Tuesday, November 24, 2009
This report starts with an email I sent out earlier in the week asking my teammates who did not have enough from Bonamanzi to come and enjoy this race with me at Van Gaalens. I wanted to do this race as I have missed all the Nissan series races (mainly due to AR races) although I did have the opportunity to do two of the pre-race rides with fellow FPC riders from Irene who form part of the club organizing this race. I also had to give my boss’s wife a lift to the race as she was ranked 4th in her category in the Nissan series competition and needed to do this race to maybe obtain a podium finish in the series and my boss was going to be in Durban to attend a function.
After receiving confirmation from Adri and Mike….with some comments like….what have I done?.... Eek 60k!....we made a commitment to this race. I picked up all our numbers and gave them theirs at D&D on Thursday night.
Now for the day of the event “drama”. The heavens had opened up all week, and Adri’s weather report on Friday indicated that more rain and cooler conditions were expected on race day. On Friday night I sent an SMS to Adri making a statement that if it was raining in the morning I would definitely take a “rain” check. Well after getting up at 05h30 and “rushing” to the window I was “disappointed” to see it was still drizzling and cloudy. Now I had to make a decision but did not want to do it alone, so I phoned boss’s wife to get some positive reaction however she immediately said that she was not up to racing in these wet conditions. One down two to go….phoned Adri and Mike. Superman Mike seemed less perturbed about the fuss and was not bailing out and Adri was playing yoyo with her decision making, which left me in a confused state as to what to do. I had a sudden memory of Bonamanzi and after many words I decided to call it quits and Adri seemed unsure if she was still going or not! In my sorry state, I did not go to bed but decided to watch Eco Challenge instead which I have been recording for the past couple of weeks. I cannot explain this but whilst watching the teams go through some really harsh conditions, and thinking why am I still sitting here when I could be experiencing the same….crazy but true!…. the skies suddenly opened up, sun was starting to shine and I had this urge to get up and stop feeling sorry for myself. It was O6h30 and I still had enough time to get ready to leave at 07h00. Quickly phoned Adri to find out where she was….”on my way to take my dog for a walk at Emmerentia”. Well it did not take too much convincing, I think, as she decided to take up the challenge. I think she felt the same as me…guilty… even it meant that we just do a trail run instead. Superman Mike was already in flight to the venue. He probably thought we are just some crazy and indecisive teammates and probably shared this with his family in the car….don’t blame you if you were laughing at us!
Traveling to Van Gaalens I noticed that in Irene the weather was clearing and the sun was shining but towards Hartebeesport area it was still covered. Is it the Jukskei river that sets us worlds apart...or what! Anyway, I was now committed to the challenge come rain or shine! On arrival Adri asked if we were going to do the MTB or a trail run and decided to ask the race planner Pierre…whom I know well…. to tell us a bit of the course and he told us that the distance was cut short to 52k’s instead of the 60k cutting out some of the river sections due wet conditions..so I thought!. This did however seal our decision to do the MTB race. Adri quickly changed into her cycling shorts and I put on my old cleats. At the start I saw some familiar faces including Brendon from D&D. We were meant to start in 3 groups but it seemed that the organizers decided to start us all together…probably due to the low turnout.
Our first “mud” section was not even 100m away. We had to cross a river which had a steel bridge across it with a bit of a rise to the top. With a bunch of riders next to you, this was hectic. That overcome we all came to sudden stop at the top. I saw the camera crew on their quads watching us sickling and laughing inside…i am sure…at our heroics to overcome the sludge. They had thick tyres with farmland track to ride which but we had no choice but to ride a very muddy section instead. I had mentioned to Mike at the start that mud and me are not good friends and had still fond memories of falling in a mud puddle at Bonamanzi.
After surviving this muddy section we went onto a single track and then onto a dirt road towards the “mountain”. It was at this single track section, which co-incidentally was next to an old railway track, that Superman Mike passed me. He caught me unaware as I did not know he could ride so fast. Before I knew it he was gaining speed and momentum and vanished out of site. I still wanted to ask him what he had this morning to eat or drink but he just too flight. I must have caused a bit of a stir in the team in earlier MTB events as recently I am experiencing them sneaking past me without saying much. That’s fine guys we shall put our friendship aside at these races. I also had the feeling that Mike would come back to earth at some stage in the race….which I am afraid later he did!
Up the mountain we went. Now this mountain brought back memories of the Magalies monster. It was steep had some concrete and rocky sections, but luckily not as long. Once over the top we had some sweet single track down to the dirt road which also went into some very rocky sections. Once out of the rocks I remember this single track next to the road which went up and down like a roller coaster. Now a lot of concentration was required here as if you went off track you would come off badly, which the guy in front of me did except that he managed to control and come out of it unscathed…we applauded him for his skills. Shortly after this roller coaster ride we had another single track along another old railway line. I noticed that most of this course we were riding was marked with white paint on the stones indicating that it is a much used MTB trail. So we stayed dry for awhile until we reached another river again! What started off as a nice single track became hectic as the mud was getting the better of us. It was also at this point where the 30k sprinters caught up with us and demanded that we give way to them. No problem initially except that it was frustrating me to get off the track, off the bike until they all passed us. The only advantage was that you could see how they handled the mud and tried to imitate them. A MTB friend came from behind whom I had seen earlier changing a flat tyre giving me advice on riding the mud sections. Well it was hectic, slippery and sliding is all I can say. More so than Bonamanzi. We went through a low tunnel which for the shorties like me was ok but in knee deep water it made it tough to pull through. By the time we got out of this section our bikes felt like lead, and plastered in mud. At the next river section I was about to clean my bike when I noticed that the color of the water was black and an awful stench coming from it which would probably make me sick and rust my bike further. So with sticks in hand we cleaned what we could off the bike.
