Thursday, March 31, 2011

Trans Lesotho: Day 3

Oxbow to Motete
38 km
1073 m vertical ascent
around 10 hours

This day has the potential to be among the best singletrack that i've ridden ever. I say potential, because at many places what should have been a mindblowingly flowing singletrack, was frustrated by too many unridable obstacles and a too narrow too deep path against the steep slopes.

It was nevertheless one of the prettiest rides to be found - and some of the best swimming pools that i've seen. On high spurs you would see silhouettes of blanket-wrapped shepards with dogs. On other high spurs you would cycle past lone huts. The water in the river below is crystal clear, the surface below the water flat basalt. Here's Paddy at one of the river-crossings.

This area will probably be the highlight of future Trans-Lesothos, and I will certainly go back to ride this stretch again when enough riders has gone through there.

We crossed a river, promptly lost Nick (the third time in so many days), and then followed the newly built singletrack downriver. At one point there was another bike-dragging episode for a climb of 100 metres or so. At this point Tumi decided to go back to search for Nick, and the rest of us continued on some wide-grin singletrack. That petered out and we followed the newly-made singletrack where we could find it. The slopes was steep and the track deep and narrow. This made cycling very difficult - if a pedal catches on the slope-side, you'd roll down and come to a stop a few metres below the track. Where the track was wider, there were too many stops for obstacles that could have been avoided by building the track around it :(

Grant (the-photographer-who-hadn't-ridden-a-bike-for-30-odd-years-but-joined-us-because-how-else-would-he-see-the-valley) was concerned about his photographic equipment, and often opted to carry his bike rather than riding it:

When Tumi and Nick caught up with us, we had the tour group's 2 biggest talkers in the slowest group for the day. At every river crossing, and often in between, they started telling stories - the problem was that these were often funny, so everyone wanted to hear the end of the story before anyone could continue riding.

Carrying & dragging bikes rather than riding them, together with all the stopping at rivercrossings, made the group very slow and we knew we would not outcycle the oncoming bad weather.

The already technical singletrack became slippery and muddy with the rain, which made the going even slower.

When we reached the jeeptrack where Dave has arranged to pick Grant up, we left him with the sweeper and picked up the pace ever so slightly. The jeeptrack was of that kind of mud that sticks to the bike and adds 20 kgs of weight in a few minutes. I enjoyed riding in the rain. Although Paddy and Fiona was riding with me, it felt like a solitary ride - peaceful with just me, the bike and some bad mud. Just the way I like it.

When we reached the top of the pass, it was a quick downhill and then a very slippery singletrack to the village. We washed the bikes inside the river when we crossed it the last time, and then continued to the school that would host us for the night.

A lovely day, and it would be awesome riding once the technical problems are cleared up.

What I particularly liked about today:
- Knowing where i was all the time. It was very easy to match the map with the surroundings.
- The deep clear swimming pools in the river.
- The short pieces of excellent riding.
- The speed with which Alice, David & Tamara organised hot showers and tea when we arrived cold & wet:)
- The school choir that welcomed us. The program was short and well thought-out, leaving us feel welcome, but with enough time to sort bike-admin out.
- The slapchips with lots of salt & vinegar in the head master's office.
- The dining hall decorations.
- The evening program that included a bit of interactive background about Lesotho without being intrusive - well done Motete School!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Trans Lesotho: Day 2

Libono to Oxbow
distance: 28 km
vertical ascent: 1100m
time: around 6 hours

The day started with a lovely few kays of climbing on a jeeptrack between fields of Cosmos, and then Grant and Alice (the friendly camera team) joined us on horses on a handmade singletrack cut into the mountainside. After a while the track disappeared and we dragged the bikes up the mountain. Aaargggh bikes were made to ride!

A picnic at the top, and then we found some cattletracks on the other side. A few streamcrossings, some tumbles caused by hidden potholes in the long grass, and generally pleasant riding with Tumi (Lesotho's National Champ; the trackbuilder/sweeper), Fiona (who's writing a book about mountain bike trails), Ray (who was our 'guardian' on ride2rhodes 2 years ago), Francois (a Freedom Challenge finisher) and Paddy (who made it his mission to find and fall into all potholes first).  

