7 May 2010

Joberg2c-the full report

First of all, before the full story, let me apologise for the many spelling mistakes in previous posts. It was done in semi darkness while in my warm sleeping bag in the tent using my mobile phone. As you know, I have fat fingers.....
We decided to stay at the Protea Hotel, Suikerbosrand on the night before the start of the race as the start would be at Suikerbosrand....but then it didn't start there. We still kept our booking because we would be close to the start......which wasn't. We arrived at the Hotel and was given our chalet key.......which wasn't the right key. The next morning we waited for our transport for ourselves and our bikes with taxis which were organised by the Hotel........which didn't arrive. Well, not enough of them arrived. We only started panicking then, but the hotel manager saved the day by organising his staff and their cars to take all of us to the start.
Within 2km we were out of the city and following the track. Through maize farms, past cows grazing, lots of muddy wetland squelching into our shoes and into the jockey wheels which in turn sucked in the chain.
The route went over private farmland and although a lot of effort went into cutting the long grass between the maize fields, what remained was tufty grass to ride. Add to that a light rain shower and splattered mud over your backside. It soon changed the chamois inside your cycling short  into a hungry dragon chafing away on your bum. We kept going and arrived at the Vaal river crossing, where the grass was apparently greener on the other side.
The river crossing was absolutely the highlight of day 1. Our bikes were bundled into a fast boat and we were bundled into a dragon boat with 10 others and told to start rowing across. So much laughter, but we eventually got to the other side.
After 121km and 943m of climbing we arrived in Frankfort. Tents were pitched on the High School grounds. We had the speciality of the town, freshwater fish from the Wilge river prepared by the mothers of Wilge High. We were hungry.
The logistics of this whole event were just amazing and everything was planned to the last minute detail. Here the DHL trucks moving our bags and mattresses were lined up, ready for the next day's load.
It did take us some time to get used to tent life and where to pack what and how to manoeuvre ourselves in and out of our low dwelling, normally in 4x4 style.
Needless to say, we slept like logs and when the alarm went off at 5am we quickly wormed our way out of the warm sleeping bags into our clothes and off to breakfast. We were ready for the second day of our adventure.
Day 2 would take us from Frankfort to Reitz, obviously not as the crow flies. 97km and 749m of climbing. Not too bad, I thought. Massey Ferguson was one of the sponsors of the event, so at every day's start, we had a tractor leading us out of town onto our route.

