 24kgs up the side of mountains. I didn't prepare for this well enough. But by the end of the first week, if you haven't injured yourself, you are getting rapidly conditioned to this effort!

In line with this, I would also recommend gym work if you are into that sort of thing. Upper body strength is an absolute pre-requisite and calf raises, squats and the like would add to the conditioning you need.

I must mention here though, that these are the opinions of a rider aiming to finish. The more genetically gifted may have other ideas.

Proper moist fruitcake. Shirley (Doug's mom) made the most divine cake and there was never enough. Doug was very generous to share. I would have had masses in every box if I had known how good it was. Sorry, Woolworths, you don't cut it.

I had a wide variety of foods in my boxes, usually too much but this worked for me. I would like to have had more variety in the bars as the Jungle Bars got too much. The mix of sweet and savoury was essential and yes, I loved my smoked oysters when I found them and Doug had the Jack Daniels.

If you are not racing to win or break records, use the first couple of days to ride yourself in. I think a lot of the injuries were due to going too fast and too hard initially. My injury forced the issue and we finished strongly. Way better result.

Squirt - yeah baby! We lubed and lubed and then lubed some more. Mostly, this was all the tlc the bikes received. As a sponsor, Squirt was available in large quantities and we made good use of this.

A waterproof camera - I would love to have taken photos of the sleet, snow and rain but usually my camera was in a waterproof bag for protection. There are some cool small digital waterproof cameras coming out now and if you don't have one, they'll be worth it. Btw, take lots and lots of pictures. Act like an American or Japanese tourist. You'll never have enough.

Another suggestion would be to put a bottle of sealant in your Prince Albert box. After the gazillions of thorns in the Karoo, you slowly but surely lose sealant. The size of some of my thorns were so big, we cut them off and left the rest in the tire. I would have needed extra large plugs to sort those holes out.

Have a plan but be prepared to turf it...regularly. I am glad we had a starting point even though it was probably too ambitious. But it set us up for all we had to do later on. Having done the homework gave us opportunities to re-group, re-assess and go forward with confidence.

Stretch often if you can. Initially, I was pretty slack but then every time I got off the bike to portage, rest bum, whatever, I would do at least a hamstring/lower back stretch So frequency took precedent over thoroughness, but it helped.

Never abrogate the navigation to others. Its great to consult but we found that as soon as we were in a bigger group, we were prone to making mistakes as we lost our own focus. Either we'd be chatting, or leaving the responsibility to someone else and then not know where we were on the map. Luckily, nothing ever went seriously wrong but we had to keep reminding ourselves to stay out of the group mentality and make our own decisions.

And most importantly, staying in the moment was my most potent ally. By keeping the task immediate and small, I was able to cope with most that was thrown at me. I never ever thought about giving up which was great and kept me mentally positive. The analogy of "eating an elephant bite by bite" stayed with me the whole way and that's what I did. Took bite size chunks of the race and got through them.

I am sure there are many of you who have post race thoughts and suggestions and I would love to hear them as would all the other readers - so, c'mon, share, please do.

Friday, July 17, 2009

About the bike

Well you have probably guessed by now that I ride a Santacruz...duh. Its a Blur dating back to about 2005/2006. A really sturdy full susser which I loved from the moment I first rode it.

Its getting a bit old but has serious "houding" (character). Its not light, weighing in at about 12,5kg unadorned but it would do the job properly.

I sent it for a full assessment to my local mechanic and ordered the parts needed from Chain Reaction Cycles. I replaced my rear shock with a Fox RP23 which was long overdue, the rest was anticipating what would wear and what was ending its shelf life.

Parts replaced:
  • Rear Shock
  • Middle Chain ring (hardly used....gonna have to replace small chain ring now)
  • Rear cassette - SRAM PG990 11 speed 11-34 (that 34...oh yes)
  • SRAM chain PC991 and a spare at Prince Albert
  • Bottom Bracket for hollow tech cranks
  • Shimano pedals
  • Cables
  • Grips which had to be cut to fit on handle bars along with other paraphernalia
  • SRAM X-9 Gripshifters (strong advice to ditch the trigger shifters and I am so glad I did.)
  • Kenda small bloc 8 tubeless tires 2.1
  • Lots of Sludge
The gripshifters were the right way to go despite my changing to them very last minute. They handled the snow and mud without a single shifting problem. I did find the grip a bit fat and awkward but hell, I had 3 weeks to get used to it.

