Thursday 26 April 2018

Posted by Velouria Posted on 20:37 | No comments

The 36One 2018

We've all done things that we regret. There are those things that we'll regret to the day we die. Things like backing Sony's Betamax in the video recording format wars, or insisting that 27.5 inch wheels were the future of mountain biking, or getting that tattoo of a dolphin on one's shoulder after a late night out. And then there are things that cause short-term regret. Like having garlic mushrooms for breakfast, home dyeing your hair, or trying to grow a moustache for Movember. And somewhere in between those two extremes lies the regret I suffer from every year when I enter The 36One Challenge.

The regret isn't immediate. It builds slowly in the months preceding the event, occasionally punctuated by waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat from a particularly bad flashback. As the race nears, so the regret increases - and I get angry at my past self for being so brave and confident and naive and stupid. And it's not like this is the first time my past self has thrown me into this situation - this was the fifth consecutive year that current me has had to deal with the mess past me has created. I'm beginning to think that past Dane is quite a vindictive guy.

Captain Craig and I have had several long and in-depth conversations about this, trying to understand why we keep coming back to this race. Superficially, we'll be the first to admit that the food is pretty good. Ostrich sosaties, date balls and pancakes are enough to win over most people, but we don't just do The 36One for the food. Getting a good result could also be part of the problem, but that's not our motivation for coming back year after year. Often while riding, we just want to get to the finish, regardless of the result. So it's not that.

We do feel honour bound - we have our cycling rules that we try to live and ride by (you should see the size of the rulebook for our BigDayOut). And one of those rules is that we believe a title should always be defended. It's a noble, honourable rule, and it shows that a victory wasn't a one-hit wonder. It also gives challengers the opportunity to race against the current title holders and test their mettle.  But that's not the reason either.

I think we're attracted to this race because it just ticks so many of our boxes. It's long. Really really long. It's super tough - Klein Karoo tough! And it's so well run. Dryland really gets what mountain biking is all about. In the 5 years that we've been doing The 36One, it's grown from an event with a budget gazebo and almost as many riders as there were marshals to the defacto test of endurance mountain biking in this country with start chutes and neutral zones and food stalls and all the other things you'd expect from races that barely last 3 hours.

As The Tortured Souls stood on the start line, the months and months of regret started weighing on our shoulders. What were we once again doing here? Why were we willingly going to put ourselves through the sixteen plus hours of suffering that lay ahead of us? What adversities would we face this time around (and when I say that, I'm generally referring to the creative and innovative ways Captain Craig comes up with to add complexity to any ride that we do)? Perhaps this explained why I felt the uncontrollable desire to wet myself, despite going to the toilet every five minutes.

While we reflected on all the life decisions we'd made to get us to this point, we couldn't help but wonder about the future that lay ahead of us. A future where The 36One was no longer part of our race calendar. Captain Craig and I had signed a blood pact - this was our last 36One for the foreseeable future. We'd definitely be back, but we just needed a break. Time to do other events. Meet other people. See other things. With that in mind, we'd hoped that the buildup to the 2018 36One would be perfect. Lots of training. Plenty of sleep. A robust race plan. And a relaxing drive through to Oudtshoorn on race day.

The reality was that life happens. An outbreak of listeriosis in my household ruined my buildup to race day, although there was a brief moment where I embraced the possibility that I might die. Anything was better than the fate that awaited me in Oudtshoorn. Family obligations kept us both awake. Half of me viewed this as insomnia training for the long cold night that lay ahead. The other half of me stressed that I was going to fall asleep on the bike. And as for that leisurely drive to Oudtshoorn, we only left Somerset West at 10:30, with a looming box hand-in deadline of 4pm. The very same box deadline that we'd previously missed. Thinking back, I think that might also have been the year where Captain Craig's light didn't work, despite the repeated reassurances that they were fully charged and he'd tested them thoroughly. To counter the argument that you can't teach an old dog new tricks, Captain Craig didn't bring one light or two lights. He brought FOUR lights this year! Back to our road trip - roadworks, stop-go's, and slow cars couldn't prevent our determination to make it to Oudsthoorn on time, and we sneaked into registration with 30 minutes to spare. More importantly, we handed our boxes in with plenty of time. A whole 5 minutes!