The next section to the 30/60 split was again on a single track next to the farm road. At this point I was wondering where Superman Mike was. Could he have had so much energy to go all the way at that pace. Actually I did not care as I had just overcome my adventure in the mud and came from it unscathed. I also wondered how Adri was doing on her new cleats and if she was regretting having me convince her to use it on this race. She also had a choice here to do the shorter route should she find the race too much on her cleats. From this split suddenly I was on my own most of the way. The route then took us towards another mountain but this time on a rideable single track section to the bottom of the mountain (fortunately). We then had a nice downhill to the dirt road. It was about 35k into the ride when on my way up to the mountain I saw Superman Mike. His bike was turned upside down and he had a tube and tyre in his hand. I asked him what happened and he showed me a nasty sidewall which had exploded. I asked him how long he had been here and he said over half an hour….half an hour to change a tube I thought…well ok Mike…I will give you the benefit of the doubt here! I did however offer my assistance and comfort to stay with him however he said he had everything under control and urged me to go on! Well off I went thinking and hoping that Mike will make it to the finish. The next section was tough although it had some downhills and then the last uphill to the Church which I distinctly remember doing in reverse on the Trial run Adri and I did a few months ago here. This old white church must have some history behind it and is such a land mark as it can be seen from afar. The downhill from here was just awesome and fast. The fun ended though when we got to the river section. This section for me was mostly not rideable and after seeing a few guys ahead of me come off second best, I decided to walk this one out as much as I could. There were also a lot of sty ramps and one floating bridge which was not rideable. After walking most of this technical section, we were on a single track close to finish which I was pleased I could ride. We carried our bikes across the water up an embankment and almost on our way to the home straight when we all followed a bunch of riders away from the finish. I questioned this as we were close on 51k’s and we should be finishing, not doing another loop. Thankfully they all decided to turn back to the section we deviated from the course. It was actually funny to see how many riders actually followed us. Then we all had a sprint to the finish which was such a welcome site. After 4hrs08min of just a 52k ride, it felt like one had accomplished much more than just the distance. I was now anxious to see when Mike and Adri would come in. I did not see Adri at the finish area indicating that she managed to carry on with this grueling race. Much to my amazement I saw Superman Mike come in 4hrs 41 min. Not bad going Mike and finishing on a flattish tyre, you are admired for your efforts to finish the race in these circumstances. Next wait was Adri, was she out there alone I wondered! Knowing her she would hook up with someone who was doing much of the same pace as her and probably stick together to the end. Well I was not far out. 5hrs 25min later she appeared out of the trees with another rider. Amazingly it was Brendon from D&D with her who had a gash on his head from a fall and Adri had a very bruised hand from her experience. We gave them a standing ovation for their efforts and congratulated Adri for completing her first MTB race with cleats. Just to boost everyone’s ego, we were informed that the famous Robert Hunter did not finish the race, in fact bailed out after 20k’s due to a technical problem!!!
Will I do this race again next year?? Definitely….but hopefully in better conditions. I compliment the race organizers for a well organized, adventurous route which had a bit of everything which would suit all and the most experienced riders.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
new pedals: 2
using them for the 1st time: 100%
conditions: mud, sludge, river banks, water, rocks&koppies
Bruise on hand: 1
ability to use right hand: 1% (texting)
bruises on body: too many for this camera
will i stick to cleats: 100%
will i send you updates of my bruise: Yes
Friday, November 20, 2009
After waking up to Sue’s alarm clock at 3am, we made our final selection and preparations of race food and packed our racing kit for the day. We dressed quickly and while still taking mouthfuls of breakfast started pushing our bikes the 1km to the entrance gate of Bonamanzi where the race would start.
Promptly at 4am, Wimpie sounded his bakkies hooter. The teams waiting in the darkness surged past us, including the other half of our team who had left after us and walked separately, only getting to the start just in time. We let the others pull away and made a quieter start. We planned to set a maintainable pace, one that would see us through to the end of the day without injury or undue discomfort. All things are relative.
The first leg of the race was a 27km Mountain Bike ride. The first 2km of which were gentle downhill runs which we used to warm up and get our pace, riding closely together and talking excitedly about our expectations. It was raining gently and the lowveld warmth pleasant. Race briefing had been between 9 and 10pm the previous evening, and we had gone to bed about 30 minutes later, but the excitement, lightning, wind and rain along with a few hungry mosquitoes had interrupted our precious sleep. The storm had made the road muddy with pools of slushy puddles but it was still better to be on our way in reality than doing the planning and packing we had been doing in our interrupted dreams.
By the time we crossed the low water bridge our team felt almost deserted, very few pale cycle headlights and flashing red taillights could be seen in the dark. Beyond the causeway the road started its steady climb which continued relentlessly upward for about 8km. Some hills were steep enough that it was felt we could conserve more energy by pushing our bikes, each to our own taste of hill climbing. We were all in our Granny Gear lows and progress which had been 17km/h dropped to a painfully slow 4km/h.
A loud thump was heard. Ah, just William falling on his side as his new cleats didn’t unclip. The mandatory call “Are you alright”?, followed by the usual short silence and an “OK” that meant pride was dented, it was not ‘ok’, but this is the nature of the game, he’ll get over it. As we rode upward we passed a few teams that were having early bicycle troubles. A girl called out that her bike wouldn’t engage low gear, so we went back to help her, only to discover that she had already exchanged her bike with her partners, and he was about 300meters further up the hill on the broken bike. She thanked us for our concern.
