Friday, 19 October 2012

Posted by Velouria Posted on 15:44 | No comments

The Swazi Frontier 2012

Several intrepid mountain bikers set off from the Cape for a cross country adventure in search of some of the best mountain biking Southern Africa has to offer. And as much as we'd like to believe that we live in mountain biking heaven with the fantastic trails in Stellenbosch, Grabouw, Somerset West, Durbanville and Tokai right on our door step, it is the tiny Kingdom of Swaziland that was our destination for mountain biking nirvana in the form of the Swazi Frontier. Judging by the smiles of the mud covered faces each day, it's difficult to find another event that comes close on the smile-o-meter.
Annabelle's first Swazi adventure
This is in part due to the eagerness and passion of the event organisers - Brett and Lesley, and in part due to the superb landscape they have to work with in Swaziland. There is no shortage of leg burning climbs, knuckle whitening descents, sweeping switchbacks, and never ending panoramas that the route follows as we traverse the north western corner of Swaziland. The attention to detail, both on the route and in the general event organisation is quite impressive, and should be the template from which all other events operate. Throw in a bit of what the locals call Swazi time - the laid back carefree nature that things will happen when they're ready - and the friendliness of the locals and you've got an event with a truly unique flavour.
The Kenyan Crickets flanked by the Grasshoppers
Unlike the other representatives from the Cape who had mistakenly flown up a day early or had forgotten their passports behind (Swaziland is indeed NOT part of South Africa), The Flaming Marshmallows (consisting of Captain Craig and myself) had a rather uneventful trip via Johannesburg, through the border post at Oshoek, and on to the race registration at Hawane Resort. We'd heard that the Kenyan Grasshoppers of David Kinja and Davidson Kamau were going to be back and rumour had it that they'd spent the entire year attending every course on navigation and map reading that they could find. They were now pretty much unstoppable. With first place practically sealed, we were eager to see if there were any other up and coming Kenyan Crickets that might be reducing our podium aspirations to just third place. Enter the duo of Vincent and George - smaller and skinnier than their mentors, but just as lethal when the road starts going up.

The Swazi Frontier consists of 3 stages, each unique and so very different from each other that together they pretty much cover all aspects of mountain biking. Stage One is The Killer and if there is any particular skill that you haven't yet mastered, it will expose that weakness and have you on your knees begging for mercy. The 60km route would take the leaders just under 5 hours to complete. The climbs are brutal - literally - there is a climb called Too Brutal that even has the Kenyans crying like girls, while inducing serious bouts of sense of humour failure amongst the rest of the field. Friends have been known to swear at each other, and wives call their husbands childish. The downhills are just as treacherous - taking you to your limits, and then gently nudging past them. No matter who you are, you're always riding a little too fast, throwing caution to the wind and loving every second of it. Like a scene from Alice in Wonderland, dessert comes first in the form of tough technical yet extremely rewarding descents and is followed by Brussels sprouts and cod liver oil in the form of unridable climbs in the midday heat. Only in Swaziland could they get away with this because the good parts are just so darn good.
Captain Craig chilling at Maguga Lodge
With 15kms to go in Stage One, The Flaming Marshmallows were in the mix with both the Kenyan Grasshoppers and Crickets, and the first mixed team of Phil and Jane just behind. I'd drawn the short straw this year and so I was trusted with the dreaded responsibility of navigation. Having been a pilot I thought this was going to be a stroll. Until I had to read a route direction in size 6 font while doing 35km/h down the side of a rocky mountain with my eyeballs bouncing around my skull like balls in a pinball machine. It's a miracle we didn't end up in Tanzania - lost to roam the plains of Africa forever. I did however make two crucial mistakes that day in an attempt to outfox and out navigate the Kenyan competition. The rather generic direction to turn left at a grassy junction cost us in excess of 15 minutes and any chance of a strong finish. But it didn't matter. Yes, it's nice to do well, but after the sweeping switchbacks of Heenen's Staircase, the intimate singletrack next to a river of The Brown Crocodile and even the loose and precarious climb of Baboon's Back, the adrenaline and endorphin fix more than made up for 15 minutes of bundu bashing and Brett cursing.
The pool at Bulembu - 2010
Sun shining in 2011
 Back to its former glory in 2012
Another thing that sets The Swazi Frontier apart from other races is the intimateness of the event. With only 90 teams taking part, it's easy to share stories and listen to tall tales while sharing a beer overlooking the finish line and cheering in those teams that have yet to finish. Much like outcomes based education - everyone at Swazi is a winner, whether you shave your legs and count calories, or are carrying a few extra kilos around the middle, a few more in a bulging CamelBak and only ride in baggies. This is an event where we're all just mountain bikers.