The day started out cold and rainy. We had a beautiful road out of town all along the Wilge river.
Conditions were muddy, it was difficult, we had chain suck, gears were difficult to change. Some of the other riders had derailleur problems, many riders had problems and it was cold. The route took us next to the railway line. You would think it would be easy riding, but it was not. Everything turned into mud, black mud.
The road meandered through farms, over farmlands, up little farm roads, passed the workers' houses colourfully grouped together and we passed the little red tractor model 1961.  
Eventually we arrived at the water point, 34km from the start. What a welcome sight. Warm coffee, hot chocolate and a bike wash. They treated us like survivors and they were friendly. Our spirits were boosted as we left the farm and made our way to the next water point, always getting closer to Reitz.
It was incredibly remote. We cycled for miles not seeing a farmhouse or people. Waving grasslands. The road got a bit better as we got closer to Reitz. Over the hill, past the windmill and then Reitz.
We finally arrived at the camp with warm hospitality and to lamb on the spit. The tents were pitched on the showgrounds. They had a pub and they had red wine. The meal was delicious, the sleeping bag warm and we were soon snoozing......
True to their word the tractor was ready to take us out of Reitz and onto the route to Sterkfontein Dam. 125km and 1064m climb. The farmers were very proud of their tractors. It is their gold, and they liked to show them off and they parked them everywhere.
Our bikes were ready. We waited as long as possible before we moved our butts onto the saddle. It is sore and the road is bumpy but after about 8km, the legs were warm and the bum dead.
Another cold and cloudy day. More Free State tufties. When we turned off any district roads, we sighed softly, so as not to upset your riding partner too much, because we knew it meant slow progress. I found that if I cycled slightly faster than slow that one felt less of the tufties and the ride was smoother. But, unfortunately I could never use the word, faster. That became the new "f" word.
After the first 30km and riding again on some district road, we arrived at a warm welcoming water point. Hot chocolate, coffee, muffins, rusks. They really did a lot of effort with their water point. They even had a massage table for sore muscles and lame legs. Unfortunately when we arrived it was already occupied by a wounded soldier. I gave him a look and realised, he had it, no getting up for him anymore.
When farmers opened their lands to us to cycled across, they must have known about the "klip koppie" and the vlei, and the field that doesn't drain water (that's why they haven't planted any crops there), the deep sandy stretch to the district road. So, yes, they invited us in and fed us to the lions. The only way to get back to the district road was to cross through a culvert under the main road. Knee deep cold muddy water with our shoes sinking into more than ankle deep mud.......It was here that you needed your sense of humour to come to the fore, otherwise you would sink as deep as the mud you were in.
Needless to say, with the slow progress we made through, over and under all the obstacles thrown at us we wouldn't make the day's cut off time. So at the water point where everyone waited for us patiently, we got ourselves and our tired horses on the back of a 4x4. 
We arrived at the Sterkfontein Dam camp. What a beautiful camp, with hot baths, beautiful ablutions, real toilets and to top it, washing machines and tumble driers! After 3 days of muddy clothes, wet and damp clothes and never to dry cycling shoes, it was a chance to create order again. The sun came out and helped change our moods.
We were issued with special mesh bags to put our clothes in to be washed and then in the same bag into the tumble drier. Some still preferred to do their own washing.
It was a huge effort, but clothes weren't dried completely and so we still had to deal with damp clothes. I specially stayed up another hour waiting for mine to make a second round through the tumble drier.
I had to mention that it was here where the food was not that good. It was chicken potjie, and it looked a bit watery, and food were served on paper plates that went limp with the watery chicken. Needless to say, the next day started with cyclists fighting over loos. I think it was called " the big chicken run". To all the schools and societies and churches who prepared and provided all the food, a big thank you. To all of you who dished up on proper plates, provided us with real knives and forks, and had proper coffee mugs for our coffee and tea, you were my heroes. To have to eat out of paper plates and have Styrofoam cups for coffee and Styrofoam bowls for oats just put me in a somber mood. 
Day 4 dawned misty and cold. It was going to be a 130km trek from Sterkfontein Dam to Winterton with a total climb of 1937m. To save the organisers a whopping 3hours of labour a day we dragged our bags to the trucks and loaded our mattresses on another truck. 
Doing that at 5:30 in the morning before breakfast was the challenge.
The start was ready with the tractor waiting. The route had to be changed slightly because of the low cloud and misty conditions. But off we went, feeling confident to cross over the Drakensberg mountains. Something which our forefathers did many years ago with heavy laden ox wagons. The first section started off with a very steep climb which had many cyclists off their bikes and pushing, which in itself wasn't a bad idea, as I realised the chamois inside my cycling short could have done with another bit of tumble drying. The organisers thought we needed a reminder to "vasbyt"..
After the first hill there was another and hills became mountains.

We arrived at the first water point organised by the local Voortrekkers. They played songs like "wat maak oom Kallie daar". You would only know these songs if you were a Voortrekker yourself, but it was fun and the people were friendly and they provided us with a loads of food for the road.

 We looked at the bronze figure of the barefoot woman crossing the Dragon Mountain and it gave us food for thought.......

For now, we were on top of the world. We did notice that they used two oxen to pull a little wagon uphill with two quad bikes inside. We tried to ignore what that meant to us. Words mentioned were "Retief's Pass" and "Bezuidenhout's Pass" but we preferred to ignore those and savour the moment of being on top of the world.

We pulled ourselves away from the hospitality and friendliness of the water point and started negotiating the downhill which was all single track combined with some jeep track. The story goes that the farmers use these two passes to herd their cattle from the colder Free Sate into the warmer Natal during the winter months when grazing was better on the Natal side. And when summer came and the grasslands of the Free State turned green again, they reversed the whole process.

