Thursday, October 25, 2012

Oh - the irony!

After the massive off road adventure that was scouting by motorbike in Madagascar, it was time to get back on the gentle, lightweight mountain bike.
I wheeled it out to pleased to be back on a steed that required instinctive handling and had no throttle. After a mission to replace the back tire valve, the Tall Boy was ready to hit the trails. Bliss, the helmet felt like a feather.
Four of us set out for a coffee ride up the spruit and I was pleasantly surprised to have not lost too much fitness in two weeks away. Several Vida coffees later, we dragged ourselves away for the downhill return journey and the legs were still feeling good despite the severe bruising that colured my shins yellow and mauve.
The last section of the ride is along Witkoppen road and as we slowed for a robot, my handlebars hooked a rubbish bin and I was unceremoniously dumped onto my hands. Ow, ow ow! Instant bruising appeared on my wrists and when my mates had stopped laughing, we picked up the bike, inspected my wrists and decided we'd better head for home before the adrenalin wore off.
Acid doesn't even begin describe my attitude. I'd survived motorbiking in worse conditions and received plenty of bruises and I was tired of hurting. What's more, I couldn't put my left wrist on the handlebars. So it was a one handed ride back to Sean's car where Derek and Doug fussed over my bike and me. I'll admit there were a few tears by now.
Both wrists hurt abominably but the left was worse. Icing and a few hours rest didn't ease it so it was off to Olivedale Clinic. Then it wasn't just my wrist hurting but my wallet. The end result was a heavily splinted wrist which fortunately wasn't broken but was damn sore.
Maybe there's a message there somewhere, but I'm damned if I know what.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Rookie Rider - Graduation

The last day of off road riding looms

  • By now the route is familiar and confidence is on the upswing
  • Opt for some single track only to find it heads off on the wrong line
  • Smile and wave at bemused locals
  • Retrace steps - @onegiantride is now in front but doesn't know i,t having wiped out on wet grass
  • Wait at boulder in river crossing.
  • Try phoning - yes there's signal.
  • @onegiantride is on top of mountain waiting.
  • Ride boulder in river crossing and do a mental fist pump
  • Ride single track to top of mountain and find it suddenly easier than two days before.

  • Start to feel good after hectic day before.
  • Ride single track to bog patch - opt to head out on foot.
  • @onegiantride continues on bike
  • Decide after 400m that walking is montrously inefficient
  • Walk back, study bog and pick a line.
  • Have hand gesture discussion with old man herding one zebu and realise a better path lies on top of ridge.
  • Cross safely over bog and resume path
  • Reach gully and opt to ride straight up mountain through veld onto top path.
  • Feeling pleased with self - another mental fist pump
  • Ride single track along ridge until path goes up over boulders - go around until reach saddle and decide that's far enough.
  • Decide to retrace path to to split and wait for @onegiantride
  • Bike falls down the slope because foot can't reach the ground.
  • Land on already bruised shins.
  • Make like The Hulk to lift bike.

  • Retrace path and opt to go around boulder choke point on path
  • Return to path and bounce right over and land on bruised shins again
  • Bike is now lying face down.
  • Drag front wheel straight.
  • Remember to hold front brake and attempt to lift
  • Try again
  • Try again
  • Eventually do monumental leg press and get bike upright.
  • Return to saddle, park and rest under some trees
  • Patch shins
  • Wait for @onegiantride

  • Reunited - ride single track back to jeep track
  • Head for home
  • Ride boulder in river crossing  the other way but too tired to fist pump
  • Ride home warily
  • Lie down
  • Off road is over and face two more days of tar riding back to Tana.

Moral: If you bite off more than you can chew - swallow the damn thing whole.

Rookie Rider 303 - Nooit

Day Four on the bike - it's got to get easier.

