Friday, 9 March 2018

Posted by Velouria Posted on 10:23 | No comments

The BigDayOut 2018

midlife crisis

(mΙͺdlaΙͺf kraΙͺsΙͺs  )
Word forms: plural midlife crises 
countable noun [usually singular]
crisis that may be experienced in middle age involving frustrationpanic, and feelings of pointlessness, sometimes resulting in radical and often ill-advised changes of lifestyle
If racing bikes is the epitome of where modern cycling is, with all the shiny machines, techno gadgets, and flashy kit, then The Big Day Out is all about adventure, discovery, endurance and camaraderie. And maybe a cover for four oldish guys each having their own version of a midlife crisis.

Still inspired and motivated by the mammoth Birthday Ride that Richie Porte and Cameron Wurf did in 2012, The Big Day Out has taken on a life of its own. There is a selection committee. We have route planning sessions. And now, we even have themes. But the point of it all is still the same - mates on bikes having fun together, exploring our beautiful countryside, doing something out of the ordinary.
In its fifth year this year, we wanted to do something special. And not just special in the sense of riding a ridiculously long way, but make it about something. We toyed with the idea of an offroad Big Day Out, we considered a Big Day Out of Everesting, but then it hit us. What is the one topic of conversation that seems to dominate most social gatherings these days? The water crisis, showering with a bucket, not being able to flush the toilet, the smell of grey water hanging in the early morning air, and the lengths people will go to fill their pools and water their grass. And so The Damn Dam Big Day Out was born - a factfinding mission on bikes to check out 5 dams dotted around the Western Cape.

As is customary, the BDO committee considered inviting a few new outsiders to join in on our adventures. Added to this, Halfway Robertson hadn't got the memo that sympathy eating during his wife's pregnancy should end with the birth of their child. At the risk of living up to his nickname, he graciously bowed out of the 2018 edition before the riding even started, but not before helping with the selection process. A short list was drawn up, invitations were sent out, and acceptance was subject to the submission of a haiku.

Now we just needed a perfect day to ride bikes. And this is the difficulty comes in. My idea of perfect and Captain Craig's idea of perfect are somewhat different. I like a hot windless day for riding bikes, Captain Craig prefers it slightly cooler. In the end, life got in the way and we had to settle on a day, regardless of the weather. It wasn't an ideal day, but it wasn't bad either!

As we gathered on my front lawn at 4:30 in the morning, there was an air of trepidation, anticipation and nervousness (and the wafting smell of grey water in the morning). Four hundred and eight kilometres, 5 drought-stricken dams, and 4 passes lay ahead of us. The newbies were barely able to conceal the panic.

The first dam on our route was Steenbras dam. Built in 1921 (with some extensions in 1928), it was the main source of water for the City of Cape Town for the first half of the twentieth century. We didn't actually get to see the dam, but we saw the sign to the dam next to the gate that prevented us from seeing the dam. So we know it's still there. And we got to see an impressive view of Cape Town still sleeping.

Back on the road, we made good progress as the first hints of sunrise started to appear, despite the nagging headwind. Spirits were still high, conversation was flowing, and the kilometres were slowly ticking by. As we neared our next dam the road got a little lumpy, and the first signs of weakness within our merry squad were starting to appear. With 100 kilometres in the bag, such signs were to be expected.
A post shared by Tim Brink (@tim.brink) on
And then we saw it. Or what used to be it. The desolate, dry, dusty imprint of where Theewaterskloof Dam used to be. Like a kick to the crotch, it takes your breath away and brings tears to your eyes. If you didn't believe there was a water crisis up until now, the sight of our biggest dam with barely any water in it is enough to make you "shower" with wetwipes from now on, rip up your grass, and fill your pool with concrete.

A longer than anticipated stop in Villiersdorp for breakfast happened to coincide with my several attempts at repairing a puncture. Not the finest demonstration of my bike maintenance skills, but I was grateful that there were so many people with such enlightening advice. With our stomachs full, my rear tyre finally inflated, and the temperature slowly picking up, we set off for Franschhoek Pass and the safety of being on the "right" side of the mountains once again.
A post shared by Tim Brink (@tim.brink) on
One of our new recruits has always had issues with Franschhoek Pass. Right from the first time I met him. Despite the rather favourable conditions, the result was still the same. Tim imploded. Several times. And there is nothing worse than being that guy, living in a world of hurt, trying to get over a deceptively long climb. We've all been there, and while three of us were glad to still have legs, we knew the demons well that Tim was fighting with each pedal stroke.

Euro pro wannabee
After what seemed like an eternity, we crested the climb to the welcoming view of the Franschhoek valley, and in a flash, the downhill drag racers were off. Tim's recent ordeal a thing behind him, and Captain Craig only too happy to be descending the pass in the daylight. Myself and Mike, the more risk averse in our quartet made out way down at our own pace (this is the polite way of saying that we suck at going downhill). In the distance, our next dam beckoned.

Tim in 2013, still hating the Pass
The Berg River Dam is the new kid on the block and was the first dam in South Africa to be designed, constructed and operated in accordance with the guidelines of the United Nations World Commission on Dams. As far as dams go, it's unimpressive. It has all the usual features. A wall, an overflow thingy, and one of those towers that they use to suck the water out with (which must have been doing a very good job as most of the water seemed to be missing).

