Thursday, 7 March 2019

Posted by Velouria Posted on 15:16 | No comments

The #BigDayOut 2019

“When you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure that an Adventure is going to happen.”

-A.A. Milnie
And that's exactly what The BigDayOut is all about - adventure. We never really know if it will be a good adventure or a bad adventure, but we don't really mind. Any adventure on a bicycle is an adventure worth pursuing. The only important part is that there is someone to share that adventure with.

#BigDayOut 2019

As always, Richie Porte and Cameron Wurf's excellent adventure is our reference when planning a BigDayOut. It must be epic. It must be audacious. And it must memorable.

We've added a few rules of our own over the years too. Like the requirement that new members need to submit a haiku. Or the clause that gives existing members the first right of refusal. And the rule that states BigDayOut should preferably happen on a windless (and hot) day.

As honorary members for life, Captain Craig and I are responsible for the route planning and member selection. Few things are as closely guarded as a BigDayOut route. Planning usually starts as the memories of the previous BigDayOut begin to fade, and the desire for a new adventure gains momentum. We typically go through 3 or 4 rounds of route planning, scrutinising roads for safety, planning breakfast, lunch and dinner stops and getting the balance right between roads we haven't ridden before, and old favourites that we love to bits. Once we have our route we shroud it in secrecy. Coca Cola and The Colonel could learn a thing or two from us when it comes to keeping secrets.

No adventure is complete without someone to share it with, and while Captain Craig and I are quite happy in each other's company for hours on end, barely saying a word to each other as the miles whiz by, we do like seeing other people too. As the rules dictate, Snack-Monster Mike and Heat-is-my-Kryptonite Tim were cordially invited. And Tim didn't disappoint - he fired off his unsolicited haiku in a flash

All that we needed now was the perfect day for bike riding. While this seems like a rather trivial thing to determine, it's not as easy as just checking the local weather forecast. We have to check the local forecast for all the regions that our adventure passes through. On multiple days. Using multiple forecast models. From multiple online sources.

And then reality steps in and throws a curveball - Captain Craig wasn't as available as he'd thought, and the decision was taken away from us. Wednesday the 6th of February was #BigDayOut2019. Unfortunately, the date didn't suit everybody, and in another unprecedented move, Tim submitted a withdrawal haiku.

Actually, he submitted two

This left the BigDayOut committee in a bit of a pickle. Do we go with just three riders and have that awkward situation where two riders ride side by side chatting, while the third rides behind, trying to edge into the conversation? Or do we try to find a replacement for Tim to alleviate the 3rd wheel problem? We turned to social media looking for solutions.

It turns out that while everybody wants to get an invite to ride BigDayOut, the sudden interest dries up when they are actually invited. Either that, or they are really bad at haiku. So we waived the haiku requirement and still, everybody was suddenly "busy" on that day with that important thing.

The First 100kms

When Captonians moan about the wind, you know the wind is really blowing. Most other cities around the world would probably declare a disaster, shut the schools, and issue severe weather warnings, but not Cape Town. We moan a little on Facebook and Twitter, and then we carry on with our lives. Some people take the kids to school, others head off to work. Us - we were going on a bike ride.

Our first order of business had us doing a quick loop of the Peninsula - up Ou Kaapse Weg, over Chapman's Peak, through Hout Bay and over Suikerbossie towards Camps Bay and up Kloof Nek to see the sun rising over the city bowl. A quick dice with the morning traffic in town before we headed off on the West Coast road, passing car after car as they sat gridlocked for miles. I'm not sure what it is, but the freedom of two wheels is intoxicating when others are stationary. This is the sort of freedom that we'd experience over and over again during the course of the day - free from the daily grind, free to have fun, free to ride bikes.

Morning splendour

The Second 100kms

Once out on the West Coast road we ate up the kilometres, thanks to the roaring South Easter. But, much like eating a bunny chow from the Eastern Food Bazaar, we just knew that this was going to come back and bite us. And so, with the Mountain slowly shrinking from sight behind us, we made short work of one of the most boring roads in the Western Cape. We were only too glad to see the turnoff to Darling, despite the wind and hills that it brought, just for a bit of variation. And the promise of breakfast.

Within sight of The Mountain - we're still safe

“An army marches on its stomach”

-Napolean Bonaparte
Choosing what to eat on BigDayOut is an art form in it of itself. You HAVE to eat. You eat to forget about the previous 100 kilometres. You eat to survive the next 100 kilometres. And you eat for the 100 kilometres after that when you don't feel like eating at all. And while all this eating is going on, you have to think about what you're about to eat. There are few things more appealing to me than a peanut butter milkshake. The sheer genius of the guy who took an already good idea, the milkshake, and thought to add peanut butter. We might as well stop trying to be creative in the kitchen - we've peaked with the peanut butter milkshake, and everything else is just second best. However, as much as I love a peanut butter milkshake, I don't like tasting a peanut butter milkshake hours and hours later. Needless to say, peanut butter milkshakes and I are now having a bit of a trial separation as we learn to appreciate each other again.

