Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Winding Down

The year is grinding out its last few days. After the Sabie Experience mountain bike stage race, I hoped to hop back on the bike and use my brand new trail shoes for the second time. No such luck.

I went down with a cold (I refuse to consider anything close to flu) and simply had no energy to do anything. Several afternoon naps later, I have started to feel like I can move around without dragging myself.

I can even face the piles of paperwork that accompany the wrapping up of a major race.  And for a change, I am ahead of the game with my Christmas shopping. Usually it is a last minute scramble when I return from Sabie.

So all in all, the year is winding down comfortably for me and I hope for you too. I am starting to feel excited about riding properly again and setting some goals. I am also looking a some trail running goals (if only my brother would play ball and commit!).

So 2010 looks to be a bit different, not only because we're hosting the World Cup (soccer for all of you fixated on only your sport) but I think I will have some new experiences to savour and record.

Whether it is shining or snowing on your head, I hope you celebrate this Festive Season in a manner that is meaningful for you.

(Picture courtesy of Action Photo)

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Sabie Experience MTB stage race

Kelvin of Media and Kelvin took some amazing photos at this year's Sabie Experience - a four day mountain bike stage race in South Africa.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Living Vicariously

The Sabie Experience four day mountain bike stage race starts on Sunday. Why is this of interest to you or me? Well, there is a group of dedicated people making sure that it lives up to its reputation of being a tough, challenging event and I am the ringleader.

No wait, the tough and challenging bit belongs to my race director, Dennis. He is the one who must take the complaints from the riders when they struggle up the next big mountain and the next. When the climbs are nicknamed "Ugly Words, Jelly Legs and Bad Language" then you know that it is brutal and they are cursing him with the little breath they have left.

Moi, I am in charge of all the nice stuff. I get to receive all the compliments. I swan around the route in my VW Caddie with the aircon on, and cheering the riders onward and upward. I am the cheery face of the mountain bike race who commiserates when they suffer and promise downhills to the finish. I am the good guy who pretends to suffer with them, bleed with them and grimace through muddy or dusty faces.

All the while, behind the inane grin on my face is the little voice saying, "I am so glad this isn't me!"  Don't get me wrong, I have ridden the routes so I know all about the sufferfest but that was under far more relaxed circumstances.  I did not have partners ranting at my being too fast or too slow. I had the luxury of stopping frequently ostensibly waiting to show the riders behind the route.

But I do know what its like to stay in the saddle when the legs are begging for respite and the sweat is stinging the eyes. And I do feel the rider's pain when there is yet another uphill. But I live the swooping downhills and single track with them and congratulate them as they cross the finish line pumped with the achievement that comes with suffering.

So to all you riders making the pilgrimage to Sabie for some of the best mountain biking in the country, I'll be there for you but I won't envy you.

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What's your mojo?

This weekend was soul riding. A handful of us headed out to the Cradle of Mankind for a bit of technical riding followed by the ubiquitous coffee and in this case, apple pie and cream. OK, so I had an omelette instead but that's not the point.

The point is that I ride for the exercise, the space, the cameraderie and the social interaction afterwards. This ride just happened to include herds of gemsbok and wildebeest, some impala dashing across the road in front of us and two tortoises giving it horns.

And Sunday was the single track all the way up the Braamfontein Spruit to Greenside for famous Vida coffee followed by brunch at Doppios. (I am such a name dropper).

And for the first time in ages, I loved my riding. Not too much, not too far and wonderful company. 

So what's your story?

What gets you out of bed and onto two wheels?

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

End of year blues?

For once, this has seemed a long year. Normally they fly by and before you know it, another one has started.  Its been a year filled with milestones and wonderful adventures. And although there has been a paucity of cycling stuff in the last four months, I have been kept busy with other issues.

Now, we run up to Sabie Experience (the 4 day mountain bike stage race) of which I am the organiser. It is the usual scrummage of getting all the bits and pieces together to give the riders an incredible send off to the festive season. Four hard days of riding will give them a calorie deficit of note which will soon be filled with festive fare.

For those who have battled with the economic downturn, an event like this may sound extravagant but what better gift to give yourself than the joy of riding your bike in some of the best mountain biking terrain in the country. Finishing the year doing what you love best is the perfect antidote to doom and gloom and you can look forward to 2010 with renewed vigour.

Its a pity I can't ride.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

I did it!

I reached the milestone in my other life. November has been NaNOWriMo and today I reached the goal of 50 000 words. In NaNo terms, I am a winner. No one reads your novel or judges it, you simply submit it for word counting and then it is erased of their system. I stalled a little when I got to 45 000 and it almost seemed that I was sabotaging myself but the words flowed and here I am.

I am still disbelieving as 50 000 is an enormous number and my wonderful characters are still not finished with me.