The Berg River Dam
It was around this point that we discovered that Tim's belly and my tyre were both having issues. Rather similar issues actually - they were both venting large amounts air, impeding our progress. Luckily, my issue was easily fixed by a quick detour into Paarl for spares. Tim's belly was not as easy to fix, and he had to make the dreaded decision about withdrawing from the BDO. Rather on this side of the mountains before we headed back over into NoUber territory.
A post shared by Tim Brink (@tim.brink) on

As we parted ways, the three remaining BDOers quickly popped into Wemershoek Dam. Another completely unremarkable dam made even more unremarkable in that we didn't actually get to see it. But we saw the gate with the dam's name on it. And rumour has it that the dam is also rather empty.

With 200 kilometres done we hit another big climb - Captain Craig's dreaded Du Toitskloof Pass. And while Captain Craig was cursing his decision to once again ride BDO, Mike had secretly found a set of legs and was putting them to good use up the mountain. It might also have been the copious amount of snacks and supplies that he'd been transferring all morning long from his overstuffed pockets into his always beckoning mouth. Snack Monster Mike.

Stopping for a nature break tells you a lot about a cyclist. The real experts can "go" while still riding along - those are the can't-waste-a-second, no modesty, I-wish-I-was-pro kind of guys that don't care if they urinate on half the peloton, as long as they look cool. Then there are Stop n Drop guys - when the urge hits them, they'll stop wherever they are, whip it out and do what needs to be done. No time for pleasantries. It's a bodily function and it's happening now! Lastly, there are those guys who treat a nature break like a space shuttle launch. Everything has to be perfect. The wind direction, the slope of the ground, the protection from onlooking eyes, the view, a place to optimally lean your bike up against. And if any one of those parameters isn't within bounds, the launch is cancelled and the countdown is reset. Snack Monster Mike is one of those guys. We literally spent our entire Big Day Out looking for the perfect spot to wee.

The desolate looking Brandvlei dam
Cresting Du Toitskloof Pass is a mixed blessing - the climbing is over and a beautiful descent awaits us, but we're still going in the wrong direction from home, and the only way back to the "right" side of the mountains is over another pass. But we'd come this far, and despite being two hours behind schedule, we would continue on our adventure. We had one more dam to see.

A fun descent, a relatively quick stop for water and before long we were heading towards Rawsonville. An impromptu stop for snacks turned into a late lunch, with no one in any real rush to get going again. It was here, at a rather nondescript petrol station in Rawsonville, surrounded by curious onlookers and amused bystanders that Captain Craig probably had the best idea of his life. I've been lucky enough to be have experienced a couple of his good ideas in the past, like the time he thought it would be fun to ride some new looking single track in Jonkershoek, despite the no entry signs and logs across the trail. It turned out we'd just entered the new downhill track. On cross country bikes. And the track was still under construction. It's the closest I've come to having to change my cycling shorts! Then there was the time we went for a quick ride with one bottle of water and came back 6 hours later because Captain Craig wanted to "see where that road went". But this was different. Snack Monster Mike and I had bought some cokes and chocolate milks, feeling rather proud of ourselves when Captain Craig came towards us with an ice cream! Sheer genius!! I can safely say that was the best ice cream I have ever eaten in my entire life. No ice cream will ever elicit the emotions of that Rawsonville petrol station ice cream. Ever!

We had a short 7 kilometre trip to make to our last dam before we'd finally turn for home. The Brandvlei dam is actually two dams side by side, separated by a wall. When the dam is full, the wall is submerged, and it looks like one massive dam. As you can imagine, there is no danger of that happening in the foreseeable future. The only other interesting thing about the dam (apart from a warm water spring that feeds it) is the name of the river it is on: Holsloot (maybe that's just my juvenile brain taking over again!). Seeing the Brandvlei dam up close, a once massive expanse of water, looking so empty, was another jolt to the system. We are going to need a lot of rain to fill these dams up!

With the final dam of our journey ticked, we had 130 kilometres to go. More importantly, we wanted to get over Bainskloof Pass before sunset, and that was 60 kilometres away with roughly 2 hours of sunlight left. And we still hadn't officially had lunch. In a rare display of urgency, both Captain Craig and Snack Monster Mike put aside their desires to fill their bellies, and we made the collective decision to get up and over Bainskloof as fast as we could. Well, as fast as anyone can with 280 kilometres already in the legs.

We pushed on through Slanghoek, hoping the headwind would drop and the ice cream would kick in, but neither happened. The wind picked up and as our energy levels started to dip, Snack Monster Mike showed us a secret snack spot (obviously). Some life-saving coke and some water later and we were ready for the race against the sun.

The secret snack spot
But first, Snack Monster Mike had to wee. He could have gone at the secret snack spot, but something wasn't quite right there. He could have gone on the side of the quiet valley road, but something was quite right there either. He eventually found a spot, and as Captain Craig and I were dismounting to sympathy wee, we could see by the look in Snack Monster Mike's eyes, that something wasn't quite right. Thankfully, a bit of cajoling and some rapid improvising did the trick and the old gate posts of Bergsig Estate met his exacting needs for a wee stop.

Back on the bike, I was suffering from a bout of white line fever. We had an objective, something to race against, and that was enough to numb the pain and give the legs something to aim at. And what a spectacular race it was. Us against the Sun. With the towering mountains on either side keeping an eye on proceedings. It's moments like this that we'll remember forever. The colour of the peaks in the fading light. The moon making an appearance just as the sun was about to dip below the horizon. The melodic squeak of Captain Craig's pedal.