Back on the road, we set off for Malmesbury. Another one of those towns that no one actually goes TO, but rather goes THROUGH on the way to somewhere else. And the road trip there is about as memorable. Apart from Snack-Monster Mike having a panic attack about a suspected puncture, I don't remember too much else of the journey. I do remember that I was starting to get annoyed with the wind. This constant relentless headwind that kept buffeting us for kilometre after kilometre. And the heat. It was starting to get warm. And I was starting to get happy.

Long straight roads
A quick stop in Malmesbury to replenish the bottles and we were on our way to Wellington. One of my highlights of BigDayOut is when people ask us where we've ridden from, and where we're going. As the day gets longer, so the looks of amazement increase. But everyone says the same thing - crazy cyclists.

The Third 100kms

When most people see tractors, they see slow-moving farm implements, often covered in animal excrement. And then they forget about them. When cyclists see a tractor, we see a meal ticket. A free ride. An opportunity to have fun while zooming along. And we spotted two. With the wind increasing in intensity, we jumped at the chance to hide in the slipstream of the tractors. And here is the weird part - we only rode behind those tractors for 3 minutes, but it felt like hours, such was the effect that it had on us.

By now the temperature was over 40C. The sun was baking down on us. And the cool drink in our bottles was like tea. The incessant headwind wasn't helping either. Instead of being a cooling breeze, it was like a hairdryer, sucking the moisture from each of us. And for some strange reason, my body really likes this. This is where it likes to operate. The hotter the better. Which is Captain Craig's worst nightmare. He'll be solid one moment, and the next moment he's pedalling squares.  Head down, jersey open (the only time Captain Craig goes full-on Euro-Pro). A world of misery and hurt.

It's getting hot
This makes it rather awkward for the rest of us, because, ultimately, there is not much you can do to help when the wheels fall off. Snack-Monster Mike tends to zip off up the road, giving the sufferer some time and space to dwell alone in their pit of sorrow, while I try to be the silent companion, lurking around, offering unspoken solace and comfort, but ultimately, both techniques have little effect. These were Captain Craig's demons, and he had to deal with them alone.

Captain Craig going full-on Euro-Pro

“It doesn't matter how slowly you go as long as you don't stop”
With a sense of trepidation, we refuelled in Wellington, knowing that we were about to commit to something big. Up until now, we'd always been on the right side of the mountains, within calling distance of an emergency rescue. As soon as we went over Bain's Kloof, we'd be leaving behind civilisation and venturing into the dark unknown. For any Capetonian, travelling out of sight of The Mountain is a big thing, and so trekking over the Du Toitskloof mountain range was our watershed moment. This was the Big Day Out, and we were putting on our Big Boots.

Time for Big Boots 
As if it's not bad enough that we have to manage our bodies and our minds, we now have to manage our gadgets too. Long gone are the days when one would simply hop on a bike and go for a bike ride, and BigDayOut is no different. Mixing juice and cramming snacks into pockets is easy in comparison to preparing all the gadgets for a full day of adventure. I had to:
  • Charge my bike
  • Charge my Garmin
  • Charge my front light
  • Charge my rear light
  • Charge my phone
  • Charge my battery pack so that I could repeat this process while out on the road
  • Charge a spare Garmin, in case the previous point didn't work out
And then the nightmare begins. You're making Sophie's Choice style decisions. What do you charge? Phone or Garmin. Garmin or light. Front light or rear light. In a testament to my skill or complete lack thereof, I finished BigDayOut with a phone on 6%, a Garmin on 11%, an empty battery pack, and a flat rear light. More about that rear light later...

With Bain's Kloof behind us, the wind still in our faces, and the sun slowly sinking in the sky, we entered the Slanghoek Valley, or as we shall call it from now on, Purgatory. The Slanghoek Valley is magnificent. Mountains on one side, hills on the other, and miles and miles of vineyards in between. And we hated every second of it. In fact, we've now ridden through this valley 3 times on 3 separate BigDayOut adventures, and we've hated it each and every time. It's the straw that breaks the camel's back. We're all just a millimetre away from mentally or physically cracking, and every year, the valley claims a victim. Snack-Monster Mike was the first to go, mentally pulverised into submission, while Captain Craig followed suit, physically giving his very last effort.

We rolled into our late lunch stop at Du Toitskloof cellars and went about our business refuelling for the climb up and over Du Toitskloof Pass. Except Captain Craig couldn't bring himself to eat. Which, for anyone who knows Captain Craig, is a very strange thing indeed. I made sure to steer clear from the peanut butter milkshakes, but with Captain Craig not keen to eat his meal, I couldn't let it go to waste. Another amateur move. My reward: basil and garlic pesto burbs for the rest of BigDayOut.

The Final 100kms

We had two challenges left - get over Du Toitskloof Pass, and then fight the wind back into the City. And for one of us, that was one challenge too many. Captain Craig dug deep, went into the pain cave, burrowed around in his suitcase of courage, wrestled his demons, dropped the hammer and sat on the rivet - all to just get over Du Toitskloof Pass. But it cost him dearly. The lack of food and the feelings of nausea not only cracked his body, but cracked his soul too. He was a broken man. However, as an expert in dealing with feelings of nausea while riding bikes, I still believe that all he needed was a good old tactical vomit and he would have been right as rain. As a seasoned expert in the art of the regurgitation, I also understand how difficult it is self-purge.

Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?
And so, it was with sadness that Snack-Monster Mike and I left Captain Craig at a dodgy garage outside Paarl while he waited to be rescued - we still had a job to do. Ninety-nine more kilometres.
The sun was low in the sky. People were returning from their day at the office. Others were getting in a quick bike ride before dinner, a spot of TV and bed. And Snack-Monster Mike and I were still doing the same thing we'd been doing for almost 15 hours - riding bikes. And I think we were still enjoying it. The temperatures were dropping, the wind was almost behind us, and there was a peacefulness about everything. A peacefulness that lulled us into a false sense of security.

Sunset. What a time to ride bikes
We'd had grand aspirations of finding a quaint little place that offered boutique burgers for dinner, but with one man down and an overriding desire to finish, we resorted to Garage Forecourt Cuisine. Dodgy pies. Iron Bru. Chocolate bars. And vanilla milk! We probably inflicted more damage on our bodies with those snacks than we did with the 400 kilometres of the BigDayOut.

They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but Snack-Monster Mike is living proof that you can. In a complete reversal of his urinary habits from BDO2018, where it took him hundreds of kilometres to find the perfect wee spot, Snack-Monster Mike was happy to wee almost anywhere, anytime. Say the word, and we'd stop. It was during one of these stops that my South Africanness shone through - a car stopped while we were engaging in some night weeing, as one does, and my immediate thought was that we were about to be relieved of more than just the urine in our bladders. But we needn't have worried, for this was the beginning of the several night supporters that would drop by and say hi.

Snack-Monster Mike - a new man
Next up was Snack-Monster Mike's wife, and she provided a reassuring escort as we edged ever closer to the bike lane and our appointment with the South Easter. This was to be our moment of reckoning, our date with destiny that we'd been ignoring all day long - two guys on bikes, under the cover of darkness, fighting their way back to the Southern suburbs. I generally hate war analogies, but we had a battle on our hands. Sore bodies. Sore minds. Grinding our way into the teeth of a gale. Normally, at this point of a BigDayOut, I'd mentally knock off the kilometres in my mind, each one a victory. Except now I was celebrating every 100 metres that ticked over on my Garmin.

Thirty kilometres to go became twenty, twenty became ten, and suddenly we were in single digits. The end was almost within touching distance. And then Mike's Snack-Monster struck. With seven kilometres to go, we had to stop for a snack. But Snack-Monster Mike was all out of snacks. Luckily, I'd been carrying around a nougat bar for 409 kilometres, just in case a situation like this arose. Also, I'm quite sure Snack-Monster Mike had seen the nougat bar in my pocket, and had been lusting over it for hours. Under the guise of riding behind me because my rear light wasn't working, and not because he wanted to hide from the wind, I'm quite sure he'd mentally consumed that bar over and over again until he could suppress the urges no more. So there we were at the Liesbeck Parkway N2 intersection, late at night, hardly a soul in sight, eating nougat. And boy did that nougat go down well.

Captain Craig on the Scooter
 As we limped home, passing clubbers, street people and women of the night, I thought we were about to be mugged for the second time that night. By a guy on a scooter. He was getting far to close and being far too friendly for my liking. I do remember trying to figure just how he was going to mug us, and where he was going to put our bikes, but before I could figure all that out, I realised it was Captain Craig coming to escort us for the final few kilometres of BigDayOut 2019. Secretly, I was relieved that he was still alive and in good enough spirits to share in those final moments.

Yoh - that was a toughie
And then it was over. A whole day had passed, and we'd just ridden bikes. We saw things and we experienced things, far too many to list. Some good, and some bad. But that's exactly what adventure is all about.

Friday, 30 November 2018

Posted by Velouria Posted on 14:54 | No comments

The Double Century 2018

Few things elicit more excitement in the South African cycling community than the Double Century. Sure, there's Epic or The Argus, but they are not in the same league as the DC. Somehow, this event has captured the imagination of all road cyclists as the must-do event on the calendar. Twelve like minded race snakes undertaking a 202 kilometre adventure through the majestic hills of the Overberg.

Team Cape Cycle Tours
The Double Century is a super serious event. Every team is busy with DC prep for ages. Team members are selected months in advance through a rigorous selection process that includes PPA seeding and Strava performances. Special kit is designed and made by seamstresses in Italy. Compulsory training camps happen all over the country in secluded towns. Formation riding is finetuned. Strategy sessions with copious amounts of coconut water are held in dark rooms away from prying eyes. Scenarios are laid out to cover every possible permutation of what can happen on race day.

Except for us. We are a cobbled together collection of bike riding strangers. Our team members are not so much selected, but rather accepted. We exploit personal friendships in the hunt for riders. We scour the Bike Hub for potential candidates. We spam the Double Century notice boards with promises of glory and fame in the hope of just getting a response. After some committed Strava stalking and RaceTec corroboration, tentative invites are sent out and our team slowly starts to take shape.

An idea for an app - Tinder for DC riders
With the trauma of 2017 still fresh in our minds, and the face of Nic Dlamini still haunting our dreams, we opted to enter a mixed team. While this meant an easier shot at fame and glory, it also presented us with the rather large challenge of finding some racing ladies. There are probably better odds on finding that missing Malaysian airliner than there are on rocking up on the start line with four ladies. While the rules state that you need three ladies in your team to be considered a mixed team, we like to play it safe and have a reserve. Guys are expendable, ladies are not! Needless to say, we only managed to find 3 fast ladies (and that airliner is still missing).