So its Friday night and I am sipping champagne (any excuse for bubbly).  Tomorrow may be a day off then I will join the other Jo'berg writers at the weekly write-in to see where I go to next in my novel.

What a good week.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Next year, I will train

I have discovered that muscle memory is a wonderful thing. Six months of training including a 3 week jaunt across the country has left me with enough in legs to actually enjoy Sunday's Momentum 94.7 cycle race.

I was pretty nervous because I knew it would hurt and I hadn't done the work required. Once week is simply not what the experts recommend. Well experts be damned. If you've got miles in your legs, you can drag them around 97 odd kms. I didn't do a sterling time but did what I hoped for and I really didn't suffer.

My ego did though as my bunch rode away from me and the leaders of the next group and the next. Then I saw the odd M  batch come past too and I cringed (I started in J). Riding solo because you dare not push too hard is not ideal for road riding, especially when there is a pumping wind. It was quite weird in that my lack of training manifested in straining quads and this after I had punished them in the mountains of Sabie.

I think I should check my saddle height. I really think that must be it.

But I reckon I rode myself fit because by the time we reached the highway (of ill repute) I was having fun and was tucking in behind all the larger riders. Actually I rode in an echelon of two because nobody else realised it was a wind from the side or they don't watch the Tour de France enough. I also have the wind of St Francis Bay to thank for the practice.

But back to the race. One of the things I marvel at is the range of logistics required to pull it off. As a race organiser, I understand more of what goes on behind the scenes. I always get a thrill when I see all the straw bales and fencing lining the road on the Saturday afternoon. Sometime after midnight, when all the riders are tucked up in bed, a team of army ants swarm all over the roads, erecting the barriers and blocking off access ready for the first bunch at 5.30. And there it stays until late in the Sunday afternoon where it all magically disappears again.

Every single access road or dirt road had a marshal and straw bales or fencing. That's an awful lot of people and stuff over roughly 97km. Good on them for hanging in there for so many hours in the searing heat.

I resolved to do the race justice next year. No more narfiness. Its a great race to ride well and I just know I can knock off lots of minutes. Any volunteers to pace me?

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Race across SA - Race around the world?

I picked up this article on The Adventure Life. It reminded me that there is always life after a major event, even if mine was "only" 2300km.  The trick is to keep the mometum and dreams alive.

On September 19, 2009, British cyclist James Bowthorpe rolled into London and climbed off his bike for the first sustained period in six months. The 32-year-old had just smashed the record for circling the globe on a bicycle: His 174-day, 18,000-mile journey was a ridiculous 20 days faster than the previous record. Along the way, he raised $100,000 for Parkinson's research, was chased by thugs in Iran, and found that Turkey and Kentucky are rivals for friendliest spots on Earth. The Adventure Life caught up with Bowthorpe as he was recovering in London—after six months in the saddle, he still can't stand longer than a half hour at a time.

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Over halfway

(My secret writing tool)

There's not much cycling or training of any sort at the moment for various reasons.  But whatever the lack in this department, I am gunning it with the NaNo novel.

Our local NaNo Liaison, Chris, organised a write in at the Melville Mugg and Bean and about 10 of us arrived, some with laptops and couple of diehards with paper and pen.

Glen, who has raced to 70 000 words as I write this arrived to help anyone stuck.  It was a strange afternoon with all of us ranging between absolute focus and picking up snippets of conversation from the others.  I set a target to write 3500 words in an hour and half.  Feeling fairly antisocial, I tapped away at the keyboard half listening to the goings on around me.

"How do I get two women to talk to each other," asked Chris.  Errr, you open their mouths, I thought but the other answers were far more ribald than that.

I hit my goal well within the time limits and it was a great feeling - it was the most I had written in one session.  Later that afternoon, the last of us packed up and it is at these times, you often get gems of information.

We were talking about writing and not thinking about it.  Chris summed it up best "We channel words".  He's so right.  I don't feel that I am making up the stuff as I go, more that the words are flowing through me.

So I am now more than halfway - yes, over the incredible 25 000 mark.  That particular angle of the story came to an end and I felt myself worrying about what would come next.

Sitting down at the computer, I forced myself to not think and to just write.  Over two thousand words flowed forth and the scenario appeared like magic.  So my main character is still alive and facing a huge challenge.  I can't wait to find out what happens.

The only bummer about this chapter was being 4 (FOUR) words short of 27 000.  And I couldn't find anywhere to slot some in.


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Friday, November 6, 2009


Err, sorry, he says as we head off for the third day of strenous riding in the mountains of Sabie. I'm not very conversational today. Its usually when I don't have enough sleep.

Oh, I say all sympathetic - what happened? 

Well, you see its like this.  After two days of riding, my bowels haven't moved yet.  So driven to desperation, I resorted to laxatives last night.  They're supposed to work within a hour but they didn't so I ended up taking three!