Stage Two is The Queen Stage - the stage where a little bit of climbing is rewarded with hours and hours of downhill, some stunning scenery, and between 27 and 43 river crossings (depending who you ask, and after how many beers you ask them). To put a slight dampener on things, Mother Nature had finally answered the forester's calls for rain and by the time we left the inspiring town of Bulembu it had been raining solidly for 14 hours. The riders from the Cape were licking their lips - finally we had something familiar to make up for the effects of altitude and give us an edge. The Kenyan Grasshoppers and Crickets rocked up on the start line looking like they were on an Arctic expedition wearing ALL their kit - arm warmers, leg warmers, wind jammers, under vests, winter gloves - the lot.
The rain settling in for the night
The pace was furious up front and before long we found ourselves overtaking the lead motorbike. A yelled warning of "WAAAATCH OOOOOOUUUUT FOOOOOR THEEEE TREEEEEEEES" from Brett had me rather confused - we were riding in a forest with hundreds of trees. The warning could have been a little more specific. Until I collided with a tree hanging over the route at chest height while hurtling down a forest track at 40km/h. In what could have been a life altering accident, I somehow managed to stay upright, despite being shot backwards after coming to a abrupt halt. The only thing I had to show was a small flesh wound on my arm, and racing pulse, and a wounded ego. Later on I heard that while I was the first victim of the tree, I certainly wasn't the last, and in comparison I got off rather lightly.
My Swazi tattoo - thanks to a stray tree
By this stage, Captain Craig and I were in 4th place, chasing our Cape cousins and the over dressed Kenyans as we crisscrossed the river in the Mganda valley when disaster struck. In addition to riding with no back brake, Captain Craig broke a chain which gave the leaders a gap on us as we fiddled around in the dirt to put it back together. As we left the Mganda valley behind us and the safety of the river, we found ourselves having to navigate the uniquely Swazi sticky red mud of death. It's like jam mixed with super glue and baby poo. All forward motion is halted as the mud clings to anything it touches, eventually clogging up anything that is supposed to turn. As I waited for Captain Craig after a particularly punishing patch, a local took one look at my bike, shook his head at said "Eish - it's time to throw in the towel". But we're better than that, and we persevered on.
Little John getting put back together again, also indicating their  planned position for the next day
Just when it looked like we'd be settling for 4th place with 5kms to go we came across the Arctic Kenyans bent over in a huddle. A rather strange scene greeted us - I saw a shoe cleat, what looked like spoke spanner, a broken chain and a rock which was being pounded against the other items. This was our chance for a podium! But that is not what Swazi is all about. Without hesitating I gave them my chain breaker and a quick link and then set off to make use of the two minutes head start we'd get over them up the final climb of the day to Piggs Peak Hotel. With only a quarter of the hill behind us, the Kenyan Express came storming past us like we were out on a recovery ride. To see these guys in action is quite amazing - the effortlessness and fluidity with which they climb is impressive. We eventually rolled into Piggs Peak in 4th place behind our Cape cousins and the Kenyan Snowmen - covered in mud from head to toe with aching legs and burning lungs, but with massive smiles - the luxuries of the hotel awaiting us.
Making Swazi Soup in the Piggs Peak hotel room bath
After a scrumptious dinner, a few beers and a good night's sleep we once again awoke to the pouring rain. There is nothing worse than leaving the comfort of a warm bed for a cold wet saddle for the start of Stage 3 - The Playground. In the past this stage was more like a transitionary stage between Piggs Peak and Maguga Lodge, but with all the changes made it turned out to be my most enjoyable stage of the event. The lead group were off at a furious pace, but before long things were starting to go pear shaped. People are very quick to criticise the guy that leads the whole group astray, and while I didn't get any shouts of appreciation when navigating correctly, I sure did get a lot of abuse for missing one or two (or three) turns. After that, I changed my navigational strategy - I'd rely on Phil and Jane, and if they weren't around, the SCPS - Swazi Children Positioning System. Captain Craig was once again showing us just how hard core he is by again riding with no back brakes. Apart from the odd fall at high speed he managed to survive the stage in one piece - mostly.
Making Swazi Soup at Maguga Lodge
Before long it was the usual suspects were at it again - the Kenyan Grasshoppers were asserting their dominance, leaving the Crickets, our Cape cousins, the incredibly strong team of Jane and Phil and us to dice it out. Our Cape cousins were in 2nd overall, and so when we came across them fiddling with a loose cleat The Flaming Marshmallows stopped to offer help. If anyone had a chance of dethroning the Kenyans, they'd need all the help they could get. By the time we got to the water point, Captain Craig was having cleat problems of his own, but in his usual tough and carefree manner chose to ride on, effectively pedalling with one and a half legs as he rode away from our little posse. It was around this time that we entered The Playground - goat track blending into jeep track, traversing dongas and ravines, picking virgin lines to avoid the obstacles that the trail threw at us. Score a 10 out of 10 on the smile-o-meter. None of us wanted it to end. Of the three days of riding in Swaziland this was the highlight for me. But like all good things that end we eventually left The Playground and popped out on the Maguga Dam wall and had a short sharp climb up to the lodge. The Kenyan Crickets were back on their preferred terrain and disappeared from sight as The Flaming Marshmallows crossed the line in 3rd place.
Racing in luxury
All that remained was to clean up, pack away the bikes and get ready for the 4th stage. Unlike the previous 3 stages, here the back markers hold the advantage and it's the race snakes that suffer. The Swazi Frontier once again exceeded expectations - the fantastic, raw mountain biking, the friendly locals, the enthusiasm and passion of Brett and Lesley and the like minded fellow cyclists - all combine to create an exceptional event and I'm pretty sure The Flaming Marshmallows will be back again next year.
The first out of category climb of Stage 4

