A tale of a journey

“Who are we, where are we, why are we, what are we” – Muse

Day 1: George to Oudtshoorn via Old Montagu Pass 69 km, 1000 m ascent, 4h18

day 1 routeMel went for a swim at the Virgin Active while I hopped on my bike.

Keen to start my journey. Around the circle and up the road to the turn off not far away. Quickly onto dirt and then the uphill starts. A familiar theme for the rest of the week. The drizzle does not get much worse so I wind my way up and up the Montagu pass. Lost in the mist and in my thoughts. The incline steepens and the road narrows. I listen to trucks on the highway not far away. A ruin, now monument to previous forms of travel. I recognise the railway track from photos on Google Earth. It is too cold to stop for a coffee with Harold (that most dangerous creature: a clever sheep) so I push on and try to maintain a good pace while keeping my HR in check. (It was easy to get too excited I the first hour of riding of every day and have my effort go anaerobic) later in the day as I tired this was not really an issue as my effort stabilised with fatigue.

Google maps worked really well here to give me easy directions which were easy to follow by looking at my odometer on my GPS. Note: it would be useful to have the total mileage as a reference so that you don’t have to do constant addition. This was amazingly accurate. This and the Google Earth profile gave me a good idea of what lay ahead.

day 1 profile

I arrive in the rainy ostrich and crocodile capital of SA and check directions with M who is singing praises of the Africa Inn cottage.

The final right had turn of the tar road and up the steep hill at the restaurant burns the legs. This is an awesome spot and we have already booked our return.

A hot bath and Concentrace gets me back to normal. Lunch is wolfed down.

We even manage a walk along the beautiful trails through the Klein Karroo scrub. I try to lighten my load as best I can thinking of tomorrow’s big day then dinner and bed.

‘Never let them see you cry’

Day 2: Oudtshoorn to de Hel via Otto du Plessis drive 90 km, 2190 m ascent, 7h40

day 2 mapThe stats are no joke and I am about to find out why.

day 2 km markersI count km markers on the tar. An Anatolian sheep dog just sits under a bush and stairs as I pass his flock. I sneak past doubtful if I could out sprint this monster if he got defensive. I pass the restaurant at the start of the pass. In winter this could pass for Kleine Scheidegg in the Eiger Sanction. With a bit of imagination thrown in. The Swartberg Pass in all its glory.

 

 

 

day 2 swartberg pass

A quick breather and I continue my upward quest. A couple of cars pass me only for me to pass them again while they take selfies and take their poodles for walkies. Over the top and I am in top gear actually overtaking some stunned Danes in a rental before I turn left.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2882Otto du Plessis drive is an understatement if there ever was one. The downs are some of the best riding I have done on a road. I am faster than the few cars. The ups are murder. The final descent should be on each cyclist’s bucket list. De Hel is an anomaly worthy of a Cohen ballad.


Mel does a great job of driving into middle earth. We check into ‘Die Stalletjie’ I lite the fire and get my kit ready for the next part of my trip. I am sure the steak will make Mr Middlekoop salivate.

 

Day 3: De Hel to Wagendrift Lodge via Die Leer 64 km, 1399 m ascent, 6h20

IMG_2892 (1)We wake up before dawn and part ways as it is getting light. We both have big days ahead.

Five minutes later my feet are soaked, my HR skyrocketing and I am pushing my bike. Up the most brutal jeep track yet.

Rolled by a wild descent into a hidden gem of a valley at the end of the Gamkaskloof. I recognise Die Leer immediately.

(To do Die leer you will need to overnight at Boplaas and just confirm access arrangements. You will also need permission from Boschluyskloof) Bike shoes off and walking shoes on for the portage. 45 minutes later I found myself in succulent vegetation with great views into the valley below.

‘I crossed the line but nevermind’ Leonard Cohen

IMG_2890Onwards into the unknown. Endless uphill past the outlook and the melted water tanks.

