Thursday, 23 April 2015

Posted by Velouria Posted on 16:52 | 1 comment

The 36One 2015

The 36One

As we crossed the finish line of The 36One a year ago, Captain Craig and I vowed to never ever ever ever do this event again, and yet, when entries opened for this year's event, we were there, the pain and suffering a distant memory.

Everything about The 36One is just crazy. The person who came up with the idea had to be crazy. The people who turned the idea into an event must be crazy. And the people paying good money to ride such an event are definitely crazy. It doesn't stop there. As if 361 kilometres isn't crazy enough, the ride only starts at sunset. Why in the world would any one willingly want to do such an event, and yet here we were. Again.

A welcome stop at the pie shop
Team HotChillee's build up didn't really go according to plan. Captain Craig got sick with a month to go, followed shortly by me. Man flu is quite a debilitating disease at the best of times - imagine how grumpy we were as we moped about, sick and unable to ride our bikes. As the months of training and preparation slowly seeped from our bodies, desperation started to set in. It's okay to be weak and slow, it's just not okay to be weaker and slower than your partner. Despite several frantic emails to The Coach, and some last minute training program changes, the realisation dawned on me that I was probably going to die at The 36One when I popped spectacularly on a 3 hour training ride. Here is the email exchange I had with The Coach:

My tempo ride seemed to start out ok (Strava said I rode some good solid segments), but my legs felt tender, and after 2 hours I popped. I had to stop for a coke and chocolate just to get home. And then, while lying on the couch, watching TV, I had the worst cramps I have had in years. Every muscle in both legs ganged up on me.
We've changed our objectives from a podium to just not dying. I suspect I might have to get my money's worth and spend a bit more time than usual at the water points ;)
Our bad luck bogey didn't end with the man flu. With an hour to go to race time, Captain Craig discovered that his lights weren't working. But never fear - in a rare moment of sheer brilliance, he'd borrowed a backup set. Which didn't work either. And in all the light fitting and refitting pandemonium, we'd missed the deadline to hand in our boxes of supplies, spares and extra kit. So there we were with one working light, and potentially no supplies for 361 kilometres. And just like that, Captain Craig had a new name - Captain Chaos - a name his wife also fully endorses. Thankfully, after a little begging and pleading, the amazing people at Dryland came up with a plan to get our boxes to where they needed to be, although we never did solve the light issue.
It's difficult to describe the attraction of The 36One. On paper there is nothing appealing about it. It's 361 kilometres of dirt road riding, in the dark, on your own. And while it might be the Karoo, it's certainly not flat with over 5000 metres of climbing. The weather can be unpredictable and the terrain quite brutal on body and bike. And yet, over 500 undeterred cyclists entered this crazy crazy event with something to prove. For some, it's the thrill of the race, the planning and preparation, the control of mind over body. For others it's the challenge, the next big thing. Pushing the limits to near breaking point just to see what happens. Having the courage to stand on the start line and contemplate the unknown that awaits them.

A lot of kit for just one ride
With the sun setting behind the Swartberg mountains, months and months of preparation culminated as we were sent on our way - the great unknown ahead of us. Being the roadies that we are, Captain Chaos and I immediately hooked a tandem and set out way too fast. While I tried to convince myself that this was a good idea, my brain was frantically calculating where exactly we'd be when I'd pop after 2 hours, and whether there would be any coke nearby. I concluded that we'd probably be miles from civilization, and that I'd probably end up dying out there, with just Captain Chaos for company. Luckily, the road started to go up, and the tandem went backwards, and all of a sudden we were in control of our own destiny. Until the solo race snakes caught us.

What do we put in these?
Captain Chaos and I could have entered as solo race snakes, but there is something cool about being forced to ride with someone else, particularly in a race like this. Being able to share a moment, having a shoulder to cry on in the early hours of the morning, an extra brain to help with decision making conundrums like whether to have another date ball or switch to the koeksisters, and just a person with which to get through the occasional dark patch (in our case, Captain Chaos's extremely long literal dark patch from sunset to sunrise).