Monday, 1 October 2012

Posted by Velouria Posted on 16:42 | No comments

My Movie Debut

In the run up to my failed World 24hr MTB Championships attempt in Canmore, Canada, a friend of mine put together this video as a marketing video in my fruitless search for sponsorship.

Dane Walsh, Ultra Endurance Cyclist from Fluffy Owl Films on Vimeo.

Ironically, 4 days after doing the shooting for the video I got the following mail (dated on my birthday):

At least now I have an awesome action video. And let me tell you - I can now appreciate just how hard it is for people to sound coherent and intelligent when placed in front of the cameras. Riding a bike for 24hrs is much easier than trying to talk sense for 5 minutes.

Thanks Theunis

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Posted by Velouria Posted on 19:19 | 5 comments

Trans Baviaans 2012

The farewell tour
Once again, three middle aged men made the pilgrimage to Willowmore in the Eastern Cape for the small matter of a bike race. Not just any bike race - the 9th edition of the Trans Baviaans mountain bike  race. The usual crew of Captain Craig, Little John and myself were all together for one last attempt at a top five finish - Little John is slowly starting his transformation from wannabee race snake to leisurely weekend warrior, shifting his focus from 5am tempo rides to 5pm sundowner rides, from riding flat out to riding flat roads, from clocking up 25 hours a week on the bike to clocking 25 hours a weekend with his family.

A clean bike is a fast bike - even if you have to clean it in the rain
In what has become another Baviaans tradition, we spent the night in the Willowmore School hostel, listening to the nervous restlessness of the first timers, hearing them clomp up and down to the toilets at all hours of the night, burying our heads under our pillows as they got ready for the 10am start at 5am in the morning. With our beauty sleep ruined we finally got up, put out our kit and supplies for the day and wandered off to breakfast.