Now I can see kak coming and this was coming from a looong way off.  Spellbound, I listened as did a couple of riders who slowed their pace to hear more.

And... I prompted.

I felt so terrible, he continued, that I couldn't sleep at all.  And then this morning, they kicked in and I had to walk down the stairs backward so I could keep my butt cheeks together so I didn't embarrass myself.

My mate was in the shower hogging the bathroom, so I ended up pacing around the kitchen table with a tight ass cos I knew if I relaxed the muscles, I was history.

By now, we had ridden off the road in hysterics.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Writing, writing, writing but not for here

The NaNoWriMo fever has hit more than 170 000 (at last count) would be writers around the globe.  Writing started at midnight on November 1 and there have been wild swings in input from the over and under achievers.

I missed day one because I was riding my mountain bike - funny thing that.  And I have started now, cranking out about 2000 words a day so far.  Oops - that sounds better than it is because it is only day 3!  But I figure the words will run dry at some point and while I feverishly search for inspiration, at least I'll have a buffer.

There was one over achiever on the international forum who wrote over 30 000 words straight.  That's just intimidating.  How are the rest of us supposed to feel.  Eejit (I wish I had that skill).  I wonder if he will carry on once he hits his 50 000 tomorrow?  Short month for him but for the rest of us, its going to be hard to maintain momentum.

But what a great opportunity to just write with abandon.  Posts on the blog will be read by someone so there is a degree of structure and sense to be made.  But with NaNo, just write.  There is no one watching, critting or even vaguely interested in whether it makes sense or not.  Which is just well as there has to be chunks of drivel that pour out at times.  But that is December's problem when you finally get to read what you have written in its entirety.

I didn't choose a cycling or mountain biking topic but maybe somewhere I will have to weave a little of that into the story.

So here's to keeping writer's block at bay and 50 000 words by the end of the month.

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

And we climbed

The fourth stage of Sabie Experience pre ride was a mere 55km.

If you think you will hammer it, think again. Its tough especially on fatigued legs and by this stage, trust me, your legs will be very fatigued.

I was so tired even before starting but miraculously, the legs kept turning. Climbing out of Sabi Star Chalets made me wish I had gym work in my legs. It took a huge amount of power and determination to keep riding and not to walk.

Cool, misty conditions helped but the humidity was hectic. Sweat poured off everyone in the group.

The first water point is spectacular and as we arrived, the mist lifted enough for us to look out over the cliff to the valleys below.

Microwave Alley was a great descent and the next 15km or so was really interesting riding. Undulating track through massive bamboo groves, eucalyptus and indigenous bush brought us to the second water point.

Then we did two serious climbs, damn, they tested the boundaries. Once past them, it was a brilliant fast descent down Ross Hill and pretty much single track all the way home.

We had such a cool group of people riding together over the 3 days and the humour was legendary. Only mountain bikers could relate to the chirps.

Marinus was our group leader and his calm presence backed by some serious riding talent kept us all together. But if you did falter, there was the reassuring presence of the Off Road Rescue Unit - our incredible medical and moral support group.

How they dragged the trailer over some of that terrain, I don't want to know.

As for me and my comeback, that was three damn fine days of riding. Now, where is the number for my massage therapist!
Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

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Saturday, October 31, 2009

My come back slows

After my initial enthusiasm for yesterday's stage, I realised very quickly that today was payback.

After all, I had done the equivalent of two weeks of my most recent training regime in one day and I was about to double that again.

Stage 2 of the race started innocuously enough but soon started a steep climb which got us all sweating profusely in the humidity and mist. Oof, this dragged on but eventually levelled out to a pleasant contour. The ground was pretty soggy after the rain which sucked the life from already tired legs.

And then we hit another bugger of a climb. So what that the surface was smooth. It was horrendous ever higher into the mist.

By the time I got to the next contour road I was pretty tired and this section also dragged on with mud sucking on my wheels.

At the base of Hartebeesvlakte, there was still a lot of climbing to do. Two hot cross buns and cheese and a 30min break for all of us, helped the recovery somewhat and then I tried to ease my way over the next section.

If you do nothing else in your mountain biking life, you have to ride the "vlakte". The space, the rolling verdant hills, the wild game and the magnificent views are unparalleled. Of course, you have also worked like buggery to get there.

The sun came out dispelling the last tenacious wraiths of mist and we were treated to the wide vistas. And then the descents are sublime, heart stopping too when you discover your front wheel is loose! The bikes and hearts took a hammering but in under an hour, we were into the final few kms to home.

Huge sticky buns and coffee while we cleaned bikes rounded off a longer than expected day.

So my comeback hit a bit of a slippery slope but by tomorrow, I should be fit...yeah right.