Our three very fast ladies, and their beautiful kit
At the best of times, Captain Craig and I hover very close to the edge of chaos. Occasionally we dip our toes into the puddle of pandemonium, and other times we dive headfirst into the dam of disorder. And that's just the two of us. There is a very real risk when building a team of 12 strangers that our Double Century aspirations will be over before we even cross the start line. Only 9 people rock up on race day. The backup vehicle leaves without our snacks and replenishments in it. We drop our first person two kilometres from the start on the climb out of Swellendam. Four riders ride off the front and we don't see them again. We race each other up the climbs in a show of testosterone and ego, shelling riders everywhere. We do a mixture of a rolling paceline and a single file through and off, achieving nothing. We have more people in the backup vehicle than we have out on the road. And lastly, we lose the ability to count to six and cross the line with just five riders. (All true stories)

But we needn't have worried about repeating those mistakes. We had Lloyd with two l's. Not only did he manage to recruit nearly every decent rider in Joburg into our team, but he also took over the responsibility of thinking about everything. And I mean EVERYTHING.

What formation should we ride in (with emoji art):

Where to put your timing chip:

Who the competition might be (and the author of the post that broke the internet):

Scenarios we need to consider:

A key event in the run-up to the Double Century is the pre-race dinner. It's the first opportunity we get to suss each other out and the last opportunity we have to fine-tune Lloyd's various strategies, formations, and tactics. It's also a good opportunity to gauge the seriousness of the team, indicated by the amount of red wine consumed. I have a theory - there is a relationship between the amount of wine consumed and the performance on race day, obviously to an upper limit on wine consumption. The teams that I've ridden in that didn't talk about the race beforehand over a glass of wine also didn't talk to each other during the race, let alone afterwards.

Race day dawned, and after the customary team photo, we had our first team ride - down the hill to the start line. This was not before eagle-eyed Robyn, our silent poker playing assassin spotted a fineable offence - a tear in my front tyre and the tube peeking out. There is nothing like a bit of performance anxiety when it comes to changing a tyre in front of the entire team, especially given my habit of usually butchering the entire operation. But, as would later become a theme for the whole team, my nerves held, and with a bit of luck I had a brand new front tyre fitted in record time (an old-school 23mm wire bead Gatorskin from Andy, but beggars can't be choosers).

"One of the favourites in the mixed competition"
As Team Cape Cycle Tours approached the start line, with Andy already starting to exhibit a slight sheen of sweat, we began to get a hint of the calibre of riders we had. Obviously, our racing ladies stole the show with seemingly everyone knowing them, their funky cycling kit only adding to the spectacle. The upcountry imports didn't seem out of place either - the usual up and down looks being exchanged all over the place (look at the legs, look at the belly, look at the bike, look at the legs again, look at the face - and then give the nod of "I see you've been doing some training").

Any thoughts that we'd managed to slip under the radar quickly vanished when, with moments to go before our start, the announcer introduced us as one of the favourites in the mixed team category. Nothing like a bit of last-minute pressure. But we needn't have worried for we had Mike. Cool-headed Mike. You can discuss strategy as much as you like but in the oxygen-starved environment that is a racing paceline, if you don't have someone to reign in the egos and correct any minor infringements, chaos will ensue. Mike was our guy - a quiet bit of encouragement here, a hushed scolding there, keeping us all focused on the goal ahead of us.

The Ginger wheelsucking the ladies
The hardest part about riding in a mixed team is, as a male, having to engage your brain rather than just riding on pure testosterone. You have to constantly be aware of where the ladies are, and where possible, selflessly ride to keep them safe and sheltered. You need to develop skills to figure out how they're doing and how they're feeling (kind of like any relationship I guess). It's like an epic poker game - you learn to read body language, looking for the telltale signs of suffering. "I'm fine" Robyn is the master of suffering inside and giving nothing away. On the other end of the spectrum, you have Lise who'll tell you in no uncertain terms what and how she is feeling, and what you can do about it! And somewhere in the middle, we had "The Other One" - Lara, who, as the ride got longer just seemed to get stronger and stronger.

We made the first stop in good time and in good spirits, unaware that we were currently one minute up the other mixed teams. A quick snack, some liquid replenishments, a toilet stop and a hissy fit about a missing cooler bag later we were back on the road - Gary the backup catering to all our needs, including the missing cooler box.

By this point, we'd mostly figured each other out to the point that the ladies were starting to dish out nicknames. Andy was carrying about 3 kilograms of salt encrusted on his shirt, and was aptly named Salty. Stiaan, the man mountain who missed a calling to play lock for the Springboks was feeling the Cape heat and had earned the nickname Sweaty. Lloyd, still eager to do well, was continuously riding off the front of our group causing the speed to fluctuate wildly, was Surgy. And Mike was still marshalling the troops, maintaining the focus and keeping us in order. Gluey.