Snack Monster Mike still able to wave
We summitted Bainskloof as the light started fading, and all that stood between us and dinner was a frantic dash down the twisty windy bends of the pass. Like kids, we were riding bikes and having fun, soaking up the freedom and enjoyment that only a bike ride can bring. Three hundred and forty kilometres in, and we were still having a good time!

The top of Bains
Dinner in Wellington consisted of a Steers Burger of Regret and a milkshake. No gourmet dining - this was eating out of necessity. As we hopped on our bikes for the final time, Snack Monster Mike informed us that he had to wee. Again. We convinced him that we'd stop out on the road, away from prying eyes, under the cover of darkness, and we set off into an annoying headwind.

The Burger of Regret
Between the three of us, we had one commuter light, two flashy white lights, and two flashy red rear lights. Our missing companion Tim had been the light guy (while he never did finish The Big Day Out, he managed A Fairly Decent Day Out with 280 kilometres in the bag, despite the stomach demons). Thankfully, the moon was almost full and it did a great job of keeping the total darkness at bay.

The next 40 kilometres were done in near silence, one pedal stroke after another (except for the squeak). It felt like we were flying along - we had the wind in our faces with limited visual cues for us to gauge our speed against, but reality sunk in when I snuck a peek at my Garmin. It might have felt like we were whizzing along in the low 30s, but the reality was that we were barely holding 25km/h. Our final 68kms went from taking us 2h30, to somewhere over 3h30.

View from the supporter's car
And yet there is something special about just riding along in near total darkness, listening to the noises around you, and talking to the voices in your head. Your entire world at that very moment consists of a small puddle of light, the two guys nearby, and whatever thoughts you're able to summon to keep you company, and at the same time numb the pain.

With just over 30 kilometres to go, we were once again surprised by the appearance of The Big Day Out fans. My wife and son taking the time to find us and escort home. It was also around this time that I was banished from riding on the front - my white line fever not being appreciated by my fellow companions. It was also around this time that we remembered that we'd promised Snack Monster Mike a wee stop 45 kilometres previously. Our enquiries revealed that he did still need to go and that he hadn't pulled a euro pro wannabee move and gone while on the bike, much to our disappointment.
A quick wee stop, 3 rolling hills and the quiet roads of Somerset West later and we rolled back into my street. The same street we'd left in the dark 17 hours previously. We'd gone on a day-long adventure, seeing some pretty cool, and some pretty heart-wrenching things, and we were back where we started. Normal people had gone about their normal lives, and we'd done something special. From afar it might look like a midlife crisis, but I prefer to believe it's just a continuation of a lifelong passion for adventure. The day we lose that passion is the day we'll have our midlife crises.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Posted by Velouria Posted on 11:22 | 1 comment

The Double Century 2017

On the surface, The Coronation Double Century might be a 12 man team trial over 202kms of winding roads through the Overberg. But scratch a little deeper, and you'll quickly discover the intricate and complex nature of this yearly pilgrimage. A psychologist's wet dream into the inner working's of the minds of endurance athletes of all shapes and sizes.
The scientific papers that could be written about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or Survivor's Guilt could fill several editions of The Journal of Psychology alone, but what really interests me is the range of emotions before, during and after that I (and hopefully others) experience.
It is said that basic emotions evolved in response to the ecological challenges faced by our remote ancestors and are so primitive as to be ‘hardwired’, with each basic emotion corresponding to a distinct and dedicated neurological circuit. Being hardwired, basic emotions (or ‘affect programs’) are innate and universal, automatic, and fast, and trigger behaviour with a high survival value.
Robert Plutchik identified 8 basic emotions, and I'm quite sure I experience each and every one of them in various measures:

Mumblings of Double Century plans and strategies begin almost as soon as the saddles sores and aching legs from the previous edition have recovered. Things that can be done better, riders that need to be "convinced" to ride with us, improvements to the after party. We scheme and conspire for months on end, convinced that we're finally going to get it right. As race day approaches, the anticipation of the sufferfest that awaits is almost palpable. In the final week before the big day, we go from "I can't wait to race bikes in Swellendam over 200kms" to "I really don't know why I do this to myself every year". And yet somehow, we make the start line each and every year!

For me, the biggest surprise of the day is seeing who is going to be the first rider to pop. None of us wants to be that guy. It's a long and often lonely ride to the finish, and then there is the year-long stigma of being the guy that tapped out first. So, for the first hour of racing, we're not really racing the teams around us, we're shadowboxing with each other, taking our turn on the front and giving it almost everything, but secretly holding something back and hoping that someone else is going to crack first.
Captain Craig is never on my list of guys who are going to crack early on. He's the master of digging deep and holding a wheel, so when he came past me (backwards) pedaling squares after 40 minutes I thought he was kidding. A look over my shoulder a few seconds later and he was gone - our team captain relegated to a day of trying to beat the sweep vehicle and control the demons in his belly. (He was successful with the first challenge, not so much the second)

As we descend deeper into our own worlds of misery and suffering, the strangest things bring us joy. A bite of an energy bar, the slight shift in wind direction, the overtaking of another team. While racing bikes as fast we can is fun, it's not joyful. It's the things that happen while we're hurting ourselves that bring us joy.