My trusty stead
On the topic of darkness, Captain Chaos was like the shadow behind me that I couldn't see. This presence I knew was there but couldn't always locate. Occasionally I'd lose him completely, only to hear his desperate cries for help as he careened off the road towards the great unknown. Not only did he ride the entire night time route without a light, he also didn't complain once. Together, we managed to somehow navigate the ups and downs on one light without incident, although I now know what it feels like to be a seeing eye dog. So cemented was our race formation that even once the sun had risen, we rarely changed our line up - me on the front with Captain Chaos close behind, the occasional buzz of his freebody the only indicator I had that he was still there.

As the race snakes dished out the pain to each other, a couple of the teams and a few of the more sensible solo riders sat up and let them go. We soon found ourselves in the esteemed company of Jeannie and Martin Dreyer, as well as some of the top endurance riders in South Africa. I've always been a fan of the tortoise approach to long distance riding, and having that reinforced by the riders around us gave me hope that I might make the first checkpoint before the wheels fell off. Given the list of achievements the Dreyers share between them, it was rather odd that they took a wrong turn and vanished from our sight for the next 10 hours. We weren't sure what was worse - trying to chase them down, or being chased down by them. It did however give us a renewed urgency at the water and check points. I usually ignore Captain Chaos's harassment and take my time, making sure I'm thoroughly refuelled and ready to go. This year our stops were up there with Formula One race cars!

Frantic light replacement
The greatest pity about this race is that we ride in some of the most scenic surroundings in the complete darkness. If it isn't in the small puddle of light in front of you, it doesn't exist. Sometimes you can smell it, and sometimes you can hear it, but that is the only hint you have that a world exists outside of the light. Occasionally we'd be treated to some visitors - we saw a few rabbits, a mouse or two, and Captain Chaos encountered a snake which he expertly bunny hopped. And sometimes we'd see things that weren't really there at all - stars and cell phone masts looked like riders way above us at the top of figmental climbs, road signs varied from oncoming traffic to giant wild animals, and I greeted more than one fence post that I thought looked like a spectator or marshal.

Spot the roadies wheelsucking the tandem
This race can never be won in the first 200 kilometres, but it certainly can be lost. While conservative riding, a proven nutritional plan, and some mental fortitude will get you quite far, sometimes you need a little luck too. As we left the first check point, Captain Craig broke a chain. Trying to fix a chain at the best of times is a rather fiddly hit and miss operation, and with cold fingers and minimal light is as tedious as watching the South African cricket team mount a run chase. Fortunately, we had our mechanical within sight of the check point, and were able to fix the chain in the blink of an eye, thanks to the light of a nearby Toyota Hilux's headlights. Thanksfully, that was the sum total of our bad luck.
You'd think that in 361 kilometres Captain Chaos and I would be able to solve the world's problems, but the reality is that we barely talk to each other. A cursory "How you doing?", a curt "Can we back it off?" or a quick "What do you need at the water point?" typically sum up our verbal interactions. Occasionally I'd get advice on how to ride through the muddy patches, or I'd request a wee stop. We're so good at non-verbal communication that at one point we said nothing to each other for 20 kilometres, which completely freaked out the rider that was riding with us. So much so that we're convinced he dropped off because he thought we were having a marriage row. But we understand each other all of the time - one look and we can tell how the other is feeling, how strong he is riding, or whether he is having a bad patch, and we can adjust accordingly. That's not to say I don't have conversations, I do, but mostly in my head. With myself. About all sorts of things that I can never remember afterwards. Cycling induced amnesia.
The main physical challenge of The 36One is a little hill called Rooiberg. A 7 kilometre climb with 500 metres ascent. Nothing too hectic. Except it comes after 250 kilometres. When it comes to any team race, you don't have to be the fastest, you just have to be faster than your partner, and this year it was Captain Chaos's turn to suffer up the climb. And even then, when you think you're suffering, there is always someone worse off. As we inched our way up the climb we caught a solo rider standing next to his bicycle, motionless. We asked if he was okay, and he replied with a rejected "I just need some time to gather myself". We've all be there, and given the state he was in, I suspect he spent quite a while gathering himself on the slopes of Rooiberg.
Before we knew it, we had crested the climb and were flying down the other side in our familiar formation, sharing the light whilst trying to carry some speed. A long and cold descent later we hit the valley floor with the lights of Calitzdorp glimmering in the distance. Sunrise was threatening to make an appearance in the lead looking sky and with it the promise of some warmth. As we rolled into the checkpoint in the pre-dawn light we were greeted with an oasis of snacks and supplies. The only thing worse than a porridge brain is an indecisive porridge brain. Captain Chaos and I breathlessly sampled the goodies on hand before being jolted back to reality by the appearance of the Dreyers. We had 80 kilometres of looking over our shoulders ahead of us, and we needed all the head start we could get.

