Thursday, 28 January 2016

Posted by Velouria Posted on 13:00 | 4 comments

Oak Valley 24hr 2016

For two years I have lived with the memories of pulling out of the 2014 Oak Valley 24hr after nine hours. For two years I have wondered if I made the right decision at the time. And for two years I have tried to avoid the thought of ever doing a 24hr again. Thankfully, I had a very good reason to skip the 2015 Oak Valley 24hr - the addition of a little endurance athlete to our family.

A photo posted by @amarider on
As entries open for Dirtopia's 24hr, so too do the queries as to my participation. This year, I remained strong and determined to sit out another year, giving my confidence some more time to heal, as well spending more time with my young family. All went well until a morning in mid November where some friends successfully managed to convince me otherwise. They had thought of everything - how I could get the miles in without being an absent parent, how my wife (my backup and secret weapon) would receive additional support during the event, and how the little endurance athlete would be looked after for the duration of the event. In a moment of weakness I caved to their well laid out plans and sent the email to The Coach - time to get fit for a 24hr event again!

Back doing what I love
Needless to say, The Coach was less than impressed. Eight weeks is barely enough time to get ready for The Argus, let alone a 24hr race. But, being the miracle worker that she is she devised a training program that the devil would have been proud of. And just to show that she isn't the devil, she even gave me the week off between Christmas and New Year. The rest of the time I spent touring the roads of the Boland for hours on end on my own, clocking up an inordinate amount of kilometres.

In the zone, tapping out the laps
The easiest part of a 24hr event is the training - lots of long slow rides with the brain disengaged, letting the body toughen to the distance and acclimatise to the heat. However, as the event gets closer and closer, the mind starts to kick in. All the self doubt, the fear, the memories of the pain and suffering come flooding back, and somehow you need to harness the deluge and channel it into something resembling a plan for race day. Things to do. Things not to do. What works. What doesn't work. For several weeks the plan rolls around in your head, consuming more and more of your thoughts the nearer the event gets. Very soon you're dreaming about the 24hr, until the night before, when you most need to sleep, you lie awake running scenarios over and over through your mind.

Given the week Meurant had endured, we thought he could do with a drink!
The secret to a good 24hr race is the quality of your backup. It's not about the quality of the equipment, or the awesomeness of their camp setup. It's about having a mutual understanding of the goals and what needs to happen to achieve them. I'm lucky in that my wife is probably the best 24hr backup person I know (and I'm not just saying that because I'm married to her). And this year my backup had backup in probably the second best backup person I know (I'm not married to her though). Together, my backup crew put on a formidable show, tending to my every need. From nutrition, to hydration, from timekeeping to motivation, they had everything covered. All I really have to do is pedal, they do all the brain work. They are sympathetic when they need to be, and cruel when the moment requires it.

My feed station (the gin belonged to the backup!)
Race day dawned to clear skies and the prospect of temperatures in the high 30s, with a chance of rain overnight. We rocked up at Oak Valley an hour before the start, and set up our meagre support station. The less creature comforts there are, the less temptation there is to stop riding to enjoy them. A quick race briefing from Meurant, who'd probably had the worst week imaginable with the Simonsberg fires destroying not only indigenous fynbos and farmland, but also some of the best mountain bike trails in the Western Cape, and we lined up for the Le Mans style start. I always chuckle at the commitment and dedication some racers put into their run - it's almost like they do special training for the start. I, on the other hand prefer a far more sedate shuffle - after all, you should only really run when there is something life threatening chasing you!

Round and round
The first couple of laps are always a challenge, not because of the effort required, but because you have to hold yourself back and not get caught up in the mayhem of the racing relay teams. Us solo riders are in this for the long haul, and any over exertion is going to hurt us later on. It's really difficult to ride slowly when your brain is telling you it wants to race. I have a strict "no info" rule for the first six hours - I don't want to know where I am, who is ahead of me, or how many laps they've done. For me, the first six hours are all about finding the rhythm of the course that is sustainable for the following 18 hours. I put down markers - how long it takes to clear the first single track, how long it takes to get to the top of the big climb, how long the descent takes, and after six hours I have a good idea of the times I should be hitting each and every lap from then on. It makes for a rather boring race report, but doing lap after lap after lap at the same consistent pace is something that I'm good at.