Start line nerves from the old man
I've discovered a new party trick that works especially well in the crowded dining hall of the Willowmore School hostel - find a rather nervous looking individual and strike up a conversation about the race, without giving too much away. Offer some advice, tell them not to worry too much and let them know what a fantastic event it is. Eventually he'll ask how many times I've done the race or what my best time is and this is where I love watching people's facial expressions. They range from total disbelief to wild skepticism. In a way I'm a little hurt that no one takes us seriously, but generally when your team name is Walla Walla Weasel Whackers, I really shouldn't expect anything less. Out of respect for Little John's retirement race, I'd opted not to name our team the usual name of Soggy Bottom Boys.

Captain Craig and I - chilling in the start chute
With 10am fast approaching, we packed our supply boxes for later in the day, put on our kit, stuffed our pockets with supplies and tools, and headed off to the start line. It's not often you get to see the impact an event has on the local community, but as Trans Baviaans has grown, so too has the involvement and interest from locals. In what used to be a one horse town where if you ventured too far away from the local hotel you might never see your teammates again, the whole community comes out to support the race, lining the recently swept streets and cheering wildly. In a week where many needlessly lost their lives in the Lonmin mine shootings, it was refreshing to see South Africans of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds coming together in the name of sport.

Winners of the "Kleintjies" race - one lap around town
The local race snakes about to start their 2 laps around Willowmore

After another mumbled race briefing by Wikus the organiser and a much improved rendition of the national anthem, we were set on our way for the 230km ride to Jeffrey's Bay. A lead bunch immediately formed and so began the cycling poker. For the next three hours there was bluffing, double bluffing, peeking at the cards of others and a bit of underhanded dirty tactics. All the cycling tricks in the book were used, from glass pedaling on the front to wheel sucking on the back, from upping the pace when "The Biggest Cyclist in the World"™ had a mechanical to surging on the hills - everything to get some sort of advantage over the rest of the bunch for the second part of the race.

Little John working on his race face
In the blink of an eye we had done 105kms in 3h20 to checkpoint 2 - Little John fighting with the big boys on the front of the bunch while Captain Craig and I dangled off the back as we took a bit of strain through the countless water crossing as the bunch surged to get back up to speed on the exits. Any hopes about not getting wet feet or a soggy chamois were dashed on the first crossing. As the day wore on and the temperature started to rise, I think many riders in the bunch were only too glad for the regular cooling of feet, legs and bums.

Little John was the only one doing the "YMCA"
The strategy from checkpoint 2 onward is simple - ride a constant, steady pace from checkpoint to checkpoint. Make the most of the good patches, and survive the bad patches. Little John, much like a fine wine or smelly cheese just seemed to get better with age and the responsibility of setting the pace fell to him. If there ever was a point to be made in the 26 vs 29 inch wheel size debate, Little John was coming out fighting for the little wheels as he made his teammates on the bigger wheels work rather hard to keep up. With his hairy legs and baggy shirt, his cycling bandanna and retro helmet, he certainly looks the part of a weekend warrior, not the race snakes which we found ourselves amongst.

ET phone home?
A solid ride to checkpoint 3 had us arriving in 10th place overall. A quick change of bottles and some salty potatoes later and we were on our way, heading towards my nemesis - The Mother of All Climbs. If something can go wrong for me at Baviaans, this is usually the place where it happens. I've had a massive side wall cut in my tyre, I've bonked so badly that Little John had to push my bike as I tried to stumble up the hill, I've developed stomach issues and had to take a moment to purge my stomach contents. All I wanted was an incident free leg of 28km up to checkpoint 4 at Bergplaas.

Lights on, downhill awaits
Shortly after leaving checkpoint 3 we found ourselves in 8th place as the two leading teams came past us in the wrong direction - they had missed the checkpoint. I felt for them, as Little John and I had pulled the same move in 2007. Not only do you end up riding an extra 10kms, but doubts and cracks begin to appear in your mind. It wasn't long after that move that I found myself walking up MAC. Little John set another superb pace as we approached the climb. Much like meeting your in-laws for the first time - it's not something you want to do, but it is inevitable - we started climbing. I kept waiting for the ninja of death to strike me down, but the further we made it up the climb without the ninja of death making an appearance, the more confident I became that I could finally banish my MAC demons.  It certainly helped the spirits that we caught and passed 3 teams on the climb, and in a symbolic gesture of thanks for all the times Captain Craig has had to deal with my self destruction on this climb, I was even able to give him a slight push.