The gun went and it was quickly apparent who the contenders were going to be. Four teams gathered on the front, and for a change, The Tortured Souls were not setting the pace. We'd had discussion after discussion about how we were going to take the first half of the race easy, hide from the wind, never go into the red. And despite every urge to sit on the front, we were channelling on our inner road cyclists to stay focused and just sit on the wheels. For 45 minutes we stuck to our plan. No closing gaps, no setting the pace, no turns on the front. And then the road went up, and before we knew it we were off the front with a 20-metre gap. I looked at Captain Craig, he looked at me, and just like that the racers in us came to the fore. We were not going to give up that gap without a fight, whatever the consequences!

A working light!
At waterpoint 1 we had 4 minutes, and at checkpoint 1 we had a 10-minute lead. We'd also picked up a stray. A solo rider who we thought was along for a free ride. And even worse, a Pure Savage rider. At first, Waldo lurked at the back, being polite and letting us set the pace, occasionally coming through to take a quick turn on the front. But I started to notice something - he was only coming through when the road tilted slightly up. Nothing steep - just on the false flats where the gradient was between 1 and 2 percent. More worryingly, when he did take a turn on the front he'd slowly and methodically make me want to murder him. Always riding just a tad too hard for my liking.

After the amazing ride that I'd had last year where I felt virtually indestructible - much to Captain Craig's dismay, it was quite a new experience having to deal the emotions and thoughts of going through a bad patch. And I had many, many bad patches. Occasionally I'd synchronise a bad patch with Captain Craig's bad patch, and occasionally I'd synchronise a bad patch with a false flat and Waldo's thighs of doom.

We hit the halfway mark in good time and made quick work of getting ready for the 180 kilometres that lay ahead. Read that again. We were halfway and STILL had 180 kilometres ahead of us. Captain Craig fiddled with his lights - some intricate plan about having the right light on the bike for the descent of Rooiberg, still a distant 80 kilometres away. I spent my time putting on some warm clothing - some gloves, some arm warmers, and a windjammer. In an attempt to look all matchy matchy (if we can't ride fast, we can at least look like we're fast), I'd borrowed a windjammer from Captain Craig's wife. I thought a windjammer was a windjammer was a windjammer, but over the course of the next 6 hours, I learnt a lot about the design and fit of a woman's windjammer. For starters, the bottom of my belly was always sticking out, and no amount of pulling and tugging could convince the windjammer to remain in place. Secondly, there seemed to an excess of material in the chest area, and on the odd occasion that I went fast, the windjammer would turn into a drag chute, billowing and flapping in the breeze, and more importantly, slowing me down unnecessarily. It wasn't all bad though. We did look fast, and it did keep me warm, and without trying to sound all weird, it smelt rather nice. Unlike the rest of me. Despite putting on deodorant that promised 48hr protection, 8hrs of wallowing in my own grime and sweat was enough to defeat the scientists responsible for my deodorant's "unique formulation".

Back out on the road, I suffered an almost immediate bad patch. I couldn't blame Waldo this time - we were on a steep climb and my legs were uncooperative. To make matters worse, we'd gone from being the guys who were hunting down the lights up ahead, to being the riders that the lights behind were hunting down. With over 200 kilometres in the legs, these moves play out in slow motion, often taking hours for the pass to happen. This was no different. Sixty kilometres and 3 hours later, from first sighting to passing, a group of riders eventually caught us. For a minute, Waldo felt obliged to stick with us, but we could tell that he wanted to return to his own kind - the solo racers. And as he disappeared up the road, Captain Craig and I were finally alone once again, riding our own pace, racing our own race.