Three teams that had started late passed us. Later we heard that at about 4:05AM they ad been running up and down the veranda at the rooms, a little confused and bewildered that the race had started at such an early hour without them. It takes experience (and a little discipline and psychology) to get a team on the road on time.
The climb went on and on with little respite, an hours worth of steep climbing! Was this a joke the organizers had laughed about. A Billy Joel song sprung to song “its four o’clock on a Saturday, the regular crowd shuffles on. There’s an old man riding next to me, making love to his mo-houn-tain bike” Good spirits.
As the rain started to clear a sliver of moon could be seen peeping down through the night clouds, and then slowly the eerie moon light shifted to the East and morning was declared, slowly revealing the road winding upwards, with ploughed lands and trees vague in the mist.
After an hour of riding it was light enough for a quick stop at the side of the road to get something to nibble, pack away the rain jacket and headlamp, blog, put on sunscreen and enjoy the sights. A team passed us, checked if we were ok and named us the Breakfast Team. Oh, alright, call us what you like, we will enjoy the journey.
William was disappointed that there would be no navigating. The instructions had been, “Follow this road and at the railway line turn right, there will be signs with an arrow. This method of routing doesn’t give any indication of effort, terrain expected or other information useful for pacing. Just go until you’re instructed to do something else.
The road levelled out on the plateau and it felt wonderful to be able to do 30km/h, feeling like an invincible superhero low flying above the ground.
As the road come up to a railway bridge there was a black sign with a white arrow pointing to a jeep track to the right. The rain had made the track exceptionally muddy and this type of mud was exceptionally slippery. As we heard later from Nando, this is where his bike slipped from under him and his superman flight ended with a huge splash into the mud. For the rest of our cycling leg we fought to control our bikes as they yawed left and right. We rode mostly on the middle mannetjie, and where we could on the harder ground next to the railway. At one point we climbed the fence to a slightly less muddy farm road on the right, only to have it rejoin our muddy track a couple of hundred meters further on. The bikes became engulfed in the mud with super sized mud tyres flinging dirt in every direction, and all of what had been well oiled precision gearing battling to operate from within clumps of mud and grass. Frequently, but vainly, we stopped to scoop water from the numerous puddles over the mechanisms to try and free the workings. Mud is not good for brakes and gears, but it is good fun to test your riding skill and balance under such conditions. I took a picture of the mud on my bike, the last picture my camera was prepared to take in those conditions, before it shut down due to moisture.
The road dipped here and there and we navigated large muddy puddles. Mud everywhere until we emerged onto a road bridge crossing over the railway line. This was the first checkpoint and after nearly four hours of riding the marshals and camera crew were friendly and enthusiastic. Thanks guys. In other years we had proven we could do the 94.7 cycle challenge in this time. We refilled our 2 litre water bladders, changed from our cycling shoes into our running shoes and were off hiking down the road for the 15km hike leg before we could enjoy the sanity of the transition.
The day transitioned from mist to bright sunshine. The mist lifted from the valleys like cotton wool. After about an hour of hiking a seconding bakkie passed us with their teams bikes, taking them to the next cycling leg that was still many hours and much sunlight away. Shortly, another bakkie passed us and we recognized our own bikes being driven along the road. It was nice that seconds weren’t mandatory as it made the race easier to organize, and the seconding organized by Wimpie was very well done. Thank you. We really appreciated seeing our bikes had been looked after in transit. It’s so easy to bend derailers through rough handling. Later, I was thankful to see my wet camera still safe after absent mindedly leaving it hanging on my handlebars. Thanks again.
After an hour we made our first five minute stop, and took off our tops to reapply sunscreen. At 4km/h it takes an hour to walk 4km. duh. We needed to walk 15km. That’s nearly 4 hours of walking! The day grew sunnier and hotter. After another hour we chose a Mulberry tree to sit under, and five minutes later regretted that only 30m further on we could have stopped overlooking a pretty farm dam. As we walked we discussed many things. We spoke about the merits of various styles of sun protection and cooling techniques. We passed an enticing and picturesque dam with water fowl and Egrets but decided a swim would be a little over casual.
We pressed on at our non tiring walking pace and crossed over a river. A sign indicated it was the same Steelpoort River we would be tubing on later. It was farming country with cows in the fields. A woman motorist on her way back from church cheered us on while another farmer stopped and offered us cold, clean water at his farmstead. His laughter as he drove off made his offer seem a little insincere. It was hot! We decided we would stop on the hour every hour for a nibble and sunscreen. We chatted, debating the best stopping places and discussed the merits of what we would eat, whether arm warmers should be wet to cool your arms and if they were worth the discomfort for the sun protection they offered. Everything became a debate, where was the best place to stop, how fast we were walking, how fast we should walk, how long we should stop, where we might wee…, everything in minute detail. With all the discussion we skipped a stop. We looked at the range of mountains and guessed at where the abseiling was and how long it would take to reach it, and so on we walked and talked.
Eventually we came to a T-Junction with its black sign and white arrow, indicating we should turn left. I noticed bicycle tracks on the road, and excitedly theorized that these must be from the leading teams on their way back from abseiling. It took a little effort from my team to enlighten me that these were our own tracks from the morning ride and we were now looping back along the way we had ridden earlier. I felt angry and disappointed that we had looped around with no purpose. We could have cycled here in next to no time and we had had to walk for hours, just to have gone around in a circle. The mind games had started!