There wasn't a lot of space on the handlebar with speedo, light mount and map board, so I didn't have enough resting space for my hands especially as I don't use bar ends.

I used a simple Delphi speedometer which worked brilliantly. It had a backlight function for evening which was great. I had a Sigma Power LED light which I only ever used on the lowest brightness which made the batteries last longer but was more than adequate lighting.

In my spares I had:
  • Cleats
  • Rear derailleur - I used the jockey wheel off this when mine wore to Great White Shark teeth
  • Hangar - I wasn't going to take this as I figured the bike would break long before this hangar but take it I did.
  • One Normal tube (ie no slime)
  • Spare tire attached to my seatpost
  • Plugs - thin and thick but had somehow left my applicator thingy behind
  • Cable ties of varying lengths (as well as some in every box)
  • Duct tape which got messed up by leaking rubber compound
  • Rubber compound for repairing gashes in tires (turfed early)
  • Powerlinks (or I thought I had, also left behind somehow)
  • patch kit for tubes
  • Tire boots for repairing tires
  • Spare ear and nose pieces for my glasses (clear and dark lenses)
  • A small pump which we used a lot
  • Spare batteries for the speedo
  • Bombs x 2 and two extra dotted in my boxes (begged a few when Doug had all his tire issues)
  • Multi-tool and chainbreaker - a really good one with all the bells and whistles except a shifting spanner component which we needed somewhere along the line
  • Small pliers
  • Variety of O rings
  • A meter of thin shock cord
  • Velcro ties
  • Lighter
  • Spare shoelaces
  • Two pairs of brakepads (I replaced both sets of brakepads twice - luckily had enough in my boxes as well)
I kept the heavy spares on my bike in one of those waterbottle shape containers which was attached on with a velcro tie. Eventually, you get used to the rattling.

I had no mechanical issues at all. Other than replacing the chain and brake pads, I had one gash which was plugged and never troubled me again.

Much as I love my bike though, it seemed to struggle more in the mud than Doug's Specialised. The U thing joining the rear chain stays is so close the the tire, that the mud jammed in there making it impossible to turn the wheel. Many times I was pushing the bike against massive resistance of a fixed rear wheel and when the front one jammed too, it was time to stop, find a stick and try to clear it out.

I think the tires are also not ideal for that kind of mud but I trusted them so was prepared to put up with the mud for all the other benefits on dry days.

The extra weight of the mud and mess made me reluctant to try and carry so stop, start was the order of the day. At times you couldn't see the chain for mud - its amazing that the bike went at all and survived this abuse. Even the snow clogged the workings but this would melt making it a much better alternative.

All in all, I was lucky to have my bike survive the test. It was washed four times en route - at Masakala (SS3) while I was waiting for Doug to sort out his brakes, at Romansfontein (SS9), at Bucklands (SS15) and at Prince Albert (SS19). Oh ja and a quick rinse at De Doorns.

It is still to be washed in Johannesburg. Ok, ok, I'll get to it.

Monday, July 13, 2009

So many thoughts

I found this posting in my phone which never got delivered. So here is a little more from the trail. I think I wrote this at Slaapkrantz which was our next SS after Rhodes.

Today was the first day with mostly riding. This means there is a lot of time to think.

We started in spitting rain and spent a lot of the first four hours putting on wet weather gear and taking it off. It works well.

I spent quite a bit of time riding on my own enjoying the space and beautiful eastern cape scenery.

My knee started again but in a new spot! This is so frustrating and for a couple of hours, my day was ruined. But this junkie resorted to painkillers which is not where I want to be.

Lunch was at Chesneywold and a full hot meal was served - such hospitality from the Botha family. Four hours later we arrived at Slaapkrantz just before the rain set in again.