I've never been so happy to see a complete stranger standing on the side of the road dishing out water and coke. My whole survival depended on this stranger (who also happened to be our backup) to get me home, and for those 5 minutes where I was being fussed over, I was happy. A kind of primitive and primal happiness. Happy to be alive. Happy to be riding bikes with mates. Happy to have full bottles.

We're a team of journeymen, a motley crew of renegade bike riders that gather for just one day. We come from different towns, different provinces, different countries, and yet somehow the stars align on race day. For 5 hours we're a team. A collective greater than the sum of the parts. We ride hard. Sometimes too hard. Giving it everything. And then it's all over. We go our separate ways, the team disbanded for another year. We might bump into each other here and there, but for most riders, we won't see each other ever again. And that's sad.

In the oxygen starved environment that is the HotChillee Racing pace line, the weirdest things can fill you with anger and rage. Someone dropping a gel sachet. A slower team not moving over to the left. Your own teammate subjecting you to 480 watts of torture for 5 minutes. These things rattle around in your head, taking on a life of their own, and before you know it, you're stomping the pedals with fury. I like that sort of anger. It's a powerful motivator to push through the pain. To take one more turn on the front. To squeeze the last remaining energy from my legs.

And then there is the bad anger. The anger that brings out my Hulk. This doesn't happen often, particularly when racing bikes, but when it does I just feel like giving up. Giving up on the race, and giving up on cycling in general. Cycling is supposed to be fun, especially at our level. We're just weekend warriors in search of glory. Cycling is our escape from the 9 to 5 routine. So when one team takes things a little too seriously, crossing the line from racing hard but fairly to blatantly cheating, the bad anger starts to boil inside me. What annoys me most is that a team whose name I cannot mention cheat by drafting us for 30kms, despite our protestations, and then step onto the top step of the mixed podium and celebrate their "victory". Are they so morally bankrupt that this is acceptable to them? Do they wear that medal with pride, or is it a dark reminder of the depths that they will go to in order to win?

Going into this year's Double Century I was confident of my fitness and form. I wasn't in peak peak condition, but I was solid. The speed was there. The endurance was there. The motivation was there. It was going to be a good race. And then we got news that Nic Dlamini would be joining us as our rent-a-pro. My world came tumbling down. Gone are the days of Nic riding on restricted gears, pumping out a cadence of 130 plus in order to keep up with us. He's now a lean, mean racing machine with a particular talent for crushing the souls of amateur riders with his abundance of watts that many of us can only dream of. Suddenly, I was fearing for my well being. The race had gone from an unbearable sufferfest with mates to a potential death ride on board the Nic Dlamini Agony Express.

And he didn't disappoint. Without looking up, we all knew when Nic was near the front as all our numbers would go haywire. Like the instruments of a plane flying into the Bermuda Triangle, things on our cycling computers just didn't make sense. The speed would shoot up, heart rates would max out and the watts were off the charts. We were going way too hard, and we all knew it, but we were powerless to stop it. Instead, eleven riders would cower in fear, waiting for the next Dlamini drubbing.

With the advent of things like Strava and GPS tracking, it's relatively easy to get an idea of your team members' fitness and form. But it's not a perfect science. Come race day, each member of the HotChillee Racing team places a certain amount of trust in the rest of the team that they've done the hard miles. Being the optimists that we are, we like to believe that everyone is in tip top condition, but until that gun goes, you never really know what sort of ride it is going to be. Are we all talk and no walk, or are we going to surprise ourselves and everyone else with a good ride?

The opposite is true as well - will my teammates step up when we need them most? Will they give everything for the cause? And the answer is usually yes. Whether it's closing the gap after a dead wheel, or riding me back onto our train after I got dropped on the downhill (again), there is always a teammate that answers the call. Someone punctures and in a flash a wheel is offered (although we suspect there was a selfish component here as Tim no longer had to endure the hiding on board the Nic Dlamini Bullet Train). It's probably this feeling that keeps bringing me back year after year to the Double Century. A twelve musketeers sort of vibe.

Again, the team that I cannot mention. They went from a morally dubious bunch of bike riders to everything I hate about cycling and cyclists in the space of 3 seconds. I've played several sports over the years, I've raced at various levels, in various disciplines, and not once in the 34 years that I've been riding bikes has anyone ever punched me. But that all changed when I asked a member of the team that I cannot mention to give me some room so that I could rejoin the HotChillee paceline (that they had been wheel sucking for 30 kilometers). I got an expletive filled rant followed by a punch for my efforts.

Where did cycling go wrong that this is seen as acceptable behaviour? Or is this just a reflection of modern society and how we interact with others? Is this the example we should be setting for tomorrow's generation? Cheat, swear and punch your way to victory? In a fun ride? I'd hate to see the response in a situation where the stakes are a lot higher.

As for my actual race report, The Double Century is a difficult race to report on when you spend half the time dropped from your own team. And the bits where I was part of the team are shrouded in a haze of suffering, or blurred as images of my life flashed before my eyes.