 Up and down we went, another hill, another valley, crossing a stream, pushing uphill, sliding downhill.......It was tough going. The only smiles were the smiles of the rural village children playing on the farm gate.
They said the second water point would be at 66km but we passed that and still no water point. We didn't need water, we had enough. We needed some person to person boosting. Somebody who thought that we were doing fine. We needed pampering. We came to a portage which meant we had to carry our bikes. I hoped as hell that the water point would be on top of this hill. 
I received a lecture of fun cycling and when to stop cycling and.......we reached the water point and called it quits for the day. The water point looked like a battle field with many scarred and wounded soldiers sitting in the long grass next to their horse/bike. We arrived at our overnight spot at Winterton. The local supermarket Spar took over and was busy making stir fry. Wow! What a vibrant and jolly lot.  
Our moods changed from somber to happy in an instant. We happily ate every morsel on our plates, cleaned our bikes and stowed them in the bike park (tennis court)
Day 5 dawned and for the first time no rain were forecast. There was a nip in the air but it was clear skies. Today I would be riding on mine own and in my mind I tried to run all the bike parts through my mind. Check....Check....I think I've got it all.
I followed the other cyclists over the start line into the unknown of the new day. I made a point to look around while cycling to spot a nice photo. We were on our way to Kamberg to the beautiful resort of Glengarry 103km away and with climbing of 1625m.
We passed the Greystone moor park, climbing. The higher we got the better the view until we could see the whole park at our feet.
Still climbing we turned around the mountain and there was a beautiful waterfall. For all those racing, you missed a beaut of a spot.

The countryside was changing and we entered the forest plantation belt. Pine trees .....
and then Blue gum

Today was full of scenery surprises and none more so than the oak lane as  we got closer to the Glengarry resort. I found cyclists actually stopped and enjoyed nature, and of course stretching an aching muscle or two.
Arriving at Glengarry a makeshift studio was set up
 and they were busy with a broadcast for Supersport. Amazing! There were banners everywhere of Fairbairn Capital Old Mutual which was the main sponsor of the event but then also the banners and flags of Subaru, the vehicle sponsor.
They picked the back markers up in style and Whatacar!
Day 6 dawned a nice clear day. Again I was going to ride on my own as my teammate was taking a break. The route would take us from Kamberg to the polo grounds in Underberg. 93.7km they said with 1982m of climbing.

We were reminded once again of the remoteness of the area. Today was very steep, very hilly and exhaustingly slow.

So, up, up and up we went.......

Then through the river and up, up and up again.....

The river was crystal clear, fast flowing and icy cold. We passed a rural village and being uphill and slow going it was at times annoying when some of the children wanted to touch you or they asked if they can help you push your bike or when they tried to unzip your tubby bags on the bike. By annoying I mean you are trying to stay on your bike on a very difficult uphill. Your shoes are clipped in the pedals. You are breathing heavily and are beyond speaking. One wrong move now and you are going to take a tumble. The last 20km of the day were very difficult climbing and downhill tracks with very rough parts. At last I reached the road to Underberg. Not far to go. A nice surprise, through the golf course of Underberg with beautiful afternoon scenery.

Passed another water feature .....

And then the last 3km. Tufties!!! How I hated that last bit. But once you arrived at the end, all is forgotten. I arrived at Underberg, the start of the Sani2c route. I was excited.

By now we have perfected tent living and our bags got stashed like that, sleeping bags rolled out like this, wet cycling shoes buried with toe parts under the tent to keep them getting any wetter through the night. They were so smelly that you didn't want to keep them in the tent. Little bike bags and Garmins with battery charges attached inside the helmets for easy finding. Head lights for roaming around the camp site on the head.

The people of Underberg made a special display of children's drawings, all of bicycles, in the big tent. I selected two.


There was a buzz around the camp that night. Tomorrow would be the first day of the Sani2c route and the cyclists who had done it before were very excited. We didn't know any better but always wanted to do the Sani.We collected our bikes from the bike pen where they rested for the night.

The start was again with a Massey Ferguson tractor leading the cyclists out of town.

The route took us through old oak lane. The dual track was swept with acorns piled high on both sides of the track.

Through the trees I saw the vintage wreck and just had to stop.