The numbers
The final stage of The 36One can only be described as barbaric. A mere 51 kilometres as the crow flies to the finish, but a sadistic and brutal 80 kilometres with over a thousand metres of climbing awaited us. This was where our race began. Where the previous 12 hours effort would either make or break us. We knew what lay in store for us, and we knew just how deep we'd need to dig. With those thoughts filling our minds there was no need to talk. No wonder our companion felt a little uneasy.

Still mates after another crazy adventure
Few things in cycling are as depressing and soul destroying as slogging it out on a climb, going to a very dark place for a very long time, and as you crest the climb to feelings of elation and accomplishment with a beautiful downhill in front of you, only to see the road climbing out of the valley up another impossibly steep hill. How more cyclists at The 36One haven't suffered mental breakdowns is a testament to the toughness and single bloody mindedness of those that enter this unique event.
Top step of the podium for Team HotChillee
As we crested the last of the mind destroying hills we still could not see the Dreyers, and we began to believe that we might just be able to hold them off. My white line fever once again kicked in from 35 kilometres out, but Captain Chaos had the wisdom this year to speak up and curb my enthusiasm before he imploded like a poorly made soufflé. We ticked off the final kilometres in a metronomic fashion, crossing the line in 16:03, to be told we'd finished in second place. Our hearts sank as our minds tried to make sense of the news we were hearing. How could that be? Where did they pass us? Who was this team we'd missed entirely? And then the good news - there was no other team. Captain Chaos and I had won the team category, knocking 45 minutes off our previous time, and climbing up on a step on the podium.

We might have won our category, but as usual, the real champions in an event like this are not those at the pointy end of the race, instead the real champions are those for which The 36One isn't just a bike race, but rather a life changing obsession. To those men and women, you have my utmost admiration and respect. You are the true heroes. The real champions. And I know many will be back next year. Captain Chaos and I have already vowed to never ever ever do this event again, but as I write this race report I'm already thinking about next year, and the allurement that this crazy crazy race has over each and every one of us.

Another one for the collection

Friday, 28 November 2014

Posted by Velouria Posted on 16:01 | 6 comments

Coronation Double Century 2014

Once a year, the forth oldest town in South Africa is transformed from a destination better known for its fine dining and agricultural shows, to the capital of endurance road cycling. The Coronation Double Century attracts bike riders from all over the country, eager to measure themselves against the 202 kilometres in and around the picturesque town of Swellendam. Now in its 22 year, the DC, as it is affectionately known, continues to innovate and adapt, and this is what makes it part of our unique cycling culture. Why else would 200 twelve man (and woman) teams subject themselves to the months of relentless training, the emotional anguish and the physical suffering?

Team HotChillee
Under the careful craftsmanship of Captain Craig, HotChillee had assembled two very powerful teams, both with aspirations of podium level greatness. After many meticulous months spent planning the intricate composition of the teams, like an artisan creating a masterpiece, Captain Craig presented two finely balanced teams, with equal parts of professionalism and comicality, that both honoured the spirit of the Coronation Double Century, and hopefully armed us with an opportunity to climb a little higher up the podium.

The official unofficial team photo
Team Sky's track standing champ and super speedster, Ben Swift, had returned to give us that experienced edge, as well as our resident Iron Man, Dan Halksworth. And this year Dan had some company - no longer the sole victim of countless triathlete jibes - in the form of James Cunnama. On the youthful side of the spectrum we had the 19 year old duo of Nicholas Dlamini and Shameeg Sallie, the former still recovering from the jubilation of signing with MTN-Qhubeka's feeder team, and the latter coming off a win at the recent One Tonner. Naas ticked the steam train check box, and the doctor threesome of David, Dylan and Doc provided us with some solid workhorses. Finally, we had mountain biking pro and Rocky Mountain rider Jarryd Haley to keep a suspicious eye on us roadies.

