Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Wild Trail

I just don't understand how people survive without adventures.  Its this step out of the ordinary that makes the day to day living and grind of domesticity all surviveable.

Wild Run was my second big adventure this year.  It was a long haul to get to the start line but I really looked forward to the experience. Aileen (@gardengodmother) and I had been upbeat about the event. This was probably to disguise the fact that we knew we hadn't done enough long runs. But there is also time to just get on with what you have - and this was one of them.

We flew into East London and then were transferred to Thatches in Kei Mouth just in time for briefing followed by dinner at the Green Lantern.  There we met Brett and Francis. He was running and we ended up doing a lot of miles together and she (a physio) provided Aileen with a lot of plaster for blisters. The few people we had spoken to all seemed to have fallen into our category of training but were they spinning a yarn?  Exaggerating the deficit in case things fell apart?

The next morning was stunning and the 80 runners loaded onto the ferry across the Kei River for the official start.  7.30 and we were off jogging down the beach accompanied by thundering booms as massive spring tide waves crashed onto the shore.  The high tide crimped our running space onto soft sand which ended up giving lots of people blisters amongst other niggles.  Then there was the camber.  Picture running 45km on a steep camber while sinking into soft sand.  It did some damage.

I decided to keep my feet dry for as long as possible on that long first day which meant some time wasting at the two big river crossings.  Note: river crossings equal swimming.  This, together with my fabulous (new) trail shoes (Inov8 Roclite 295) and handy gaiters meant I had absolutely no problems with blisters or toenails.  Upfront, I'll tell you that by the last day, I had quite bad tendonitis in my foot from the sand and camber but nothing else wrong.  As the day wore on, the headwind increased but the tide eventually went out giving us a much firmer footing and easier running. Aileen and I made a little train of two to give one person respite from the wind by drafting.

The scenery was spectacular.  Long empty beaches, brilliant green headlands, black jagged rocks and perfectly blue water.  I guess this is what keeps you going when you're tired.  Honestly, I don't remember much other than the approach to Mazeppa Bay and being able to see the finish about 5km away.  I remember the final swim across the Mbashe River and the 100m stumble to Kob Inn.  I remember my the tiny muscles in my feet feeling like they were cramping while I lay on my bed dozing.

I remember being gratified that everyone was hobbling - without exception. Oh yes, and I remember seeing the wreck of the Jacaranda at some point.  The pictures will have to tell some of the story.

We mingled and chatted to others throughout the afternoon and evening in a camaraderie of shared suffering. It was early to bed after a five course meal with a hope and a prayer that the feet would be ok the next day.

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Three More Sleeps

The next big Event is only three nights away.  @gardengodmother and I head off the beautiful Wild Coast for the three day Wild Run.

Its been a long haul to get here. She and I both sat eagerly at our computers in January waiting for entries to open. It was a frantic few minutes trying to fill out forms and submit them and hoping we'd got ours done in time.  It took twenty minutes for all the entries to be taken, but we were in!

Then we "appointed" a running coach as neither of us had enough running background for a staged trail run of between 33km and 45km per day at that.  Marcel Viljoen of Fitness From Africa did his best.  He had a programme to build us up to appropriate mileage but he had not reckoned with the two of us having bodies that stubbornly resisted a smooth run up.

Between backs, legs, calves, feet, we stuttered and stumbled our way through the months to bring us to this point at last. I juggled mountain biking with the running knowing that at least I was remaining fit if not running strong.  Once Ride 2 Rhodes was over, the bike was put away, still with the mud of the ride on it, and out came the trail shoes and a three month cramming session.

Mileage flucutated wildly from 2km(worst), to 64km (best) per week. Ja, ja - not ideal but hey, we worked with what we had.  The best part of the build up were the twice weekly track sessions under Marcel's guidance. Our improvements have been phenomenal through this discipline.

The Wild Run begins at Kei Mouth (just north of East London) and finishes three days and 112km later at Hole in the Wall.  The distances are intimidating for us novices but the spectacular surroundings will get us through.  The event is so popular that they have two races back to back. Although, our event is not a race - its the social version so we hope to not be last!

Events are what keep my going.  A big goal to take me out of the mudane and a friend to share it with.  The pain won't last but the memories and the experience will be there forever.

Watch this space for reports or follow on Twitter : @santacruzrulz and @gardengodmother

Try not to be too envious....

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

There was a day six

Yes, there really was. The Ride2Rhodes is all of six days but this rider got so caught up in the drama of the Race Across South Africa (RASA), I completely forgot to finish off the saga. But finish it I must as the most significant sports event so far  this year in my personal calendar. I'm about to embark on the next Event so I have to clear the decks.