This is what I wrote on The BikeHub:
1. Start
2. Stare at the bum in front of me while chewing bar tape everytime Nic Dlamini was anywhere near the front.
3. Pretend to take a turn on the front, but I was actually too shattered from Nic's 5 minute motorpace session that I was actually recovering while on the front
4. Repeat 2 and 3 about 15 times
5. Pop spectacularly
6. Ponder the meaning of life and what series of bad life decisions had brought me to this point
7. Water point 1
8. Repeat 2 and 3 about 10 times, but this time there was no popping as I was number 6
9. Water point 2
10. Pop again - about 2kms out of the water point
11. Make a million deals with the muscles in my legs if they could just get me to the finish and not wage a violent war whenever I tried to pedal
12. Curse any uphill, no matter the gradient
13. Repeat 11 about 37 times
14. Finish, vowing to race in a mixed team next year!
(15. Two days later start thinking about doing it all again next year!) 

Posted without comment:

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Posted by Velouria Posted on 21:02 | 1 comment

Trans Baviaans 2017

The tale of Trans Baviaans 2017 begins two weeks before the ride from Willowmore to Jeffreys Bay, at a 100 miler offroad event in Swellendam called Around the Pot. As per usual, Captain Craig and I had teamed up, but in an attempt to improve the conversational component of our team we'd sourced some new talent - Hector the Injector. Known for his affinity for pink drinks, rhino admiration, and when on form, his ability to destroy bikes, he seemed like the perfect addition.

Trans Baviaans 2017
With the sun barely above the horizon, and the temperature still in single digits, we set off from Swellendam for a dirt road race through the rolling farmlands of Swellengrebel, via Malgas. It had been a while since Captain Craig and I had last raced, and we were eager to see where the legs were. A couple of other race snakes clearly had a similar idea, and before long a very select little bunch had formed at the pointy end of the race. As we traded shots on the front, testing each other out, the bunch continued to be whittled down, with eventually just 12 riders remaining. Like heavyweight boxers landing blow after blow the efforts soon took their toll - not on those at the front, but on the handful of riders dangling on the back, until Captain Craig landed the knockout blow. To Hector.

Dodging cows, Around the Pot
And just like that, the lead group disintegrated. Four riders got away. While Hector nursed his glass jaw and licked his wounds, Captain Craig and I alternated on the front, occasionally getting a little carried away and racing each other up short climbs or driving the pace on the flats. Hector was hanging, already blowing steam out of his ears when we hit the terrible rollers outside De Hoop Nature reserve. With all the eagerness of a three-toed sloth and the grace of a drunken mastodon, Hector the Deflator exploded like a Ford Kuga into a ball of flames. There were bits everywhere! Captain Craig and I did our best to drag him not only to the halfway mark and some temporary respite but for the remaining 80kms of the race, hoping that it had just been a bad patch. We still managed to win the team competition, and we hoped that the next two weeks would be feverously spent getting healthy, fit and strong.

Halfway, waiting for the pont
The buildup to Trans Baviaans primarily consisted of stalking Hector the Selfie Collector on Strava, keeping a watchful eye out for secret training and any improvement to his form. Our hope beyond hope was that Around the Pot was just a bad day.

A false sense of security
With bikes washed, bags packed, and excitement levels running high, we all piled into Captain Craig's new Cape Cycle Tours van for the road trip to Willowmore. In the pouring rain. My mind flashed back to my very first Trans Baviaans (and the very first Trans Baviaans), six nervous souls lining up in the pouring rain for an adventure into the unknown. While a lot has changed, a lot has stayed the same. The bikes are radically different to the 26-inch rim-braked clunkers we used to ride, but Wikus's sound system is still inaudible. The road is paved in several sections, but the sosaties at Checkpoint 3 are still legendary. Halogen lights with super heavy battery packs are a thing of the past, but the Kloof is still just as magical and beautiful.

The first ever Trans Baviaans

Registration in Willowmore
And as for the town of Willowmore - from a tiny little backwater Karoo town that you'd do your best to avoid, to a quaint little oasis in the middle of nowhere well worth a visit. Talking of backwater towns, we would be spending the evening in Rietbron. This is what Google said when I googled the place:

When people inform you that the Karoo, South Africa’s arid heartland, is flat and featureless, it might reveal two things about them:
One: They were fast asleep when someone drove them through the Karoo;
Two: They have never actually been to the Karoo.
That’s because in 99 percent of the Karoo, you’re always within sight of a mountain range, an outcrop of conical hills and, in many parts of the Little Karoo, surrounded by craggy peaks.
Except when you drive into the little Eastern Cape village of Rietbron, on the R306 between Beaufort West and Willowmore.

Lots of sky
And this bit of advice:

Visiting Rietbron, don’t bring your party hat unless you’re attending the annual sports festival in March. Then you can pack your drinking shoes as well…
The only church in SA with a Springbok on top of the steeple
We arrived in Rietbron just as the sun was setting. What an eye-catching sight. We also got the sense that they didn't get too many visitors, as while we were exploring the two roads of Rietbron (obviously one was named Voortrekker Road, and the other was named Piet Retief Street), we encountered the local policeman. A jovial guy, he proceeded to tell us all the goings on in Rietbron such as where to buy beer after dark, who to avoid, and the local town politics. He then told us about his drag racing exploits up and down Voortrekker Road (180km/h in 4th gear as the tar ran out), before inviting us around for a braai. As we walked away having refused his invite, we also discovered that the local policeman doubles as the local drug dealer too, his offer of a "banky" going unanswered. After all, we hadn't brought our party hats or drinking shoes.

