Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Girl, The Freerider and the Sabie Xperience

The Girl, the Freerider and the Sabie Xperience

Right at the bottom of the short downhill the Girl finally caught the two riders that she and her teammate, the Freerider, were chasing up the previous climb. Only to be cut off by one of them as she turned into the corner. "Sorry, girls", the offending rider said as he caught the Girl's eye just before he sped off into the next climb.
"Sorry girls, my @ss", muttered the Freerider to himself.
"And what a nice one when he's wearing lycra, too", the Girl thought as she stood up to attack the hill.
There was a monster inside the Freerider this morning that the Girl has never seen before. He switched to a higher gear, ordered the Girl to sit down so that he could push her up the hill, and within minutes they caught up with, and then left the two chased riders behind. That done, the next target came into view. Off they sped to catch them too.
The skies were blue, the forests lush and shiny green after the torrential rain of the previous day, the climbs steep and technical, the single track slippery and exciting. Once or twice the Girl thought that a hill was too steep or too technical for her abilities, but the Freerider talked her up every hill and over every obstacle.
It was the final stage of the Sabie Xperience that started 3 days earlier. D&D were well represented at the event. Among others, Flash, Vlam, Eve, CarbonCarel, DeeKay, Sergeant Skills, Thug, Glen and Sybrand were all seen in teams of various abilities. Some would chase glory; others would just aim to make the cut-offs; yet others were training for Sani2C.
The first three stages would look roughly the same: 450 teams of two riders each would climb up a mountain for the first half of the stage, and then scream down the mountain during the second half.
And the mountains in Sabie are huge. The first stage saw the riders negotiating a total vertical ascent (and corresponding descent, of course) of about 1700 meters over 78 kilometers of technical climbs, jeep tracks, breathtaking single track over roots, through mud and river crossings, lots of warnings about 'extreme danger' and everything else that makes mountain bikers grin - never taking the chicken runs. There's a fundamental thing about single track that has to go downhill, that the organizers of the Sabie Xperience fully understood.
The second stage was going to be the hardest day with a total ascent of 1800 meters over 82 kilometers. "You're not in Granny, if that was your plan", the Freerider said. The mud of the previous day started to take its toll on the drive train of the Girl's dirty bicycle.
Stop. Fix gears. Climb.
Chain suck. Stop. Lube. Climb.
Flash passing with the traditional pat on the back.
Chain off. Stop. Fix. Climb.
Chain suck again. Stop. Wash with water. Lube again. Climb.
Up, up and up. Forever higher.
Finally a water point would come into view, or a spectator point, or a marshal telling you to go left, down, and not right, up. But the next marshal would never be too far away, telling you to go right, and up.
Chain off. Stop. Fix. Climb.
No granny gear. Stop. Clean. Lube. Manually put into a gear - any gear. Climb.
Finally the Freerider's bike's derailleur would have none of the mud no more.
Stop. Manually put into a gear. Climb. The Freerider was riding a single speed now, and climbing faster than ever.
Catch up with old roadie cycling friends from a previous lifetime. Chat. Climb.
Chain suck. Stop. Lube. Climb.
And then, finally, the downhill.
Oooh, but the Girl's breaks don't work so lekker any more. The Freerider controlled the speed by breaking his own bicycle with one hand at breakneck-speed, negotiating the surface marked with 'extreme danger' warnings while holding onto the Girl's backpack, breaking her speed with his other hand.
Another afternoon nap. Another prize giving. Another race briefing: The third stage was going to be 65 kays with a total vertical ascent of 1600 meters. Another big fire, another something on the Braai and another re-telling of the day's war-stories. Clean the bicycles, replace cables, lube, and get ready for the next stage.
Somewhere during the night the girl woke up to the sound of a rainstorm.
The third day broke wet and … well, wet. The start was delayed while the race organizers checked the route safety, altering it here and there to bypass dangerous sections and moving marshals accordingly. The rivulet on the way to the start was a raging torrent. The Girl discovered that her shifters, which were working fine the previous evening, now refused to move. The race started while the Girl bought more cables from the bike shop. The Freerider replaced the cables, and off they went, about ten minutes after the last group left. Catch up with the last riders, and then get into the rhythm of the previous day:
Chain suck, stop, lube, climb.
Mud in eyes, stop, clean, climb.
Catch up with buddies, chat, chain suck, stop, lube, climb.
Get hungry, stop, buddies catch up, chat, eat, climb.
Forever higher.
"The water point should be just around the corner", the Freerider said. And then the race was over. Stopped due to dangerous water levels. Just like that.
Wait at the water point, take pictures of seriously dirty people, eat some watermelon, and then ride home in convoy with people even dirtier than the Freerider, if it was possible. There would be no single-track downhills today.
The Girl's V-brakes were non-existing, so the Freerider had to act as breaks again. It was difficult to control the speed in the convoy, so they moved to the back of the field where the margin for error was a little bigger. Then the mud collected between the v-brakes and the front wheel. The wheel would not move. Try to unblock the mess. The Girl and the Freerider were now stone last – again. With the sweep vehicle right beside them, they started to chase down the other teams. A downhill at last, no breaks required here. Catch up with other riders. Get rid of the sweep vehicle. Chain suck. Stop. Chain stuck thoroughly. Wash. Lube. Untangle the stubborn chain. Sweep vehicle on their tails again. Chase down the other riders. Tar road, a few climbs, and finally drop the sweep vehicle.
Then the Freerider saw the turn-off to the Mac-Mac falls on their left. He always wanted to cycle down that path, and here they were, with their bicycles. So off they went. It's interesting going down there without breaks. Gaze at the waterfall, then cycle up the path again - far easier this time, because there's no need for breaks to control speed when you go uphill.
Back on the tar road again – and out of nowhere, the sweep vehicle appeared on their tails again. Chase down the other cyclists. Catch one. Catch another one. Then a few more. Puncture. Stop. Fix puncture. (The roadie tube that the Girl carried in her backpack for 3 days proved useless.) Chase down the last rider again. Alas, too late. Three official vehicles escorted the Girl and the Freerider to the finish.
Another afternoon nap. Another prize giving. Another race briefing: The last day would be a time trail of 24 kays with a total vertical ascent of 500 meters. There would be individual start times; if you start late, that time gets accumulated to your race time, and the original cut-off would still apply. Get some hamburgers at a local place, and then go back to replace the gear cables, break cables (on the Girl's bike) and brake pads (on the Freerider's bike). By 11 everything's done. Lock up the bicycles, set the alarm, and go to bed.
The next morning, the Freerider's bicycle was nowhere to be found. Roberto's bike also disappeared. Lots of admin to report the theft, take stock of other lost stuff, cancel lost credit cards, bankcards and cell phones.
All done, about 45-odd minutes after their start time, the Freerider turned to the Girl. "Are we gonna ride?"
"Where to", asked the Girl.
"The Sabie Xperience, that's what we're here for", the Freerider replied.
So he borrowed a bicycle. Their bladders were gone. There was no time for breakfast, but they still had helmets and apples, and it was only 24 kays. Off to the start, now almost an hour late.
There was a monster in the Freerider that morning. The skies were clear, the forests lush and shiny green, the climbs steep and technical, the single track slippery and exciting. And while they were out there, they could forget that someone unknown had been in their tent, right next to where they were sleeping. There was no other reality. There was only now. It was just the borrowed hardtail, the hills, the single tracks, the forest, the new maximum heart rate, the marshal telling you to go up, and other riders to chase down.
The full Sabie Xperience. Every bit of it.
Thank you to the Freerider, who makes an excellent riding partner and despite being too strong for his own good, allowed the girl to climb at her own speed, and talking her over every obstacle and hill.
Thank you to Werner who gave up his own race and offered his bicycle when the Free Rider was on his way to the bike shop to rent a bicycle to finish the race with.
Thank you to Roberto and all the other people whose cell phones the Girl used to make various calls to cancel various stuff, and the pocket money he provided so that we could get home :)
Thank you to Vlam, Eve, Deekay, Rob, Werner, Glen, Cecil, Sybrand, Jan and everyone else who shared the Sabie Xperience with us - the braais, the hamburgers, the race briefings, the sprite zeroes … for your share in making it one of the most memorable weekends of the year (for various reasons)