The second leg was mostly uneventful, except for the realisation that a rather nasty block headwind would be keeping us company all the way back into Swellendam. We needed to make time, but we also needed to make sure we didn't over do things on this leg. With only the wind for company, Team Cape Cycle Tours made good progress, and before long we were enjoying the delicacies that our coolerboxes had to offer. And we still had a minute lead - if only we'd known. We were ready for the last leg.

Except for Stiaan. The man mountain was going no further. The beginnings of a mini-uprising were playing out before our eyes, with the risk that the rebellion would spread. I could see The Ginger was trying to decide where his allegiances lay. Captain Craig stepped up and in his best "Have you had a Gu" voice tried to coax Sweaty back from the edge. Promises were made. Threats were exchanged. The end result being that Stiaan would continue on his bike. But looking at the scene unfold I could tell we'd lost him to our cause a long long time ago.

The final leg is what we'd all been waiting for. The leg where we'd all do whatever we could to get our ladies to the finish line as fast as possible. As Mike's sense of humour was failing, he summarised the plan like this:

If you're not blocking the wind or pushing a lady, you're not contributing. F*** off to the back
And Surgy slowly slunk off to the back.

Job done
The last 30 kilometres are a time for tough decisions. Do you push hard and shell riders out the back? Do you wait for the Jarrett as he danglings off the back in the hope that he can contribute later? Lara had her own life or death decision to make - endure the discomfort of being pushed by the small of her back, or hang onto one of Andy's salt-encrusted pockets and have to disinfect her hand once we crossed the finish line?

The biggest and smallest team members are missing
The Three Sisters flew by in slow motion, a haze of suffering disconnecting us from the real world. Pushing. Pulling. Sheltering. Blocking. Driving on the front. One pedal stroke at a time. One pedal stroke closer to the finish. And then we turned up the final climb to the finish line. One last effort. And just like that, it was all over. The joy of crossing the line. The sadness that the adventure was partly over (there was still the fines meeting). The anxious moments while we waited to see where we'd come.

Sweaty, Salty, Jarrett the Kid, The Ginger, Pokerface Robyn, Lara the Other One, Lise, Alex, me, Surgy, Captain Craig, Gluey
And then we heard - second place - 66 seconds down on first. And while we could spend months analysing where we lost those 66 seconds (and I'm sure Lloyd is doing that right now), it didn't really matter. We'd given it a decent go. We'd ridden hard. But we'd had fun along the way. And I don't think I'd swop that for anything. We'd started out as twelve strangers, and finished as twelve (almost) victorious friends. And that's exactly why I ride bikes.

* I haven't forgotten about Alex, but, just like the fines meeting where he wasn't fined once, I cannot recall a particular incident that he was involved in. He was just there, doing what needed to be done. The perfect teammate.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Posted by Velouria Posted on 15:27 | No comments

TransBaviaans 2018

It has been said that time heals all wounds, and on the Friday before the start of the 2018 TransBaviaans, I would have agreed with these wise words. But when we got to registration and realised that, in my 15th Baviaans, we would be starting in the unseeded cattle pen, all the disappointment and unhappiness from 2017 came flooding back. Hector the Memory Resurrector.

It's all laughs and giggles until you realise you're not seeded.
There are clearly two tiers at Baviaans, the race snakes and the rest. The race snakes get to start at the front, they get to hear the loudspeakers, the national anthem, and the race briefing. They get a clear run from the gun down an open road and off into the Baviaanskloof. Meanwhile, the unseeded are crammed into the back of a parking lot like cows in a pen. It's cramped, it's noisy, and it's smelly. Really really smelly. There is nothing as toxic as the contents of portaloo at the start of a bicycle race. And where are the portaloos situated? Amongst the riders in cattle class. And to make matters worse, there was a stream of blue toilet juice steadily leaking from one of the portaloos and pooling in the centre of the start pen. And it was in this very puddle of blue toilet juice that Captain Craig and I found ourselves as we waited for the start. We'd done our best to push our way as far forward as possible, much to the annoyance of those around us. Yes, - we were those guys. Captain Craig was even confronted by a Camelbak wearing fellow bike rider:
"Stop pushing through - we're competitive too"
to which he replied with a sly grin:
"Yeah, but not as competitive as us"
With much fanfare, the gun finally went off. There was shouting and cheering and the sound of motorbikes disappearing down the main road as they led the seeded riders off towards the Kloof. From our stationary spot in the blue toilet juice, we couldn't actually see any of this. For three minutes we imagined what was going on up front - the jostling for positions, the gnashing of teeth - as the race snakes set off for JBay. And finally, we started moving. A slow crawl at first, followed by a gentle Saturday cruise down through the back roads of Willowmore as we ducked and dived through riders. Masses and masses of riders. While we didn't realise it at the time, we were in for a definite salmon day.

I doubt anyone got service like this!
The conditions for TransBaviaans are a topic of conversation that starts several weeks in advance of race day. Both the conditions of the road surface, which can vary from glass-smooth, to as bumpy as a rural road in the Eastern Cape (oh, wait), and the weather conditions. While there isn't much we can do to prepare for the road conditions apart from grumble on social media, we certainly can prepare for the weather conditions. Captain Craig and I must have had more costume changes before the start than a beauty pageant contestant. A weather forecast of 3 degrees meant that we started in thick arm and knee warmers, an undershirt and a gilet, before switching to thin knee and arm warmers as the sun started climbing in the sky. Next to go was the undershirt. And soon the knee warmers were off completely, and we were applying sunscreen. (Mental note - next time apply sunscreen under the arm warmers too!)

