Tuesday 19 August 2014

Posted by Velouria Posted on 16:43 | No comments

Trans Baviaans 2014

August in the Western Cape heralds in the beginning of spring. The fruit trees start to blossom, the cold morning nip begins to ease, and the days start getting noticeably longer. August is also the harbinger of doom, suffering and missed training opportunities, because August is Trans Baviaans month. A gentle ride from the time forgotten town of Willowmore, through the Baviaans Kloof Nature Reserve, to the seaside surf Mecca of Jefferys Bay - 230kms of breathtaking scenery, body pounding corrugations and leg crippling climbs.

Pondering the pending pain
With Old Man John officially retiring for the second and final time, Captain Craig and I had the enviable task of trying to find a replacement. After going through thousands of applications, from mountain goats to former professional bike riders, we settled on the somewhat risky option of Halfway Warren, better known for his inability to finish bike races either due to mechanical or physiological failure. Essentially, he was the combination of Captain Craig's questionable mechanical durability, and my disposition to regurgitate my stomach contents, all rolled into one bike rider. Above all, Halfway Warren had the right ratio of fun to raciness to qualify to ride with The Pink Fluffy Monsters. We might have lost Old Man John as a team mate, but he'd taken over the backup duties. Seven years of riding Baviaans had prepared him well for what lay ahead.

This certainly isn't the school hostel
In this modern era of Garmins, Strava and social networking, it has become rather difficult to successfully pull off a secret training campaign. What is the need of a secret training campaign? Forget about the competition, this is intra team skulduggery. In any team race, it's not about being the strongest member in the team, it's about not being the weakest member. Being the weakest member in the team usually means an early and prolonged solitary visit to the pain cave. And I'm not talking about dancing around the entrance. You go right to the back, like a kid in the naughty corner, and you usually don't come out.

First road trip stop. The Riversonderend pie shop
Back in the day you could easily fib about how much riding you were doing - knock a couple hours off the reported duration of your rides, fake illnesses, or have unexpected work commitments. The more creative you were, the more chance you had of your team mates buying your subterfuge. Come race day you could show your hand and hopefully the bluffing worked. Unless you rode with even sneakier partners. Nowadays, the second you finish a ride, your statistics are automatically plastered all over the internet for anyone to see, which only serves to motivate your team mates to train more. An arms race of one-upmanship. It takes careful planning, cautious use of technology, and subtle ruses to effectively convince your team mates that you haven't seen a bike in ages. And this year Captain Craig emerged as the master of disinformation.

Second road trip stop. Halfway had a dodgy Wimpy omelette. We smelt it for the rest of the weekend
After a night spent in luxury compared to our traditional hostel accommodation, we slowly made our way to the start. In what must have been a misunderstanding, the organisers hadn't seeded us this year, and so we had to start with the ordinary folk, segregated from the race snakes. After Wikus's usual pre-race mumble, the 11th Trans Baviaans got under way to the cheers of the 7 locals who had turned out, and the 300 plus backup drivers. The Pink Fluffy Monsters quickly made our way through to the front group, something we've become quite accustomed to in recent years. Our pre-race talk was of riding with our brains this year, avoiding the front of the group, and taking it easy for the first 100kms.

A collection of colonial memorabilia
Once the front group has established it's always good to see who is there. We spotted the usual contenders, and couple of pretenders, and our old friend - The Beast - a man mountain of a bike rider. We had poached Halfway from The Beast's team, and now we had to deliver on the smack talk we'd been spurting for the past few months. As big and as strong as The Beast is, he has an Achilles heal - hills. In a move aimed more at sending a message than causing total destruction, Captain Craig upped the pace on a small climb, causing The Beast to get dropped like a bag of hammers. And suddenly there was one less team in the lead bunch to worry about.