For next year, I wish myself another dose of people like yous :)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Chronicles of the Knight Riders (part 2)

The story so far:
A storm is brewing, familiar trails are rutted and new, some new unfamiliar trails were added to the mix. The knightriders started from the new centre, and are about to descend down Big Dipper.
The Mummy was bombing down the singletrack at almost the speed of green light. Suddenly the red taillight disappeared. Could the drop-off at the bottom be this close already? Could they really have gone that fast? No, it was just the first of many spectacular falls for the night.
Singletrack: 1. theMummy: 0.
The Mummy was found a good few metres from his bicycle. The red taillight and parts of the green handlebar-light were more difficult to spot, but after they collected all the missing bits, pieces and breath, they were off again.
The erosion and new ruts made the drop-off at the bottom of the hill considerably more technical than during winter.
Drop-off: 1. Oupa Gert: 0
Quick responses learnt on many nightrides prevented the Drop-off to claim a bigger toll.
So, forwards and onwards our Knoble Knightriders went. Forwards and onwards to the Dark Side.
Aaah, the Dark Side, where Alonzo thought he could ride over The Pipe. The Pipe, with its metre-high stakes on the left, and its 2-metre drop on the right. A less able ride would have fallen over to the left.
Pipe: 1. the Pied Piper: 0.

Add Break
Tired of your straight backwheel? Need a new Pringle on your bicycle? Need an excuse to replace your back rim?
Come ride the PipeTrack with the PipeMan himself!
Every Thursday night from the new D&D centre. Bring your helmet, your buddies (for spectators and eye-witnesses), some plaster, and plenty of tools.
On they went, to QT's drop-off, down the Long, Sexy Seductive singletrack. By now all the knightriders learnt a healthy respect for blood, mud & ruts. So they all walked down Kamakaze drop-off.
But wait! Stephan haven't had his customary fall for the night. Not to be outdone by any of the other entertainers, he waited for all the spectators to gather around before he bailed in a ditch. Man and Bicycle unite in one Cool Koeksister. Untangling them proved to be quite a challenge.
Ditch:1. Coolsister: 0.
There were a 30-second-sprint, and then, sadly, the shopping-mall came into sight, signalling the end of yet another beautiful night.
As quietly as they appeared out of nowhere, our knightriders disappeared again, back into nowwhere. Some went in for hot chocolate, others drove off into the starlit night, some others cycled home with the weather-goddess' displeasure still visible in the distance.
It would be a whole week before they could come out to play again, before they would feel this alive again.
The end.

Based on a true story. Names and places were not changed, but the summer-weeds growing all over the tracks might have taken its toll on the geographically-challenged scribe: Was it on this ride that they were joined by the D&D virgins who did VO2max hill with them, took pictures at the top, and then disappeared? Was it on this ride that the knightriders went through End of the World Singletrack?
The scribe accepts no responsibility for names of places, trails or downhills that are mentioned totally out of order, context or dimension.

There were a few other wannabe-falls. If you feel that your fall were spectacular enough to warrant a place in the annals of the ride, contact the scribe directly or on the mailing list. The scribe's decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

chronicles of the knightriders

It was early November. The erosion caused by the frequent summer-rains meant that familiar downhills were suddenly far more rutted than they were on the last few dusty winter-nights. Fresh new summer-weeds grew merrily all over the familiar trails, hiding the track in general, and the new potholes & ruts in particular, from the unsuspecting rider. The old familiar trails were new and exciting once more.
There were also the new single tracks, new challenges & new obstacles that came with moving to a new venue.
The scene was set for a few spectacular falls.
The knightriders were not disappointed. If there were an award for the most spectacular fall of the year, then the finalists would probably all come from the same ride.
Our story begins with a few intrepid cyclists, and then some more, greeting each other and chatting away as they were getting their bikes and lights ready for the weekly ritual that changes ordinary mountain bikers into exceptionally cool people. The weather-goddess put on a feeble attempt to scare our 20-odd Warriors of the Dirt with an electrical power display on the horizon. But by now they were used to her unpredictable whims, and like true Conquerors of the Dark, they all just ignored her. She sometimes does go away if you do that. And it was going to be an intro/xtro ride anyway, so if she does get grumpy later, the riders could just all opt out of the xtro-ride.
So, off they went. Hardy showed them an awesome playground with some short turns, drops, jumps, everything a dirty warrior could want :)
He allowed them to play a little, and then they were off to new challenges –
Up someone's single track, down someone else's route, up this way, down that way – and then suddenly something would look familiar again.
Big Dipper was coming up. The ideal spot for the Mummy to test his most recent acquirement: the custom-built green light that dims and brights with the speed of the bicycle. So down they went, a mad dash of single file-bikes, down to the bottom of the hill. Faster and faster. Will the light be bright enough to handle the Mummy's famous downhill-speed? Will the light be bright enough to reveal the ruts and rocks hidden under weeds, dust & starlight?
Stay tuned for another episode of the chronicles of the knightriders.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Flying is Fun

Samantha's got lots of 'other lives'. Shy sometimes cycle with me, i sometime paddle with her - we've done an adventure race or 2 together. One of her other lives and loves is flying - so one weekend she took me with. I did a tandem-flight with one of her friends. Lots of paragliders in the air; they physics similar to parachute but you'r in the air for a lot longer.

The most impressive part of the day was where Sam drove her 2x4 up a really technical 4x4 path - well done

a brilliant day out in the sun.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Midlands Mystery Mally

i like it when people say i'm scared of nothing - bu reality is that i'm scared of quite a lot of things ... like being lost in a forest in the dark all by myself, as i realised last weekend - i added another DNF to my repertoire this year, and this time, solely because i was scared. But thank you anyway, Eric :)


I do the D&D's partly because of the cool crowd of people that i get to ride with, but mostly because night riding is highly addictive ... up to a point where once a week isn't enough. So i googled every race calendar i could find for more night riding. Seems there's not a lot of night-riding going on in a year - you can take on a full adventure race in the hope that at least some cycling will be on single track at night, or there's the noon 2 moon and 24hours northern farms all on the same weekend, the sabie shenanigans, transbaviaans, and the midlands mystery mally (past weekend) - and that's about it :(

Oh yes, and then there's the non-stop-sani2c and the freedom-challenge if you've got a really bad case of addiction, or the telkom satellite night-MTB if you can justify the fuel & time to go there to cycle 10 kays.

