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.
"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 :)