IMG_2902Unexpected mobile signal urged me to make contact.

Down to the road and through the gate.

On to the top of the Seweweekspoort Pass. But that will have to be another trip.

After 4 hours of constant effort I have to stop and devour the tons of lunch. Viennas and rice never tasted so good.

The uphill is constant. I hit the tar and after 1 km turn left to Wagendrift Lodge. I chose to stay here as this was the furthest down this valley and would hopefully make the next day to desperate.

I snoozed for the afternoon interspersed with the usual bike and laundry chores.

‘Dance me to the end my love’ well almost Cohen

Day 4: Wagendrift Lodge to Montagu via Anysberg and Ouberg Pass 123 km, 1390 m ascent, 8h46

The forecast was pretty much spot on. I want to start early in order to get into the day before the rain hits.

IMG_291830 km in and things are getting interesting. Waterproof jacket on and tucked into the most aero position I can to deal with the headwind which was my companion for the next 50 km. Type two fun for sure. But my day is a long way from being done.

Lunch was somewhere on the unrelenting jeep track.

Spitzkoppe is a welcome landmark. I struggle to hold 14km/h into the Moordenaars flakte. Aptly named.

IMG_2916The turn is left! My map, GPS argue that I have an endless uphill road leading RIGHT. Reluctantly I follow. The weather closes in and I have run out of water. The windpump teases as I can’t work out how to extract much needed liquid.

Raoul told me of a 30 km downhill. I am at 90 km now and about to disappear up into the clouds forever. Then just as suddenly I am flying down on a muddy roller coaster. It is far from a cruise as I get bogged down repeatedly but it is better than climbing.

I enter Montagu and leave a wet and muddy trail through every isle of the SPAR in search of sustenance. This is actually the only time on this trip that I reached out to the sugar gods for temporary salvation.

De Bos is familiar but under new management it is in serious need of repair.

I get into the shower half dressed in order to clean up and get warm.

The wall heater does overtime in order to get my bibs dry for tomorrow.

I decide my waterproof pants add a level of sophistication to my attempt to integrate into town living in search for supper. I wear them over my tights and they do the trick. A burger and beer is wolfed down.

I manage to boil some eggs. Hot cross buns, cheese and eggs turn into my breakfast for the next two days.

Day 5: Montagu to Greyton via McGregor: 78 km, 1322m ascent, 8h35

thought I had something more to say – Pink Floyd

I leave at 7:30 and enjoy the tar through the Pass underneath Castles in the Sky. Further down I wonder why nobody has climbed those fins! Where are the rebel rousers? I guess it is just too easy to follow the crowd (or a line of bolts or the dotted line on the asphalt and never venture further).

Robertson and then I turn left at a bunch of horses. This is super pretty and my google maps directions are spot on. I bump into a farmer and some bikers prepping for the weekend’s MTB race.

I roll into Mc Gregor and almost get side tracked by advertising. A figure at the coffee shop stands up and puts me straight and shows me where the locals stop for post ride breakfast and coffee. A fantastic feast with a double black brew is put in front of me and I love the company.

A little heavier but happy I roll out of town like a lone traveller into the sunset. Up, up and more into the hills.

IMG_2926

I do my best hiker impersonation and shoulder The Whippet and portage. This turns out to be far slower than I thought. The river was pretty but turned into the technical crux of the route.

 

 

 

I overnight at the Greyton Ecolodge. The craft beer and brand new (on the menu) burger is delicious. I can only recommend All-bar-non in town. Thanks for making me feel welcome.

 

I sleep like the dead.

Day 6: Greyton to Franschoek via Villiersdorp: 98 km 1672 m ascent, 6h38

IMG_2951Another breakfast of hot cross buns, cheese and boiled eggs barely gets me out the door. Tar and road construction forces me to detour. Finally I arrive at The Hill. I have been thinking of this for three years. 21% gradient turns out to be exactly that. Hard work with regular stops to manage fatigue. Down the other side and I almost get bogged down below the dam wall. Then more down at full speed to the Theewaterskloof Dam.