After 2km down the hill that had slowed our biking earlier we passed a team hiking back up the other side of the game fence adjacent to the road who shouted “its 10km down and then back up”
It did feel that far, but I suppose it was only 800m or so until we reached the third checkpoint and refilled our very empty water stocks. From that point it was a left turn into a game farm and a circuitous undulating loop of 7km. We passed a man in a bakkie and another on a tractor who directed us along the road. “Stick next to the fence” We didn’t see any animal bigger than the tok tokkies and dung beetles on the road. Sue kindly rescued one from certain death on its back. We had another nibble stop 10 Metres before we saw a deserted umbrella and deck chair. Our fast team had managed to get water at that point from the marshal who had been there, and they said he had a cooler box with ice cold drinks and beer. There should have been a sty over the fence and rock climbing on the loop. For us it was just hot, and my legs started feeling sore and overworked. Another loop, was this just included to make distance? Carrying kit packed for 24 hours eventualities is no lightweight matter. I was angry that we had had to walk another meaningless loop for one and a half hours. We passed over the road, gladly refilling our water and continued down 1km of steep road to the top of the cliffs at the abseil point. Another team had written “lava” in the road, and the time. Interesting Geology abounded. I was tired and sore.
There was a 40 minute wait for the teams ahead of us, and so I gladly lay down under the shade of a sweet thorn tree, flicked a tick off my knee into the grass, and enjoyed a little doze.
The abseiling marshals entertained us with their antics, they had been there a long time in the sun, and it must be thankless work. A team ahead had not tied their carabineers’ to the return rope and we had to get all the equipment rounded up before we could continue. The team behind us arrived to wait, chatting maybe nervously at the thought of the 30m cliff face. “I Lava you baby” they joked with Sue.
Sue went down the cliff. Easy. Me down , then William. Quick. Fun. An experience to think back on. Abseiling has purpose. It’s the way you would get down a cliff. It’s not a loop.
After the abseiling we hiked 5km down along the river bed in the valley. The first part consisted of large sheets of basalt rock, across which the water ran, heated up by the sun to about 40 degrees. Black coal like rock and black sand made up the shallow river bed.
Sue splashed into the warm water , and I followed, getting my shoes wet but knowing that wet socks always adds to the challenge to keeping feet in shape later on, but it just felt wonderful to be in the clean warm water of this pristine stream. William tried to keep his shoes dry as a good race discipline and he scolded us as we splashed carefree down the centre line of the valley, not needing to criss-cross and use energy boulder hopping. Our different opinions hung in the tired space between us for a while. Race moods are an interesting phenomenon, and by the time we joined herds of cows also walking along the river bed our minds had returned to a neutral happy hiking state.
The interesting downhill terrain made easy work of the 5km to the low water bridge. Although another loop back to the initial cycle road of the morning this loop had been necessary and fascinating. We had seen and done things you cannot and will not get to do if you don’t do adventure racing.
At the bridge too far, the Tube Marshals met us. They had been waiting for ages, bemused by the slow trickle feed of racers from the abseil. They wondered why we would carry on racing since we were so far to the back of the field, now 15 out of 18 teams.
We selected our tubes silently, each considering our own personal strategy for what a tube should do. Tube selection is an improper science. Theories abound at what is best in tube size but these were only discussed later. I chose the biggest, fattest tube on display and rolled it to centre of the bridge, turned downstream for 10 metres along the tiny river we had made friends with to where it joined the mighty burbling, spitting, frothingly turbulent and wild, in the corner on the right, Steelpoort River, in all its turmoil and strife. And we sat on its back and laughed and said “Take us 8km down to the bungalows, we’re tired and we want to relax for a while and rest”
And so the river pulled us down a frothy chute, and that was fun, but scary. And then another, and another and then towards the branch of a tree that had fallen across the fastest most unavoidable part of the current. Wimpie had said last night there was a tree that they would take out… But this tree was still there. The marshals parting words were “Keep left, especially at the weir”
Sue went first and under, and I counted 12, 13, 14 seconds with no sign of her surfacing. William went hurtling towards the tree and its catch and before I could see who was where and how I should perform a brave rescue for Sue I too was riding the tiger. Feet-up against the branch, tipping back, current catching my backpack, somersaulting backwards and down amongst branches and rocks, it all happened so quickly and then into the relative calm of a bigger pool. William was calmly collecting our tubes as we clambered shakily out onto a rock at the side of the pool. We looked at each other and decided we would ‘port’ across the next rapid, just to catch breath.
Sue placed her tube into the next part of the stream, sat down and was immediately up-ended by the waves onto the rocks, crashing her helmeted head hard onto the rocks. Thank goodness for the cycling helmets. It saved her life. She didn’t notice; climbed back on her tube and was gone in an instant. I followed because there was no alternative. No mommy standing by to run to and hold onto her legs. Down the next chute, the torrent ripping tube and me apart, I felt myself uncontrollably bumping my bum on rocks somewhere and my calf muscle going into cramping spasm. I floated up into the next pool next to a rock that looked like a grotesque blue whale and wondered if the pain was intense enough to mean a broken hip. Almost, but no, I can stand. William pulled me out onto the rocks beside the pool and fetched his errant water bottle. Continuing was the only way I could go, walking with this pain was not going to be an option for a while. Where was that weir? Ah, looking back we could see that we had passed it. At least we had kept left. It’s not like we had had a choice! We floated virtually uncontrollably along the bank on the left where green trees almost touched the flooded rivers surface. A very large baboon ran along the bank barking loudly at us. A movement from a branch and a loud plop into the water just 3 metres from me was probably a legavaan taking appropriate cover. Sue grinned like the Cheshire cat and confirmed it was the look on my face anticipating the mambas that drop out of trees just like this and in these conditions that was amusing her. Go Sue. She grinned like that for the rest of the river ride, until we rounded the river bend and saw the lapa of Bonomanzi and the photographers taking pictures of the flotsam coming down the river.