But I thought I would list the things they don't tell you about: (I had a lot of time to mull this)

  • The hard physical labour- I must have trebled my upper body strength never mind my leg strength
  • Hiking the equivalent of a Drakensburg Pass with about 25 kgs on your back in a howling gale
  • The puffy eyes every morning which take hours to clear. I have an asian look about me most days
  • The bum that on some days cannot sit on the saddle
  • The fine balance of packing your bag - an extra bar can change the weight dynamics
  • The restless nights when you are dog tired and toss and turn
  • The perpetual motion of ride, eat, sleep and too tired for anything else
  • The shampoo flavoured everything in my box...and I mean everything gets impregnated with the smell
  • The niggles and bruises and general battering of ones body
  • The snotty nose and sinus and streaming eyes every day
  • That of the total 2300km, I will probably walk a couple of hundred either pushing or carrying my bike

This isn't a negative commentary, it is just the way it is.

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Peter Perfect would approve

Pick the Perfect Partner.

Ok, so it is an individual race and had I entered on my own (no way I would have had the courage), perhaps the dynamics of who we rode with would have been different.

But I struck lucky with the perfect race companion. We had gone to great lengths to reassure each other that if bad luck struck one of us, the other would have to ride on. There were times when I told Doug that he had to start considering these options seriously as I doubted I would be able to finish.

Fortunately, he hung on and things got better and we rode to the end together.

What made it work in my opinion, was that neither of us engaged with the other on an emotional level. I had my stuff and my way of dealing with my issues and so it was with him. We were there for each other but in presence only. Neither of us had the expectation of the other assisting, although we did when we could.

Doug was calm and even. I only saw him toss his bike once and even that was low key. He did what he had to do and reminded me of things I forgot. His technical skills were invaluable as he changed my brake pads for me and I was constantly reminded of the basics of lubing, checking tire pressure etc because he did it.

He was also the odo man. He kept track of the mileage on the race narrative. The only time I had to do it, I failed miserably as I couldn't remember the starting numbers, and how to add the kms on.

We were completely in tune about stopping to eat, the frequency of eating and by the end, we were also completely in tune with needing to get off the bikes to walk. I would be aiming for one more corner, get off and hear the sound of him uncleating simultaneously. You have no idea how much this reduces pressure when you know the other person has the same tolerance levels as you.

There were times when Doug had to wait for me, and was shivering by the time I got there. Then there where times where I pushed it and helped him trash his knees!

I was also the fashion police instructing him on the correct position of his helmet visor - like he cared.

We didn't chat much. We just rode. We discussed narrative and route and then we rode some more. There were times when we didn't ride together at all and both of us enjoyed the space. We also both enjoyed having our own rooms at night as it gave us space and privacy after a 13 hour day together.

Our private innermost thoughts and anxieties were shared with our loved ones. We saved personal interaction for getting each day done.

We were both glad that it was just the two of us finishing together at Diemersfontein - finishing what we had started, not 21 days before but more than 5 months before.

Yeah Doug - you were the best!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Stettynskloof - a means to an end

Its been a week and my opinion on this last day of the race hasn't changed. The final day of the race is characterised by the legend of Stettynskloof which is a long hard portage up a valley. It is the most direct route to the finish but by all accounts was a final test of will and strength.

Just before we left for Pmb, the race director and Andrew Barnes recced the route and gave us an updated route description. Apparently it was somewhat easier as there was a more defined path created by the Waterwise workers.

I had looked at the valley on Google Earth and was curious to see it in reality. Mike W (Nutty Prof) went through the day before and gave us some final instructions and his last words were "Its not so bad."

To be blunt, Stettyns did nothing for me. It was simply something to be endured to get to the finish. If anything, it was a huge anticlimax to three weeks of riding.

Make no mistake, it was hard, very hard and physically, I took a hammering. There were times when I was desperate. Lifting, carrying and maneuvering my bike through the thick vegetation, massive boulders and hidden rocks in the undergrowth was extremely hard and I literally bled. There were tears of frustration at not being strong enough and there were many times, I wished for man's strength.

But I got no joy out this. Getting out was a relief in that it was over and done with. Perhaps it was beautiful. Perhaps with hiking shoes and a back pack, I might have revelled in the natural environment but not this day.

We left the final SS (Trouthaven) at 5.25 and rode the undulating gravel road towards the dam wall. It was spectacular to see the moon setting. Little did we know we would also see the moon rise later that day.

At about 6.45 we reached the path that would lead us into the valley. It was still dark. I had not bothered to put my headlamp on as I thought we would get to the path in the light. After fruitlessly scratching around, I realised I had lost it. Negotiating this semi hiking trail was going to be tricky with only a bike light!