Team 333 - aka The Walla Walla Weasel Whackers - in 5th place
As we approached checkpoint 4, Little John adopted his father voice and demeanor and barked out orders to his younger teammates about the schedule of happenings for checkpoint 4. I was tasked with getting life saving soup and bread rolls for the Weasel Whackers, while Little John would get our box. Captain Craig got a pass, and was told to do whatever it is he does. A cup of coke, some soothing bum cream and the life saving soup later we were ready to leave. With a pit stop more commonly found in a Formula One Grand Prix we'd been able to climb up the leader board, and we found ourselves in 5th place as we signed out of checkpoint 4. Out of habit from when we used to be slow, we'd attached our lights at the stop, but at the rate we'd been riding, we'd only need them several hours later.

Trying to look fancy for the camera
As we were leaving we caught sight of "The Biggest Cyclist in the World"™ and his team, and this provided us with some added motivation to make use of the fantastic descent down the other side of the MAC. It wasn't long before we found ourselves back on the valley floor with another team for company. Little John and I shared the pace making as we drove on towards checkpoint 5 at Hadleigh, determined to make the teams behind us work hard if they wanted to catch us. I also knew that we'd never hear the end of it if Little John did all the work on the front as we loafed at the back. Sometimes the bigger picture needs to considered, despite the consequences.

Little John in the zone
We flew into checkpoint 5 where we finally met up with our support - my very capable and experienced wife. A quick bottle change, some fluid and snacks and we were back on the route in 5th place - Jeffrey's Bay was almost within sniffing distance. Just the small matter of the Never Ender climb stood between us and the downhill to the finish.

Captain Craig sporting the new trend in cycling - calf warmers
The roadie in me appreciated the tar section out of Hadleigh before we turned off onto the road to Humansdorp. Captain Craig navigated the flooded Gamtoos River crossing on his bike while Little John and I chose discretion over valour and walked through the thigh deep, ice cold waters. And then the Never Ender began. Little John immediately went to the front and set a perfect pace and the two 29ers slotted in behind. Thank goodness there were no photographers to record the rather embarrassing situation. We made good progress up the Never Ender when disaster struck. I had been taking a bit of strain with Little John's relentless tempo and in an effort to get a boost I took a Gu. Next thing I knew I was projectile vomiting like a newborn baby. There is nothing quite as funny as watching the awkwardness between two grown men deciding how to react to a teammate who is ejecting a troublesome Gu as fast and as violently as possible. To my credit, I was able to do all this on the bike, with only a marginal decrease in pace. I was however quite disappointed that I'd been unable to break my run of reverse gastric emptying.

The Weasel Whackers crossing ANOTHER river
Once the awkwardness had subsided a little, and my teammates had realised that I was going to live, Little John resumed the pace setting as we neared the top of the climb with the sun slowly sinking below the horizon. After lugging the lights around for several hours, we were finally able to use them. Still in parent mode, Little John told Captain Craig to turn his light on, despite it not being quite dark enough. He would later tell us that Captain Craig has a reputation for falling over in broad daylight, and he wasn't going to take any chances with him in the semi-darkness. As we approached the unmanned checkpoint we saw the tell tale sign of some lights stalking us from behind. Try as we might we could not hold them off, and as we arrived at checkpoint 6 we found ourselves in 6th place with 30kms to go.

Sunset at checkpoint 6
Organised chaos in the backup vehicle
A quick stop, some ego pandering from my wife, some last minute snacks and we were off - the Jeffrey's Bay lights beckoning in the distance. Captain Craig was finally taking strain - he'd been threatening us with stories of poor form all ride long and after 8 hours of showing little weakness we didn't actually believe him. One last river crossing followed by a leg busting climb, and it would be a cruise into the finish. Or so I thought. Captain Craig caught sight of a pair of fast approaching lights, and in the most rapid onset of white line fever I have ever seen, went to the front for the first time all day and proceeded to rip my legs off. As he powered his way towards Jeffrey's, the regrets started. I regretted the push I had given him near the top of MAC, I regretted all the times I had gone to the front to help Little John, I regretted the speed sessions I had missed because of the rain, I regretted not choosing running as my sport of choice.