The crater cruise sounded too much like a roadie-ride off road, so paul, jan, elja & i headed to midmar dam for a staged mountain bike race along the same lines as the sabie shenanigans: a rally-style race consisting of a 50 kay day stage followed by a night stage of 45 kays - if you don't get lost, that is :)

The day stage was over varied terrain, a few longish climbs, a hike & carry-your-bike section, a fast downhill through the forest, some rain-relief against the warm humid October-natal-air, some magnificent down hills that still make me smile thinking back, Jan & Paul catching up on us just as I discovered the broken derailleur & then realised that i lost my map - they picked the map up so i didn't have to go back up the awesome downhill, and then sommer fixed the broken derailleur while they were in the area ...

The transition was at a hotel somewhere between the forests & tracks & rivers & waterfalls; hot showers, hot chocolate, coffee, lasagna, even a comfortable coach for a quick snooze...

Anyway - before this becomes a race report - 'cos Frequent Flyer will do the proper write-up - let me come to the point of this email - the part where i opted for a DNF because i was too scared:

All but four teams withdrew from the night stage, and due to circumstances outside our control, the fireflies (elja & i) started the night-stage in the very last position. So now there were 3 (very strong) teams ahead of us somewhere out there, & we trailing behind.  Just outside the town, a drunken guy wanted a lift, and when we ignored the request, started running with us. We outcycled him, but could still hear him shouting abuse after us for what seemed like hours... it was about then that we hit a corrugated downhill ... which was when i realised that i never put the brakes back after the derailleur-fixing episode at the hotel. I managed to stop to put the brakes back, all the while knowing that the shouting running guy is catching up on us ... long story short, i felt very uncomfortable and when we missed a turn-off a few minutes later and lost about 50 minutes climbing the wrong mountain, we realised that the other teams were now about an hour ahead of us; and we'll be alone the rest of the night, and that even if the derailleur held, & there were no other mechanicals, we'll have to stop every now and again to look at the map ... and stopping wasn't safe...

So we quitted.

If more teams entered, we wouldn't have felt so utterly lost & alone in the forest - it helps to know there are other people in the area.

And here, finally after all the ramblings, is the point of this email:

Why were there so few teams?

maybe there's just too much going on in a year?
maybe it clashed with the crater cruise?
maybe it's too expensive for gauteng-teams to go down to midmar, but at R420 per team entry (2 or 3 people, which included a hot shower, supper, midnight soup, rolls & hot chocolate, & breakfast) it was excellent value for money for the midlanders?
maybe night-riding is too daunting?
maybe the total distance of just under 100 for the day is too daunting?
maybe ... any other suggestions? 

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Transition-disability causes Baviaans favourites their podium-position

Transition-disability causes Baviaans favourites their podium-position
Dark & Dirty Dispatch
Baviaanskloof, 19 August

One of the favourite teams to win this year's Trans-Baviaans challenge, a gruelling mountain bike race over 230 km, transitioned a sure podium-position away last weekend when they spent too much time in transitions socialising, eating and sleeping. The team spent about the same amount of time at checkpoints, as other teams took to finish the whole race, reports our correspondent from the Eastern Cape.

Team Dark & Dirty, who entered their third team due to all kinds of excuses from the first and second teams, were the favourites to win the competition, mainly because of all the publicity that their small & loony group of writers, riders and photographers enjoyed over the last few months.

The transitionally challenged team started the race with a mad sprint over the flattish and sometimes even downhill-part of the route. Jan Dekker was seen spinning like a yo-yo at a cadence approaching 300 revs per minute to keep up with team captain Hans Wolfaardt's crazy pace. Team Dark & Dirty were among the first 50 teams to arrive at checkpoint 1. 'I went quite fast', was all that Dekker had to say as he tucked into the hotdogs and coffee provided at the checkpoint.

No team could overtake Team Dark & Dirty when they were on their bicycles, averaging about 19 km/h over the total distance. Speed and fame, unfortunately, were not enough to win them glory, the team found out in the early hours of Sunday morning.

The team's original goal was to finish in 20 hours, and ahead of team Bloukous and Team Brother-In-Law. The tailwind and dry weather made for perfect riding conditions, and it soon became clear that neither the 20 hours, nor any other team (with a teamname starting with B) posed any threat to the Dark goals of the Dirty team.

From the first checkpoint, the team were a clear favourite among the checkpoint-staff, opposition team support teams, and paramedics. A paramedic at checkpoint 4 ascribed the team's popularity to the fact that they stopped and socialised with everyone at every checkpoint, instead of just racing past like other teams of their calibre. Team Dark & Dirty stayed in the first transition for more hotdogs, more coffee, and then sat down watching teams come and go, lubing their bums, lubing their bicycles, and thinking up all kinds of other excuses to postpone leaving the checkpoint. When they finally did leave, it was a mad dash to catch up with teams that passed them while they were transitioning. By the second transition the pattern of 'cycle hard, transition hard' that the team would follow through-out the race, was already firmly established.

The hardtail-unfriendly surface, freeride-bike-unfriendly hills, long fun downhills, more long fun downhills, gruesome climbs and stealth-mode riding by starlight, all contributed to the sore bums that would haunt the team from the first checkpoint. Dekker almost caused a riot in the team when he suggested that the reason for sore bums might be too much chocolate brownies.

When the race-pace became too hot on one of the rare occasions that the team could be found actually ON their bicycles, Carine Reyneke tried to wear her team mates out by discovering a puncture right at the top of a downhill, causing the ever-energetic team mates who waited in vain at the bottom, to climb the hill again to come to her aid.
When that didn't seem to slow the team down, she tried an old trick by breaking her seat post. Dark & Dirty Dispatch Readers will remember that she tried that very same trick a few months ago during the Sabie Shenanigans, causing Dekker much pain and grief to try and fix it, while she was taking a much-needed rest. This time, however, Dekker was ready for the onslaught: no sooner had the team been made aware of the broken saddle, or he was found lying sleeping next to the road, with gloves tucked in on both sides of his helmet to shut out lights from passing cars and bicycles, leaving Wolfaardt to take care of the mechanical breakdown.

Official investigations are still underway, but a preliminary report reveals several possible reasons for the long transitions that costed the team their race.

The perfect weather could have played a role in the team's reluctance to get out of the watering holes. 'In foul weather, a team might want to get on their bicycles and get the race over with, but the sunshine & tailwind might have reminded the cyclists of lazy Sunday-afternoons on thick grass under big trees', a paramedic explained.
Wolfaardt blamed the transition-disability on the changed menus. Racers were promised boring potatoes, but were offered braaivleis, potato salad and sosaties instead. At another transition they were promised coffee, but got harassed with cream-and-syrup-spiked hot chocolate, chocolate muffins and garlic rolls. 'I mean, what was the organiser thinking - it was more like a spud-crawl than a cycle-race', Wolfaardt was heard muttering to his team mates. 'How did the race organisers expect us to cycle after that? Being all sleepy like after a Sunday lunch & everything?' Official complaints will be lodged with the race organiser.

'We tried not to transition longer than we took to cycle the previous leg, but that was not always possible', Dekker was heard saying after a two-hour-long transition at checkpoint 5. (The cycle-leg prior to that checkpoint took them a mere 90 minutes.)
At checkpoint 6, the team finally found a way to keep Dekker from falling asleep at transitions when Wolfaardt devised a cunning plan that involved getting an innocent bystander to admire Dekker's bicycle and start discussing freeriding. This plan, however, also had its challenges, because neither Dekker nor the innocent bystander was prepared to leave the checkpoint before the necessary exchange of contact details.