The Pink Fluffy Monsters
Our HotChillee friends, Dylan and David, were also present in the lead bunch, and with five of us wearing the same kit, we could sense the slight confusion all the HotChillee kit was causing, given that the maximum allowable team size is 4. Cyclists aren't known for their intellectual abilities, especially when hurtling along with oxygen deprived brains, and this again was evident when 3 or 4 donkeys decided that the other side of the road looked like a better option. In a scene that had all the makings of this video, the donkeys crossed the road, through the middle of bunch. Chaos and pandemonium ensued, along with grown cyclists shrieking and howling like children at the determined equines. For a brief second, the level of testosterone in the bunch plummeted with all the high pitched squealing and arm flapping, before returning to its normal argy bargy levels.

The Pink Fluffy Monsters had done everything right so far, avoided burning too many matches, stayed out of trouble and generally ridden with more brains than brawn - a rare thing for this team. And then disaster struck. I punctured. I hoped that the liquid sealant in the tyre would plug the hole, but judging by the amount of sealant covering my legs it was sealing anything but the hole it was intended to seal. A quick shout to Captain Craig, a plug and a bomb later and we were back on the go, about 2 minutes off the lead group. Captain Craig and I chased back alone, and just as we we were beginning to wonder whether Halfway was indeed a double agent for The Beast, he appeared around a bend and gave us a much needed helping hand onto the back of the bunch. Crisis averted, for now.

Team 15 in 9th place at checkpoint 2
We whizzed through the first compulsory stop, grabbed some supplies, and were back on the road in a flash - we'd talked about how we wanted to minimise our stops, and so far things were going according to plan. We also took just long enough to let the main contenders get a gap on us, leaving us to ride at our own pace for the next 40kms - a crucial section with 4 big climbs that can make or break the whole race. At precisely four hours and six minutes, I felt the first onset of cramps. And I don't cramp. The last time I had cramped was after 10 hours on our Big Day Out. I hoped this was just a friendly reminder to keep eating and drinking. But these were more than just reminders. They were passengers, companions, silent accomplices. Nagging and pestering me when I least expected it. Calves, quads, hamstrings. Nothing to do but suck it up an keep on going.

The Monsters crossing a river
Just as we were cresting the big climb, my nemesis made an appearance. As the strength slowly drained from my legs, my stomach started to churn like a washing machine on pre-wash. Captain Craig and Halfway Warren were champions, taking turns to push my sorry body towards the fourth checkpoint. After a masterful tactical vomit and some soup and bread, we were back on our bikes and tearing off down the hill, taking a mere eight minutes to attach lights, lube chains, restock on fluids, and expel the evil in my belly.

Chasing back on after a puncture, Captain Craig's 46 tooth chain ring causing some pain
With me firmly camped out in the pain cave, it was great every now and then to get a visitor. Halfway Warren popped in for a few minutes earlier in the day, but didn't stay for long. Every now and then I'd step out for some fresh air, hoping to leave the cave for good, but knowing it was just a brief departure. On one such excursion, I was quite surprised to find Captain Craig getting comfortable in my cave. While he kept me company, Halfway took a massive turn on the front into the ever present headwind as we made our way to checkpoint 5. Halfway wasn't pink, or fluffy, but he certainly was a monster!

Old Man John's backup station. A study in efficiency
As we rolled into the checkpoint, we were greeted by Old Man John, and any thoughts of him getting old or slow were quickly banished. He was one step ahead of us, anticipating our needs, predicting our whims. Old Man John was as efficient as the SARS help desk in tax season, getting us back on the road in less than 3 minutes, much to the envy of all the other backup crews there.

A place for everything, and everything in its place
With the penultimate stop behind us we set off towards the NeverEnder - a hill, much as the name implies, that just goes on and on and on. Not particularly steep, but just enough to suck the life from your aching body. Captain Craig and Halfway Warren gave me the honour of setting the pace. It was either that, or pushing me later when I popped again. Staring at my heart rate monitor, I found that 152bpm was the number I could hold. One beat more and I was aware of the Grim Reaper's presence. One beat less and it felt like I was coasting. Pedal stroke after pedal stroke we climbed that hill, not a word said between the three of us, yet we moved in almost perfect synchrony. We rolled into the final checkpoint as the last glimmer of twilight faded.