  • Plot a 45km route via Google Earth, load on GPS and go
  • Leave early to get back early.
  • Follow route until impassable rock garden
  • Turnaround and follow arbitrary forestry trail route which winds back to main route
  • Get whipped by branches and pass ox wagon on tight corner
  • Ride a new rock garden and feel pleased
  • Lose mouthpiece switch and get hosed with water every time you lean over

  • Keep riding and begin to enjoy the route
  • use the Malagasy word for road to avoid pedestrian detours
  • Use the Malagasy word for bridge to ensure easy river crossings
  • Use bridge to find that route immediately crosses rice paddy on a narrow walkway with a steep embankment on the other side
  • Push bike with a little Malagasy help up embankment and bash knee on foot pedal

  • Spend ten minutes discussing route options with map and Malagasy's in their Sunday finest - interesting language combinations
  • Find out that the route we have chosen is "bonne"
  • Set off with renewed vigour after the lung busting push
  • Ride some increasingly technical sections
  • Reach stream with boulders and watch @onegiantride manoeuver across
  • Build own bridge with logs and let @onegiantride rinse and repeat then follow up with the lattice work of roots 200m further on
  • Rest for lunch

So far so good. 
BOOM - Madagascar hits you with the big guns

  • Track becomes narrow steep path of 30m. Study path hoping it will dissolve into something flatter
  • Always have money handy. Three Malagasy's arrive and lend muscle - five people to manhandle bikes up path and a dishing out of a large tip
  • Sweat profusely and pant heavily with effort then settle heart rate to carry onand wonder what's next.
  • Begin steep downhill
  • Reach massive boulder alley but generously let @onegiantride takes both bikes through the sneak
  • Start all over on a downhill wind through felled trees until log blocks path. One mini Malagasy shifts massive log to allow passage.
  • Settle into the downhill again.
  • Reach village to find a deep water canal cut across path with mud piled up as a bank.
  • Watch with interest as @onegiantride plants front wheel in canal. Help lift wheel out.
  • Fill canal with boulders and repeat
  • Remove boulders

Continue following route.
  • Reach split in path and the one less travelled is the pink line. Follow pink line
  • Follow sublime mountain bike single track. Motorbike - not so sublime.
  • Pass through burning grass on single track and don't look left or right at the drop offs
  • Power up rutted single track and hope for the best - bounce a lot.
  • Stop at top to catch breath and breathe deeply

  • Follow pink line down steep hill on single track.
  • Avoid putting front wheel into ruts and crawl down in 1st gear.
  • Reach wooden bridge and allow @onegiantride to have the honours again.
  • Park bike on rice paddy wall and look at opposite hill in consternation.

  • Help @onegiantride angle bike properly by heaving on ear wheel.
  • Watch as he surges supposedly in control up scalloped single track then stop.
  • See him have a long conversation with local then walk over the ridge and disappear
  • Wait at bottom.
  • Wait.
  • Wait.
  • Stroll across rice paddies to opposite embankment and watch bemusedly as children run screaming

  • @onegiantride reappears with an army
  • Army then proceeds to help get bikes over choke spot in single track.
  • Army and self watch @onegiantride bundu bash up hill into forest and onto road.
  • Lead army down the hill and up the other side. Army informs us that there is a bad spot ahead.
  • A thought occurs in the midst of heat, thirst and fatigue from pushing....Wasn't this a bad spot we just crossed?
  • Proceed to ride narrow rutted track. Rephrase: walk, rev and slide. Army regular tries to help by also holding handle bars.
  • Get over saddle and take direct route down. Put bike on ground halfway and wait for @onegiantride.
  • A four foot embankment lies in wait followed by dry rice paddy field with clods larger than a football, a stream and another deep rut out
  • Look at the obstacle course with interest and know its all out of one's league. In fact, the last fours hours have been squarely out the
  • mini league in which you play
  • Army lowers bikes over embankment and @onegiantride rides the white steed across the clods over the river and up the other side and walks nonchalantly back. Crowds watch in awe.
  • Realise your only claim to fame is the fact you have a camera and are recording the events
  • Repeat with big blue bike.
  • Climb back on but get stuck in ruts again.
  • Get onegiantride to take bike to top and rest from the walk.
  • Play to the massive crowd who have never seen anything like this.
  • Take photos of army then head to village for refreshments.
  • Only empty beer bottles
  • Say goodbye to crowds and leave.
  • Take wrong route out of town
  • Return
  • Wave goodbye again
  • Ride blessedly good road out using all the power available for some of the climbs.
  • Reach the top of the ridge and ride for the backpackers in Antoetre.
  • Eight hours to scout 56km

  • Order Tea, Coke and water.
  • Lunch comprises baguette and sardines
  • Head home on splendid dirt road
Round trip 98km
Ten hours

Snotklap from Madagascar mountains but the people prevailed.