An omen?
Race day dawned, bright and crisp, and as we waved goodbye to the small town hospitality, our minds switched to the challenge ahead. This included scaring the socks off Hector the Spector with tales of trials and tribulations we'd had previously. From vomiting up The Mother of all Climbs to fixing punctures all day long, we told him how much fun Baviaans is. Gavin, our new backup guy and a runner by nature had that look on his face. A look that showed he thought us cyclists were a crazy bunch, while at the same time feeling slightly concerned for Hector's well being.

Hector the Selfie Collector
Decked out in our new Cape Cycle Tours kit, The Cowardly Penguins entered the start chute and waited for our date with destiny. While we're experts at racing Trans Baviaans, and we know what we need to do, it's still a long way where a lot can go wrong and often does, with spectacular results. A mumbled race briefing later and we were off, safely tucked away in the lead bunch, waiting for all hell to break loose.

The Cowardly Penguins
But it never did. Feeling like the nerds that never got an invite to the school disco, we weren't quite sure what was going on. The start is normally a runaway freight train into lactic acid hell, not this sedate cruise over the windswept plains of the Karoo. So The Cowardly Penguins took it upon themselves to right this injustice and we found ourselves setting the pace on the front, despite our intentions to "just chill" for the first 100kms. And just like that, the lead bunch was reduced to nothing more than 20 riders. The only worry being that Hector the Disconnector was number 20.

Fond, brief memories of the bunch
As we dropped into the Kloof, Captain Craig drifted off the front, freewheeling away. I wasn't too concerned, as once the road levelled out, we'd all regroup and the next 70kms would be a free ride to Checkpoint 2. Or so I thought. Hector the Ejector was in a bad bad place off the back, and the gap was just getting bigger and bigger. I tried several times to tow him and his fellow stragglers back to vanishing bunch, but it was fruitless. Never fear, I thought, Captain Craig will be here soon to offer reinforcements, but they never came. There were two choices. Leave Captain Craig and hopefully he'd realise that two-thirds of The Cowardly Penguins were no longer in the lead bunch, or go and fetch him. With my blood pressure rising and my mood darkening, I decided to ride across the gap and fetch him. For ten minutes, at threshold pace, I slowly reeled in the bunch. When I finally got on the back of the bunch I expected to see Captain Craig there, looking over his shoulder, wondering where his buddies where. But no. Looking through the bunch I finally spotted the red and black Cape Cycle Tours kit ON THE FRONT. Right there and then I had an emotional meltdown. Not a little wobble about ten minutes of lactic acid fuelled anger, but rather a catharsis that had been 4 years in the making dating back to our last Epic together where a similar thing had happened. Captain Craig in the bunch and me out the back. Back then we still had 4 days of Epic to go, so I chose to ignore him for the rest of the stage. Not today. Once the floodgates opened, the words just streamed out of my dust covered face, as I tried to wipe away the sweat and snot from the efforts of closing the gap. What I said is best left in the lead bunch somewhere in the Baviaans Kloof. But it had the desired effect.

Hector the Almost Disconnector, hanging on the back
We dropped out of the lead group to a couple of chuckles and a few odd looks, waiting for Hector the Defector. Our hope being that this was just a temporary dip in form. As the kilometres increased, our speed decreased and any aspirations we had of doing well slowly evaporated as other teams trickled past us. There is no worse feeling than being passed by people that shouldn't be passing you, and nothing harder than having to restrain the desire to race them. But we entered as a team, and we were going to finish as a team, even if that meant carrying Hector the Objector on our backs.

Captain Craig off the front
Captain Craig driving the pace
The Baviaans Kloof is a very different place when you're not engulfed in a lactic acid haze. It is truly breathtaking. And the local people are the epitome of what makes this country so great. Friendly smiles, chants of "Hou bene hou" and high fives that can lift even the darkest of moods and remind us about the good things in our land. But I doubt Hector the Introspector saw any of this. His descent into misery was visible for all to see, and we still had 130 kilometres to go.

With the reduced pace that we found ourselves cruising along at, I was confident I could indulge in some of the wares on offer at the checkpoints without the risk of my customary Bergplaas vomit. A little hesitant at first, I tried one or two milkshakes, some sour jelly snakes, a couple of marshmallows and some jelly babies. And that was just Checkpoint 2. At Checkpoint 3 I had some more milkshakes, trying out some of the other flavours, and a potato. Living on the wild side! And my stomach was solid! Well, not entirely solid. It's probably worth mentioning that you don't really want to ride behind a team that had cabbage with their dinner the night before.

Where have you been my whole life??
The hardest part of Trans Baviaans lay ahead of us as Hector the Reflector retreated further into his own world of woe, and we never heard another word from him for the next 7 hours. Grunts and groans were his preferred means of communication. That's if we got a response at all. While it's pretty kak to be the guy in a world of pain, we've all been there. We know and fear that feeling and use it as motivation on our training rides. As they say, you don't have to be the fastest in the team, you just have to be faster than the slowest guy.

The wheels had literally fallen off!
We rolled into Checkpoint 4 with the sun hanging low in the sky. I continued with my new found love affair with the food on offer, gulping down two milkshakes before collecting soup and sandwiches for the rest of the team. In previous years, this soup has saved my life. I have no idea what's in it, but I wouldn't be surprised if it contains unicorn tears, angel dust and the sweat of a thousand minotaurs. A true elixir of life. With our stomachs full and our mood slightly lifted we set off for Checkpoint 5, and our first stop with our patiently waiting backup (we'd told him we'd be there at around 5pm - we were only leaving Checkpoint 4 at 5pm).