If you are doing this year's Sabie Experience, please train.
Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

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Friday, October 30, 2009

What a return (sort of)

I had nervous anticipation all this week as I was heading for Sabie for our annual mtb pre ride.

Once a week training doesn't cut it for the mountains in the area but a break from Jhb and something new was all good.

Sabie Experience is a four day mtb event in December and is known to be tough, even brutal depending on the weather conditions.

We arrived in rain and woke up this morning to rain. Steady falling rain and dampened spirits.

At the start were about 30 hard core souls. Actually, some were posing as they had no intention of riding but wanted to be in the aura of those of us heading out.

There was a vote. The time trial route (32k and 3 hours of rain) or Stage 3 (80k and 8 hours of rain). To me it was a no brainer but - I won't tell you how I voted.

Off we went. A 13k climb to stables soon had the butt and back complaining but at least it kept us warm. A roaring fire at the hiking hut made it super hard to leave knowing this was the point of no return. 60k more awaited us. I added another layer. Well it was worth it. Sublime single track even in the wet, a near cartwheel over a cliff by yours truly and slightly warmer weather in the valley.

My gears were giving me the zig and fatigued my legs quicker along with the mud, but hey, I was keeping up. I was surprised that I was not exhausted and that I had not fallen off the pace.

Despite the constant drifts of rain, everyone held up really well and there was good feedback on this stage.

On the climb named "Ugly Words", I rather heard the thud of raindrops falling from the trees onto the damp earth and the sigh of my tires as I wound my way onward and upward. I could hear birds faintly and not another soul.

Rare peace indeed.

The race office ladies, Ilsa and Sandy, had whipped up hot soup with buttered rolls for the weary warriors. Manna!

It took several rinses of my bike, myself and my kit to get ride of most of the brown mud.

And now we are off to celebrate Halloween at Georgies restaurant.

Tomorrow? Who knows, who cares. I'm back!
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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Obsessions with numbers

I found myself doing it again on my longer run this weekend past.  Obsessing about 300 - that's what I was short. 3.0.0.metres of tar still needed to hit the round figure of 15km.

I don't understand why we can't let the figures go.  15km sounds much better than 14.7km but does it really matter.  Runners line up in the droves for a marathon, frantically pressing buttons on their watch as they start and practically tripping over the finish mats trying to press buttons when they finish.

Now if you are world class, seconds may make a difference.  But you and I?  We still focus on the numbers.  Even on the odd road ride, I get home and it is 69.6km and I round it up to 70km but feel guilty.  I didn't quite make the mark and it feels wrong to claim a higher number.

For a while, I ran with only a cheap and nasty stopwatch.  Most of the time, I couldn't figure how to stop/start it when I paused at an intersection so the overall time didn't matter.  It was pretty liberating.  There were times when I had no watch at all.  But as I have run more, I am filling in the distances, times, average speeds and all the clutter.

I think I must find the courage to ride myself of gadgets - speedometers, gps, watches and just run or ride. 

If I can do it, can you?

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Friday, October 23, 2009


Mmmm - I love it when someone else takes the time and effort to make things happen and I can just pitch up.  Guy, founder of the new Hilltribe cycling club, sent out a mail this week for a Wednesday Wind Down.

What a great opportunity to double my riding for the week! (Embarrassing admission that).  I was so going to be there and Doug decided to join and Derek spat bricks because he was in the throes of budgets.

I rode part of the way there to avoid the traffic hooking up with Doug.  Luckily.  My bike was unhappy and eventually we figured a cable was loose from its moorings.  Guy has a garage full of bikes...in different sizes.  He says its so he can lend new people a bike that fits them.  Crazy. In his place, I would keep all the bikes for myself - a different colour for every mood.

Les, Oh Les.  He claims that all his kit has shrunk.  Yeah right!  But this Les is in charge of one of the big brand motor vehicle advanced driving schools.  He should ace mountain biking. But I think he fell off.  Well, that's what I assume when I heard the horrible phrase: "Are you alright?".

By this time, I had arbitrarily taken over the route and was leading the charge down the single track.  Sorry Guy, I just can't help myself.  30km later and settling darkness saw me back at the car, happy, upbeat and booking off Wednesday Wind Downs for the next eon.

PS I gotta learn to minimise the camera shake...ride slower, girl, ride slower.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Go Big or Go Home

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  What an exciting and daunting concept.

How does this relate to me and all things cycling?  Well it doesn't really but I am putting my reputation on the line and giving this a go.

November is a month dedicated to getting a draft of a novel done.  The target is 50 000 words.  You may only start writing at midnight on November 1 and it requires roughly 2000 words a day.  And it must be brand new.