Of our greater team, only Nando did not have a close encounter at the tree. Maybe Wimpie, next time, send a photographer to snap up the action.
As for tubes, the agreed verdict is that your arms should be long enough in relation to the tubes bulkiness that you can actually reach the water and paddle. Note this Con, this is why you hate tubing over shooting rapids in your kayak.
River and tree 5, Lickety split 1.
From the tubes we hiked to the foofy-slide, a friendly welcoming marshal encouraging us with our preparations. “Don’t do anything; I’ll just push you off this 10 metre platform while you hang onto the pulley mechanism with arms that are exhausted. Don’t drop off because then I’ll have to make a plan to rescue you, and I’m not sure what that plan would be. We’d probably then need a helicopter or something”. Whizzz, down the steel rope, feet-up, perfect ski –landing. Great fun! “Do you guys want to go again?” No, just once is about all I can do, another day perhaps. We returned the pulleys and their safety straps and trudged a little distance up the hill to our very muddy bikes, changed into our still wet cleated cycling shoes and headed for the mountains. We were directed to go 300 metres up a stream, and look for a road to the left. After about 700 Metres William was starting to turn back, but I found the turnoff marked with bunting. And so we started our 20km mountain bike ride at about 5pm on Saturday afternoon, riding uphill again on another giant loop, whose purpose was to allow us to do game viewing. We saw no game, but let me tell you about the hornets.
Just after it got dark, my bikes rear tyre went soft; obviously a sweet thorn had attempted to foil the slime. So I sat on a bush to inject some CO2 from a gas cartridge, when about 8 or so hornets starting biting me on my face and behind my knees, their aim improved by my headlamp. Sue was called back from the darkness and was also set-on by the hornets who were determined not to allow our team to settle in for the night on their nest, so she rode off again and William, who the hornets had no problem with, helped me to get going. Those hornets bit and poked me and Sue for another 400Meters, both of us riding without our lights slapping and yelling each time one found their mark.
From that point it was pretty much downhill, and Sue rode fearlessly in the dark like someone who needed to get home. We paused three times at cross roads that had no markings or promised reflectors to show the race route, always choosing the most downhill direction. By and by we came to the locked gate to the game farm we were riding in, an arrow painted on the ground indicating we should be able to go through. We cycled back to where some park staff were sitting and asked how we could get through. They said a marshal had been there but had gone on and locked up. The list of teams only showed one Lickety Split team, not the two teams we were. The staff suggested we climb the fence, which is what we did, William taking pride in his ‘race discipline’ of fence sitting, and passing the bikes over. We then found another arrow pointing up the cycle route, decided that this was from the mornings ride now 16 hours previously, and turned towards base camp where we were welcomed by our teammates to a thunderous applause and reception. For some reason we seemed very grumpy for people who had finished a day of racing, with many complaints about locked gates, poor signage in the dark and the like. When our alto team queried why we had come from the North and not from the East we worked out that we should have done a final 2km loop, including a ride through a 1metre deep dam. Almost, but did we get the banana. We declared ourselves finished so that we could attend the prize giving, and slowly we were absorbed into the comfortable social sanity of a braai and a couple of ciders with our friends. Great race! Thanks to all the organizers and marshals.
|Discipline||Time of day||Average Speed in km/h||Distance in km||Total Distance in km||Duration in hours and minutes|
|27km MTB||07:51:00 AM||7||27||27||3:51|
|15km Hike||11:11:00 AM||4.5||15||42||3:20|
|7km Hiking||01:11:00 PM||3.5||7||49||2:00|
|1km Hike||01:28:00 PM||3.5||1||50||0:17|
|30m Abseil||02:08:00 PM||40min||0.03||50||0:40|
|5km Hike||03:33:00 PM||3.5||5||55||1:25|
|5km tubing||04:58:00 PM||3.5||5||60||1:25|
|1km Hike||05:15:00 PM||3.5||1||61||0:17|
|20km MTB||08:35:00 PM||6||20||81||3:20|
|2km MTB Loop||08:35:00 PM||-||2||83||0:00|
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Bonamanzi Adventure challenge: 14-15 Nov 09
So the Lickety Split team set their minds and diaries on the Bonamanzi adventure challenge about 2 months ago. (Un)Fortunately 5 out of 6 in the team have computer bound professions, which meant that at least 10 emails were flying around per day discussing topics such as Con's Bolognaise, First Aid Kit, Parmesan, Garlic Prego Rolls, Instant Latte Sachets, weather forecasts and to how we would split the team in 2: the tortoises & hares. Nando, Con & Adri as hares and William, Mike & Sue as the tortoises. Con and William would be the navigators for the 2 teams.
So William set us up with our own team blog http://teamlicketysplit.blogspot.com/ which was slowly being filled with reports from the Capestorm Rogaine, 'not cake' recipes & trailrun photographs and our usual Dark & Dirty MTB indulgence on a Thu eve. I think the blog got the excitement going for the Bonamanzi and provided much entertainment for the team itself when reading each other's profiles. Funny how some bits of rather important info gets shared only when the right question is asked.