Rookie Rider 202 - Back on dirt

The saga and bruises continue:
  • Experience the typical day three blues - second guessing the bike and losing rhythm
  • Experience more nerves than in Tana traffic - scratch that, different nerves
  • Head out to see if we can match up with track from two days before
  • Start on tar up and down three passes before turning onto a good dirt road at Sandrandahy.
  • Carefully pass biggest herd of zebu - note that mudguards prevent dung from landing on your back
  • Follow preplanned google earth route and run out of road in a village
  • Do a u-turn next to a canal and force images of falling in from mind
  • Notice snake crossing road
  • Local women have a smattering of french and between us we figure no go for motorbikes
  • Retrace steps and try alternative - discover how to maintain momentum in soft sand
  • Miss sharp turn and end up in someones front yard - wave politely
  • Experience the looong moment between the wheel sliding out and the throttle catching
  • Remember to breathe
  • Bounce around a lot but force a way through the grass

  • Third attempt at a route
  • Gain confidence on the jeep track - apply lots of self talk
  • Avoid river crossing with just boulders as bridge and get @onegiantride to cross it for you
  • Ride up narrow spine and boulder alley to see a view to die for
  • Follow good track - act surprised when it runs out in the middle of nowhere
  • Backtrack and find that doing a section is easier second time around.
  • Reach bottom of hill and turn around for the third time - go back up to look at single track
  • @onegiantride rides single track but rather choose to bundu bash through forest following one set of wide tire tracks.
  • Follow tire tracks until they run out on the top of a mountain - again
  • Spot single track winding away along crest of ridge - wish for mountain bike
  • Attempt to ride rutted single track, bounce some more
  • Reach jeep track for the fourth time and head for home

Suddenly its been three days off roading on motorbikes.....
No additional bruises this trip
Pass Go and graduate to 303.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Rookie Rider 202 continued

So where were we?
Ah yes - the rest day.

  • Choose alternative mode of transport - push push - and get lifted to the local market to find another pair of pants that won't chafe.
  • Pay R49 for a soft pair of jeans
  • Get assistance from two young students who want to practice their english
  • Load up bikes and head out to Ambositra 91km away
  • Ride into pumping headwind and 30 degree heat.
  • Try not to get head ripped off shoulders by cross winds (where is my lightweight cycing helmet)
  • Stop at roadside cafe for coke and pineapple slices along with dozens of taxis - a real roadside market with deep fried foods, pub, cafe but no shade
  • Shift regularly in seat trying to compensate for large backpack.
  • Get used to switchbacks on tar and practice gearing down and up for bends
  • Arrive in Ambositra and scoff some lunch (Recommend vanilla crepe)
  • Discover the town has no wireless so walkuphill  to internet cafe - Espace Tuky
  • Catch push push home again but 150kg of two humans makes for interesting downhils with bare feet as brakes
  • Feel bad at how much the guy sweated and huffed to get us along the flat
Dinner and prepare for dirt tomorrow.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Rookie Rider 202

The saga continues:

  • Drag weary body onto bike and head back on same route.
  • Find the technical going much easier especially uphill
  • Pass the turnaround point of yesterday in double quick time
  • Cruise along a strong jeep track in the middle of nowhere
  • Could this possibly be enjoyable?

  • Stop for lunch and wave at astonished 8 ton wood trucks as they strain past
  • Experience decent river crossings and panoramic views
  • Start concentrating when the rice paddies start

  • Ride over bridges of logs plastered together with clay and hope wheel doesn't enter gaps
  • Ride two log bridges over water canals
  • Ride over canals (best do this this without thinking)
  • Climb to the top of the mountain and feel sorry for mountain bikers
  • Descend awesome tracks off mountain into pine forests
  • Avoid massive mud puddles and aim for the narrowest footpath to get around
  • Mountain bike skills RULE

  • Decide to ride district road back to town
  • Provide entertainment for locals when falling into ditch and pinned by bike (note: make sure the bike leans onto the kick stand)
  • Limp to cafe for comfort coke (warm)
  • Proceed to ride the gnarliest most technical road that could ever be called "district"
  • Watch the smoke and flames of the tavy (slash and burn) carefully as you power through
  • Stop every 10kms to rest bum - no one tells you that you chafe worse than cycling