Like most events that Captain Craig and I do together, we had formulated a rock-solid strategy beforehand. Given the fact that we were probably not going to get too much help from our fellow "competitive" riders from the cattle pen, we were going to ride at a steady pace, keep out of trouble, and just bide our time for the first 100 kilometres. And like most events that Captain Craig and I do together, as soon as the wheels start turning, the strategy goes out the window. We had targets to chase. So many targets. And Captain Craig was in a target-hunting mood!

I'd spent my days before TransBaviaans within 50 feet of a toilet at all times, and it was with this same determination and commitment that I stayed at least 20 feet from the front of any bunches that we found ourselves in. And when we weren't in a bunch, Captain Craig was doing all chasing. We'd reel a bunch in, Captain Craig would look over his shoulder and tell me that this was the perfect bunch - we could just sit in here. And then he'd disappear off the front and I'd have to chase him down. Over and over again.

Cyclists are shameless and chivalry in the peloton is dead. For kilometre after kilometre, as we chased onto a group containing the leading ladies, we watched as 15 guys wheelsucked the ladies, not offering a single turn on the front. I shamelessly joined the wheelsuckers at the back, while Captain Craig went straight to the front and took a few massive turns driving the pace - a knight in shining armour.

The next two hours flew by. The legs felt good. I was in control of my bodily functions, and the bikes were working perfectly. But the real start of Baviaans was about to begin. The climbing. First up was Baboons Back, a climb that sits perfectly in my Goldilocks zone. And it always helps when your partner is going through a bad patch. We made it over without too many issues, whizzed down the other side and flew through the next checkpoint. A highlight of TransBaviaans for Captain Craig is always the long river crossing that awaits just after Checkpoint 3. He's finished Baviaans 9 times, and he's ridden the river crossing 9 times without putting a foot down. So imagine my surprise when I look up and see him half submerged under his bike, absolutely soaked. Captain Craig living up to our team name of The Soggy Bottom Boys. (The Soggy Everything Boys).

Captain Craig, moments after a Soggy Bottom moment!
Our backup this year was once again Last Minute Charles, and on the road trip from Cape Town to Willowmore he'd asked us if we ever don't look forward to a bike ride. Particularly one like Baviaans. And my answer was yes. For me, it's usually the week before a big event that has me questioning my sanity, my love for bike riding, and my addiction for long bike rides. It's during this week that you recall the finer details of events. Not just the euphoria of finishing, or the sense of achievement after a good result. The other details - the searing pain in the legs up a steep climb. The discomfort of sitting on a saddle for nine hours. The corrugations rattling every bone in your body. The dust in your eyes. The infinite depth of the hole you're in when you're going through a bad patch. And yet, there I was, coming back for my 15th edition of this race. A cyclist himself, Last Minute Charles just smiled and nodded understandingly.

Back on the bike, we flew over The Fangs and started my nemesis - The Mother of All Climbs. While I've had some good years, I've also had some rather dismal ones. I have punctured going up this climb. I have walked up this climb. I have vomited all over this climb. And I have bonked spectacularly several times. I was determined that this year would be a good year. We both felt rather fresh. We were riding quite smoothly, and I thought we were climbing quite well. Until, for the second time that day, the leading ladies came flying past us looking fresher and smoother. We'd like to say that we were actively managing the gap between us, but the truth is that Sarah and Theresa dropped us like a sack of potatoes. Again.

Relive 'My 15th Trans Baviaans'

Undeterred, we made the checkpoint in good spirits (I'm always in good spirits if I can make Bergplaas without needing to vomit) and quickly went about our business. Lights, snacks, juice, and in Captain Craig's case, some new dry kit. As we hit the start of the downhill, we encountered our first real snag of the day. My light came loose as we went over a small bump and went flying into the bushes at the side of the road. A couple of hundred metres further and it would have gone flying down the side of a mountain - never to be seen again. A quick stop, a frantic search under the bushes, some running repairs and we were back on the go, continuing our descent, both literally and figuratively.

My son gave me a plaster before the race, and specifically chose the one with snails on. What's he trying to say?
My first bad patch started as we finished the descent, and like a limpet, I spent the next 10 minutes glued to Captain Craig's wheel, doing everything I could to find some energy and recover. And like a trooper, Captain Craig just sat on the front setting a solid steady pace. Just as my legs were coming back, Captain Craig's legs started to fade, and it was my turn set the pace while he frantically searched for some legs. We rolled into the next checkpoint a little battered and beaten, but aware that we had just one climb ahead of us. The NeverEnder.

Last Minute Charles was waiting for us at the checkpoint. And he had pancakes. I grabbed one, and with the grace of a diesel mechanic doing keyhole surgery, I stuffed that pancake into my face. This was going to get me over The NeverEnder! We filled bottles, got some lube and we were on the go again, only to be passed by the leading ladies. AGAIN. And again, I could say that we managed the gap, but by this time it would be an absolute lie. We had nothing. It was possibly this situation that triggered a series of events would have me questioning why it is I ride this race. Again.