A mixture of sweat, dust and snot
After six hours the contenders had been separated from the pretenders. There were several of us jostling near the top of the leaderboard. Marius, fresh off his maiden 3rd place the previous year. Lance, his collection of podium places showed his 24hr pedigree. Philip, a 68 year old who just happened to have the surname Erasmus - legendary in endurance events. And Jochen, a complete unknown and finally someone to take over my original nickname of "Who is that guy?". While my brain turns to porridge on the bike when it comes to basic decision making, I am somehow able to perform amazing mathematical calculations. I can figure out gaps to competitors, the amount of laps it will take to pass a rider ahead of me, or the number of laps I'll do at my current pace. I also able to build up a mental image of where everyone is on the course at a given time, and where I am able to make up time on them.

Competitors sharing the bum cream
While I'm playing make believe with imaginary bike riders in my head, the backup crew are doing an amazing job of keeping my going. Often, I'm not sure if I've actually conveyed my wishes to them, or if it's just a conversation I've have had in my head, yet whatever it is I've wished for will miraculously appear at the end of each lap. On one occasion, three-quarters through a lap, as I was feeling the first twinges of cramp, I made a mental note to remind the backup crew that I needed Rehydrate on the following lap. I then reached down to my still full bottle and took a deep gulp of what I thought was water, only to discover the cramp banishing taste of ice cold Rehydrate. Not only did my backup address my current needs, they could foretell my future needs too! (That, or I'd simply forgot that I'd been given a bottle of Rehydrate).

Marius trying to find his happy place
Friendly faces and words of encouragement do wonders to lift the spirits, and it is always great to hear the comments, both out on the course and in the pit area. Captain Craig made an appearance to offer backup to the backup's backup, as well as support and assistance. And even though we weren't riding together, he still felt the need to hassle me about the length of time I took taking on supplies and snacks in the transition area!

The winner of the hardcore prize!
There are three parts to a 24hr race. The two daylight sections, and the night section. Apart from just being dark (obviously), it's completely different to racing in the day. It's about consolidation and recovery. It's about laying the platform for the final 6 hours of racing. As the night wears on, the course gets quieter, and the nature of the trail changes too. Things look different. Holes look deeper. Trees look closer together. Rocks look bigger. Yet this is the time when I most enjoy 24hr racing. It's just you, your bike, the small section of trail illuminated by your light, and your thoughts (along with the odd frog and field mouse). It was during these dark hours that I came to a realisation. There are two things that make me happy during a 24hr event, and they are both related to lube. The first is a freshly lubed chain which makes the bike feel like a new bike. It's quiet, and it shifts easier, and somehow that eases a burden we all carry - the fear of mechanical failure. The same applies to the second thing - applying bum cream. Whatever aches and pains you might have seem to melt away with a fresh application of bum cream. Your bum naturally feels better, but so too do your legs, and feet, and hands.

And so begins another lap
Solo 24hr racing is both an ego boosting activity, as well as an utterly humbling experience. It's pretty cool to knock up an insane amount of laps and receive the admiration of many of the fellow riders out on the course, but at the same time you quickly learn which riders you can chase, and which riders it is best to just yield the track to. If you're that kind of guy that has issues with ladies riding up and down hills faster than you, then this probably isn't the sport for you.

The grime was the only thing holding my legs together
By sunrise, it had come down to a two horse race. Marius had popped spectacularly and lay huddled in his tent, wishing he was anywhere but at Oak Valley. Lance had endured a bad patch or two, and while still in 3rd place, was several laps off the pace. That just left Jochen "Who is that guy?" Waldherr, who was still going strong, stubbornly knocking off lap after lap. (I did some serious Facebook stalking after the event and it turns out Jochen is no stranger to 24hr racing, having come 6th at the European 24hr Champs, as well as consistently placing near the top of the leaderboard at other 24hr events.) I had a two lap lead over him, but that's not a margin I felt comfortable with given the amount of racing left. My strategy was to mark Jochen lap for lap, until there was no way he could close the gap. In the process of marking him we started chatting. He was out in South Africa on holiday, visiting his girlfriend, and had ridden Attakwas the week before. You could see he was quite hardcore - he was riding a 26 inch hardtail MTB - probably the only rider of the 600 strong field on a little bike. It's seldom that you get to ride side by side with the competition in a race and have a leisurely chat about all sorts of stuff - again, the beauty of 24hr racing.