Glad it's over
Old Man John was on form again, and we were back on the road in the blink of an eye. By now Captain Craig had well and truly left the pain cave, and in a severe case of long distance white line fever, was continuing his love affair with his dinner plate sized 46 tooth chain ring, much to the discomfort of Halfway Warren and myself. Grit your teeth, ignore the pain in the legs, and do everything you can to hold onto the wheel in front of you. With Halfway and myself worried about the approaching lights from behind, and Captain Craig focussed on the finish, we ate up the final kilometres in no time, despite the discomfort of some very unwelcome single track.

Another fantastic sunrise in JBay
The Pink Fluffy Monsters finished in 9h36, claiming 10th place and were the first placed 3 man team. We were also the first unseeded team, the first team team in HotChillee kit, and the first to finish 4 bottles of wine later that evening. In the eleven times that I've done this event, despite having had several bad patches, this was the slickest ride we've done. While everything didn't go according to plan, we had fun, went to some dark places together, and emerged from the ordeal as mates, which, ultimately, is the reason why we ride.

A true team effort, in everything we do

Thursday 7 August 2014

Posted by Velouria Posted on 14:02 | 1 comment

Transkei 2014

Sometimes it's not about speed, watts per kilo, winning times, heart rate zones, or bike weight. Sometimes it's just about riding bikes, sharing experiences, looking around, enjoying the journey and having fun.

Our merry team of Transkei adventurers
Some local fauna and flora
Perhaps I am getting old, but sometimes I think we forget why it is we cycle. Why we fell in love with this ridiculous activity in the first place. We focus on training programs and race rosters, worry about our weight and Strava segments, secretly stalk our competitors for signs of weakness (or so I've heard) and completely forget about the simple things. The sense of freedom and independence. The spirit of adventure. The companionship of friends.

Action beach shot
A stroll across a river
Acting as guinea pigs for Cape Cycle Tours (Captain Craig's day job), we headed off to the Transkei's Wild Coast for a week of bike riding, relaxing and basket buying. Our adventure would start in Morgan's Bay, and end in Coffee Bay several days later. In between that, we had free reign to do as we pleased - ride bikes, afternoon naps, sundowners on the beach - anything and everything to forget about the outside world.

Long, pristine golden beaches
We're rather quick to pack our bags and head off to exotic places all over the world, and yet we have some amazing places right here in South Africa. This was my first trip to the Wild Coast, and I had no idea what to expect. Somewhere in the back of my mind I imagined bananas and pineapples growing wild, but that was as far as my expectations went.

A boat trip sure beats a swim
The route was rather simple - keep the sea on the right, and keep pedalling until you get to the next overnight stop. Generally this involved riding on golden beaches, metres from the roaring ocean, with occasional detours inland to avoid obstacles. Low tide allowed us to ride quite easily on hard packed beach sand and make fantastic progress, but unfortunately, the tides change. High tide had us riding in the softer sand higher up the beach, and if you weren't a master of riding sand before we started our adventure, you quickly learned a soft sand riding technique that worked for you. Even if it involved walking. And we all walked at some point. Progress was measured by counting river crossings, objectives were limited to a suitable place for the next snack stop, and the schedule was to the nearest change of tide.

The view never gets boring
Another picture postcard view
Nothing fazed us - taking 7 hours to ride 35kms was 7 hours well spent. Crossing a "shark infested" river on the incoming tide at night (a few Zambezi sharks were spotted several years ago) was just another story we'd have to retell over a couple of beers.

A surreal sunset
Need a snack break? Then stop and have a snack break. Want to look at the view? Then stop and look at the view. Don't want to swim across a river? Then wait for Captain Craig to steal a canoe and ferry you across.

The local cows keeping a watchful eye on us
Captain Craig guessing the river depth
From the endless beaches, to the lush indigenous forests, from the friendly locals and cheerful kids, to the quaint hamlets and farm animals - every twist and turn promised something new. Nothing got old, nothing got boring.
Cuddling at the Hole in the Wall
Post ride snacks with a sublime view
And after each day's riding we'd talk about the riding, recalling the day's adventures, recounting tales to our non riding partners over a few beers and some good food. The river crossings, the soft sand, the cows on the beach, and the non-existent pineapples. Bike riding how bike riding was meant to be.

Beer, and the best peanut butter and jam sandwich ever!