From left: Con, William, Nando, Mike, Sue & Adri
Race disciplines for the Bonamanzi would be;
• Various trail running and hiking events, total 20 km
• Mountain biking will be broken up in various events totalling (60km)
• Tubing (tubes will be provided) 8 km
• Rope Work – Facilitators to assist racers. Two 30 m Abseils, a 30m Rock Climb, A High Rope Course, and various events at the High Rope Course .
• Obstacle Course
• Basic Navigation on all events .
So during the week we were borrowing lifejackets, collecting maps and printing out the surrounds of the Bonamanzi Lodge from Google Earth. Wimpie's (race organiser) statement on the website : "Please note that this race will not be cancelled due to weather." meant only fuel on our excitement fires and extra weight in our backpacks.
Friday afternoon we left early and drove through Pretoria before we take out the garlic prego's, then Witbank, Middelburg, R552 to Stofberg and now descending into the valleys of Roossenekal, Hartelus & Tonteldoos and the Steelpoortriver Valley. Bonamanzi Lodge lies on one of the snaking bends of the Steelpoort river overlooking bellowing mountains of perfectly green & lush bushes. We were now not only excited by the poetic surroundings, but also scared because we knew these valleys, kloofs & hills will be our playground the next day.
The Lickety Split hares were first to arrive at the lodge, sign in, get our room key and start repacking gear & setting up bikes. The others soon arrived and the spirits are now twice as high. Con's legendary Bolognaise, now with penne, is sizzling on the gas stove as we overlook the river and make smallish talk with the other teams in the rooms next to us.
What an eclectic bunch of people: these adventure racers. Young, old, skinny, chubby-ish, tattooed, not-tatooed, rich, making-it, married, taken, single, teachers, students, doctors, designers, geeks, CA's.. and the others. (I am yet to write something on this sub-culture called Adventure Racing). No garlic, no spices in the Bolognaise for William's stomach, but the rest of us jump right into the Parmesan.
9 o'clock comes and we head toward the dining room for the race briefing; all kitted out in our sponsored first accent tops. Now really looking the part. About 20 teams in the room and Wimpie welcomes everyone & the gives us an intro of what the next day will look like. It was not until the race briefing that we heard no navigation or maps are required. Apparently because of the many mamba's they have in the lush bushveld. Roads are obvious and in some places minimum bunting was used to mark the route. So our patronising maps, slowly made their way out of sight and we were asking ourselves how much of an adventure can it be without navigation? Race starts at 4am for the first 30km cycle. Followed by 20km hike, 30m abseil, 5km hike, 5km tubing, 1km hike, obstacle course, and then the last cycle of just under 20kms to make the total race distance about 80kms. This is Bonamanzi's first adventure race and they welcome our feedback afterwards.
By now the clouds closed and pushing against the mountains, we get some lightning & rain. Every little drop adding to the adventure scale. Saturday's adventure will not be determined by navigation necessarily, but definitely by the weather and terrain.
Repacking again and we get less than 4hrs interrupted sleep due to the thunder and mozzies. Up at 3 we are greeted with a drizzling rain that asks for wet-gear. Jacob's Latte, bananas, instant oats and rusks and body-glide fill the morning air before we head for the main gate to start. The start happens immediately and we head up on the dirt road rolling up the hills of the valley. Steep hills and many of them. Not long before people stop to take off jackets. Another couple of steeper hills and I get of to hike-my-bike at the same speed as some that were using their grannies. At the top of the hill the other 2 hares are waiting for me and politely ask if they should tow me. Sure, please! Nando now taking off the burning edge from my thighs and I can actually move. At the top, the rain seizes and terrain flattens out for a nice fast cycle on the dirt road. The cloud of mist only revealing about 150m radius of the morning to us. Another couple of kms and we witnessing the last of the mist creeping up the hills. We soon find the board with an arrow to the right. Following short path next to the road and then right again next to the railway tracks. This service road must've had at least 3 days worth of rain as everyone was quickly out of their saddles and tasting the dirt. We made our way through this muddy section juggling between the island of grass between on the middle of the track and the rocky sides of the railway, stopping to release the front v-break on my bike as the clogging mud made it very difficult to keep up. Con's tyres collecting so much mud he is peddling 2 chocolate donuts. Small downhill and we come across others that are giving their bikes a quick rinse in the stream at the bottom. With the chocolate gone, it was only another kilometre before we transition on a bridge.
Dropping the bikes, filling up on water and start the second leg: 20km run/hike towards the abseil. A couple of pit-stops along the dirt road, Con realising his shorts are the wrong way round, we cross smaller streams, walk the uphills, greet the locals, pass some of the other teams as they are changing socks. About 12km before we get to a long downhill with a checkpoint & photographer at the bottom. We spot some teams in the camp on the left going up again. Get to the bottom and we have to turn right into the camp for a 7km loop over rolling hills of gravel, grass & rocks. Someone mentions mambas and Nando confirms that his pepperspray is in his backpack. Our joints completely rebellious on the downhills. Con asks for an asthma-pump as his chest is feeling tight. I remember the citronella-smelling weed we passed earlier and quickly crush that with another fresh smelling grass. A pity no foreign eucalyptus around us (really does the trick). The citronella-combo not very successful after which I also get a tight chest but ascribe it to: a little too much for my fitness at this moment. We pass a red umbrella with a cooler box and marshal and wow, asking him for water, he gives us a 500ml ice-cold Bonaqua. In his cooler box I also spot Play, Coke and Amstel. Wonder what we could've had if our request was for something else!