The backup station I never got to see
The clock slowly wound down, and as I got the the point where Jochen couldn't catch me, I stopped and chilled with my backup. We'd had a near perfect race, and despite there being times when I was scared of my backup (being told that I had better finish a bottle on the upcoming lap, or else!) I was extremely grateful for the outstanding job they did in managing me, even though it turned out that they lived a secret life when I was out on my laps - the wine flowed, they enjoyed juicy looking steaks with salad and even got in a few hours of sleep. Somehow, they managed to hide this all from me, removing any temptation there might be to stop "for just 5 minutes".

The little endurance athlete on the podium once again
As I completed my last lap, I was greeted by the little endurance athlete in our family. Although he didn't quite understand what all the excitement was about, I could tell he was rather taken by the spectacle. All the bikes and people and danger tape!

Lance, the little endurance athlete, myself, and Jochim "Who is that guy?"
A big thank you to Dirtopia for another top notch 24hr event, and congratulations to each and every rider who took part in making this the premier 24hr event in South Africa. To my fellow solo competitors, well done on another weekend of good, tough racing. It was brutal out there! To my backup, and my backup's backup - thank you for another superb effort. You are the envy of many. To The Coach - I didn't mean all those nasty things I said about you on those long and lonely rides. Thank you for getting me into tip top shape! Lastly, to my bike, thanks for working like a dream and not giving a moment's trouble, despite my bum no longer wanting to have anything to do with you.

Well done bike

Some stats: 32 laps, 355kms, 8250m of climbing. Approx 45 bottles of fluid on the bike. 8 litres of Coke. 4 chocolate Sterri Stumpi's & 3 Coffee shakes. 10 Rehydrate sachets. Copious cups of tea and coffee, and 2 sips of a Gin and Tonic. Results

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Posted by Velouria Posted on 16:53 | 2 comments

Double Century 2015

It was never going to be easy to beat the year we had in 2014, but Team HotChillee were up for the challenge. Would we be able to crack the podium for the third year running at the Coronation Double Century?

Team HotChillee Mixed
Captain Craig, our fearless leader, spent many months scrutinising team lists and shuffling riders around to create the perfect balance of power, speed, endurance, and above all, team comradery. Our eventual line up consisted of a handful of diesel engines, several work horses, a couple of youngsters, a few wise heads, and 3 rather talented young ladies. We were a rather diverse collection of people, united with a common cause - we were going after the mixed title!

Hector The Protector and our amazing backup crew
One straight stripe
As per usual, the first time we met up as a team was the night before for the traditional pre-race dinner and drinks at Tredici in Swellendam, followed by a quick team briefing. In hindsight, we couldn't have been more wrong with our race day tactics, but more about that later.

Bird's eye view
Joining our team for the first time was Lucky Luke, aka The Wattage Cottage. A laid back guy off the bike, but a monster on it. Our challenge was to harness that monster for the greater good. We also had a pair of twins join us - Corne and Rico, two youngsters whom I still cannot tell apart. Finally, there were the ladies, and the VIPs of our team. We'd recruited the services of Carmen Buchacher, an exceptionally quick Capetonian with a string of results that most of us can only dream of. Our final team members were two young, exceptionally talented young ladies with experience of racing overseas. Kyara Stijns of Team Liv-Plantur was our foreign import, accompanied by her friend and rising local star, Catherine Colyn.

A helping hand
While the prospect of 202 kilometers in a twelve man team can be rather daunting, Team HotChillee was rather more concerned with the weather, as was every other team for the week leading up to the event. The forecast alternated from most certainly miserable, to decidedly despicable. It was going to be cold. It was going to be windy. And it was going to be wet. Welcome to summer in The Cape. But, it was going to be the same for everyone.