 

Coffee and braai lunch in Villiersdorp and tackle the Franschoek Pass.

IMG_2952I pay my respects on the way. It can happen to any one of us. All we can do is grab each day and make the most of it.

A little later I take in the best view in the world (down the other side) before descending to Gedden’s shop. A bike wash is in order. And as suddenly as that my trip ends. Mel picks me up.

 

Thanks for M for your full support, to all friends for following and sending well wishes. Thanks to Mark  and Liz Beard for your hospitality, Keith of Langeberg MTB and his lovely crew for breakfast and company. Thanks to all those before me for your inspiration.

Will I do it again? Well actually that was not the point. I went to find something, to explore and discover something about myself and a part of our province I did not know. Yes I will continue to explore but the next time will be different, it always is.

 

Enduroman race report

I was fascinated by road kill. There it was, I had seen the blue gel packet in the same spot twice before and a little further on I would find the orange jelly baby just to my left on a flat rock. Discarded but now a friendly supporter on each of my three laps of the run course. And then he was not there….

I ran on wondering if somebody was desperate enough to pick him up and eat him. I had thought about that often (today and at previous races) in the closing stages of a triathlon. Where the hell was my little friend?

I climbed two of the three sandy hills and almost forgot about him when suddenly next to my left foot he cheered me on. Glowing bright orange in the sun.

I was a few hundred meters from the finish line of Enduroman SA and my race had gone to plan. In fact better than expected.

10653854_860766523941625_259902806141385490_n

seconds before the start

Just over seven hours ago I had to work hard against the cold, black, swallowing too much water. Not enjoying it much. The water temperature was 15*C but it felt colder. The darkness pulled at me while I tried to maintain form and I had to try really hard not just to call it a day. Then the rainbow appeared. Rain left little dimples rainbowon the surface and all became better. I waved at M and friends as we started lap two and then I found my rhythm.

Why are they all still in transition? It seemed like half the field was just standing there taking their time. Getting dressed. So different form the usual rushing madness. And off we rode up the first hill. A few passed me and I knew it would not last long. Over eager on the technical section. Then one of them fell. Frustration has to be held back so early on.

Spectator point one and I was ahead of schedule. Glad to see M and friendly cheers. I burnt a match trying to catch a draft. All in vein as they disappeared into the distance a little while later. A lesson in caution and patience. I ate meat and real food and fueled the machine. Spinning, spinning all the time. The monster hill and I let them go. Down the mudslide and front wheel was tracking well.

Easy down the cobbles and then I started to gain some places.

Pit stops went like clockwork thanks to fantastic support.

Get the speed up on the final approach.

Then Transition two and I heard them announce the winner. I knew I would walk the monster hill. But anything other than that was to be run. I stuck to the plan. Attack the downhill and then push on the sandy bits.

And so it was over. Just like that. Like a dream.

Thanks to organisers: Glyn, Geddan and crew; sponsors: Orca, 32Gi and Oakpics for making this possible. I certainly hope that this will become an annual fixture on the calendar.

The Camel – Enduroman training

Tokai, The Mast, Silvermine Loop

What on earth is Enduroman you ask?

Check out the site here. Basically this is a new off road triathlon to be held in Franschoek. In my opinion the distances involved put it in the league of Ironman.

Enduroman takes us on a journey of a 2,5 km swim in the Breede River Dam, 90 km Mountainbike route and a 21 km trail run. The profile for the MTB shows 2400m of climb. Wow! Ok so how do I train for this?

So on Saturday I went looking for a hill and what better place to go than Tokai.

From the bottom gate I headed up to the Mast, back to the junction up to do the Silvermine Loop and back to the bottom. Awesome ride with plenty of climbing. Perfect in fact as it was 45 km with 1350 m of ascent. Pretty much exactly half of Enduroman! The training has started and my psyche is high!!