Now, I just finished writing up my 3 week experience on the Freedom Challenge and that only comes to 33 255 words and it took me ages so I am hugely daunted at the prospect.  At least with my ride story, I didn't have to think up a plot and characters and events - they were all there.

I have fiddled with ideas, lurked on the NaNo forum, scribbled mind maps and was drawing a blank.  But the other day, I was at Sugo's (oh yes, the ubiquitous coffee shop), and I got an idea.  A theme, characters and personalities.  So it was a start but how to drag this idea out for 50 000 words, I don't know.  There are some strange tips out there. 

I have just downloaded NaNo for the New and Insane by Lazette Gifford and her first paragraphs reiterate that this is all about Having Fun! So fun it will be.  I am not going share my plot just yet - maybe I won't ever, but November is going to be interesting.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What defines you?

I just read an article on one of my favourite blogs, www.mtbtrailreview.com, where he speaks about the one constant in his life.

For me, that is mountain biking. For as far as I can remember, there has always been a mountain bike in my stable. As time went on, the sport of mountain biking has meant different things, but one thing is for certain…through all of the changes in my surroundings and tastes…it was always there - Rob Sutton. Read it here

It got me thinking.

The constant in my life has been sport.  Way back before the rinderpest, I attended a smallish private school which had the basics of sport but of course, success was usually measured by academic results.

I found school singularly boring bar a handful of teachers who truly inspired me and I have those lessons with me today.  The swimming and hockey coach was Mrs Borrowdale.  She made school bearable.  I survived because of sport playing first team hockey at an early age and eventually captaining the school in the sport.  I also remember the dramas of trying to contact me via dodgy phone line after the school gala to get me into the school interhigh team.

Sport was my lifeline.

Varsity was a degree in Physical Education punctuated by diving and playing underwater hockey.  I must have tried dozens of different sports in those years.  I still grimace at the bruises from my foray into karate.

Then I discovered the passion of my sporting life - canoeing (kayaking as the rest of the world knew it).  It began with the 3 day Dusi Canoe marathon and burgeoned into a career spanning many years.  From the long distance river paddling, I discovered sprinting.  I was hooked.  I watched a World Championship and vowed I would be there as a competitor.  It was a fledgling discipline but I persevered and was rewarded in so many ways.  I travelled the world with my canoe, met wonderful people and raced in beautiful cities.  My biggest disappointment was missing an Olympic berth by 1/100th of a second.  I cried for two days.

But it was all worth it.  After sprint canoeing, I ventured into the marathon distance and travelled some more.  And then I swopped a boat for a mountain bike.

I loved the feeling of freedom that came with riding a bike.  I loved feeling like a kid again.  It would never be the love of my sporting life, but it was a fitting replacement.  I ventured into adventure racing (which is a whole 'nother story) and the culmination of my riding career to date was the Freedom Challenge this year (Dash4Freedom).

I even run a business in the world of sport - two cycling stage races. This after being involved in our country's Olympic, Commonwealth Games and All Africa Games movements.

I can't imagine a life without sport, I just cant.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Hello, Hi, Grunt, howsit...

What's your language - if you have one?  I'm referring to how we greet fellow cyclists (or runners).  It seems to be an ongoing source of irritation or opportunity to flame road riders or each other. Even more so when one comes across riders who feel entitlement - entitled to the track, entitled to push past, entitled to curse if you are in their way, entitled to being the biggest asswipes too!

I really do make an effort but I know there are times when I am watching the wheel in front and can't look around much less raise my head and smile or say hello.  That feeble flap of the fingers is all you're going to get.  Hey but the intent is there.  Conversely, when sending it down a rocky mountain, you'll more likely get a squeak but the white knuckles mean no waving, not a hand nor a single digit.

I'm also known to stop completely to talk to other riders with much eye rolling from my companions.  Hey, can I help it that I know so many people??  We seem to live in isolation behind high walls, locked in office buildings and we seem to have lost the art of connection.

All the experts talk about the connection economy and how relationships have become the new best business tool.  So greet your fellow rider, greet the pedestrians, show a little courtesy to the people around you.  You never know, it may be the most valuable greeting you have ever given or received.


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Monday, October 12, 2009

Calories burned aplenty

I think the biorythms were cooking this weekend - good hard riding and running and the legs didn't flake out.  We rode 75k on Saturday taking in one of our regular routes towards Chicken Pie before heading around on the Cradle road to Teak Place.  For those who don't know this spot, its quite magnificent with plenty of value for everyone - runners, riders, drinkers, eaters, kids.

Ironically, my only other two times for a visit were road cycling related so I had yet to experience their mountain bike routes.  Gadget led us around the garden path until he found the start of the single track (err - right where we entered) and we were off.  We had done 30 odd kms to there already and my legs were feeling the week's running and spinning but soon I forgot them with the windy single track cut through the bush crossing the stream.