Wolfaardt calculated that the team could change the 24-hour-event into a staged race by combining the time spent at each transition, and rather make a proper transition-area out of one of the transitions. 'We could pitch tents and sleep in proper sleeping bags', Wolfaardt proposed excitedly. Fears now exist that other teams will catch on with this trend, changing the Trans Baviaans into a multi-staged event and thereby robbing if of its status as the world's longest single-stage race.

One possible reason for Dekker's reluctance to wake up and get onto his bicycle after checkpoints was discovered after the race when Reyneke tried to move Dekker's backpack. It weighed about 70 kg's and help had to be called in to move the pack 2 metres to make space to sit.

Dekker was not available for comment.

Friday, August 10, 2007


Having never seen a "North shore-bridge", I had no idea what the organiser (and everyone else) was on about at the Sudwala pre-ride briefing. The sparkle and excitement in my freerider-buddies' eyes hinted that it might be technical stuff far above my or my bike's ability. The promised "chicken-runs" didn't put me at ease in the slightest - I remembered only too well that the so-called "chicken runs" at the downhill-competition the day after the Induna were still very much higher-grade.
The organiser spoke about single track and drop-offs, downhills & obstacles & bridges, North shore-style.

Yeah right. We started on dirt-road, did a quick loop through a tunnel, and then onto a never-ending climb - on tar. At the top of the tar-hill, we at last left the tar and continued the climb up a rutted jeep-track. Finally there was a water point, an Argustour-vibe and a downhill. The downhill didn't last long, though. But the next hill was short, and finally we were in a forest. The single track twisted and turned and I missed it a few times DeeKay-style. Then there was a piece of single track that looked like it was made a few days before - which is likely, due to last minute route-changes because of the fires that raged the area. The path was against a steep slope and you had to tackle it fast so that, by the time the earth disappears beneath your back wheel, you'll be over that patch already. Unfortunately there was a bottleneck - like sometimes happen on these juicy bits. People haven't heard of the 'speed can cure almost any obstacle'-theory yet. Finally the newly created track sloped downwards, and then joined with something out of this world - we were inside a mini-canyon with a play park of bridges, twists, turns, and more bridges. Once or twice I accidentally took the chicken-run (I'm still learning to look further ahead) and had to turn back so that I could attempt the real thing. Once or twice I was in the real thing before realising it, and it was too late to stop so I just had to continue - wow!

The rest of the route followed the same pattern: climbing on (sometimes very steep) rutted jeep-tracks and bombing down deep kloofs with twists & turns & rocks & bridges & broken bridges (deliberately, I suspect, because the wood seemed quite new) and very narrow bridges and very long bridges and bridges that turned in mid-air and bridges built at strange angles and steep turns that would throw your bicycle up against the track-wall, and drop-offs with low tree-branches that would grab your camel-back just as you cleared the drop-off or the obstacle. There were a few hair raising moments when I overestimated the angle of a bridge over a fence, and caught some air right at the top of the upside-down V-bridge...I would have been out of the race if the mountain bike-goddess didn't show some mercy & guided my wheels to a soft landing straight back on the bridge. There was some more climbing, and more bombing down into some or other technical heaven, then some waiting for a chance to pass who-ever's in front of you, and then another climb, where the slow-single-track-people would outclimb you again, another downhill and sometimes another bottleneck.

Every few kilometers you would hear a big noise, and a few 100 meters later the water point would come into sight - with loudspeakers & pom-pom girls cheering you on - the vibe was great & I felt like a champion as they cheered me into & out of each water point.

It's almost a week after the race and I still walking around with this stupid grin.

There's just one thing that this race doesn't have: ski lifts to the top of the many climbs. I guess I'll just have to learn to climb, so that I can avoid the bottlenecks by reaching the single track first.

Note to free riders, duallie-riders, Dark & Dirty-riders and other Mountain Bikers:
A girl on a hard tail wrote this report, and 'technical' for her is nothing special for anyone else. Not worth going to Nelspruit for this ride.
Note to roadie riders:
This ride is far too technical and you won't like it one bit. Don't take your MTB there for it's annual getaway. You might fall and bruise yourself - and we don't want you to walk around with a grin for a week after the ride and then convert to MTB.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Lessons & Observations on a roadie-ride

It was perhaps more than just a little arrogant to think that you could do a roadie ride marketed as "South Africa's toughest" if you've only been on your roadie bike once after the Argus tour. But you've been on your mountain bike a few times since the Argus, the Jock was on your to-do list for quite a while already, and you had to go find out if it was really as tough as everybody said it was ... and there was another sucker (the Mummy) who was up for the challenge, so ... what the heck, enter the ride & see what happens. How tough can 150 kays be anyway?

You were about to find out.

Some lessons & observations from the past weekend:

- If you take your bike for its only training ride in months a week before a biggish event, and you discover something like the shifters are not working, don't expect the bicycle shop to be able to fix it for you there and then. Not if you don't have a decent overdraft facility, anyway.
- Have a friend like Mamparra who can change the only gear that you will be able to use on the front chain ring, from the big to the small blade. That's good enough for Jock.
- Knowing that Barberton is somewhere in Mpumalanga is not good enough. Instructions pulled from the Internet telling you to continue for 146.2 kays, and then turn right, somehow would make more sense if you had a roadmap of the area, or at least knew where Barberton fits into the bigger picture. Especially since there was no Dirt Rider at the destination already, whom you could phone for directions.
- There're a lot of roadie bikes to be seen during a roadie-bike-weekend.
- Don't leave your fleece & wind jacket behind in Barberton when you're leaving for Nelspruit at 5 in the morning, if your start is only at 7:30. Even if The Mummy says it won't be so cold. What does the Mummy know about the weather in Nelspruit at 5:30 in the morning, anyway? ;)
- Be nice to other mountain bikers when you share a mountain, a single-track or a Noon to Moon with them, 'cos you don't know when you will bump into them at roadie-events. Was great to see the familiar faces of Big Daddy Rob & girlfriend (fiancée) Lisa on the bus on the way to Nelspruit.
- Sitting in an empty classroom waiting for your bunch to start, isn't any warmer than outside, but at least there's other people to share the cold with.
- Getting a slightly above average Argus Tour time, still doesn't make you an above average cyclist by anyone's books: you will still start in the very last bunch for the Jock.
- Nelspruit is cold 7:30 in the morning.
- The bunches start out very slowly. It's no use to try and get ahead of them, though, they will catch you. They always do. So stay with them. Sittt. Stay.
- Maybe you must take your roadie bike out more. What a pleasure to ride such a responsive bike!
- If you see a notice saying "Dangerous Downhill: Concentrate", get down on your bike, find the nearest slipstream ('cos you mos don't have a big blade) and slingshot yourself from slipstream to slipstream with a huge grin.
- Note to self: definitely take road bike out more.
- Boulders is 7 kays of climbing at Suikerbossie's gradient. The steep part of Suikerbossie, that is. You can't get your heart-rate up, because it's like pushing weights in a gym. It would probably have been more fun with a Granny Gear.
- The bicycle shop and Mamparra and Dirt Rider and everyone else were right: you won't need your big blade for this race.
- If you start in the last bunch, don't lose the bunch, otherwise you solo the rest of the race.
- Note to self: learn to climb, so that you don't lose the bunch on Boulders.
- Boulder's downhill matches the uphill in every respect ... maybe even exceeds the climb. What an exhilarating downhill! WOW! W-O-O-W!!
- Going down the bends on Boulders on a roadie bike trying not to touch the brakes while marshals are trying to flag you down, can be as much fun as a single-track at night. Maybe even more.
- "Dangerous Downhill: Concentrate" is your new favourite road sign.
- If you've done 100 kays and there're still 50 kays to go and you're hungry, eat. Don't think that you'll finish just now and eat then. You'll finish much later than expected and will have to eat at some stage anyway.
- Cycling the last 20 kays into a headwind slightly uphill all by yourself is not fun.
- If you discover a week before the Jock that your roadie bike's odometer's battery is flat, and the bicycle shop can't replace it for you, and you therefore decide to fit your Suunto's bike pod on the roadie bike because it was just lying around in a cupboard somewhere, then calibrate it before the ride.
- Road cycling is hard work.
- "Give me my chocolate" - the new national greeting? Who taught these kids to beg? Who gave them sweets, thinking they are doing them a favour, and creating an expectation that who-ever passes by will have sweets to hand out? Where did they learn to try to push cyclists off their bikes and obstruct their way if they don't stop and give them sweets? (This is something that I've seen in the Drakensburg, in the Wild coast, even on the Argus Tour this year.)
- You cannot possibly allow a girl being pushed up the last uphill 400 metres from the finish, to beat you. No matter how tired you are. She's allowed to beat you if she can get up there on her own, but you simply cannot allow her to be pushed faster than what you can cycle ... so you'll have to chase them. Keep some energy in reserve for that.
- Road cycling is not for sissies.
- Road bikes are so clean after an event!
- Some races you'll keep coming back to. Sabie Shenanigans is on my to-do list for next year. The Magalies Monster and the Induna ... I will be back next year for the awesome single track and the exhilarating downhills. The Mnweni marathon, Wartrail, a weekend of Rogaining - great events; I'll keep going back for the views, the vibe, the people, the challenge. Sprint races presented by UGE events - I will keep going back for the fun and the adventure and the speed. The Argus tour - may be expensive for Gauties, but the vibe will keep people returning for more. 94.7's on my doorstep, so I will do it as long as I have a road bike.
The Jock? Been there, done that.
That said, that downhill after Boulders ... I might return for that. I will train a little more if I do the event again. But then again, I often say that about other events too and never do the extra mile of training.
- Roadies are a strange bunch of people. Discussions after the event was about the vets' tour next month, about a particular team's position after this race, about what roadie-thingy they're doing next, about beating a guy from another team ...almost like they're punishing themselves ... there's no discussions about the great piece of single-track of the morning, or cycling through plantations or banana tree tunnels or orange orchards or next to canals or over dodgy bridges or through surreal rock formations, or the near blow-out on a downhill, or about the horrible technical climb that they managed to do without unclipping, or about crossing the river or bunny-hopping an obstacle or pringling a wheel or showing off newly acquired scars or the fun they had that morning ...
- Note to self: appreciate your mountain bike buddies more.
- Another note to self: Take roadie-bike out more. It is excellent training, it's great riding such a responsive bike, and riding it more often will prevent sore shoulders, neck & wing-stubs the morning after a roadie-ride.

Well, and is it South Africa's toughest race? I can't say, really. I haven't done any of the toughest races to have anything to compare it with. It can't be compared to mountain bike-events like Induna or Magalies Monster; it's much harder because of the nature of roadie rides: a much higher intensity for much longer without technical distractions. It's not comparable to adventure events like Wartrail or Mnweni: the attraction of these events (for me), is exactly this: the low intensity and the variety. It's not comparable to the Argus or 94.7; anyone can get on their bicycles and do these distances - and they do.

Distance-wise and climb-wise, even wind-wise, a Double Century may be longer and harder, but it's a team event, so you will never lose the bunch, and you'll never have to take the headwind on all on your own ... and if you pick your team members carefully, you will never be the slowest person in the team, so you will never ride at a high intensity for too long. :)

So: I still don't know if it is South-Africa's toughest road race. But I did learn one thing: road cycling is not for sissies!

And I think I am one. :) A sissie, that is. So I'll stick to mountain biking, for now.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007


Lessons, musings & other random thoughts about the Wartrail

Roughly the plan work as follows: enter some ridiculous event, stress about it, and then a week before the event, enter something even more ridiculous so that you forget to stress about the original event. So on the only training-run for the Mnweni-marathon (which was the stress-reliever for Swazi), Sam came up with the idea of doing the Wartrail: a triathlon, kind of. But we would do it the whoosie-way (well, as whoosie as a race like this would allow, at least): Liz would do the 60-odd kays of mountain running, I would attempt the 135 kays of mountainbiking, and she would paddle the 60-odd kays on the Orange River.

So I started to train in all urgency for this event: I rode as many D&D-rides as I could fit in, with the odd Induna or Magalies Monster thrown in for good measure. I was, after all, part of a team, and I had to be able to go the distance to not let them down. There were three all-girl-teams entered, and we were looking forward to a weekend of fun.

A week before the event, though, a dark cloud appeared on the horizon: Lisa circulated an email suggesting that her team (Lisa, Lobby & Daleen) would make mincemeat of the other 2 all-girl-teams. The war race was on!

This was not good news for team AR Chix, as our whole game-plan was focused around just one thing: to make the cut-offs and get an official finish. The team was in trouble and we had to change our game strategy somewhat. Each one did her bit: I took my bike in for a service to see if Mike could make it any faster, Samantha decided that a K2 was faster than a K1 and that I would paddle with her, and Liz Google-earthed the area to get as much knowledge of the routes as possible.

I even attempted to do some paddling-training with Weazul one Saturday morning before an orienteering-event (I had to learn to read a map as well), but that ended up being a sightseeing-tour in search of the island-crocodile (but that's a story for another time.)

Then it snowed in the Eastern Cape (and in Joburg) and WeatherSA's website didn't predict good things for the weekend. We tried other weather-sites for a friendlier prediction, but all of them were very specific about icy weather in the Eastern Cape.

The mountains surrounding Lady Grey were white with snow – snow lying on the lawns - when we joined the Big-bakkies-loaded-with-bicycles-and-boats influx into the small town late on Friday afternoon.

The hikers would leave at 4:30 on Saturday morning. We were planning to see them off, and then be back in bed by 4:40-ish. Tweet had some marshal-duties at the first checkpoint, however, and it didn't take much to convince us to go with … so within 5 minutes of the invite we were on our way to the runners' first checkpoint – with bakkie until it could go no further, and then a little over 2 kays on foot through thick snow and with a full moon to light up the way. Our checkpoint-duties included attacking the camera-crew and all the incoming hikers with snowballs (which disintegrated as soon as you threw them). Later, on our way down, we could see the silhouettes of the last two groups on a snow-laden ridge with the sun rising behind them.

Life was good.

Camping that night in Balloch – the snow glistened in the still-full moon while we waited for the hikers to come in. Huge campfires & a lamb-potjie brewing in the cave.

The next morning we had to outcycle a developing snowstorm :)

By the time we reached the top of Lundean's nek, it was snowing in Balloch where we camped the previous night. The temperature was dropping very quickly - it was already way below zero, if the frozen bladder-mouthpieces & frozen chocolates was anything to go by. From there it's a 14 kays downhill to the first checkpoint with the icy wind in your back - the bicycle just wanted to GO - WOW!