With our customary pre-race photo done, we rolled down to the start. This effectively being the first time the team had ridden together. And as we stood around waiting for our start time, the guys on Team HotChillee Mixed got a glimpse at how different it is to be a woman cyclist. As is often the case, pre-race nerves dictate that your bladder incessantly demands to be emptied. For a guy, this is no problem. You simply lean your bike somewhere, hop over a railing, and find the nearest tree/fence/lamppost. Two minutes tops! Ladies on the other hand have to locate the rows of porta loos, stand in the queue and hope that the next one available is "clean". Once in the porta loo, without going into details, they somehow get the required kit off and then on again in the confines of said "clean" porta loo without touching too many surfaces. The whole process can take in excess of 10 minutes. Much like destroying the Death Star, you pretty much only get one shot before the start gun goes.

Another beautiful bike
Urinary issues aside, Team HotChillee Mixed lined up on the start line to the cheers of a handful of supporters who were bold enough to brave the weather. And then we were off. Captain Craig took it upon himself to lead us out of town at a Goldilocks pace - not too fast, not too slow, just right. Almost immediately we realised that our male-centric race strategy was not going to work, and that instead of riding on pure testosterone, the guys in the team would have to engage their brains as well. Which is often easier said than done. Our ladies were our VICs (Very Important Cyclists), our number one priority, and we had to do everything to look after them. And to our credit we quickly got the hang of things, hiding the ladies from the wind, keeping the pace steady, and offering a helping nudge here and there up the climbs.

▮ ▮ ▮ 
And the brain work didn't end there. Our race tactics were in a constant state of flux too, and sensing that a spot on the podium was slipping away, Captain Craig made the bold call to ▮▮▮▮ ▮ ▮▮▮ ▮▮▮▮ ▮▮▮ ▮▮▮▮, ▮▮ ▮▮▮▮ ▮▮ ▮▮▮▮  ▮▮▮▮▮  ▮▮▮▮▮, ▮▮▮▮▮  ▮▮▮ ▮▮▮ ▮ ▮▮▮▮▮▮  ▮▮▮▮▮  ▮▮▮  ▮▮▮▮▮  ▮▮  ▮▮▮ ▮▮▮▮▮ ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮ (text redacted so as not to give away Team secrets - Captain Craig). And boy was it a good plan, putting us right back into contention, while at the same time giving our ladies a chance to recover as we rolled into the first checkpoint.

Final checkpoint strategy session

As has become the norm, our backup crew did a fine job, not only in attending to our nutritional needs, but also massaging our egos and offering gentle words of encouragement. A quick head count revealed that we'd lost one of the twins (I'm still not sure which one) due to illness. I hadn't even noticed, as the remaining twin had silently assumed his brother's responsibilities and it indeed felt like they were both still there. Our ladies were still in fine spirits, but if anyone thinks they were having a free ride, one look at the commitment and determination on their faces would reveal the effort they were putting in. Without a single complaint or utterance.

And the rain came down
If you're a person with a fragile ego, then a mixed team is not the place for you. If you can't handle being dropped (twice) by ladies on a downhill, or you can't deal with being pushed uphill by a female pro, rather stick to an all men's team, or Scrabble or something. Luckily, Team HotChillee Mixed had no such problems, our single objective uniting us.

A total team effort
Back on the road, Hector set about correcting a nightmare that has been haunting for two years when he got dropped out of the feed zone in 2013. To make amends, he almost single handedly towed the 10 remaining members of Team HotChillee Mixed into Robertson. From there, Captain Craig and I had a quick chat and set about implementing part two of our sneaky plan, only to hear Dr Dylan whinge for the next 10 kilometres about it being too soon. Our plan consisted of  ▮▮▮▮ ▮▮▮▮▮ ▮▮▮▮▮▮ ▮▮▮ ▮▮▮▮▮▮ ▮▮ ▮▮▮ ▮▮▮▮ ▮▮ ▮▮▮▮ ▮▮▮ ▮▮▮▮▮ ▮▮ ▮▮ ▮▮▮▮▮ ▮ ▮▮▮▮ ▮▮ ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮ (redacted again, more Team secrets - Captain Craig). And it worked!

