One of the fun thing about this race is the preparation. I have already posted a photo of gear and the list that goes with it. This takes months of planning testing and deciding what is worth taking with. This year I spend less time looking at routes. As I was not planning on changing my route much from last year. The plan was to cut 3 days off last years’ time. To do this I would have to drop a day to Swaziland boarder, another to Lesotho boarder and drop a day to Cape Town. Well let me tell you how it played out in the end.
Andy Masters met me at the Engine one stop Kranskop on the N1 going north. Here the competitors had breakfast together at the Wimpy. This was one of the nice things about this race. We got some time to get to know the other competitors. Once you hit the road it is not often that you will see each other. We locals can learn a lot from the foreign riders as they have so much more exposure to this type of racing.
After booking into the Old Mine guest house and having some lunch we bundled into Andy’s pick up and down to the start line at Beightbridge. This part of the race is always escorted by police, as the traffic is heavy and people are normally not allowed on the bridge at the border with Zimbabwe. This year we did it in the day time. This gave opportunity for some start photos and make it possible for an earlier start in the dark to try avoid the heat. However this year the weather was rainy and cloudy.
So off we went and the testing of strengths started. Chris and Andi up front and Johan and I at the back. Brought back memories of Steve and me at the back last year. About halfway Andi dropped back to take some photos of us with his cycle camera. Which he found out later that they did not save. Rain held out for Saturday afternoons spin. The distance from boarder to Musina is only about 16 km.
This gave us time to prep our bikes afterwards. Now the bike bags and gadgets were checked and packed. Johan and I shared a room. Andi was next door so we were back and forth looking at each other’s gadgets and testing weights. Andi said something very true. Many people spend lots of money getting the lightest bike. Then make it heavy with all the gear for the ride. In my case I had my old heavy Titian. Same bike I rode on last year. Now weighing less than last year. Now 15kg because of smaller lighter tyres and no slime.
See all of us had Dynamo hubs and different lighting systems. All had tri bars. Johan and I mountain bikes and Andi and Chris cyclo cross bikes. This is already an advantage for the wind we were to face. I think the gear ratios also have a big role to play. I am not going to tell you what to do. Each race has different gradients, weather, road surfaces and long flats. This is when you have to make the calculations as what to ride and the gears ratios. I am not a big one on names and gadgets. Just use what I got. Chris and Andi were on 36 mm gravel tyres, Johan on 38mm semi slicks and I on 35mm Kenda road tyres. Interesting to note both Andi and Chris had lots of punctures to repair on those fancy tyres. I only had one puncture coming into Cape Town on the last night. Do not know if Johan had any.
After supper I ordered a pizza for delivery for the road/breakfast. Landed up waiting for it so did not get to bed until 10pm. In the night Johan got up to go to toilet. Then I knew he was in trouble. To start with the runs on a long race like this can tap all your strength. He was brave and started with us at 3am. Loading himself with Imodium and Coke to try beat the monster within the stomach. Lucky he had a bag with toilet paper strapped to the back of his saddle bag. Johan I take my cycle helmet off to you. If you are reading this I think you were brave and dug very deep. Hope you give it a go next year.
There was a heavy down pour of rain in the night. Thought the sand section for first day may be washed away. At 3 am we hit the road into the dark, dogging water puddles and trying to keep the BB bearings dry and free of dirt. After all if that starts to grind you have a very unpleasant ride. Chris slipped off into the dark in front of me. I followed that flashing red light almost all the way to Teshipo. Just watching the distance widen over ever rise. Andi had stopped to talk to Andy as he was not tracking. That put him behind me. Johan was behind working out when to use the toilet paper next.
Hit the sand section just at sunrise as planned. Lucky the rain had set the sand harder and riding was much easier than last year even with thinner tyres. At one point it was very nice as there was fresh tracks of wild animal that had crossed the road. There was tracks of Jackal, Duiker, Kudu and Leopard. This point is where there are high game fences and game farms on both sides of the road. For any future riders do not worry it is not dangerous. It is also not darkest Africa. These animals are trying to keep away from humans and do not want to be seen by you.
Came out onto the tar with a good overcast sky. Nice and cool compared to previous years. Now all that was needed is to put the head down and get the kilometres behind me. Had set target times to points along the road. Hit the top of Soutpansberg on time. Even though Andi cruised passed me halfway up.