When we reached the tar road, Ray and Francois opted for the short way home (some tummy bug issues) and the rest of us crossed the road in search of more singletrack. Tumi lead us off track because there were dogs on the planned track ... more pushing, carrying & dragging bikes - so when Fiona said she had enough and is going to take the tar road home, Paddy & I followed without even thinking about it. We dragged the bikes back to the tar road where I found a stream to fill the empty camelback. It was a short climb, and then a long steep tar-downhill to Oxbow.

Pete and buddies arrived just after us with big grins and stories about a magnificent downhill on the singletrack - i was just  too tired to drag my bike over more obstacles for another hour.  awwww well, next time :)

Swimming with some trout in the deep blue pools of the river below the pub, an afternoon snooze, some bike maintenance and a very good supper.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Trans Lesotho: day 1

Liphofung to Libono
distance: 63 km
vertical ascent: 1700m
time: 8:33

The day started with a most excellent singletrack up along a river with plenty of Cosmos, fun flat rock surfaces and a stream crossing or 2. We crossed the river at a rickety bridge. On the other side the singletrack made way for some jeeptrack, in a nice bad condition with some mud every now and again. The jeeptrack petered out into a not-always-ridable singletrack contour. My bike pointed itself downhill very quickly, but I realised soon that there were no bike tracks where the bike was heading - luckily Tumi (the track-builder and sweeper) saw my tracks going off-track and followed me to show the shortest way to the right track. The less-ridable singletrack changed to very enjoyable singletrack, more flat rock surfaces, and then we joined up with a gravel road.

We filled up with water at the first checkpoint, then climbed a mountain before Tumi led us off the path on a very long downhill-singletrack. We had to catch some cyclists who went the wrong way, and then continued downhill - fields of  cosmos and sunflower; the track was rough but ridable because it was mostly downhill. At this stage Francois and Ray were voicing concerns that we were off the map. Tumi suggested that we cross over to the South-African side of the river. Here we're crossing over to the other side:

We followed a gravel road with huge strange cathedral-like rock formations around us, and crossed back to arrive at the second checkpoint a few minutes before Tamara (who was driving the checkpoint-bakkie). The front guys (who followed the real path in stead of venturing off the map) arrived shortly after with stories of wicked climbs (and presumably some downhills to match).

A very nice lunchbreakspot under trees next to the river. Sandwiches with (discarded) thick slices of pink polonie and apples. Filled up with water, and then continued on a gravel road between maize and cosmos-fields - this soon became a long hot climb.

From here on it was just boring - around 25 kays of gravelroad that just went up and down and on and on. The last km or so we were surrounded by horsemen who escourted us into Libono. (pronounced Dibono - under certain conditions an L is pronounced as D in Sesotho)

David (Freedom Challenge) organised some hot showers :D

The rest of the afternoon was whiled away in the shade on the grass while watching the Libono Arts Company in action. here's Grant taking pictures of the first act:

After dinner at the community centre we were off to local huts for the night.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Random memories from 21 Arguses

2253 km in 88:22:53; 25.5 km/h.

Sunday was a most glorious day with stunning weather - cape town at its most beautiful.

Steel, cro-moly, carbon and aluminium.
Mountain bike, roadie bike and tandem.
Tackies, toe-clips, roadie cleats and MTB cleats.
Knobblies and slicks.
Well-trained and racing; injured and touring; undertrained and overseeded and dressing up as Hermione Granger (from Harry Potter, complete with life-size broom and cat) or a fairy, or just decorating the borrowed bike with balloons to celebrate 21 incident-free years

Rain, sunshine, wind, stronger wind and gale-force winds. a few gloriously beautifull days.
A particularly hot year over ou Kaapseweg where the race was stopped because it was too hot - and i was on a cro-moly rigid mountainbike with a harry potter full-size broom - injured, overseeded and undertrained

Finishing in Bakoven, meeting Bergleeu, Bones and some other cycling buddies on the beach for a quick swim afterwards.
Finishing in green point and not meeting friends afterwards because of hospitality-tent-duties.
Doing a personal best and all the buddies that year were somewhere else, so there was no-one who asked how the ride was.
Getting a massage after the ride, and ending up right next to where Weasul was getting his legs sorted out ... and then it came out that i've beaten him ever so slightly :P

There were some route changes: over ou Kaapseweg, then back to Chappies, then finishing at Greenpoint, then over Boyes drive
A draught in capetown where water restrictions prohibited the hosepipe-water-spray on suikerbossie - so they cooled us down with spraybottles.
Sounds of  'suikerbossie ek wil jou he'; a supporter on chappies cheering us on with 'i like to move it, move it'; a radio blaring just below kommetjie pass 'i really don't think you're strong enough'
Swiss bells moved from Chappies to boyes Drive. Loud cheers on Wynberg hill, baboons on Smitswinkel, the ever-beautiful mist at Misty Cliffs, breathtaking as usual up Chapmans Peak, Suikerbossie.