Having a very bad reputation with navigation, I was determined to not get lost this time. The instructions were very clear: Every time the road splits, keep right. So, there was this split in the road. The right one was closed for road works. The map clearly indicated that I must go right – so I did. And I saw bicycle tracks – well, at least 2 bicycles' tracks. Climbed up a very steep hill, and then some more. Kids asking me "Waar gaan jy?"
"To Majuba's Neck, can I go this way?"
"Ja, net om die draai," came the reply.

So I went around the corner, higher and higher. To a T-junction that wasn't indicated on my map. Stay right, were the instructions, so I turned right and climbed some more. No bicycle tracks any more. At last saw someone, asking for directions.

"What, am I in Lesotho?"
"Where's South Africa?"
"that way"

Around a few corners I could see the other cyclists far below – what an exhilarating feeling to
(a) know where I am and
(b) have to go go downhill to where I'm supposed to be!

Life was good.

The stretch between 80 and 120 kays was straight into an icy headwind, it was not fun. Sometimes the wind would be from the side; it would blow me from the left side of the road where I was cycling, to the other side of the road. Peddle back to the left side, just to be blown back to the other side again. I could see 2 cyclists ahead of me, but just couldn't catch them. Waited a few minutes for someone from behind to catch up with me while I raided my backpack for chocolates, but then gave up and fought the wind on my own again.

Life was not so great then.

At the next checkpoint I realised that I lost my map, so I waited for the next cyclists to come along. We cycled together for a while, with Adrian urging me to go faster - did I look, by any chance, like i was ABLE to go any faster, i wondered. But he kept insisting that I "race" the girls - as far as going at 10 kays an hour could be considered "racing" ... with the icy wind now from behind, I succumbed, but the break-away didn't last long - Dalene and Lobby outsprinted me on the last hill - there just wasn't anything in my legs left!

So now the AR girls (Dalene, Lobby & Lisa) and the AR Chix (Sam, Liz and myself) were tied … with Liz coming in a few seconds before Lisa, and then Dalene & Lobby coming in a few seconds before me. The whole race came down to the paddling leg.

My Suunto recorded a temperature of –3 degrees inside the tent on Monday morning. There was ice all over Sam's sleeping bag … frost gathered your jacket as you do morning-camping-things. Adrian shortened the paddle-leg because of the cold, so we could start an hour later.

To the amusement of those around us, we almost tipped the boat before the start. The water that comes from your paddle on the up-stroke, froze on our life jackets...Sam had a collection of icicles on her peak - very pretty. We had to get out of the boat a few times to get off rocks & sandbanks, & the thought of tipping the boat in that water was quite scary. For the first 2 hours in the boat we couldn't drink anything, because the bladder-mouthpieces were frozen again

The gorge was beautiful, and we paddled with Ugene, Lobby & Dalene & Vicky & a few other boats, solving the world's problems until someone would get stuck on a sandbank … then it's your turn to get stuck on a sandbank, & the others would catch up again. A few rapids & bubblies to test your balance.

By the time we could see the finish a kilometer away, my arms felt like they would break off. The boat was getting tippier as we got more tired, and we were in real danger of tipping the boat. The water levels were very low, so we zig-zagged across the river to avoid sandbanks, paddling much further than intended – the end just didn't come any closer! Then Ugene's boat tipped for no apparent reason, we got stuck on a sandbank one last time, and then finally Alex sprinted us to the finish … where he spectacularly tipped his boat just as he crossed the line.

The paddle very sensibly finished at a hot spring, so we jumped into the warm pool to thaw the frozen toes & hands before prize giving & the long drive back.

The slogan on a coke light can say: "Here's to living life light". There was only one can on coke light left in the cooler box, so we shared it, toasting the event and life in general: "Here's to living life."

Monday, June 11, 2007

Sabie Shenanignas

When i was a kid, i had a storybook about a boy with a huge red suitcase that he lugged with him everywhere he went. The story starts where someone asked him if he really needs everything in the suitcase. He then unpacks every item, remembering where & when he used it, and decides that it is a useful item to carry along. The book ends with the final item that he never used, but just as he wants to chuck it out, something happens and he packs that back into his huge red suitcase and carry on with his journey.

Jan Ever-ready FrequentFlyer is almost like that - i remember one cold night after a D&D ride he pulled out a blanket out of his magic hat that he shared with MichH & i (the blanket, not the hat) ... but i digress.

Between Jan & I we had 2 sets of goldlinks, a multitool, 2 handfuls of cableties, a huge roll of plaster, a few spokes & spanner, cable, spare tubes, lube, and some other odds & ends. (ok, ok, i'll admit: "between Jan & I" actually means that Jan had all these tools.)
We thought we were ready for any eventuality - that is, until the bolt holding my saddle to the seatpost, broke off about a kilometer from the top of a monster-climb up to one of Sabie's mountain peaks.

We arrived in Sabie latish the friday night - it was probably already saturday morning, to be more precise. Since
Jacques didn't go along, we had to pitch our own tent. My toes were freezing inside the ice nino down sleeping bag - pack warm bags & clothes for the Induna next weekend!

Registration was at 9 on saturday morning (now why can't all race organisers have such civilised starting times?). We crawled out of the tents at about quarter to nine, brewed some coffee, and received our starting times. The novice teams would start at 11, with the more experienced teams starting later.

Plenty of time to get the bikes ready and brew some more coffee. Half an hour before our start time we collected the race instructions. The glowworms (undercover in black & gray) were ready for the adventure. We started almost right in front and were leading the race for a few moments ... that's until we took a wrong turn, and Daleen's team (the WYSIWYGs) passed us.

The race format is brilliant. You never have to digest "54 km to go". The distance (and fortunately the hills too) are broken up into doable chunks: climb for 420 metres, pass over the crossing, continue up for 1.4 kays, turn left, continue up the hill for 760 metres, then turn right and cycle up the track. continue for 130 metres, turn left up the hill.

(Notice the repetitive use of the word "up".)

the day-stage was about 55 kays (without scenic detours) and there was a cut-off at 5 o'clock that evening, if you
wanted to continue with the night-stage of 45 kays back from mac-mac to sabie.

We caught up with Daleen & Pieter on a long steep hill on the way to the top of the mountain. we cycled with them for a while - not much chatting going on, though, because you need breath for that, and there wasn't much spare oxygen on that mountain that day!

about a kay from the top, i heard "clonk" - a seatless bicycle doesn't make for a very comfy ride :(
Jan fixed the saddle with cableties while the stronger teams (who started way after us) passed us - what a pleasure to see them power up that hill! About half an hour later my saddle was ready, and we were on our way again. But, as I discovered on saturday, a saddle takes a little abuse on a hill, and it wasn't long before I broke some of the cable-ties, then some more, and we had to stop again. Jan made another plan, this time involving lots more cable-ties, a whole roll of plaster, and another half an hour. Just after we reached the top of the climb, the saddle was wobbly and unreliable again. We had 20-something kays to go, but we realised that we were in real danger to miss the 5 o'clock cutt-off. Jan's seatpost was too thick for my frame, so we had to continue.