The pusher getting pushed
As we rolled into the second stop, so to did the weather. The heavens opened with ice cold rain, prompting us to cut our stop short to get going as soon as possible. Most of the team hunkered down, grimacing behind their sunglasses, focussing on the objective, except for our Dutch import Kyara, who seemed to flourish in the miserable conditions. The worse the weather got, the stronger she rode, culminating in her taking a few turns to push her male teammates (here's looking at you Dr David).

The birthday girl
Just as we were making good progress, disaster struck - Catherine's gears gave up the ghost, leaving her stuck in the biggest gear at the back. While the modern trend of high cadence, "Chris Froome" style cycling is all the rage, no amount of cadence was going to keep Catherine in the bunch. Enter Hector the Protector and his magic pockets. Through sheer willpower, the team pushed and pulled and nursed our VIC up and down the remaining hills, finally crossing the line 5h39.

All for one and one for all
While it wasn't enough for the top step of the podium, Team HotChillee Mixed secured 3rd place, and in doing so, kept our hot streak of podium places going. We now had two reasons to celebrate, the second being Catherine's birthday, complete with cake and all.

Happy Birthday Catherine

Post race chill out zone
The dust has barely settled on another successful Coronation Double Century, but we're already looking forward to next year. In the meantime, it's back to the drawing board for another year of scheming and planning.

Third place

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Posted by Velouria Posted on 23:55 | 7 comments

TransBaviaans 2015

For the twelfth year in a row, I made my way to the little town of Willowmore in the Eastern Cape for a bike race. And not just any bike race. A race that started my obsession with ultra endurance mountain biking. A roller coaster ride of camaraderie, suffering, elation, and exquisite beauty. A lot of things have changed in those twelve years, and a lot of things have stayed the same.

My first Baviaans, in 2004
Back in the day, we all rode 26 inch mountain bikes with bar ends and a whopping 60mm of front suspension. Tubeless tyres didn't yet exist, and the best lights money could buy lasted 3 hours, weighed a tonne, and produced a measly puddle of golden yellow light. Thankfully, they're all a thing of the past, unlike Wikus's PA system, the sosaties at check point 3, and the usual pre-race banter about the condition on the kloof.

Although we were on different teams at the time, the current team members are all visible in this photo from 2011
After the slightly disappointing result of 2014, The Quixotic Hill Engines were back to set things right. Captain Craig had spent a week training on the brutal gradients of the Pyrenees, while Halfway Robertson had indulged in several days of race simulation in the Italian Alps. My preparation was not as exotic, but included some upper body weight training (lifting a toddler is hard work!), several brutal sessions on the evil Wattbike, and the usual work and back commute. While not up to the standard of my jet-setting teammates, I thought I was in pretty decent shape. Strava even said so.

The Quixotic Hill Engines, presented by HotChillee
Race day morning dawned and we were once again quietly confident of a good showing. Conditions were perfect - warm with a generous tailwind, and everything felt good. After the usual mumbled race briefing from Wikus, and a tentative rendition of our national anthem, we were sent on our way to the enthusiastic cheering of the small gaggle of remaining spectators.

Warm, with a welcome tail wind
Our race plan is always simple - do just enough to stick with the front bunch, avoid pushing too hard, and try to get into a rhythm as soon as possible. We also like to do a quick head count, see who's who and to gauge where we stand in the pecking order. On a side note, I do the same thing with my teammates to determine the internal team pecking order. My initial assessment had Captain Craig on top, me in the middle, and Halfway in third. Perfect - it's never nice being the weakest link.

Our worldly possessions in two boxes
As we dropped into the Kloof we got our first signs that things weren't going according to plan. While everything felt good, a quick team consensus revealed that we were all riding at very high heart rates. We put it down to nerves and adrenalin and continued onwards at speeds more fitting of road racing, hoping that everything would settle down as we hid in the bunch for the next two hours.