Detailed race tactics strategy meeting
As is the norm, Team HotChillee only meet up the night before the event. No silly training rides through the long dark winter. No team strategy meetings and motivational outings. Instead, we congregate at Tredici, home to the finest chocolate brownies in the country, for a pre race pasta meal and a few glasses of red wine, followed by chocolate brownies - obviously. This provides the opportunity to catch up on the happenings of the preceding year, and more notably, confirm the fitness levels of our team mates that we'd spent months scrutinising on Strava, analysing each and every ride, knowing that your team mates were doing the exact same thing to you.

Our highly proficient backup crew
With the wine flowing and the chocolate brownies tasting like the tiny slices of heaven, Ben gave us our first and only pre race talk. After successfully adopting several of Team Sky's Marginal Gains ideas on our way to 3rd place the previous year, we were eager to see what other tricks he had in store for us. With tips from the covert Incremental Gains program, and some concepts from the secretive Monumental Gains system, we discussed things like riding formation, momentum conservation, code words and secret handshakes, water point optimisation, race strategy, and how to look like a pro. The seasoned professionals on our team seemed to be soaking this up, while the amateurs started to feel increasingly uncomfortable. Like inmates on death row we were filled with regret. Regret of missed training rides and short cuts. Of one too many slices of cake (and Tredici chocolate brownies). And anguish. Anguish about the pain and suffering that awaited us. Anguish about the intimacy with which we'd get acquainted to The Man with The Hammer. Anguish about our contribution to the team's cause. I suspect, that as we drifted off to sleep that night, more than one of us made a desperate plea to the leg fairy to look favourably upon us, and deliver a pair of legs worthy of the challenge that awaited us.

The HotChillee Racing formation
Racing the Coronation Double Century at the pointy end of the race has several advantages. First on my list is that we get to start at a respectable time. None of this waking up with before the witching hour. Another perk is that by the time we start, we don't need to be wearing all the kit we own in the desperate attempt to conserve some body heat. As we each finalised our pre-race routine, checking tyre pressures and lubing chains, applying bum cream and smearing on sun tan lotion, we nervously brushed up on the details of the previous night's strategies. By the time we rolled down to the start chutes after the traditional official unofficial pre race photo, the field was like a deserted waste land. There was no sign that 192 teams had already departed on their odyssey, apart from a few evil-smelling porta-loos and the odd discarded energy bar wrapper.

Full steam ahead
With moments to go before the start of such an event, a calm typically descends on the start line. Be it quiet introspection, or mental visualisation of the assignment awaiting us, each rider has their own way of dealing with the nerves and uncertainty that slowly bubbles just beneath the surface. And just like that, we were on our way, our date with destiny having finally arrived. For a moment, I allowed myself to bask in the limelight, listening the the crowds cheering, the flutter of photographers capturing the moment, and the encouragement from our backup crew. I was rudely yanked back to reality by the diminutive figure of Ben swiftly vanishing up the street ahead. Time to ride bikes!

Bird's eye view of the action
Our plan was to take the first hour quite conservatively, if averaging close to 38km/h can be called conservative for us amateurs. Like a single sentient being, we quickly formed up into our racing formation, the sum of the parts greater than the parts alone. As we raced along, we explored our fitness and sussed out our form. Just how good were the legs, and was everything working in unison? The answers to these questions would determine our individual race strategies for the remainder of the day. How long would our turns be on the front? Who were we going to ride behind? Where did we expect hit the wall?

The lesser know racing skein formation
With an hour of racing behind us he hit the first of the climbs, and almost immediately we lost our first rider. While the pros did not seem too concerned, those of us in the amateur ranks took cognisance of this. The position you never want to find yourself in, whether it's team time trialling like the DC, or two man stage racing like the Epic, is that of the weakest link. A world of torment and hardship awaits, for as long as you can fend of The Man with The Hammer, or as long as you can remain camped at the very back of the pain cave, your mind a blank slate, save for the suffering and the single minded determination to give your team every last ounce that your body can muster. And now we were all one spot closer to being the weakest link.