Altitude profile showing speed. can you spot where I repaired a puncture?

Altitude profile showing speed. can you spot where I repaired a puncture?

 

Caveman skills clinic

Conrad-Stoltz-Caveman-Skills-Clinic-Jonkershoek-Stellenbosch-March-1415-I spotted a tweet, almost by chance, for a skills clinic being offered by none other than Conrad himself. My mountain bike signed us up as he feels he is as good as Conrad’s bike ( both are red, black and white – mostly). Who was I to object?

We checked tyre pressure and set up before heading out. It became immediately apparent the passion that Conrad has for riding. Liezel was a superb wing woman who bandaged bloody knees, fetched pumps, arranged drinks and snacks and took the odd action pic. All I between shouting encouragement to us (not the Caveman)

After practicing on some level ground we attempted a short single track section, hand built Caveman style. A few laps later we all felt pretty good about our selves. Only to see the master descend and realise that we had at least 10 000 more hours to go!

We headed to some more single track and I tried to implement the lessons. “Attack Position” is all I thought while my body still followed old bad habits.

Yesterday, a week later I headed to Tokai to practice or as Conrad calls it “play”. I am reading Brian Lopez’s book and feel like I have only touched the surface.

I look forward to practicing more and seeing improvements. I am so psyched to improve my riding and my time at Grabouw next year. However I feel I have the tools to improve. Now it is just down to LOADS of hard work getting these skills dialled into the body.

I truly hope that Team Stoltz continue and expand on these courses and clinics going forward. I think they should be mandatory for any mountain biker. 

I wish Conrad and Liezel all the best in polishing this product as I think there is a real future for their offering and in so part with the knowledge to help improve so many of us. We as a mountain bike community need the older guys (sorry more experienced) to share their knowledge. This will build the new generation!

Terra Firma Race Report:

terra firma

One of the iconic multi sport events of the Cape. A must do.

 Outline:

The Terra Firma is all the land based activities of the 7 discipline of the Total Sports Challenge.

50 km Road Bike

13 km Road Run

25 km Mountain Bike

9 km Beach Run

My Race:

We arrive in Gordon’s Bay and the wind is blowing. Not desperate but strong enough for me to think that my sub 5h might not work out. We will have to wait and see how conditions change. Logistics is sorted out and I go for a 10 minute warm up just to feel the legs.

The siren goes off for the start and I find myself in a group of about 8 including HAnlie Booysen and Ann Harrison. I am by no means the most experienced in pack riding so I keep my wits about me for what is going on. I make some mistakes and touch somebody’s wheel. This is definitely something I will need to work on! I feel strong and do my bit of work. I am pleased that I can match the pace and am strong on the hills. 1h24 and we turn sharp right into transition. I have a 6 minute lead over where I thought I would be. Pleased but too early in the game to celebrate.

T1 is madness, Sean Falconer’s words are drowned out as I grab shoes and hand over bike to Roger. I settle into a nice pace for the run. Initially I have to throttle back and I sit on a guys heels and we run at low 4 min kays. There are a couple of teams that pass me but otherwise things seem to be ticking along. I settle into between 4:30 and 5 min pace. We hit the dirt road towards the end of this section and I am looking forward to the MTB. Gloves on while I run and then into T2 with a 55:26 split for 13km. Quite pleased with that too.

I hop on the saddle and cycle out of transition only to be faced by a monster hill. Dismount and push. Then cross the road and up Highlands. Head down and give it what I can. I don’t have the power I thought I would and as Roger said this is where the race starts. I get dropped by a few guys but I do what I can, the turn off gazebo is in the distance. Now onto jeep track and more up! Nothing technical but we follow a trail of oil. Obviously somebody has broken their sump and left a black line up the middle mannetjie. Tony had warned me about the descent so I was cautious and two guys flew past. Glad that I knew about it as consequences of getting it wrong would be nasty. The route is very well marked and I recover a little before the final sting. Grossvater gear is used and then the view to Kleinmond. I love the last km or so into transition. Such fun!