An hour (and some more minor climbs) later I realised that I won't have the energy to finish this race without a saddle, even though Jan pushed me up most hills, and waited patiently for me when i couldn't go further. We stopped again to re-think my saddle-less situation. A few minutes later another team came past us, and (like tobias from my childhood-storybook) had an extra seat-bolt in his bag ... we fixed the saddle, but by then we had about 17 kays to go, with just under an hour to cover that distance ... we knew we were out of the race, but chased time anyway ... what a pleasure to ride with a stable saddle!

There was an AWESOME downhill of 6 kays, it just went down and down and down - faster and faster and faster and slightly out of control - i'm still walking around with a grin on my face!

We arrived at dusk (and 40 minutes after the cut-off) in Macmac with mixed feelings - disappointed about not being able to continue, but grinning from ear to ear about the stunning cycling experience that day. The total ascent for the daystage was a cool round 1800 metres...with a matching 1500 metres of descent. The extra 300 metres of altitude would be for the nightstage.

With about an hour and a half to go until the night stage would start, we tried to convince one of the organisers to
allow us to continue - in the mean time we had to get the bikes ready for the nightstage, find warm clothes and
nightgear for ourselves, boiling water for hot chocolate, and restock on water, junglebars and snacks. We soon realised that the darksone wasn't going to happen for us. So i didn't get to test my new toecaps that was suppose to keep my toes from freezing. (will have to do that on thursday, then)
We did see 2 specialised bikes with lights that looked like they would light up Loftus, though. Would love to see them on a D&D ride once :)
and we did get to cheer Daleen & Pieter on their way out when they started the nightstage. We missed them at the finish though, mainly because we were trying out the local beer in a local pub ... sorry D1 :( !

As consolation for the missed nightride, Jan showed me some of Sabie's singletracks & downhills the sunday morning after the prize-giving-breakfast.

wow what a place!! wow what a ride, what a weekend! And we'll just have to go back next year to do the nightstage too ...

And we'll take a spare seat-bolt with.


the only question that remains is:
if (hypothetically speaking, of course) i am contemplating a dual suspension for some of the singletrack that i saw this weekend (and particularly on sunday morning), what should i look at / spend / buy?

only out of theoretical interest, of course :)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

xtreme ironing - gatberg

Life is all about the little luxuries in life: hiking between towering peaks of the Drakensberg, the smell of freshly brewed coffee in the morning, pancake with lots of cinnamon and sugar (no lemon!) in rainy weather, make-up in the morning, a facial scrub before you go to bed, lycra by day and down by night, a proper supper with lots of fresh veggies, neatly pressed clothes.


A girl must know how to organise. Especially if you love life's little luxuries.

Organising a hike in the Drakensberg is easy enough. If you happen to like pancake for breakfast, then you take someone with who knows how to bake them. If you like veggies, then you carry them up the mountain & insist that you get the first cooking-turn (to contain the weight in your backpack.) If you want to make-up & scrub in a mountain, then you keep an eye open for miniature lipsticks, creams, lotions & potions to keep the weight of your backpack within manageable proportions. If you like good coffee, then you invest in a gadget that can brew fresh Mocha Java on the top of the Drakensberg Escarpment (and carry condensed milk to drink it with, of course). If you like lycra & down, you can bend your MasterCard to your heart's content (or merely until it's maxed out) at the Capestorm-shop in Bryanston.

The neatly pressed clothes, however, proved a bigger challenge. Clothes out of a backpack just never look tidy, no matter how carefully you packed it. It seemed that there were some things, after all, that your MasterCard couldn't buy.

That was about to change, though, with the discovery of the D&D crowd, a slightly crazy writer's club constantly in search of (usually nocturnal) adventures so that they have something to write about. After some careful research, it seemed that there were people willing to carry the ironing board & iron up the mountain for you. The extreme ironing-challenge was on, and Gatberg was the ideal spot.

The Extreme Iron-team couldn't stand the idea of other people having fun & them not being part of it, so the adventure had to start with the Easter weekend's Thursday-night-ride - a 45-kay Dark & Dirty. After the ride, some of the extreme ironists showered while the rest of the team packed Weazul's car - the only car in the team that would (almost) fit four people, four backpacks and a tent. They were on their way.

Somewhere before Harrismith the SleepMonster attacked the team members, so we stopped for two hours at a Wimpy while Weazul & Daemon entertained us with stories of funnily-rigged abseils & strange rock-climbing-techniques. Great for boosting your confidence in the team's abilities.

Arrived at Monk's Cowl early on Friday morning, signed the mountain rescue register, and sat down for a long breakfast: espresso, cappuccino, bacon, eggs, scones & cream. Just before lunch we ran out of excuses, so we had to start the hike up to the contour path.

Lots of excitement & attention from fellow-hikers – what on earth were we planning to do with the ironing board in the mountain? One grumpy old girl with wrinkled clothes complaining about mountain ethics. (What? Who wants to look Dark Wrinkled & Dirty like her, if you can look Neat & Tidy like us?)

Before long we found the first ironing spot. Extreme Ironman Jacques scaled the boulder & we waited for innocent hikers & passers-by to witness the spectacle. The disbelief and surprise on their faces –something your MasterCard can't buy! The girl, not noticing your backpacks with the ironing board at the waterfall, asking Weazul if he saw the people with the ironing board, speculating what they are up to – something else your MasterCard can't buy.

The previous night's lack of sleep caught up with us, & we stopped at the first possible camping spot. Some of the team members caught a bath in the mountain stream, but most of the team members just sat around. Jacques pitched the tent. Jacques pitched the ironing board & plugged the iron into a tree. Jacques fetched water. Jacques ironed. Jacques did pretty much everything to do in and around a camp. A very handy camping tool indeed!

More innocent passers-by speculated about our intentions with the ironing board.

Saturday morning broke rainy and wet, but we were oblivious – slept until about 11 or something. Daemon complained about sleeping next to Weazul, everyone complained about sleeping in the same tent than Daemon, Weazul baked some pancakes for a late breakfast, and Jacques broke up the camp, fetched water, washed dishes, and did about everything there is to do around a camp in the morning. Then we hiked into the rain.

By the time we arrived at the campsite below Gatberg, we were soaking wet. It would be impossible to take the Gatberg ironing-pictures in that weather, so we called it a day. Some of the team members caught a bath in the mountain stream. Most of the team members just sat around. Jacques pitched the tent in the rain. Jacques pitched the ironing board & plugged the iron into a tree in the rain. Jacques fetched water in the rain. Jacques ironed in the rain. Jacques did pretty much everything to do in and around a camp in the rain.

Weazul had some mountain-mix with tadpoles for lunch.

The girl in the team had to go fetch the water needed for the evening meal & coffee because Daemon was too scared of the Drakensberg-cats that was about to attack him. He redeemed himself, though, with a scrumptious pasta-supper – the man can cook!

The man can cook, but he SO cannot make morning-coffee! By the time he found the pot, figured out how to operate the stove, found the coffee, measured the coffee, got water out of a bladder into the pot, found a spoon, found the condensed milk, and figured out how the coffee-gadget worked, everyone was wide awake – he'll just have to keep practising morning-coffee until he gets it right.

It was still raining. We climbed Gatberg sans the ironing board – extreme ironing in that weather would not be possible – and would indeed be dangerous. Visibility was so restricted that we accidentally found ourselves on TOP of Gatberg's gat, instead of INSIDE it. Thank you, Weazul, for giving me a hand when I felt slightly insecure and unstable on those loose rocks :)

On our way back to the camp, a few hikers were coming down into the campsite from the other side – their body-language showed their surprise when they saw the ironing board neatly pitched next to the tent – more stuff your MasterCard can't buy.

