Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Freedom's just another word...

Yes it is. Another word for hitting the mountain biking trails in the middle of nowhere.  The crew from last year's Freedom Challenge (or Race Across South Africa) are heading out to re-explore some of the routes we traversed last year.

The upside? Better weather, more sociable and a back up vehicle. The downside - much less miles in the legs and butt.

I'm really looking forward to seeing this terrain as we missed out some of the most beautiful and spectacular riding due to bad weather and horrible choices.

And, whats more, we'll get to see some of the kind hosts who look after the riders on their epic ride.

Romansfontein (just outside Molteno) was hospitable beyond words. Stephanie and her daughters treated us like royalty. All our clothes were washed and dried while we sat around in borrowed kit eating and eating. She dug out cough mixture for me which was a life saver over the next week allowing me to sleep better. In fact, Romansfontein was the first time since I started the race, that I had a full nights sleep.

Molteno is also the home of Dr Rudi de Wet. He was the race doctor and was studying endurance cycling. What a perfect group to study. He saw it all. I had big knee issues in the first week and he coaxed me through.

From Molteno, we head to Hofmeyer. Last year we left in blizzard conditions and and ploughed our way through mud and high winds and sleet. Arriving in Hofmeyer, the group was re-united in the pie shop. I had two hot chocolates and two pies.

I remember one member of our group, Mark, heading to the local co-op to buy himself the thick plastic waterproofs worn by the farmworkers and gloves of similar rgidity. He was that desperate.

It will be a coffee visit with Margaret of Elandsberg stopover fame. She was expecting four of us at 16:30 last year. Well, seven arrived at 20.30. Unfazed, she brought out piles of food and sorted us all with beds. I miss being able to eat all I can see.

We left for the farm, Stuttgart after that and I was assailed with much nostalgia as we crossed over the Fish River. In my previous non-riding life, I had done 10 canoe races down this river earning a coveted Coelecanth award.

But this year, we may bypass the river and head straight towards Cradock - the scene of many wild parties in my canoeing days.  Somehow, mountainbiking has never reached those levels of debauchery. Maybe some bottles of wine might help.

You can read the details of this awesome race on  It was the greatest 3 weeks ever and I am so excited about going back.

Friday, March 26, 2010

More mountain splendour

I can't wait to go back and check out more routes.
Watch this space over the next couple of months.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Imagine riding your bike with this backdrop!

Posted via email from Go Cycling

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The mountain biking adventures never end

Its been a good couple of weeks. I'm feeling a litle fitter but the wheels came off a bit this last weekend with very little exercise. Thats not strictly true. A couple of us rode in the Cradle of Mankind through some private farms (with permission). Its a far cry to see these areas again in the late summer. Last I rode here was autumn last year and the grass is currently thick and lush and overgrown. However, I did have to have a little nap later that afternoon.

But there are always compensations.

I'm typing this post sitting in the back of a Vito minibus on my way to the Drakensbeg.

Yup, its Tuesday and a work week. You can be jealous - I don't mind.

The shade of green may change when I say I am going to recce some new mountain bike spots! Oh yeah. A yet untapped area for all us knobbly tire enthusiasts. We're a group of 7 checking out various options. I don't have my bike this time. Pity. But the good news is that I will have to come back a few times, make that a lot more times.

Just to put the knife in a little deeper, after the 'berg, we head off to the KZN Midlands to check out another spot. What a job.

I'm looking forward to posting some pictures after our trip.

Posted via email from Go Cycling

Monday, March 15, 2010

Perfect slang

Pirelliology n. the noble art of being able to identify tires from the tracks they leave on the ground (Mountainbikers Dictionary of Slang)

So there we were, riding across South Africa in the middle of winter on the Freedom Trail with a race route and set of instructions in hand. As a non stop race, riders were scattered all over the 2300km trail, some racing to the finish and others focused on just finishing.

Now, most people would see a tire track and say; "Oh look, lets follow those tire tracks and hope they are going in the right direction."

But not Gadget.