Crossing the road again, we hike another 2kms down a kloof to get to the abseiling. At this moment about 4 teams in front of us that need to go down. We take a seat, make a snack, remove gravel from our shoes, give our feet a breather, body-glide, super-C's, droewors and wait for 1h40minutes before descending one at a time down the 30m abseil. One of the guys in the team just behind us, kindly asks if he can remove the 1,5cm thorn from my leg… sure, I didn't even notice it! Then he got his teammate to document his finding on video. The wait rested us well and with all 3 at the bottom of the abseil we run/ hike down the kloof towards the Steelpoort river where the tubing will start. Jumping from klip to klip to save our feet from getting wet, we finally surrender and walk straight down the middle of the of the stream.
Get to the tubes, we fill our bladders for the cycle that follows after the tubes. The lady marshals assure us of a nice relaxing float down the river. "Just sit back & relax and keep left". Well… hardly that as you have your 10kg backpack now wet and weighing double that on your chest, fastened around your waist, arms barely hanging over the sides to make small bee-like movements to do some steering with. Hundreds of hip-flexes as you avoid the boulders in the rapids, more twists and turns and then left a fast rapid but decorated with a fallen tree. No way you can pass on the right: boulders protruding everywhere. Reciting Wimpie's words from the night before that they have removed the trees that fell over, they must know about this one and consider it safe. And the water pushing us very fast through this corridor. Nando is first to pass it, a slight struggle with the tee and then he's out. Then me, but I'm not out. Feel my tube continuing without me and litres of the Steelpoort gushing over me: my foot's caught in the tree and my 10(x2)kg backpack pulls me down, unable to come up for air. Litres of water now flushing through my nose and in those very long minutes my repeated prayer: Jesus, I don't want to die like this... not like this. Foot stuck, I find an opportunity for a pull-up & gasp for air then under water again continuing this conversation with the Maker, Creator & Keeper of all. The One that orders the clouds and silences the storms. And then another opportunity to pull myself + 20kgs up and grab hold of my foot for a chance of release. Foot out, head above water and double-checking I'm not dreaming but breathing. Looking down the steep rapid my tube is caught in a washing machine of water and I hold onto the tree, get-up, check that I still know my name and slowly fight the water to the other side. Not sure what just happened I catch up with Con & Nando who were witnessing this 5min ordeal and I cant make out if I am laughing or crying. Shocked. Well, we can continue now, coz on this river I won't die today. Another 2.5km down stream , a lack of words and a couple more rapids finally pushes us past the lodge with its friendly people taking pics and waving at us. The marshal meets us in the water, we get out, ironically the first checkpoint that we have to sign in with signature & all!
On the side we clean our shoes and get into the 1km hike towards the next point: A foefie slide of about 200m into the river. We see our bikes on the right. Nice & exhilarating slide down we redress, break off the dry mud from our bikes. Lube the chains and head of on a snaking path that very quickly became a nasty snake up the koppies. The dirt & transport of the bikes really got to Con's gears and he had to do the koppies without his granny. Eina. I had mine, but didn't even feel strong enough to use it! Turn & up & turn & up. Hiking a bike very quickly and asking ourselves if we think the organisers have cycled this before, as this is surely not ride-able!!! We are thinking of the other 3 from Lickety Split that will also confront these hills soon – wondering if they are still in the game altogether??
It wasn't long before all 3 of us got a very annoying and scratching cough and soon blaming the water from the streams, fitness and altitude. We are asking the audience if they have the answer for us here??? The never-ending hills really got to chisel on our character here. But that wasn't even funny after yet another koppie. A 2 member mixed team sneaked up from behind and overtook us. She was still cycling! Then the greatest joy of the whole day: the smoothest & best downhills ever and a rush which was just awesome: left, right, left, right… making our way down to the main dirt road for a quick 2km cycle up the road for the last 5km loop inside the camp. Snaking through lush bushes & woods, hearing the river on the left from time to time. Then long strips of bunting directing us through a small dam. Con still had his momentum and managed to cycle through hip-deep water, lose his chain and get it back on and out the other side. Nando & I opted for a walk through the dam. Great idea Wimpie: our bikes haven't been this clean since 5h00 that morning. Another couple of snaking turns, a last short uphill and the lodge on the left as we turn into the downhill leading us to the greeting photographer and other teams that also just pulled in. We sign in with a time of 13hrs and 15 minutes. 11th position. Jump in the dirty pool and get our drinks & beers from one of the staff.
Whilst sitting on the grass the feeling of accomplishment arises and we are smiling. It was a tough last 2hrs. But we made it with plenty of daytime left for a great sunset and welcoming some more teams in. We enquire from the marshals and they confirm that Lickety Split is in the koppies for the last leg. Yea! They're probably cursing the hills of Steelpoort now, but they will surely finish! Quick shower and snacking, we wait for their grand entrance. And knowing that William absolutely loves finishing and finishing last so they get a clapping of hands. We made double sure that that is what they got about 2hsr later. Photographer & all a good clapping of hands. They sign in and set off for shower as we organise our braaipacks for the evening. The lodge provides it at R40 per person with salad, pap& sous. Con was very disappointed with me returning 3 extra portions of meat that I had accidentally taken. Our dinner spread quickly grew as everyone added bits & pieces varying from the previous eve's bolognaise to Mike's 3-bean salad and rolls. No meat was allowed to be left in your plate as Con would surely scoop it up.
Prize giving happened in the dining room as we were finishing dinner. First 3 teams were all mixed pairs. Winning time of 9.5hrs!!! Sjoe, well done! Doing our maths: 13hrs 15min minus the 1hr 40min wait at the abseil, we're about 2hrs behind them. Minus Con & Nando's 10min transition from cycle to run, minus 10min recollection in the river… but no, this is what makes up the adventure. Thankyou Wimpie & Bonamanzi, great to have tasted the rain, soil, water, koppies & beds of the Steelpoort Valley. Another experience to give us that great feeling of accomplishment and being alive & well!