Felt much stronger than last year and did not stop going up. Last year it was so hot I had to stop and sit in the shade to cool off. Making good use of the downhill to Thohoyadou. Just witnessing one dog knocked over then the rest of the family of the dog run in front of a bus and get knocked over. Made good use of the petrol station shop at Thohoyadou to resupply and aimed for a late lunch at Giyani.
Now this is when the whole plan started to change. There came up a strong headwind that did not give up all the way to Capetown. This was also Sunday afternoon and every person that owned a car was out on a drive. They also did not think a cyclist should be on their road. To add to it there was road works. Must say the road works did help a little. Now when the cars were pushing me off the road, I had to ride on the gravel next to the road. This was not a good thing as I did not want to sit and peddle, as this would rub the butt too much. Could not afford this on day one of a 2800 km ride. Could also not use tri bars to get out of the wind as it was too bumpy. So landed up standing pushing against the wind. Was not good on the knee and this is when my knee trouble started.
Reached Giyani an hour and half behind target time. Just to find the whole town was out at the restaurants getting a Sunday lunch. So searched around and had to go for Nando’s as there were not many people there. So purchased some takeaways and eat half there and took the rest with me in my back pocket. Pushed on into the wind finding a rock to sit on and have Nando’s at sunset. Andy Masters took this comment on WhatsApp that I was at Giyani eating. Just to find I was halfway to Letsitele. Could see in the distance a dark cloud that was pouring down rain. Found out Andi was caught in it. I rode on into the dark hoping to push on all night so that I could reach the boarder to Swaziland in 36 hours. This was not to happen as the wind with rain started to drive me back. Finally about 8 km from Gravelotte, I chose to cross the railway line and lay down to sleep in my thermal bag in the bush. Not long and it was ripped by the long grass. However bag was enough to keep me dry and break the wind. Lay down trying to sleep with not much success. Finally as the wind and rain started to get less I hit the road. This was at about 2H30. Now the sleep monster and cold started to get to me and had to lay down a few times to take naps. Finally slipped into petrol station at Mica where I got warm and eat some food. Asked for help charging all equipment. As I had not learned what to charge when on my dynamo and had phone battery go flat. I had overtaken Chris and Andi when they were sleeping. At this point when I was in the petrol station Chris must have gone past me.
Got back on the bike as the sun started to rise. Getting to Hoedspruit early and stopping for a KFC breakfast burger. Feeling a little better but knowing the boarder to Swaziland was slipping away and the knee starting to give more pain. Now the plan was changing to sleep at boarder post. As the day went on and the knee not playing the game, it became sleeping at Barberton. Stopping for lunch at Bushbuck ridge at the Chease nyama. What a nice downhill to Hazyview. Reached Haizyview at 17Hoo. Restocked and hit the hills to White river. Arriving at White river just after dark. Now I knew it was downhill all the way to Nelspruit, so I pushed on. That downhill was not fun as the sleep monster was calling. At this stage I knew the knee would not make it to Barberton. I was going to have to stop for the night. I had been planning this ride all year. So there was no quitting. In my mind.
Sleep at Nelspruit would be the best thing to give the knee a rest. Bought some supplies and booked in for the night in a hotel in the centre of town. Amazing what a good shower, food and sleep with the leg up can do. At sunrise the wheels were rolling out of Nelspruit towards Barberton. Riding was going better now that I was using the knee support. However this knee was not going to make the climb up to Pigg’s Peak Swaziland. Just outside Barberton stopped to get some food at the petrol station. This is when Andi rode up and also restocked. There was no question in my mind, I had to stop at a Chemist (Drug store) for some anti-inflammatory. So I slipped out of the shop leaving Andi there letting him think I was making a run for the climb. However turned into Barberton. Finding the Chemist not open yet. Had to stand 20 minutes waiting for it to open. Got some Valtaren Emergel and put it on.
I may not be the fastest rider but this was a much better ride than last year. Managed to peddle all the way and not have any sleeps up the hill. Did stop for some breathers on the way. One of the nicest boarder post crossings at the top. However the road out to Pigg’s Peak is no toy. Had to go slow on down hills in case damaged rims or rip tyres. Thank goodness no problems and rolled into Sunset view guest house before sunset. Booked in and had dinner at the Pigg’s Peak club. This was probably the best meal of the whole race. This is getting a little long for a post so will write another follow on.