Springtime is simply awesome.  The shades of green are luminescent and wild flowers decorate the veld.  We came across several huge oaks casting benevolent shade over the tracks and interspersed were many indigenous trees also breaking out in new leaf.  Following the black route brought us to the floating bridge which we had to cross twice - just for kicks.

The adrenalin made it worth it but we were disappointed when Gadget managed to correct his skid and not fall in.  It would have been priceless. Eventually I called it a day (mindful of my run the next day) and headed back to the restaurant area to meet up with Aileen and the largest rock shandy I have ever seen.  Time passed, the sun shone and the wind pumped in my face.

I realised we had made a huge tactical blunder.  All around me, other riders were showering, swimming and feasting on large breakfasts.  The thought of riding another 30kms home was distressing when all I wanted to do was kick back for the afternoon.  Aileen had not brought a bike rack.

There was no short cut home.  Worse still, it was on tar which is not right.  Knobblies do not go on tar. The End.

But having almost double the amount of gears for the hills on the home route compared to my road bike made for an interesting change.  I found a second dose of energy in my legs and rode the hills pretty strongly - managing to keep Malcolm in sight (he of a million Jagermeisters/tequila/late night before fame).  Funny how some people ride well on alcohol residue.

But by the time I got back to Broadacres, my legs were a bit wobbly so I grabbed a lift home and promptly slept all afternoon.  You know how it goes, the siren song of the mattress...plus I thought that I was going to suffer mightily the next day.

Sunday's run was a jol (blast for non-south african speakers). We started behind several thousand women with another few thousand behind us.  Women broad of beam walking four abreast made sure we couldn't start too fast and so we picked our way around them and eased into the running.  My legs felt surprisingly good but it was my arms that felt weak from the bike handling which was pretty amusing.

We cruised our way around and I decided to push the last 2kms and it felt good.  So good that I was getting those goosebumps from effort.  It wasn't a great time but we were all pretty happy with a good morning's work.  Each of the friends had achieved a goal and we now had a handle on what additional training we had to add to the mix.

So I am looking for a 15km and a 21km to do in the next two months but I had better not neglect the riding as the next time, it might not all come together so well.

Oh yes, and on the way home we saw lionesses with two cubs - only in Africa!

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Friday, October 9, 2009

And for something different

I am running my first 10k road race in a year.  In fact, this same event was the last event I ran other than an aborted effort when I was battling with my calves earlier this year.

The Spar Ladies 10k is a festival for women - runners, walkers, elite athletes and your average joe - or should that be Joan.  I'm looking forward to it - a different energy and culture.  The 11 year old will also be doing the 5k with her aunt - gonna be quite an experience for her.  Certainly, she has done some things in the last three months, she would never have done otherwise.  Good for her!

Aileen (Her Blog) is my regular running partner and since introducing Chi Running to her style, she has taken off and I am sprinting to keep up - Go you good thing with a PB this Sunday for sure!  Vivette - another novice runner - is about to tackle the 10k for the first time.

What a great way to celebrate being alive - doing things that challenge and stretch us further than we ever thought.

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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Uh Oh Need some focus

The end of October is the annual pre ride for the four day mountain bike stage - The Sabie Experience.  I always ride the three long days of the race at this time as come the race, I am too busy running around on logistics.  (I am the race organiser, you see).

This way, I can relate to the sufferfest that happens in the bodies taking part.  Last year, I was dry while driving the TV crew - the riders...they got very, very wet!  But I digress.

I have about 3 weeks to get into some shape for the mountains of Sabie and mountains they are.  Last year, I was pretty fit for the three days but this year, well, I will have to rely on my running (fat lot of good unless I am pushing my bike!).

But good for Gadget.  He has been pushing us to ride on the weekends or perhaps I should now call him Badger for badgering us. We are doing an expedition from Fourways to ride the trail at Teak Place in the Cradle of Mankind.  He promises LARGE rock shandies for afterwards.  So I will ride with a smile on my face and a goal in mind.

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Would you wear these?


/ 1




I saw these trendy "knickers" advertised for general cycling, probably more for commuters than for racing. But at least it does away with the overshare of bumps and lumps in lycra.

See what you think here - http://tinyurl.com/ye9mo64

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

How do you put a mtb trail together

Kevin Davie, inveterate sportsman and wearer of a blanket (Freedom Challenger Finisher), has the wanderlust again. Not content to just ride, he has explored the length of one of the most famous mountain ranges in the country on his mountain bike.  Read on and follow him on twitter (@spinerun).

What do you do when you’ve done the Freedom Challenge? If you have more racing in you and perhaps want to do a faster time, you go back and do it again. You may opt to ride as Mike and Glenn did, on a tandem, or if you are of purist bent, on a single-speed. You can opt, of course, to ride shorter sections on a social basis.