Uphills weren't the only place where Hector the Pink Drink Detector was slow. He'd lost all ability to ride down hills too. When you're in a world of pain, nothing works! Not your legs, not your mouth, not your brain. And no amount of encouragement or coaxing will have any effect. It's the mind against the body, and often, the mind is hanging on by the most tedious of threads. With that in mind, we threatened Hector the Funeral Director with all sorts of physical violence if he even as much as thought about climbing into the car. We hadn't come this far to not finish as a team. One for all and all that stuff!

Hector the Conscientious Objector's new favourite gel
And then something magical happened. The leg faeries paid Hector the Conscientious Objector a visit just in time for the NeverEnder. Whether it was the special green gel that Gavin provided or the motivational talk he gave ("Get on your bloody bike and get the hell out of here"), we left that checkpoint at a rate of knots we hadn't seen for many hours. And it lasted. All the way up the climb. We even passed a team, the first time in 8 hours that we were doing the passing.

JBay just around the corner!
The sparkle of lights in Jeffreys Bay grew brighter as Hector the Rhino Protector dug deep one last time, lured by the promise of cold beer and tasty burgers. We crossed the line 11h10, in 48th place, but that wasn't important. We'd crossed the line as a team, despite several obstacles along the way, and that's the real beauty of this sport. Racing is great, but nursing a wounded mate to the finish is almost as rewarding.

Trans Baviaans #14 done

*While riding, I had an epiphany. And I gave it a name. The Hector Conjecture. If you suspect someone of secret training, chances are they probably aren't doing secret training. ;)

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Posted by Velouria Posted on 08:26 | No comments

The 36One 2017

What is it about the 36One that makes this race so unique? In the four short years that Captain Craig and I have been doing it, the event has grown from a handful of endurance freaks eager for their next big challenge, to a gathering of some of the toughest, and probably craziest, bike riders in South Africa.

While a lot has changed over the years - the event just gets slicker and better organised, the riders get faster and fitter, and the race tactics are refined, one thing has always stayed constant. The first words that I mumble as we haul our tired and aching bodies across the finish line - "Never ever again!". And yet we've been back three times.

The 36One is one of those events that you enter, and then try to forget about completely. Any prolonged thought on the scale and difficulty of this ride is enough to drive one crazy, although the mere act of just entering is probably a sign that the craziness was a preexisting condition. But try as you might, The 36One Fear starts working its way into your subconsciousness. Without even realising it, you're thinking about date balls and ostrich sosaties, light run times and bottle hydration strategies, and before long every waking moment is consumed with anguish and mild panic, as well as a few nights where you wake up screaming, desperate to turn on the light and escape the never ending loop of riding up Rooiberg at a snail's pace.

The racing legs of Captain Craig
Captain Craig and I had completely opposite buildups to this year's race. In the week leading up to race day, Captain Craig probably did more kilometres than I'd done in the entire month, thanks to a forced break due to a torn hip flexor. Mr Overdone and Mr Underdone. Not only were we on opposite ends of the fitness spectrum, but our riding styles are completely different too. It's a miracle that Captain Craig and I can actually ride together, particularly in long events like this. His preferred style is to start fast, get a gap and then manage the pace, while I prefer to keep it steady at first, and then finish with a flurry. Given all this, the hope was that at some point during the course of the race we'd briefly be in our peak operating zones together.

Mr Southpaw
The organisers had switched the starts around this year, with the solo adventurers starting before the teams. I quite liked this as it meant Captain Craig wouldn't be tempted to keep pace with the race snakes, and it also meant that we had 542 targets ahead of us to keep us motivated. Little flashing red lights of temptation. The first half an hour of racing was a bit of a peacock parade by all the teams, like body builders flexing their muscles to show their strength. The Purple Paper Pandas (I really just wanted to hear Carel, the ultra endurance MC, get tongue twisted over that name), played along, Captain Craig setting a beautiful pace on the front, while I sussed out the small group of contenders from the back, looking for signs of weakness. Small things like slightly laboured breathing, or taking a second or two to close a gap. Mr Good Guy and Mr Unfriendly.

As we left the tar and hit the climbs we found ourselves alone out front. It's always great to be in front - you're in charge of the pace, your destiny is in your own hands. But at the same time it can be a little daunting as the self doubt creeps in. Are we going too fast, too early? Can we conserve energy by riding in a group? What if they gang up on us and work together? Always a trade off for everything.

Sneaky photobombers
We quickly slotted into our usual formation, me on the front with Captain Craig on my wheel. I never know how to feel about this. Is Craig being complimentary and letting me set the pace? Is he being selfish while he sits on my wheel as I set the pace? Am I stronger than him, or is he stronger than me? It doesn't help that one of the overriding rules we were taught about team riding is that you go at the slowest person's pace. Am I slow? If so, how slow? And should I be going faster? With this internal debate raging in my head the kilometres roll on by, and my mind is distracted from the pain and suffering.