The Walla Walla Weasel Whackers - 6th place overall and first 3 man team.
We never did see those lights behind us again. As if it wasn't bad enough, Captain Craig caught sight of the team ahead of us, and although I didn't think it was possible, managed to up the pace even more. I don't recall too much of the final 10kms, except for Little John's rear tyre, and the pain in my jaw from biting down on my handle bars. I didn't know if we were catching the team ahead, and I didn't really care right then. I just wanted the pain to stop. Thankfully, the finish line put an end to the pain and suffering - we'd crossed the line in 6th place in 9h28 - less than a minute down on the guys in 5th. An added bonus was that we were the first 3 man team.

And with that I shook Little John's hand for the 6th and final time (I also had to endure a man hug). Captain Craig had finished his 5th Baviaans, and I was on my 9th. As they say though - the band has to break up before they can have a reunion tour. Perhaps the Walla Walla Weasel Whackers will be back again next year with the original line up of Little John, Captain Craig and myself, or perhaps we'll hire a session cyclist to fill the void for a couple of years.

Additional photos from The Nature Gym, Photo Dynamix (1, 2, 3)

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Posted by Velouria Posted on 16:31 | 2 comments

Oak Valley 24hr 2012

Courtesy of
14th December: Just entered for the Oak Valley 24hr. Solo. I suddenly feel like a prisoner on death row. What was I thinking? I'm getting too old for this. At least I got the early bird (aka cheapskate) discount. On the positive side, it surely can't be as bad as my Double Century.

24th December: Just got back from a 5 hour ride, having bonked spectacularly after 3 hours. It was like the Double Century all over again, except there was no one to push me. Forget about tomorrow being Christmas Day - I'm just glad it's a rest day.

26th December: Another 5hr ride. Didn't bonk this time - I suspect the 7 mince pies and 2 helpings of Christmas pudding yesterday might be the reason. Probably explains why I climbed like a lead balloon. Time for a compact crank perhaps (or a diet).

1st January: Happy New Year. Twenty days until my date with the Grim Reaper. I did a 6 hour ride yesterday and didn't see a single cyclist on the road. Gave all the merry holiday makers on Strand beach me best death stare - they seemed to be having far too much fun. My plans to have a nap in the car last night at the New Year's party were foiled, but as the dedicated driver I made sure we left just after 12. Thanks goodness for spmall miracles - another rest day today. Can't get too excited though - another 5hr ride tomorrow.

2nd January: I hate my bike. My bum hates me. My dogs (and wife) treat me like a stranger in my own house.

5th January: Started stalking potential competitors, while at the same time keeping a low profile. Thank goodness for Twitter and Facebook - it's so much easier being a stalker these days. Found a route profile and am suddenly quite nervous. An 11km lap with 250m of climbing. Really regretting all those Christmas pies right now. Time for us to diet (us being myself AND my bike).

Oak Valley 24hr Lap

8th January: Completed my last big weekend before the 24hr. Saw last year's 2nd placed solo lady out on the road in the middle of nowhere, so at least I'm not the only antisocial person in the Winelands. Also saw the beginning of the Argus First Timers/New Year's Resolutionists beginning their training/get fit plans. I'm glad to see that tekkies and T-shirts are still the apparel of choice for beginners. (Mental note: be sure to destroy all photos of my first Argus!)

11th January: Where. Are. My. Lights??? Last seen just after Trans Baviaans.

12th January: Found my lights, along with a pair of missing (now mouldy and rank) arm warmers and a stranger's pair of underpants. Don't ask - your guess is as good as mine...
Ready to roll
14th January: Earned some brownie points doing backup for my wife at Attakwas. Going to come in handy next week. Looked like a bit of a tit riding back along the route, but when the coach says 3 hours, I do 3 hours...