Steve Thomas, my riding partner in ‘07, suggested a reverse blanket, starting in Paarl and ending in Pietermaritzburg. We agreed, though, that time constraints would mean we should aim to do the ride in two weeks. He suggested starting at Ponta da Ora and riding to Pietermaritzburg. I began to explore riding the Drakensberg to connect with the FC.

I had already found from the RTR and FC how little I knew about the Drakensberg, about where it started and ended and how it had shaped the country. It is arguably our most dominant physical feature and most important resource in the sense that it is the source of most of our water, but I have found that South Africans, like me, are generally ignorant of the range even though it has a looming presence in our lives.

Putting together a trail is also a challenge. It has to traverse the most remote parts of the country while ideally having access to tourist resources such as B&Bs where you can wash, eat and sleep.

But this a fun challenge. Given that trail riding is one of my favourite things to do, there is little hardship in this. Soon a little group of us were spending three or five days at a time checking out the various possibilities for a trail from Haenertsburg to Matatiele, where the route would join the FC.

I also scouted old book shops to get books on the Drakensberg and old wagon and prospector routes. Where I could find mountain bikers with local knowledge I contacted them for advice. In particular Dennis Lawrie, Glenn Harrison and Tim James helped with ideas and advice.

Google Earth is, of course, also invaluable, but most important is the 1:50 000 map. I have made so many visits to the map shop in Jan Smuts Avenue that I think I should be given shares.

There were several false starts and some areas are tougher to crack than others, but by early this month I was ready to try and cycle the whole thing in one go. I could have hunted around for a cycling partner, but as a back-of-the-field rider, I did not think this a sustainable option. I also thought that riding solo would bring an additional element to the experience.

Haenertsberg is an old gold mining town, one of many stretching through Bourke’s Luck, Pilgrim’s Rest, Mac Mac, Kaapsehoop and Barberton. It is a good place to start.

Ten kilometres out of the village there is a lake which feeds the Mohlapitse and Letaba rivers. The former carves its way through the Drakensberg to the Orrie Baragwanath pass. This goes down to the magnificent Oliphants valley.

The area is rainfall challenged, has contrasting red earth, an abundance of rocks with impressive succulents and even the odd baobab tree. It is also very hot.

Ohrigstad, over 150 years old, is a good spot to re-stock and re-fuel. Crystal Springs is a private nature reserve with an abundance of game and accommodation with breath-taking views of dramatic gorges.

Heading south there is a choice of going through In Die Diepte, a ride I am yet to do, or staying on the escarpment and heading for the Hartebeesvlakte, a massive area of state-owned land which is completely underdeveloped and the home to herds of blesbok.

By now you are entering the forested areas of Mpumalanga. There are several choices of route heading down towards Sudwala, perhaps joining the Mankele bike trails along the way.

I took a short piece of tar to the N4 and then rode along the main rail line to Elandshoek and up to Kaapsehoop, one the country’s most charming villages. There is more natural forest and plantation, including crossing the Ndogwana river, to Badplaas, which is also a good place to recharge. I then followed the Umkomazane river to near Warburton.

This part of the route is relatively flat and dominated by forestry. You follow forestry tracks and dirt roads through New Scotland to Amsterdam. The Luneberg/Wakkerstroom area has some of the best mountain bike riding in the country, including riding in a natural crater and up the Phongola valley.

The Buffalo valley crossing was also a highlight to me. I will be doing more riding on the Free State section as I think there is still a better route than the two I have so far used.

From Swinburne the best route will be to drop into the Lost Valley to Geluksburg. The KwaZulu-Naal section of the Drakensberg is the most developed and so has the most tar roads, but with input from locals, the mountain biker can now ride this part of the route without being on any busy roads. There are tarred sections which I would think should remain as cars are few and far between and the scenery is both dramatic and spell -binding.

I am writing this in Underberg, on a two-day break. I had considered continuing the journey south via Lesotho but this appears to add too much time to the overall trip.

Rather, the local mountain bikers I have spoken to, have sketched out a route they use which in part follows the Bushman’s Nek road. This will join the Freedom trail about 50 or 60km from Matatiele. I could end my ride here but I will ride to Dordrecht as I’d like this trip to have taken in the Drakensberg from end to end.

I have taken some trouble in the preparatory trips to arrange permits and have actively sought out farmers to discuss access issues. No problems have arisen and neither do I expect them to.

If this part of the trail does formalise over time I would expect that a conversation would start with the major landowners such as the forestry companies to be able to arrange blanket permits for riders.

1300km done, 500km to go.


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Monday, September 21, 2009

MTB Old? I hope not.

I came across a post by a Saffer (Andrew Clayton) who did his first ever downhill mountain bike run.  You can read all about it here on Mountain Biking by 198.  He said about his experience: "You have to keep pushing the boundaries cause one day you will get 'MTB Old' and stop testing those boundaries."