It doesn't help that Captain Craig and I try to pass the time with witty banter or profound conversation either. We both have hearing issues. Captain Craig is going deaf, and I am blessed with rather large ears that tend to catch a lot of wind noise, so any conversation between us usually goes like this:

"Did you see that tortoise up ahead?"
"Yes, I think they should escort us off to bed"
"It looked like it was sleeping"
"I feel sleepy too"
"Me too"
So riding in single file is what we do. Mr Deaf and Mr Wind Noise.

The old saying "Go slow to go fast" certainly rings true, and despite riding rather conservatively, we hit the first checkpoint in good time. For the first time in years I didn't have snot dripping from face, blood oozing from my ears and tears in my eyes. I almost felt normal. A quick snack, some fluids and some chain lube and we were back on the road, the longest stage ahead of us.

Looking after the bike is as important as looking afer the body
Back on the road the flashing red lights ahead of us were few and far between, and those riders that we did catch and pass were often rather eager to join the Dane and Craig Express. Which we weren't going to allow! So our race tactics became rather predatory - we'd silently stalk the red flashing lights with our own bike lights on dim, with the aim to pass the unsuspecting victim at the bottom of a slight hill. We'd hit the bottom of the rise with speed, and try to power our way over the bump, aware that if we went too hard we'd be paying for the effort in several hours' time, and that if we didn't hit it fast enough, we'd have a wheel sucking solo rider for company.
All this catching and passing sounds like riveting action adventure stuff. It wasn't. These cat and mouse, or as I prefer, lion and impala confrontations could take the better part of an hour to unfold. Racing in slow motion!

We rolled into the halfway checkpoint well up on last year's time, and got down to preparing things for the toughest slog of the race. For Captain Craig, that meant a light change. In the time it takes him to remove the old light and attach the new light, I'm quite sure entire civilisations have risen and fallen. Our stop took so long that I actually had to relearn how to ride a bike again. And he says I am the time waster at water points! Mr Faff and Mr Speedy.

If I have one criticism about The 36One, it's got to be the water points. It's really not fair on endurance athletes to have to make decisions about which of the tasty food they are going to eat. Porridge brain is a real problem, and too much choice, from banana bread to biltong, lasagne to koeksisters can be race ending. I've seen cyclists lost in thought, staring at the food tables for hours, suffering from food decision paralysis. Whatever happened to those days of expired energy bars and water in cups the size of thimbles?
With Captain Craig finally rejoining the race, we set off to conquer the witching hour demons. The uphills were getting longer, our legs were getting heavier, and our progress through the red flashing lights had come to a halt. Just Captain Craig and I in the middle of nowhere, with a thin waning crescent moon for company. And the odd marshal - the real unsung heroes who make this race possible.

Often, our only companion
In a race like this you are always going to have good patches and bad patches. The hope is that the good patches last a long long time, while the bad patches are brief. And the switch from a good patch to a bad one can happen in the blink of an eye. One minute you're feeling invincible, and the next you're desperately sucking on a gel, making silent pleas for the pain to end! Add in the team dynamic and you can be guaranteed that good and bad patches will never be synchronised.

We hit the bottom of Rooiberg, the big climb, not quite knowing what was going to happen. The benefit of riding a little faster is that we get to do this climb in the dark - never able to see the top. However, that's a double edged sword, as often it's only the thought of the top that keeps you going. As the road tilted up, the memories from previous years came flooding back. The year Captain Craig rode me into the ground. The year we took the lead in the team category just before the top (and didn't even know it). The year we passed The Beast as he walked up the climb, a shattered hulk of a man. Anything could happen on the slopes of this invisible monster, and it often does.

The Purple Paper Pandas suffered up the climb, as I am sure every other participant did too. An eight kilometre climb after 250 kilometres is always going to hurt. But we made good progress, and as we crested the summit, the lights of Calitzdorp glistening in the distance. We'd broken the back of The 36One before it had broken us, although I came close to running on empty. With a flick of the arm, Captain Craig hit the front and dragged my sorry frame into the third check point, and the oasis of snacks that awaited us. Mr Strong and Mr I Should Have Eaten More.
Once again, getting Captain Craig to leave the sanctuary of the check point proved to be rather tricky. He'd just discovered the koeksisters, and was intent making up for all those he'd missed in the previous 12 hours. And then he caught sight of the pancakes. And just to prove that he wasn't happy with the level of conversation so far on our ride, he struck up a conversation while I patiently waited to get rolling again. He clearly needed the mental stimulation, so I was prepared to give him a minute or two, provided he paid me back later.

That welcoming CBC beer!

The final stage is the most beautiful, for one simple reason. It's the only stage that we actually get to see beyond the small puddle of light in front of us. And the Klein Karoo is a rather pretty place. It's also the final grind towards the finish, the end of the torment and the welcoming promise of an ice cold CBC beer. No wonder I tend to suffer from long range white line fever at this race! But it's not all plain sailing. The hills are merciless in their gradient, and vicious in length, especially on tired legs. From the top of the final climb to the finish is around 35 kilometres, and this is where I am in my element. Time for Captain Craig to pay me back, which means hopping aboard the Dane Train, and holding on tight. Next stop Oudtshoorn. Mr Caboose and Mr Engine.
With the temperatures rising we whittled off the final kilometres, pushing our bodies to the limits one last time, not motivated by times or placings. Just wanting the ordeal to be over. Everything hurts. As we haul our tired and aching bodies across the line, the first words that escape my mouth once again are "Never ever again!". And this time we're serious. I promise.