But at least the path was pretty well defined here and although the heaving of the bike up some steep sections drained me early on, the going was reasonable. I bet the waterwise people had never had so many good vibes and grateful thanks sent their way.

We knew we had to cross over the river twice early on and I stopped to take shoes and socks off. Wet feet on a long portage weren't an option but it was time consuming. I also had a Transact (anti-inflam) plaster on my achilles which I had dosed with drugs the night before and in the morning to make sure it survived the day.

Looking up the valley, I could see where we would eventually exit and it seemed so very far away.

Doug was a champion at spotting the path as I was pretty useless trying to lug my bike over boulders, around bushes and trees. After a couple of hours we stopped for sandwiches and snacks and our spirits were still OK.

We had been warned not to lose our sense of humour in the valley but, to be honest, I never brought it with me in the first place. I didn't get angry or lose my temper as I knew patience would reward us eventually. Frankly, there wasn't much to laugh about, mostly it was using every available scrap of energy to keep body and bike moving forward.

There was a lot of muttering to myself and eventually there were tears of exhaustion. But I kept plodding. Eventually, we reached the rock scree. Mike had warned us to keep left and the latest updated route narrative confirmed this. Doug was moving faster than I and his long legs no doubt helped over the boulders.

I struggled here as well. Trying to hold and lift my bike (all 14.5kg) with one hand while trying to balance on the rocks and use my other hand to support me drained a lot of energy. I could see the cairn but despaired of getting there. It got worse when I reached the spot, couldn't see where Doug had gone and was faced with stepping into a river and boulder hopping upstream still dragging my bike with me.

I think I did more damage to my bike on this day than the entire three weeks. Sometimes it was precariously balancing on the chainrings as I simply couldn't lift it. The gear cable end eventually broke off and there were many more scratches than when I started.

To my relief, Doug's head popped up and he helped me lift my bike out the river. Where he found the extra energy, I don't know because it wasn't easy for him either.

We worked our way through the path cut through the thick brush before it disappeared totally. Now began an stumblefest of note. I lost count of how many times I fell or tripped. Each time, my bike would hook onto something on my pack and become unbalanced. When he could, Doug would adjust it for me but when we became separated, I expended huge amount of energy in trying to put my bike on my back after falling or losing balance for the umpteenth time.

We tried to stay high and at one point I thought we had reached a flat section before dropping down to the river for the final time.

I dropped down and found a faint path. Doug was too far away and upwind to hear me so I plodded on thankful to not be tripping on rocks and scrub. My angels were working overtime at this point scouting for a route!

Then I reached yet another gully. My heart sank at the effort it would take to go down and up but on the other side, I saw what looked like a path. Taking a chance, I went down and yes, it was. I even saw a shoe print and tire track. I had to throw my bike over the lip to get out but it was a path and immediate easier going.

A couple of hundred meters further on, the path disappeared into the thick protea scrub providing a proverbial "highway" through to the river. My gratitude knew no bounds as without this path, a tough job would have become 100% harder.

I crossed the river and dragged my bike to a large rock where I could try to spot Doug. Nothing.

I filled my water bladder, ate some tuna, snacked on whatever I had left. Still Nothing. What to do?

Shouting, blowing on whistles produced nothing and I wasn't sure if he was in front or behind. To my eternal relief I spotted the bright green jacket high on the hill and my mad waving caught his attention. I yelled to him about the path and he started heading down skirting the shrubbery of "death". Then he disappeared. I waited scanning the shrubbery for movement. Nothing.

I went back across the river shouting his name eventually to hear his voice somewhere in the river. Missing the path, he had taken the only other option and bundu bashed his way straight up the river.

He had spent time looking for me earlier on, worried that I had fallen and injured myself. We were both so relieved to have found each other intact and more importantly, we had a path out of the damned valley.

It was an extremely steep portage but the easiest section by far compared to what we had portaged already.

We summited at 16:00 and flopped down utterly grateful that we had done what we had to do. Knowing that we would finish no matter what, kept us ticking over but without urgency which might have made things more difficult. We picked our way through without resorting to forcing a route.