By the time we arrived back at the campsite, Daemon was in the mood for some serious adventure-race-training, so we decided to break up camp and walk straight out. Jacques washed dishes, made coffee, packed up the wet tent, packed just about everyone's backpacks, and did pretty much everything that needs to be done in and around a camp. Did I mention that we were wet? The gentlemen in the team graciously allowed the girl to bath and put on dry clothes at the first possible waterfall, and then we walked off into the sunset and into the night.

We spent the night in a warm dry place after Weazul baked some more pancakes, & on Monday morning we headed home via the touristy route – doing all the touristy things like shopping in touristy towns & looking at touristy Lesotho-waterscheme-pipes.

A great weekend with great people – thank you guys!


- Jacques, the incredible camping tool

- Weazul & Daemon – an entertainment system on legs

- Mich – for lending us your tent; we would've been seriously wet in mine :)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

In search of Dirt

The Vitalstatistics:

The date: 20 March 2007
The occasion: a Beeg Nite Out
The distance: 79.9 kays
Time out there: 6 hours 18 minutes
The actual riding time: 4 hours 30 minutes
The average: 17.8 km/h
The altitude gain: 680 metres

The Cast:

16 nightriders: Oupa Gert, PowerGirl (with the usual heavy AR backpack), Hardy (with the usual heavy backpack with the baseball bat sticking out to scare any potential attackers), QT, Bennie, Sybrand, Wollies, the Thug, D1, William, Con, Pieter, Ian, JP and Marius. And I

The Scene:

Each D&D outride starts the same: You arrive at the D&D centre; get your bicycle ready, check the lights, greet everyone else (this usually gets noisier the more girls there are on a particular ride), & sometimes chatting to someone who can’t ride that night but arrives in his work attire to wish you well.
Wednesday was a public holiday, offering (some) the rare opportunity to sleep in after the previous night’s ride. So Tuesday simply had to be a beeg nite out.

The riders for the night included the old-timers, the every-timers, the some-timers & even a new face.
You wait for the last cyclists to get their bicycles ready for the night’s adventure, then ride to the garage to meet Hardy & Bennie where they stocked up on jungle bars - and finally the games can begin.

Headlights, Taillights, Helmets, and … Action!

Like all other D&D rides, the ride starts by flying down king-of-the-hill, around the traffic circle & then onto the dirt track. Unlike other dirty nights, this happened in broad daylight ‘cause you (at least tried to) leave a little earlier than usual.
So it was on to the air force base, around the garage-corner, down VO2Max hill into the sunset, over the sewerage-stream, down to the SPCA, & next to the railway lines. Switch off your headlamp, because it only lights up the dust kicked up by the bicycle in front of you. The last thing that looks vaguely familiar is the area around Smuts house – and then – gone. ‘Cause as soon as you get to know the cycling routes, a new fence is erected, a new development is built, or the Hardenburgs think up a new route. Just to keep it interesting – and to keep you coming back for more 

Some shockwaves as you pass under power cables, then through a veld on fire, & on to a sweet track with a squatter camp on one side where Elsie’s wheel decided it’s enough. A quick fix, & you’re on the road again, with excited greetings & shouts from the community members – they probably don’t see 16 cyclists (at night, nogal) riding right past their camp.
Now onto corrugated dirt road with Sybrand telling stories (and asking Bennie & Hans every now and again to confirm it) about QT’s need for speed when they scouted the route a few weeks ago.

After some mad chases up QT’s hill, you reach the first jungle-bar-stop and Hardy tells the legend of the ghost of a girl from a long time ago … with the appropriate light-effects to go with it when you signalled the ghost-girl, nogal.
After the brief spell, you’re on the road again. But Hardy discovers a flat tyre. Pump. Race down the hill. Flat. Stop. Change tubes. Pump. Race to catch up with the others. Flat again.

Starry skies. No wind. No sound, except from the 16 slightly crazy cyclists. No moon – the only light is from 16 bicycles with 15 headlamps & 15 handlebar-lights and the occasional ambulance or rattlecar (from driving on the corrugated roads too often) passing slowly to witness the spectacle. The long yellow grass & dry dust tells you that it is autumn already. There’s a chill in the air that confirms the end of summer.

Hardy pumps. Hans pumps. Hardy pumps. QT watches. QT comments. Bennie comments. Sybrand comments. Finally you’re on the road again.
The pace picks up, & then you get to the end of the corrugated road. Hardy’s magical backpack produces hot coffee for all. There’s talk of easing the pace a little, but that’s promptly forgotten as soon as you hit the road again. You try to keep up with Oupa Gert and the Tug on the dirt next to the tar road, with a few stops to regroup. Then you turn into proper dirt road again.

It’s a perfect windless starry night. No sound, except wheels turning & cyclists chirping & chatting. You want to be no-where else than on your bicycle on that moment on that road. And with these slightly crazy people 

By the time you reach the garage, everything’s closed. So Hans rigs the locked tap, you fill your bladder, you eat your jungle bar, and then you cycle off into the night again.

There are lots of warnings from Hardy (with confirmation from Bennie) about the loose rock on the next downhill, but it’s paved now. You switch off your headlight because it only lights up the dust, and then it’s downhill, regroup, more downhill, regroup. Then a magical rocky uphill single track – most attempted it, some walked it, some almost cycled it all the way to the top – wow, well done! You will have to come back one day & cycle the whole darn thing 

Oupa Gert’s wheel requires a quick pump, & then you speed off into the darkness again.

An uphill. QT picking up the pace again … and picking it up, and picking it up until you’re almost dead at the top of the hill – gee-whiz girl, where do you get all the energy? Bennie fixes your breaks, & then you’re ready again. Some tar, & then off to the right in search of single track once more.

From somewhere you join Atterbury road. You stay on the sweet downhill single track all the way. In the back of your mind there’s something vaguely familiar about where you are – and a gnawing feeling that there’s a mountain between where you are & where your car’s parked. But the current moment is the only one that exists – and oh what fun it is to ride downhill single track in the dark!

Then you hit Hans Strydom. Bennie says goodbye & cycles off home.

There’s something blissful about not knowing where you are – ignorance of the hills to come make them somehow more tolerable. But you know where you are. And there’s no getting away from it: the only way to get back to your car, is over that mini-mountain.

But the current moment is the only one that exists. So you put your head down & conjure up the energy to cycle up the hill. Those traffic lights in the distance, they are at the top. There is no other life; there is only now.

Long live Elsie-with-the-backpack, Queen of Hans Strydom hill! You go, girl!

It’s a downhill cruise to the shopping centre & the cars. Another hill conquered. Another magical night in the dark. Fifteen dirty happy slightly crazy riders, 15 dusty bicycles & 15 huge smiles. What a night!

The Credits

Coffee provided, carried & kept warm by the Hardenburgs.
Scouting of the route done by the Hardenburgs, Sybrand, Bennie, Hans, Oupa Gert.
Sweeping courtesy of Hans
The excellent company en route – provided by all the knightriders – thank you SO much everyone for keeping training fun!!

Special thanx to Clinton & QT for the enthusiasm that keeps the night-rides alive, fun, entertaining, interesting & excellent training.