T3 in 1:25. By now I have 15 min in the bag. I feel I might need it as my calves are fried. I am over sugar by now but grab a gel anyway and head out onto the beach. I look for the hardest sand immediately, others run in the soft sand. I manage to hold onto slow 5min pace. Keeping cadence up is all I can concentrate on. The turnaround comes very slowly. I struggle to hold a sub 6 min pace and it drops to below that for a couple of km’s. I see the end and claw back. Finish in 53 min and total time of 4:38 and 11th overall!! See results here.

Very pleased with the outcome!

I sit in the Rehidrat zone for a while and drink the lovely ice cold juice.

What could I improve on:

My nutrition was always going to be tricky with the fast pace and high effort from the start. I stuck to my plan but having a gel so early in the day made me not want to touch anything sweet by the time I hit the beach. I would like to experiment a bit more with 32GI and see if I can use it in a more concentrated form instead of a gel. I think this might stop my stomach turning against sweet things early on.

I was strong on both run sections but I lacked power on the MTB. I would have to train this more and by getting stronger on the road bike. Not to get faster here but to feel fresher!

The beach run is always hard. Practicing this a bit more might help.

Useful info:

* You will need at least one dedicated person to second you. We initially thought that one person could perform that task for two of us but this is not possible. Traffic is busy and parking at transitions is not always super convenient so this puts a bit of pressure on. Get your second to leave Gordon’s Bay BEFORE the race starts to avoid having to drive past all the cyclists.

* The Terra Firma is no easier than a 70,3 event. I spent a similar amount of time on the combined bike as in 70,3. The combined run legs are harder.

* The road run is hot: hydrate and cool yourself down appropriately.

* The atmosphere is very relaxed and certainly more easy going than WTC events, especially in transitions.

You will have a blast! I will certainly be back to see if I can break 4:30!!

Totalsports Terra Firma:

tsMy first challenge this year is the land based activities of the Totalsports Challenge. Namely 50km road cycle, 13km road run, 25km mountain bike and 9 km beach run. Basically this starts in Gordon’s Bay and finishes in Kleinmond.

A fair bit of planning into seconding logistics has been taken care of by M who is also competing. And thanks to Roger, Kylie, Skidaw and Balloch for handing over road shoes, collecting road bike, racing to new venue, collect road shoes, hand over mountain bike, race to next venue, collect mountain bike and hurl abuse as we disappear for an hour of beach running. Then tell us how well we did! (oh I am sure there is a separate blog post there…)

My plan is to try and break 5h. It seems like a nice round number and I think it might just be doable! The theory is: 1 ½ h for the road bike (just over 33km/h), 4:36 min/km for the road run should get me to T2 in an hour for that sector, 1 ½ h for the MTB and under 60 min for the beach run. There you go: that is the theory. Wish me luck for Saturday!

Fueling and pacing will be vital. I suspect the road bike will be pretty busy so I plan on drinking 1 X 750ml bottle of 32Gi energy drink. I will have a jungle bar. I will use 32Gi chews for the run. This road always feels super hot so the two water tables will be very welcome. Another bottle of 32Gi for the MTB and a bar and gel (maybe some caffeine thrown in). I will make sure that I have a spare bottle with plain water to cool me down for the climb up Highlands. I will have a emergency gel for the run. let’s see how that plan works out.

This is the first time that I am taking part in the event as an individual so I do not have too much to base this on but we will see what the day brings. Most importantly I will be having fun!

links from the organisers:

http://www.stillwatersports.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1754&Itemid=1070

Overberg cycle tour 21 to 24 Dec 2013

The idea of doing a cycle tour has been in my head for a long time. I did not find the right degree of challenge and manageability for our plan until a few months ago.

M and I were cycling in Grabouw and loved it. A plan was coming together for our December holiday. I love this time of year when you can forget your work routine and return to the basics. Bike, eat, sleep, repeat. In many ways last year’s big bike week was prep for this adventure.