Hiking down to the jeep track and getting back on our bikes was quite strange. It took a couple of kms to feel easy on the bike again and my achilles was hurting but holding out well. A surprise downhill greeted us which was a bit of a balm to battered bodies but this was soon replaced by steep climbs out the valley which we were happy to walk. A smooth concrete surface, no bushes, no rocks...a pleasure.

Finally we hit the tar to our complete bemusement. Trucks, cars, hooting, traffic lanes, toll roads aaaarrrrgh. A complete assault on the senses.

It was an 11km climb to the top of Du Toits Kloof which is where we saw the moon rise. A tunnel which amplified the sound of cars was pretty scary as we didn't have our lights out yet.

The camera crew came past having missed us exiting the kloof and fed me another sandwich (thanks Andrew and Richard) and we proceeded to summit the climb with our own paparazzi recording the moment.

We were even happy to accede to their request to not beat them to the finish so they could film us passing the dam at Diemersfontein. The mantra - we'll get there when we get there" applied thoroughly to this day and we might as well enjoy the moment.

David Waddilove met us in the forest and gave us detailed instructions to the finish and so we finally rolled into Diemersfontein at 19:30.

To meet us were my sister, Jean, Aileen (Doug's wife) and Kayla (their daughter), David Waddilove and the camera crew. It was a completely low key finish and a fitting end to a three week saga.

A glass of good Diemersfontein pinotage later, I received my blanket.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Kit - pretty damn good

While I still have my lists and while the weather and riding conditions are fresh in my mind, I thought I would list my kit. My pack weighed just under 9kgs and I was very happy with what I packed.

To give you an idea, here is my kit list:

NorthFace 30lt pack - I loved this pack. All my kit fitted into two waterproof bags inside. The top zip pouch took the cell phone, compass, camera when it was raining as well as the odd bar or food snack. It has zip pouches on the waist band which was easy access for snacks. The mesh outer pocket was ideal to shove clothing in when I took off layers as well as keep sandwiches ready for eating. There were two other mesh pockets which held a water bottle in one and items such as bike lube, bum lube, suntan lotion and a pump. My lightweight shoes were attached to the bungy cord on the outside of the mesh as it didn't matter if they got wet (being plastic ala crocs). The waterproof cover also worked very well.

Waterproof Bags - I had an 8lt bag in which all my evening kit was kept. I also kept my spare derailleur here wrapped in the clothing for protection. The other 13lt bag had my daily riding kit, layers and waterproof outerwear. I had a 2lt bag for my medical kit, a 1lt bag for toiletries, another 2lt bag for bike spares and a 1lt for phone and camera.

Daily wear - I had a Mountain Wear waterproof jacket which was 100g lighter than Capestorm's equaivalent. I used the Cape Storm waterproof pants but these need extra velcro for the bottom else they can catch on the chainrings. I had two pairs of Capestorm Hot Rod tights. One was solely for nightwear, the other for leg warmth rather than leg warmers which don't keep the bum warm. I used a pair of knee warmers a lot. I had 3 pairs of cycle shorts which was useful when washing didn't dry. I had two pairs of Capestorm and 1 pair of Assos. It doesn't matter how much you spend on your shorts, they don't stop the bum hurting.

I had two soft crop tops and I opted for long sleeve base layers to cycle in. Normal cycling jerseys aren't necessary as you can't get to the back pockets because of your pack. The base layers were different thicknesses and although I got hot once or twice, long sleeves were absolutely fine.
Two buffs - one normal buff and one combo fleece/cotton. The combo was also in lieu of a beanie as I find head covering generally to be too hot. If my neck is warm, I am usually toasty. On the coldest days I would have the fleece section around my neck and the cotton section on my head.

I had two fleece tops. One for a layer while riding, the other for nights.
Helium jacket - this was the business and a weight saver. Instead of the usual fluorescent jackets, I took the 90g windbreaker which was perfect in chillier weather.
Windjammer - I rode with this most days. Just enough to keep the wind off the chest without overheating. The high neck also helped regulate warmth.

I had two pairs of winter hiking type socks (Falke) and one of the best ideas for me was the two pairs of ultra thin trainer liner socks. I wore two pairs of socks all the time which helped to prevent blisters on the portages and also meant not washing the outer socks all that often. The thin socks dried quickly which is vital. I also used them as liners for the Sealskinz socks.
Sealskinz socks kept my feet warm and I bought the calf length version. I didn't really test them that much in water but I was pretty happy with their contribution.