The route was beautiful, through plantations, single track through the trees, fast flowing. I made a few mistakes and saw too late a cut off end of a sapling and went tumbling. Weaving through the trees was fun, except cycling with my heavy backpack I made a left swing while my pack was still going right. That sent me flying. Tip number 1: tighten the straps of the pack so it sits tight and snug on your back.

We reached the well known floating bridge of PG Bison, except it wasn't floating , it was sitting in the mud. The dam apparently had to be emptied for repairs, but it was still fun riding across the bridge. The first ladies team was quite embarrassed as they took a tumble on the bridge, only because some guys fell in front of them.

We passed the timber piles, on our way to the indigenous forest of Donnybrook. The forest was beautiful, packed with ferns and big old trees. Just outside the little town of Donnybrook we saw the Joberg2c bales. Some farmer went into a lot of trouble to make us a sign and it reminded me of the farmers on route of the Tour De France. That was really very special.
The last 3km was a brutal uphill to the Mackenzie club where our tent was waiting for us. Our bikes were showing signs of wear and tear and after our shower we decided that the best person to look after it now, was our mechanic Gert. Tomorrow was going to be downhill into the Umkomaas valley and we didn't want to take any chances with faulty brakes or gears.
Once at Mackenzie we soon found the pub where most of the cyclists were congregating. Some ice cold beer, a captain, a glass of wine and soon we listened at all the stories of the day. Broken femur?! Wow! Broken collarbone, to be expected. Knees packing up and strapped, yes, that is uphill injury for you. Achilles tendon problems... pushing bikes uphill walking in hard soled cycling shoes. Phew, we were actually doing well, very well. In the Mackenzie camp it was not difficult to find your tent, as the path between the tents were given names. We "lived" in Bull Dust Highway.
Day 8 and we were ready for the downhill into the Umkomaas valley, which every mountain biker was dreaming about. The weather had to be clear and dry otherwise the path would be too dangerous to attempt. Well that was what the weather did, dry and clear, so Yankee Doodle here we come! We had to wait for our start. Mmmm, they started our group with a little vintage tractor from 1947. They suggested that we would be allowed to pass it .....

While we waited for the little tractor to take its position in the front, the helicopter taking footage of the whole event, took off and disappeared in the blue yonder to take footage of the fast riders, the race snakes.

The Umkomaas valley was just beautiful, riding absolutely on the edge of the world, almost.
Looking down over the edge was exhilarating and at the same time scary. It was down, down, down sharp corners, wet corners, a few rocks all the way down. I didn't want to look up because once down we had to start the looong climb out of the valley.
The climb out of the valley was hot and long and up, and up and up. Relentlessly! We diagnosed ourselves with "lame legs" and decided the Subaru at the water point definitely had more power than us. Logistics to get water to the water points were amazing. A water truck and litres and litres of Coke and Powerade.
We were taken to our overnight camp at the Jolivet Farm. Well rested for the last day's ride we took off. Through the sugar cane farms, beautiful riding, not too difficult.
It was still a lot of up and down but we could almost smell the sea. That spurred us on to keep going. Around the bend, an uphill climb which again meant pushing a bit, fast downhill, more uphill with pushing, up all the way to the water point. The last thing we wanted was to crash on one of the fast descents. One tandem did, but they were waiting for a wheel to be send to them from the organisers at the end.
The last little bit of riding. One could hear the sea. Then the PG Bison wooden bridge over the beach, swoosh into the sandpit and over the finish line! We made it! Amanda was waiting for us with a cold beer in each hand. How nice to see a familiar face in the crowd. We were celebrating on the beach. Tans were compared......
...... and then the run into the sea. Joberg2c
We made it to the end. What an adventure. What a way to celebrate my birthday! So much better to do the real thing than sitting on a couch in front of TV and watch the footage. I was part of this event. We were part of the inaugural Fairbairn Capital Old Mutual Joberg2c event. Awesome!
Needless to say we celebrated till late into the night.
.....the end.

PS. Just something to show that the organisers thought of everything. The charging station, cellphones, Garmins, cameras......

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Garda thanks for a awesome read really inspiring stuff, I dream of doing a stage race in a year or so.

do you know http://www.cyclenation.co.za they have a blog section consider posting some of your bog there and mabe a link to your blog so people can read the rest there.


cyclenation is like the hub just a little friendlier