"Look, there is a Maxxis Igniter tread pattern. Thats what Marnitz rides. That means we're on track."  "There it is again", "and again", "and again."

Several days later...

"And here we have a Kenda Small Block 8 which is Fiona's tire - let me take a photo of it to show her."

Gadget - the consumate Pirelliologist.

Monday, March 8, 2010

BOOM - the sound of my theory imploding

Yes, I had it all worked out. Muscle memory, running training and a bit of cycling and I would be fine to ride the training camp for this year's Panorama Tour.


I died and then I died the next day and the next. I even cut my distances short.

I have never been so thoroughly beaten up by these routes and I deserved it. I had thought that my once or twice a week saunter/spining class would be enough to see me through. The running had clearly helped my lungs because I was never really stressed in my breathing but my legs wouldn't turn the cranks hard enough and as for my butt...less said the better.

It was gorgeous riding weather for White River - cool and overcast. The bush was lush, the potholes manageable and the first day of 80k didnt seem too bad. But zero to 80k is still a big ask and Badger (Steve Honey of Freedom Challenge fame and even less fitness) and I managed to stay in touch with the group, mostly. This was Stage 2 of the actual race.

Stage 1 is always brutal and even when fit, I hit it with some healthy trepidation. It started OK but the hills are long and short downhills limit the recovery. Not even the sighting of a hippo in the dams near the McQueens avo farm would keep the energy levels high. There is one mother of a hill on the Sabie-Hazyview road and and I am not ashamed to say I got a lift in the backup vehicle for this! I was at the back and was steadily increasing the gap. I also found that if I knew there were riders behind me, I would push harder to keep them there whereas there was no incentive with the bakkie droning behind me and reminding me of my lowly position. Badger had wisely stayed at home.

A second long lift deposited me at the second water point where after a long chat, I headed back for the last twenty or so kays. Seeing it was mostly downhill, I found a good rhythm and finished feeling strongish (except for the tender rear).  There were several tales of woe after that day and everyone was feeling somewhat drained. So the next day, there was general consensus that we would repeat the 80k stage instead of the much tougher Stage 3 (117k).

I should have stretched. Better still, I should have stayed in bed and enjoyed the comforts of our B&B. But in the end, Badger and I took a slightly shorter route home but with worse hills dammit. We still arrived before the others instead of hours after and were well into our breakfasts by the time they arrived.

What a wake up call. If I want to do our Stormberg jaunt on the Easter weekend, I had better get more than my a*se into gear, I had better get those legs turning the pedals.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Winter Spectacle

I love the Winter Olympics and Vancouver did Canada proud.

These Games are so different in style, glamour and scenery. In fact, I prefer them to the Summer Olympics. I watched enthralled as skiers threw themselves down the mountains in the Super G, knees straining to hold a line or the speed skaters rounding a curve with a millimeter of steel keeping them anchored to the ice.

I've even watched the curling and wondered at the precision of their play and struggled to come to terms with the speed of the bob sledders (or is it sliders)? and luge.

Its hard to explain the appeal but most of it comes down to seeing fit, confident people at the pinnacle of their careers. There is something very attractive about these supreme athletes that are modern day gladiators. They radiate a supreme energy that is palpable. I remember my forays into international canoeing and the privilege of being amongst the world's best. Its a sensation not easily explained but I felt waves of nostalgia as I watched these Games in Vancouver. I really wished myself back to those days of intense focus and larger than life goals.

My favourite disciplines to watch were the cross country skiing which included biathlons (shooting/skiing), marathons, team events. Lots to watch and marvel at. And the speed skating for its risk, power and precision. Both are colourful and extremely physically demanding. Watching some of the coverage in slow motion makes my jaw drop at the power and effort.  All against a pristine backdrop of snowy mountains.

Funnily enough, the one I was least interested in was Figure Skating. Don't know why. I even watched a bit of ice hockey to try and understand its fanatic popularity in Canada - glad they won the Gold medal else the nation would be in mourning right now.

16 days of glory for some and 16 days of devastated dreams for others.