Gloves were Cannondale winter gloves and I bought Sealskinz liners. This combination worked really well for me except there was no gel or padding. That bruised the hands a fair amount. Even when my gloves were wet and there was driving wind and rain, this combo kept my hands warm. I used the outer gloves all the time even when it was hot with no problems. They will have to be retired now as they have holes in them. I did have an extra pair of Black Diamond gloves and they only time I needed them was our impromtu night out in the bitter weather when my other gloves were wet.
What I didn't use were my arm warmers or my toe caps. I also had a psychologically extra base layer just in case. It was comforting to know there was always one more extra item. However, even in our freezing night out, I didn't use it.

Night wear - I used one pair of Hot Rod tights, a pair of extra warm hiking socks and a thick base layer top. This with a fleece was perfect. I also had two pairs of sports underwear. I had these super lightweight pair of plastic shoes which hung on the outside of my pack for wandering around.

Toiletries - These were basic. Antiperspirant, toothbrush, small tube of toothpaste (refill in a box somewhere) and face cream. I had sachets of face cream in boxes and had packed shampoo and conditioner in every box too. No comb meant dreadlocks until Johann bought me a comb in Prince Albert. I also had lip ice which was needed throughout.

The secret weapon - tucked into the bottom of one of the bags was a small slab of Lindt chocolate. My goal, I said to Doug, is to get this slab to the finish intact. If I break it open, you know there is trouble. It arrived. A bit battered but unopened.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Proud Moment

We were presented with our Finisher Blankets which was the fitting end to a great adventure.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Two days on

Well its been two "normal" days. I have slept a lot, drunk Diemersfontein wine and yes, been to a coffee shop in Wellington.
I have even driven a car and appreciated if fully.
Yesterday evening a tired but elated Derek (Gadget) and Sean (The Gardener) arrived to the joy of their families.
I was really glad to be here to meet them.
Today its back to Jhb and more processing of this huge experience.
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Sunday, July 5, 2009


We're here. Its been a long three weeks and today was one of the longest.

It took in the Stettyns Kloof portage which took us about 9 hours. Hugely tough and physical but more on that another day.

For now I just want to sleep and not have to pack my backpack. I want to wake up when I wake up and I want to just look at my sturdy bike but not ride it.

Thank you every one who has shown constant support over this long period.

Doug was amazing as a ride buddy and he has been delivered safely to his wife Aileen.

Jean my sister was here to welcome me home as was David Waddilove, race director.

I am the proud wearer of a blanket - the prize we all get for finishing and its draped over my bed.

I will update all of you on my thoughts as I process this adventure.

But now, to sleep the sleep of the satiated.

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Saturday, July 4, 2009

One more sleep

And we tackle the mother of all portages to get to the finish. Sunday will be a very happy day.

It's sort of like summiting Everest.

All those weeks ago in Pmb was like being at base camp.

And now we are at the final camp before the big one.

Except we know we will make it irrespective of the weather.

Today was 155km to get to this point but we enjoyed the day as it was the last full riding day. In fact we were much more chatty than usual.

We had a light breakfast at Montagu and 3 hours later we were sitting in McGregor having a cooked breakfast. Another 3 hours later we were being entertained at Oestervanger B&B with yet another meal.

At 16.30 we stopped for sandwiches and again at 19.30. We chatted to the Correctional Service guards as we went through Brandvlei prison and squashed some flowers (much to the gardener's consternation) as we huddled against a wall summoning energy for the final few kms to this, the last SS.

I dreaded the distance and length of today but my current mantra is: "I'll get there when I get there."

And tomorrow, dear family and friends...I'll see you when I see you!

Looking forward to it.