An impromptu strategy meeting
As we crested the second of the two long climbs Team HotChillee was down to nine riders. Not ideal, but with 50 kilometres to the neutral zone, it was manageable. Any thoughts of recovering on the downhill were dashed when I realised we were flying along at 84km/h. As I loitered on the back of the HotChillee Express, gripping my handlebars like my life depended on it, I got to witness Ben pulling off his best Peter Sagan super aero tuck impression as he dodged back markers and drove the pace forward. Luckily, I had some company dangling off the back, as one or two triathletes, manhandling their bikes like diesel mechanics playing tiddlywinks, seemed to share my complete and utter lack of descending ability.

No caption required
Carrying our momentum, we raced for the neutral zone, dodging the slower teams ahead of us, and avoiding the traffic mayhem around us. One by one we dropped riders, all part of a sneaky plan hatched by our pros the night before. Get to within striking distance of the neutral zone and then launch an all out assault on the clock. Every opportunity to make up time could make a difference in the overall standings. We'd either pull it off and make up minutes, or implode spectacularly and limp home. So far, the plan was working, and we stopped the clock at a respectable 2h54 for 115kms. Time for us to meet up with our backup crew, to restock the energy supplies, and regroup as a team, before doing it all over again. We'd put in a solid effort, but the rumour running around the neutral zone was that we weren't even in the top five. Fortunately, we had 85 kilometres to turn things around. Eighty five kilometres that stood between us and a spot on the podium. Time to lay it all on the line.

The hills taking their toll
We rolled out of the neutral zone with 11 riders, and quickly got back up to racing speed. No time for small talk or taking in the beauty of the surrounding scenery. We had a task to do. As the pace quickened, the toll began to show, as one by one we started to lose riders. For 12 months I'd visualised making the steel bridge at 145 kilomteres with the team, donating whatever organs I had left before kicking in the clutch and limping to the next water point on my own. So you can imagine my surprise and sheer terror to discover that as we crossed the bridge with 25 kilometres to go to the neutral zone, I was one of the six. Months of mental preparation and training counted for nothing. I was in uncharted territory with a select handful of very talented bike riders. But I wasn't alone. Doctor Dylan too found himself unexpectedly in the wrong place. At least we had each other for inspiration and commiseration.

One little push and the photographer just happens to be there
As we crossed the mats into the final neutral zone we knew we'd just put in our race defining ride. Our backup crew did another fine job of replenishing our bodies and motivating our minds, as we waited for the rest of the team to regroup. We had one final push, 40kms of torturous rolling hills, ahead of us, and needed all the manpower we could muster. Team HotChillee rolled out of the final water point with 9 riders, each focussed on getting the team to the line in the quickest possible time. As our super domestiques, Captain Craig and the doctor duo of David and Doc, peeled off one after the other, each putting in a super human effort, lungs screaming and bodies battered, it was once again down to the final 6 to get us home. To make the sacrifices made by so many to count for something. By now, our pros were coming into their own, taking massive turns on the front and quietly encouraging each one of us to hang tough. With gentle encouragement and careful pacing we inched our way towards the dreaded Three Sisters - three rather average hills that assume Alpine Pass-like status after 180 kilometres in the saddle.

Driving for home
In my mind I could hear Paul Sherwin's commentary as we dug deep into our suitcases of courage one last time, cresting the final climb. A fast and furious dash to the fine was all that remained, and while no one dared to mention it, we wondered if we’d done enough to climb onto the podium, and this spurred us on one last time, up the finishing climb and across the line in a spectacular time of 5h09. All we could do now was wait.

Shut up legs
While Team HotChillee 2 briefly occupied the top step of the podium, the team was eventually bumped down into second, a tantalising 7 minutes behind the leaders, and a nerve-wracking 11 seconds ahead of third. Despite the celebrations and high fives all round, there was a sense that we could have done better. And as long as the team has that hunger, you can bet that we’ll be back, in better shape, and with an improved strategy, in the pursuit of those 7 minutes.

Stop the clock - 5h09
A complete team effort
The Coronation Double Century had once again lived up to its reputation as being one of the premier endurance events on the South African calendar, with its fair share of drama, heartache, euphoria and camaraderie. It was an absolute privilege to share the road with some of the most professional pro athletes in the world, as well as some of the most courageous and committed amateurs. Bring on 2015.
Mixed emotions - equal parts elation and exhaustion
HotChillee on the podium

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!