One last hill to go.
As the ladies disappeared off into the distance, Captain Craig offered me a pancake. He'd taken two from Last Minute Charles, and could probably read my mind at that point. So I took it. And devoured it. But the thing is, I'm not a big eater when cycling, and here I was stuffing two pancakes into my belly. All went well as we climbed The NeverEnder. It wasn't easy, but we were making decent progress, despite the fact that I was starting to re-taste that second pancake more and more. But I'd done everything right up until then - I was still convinced that I would overcome this minor hurdle. How wrong I was. As we hit the top of the climb I started to think about a strategic vomit. A preemptive purge before things got any worse. And, as if by command, the floodgates opened.

There are two types of cyclists. Those that can do a snot rocket while riding and those that can't. I'd like to add a new category. The select few that can do a vomit comet while remaining on the bike. While I'm no expert in this, and I may have got a few stray splashes on my leg, I feel that my new found skill will certainly come in handy in future TransBaviaans events.

With my stomach now empty, my legs started to fade too, and my next challenge was to get the timing right as to when to take an energy gel. Take it too early, and it was going to come flying straight out again. Take it too late, and the full bonk would have arrived and my legs would have fallen off completely. I might have waited a little longer than absolutely necessary, but I wasn't in the mood for wasting a gel.

We had planned a quick stop at the final checkpoint - quickly grab something to eat, turn on the lights, and speed off to Jeffrey's Bay. But, as is usually the case, our ability to stick to our plans let us down. While Captain Craig put on his quick attaching light, I was going to grab half a jaffle (you haven't lived until you've had a Checkpoint 7 jaffle!). I still had a bit of negotiating to do with the stomach demons, but the jaffle was going down a treat. I half expected to have to stuff my face and get out of there, but Captain Craig's light was taking a little longer than expected. So I had another half of a jaffle. And still Captain Craig struggled, grunting commands through the jaffle dangling from his mouth. I now know after the fact that
"I need someone to shine a light on my bars so that I can get this bloody light attached".
After several teams had arrived and departed through the checkpoint (missing out on jaffles), we finally got going again, in our usual formation, Captain Craig on the front.

Number 10 and 15 respectively
All of a sudden I was seeing lights! Aliens?! Angels?! The end of the universe?! My porridge brain slowly tried to make sense of the bright light shining in my face as I did my best to not fall off my bike. I eventually figured out that I wasn't being abducted, but it was, in fact, Captain Craig's light that was now shining directly in my face! As I rode behind him. Captain Craig stopped and fixed his light, while I tried desperately to regain some sort of night vision. Some cursing and swearing later and we were on our way again, the lights of Jeffrey's Bay beckoning. And then we stopped again. For Captain Craig's light. And then we were going again. And then we stopped again. For Captain Craig's light, And finally, we were going again.

The last obstacle between us and beer on the finish line was the dreaded railway line. In my many years of cycling, every time there is a railway line involved, bad memories are usually made. Cape Epic 2010 Stage 1. Every 36One. Lost bottles and punctures outside Robertson at the Double Century. Every Cape Epic that finished over the Gantouws Pass. And well entrenched on that list is TransBaviaans. By the time we hit the railway line, my sense of humour has completely failed and I'm seriously considering another sport or hobby. Stand up paddle boarding. Birdwatching. Or freestyle crocheting. But Captain Craig is always solid on this section, convinced we can still catch the leaders if we ride fast enough, and while we missed the leaders by about an hour and a half, we did manage to catch one team that looked to be having a far worse day than us.

We crossed the line to the welcoming sight of Last Minute Charles, warm clothes, a Darling Brew, and Spur burgers. Captain Craig had finished his 10th Baviaans, I had done my 15th, with The Soggy Bottom Boys finishing in 9h20 in 19th place. #Top20IsTheNewTop10. Will we be back? Most definitely!

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Posted by Velouria Posted on 12:17 | No comments

Around the Pot 2018

It's not often that a race comes along that has the ability to fill one with such emotion. Not the "Why-did-I-enter-this-race-I'm-going-to-die" sort of emotion - we'll get to that later - the "I-don't-want-to-tell-anyone-about-this-event-because-it's-amazing" selfishness that filled us after last year's race. This is a bike riding event run by people who get bike riding. Things just work. Everyone is a rock star. And there is a burger and beer at the finish.

Dane the Limpet
The selfishness comes in that with the inevitable growth of an event, the very things that make an event unique are lost as the event scales. So I tried not to tell anyone about The Around The Pot 100 Miler. But someone spoke, breaking the secret pact we'd all sworn to keep and come race day this year, registration was mass of race snakes, weekend warriors, endurance addicts and sufferfest seekers. And their families. And their friends.

My first concern was that there were real bike racers in attendance this year, and it wouldn't be a procession to the podium like the previous year. And then I worried about the things that brought us back. Were there going to be roosterkoek at the halfway point? And choc chip cookies at the water points? And a cool vibe at the finish? We'd find out in the 160kms that lay before us.