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Friday, July 3, 2009

Flat is hard

I always sound as if I am complaining non stop. There are sublime moments throughout each day but they are so long, what you did 10k ago seems eons back.
When you finish yet another day you are only too grateful to be off your saddle and somewhere light and warm.
I find as we ride into the dusk and then darkness, that I yearn to be inside a home. As we pass shacks or houses that have light and people, I feel like a homeless person must feel - on the outside looking in.
I also envy cars as they whizz past so effortlessly. I will never take my motorised transport for granted again...nor showers, nor clean clothes or soft seats.
Tonight we are very comfortable in the Montagu Country Hotel. We each have our own rooms which is great. We need some privacy after a 13 hour day in each others company.
The weather today was perfect. We headed off just after 6 and made our way into most incredibly remote part of the world. Impossible to do justice too. On the way we had coffee with Mev Fourie who has lived on her farm for over 50 years.
This lady can chat and we dragged ourselves away. I got a little irritable over the next 7 kms which took an hour cos of the soft sand. But then the track opened up and we could ride freely again.
The area is looking so green and lush with the recent rains.
We arrived at Anysberg Reserve at 13.30 and wolfed down a huge portion of chicken stew. Thanks Meisie. Half an hour later we were on our way but not before hearing that there was an accommodation problem for the group following us. The race office must have been scrambling!
The next 37km went fairly quickly with a good tailwind for us. Talk about great weather conditions! We hit Ouberg Pass just as the light was fading. I promised Doug a 30km downhill and so it was. Relief for the bum and legs.
We arrived in Montagu at 7pm and felt like larnies in the dining room despite our odd outfits. The staff have been awesome and now it is time for well earned sleep.
Tomorrow we hope to make Trouthaven. The final SS.
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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Deja vue

One leg massage later and an all too short sleep, we left the friendly folk of PA behind.

Depending on how our bodies felt, we were hoping to do a double stage through Die Hel to Rouxpos.

We left later than hoped (6.20) and I struggled for the first 10k.

But the beauty of the sunrise over the Swartberg Pass soon cleared the malaise and I started to feel good.

Way back in January, I had done the exact same route under a full moon and now I was experiencing it all over again in the daylight.

It was all too familiar yet worlds apart.

We made great time into the Gamkaskloof getting to the lunch stop in 6 hours.

What a boost though when on one of the large hills into the valley, a bakkie pulled up next to us and out popped the legend and race winner, Tim James and his family. Michelle served us milo while Tim gave us encouragement. How awesome that they chased us into Die Hel to cheer us on. Thanks guys!

We reached the Ladder at 2.30 and proceeded to portage straight up the side of the mountain with bikes on backs. Got to be seen to be believed.

All the time I was using my Janaury experience to anticipate what was to come.

We made it off the jeep tracks to the main road by 5.30 and promptly sat down to eat properly before the final 50k to Rouxpos.

So here we are, fed, showered and in bed.

The hospitality of Gerhard and Ronel is as great as 6 months ago. But it's been great to be back on familiar territory and to be able to plan a little for the day to come.

Next, a double stage to Montagu via Anysberg Nature Rerserve (and also the next cell signal).

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

No chain day

How does one go from the ridiculous and overwrought to the sublime?

This is the nature of this race.

Arriving at The Willows yesterday in a complete state made me fearful for today - the same distance of about 170km.

Six hours of solid sleep and it was back on the bike.

The route was flat and fast and many times I could use the much under utilised big chainring.

We took it easy, mindful of the distance but still averaged over 18km per hour for the first 100km. This may not sound a lot but when you have been averaging less than 10km/hour, it's huge.

The massive support from so many people also gave me wings today.

We had a superb lunch at a farm called Rondavel (my first ever vetkoek) before heading off on the next leg to Prince Albert.

It was long and straight and my butt took mega strain. Not even two pairs of cycling shorts helped. When we thought we still had about 40km to go we came across the Village Headman - Johann Rissik. Famous for popping up all over to help riders, he had set up a coffee/tea spot under the trees. We liberally helped ourselves and enjoyed the soft chairs.

The best news was that it was less far than we thought to the end.

Buoyed up by the good news, Doug and I rode the last 30km like it was a sprint finish. It was with a sense of complete satisfaction that we arrived at the amazing Dennehof B&B.

My earth angel Johann had organised me the best suite where I luxuriated in a hot bath and got most of the tangles out my hair.

My bike was whisked away to be looked after and I had a leg massage.

Prince Albert and its people must be the centre of the universe!

What a beaut day - weather, ride, people here and all over.

Yesterday seems like a bad dream and I can start the last haul refreshed.

Thank you everyone!

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