  • Stop at village for tea or should that be tea with my sugar (and flies)
  • Admire the fruit trees in blossom
  • Admire potholes that should be called bomb craters (bikes disappear in them)
  • Ride clay wave trains from the rainy season
  • Pummel body some more with broken cobble sections
  • Stop for comfort chocolate

  • Focus on getting back before dark.
  • Ignore bum
  • Concentrate
  • Ease through traffic in dusk
  • Arrive back at hotel
  • 150km of hammering - decide whether this is getting enjoyable
  • Whimper while waiting for ice for foot.
  • Throw down dinner
  • Sleep

Rookie Rider 101 - Part Three

There's just so much to share in this Idiot's guide to motorbiking so the lessons continue:
Leave in the mist but well kitted up for the chill.
Stop for roadside coffee to warm up.
Ride 100km on tar
Arrive at 7:45 and nosh a huge breakfast at the hotel and plan the day's riding.

  • Put Garmin on bike and attempt to navigate out town - Two Strikes, almost out.
  • Follow route into the middle of some houses - ask local to push bike up bank to avoid a hill start.
  • Ride into a single track descent of -23%, slide for about half in a semi controlled fashion then wait for @onegiantride to come back and take bike the rest of the way.
  • Settle adenalin.
  • Find correct route and head out along river on path.

Proceed to experience the following.

  • Technical single track ascents avoiding boulders and ditches
  • Pushing and lifting bike over log bridge too narrow to ride
  • Rapidly learn to use 1st gear to descend gnarly descents
  • Find out how to use back brake
  • Cross ride paddies with a little help from locals
  • See @onegiantride fall worse than me
  • Ride loose sand
  • Ride up and down massive boulder outcrops following a 8 ton six wheeler going somewhere
  • Eventually graduate to 2nd gear on some of the descents
  • Race the rain
  • Buy warm cokes from village shop
  • Cross streams
  • Spray painted with sand from @onegiantride's wheel trying to help him up a bank
  • Re-use all the old paddling muscles lifting bikes over bridges and bracing against handlebars on descents
  • Count bruises on shins
  • Learn how to hill start
  • Find gears are suddenly easier when back on tar
  • Avoid chickens, children, zebu, rickshaws, pedestrians, cyclists, scooters....
All in one day.
Graduate to Rookie Rider 202

Hot shower - count the bruises
Drink copious amounts of tea
Eat huge dinner
Mountain biking skills


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Rookie Rider 101 - Part Two

The How To Guide continued:

  • Wait all day for replacement bike to arrive.
  • Swop to replacement bike which is smaller
  • Finally load luggage on back of bikes and backs of riders
  • Prepare to depart.
  • Quell nervous tension at pulling away in four lanes of traffic around a small circle.
  • Chicken out and ask @onegiantride to take bike to other side for a downhill start.
  • Negotiate Tana rush hour traffic again and navigate out the city on the road to Antsirabe 180km away. (Ambitious!)
  • Ride into the dark again.
  • Forget to extract warm kit and borrow from @onegiantride
  • Four kms further on spot hotel and pull in. (Being sensible???!)

Check in.
Eat three course meal for about R72

Rookie Rider 101

The How To Guide to off-road motorbiking:
Take one day to learn how to ride a motorbike courtesy of Roto Rookies then head for Madagascar three weeks later.

Day One
  • Collect bike (Honda 250) and ride in rush hour traffic looking for a hotel for the night. Remember to stay on the opposite side of the road you're used to.
  • Ride around until it gets dark and don't make eye contact with gendarmes - look like you know what you're doing.
  • Find out you don't know how to hill start then practically wheelie up the hill out of control.
  • Stall the bike 20 times because you're afraid you'll do the same on the next hill and hit a car or pedestrian.
  • Get rescued by @onegiantride who rides bike to top of hill.
  • Arrive at hotel wide eyed.
  • Eat.
  • Sleep.


Friday, June 15, 2012

Mountain Biking in Madagascar

I was privileged to be invited to Madagascar to check out the mountain biking potential. It was just a week so no bike. What a pity - I was itching to ride. Next time. Here are a few pics to show you what riding in the Southern part of the country is like - in and around the Fort Dauphin (Tolianaro) area.