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!


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