20th January: Frantic search for new tyres. Settled on Racing Ralphs. Need all the raciness I can get. Bike serviced, snacks bought, kit washed, lights charged, bags packed and bum cream purchased. The 24hr is a go!

21st January

6:30am: It's impossible to sleep more than 10 hours - time to get up. Best thing about the 24hr - double helping of FutureLife for breakfast.

8:30am: On our way to Oak Valley. Can't believe how much stuff we've packed for one night away.

10:30am: Gazebo pitched. Decided not to pitch tent. Didn't want to tempt fate.
Single track heaven
11:30am: Changed into cycling kit, bum cream applied. Had a motivational chat with Nelly (my bike) - she looks after me and I'll look after her.

11:45am: Race briefing. Felt like I was back in high school listening to the headmaster. Meurant may have missed his calling as a school principal - no wonder he channels that authority into some really great, but equally tough trails around the Western Cape. A fantastic turnout - in excess of 300 participants overall and over 100 insane people going solo.
And we're off
12:00pm: Le Mans style start. It's rather easy to spot the solo riders in the crowd - I've perfected the loping amble. Slightly faster than walking pace, but slower than a jog. Anyone faster than that was riding in a team, and anyone equally slow or slower was doing it solo.

12:35pm: First lap done. What a fantastic course. First half requires a bit of hard work up the climb, but you're easily distracted by the climbing single track. The second half is pure smile inducing awesomeness. Fast flowing single track bobbing and weaving between the trees - mountain biking at its very best. Legs felt great, everything appears to be working well. Seems like there is a sneaky photographer behind every tree, jumping out with camera in hand when you least expect it. Modern day ninjas.

16:18pm: 7 laps done, seven bottles of juice consumed. Bum cream reapplied. 37 degrees out on the course. Have had several close encounters with cows. Rather ironically we still have half an Oak Valley cow in our deep freezer. I was tempted to mention this to them next time they got too close but decided against it. Having one of their friends for supper twice a week might just spur them on to attack me.

17:01pm: Near race and marriage ending argument with my wife (or as Meurant calls her, the best technical support in the business) over the flavour of Gu she was giving me. After forcing down several Tri-Berry, Jet Blackberry and Peanut Butter flavoured sachets I lost it when I got yet another Tri-Berry flavoured one. All I wanted was my favourite Double Espresso flavoured Gu. Perhaps I was going to be pitching the tent after all...
Time for a snack
18:30pm: Discovered I had a granny gear at the front. The climbs are suddenly a bit more manageable. The time keepers are playing silly buggers with me - they won't tell me what's happening in the race. Good thing Tree John wrote the timing software and was able to sneak me some race info. Things are looking good. I might be in first place. Or third. In other news, the wind has started to drop - I'm upset for two reasons. It was nice and cooling, and was doing a good job of blowing us up the climbs.

19:12pm: Stopped for supper and a change of shirt. Was beginning to smell like my long lost arm warmers. Applied more bum cream for good measure. Fitted my underpants flavoured lights while trying to touch them as little as possible. Sunset is imminent.
Fresh gloves
21:50pm: JRR Tolkein was onto something with his Ents. Trees definitely move at night. It feels like they've all taken one step closer to the trail. Rather intimidating. Saw several frogs on the trail. Made sure I wasn't hallucinating and they were in fact real. They have a deluded sense of toughness - quite prepared to take on a bicycle wheel.

12:00am: Halfway. 17 laps done. Very quiet and lonely out on the course. The odd racing snake makes a brief appearance before vanishing down the trail - rear red light blinking faintly. Almost rode over a mouse with the indecisiveness of a guinea fowl crossed with a squirrel. Had to actually dismount while he made up his mind about which way he wanted to go.
An indecisive mouse
2:03am: Found a crazy solo single speeder have a wrestling match with his bike up a hill. At least I'm not that crazy, and at least I'm not struggling that much. Suddenly very grateful to the guy who invented the derailleur and gears. Asked my wife for lube - she handed me the bum cream. I was talking about bike lube for my dry chain.