There were lots of friends along the way:
Vredenburg's Dok passing me on suikerbossie and a quick catch-up on the last years' events.
Michelle's dad passing me on smitswinkel for a quick chat.
Francois (the tandem partner) flying past me (with different pilot) too fast for more than a quick 'hallo'.
Brendan (ducttape), Estelle and Jan waiting for me & the knobblies
Chats with Calla & Louis's tandem when we shared the same starting chute - lots of other people & lots of other chats along the way -  all making the ride worthwhile and memorable

Waiting in the dark for the race to start. well trained, upgraded to cleats, looking forward to, and scared of the next few kays.
Riding a second lap - welll technically only a 3/4 lap extra after some flats - with gerard and wouter ... over oukaapseweg with loudly protesting legs

Trying to keep with the bunch up hospital hill - why do they always go so fast up there? - and losing them even before the timing mats that year that i had the broom on the bike.
The south easter blowing Francois & me off the tandem right at the start - and then dodging bikes that got blown over by the wind down Chappies.

Training rides - some years more serious than others
In Stellenbosch there were rides with my cousin Sonelle and buddies Gary, Johan and Nico to Jonkershoek after classes. Sometimes to Strand, and once to my parents' house in Joostenbergvlakte.
Solitary rides to Robertson and Rawsonville from Worcester.
In George, the whole crowd had mountainbikes. We put slicks on in summer, and immediately after the Argus the knobblies would come off for some singletrack 'till a month before the next Argus.
There were early-morning rides to the airport or Strawberry Hill (past Saasveld), afternoon-rides to Victoria Bay or Wilderness, and breakfast-rides to Knysna or Hartenbosch.
The geeky DF Malan computer studies teacher made the school newspaper for cummuting by bicycle.
Early morning training rides with Sebastine, the Dok, Calla & Co greeting the West Coast morning sun. Sometimes afternoon rides against the wind to Saldanha with Marida, and longer weekend rides to Langebaanweg, or from Cape Town back to Vredenburg.
Commuting to Unisa when I landed up in Pretoria, discovering the joys of lap-riding at Kyalami when I moved to Joburg.

A few times I was well-trained and underseeded, but more often i was undertrained and overseeded; on a few rare occasions seeded exactly right, what a joy.

A bike tour through Holland, where a random stranger started talking to me on a station, and when he heard I was from South Africa, knew about Mandela and the Argus tour.

Meeting unknown hubbers for coffee at the airport on the Friday afternoon before the flight to Capetown. Delayed flights, thunderstorms on Joburg international, and helmets and bicycle pumps sticking out of random hand luggage.

Leaving Gauteng with my cousin Herman in the dead of the night, and then pulling into a petrol station at dawn on a friday morning, with radio oranje blaring it out (to the tune of 'i did it my way') 'it's finally friday'

Lots of extra-ordinary people made the ride worthwhile:
Johan, Nico, Gary, cousin Sonelle - my first training buddies in Stellenbosch.
Alida, Dolf, Tricia, Elmarie, Wikus in George, then Calla, Dok, Chris, Oom Pikkewyn, Sebastine, Liesel, Frank - everybody from Vredenburg who made it worthwhile to get up in the mornings - you still are the best cycling-buddies i've ever had.
After I've moved to gauteng, my brother, who taxi'd me to & from the airport, to registrations, to starts, and fetched me afterwards. Who rode a few times on a tandem himself - other friends too - Johan Div, Bergleeu, Hylton - who looked after me more than they probably realise, Sebasting who always phone around this time of year.

The people I've met through cycling, the friends I've made ... those i've kept :D

Well done Rotary Club and PPA - superb organisation every single year.

Everybody say hopla!