But our hopes were quickly dashed, when, in a follow up team meeting we unanimously agreed that we could not continue at this pace and expect to live till nightfall. With wise and mature heads not often associated with our team, we dropped off the bunch, preferring to ride at a more consistent pace than endure the lung and leg busting surges that were happening up front. We took stock, reassessed the plan, and rolled along at a decent pace, holding the lead group in our sight as we each took turns to set the pace on the front.

Halfway practising his aero tuck
And yet, despite our level headed approach, I still wasn't recovering. My turns on the front got fewer and I got more and more accustomed to the view from the caboose of the HotChillee Train. I was still convinced it was just a bad patch, and that I'd ride myself through it. Until the cramps started. They started off as distant tweaks - my legs trying to mumble something to me - and slowly got worse and worse. By now Captain Craig and Halfway were doing all the work on the front, and occasionally I'd have to request a drop in pace, particularly over small rises as I was struggling to hang onto the wheel in front of me.

How many grown men does it take to figure out how to attach a timing chip to a helmet?
The first compulsory stop could not have come at a better time. I hoped the break would be enough to restore my karma as we went through the usual check point rituals, from eating and drinking, restocking the pockets to lubing the chain. But I knew something wasn't right. I was so desperate to rediscover my form that I even asked Halfway for a hug. And while quietly sobbing into his shoulder offered momentary relief from the slowly escalating catastrophe, it did nothing to revitalise my body.

Is this aero?
I still clung to the fading hope that I'd find some legs, but as we started climbing, so too did my heart rate. And with the increased heart rate came the cramps. Each surge a little more severe than the last. Any glimmer of a recovery quickly vanished as I settled into a physical and mental state that I hoped would see me to the end. The phrase "pain cave" gets thrown about a lot these days, describing anything from the burn felt while doing 2 minute intervals to the discomfort encountered when riding into the howling South Easter. I was not in the pain cave. I had gone into the pain cave and laughed at its patheticness. In comparison to the pit of despair that I found myself falling into, the pain cave is a mod con packed, luxury bachelor pad with fluffy duvets, deep pile carpets and an endless supply of beer. I was entering Dante's Inferno.

All smiles before the start
Occasionally, both Halfway and Captain Craig would descend towards my pit of misery, only to recover and escape its deathly clutches. By the time we rolled into the next check point I was starting to contemplate throwing in the towel. Despite covering the first 124km in 4h30, we had the hillier second half of the race ahead of us, and I wasn't sure I had the legs to go uphill.

My fancy new Lauf fork
Two thoughts go through your mind when you have a bad day like this. The first is about survival. Will I be able to make it to the end, or am I going to end up either in the back of an ambulance, or huddled under a bush wishing it would all end? The second is about letting the team down. Despite the reassurances and sympathy from my teammates, it's never cool to be the "if only" guy. It always feels bad explaining to others that we would have had a fantastic race, if only I hadn't had such a bad day.
Fifeteen kilometres in and already we were showing signs of weakness

On a hill I have ridden 11 times in a row, I found myself having to stop, get off my bike, fight the now ever present cramps, and push my bike. And this was a hill that doesn't even feature on the profile. This didn't bode well for the big climb of the day that lay ahead, aptly named The Mother of All Climbs. The MAC has claimed my scalp several times over the years, and in recent years is the one climb in South Africa that is most guaranteed to make me vomit. And 2015 was no different.

The HotChillee Express
Sometimes, when suffering, it's nice to have the company of your teammates around you, like a reassuring favourite blanket when you're young. With them nearby, despite how atrocious things are, you're going to be okay. At other times, it's better to suffer alone, in your own little world, at your own crawling pace. Whether intentional or not, Captain Craig and Halfway left me to my own devices up The MAC, as I slowly limped up the climb, pedal stroke after pedal stroke, stopping for the occasional stomach emptying, or a particularly bad wave of cramps. I finally reached the top of The MAC, and with some very generous pushing from both my teammates (at the same time!) we eventually rolled into the next check point. I think I still have their hand prints on my lower back!