Dane the Yo-Yo
As usual, Captain Craig and I rolled up to the start line minutes before the gun went. Not because we were trying to be cool and act all pro-like, but because our time management skills tend to be a little haphazard. We needn't have worried, as the motor-paced session through the neutral zone from the previous year had been replaced with a looking-for-parking cruise down the N2. Slow enough to not warm up, and fast enough for 400 mountain bikers to think they were World Tour roadies riding in a peloton, but with the bike and bunch skills of the Open seeded group at a local PPA race.

Thankfully, it wasn't long before we hit the dirt, and all hell exploded. SchleckChute's being deployed all over the place and before long the front group consisted of just a handful of lean, mean, muscled athletes. And me. I haven't felt so out of place in a long while. Not because I wasn't lean, mean or muscled, but because I was hanging onto wheels like my life depended on it, gasping through my gaping mouth, snot dripping off my face, while it looked like everyone else was still nose breathing. Now I knew exactly what Hector felt like last year.

As I dangled off the back, steam coming out of my ears, Captain Craig had an important job to fulfil. No sitting on the front and pulling everyone along this year. He was on rescue duty - every time the bunch accelerated over a climb, I'd slip off the back, and Captain Craig would have to slowly but surely guide me back on. Only for it to happen again. And again.

Captain Craig on rescue duty
Things eventually settled down when a select bunch rode off the front, and I was finally able to follow the wheels, rather than chase them. I was that guy. The wheelsucker. The limpet. The bike rider who sits in the slip, avoids the front at all costs and offers no help. Not because I didn't want to help. I just couldn't.

I'd like to say that I found a set of legs and that I started to come right and ride a little better, but there was very little change in my riding. Instead, it seemed like the others were starting to fade. Starting to enter my world. Little signs of weakness here and there - a gap opening over the top of a climb, one partner giving the other a gentle push back onto the bunch. Even Captain Craig would disappear for a secret gel at the back of the bunch every now and then. It was these little signs that gave me hope and got me to hang on a little longer. Knowing those around you are suffering too almost makes the suffering bearable.

The pont
With almost a hundred kilometres done we got to the part of this race that makes it so unique. The checkpoint at the Malgas Pont. And this is where prior knowledge comes in handy. The clock stops as you enter the checkpoint, and starts once again once you've crossed the river and checked back in. And since it didn't look like we were going to be able to ride away from the other teams in the group, we were going to have to be sneaky in order to gain time. So we zipped into the checkpoint before the other teams, gaining a handful of seconds. While everyone else was enjoying the ceasefire in hostilities as they filled their water bottles and their bellies, waiting for the pont, Captain Craig and I were hatching a master plan. After crossing the river, we'd hang near the back and give the bunch a handful of seconds headstart. We reckoned 30 seconds would be good enough to defend, and easy enough to close once the race was on again. Except we made one little mistake.

Smiling, moments before telling The Thighs of Thunder our plan
We happened to share our plan with Mike Posthumus - the original Thighs of Thunder, Destroyer of Drivetrains and Crusher of Souls. An ally like that would make our plan almost foolproof. Except we messed up. We changed the plan to accommodate Monster Mike and his ample thighs, and before we knew it, we were giving the bunch 2 minutes and committing ourselves to "just 30 minutes of effort, through and off". And if there is one thing that is guaranteed to make me pop, it's riding through and off.

Mike "Thighs of Thunder" Posthumus
Everything went well for about 15 minutes, as five lonely riders attempted to claw their way back to the bunch that was no longer visible up the road. We each took our turn for the greater good, driving the pace on, urging the legs for more. In my head, warning lights were flashing, sirens were blaring. Meltdown was imminent. There was about to be a reactor breach, followed by a massive explosion. I took one last look at the Thighs of Thunder before finally deploying my SchleckChute in an attempt to minimise the devastation and destruction. And within seconds, Captain Craig had done the same as he embraced his new responsibilities of looking after me. Whether he could have hung onto the Destroyer of Drivetrains' wheel is a debate for another time, but it felt good knowing that I had company.

My Not-So-Happy place

As we backed off, my legs came back to me, and rather surprisingly I found myself repaying Captain Craig's earlier efforts in looking after me. The Cape Cycling Tours Train was back, and we started to make good progress, occasionally picking up a rider or two from the bunch that we'd long since given up on, but never caught sight of any of the other teams that we were racing.

With the finish line looming, I burnt my final match and any hope of salvaging our sneaky plan seemed to vanish completely. I hastily gulped down a gel, hoping for one final miracle before we crossed the line. And it happened! Just as my legs were coming back, we caught sight of the Pure Savage guys ahead of us. Perhaps there was something to race for after all. Something to make the suffering and pain all worth it. With one final push, we drove towards the line, embracing the burn in our legs, hoping beyond all hope that we had done enough.

Yoki the Yeti, looking a little worse for wear. Just like me.
We crossed the line to little fanfare - we were forth on the road, but the time gaps still needed to be calculated. And eventually we got the word - we hadn't made it onto the podium. The fleeting hope we had was quickly replaced with disappointment, and annoyance as our plan had been solid, we'd just messed up the execution of it.

When the final results were published the next day we noticed an anomaly. We weren't on the results. Anywhere (given that I'd ridden in my wife's cycling top by mistake, I even checked the mixed team results). A couple of emails back and forth between the organisers and the timekeepers and they eventually found us - in third place in the men's team competition. A bittersweet reward for a poorly executed masterful plan.