2:52am: Had a close encounter with a Tree Ent. I swear it deliberately stuck out a branch and grabbed my bar ends. Quite surprised by my cat like reflexes so early in the morning (I put this down to the switch to the Double Espresso Gu flavour). Pity no one was about to see my fantastic bike handling skills, or witness the evil Tree Ent.
Check the cows out
4:28am: The sky is getting lighter - sunrise will be any minute now. Couldn't help thinking of all the other athletes about to wake up - Half Iron Man and the Cape Cobra. I'm secretly jealous of their choice in outdoor activity. In other news, I suspect various parts of my body of planning a pain protest. I think my bum is the ring leader.

5:17am: It is light enough to ride without lights. Imagine my surprise upon discovering the cows were in exactly the same place as they were before the sun set. They'd been watching us all night long. I feel violated by the voyeur cows. Time for more bum cream. Is it possible to apply too much?
In the zone
7:44am: Have had Robbie Williams' "I don't want to Rock DJ" stuck in my head for 2 hours now. I suspect the other competitors are resorting to nasty psychological warfare tactics. The worst thing is that I only know one line of the song. The course is suddenly as busy as the N1 on a work day. And I'm the overloaded 18 wheeler truck grinding up Durbanville Hill, obstructing the traffic.

8:34am: Just did a whole lap with the hiccoughs. Banana flavoured. I haven't had a banana for 6 hours. Some vindictive social rider is making bacon and eggs in the camp. There should be rules about torturing the solo riders like this. The finish is almost within sight.

9:21am: Some windgat race snake wearing world champ colours came flying passed me. Like there'd be any world champs at a little 24hr event in Grabouw. Pffft!
Spot the World Champ behind me
10:26am: No wonder I am so slow - there are bits on my bike that I am not using. Like the big chain blade, the second water bottle cage. And the saddle. The protest has escalated into a full blown strike. My bum refuses to go near my saddle. In other news, in an attempt to let a faster rider past I fell into a bramble thicket - bum first. Once in, I was quite prepared to spend the rest of the day there - getting out brought tears to my eyes.

11:31am: Last lap done. Finished. Just waiting for 12pm to cross the line. Ignoring all the encouragement to do one last lap. Names have been taken and I'll be lodging a complaint of attempted murder against all those egging me on. Far more focused on getting a beer. And sitting.
Bum and saddle are no longer friends
12:01pm: 30 laps completed, 330kms, 6890m of ascent, 17 451 KCal burned. I took in the following: 30 bottles of juice/water, 4 litres of coke, 2 litres of Lucozade, 4 Woolworths milkshakes/yoghurt drinks, 15 baby potatoes, 12 Gu sachets, 4 bananas, one sandwich, one cappuccino, a mouthful of pasta and 17 airborne bugs.

12:17pm: Attempting to shower. Discovered several new features on my bum. I'm either growing horns or they are blisters. Going commando.

12:30pm: Been lusting after a Spur burger and chips all night long, only to be told that they are packing up. Tried to explain that I'd been a little busy for the last 24hrs. Ended up going to the LimeBar for beer instead.
Happiness is beer and a chair
1:12pm: Car is packed largely due to the best technical support crew around (my wife). I sat down to tie a shoelace and stayed there.

1:30pm: Prize giving. Lots of weary bodies with big smiles. On the smile scale the event was clearly a great success. Seems like a tough battle for 1st place was had in all categories. Except that crazy single speeder team - no one was crazy enough to challenge them. The best 24hr event I have been to yet - the course alone is enough to forgive any other oversights by Dirtopia. Good work. Turns out the windgat race snake wearing world champ colours is in fact a Ralph Näf - 2006 World Marathon Champ - out on a training ride. He won the 3hr race.
The top 3 solo riders
2:32pm: Fell asleep on the car trip home. Drooled down my cheek. Car is unpacked, and by unpacked I mean all the stuff is now taking up space in the lounge. A cup of tea in the bath, bum damage inspection and time for a nap. Taking tomorrow off - is it normal leave or sick leave?
Even Nelly took strain
8:07pm: Pizza in bed, time to catch up on missing sleep. Will be sleeping on my stomach tonight. Good night.
One dirty right leg
All professional looking photos courtesy of Chris at PhotoBay