We weren't super racey, but we still made good progress, and before long we crested the dreaded Rooiberg climb, feeling somewhat disappointed that it wasn't as difficult as we'd remembered. We'd just started the descent of Rooiberg when Captain Craig's lights played their final card and promptly died. But Captain Craig was prepared for this and had a spare light! A minute or two later we were on the go again, ready for the descent. Just as I was about to get into my groove, Captain Craig stopped again. Literally fifty metres on from the last stop. He'd dropped his chain. Not a dropped-his-chain-and-was-able-to-fix-it-in-a-flash kind of dropped chain, but rather a dropped-his-chain-and-got-it-stuck-between-his-pedal-and-chain-blade kind of dropped. I was prepared to make myself comfortable while he broke the chain, got it unstuck, and then rejoined the chain, but thankfully, after some careful analysis, a skillfully placed tug on the chain was all that was required to sort it out. No more than two or three minutes lost.

The awesome threesome
We got to the bottom of the descent and began the arduous task of ticking off the miles to Calitzdorp. For the second year running, I popped spectacularly on this stretch and just as the gels and jelly babies I'd crammed down my throat were kicking in, Captain Craig popped too. I still held out hope that we might be able to hold onto our first place, but we had to be a little strategic going forward. No long stops. No pancakes. No tea. No chatting. And in probably the most coordinated we've ever been, we flew through the checkpoint at Calitzdorp in record time. We dumped our lights, had some snacks, serviced a free body and hit the road. Out of sight - out of mind.

The last leg of The 36One is a true test of character. It's lumpy and hot and never-ending and it takes its toll on both the mind and body. During another of my frequent bad patches, I commented on how the particular hill was so bad, to which Captain Craig, a man of few words on the bike, replied:

"It's all bad. This bit is just terrible"
That was it. I'd found my angle for this blog post. As I started to construct things in my head we caught a glimpse of two riders closing in on us rapidly, and my mood dropped. I was on my limit - there was no way I could mount a counter-attack should the team behind us catch us. But we still held out a slight hope that if we could get over the hill, down the other side, speedily refuel at the water point and stay out of sight, we might be able to hang on to first place.

But that hope was shattered as while I was pouring cup after cup of ice cold coke (that's another thing - why is there ice in the coke at 4am when the temperature is in single digits?) down my throat one of the riders chasing us pulled into the water point. And then it was restored when, after allowing the icecream headache to subside, I could process what had happened. We'd seen two riders. One of them had just caught us. He was a solo rider (it just happened to be Martin Dreyer, which explained a few things too). The other rider was a local commuter. With a bag on his back and a bike that weighed a tonne and was still riding faster than we were. The commuter was on his way to work and was not part of the race. We still held out hope!

One last time

Our twosome was once again a threesome, and once again the new guy was hurting us - even if he had no intention of doing so. Our little posse made good progress, and before long pulled into the final water point. It was suddenly Martin's turn to stress - two solo riders were rapidly approaching and he asked if we wouldn't mind helping him defend his overall placing. With twenty kilometres of the 2018 36One left, and retirement from this event beckoning, I thought we could lend Martin a hand. For the first time in hours we were actually racing someone again, AND, I had the legs to back up this desire to race. The final move of my 36One career was to guarantee Martin his place (side note - Martin asked me to slow down ;) ).
Crossing the finish line for me is always a bit of a letdown. It's the wake-up call that the bike ride is over and that it's back to reality. Despite the bad patches, the sore bums, the tired legs, riding bikes is still fun, even when it hurts and this was no different. We'd survived another 36One, while at the same time getting a good result. But just as the race has to end, so too does our participation in this event. At least for now.

Another successful adventure with Captain Craig
P.S. As I write this, entries for 2019 have opened, and the good news is that Captain Craig and I are still retired. Our resolve is strong, despite the many doubters out there.

What does that little red button do



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