What was most interesting during the race was that each one's energy would peak at a different time than the others. Some would just generally have more energy (or be fitter). This meant that during the various legs we were naturally rotating who's in front setting the pace for the group. I think this is the challenge for reducing race-time and making a great team: to have your energy peak at the same time and… also to synchronise the pit-stops!
Once again we had the privilege of really getting to know this beautiful country of ours, use our willing & able bodies well; get to know each other and probably mostly: get to know ourselves more.
Until next time!
Monday, November 16, 2009
Roossenekal is mountainous. It sits right on top of a ridge of mountains, but just to the west is a big open plain running between two moutainous ranges. When we heard we would be racing in Roossenekal I expected lots and lots of mountains. When we arrived at Bonamanzi late on Friday we certainly saw all the mountains, we started expecting an exceptionally hard race.
At race briefing the course was briefly detailed and we were told there would be no navigation (leaving me, the navigator, without a job).
The race started at 4am in gentle rain. The first 8km of cycling was mostly uphill, with the road covered in a thin layer of mud. At one point Mike said "It's amazing that mud can stick to a vertical surface" and that was certianly how it felt. Our team, Lickety Split, was taking it easy, with regular hourly stops. One team at the end refered to us as "The Breakfast Team" based on us stopping so regularly for food. After the first 8kms (done at 8km per hour) we hit the flat roads and lifted our average speed to about 11kms per hour before hitting the mud! The last 10km of the cyle were done in thick mud, our tires grew to double the size, our brakes dissapeared and our drive train became about 3kg heavier.
Transition was pretty quick, I stripped and put on new pants, Mike got water and we were off on the hike. Nice flat roads, with only a little mud were a real pleasure after the cycling we had just been through. Once again we made a point of stopping regularly for food, and our race blog shows us stopping every hour. A lot of discussion was had on the speed we were walking and Sue got it spot on with the second check point/transition coming up on exactly the expected time. A quick photo, water refresh and we were off.
The next part of the hike was rather pointless, a large 7km hike that we were told was the way to the abseil, however we got back to the check point before heading off to the real abseil. The loop was rather a waste of time as we did not really get to do anything on the hike. Apparently there was supposed to be some rock climbing on this leg but was not in the race due to a neighbouring farmer not fullfilling their side of the plans.
Through Checkpoint three we went, down to the abseil. Fortunatly the queue was small and we only had to wait about 40 minutes before we could go down.As usual I hated the waiting for the abseil, but went down without a problem (I'm actually getting quite good at it!). The hike down stream from the river was actually rather magnificent, but we were all too tired to appreciate it much. (Take out the 7km loop and this would have been amazing).
At the end of the tubing, Mike did not even stop and think about falling out, he got out of the river and limped up the path. I stayed behind to do our normal blogging and thought Sue was probably helping him along, but when I caught up with them he was hobbling along on his own and his spirits were surprisingly high. At this time the sun was just starting to set and it would soon be dark, and knowing Sue's dislike for the dark I again started worrying about finishing the race. But off we went did the Foefie slide which was probably the best one I have ever done (but I closed my eyes while being pushed off...)
Onto the bikes and Mike was again in his element. You would think that someone that 5 minutes ago needed a walking frame just to hobble along would struggle to ride, but no, not Mike off he went about 10km/h faster than I wanted to go. With the dried mud from the morning still stuck to my bike I had hardly any gears that were actually working so struggled to keep up, in the end I finished the race with my small gear in front and only 2,3,4 at the back working. We pushed up a good number of hills (or rather I did, as Mike suddenly had the energy to ride up verticle rock faces!) After a while we ran out of markers showing the way, and just kept heading downhill toward the main road. A few quick stops to pump up Mike's tire was all we needed before finding out that we had been locked into the farm. We were listed as one team on the result sheet though we were racing as 2 teams.
I showed my only AR skills by sitting on top of the gate and passing the bikes over the fence. Sitting on top of three meter high fences is one thing I do well :). We crossed the main road and rode down to the lodge not realising we were now off the actual course route.
We finally finished the race in 16 hours, tired sore and very happy to reach the end. The rest of the team quickly got us some drinks and we had chance to clean up and shower before supper and prize giving. One of the marshalls seen on the route complimented the team on their persistance. Their comment was something like, "we can understand the winners perservering through to the end, but that backmarkers like us can do it just for fun is inspirational". I think that sums up our teams philosophy very well. Adventure Racing at it's casual best.
Of the 20 teams that started, only 5 failed to finish the race. Overall the race was a lot less tough than expected. I enjoyed the race and the route, however I do think the race organiser needs to find more ways of using the MTBs to get people from activity to activity rather than using loops to build distance into the race. I don't believe Adventure Racers appreciate distance for the sake of distance, but rather see the distance as a means of seeing and experiencing new things, a waterfall, a beautiful kloof or even wonderful sunrise.
We will be back next year for the Bonamanzi AR, the race organiser has promised that next year the race will include navigation, and we will have the opportunity to go cross country instead of being restricted to the roads.
Our big thanks to Wimpie for organising the race! And well done to everyone who entered and especially to those that finished the race. See you all next year.
During the race we regularly posted photos to our blog http://teamlicketysplit.blogspot.com/. To see all our blog entries on the Bonamanzi race go directly to http://teamlicketysplit.blogspot.com/search/label/Bonamanzi%20AR .