As tough as it was, it still beats work
While my guardian angels ran around after me, refilling my bottles, unpacking my supplies and lubing my chain, I gulped down two cups of the now legendary Check Point 4 soup. This is the same soup that in the past has settled my stomach, given me super human powers, and solved world hunger. I'm quite sure the recipe was handed down from the cycling gods themselves. All I needed from the soup this year was a warm and fuzzy feeling that everything was going to be alright. A sign that somehow, between my supportive teammates' efforts and my flappy wobbly legs, we were going to make it to the finish in Jeffreys Bay.

Must. Have. More. Coke.
As we left the comfort of the check point and the life giving soup, Captain Craig took on a fatherly role in our team dynamic, while Halfway sat on the front to set the pace. Captain Craig would shepherd me with gentle nudges and expert prods back onto Halfway's wheel, keeping me sheltered and protected from the wind, and help ease me over the climbs. On the odd occasion that I'd venture out from behind Halfway's bum for a change of scenery, Captain Craig would sternly reprimand me and tell me to rejoin the safety of our formation. Our technique worked so well that we actually caught and passed a few teams which helped lift my morale. For several hours we'd been the ones being passed, and no matter what sort of day you're having, it's never a pleasant feeling.

Trouble, as Captain Craig drives the pace on the front and I go out the back
The soup had done wonders for my soul and my spirit, but my legs were still a mayhem of demon cramps. Pedalling caused cramps. Not pedalling caused cramps. Thinking about pedalling caused cramps. The only thing I could do to control the cramps was move them around. Give all the various muscles in my legs a turn to contort and twist themselves into tennis ball-sized blobs of pain. Unlike previous years, the slower pace gave us opportunity to chat. Amongst other things we discussed the beers we'd have at the finish, what sport I should take up instead of mountain biking (stand up paddle boarding, or darts), and the state of the chafe of Halfway's nether regions. I also had a very public conversation with my legs, and I have to say - Jens Voigt is wrong - legs don't respond to reason, commands or threats.

We'd joked about this beforehand, and I even accepted the title. I didn't think it would be this bad!
We rolled into the second last check point in daylight, which, despite the day we were having, was something that many teams can only dream of. We were welcomed by our able backup - Jason the Barefoot Runner. At this point we were no longer interested in positions or times, and for the first time in many years we got to enjoy the offerings of the check points without Captain Craig rushing us along. Halfway had been suffering from a killer headache for several hours, and foolishly asked the medics for some tablets. After a full medical examination, DNA testing, blood work and a CAT scan he was given two tablets and sent on his way. With that in mind, there was no chance I was going anywhere near the medics for any medicinal relief!

Four broken spokes for Halfway
Back on the road, while I was fighting the demons in my legs, my teammates were having their own private battles - mostly mechanical. Captain Craig had punctured, and had another light malfunction, with Halfway slowly but surely breaking one spoke after the other in his rear wheel. My teammates would send me on ahead as they attended to their mechanical issues, and each time I secretly hoped that my legs would come back and that they wouldn't be able to catch me. And each time that wouldn't happen and they'd quickly reel me in.
We inched our way up The NeverEnder, and for the first time in ages it really was never ending. Like Chinese water torture it wore us down, but it didn't matter. We were in no rush. Up until now, Halfway had already broken 3 spokes in his rear wheel (no fat jokes please - he is a sensitive soul), and so between nursing me and his bike we eventually conquered The NeverEnder, rolling into the final check point.
Halfway attended to his failing wheel while Captain Craig and I enjoyed the jaffles on offer and got dressed a little warmer for the final push to the finish. And talking of pushing, I am proud to say that I made the final leg without a single push. My teammates had either given up on me, or they too were finally feeling the strain of nursing my sorry body for 180kms. As the lights of Jeffreys Bay got brighter, so too did our mood. We'd survived a character testing ordeal, and although I'm sure to be carrying the mental baggage of this event for years to come, we'd emerged stronger for it. When a bad day is finishing 43rd, in 10h31, almost nine hours ahead of the last team, there really isn't too much to complain about.

Halfway completed his fifth TransBaviaans.