It made me think.

Is that where I am.  Having done a wonderful 3 week jaunt across South Africa, have I become "old" in my mountain biking approach.  Certainly the riding or lack of it lately would seem so.  This lull I am in was highlighted by our ride on the weekend and the couple we rode with.

Dawn and Dave. They have a tough stage race coming up at the end of September and they have trained really hard.  We set out and at the first river crossing, Dawn fell into the water and Dave waded in to disentangle her. Well, we laughed, she laughed and I wished (not for the last time) that I had my camera.  The route was gorgeous single track and was pretty gnarly at times.

At a particular tricky "bridge" over a fence, Dawn fell off, hard.  There is always that moment of silence as you imagine the worst and then she picks herself up, laughs about it and on we go.  it wasn't the last time she fell but she charged down the rocky descents and huffed and puffed her way up this hills, pushing her limits all the time.

She wasn't MTB Old.  She was young and energetic and pushing boundaries, like I used to be. Out of practice on some of the tecnical stuff, I would hesitate and then berate myself for it.  I hate that I have no MTB mojo but I also understand the need to get some space from the intensity of the first six months of year.

But I can't wait to ride the section again, this time more familiar with the obstacles and ready to flow through it. 

When the time is right, I will be "MTB Kid" again.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

She just got it

For the last two months, I've had the company of a zesty 11 year old girl.  She lives overseas so hasn't been hauled around with us on our mountain biking escapades but in the last year, she took possession of someones hand-me-down and taught herself to ride.

Then she arrives here and we borrow another bike for her but more suited to her size.  This bike was patently a lot larger than the old one and she had to get over her initial fear of not being able to touch the ground with her feet all the time.  Then it was the lessons for getting on and off which we practiced in the street.

Having mastered this, not without a lot of anxiety, we decided to ride a little further on the flattest road I know.  Here again, she was completely intimidated by her perception of a mega downhill and it required a lot of coaxing and pushing to get her to crawl along, almost falling off from the slow pace.

Despite the tears, every time she got on the bike, she gained a little confidence. Then I took her to a stretch of dirt road with almost no traffic and we found that the gentle downhill wasn't as bad and she managed to ride it all and sort of enjoy it.  Coming back up the hill was another story as she found the gearing confusing and refused to use certain ratios.  But I put my hand on her back and pushed her up the hill with a few screams every time she thought we were going to crash!  But hey, we had just ridden 5km.

Then a week or so passed and we decided to go to one of the best family riding venues around - Northern Farm.  I opted to trail run while she rode with Dave.  I had all sorts of instructions lined up for Dave about avoiding downhills which she still disliked but they headed off before I got a word in.

I wasn't sure what I was seeing....she rode down the path, squeaked as she went down onto the road and next thing, she disappears into the tunnel which required a short sharp descent.  I fully expected a walk at that point from her!  Last I saw was them heading off to one of the more steeper downhills of the farm.

Nonplussed, I carried on with my run to suddenly find myself chased down by a rampant, confident 11 year old with a smile as wide as the surrounding farmlands.  Dave was gobsmacked.  She demanded more and more downhills, rode uphills with great determination and rode the flats at twice the speed of her previous downhills.

Suddenly, she had got it.

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Monday, September 14, 2009

How can I be envious

But I am.  Kevin Davie, journo, Freedom Challenge finisher, is riding another adventure as I write.

For the last year or so, he has doggedly ridden and mapped a mountain bike route from Polokwane in the north all the way to KZN to link up with the Freedom Challenge trail.  And now he is riding his route non stop. 

He started in the picturesque village of Haenertsburg, just outside Tzaneen and plans to finish in Dordrecht in the Eastern Cape.  I had to look that up on the map! So in fact, he overlaps most of the first 6 days of the Freedom Challenge heading further south than Rhodes (also the finish of the Ride2Rhodes).

He left on Saturday 12th September and he expects the journey to be about 1500km.  He has taken two days to get to Orighstad (about 193km) with a sleep out in a village and an encounter with giraffe.

So why am I envious?  I've hardly ridden at all lately.  Because I know the joy of just riding for days on end without time constraints, with just pure adventure in mind.

I may just have to meet up with him somewhere on the route for a day or two!

Follow him on Twitter @spinerun

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Remember the Ride

Seeing I'm not riding my bike at the moment, I am re-living some of the memories.  These pics are from a ride we did from Plettenberg Bay to Cape Town (South Africa) in January.  More later.

But there is light on the horizon.  I am making tentative plans to do a Jollie Patrollie (translation: very easy ride) on Saturday at Northern Farm to be finished off by a bacon and egg roll.  Now there's an incentive.