Villiersdorp, Groenlandberg, Grabouw

Villiersdorp, Groenlandberg, Grabouw

Day 1: Groenlandberg 60 km 7h
Villiersdorp was the obvious staging point. We left at first light and followed the tar road to Twaalfontein: Our access point to the big green mountain. It was crucial to get navigation right here in order to avoid unnecessary effort on our first (and most likely hardest) day. A short push through soft sand led onto a long straight jeep track into fynbos fields. Sean greenberghad warned us of a portage section

higher up due to the path being washed away. But soon enough that was behind us and we knew we had cracked the worst. A celebratory snack at the top and down the long jeep track to the top of the Viljoen’s Pass.

More sunscreen was applied and we

bike clean and braai action

bike clean and braai action

headed through the forest. With filled up water bottles. Into the heat of mid day. Thankfully it was mostly down so we did not have to work too hard. Exit the forestry gate and roll into a town stocking up on festivities.

Refuel at Peregrine and cruise to Belfield wines just down the road. Our hosts were superb and the Acorn Cottage offered the perfect shelter for two tired bodies.
The owners had sourced braai packs for us for dinner and those went down a treat. We quickly had to readjust our energy consumption as there were no left overs for the next day.

Grabouw, Higlands road, Arabella, Sandbaai

Grabouw, Higlands road, Arabella, Sandbaai

Day 2: Highlands 60km 5h
Starting with fresh filter coffee is always a treat.
The morning was not too hot and we made good time to the base of the pass. Views were spectacular. Iona farm on top has the most stunning position and a very inviting looking dam. We will be back.
The long down towards Arabella. We practiced building sand castles on the new single track starting at the Arabella gate. Well done on the resort to set this up. Certainly improves your sand riding skills! Lunch under the trees. (We won’t be that leisurely when we do the Total Sports Terra Firma in a few weeks time). Tar into Sandbaai. Shop at the Engen and roll down to the coast and the Sandbaai Country House. Luckily they had tv and this kept us amused.
An early night.

Sandbaai, Hemel en Aarde, Tesselaarsdal, Caledon

Sandbaai, Hemel en Aarde, Tesselaarsdal, Caledon

Day 3: Chocolate and Beer is all you need: Hemel en Aarde 70 km 7h
Our host had packed us sandwiches to die for so bags were heavy as we signed in the the logbook at Euodia Cycles. Up the black route we went into the super pretty valley. Can only recommend this! At the top we hit the district road and continued through dust clouds. A lucky water stream by the side of the road and we continue on to Tesselaarsdal. The hidden gem.

highlands road

highlands road

Super pretty surroundings but the hamlet is a bit disappointing. We find a bottle of liquid gold to refresh and we are off on the last bit to Caledon. Watching blue cranes a plenty.
Little Lotta Cottage was certainly spacious and the cracked tiles add to character.

Caledon, Villiersdorp

Caledon, Villiersdorp

windmills

leaving Caledon with windmills in background

Day 4 Sonderend 60 km 5h

We leave the windmills behind and head for the hills. Chasing herds of sheep and guineafools. Finally down to the Sonderend Rivier. Huge and impressive. The heat saps our energy as we climb the final pass. The freewheel all the way into Villiersdorp. Celebratory coffees and cake!
Well done to M who rode really well and always smiled even when things got hard.

Thanks to Sean McGuire of Eco Adventures for info.
Thanks to Mel and Mike of Belfield wines for superb hospitality. We will be back.
Thanks to Antoinette for the fantastic packed sandwiches.

Thanks to all other friends and supporters who encouraged us along the way.
The only logistical glitch we had was at Nature Conservation who only accepted exact cash for permits on the day. This is just infuriatingly annoying. Especially more so after we phoned several time to confirm details and visited the office the week before.

I can only recommend this trip to all. We had an absolute blast and it is very doable with minimal logistical headaches.