I'm scraping the barrels of my memory now.  For possibly the first time in two R2Rs and one RASA. I hit the snooze button twice that morning in Vuvu. I felt drained. The polite knock on the door by our hosts galvanised me at last and @gadgetrules and I trekked back to the school to collect our stuff and push through the final day.  I knew it wasn't going my way when there was no hot water for tea and the kettle didn't boil in time before we left!

Last to go, the usual four suspects, Derek, Andries, Pawel and I, plodded out the door into a strong wind. Its 8km to the turnoff to Lehana Pass and the wind seemed to grow more ferocious, the closer we went. At times, I couldn't move forward into its teeth and I was standing still unable even to push let alone ride.

Having experienced Lehana twice already and once with strong winds, I was seriously fearful that I would get blown off the narrow path that wound its way up the ridge spine.  A long and complicated debate with myself ensued and in the end I succumbed to the fatigue which had sapped my mental edge and took in the sites of Mount Fletcher by road.  The two hour doze helped and I hopped on my bike on the other side of the mountain and rode back to meet the team.

I felt less bad about missing out when two of them said they would not have been able to help me if I had got into trouble. They were so busy trying to keep their own footing on the mountain in the insane wind. Some of the other riders opted for a longer route around hoping for a break from the pounding but all it meant was longer exposure, less recovery time and more exhaustion and for some, race ending injury.

We rolled into Rhodes with our own paparazzi - multiple RASA finisher, Trevor Ball - and celebrated with a wide range of drinks and huge plates of crispy chips. "Our" two RASA riders from FNB had a quick bike service and parts swop with Andries and Derek and were set to go the next morning on substantially better performing bikes.

I thought I might be envious of them setting off for the rest of the adventure but I was happy to have finished. Lack of long rides had taken its toll but the awesome cameraderie of our group had more than made up for the efforts of the previous six days.

And I can't close off this chapter without singing the praises of our guardians - Dave and Dawn. Nothing was too much trouble and when the going got really tough, they brought out the banana bread or fruit cake!  Its worth going back just for that. You guys rocked.

To the group - muchas gracias. I hope to ride with you again.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Nav crazy

Everyone is terrified of Day Five - Malekonyane to Vuvu.  The final valley stretch has caught out many a rider and there are a zillion tales about lost riders and late arrivals to the little school on top of the mountain.

We were fairly confident in getting through and the challenge as per all the other days, was to get there in the light. Once again, the entire group was going to leave together and push on as one. A big group is very unwieldy and slow so the pressure was to keep moving at a reasonable pace.

That afternoon, Paul (rasa) and I went to recce the exit from the Lodge and thought we could navigate our way in the pitch dark at 5:30 the next morning. I had slept poorly and felt like a walking/riding zombie the next day but we hit the road on time and the posse headed off to the dongas ready to begin the slog to Vuvu.

We didn't quite get it right - too many navigators pulling in too many directions. Eventally Gadget Andries, Paul and I put our heads down and pushed steadily in the direction we believed to be correct. Soon there were lights scattered all over the hillside. At a particularly boggy section, we saw Alex Harris's tracks and knew we were correct. As I squelched through the mud, I regretted (and not for the first time) not having my seal skin socks on.

The was a small stream crossing between us and the road and I took a chance and rode it only to stop dead in the mud, wheel buried and my one foot properly stuck. Urgh - cold, wet and muddy. The sun was just coming up and the temperatures dropped significantly. My toes had disappeared and my bike parts froze. The jockey wheel refused to turn and the gear cables stuck. I wrung out my socks hoping it would help but by the time I had laced up my shoes again, the laces had frozen!

No matter, it was a push up Ongeluksnek anyway and a chance for things to defrost and to get the blood circulating. The small problem was the downhill on the other side. Bitter. As we turned off the road, the sun finally hit the fields in front of us and I had to push my bike towards it, not wanting to force any of the frozen bits.

Andries scratched around in his backpack and next minute, he's got a paper taper and match and he has lit a fire under my jockey wheel. it never stopped working after that. No one else would have thought of that.

Before long, we were enjoying some of the best natural single track ever. As Pawel said of one the well known multi day races "That is just a creche."

Then we lost him. He disappeared somewhere behind us and re-appeared somewhere in front of us! By now the large group was split into two making it much more manageable and Pawel was somewhere inbetween.

We searched for him all over and eventually cell phone technology came to the rescue and we were all reunited again. However, the time spent looking for him put us under pressure to get to the Vuvu valley. And I, in my rush made an amateurish blunder in the navigation and brought us all down several valleys too early. This mean't clambering down cliff faces, pushing through thick wattle and aiming for what I thought was the road. NOT!

We were in hysterics when we got to the bottom and looked back at the huge cliff we had descended and to their credit, the boys were very upbeat about the "adventure" I had taken them on. The road was actually a wattle drag track and when I finally studied the map properly, we were almost off the paper! Fortunately, I had used the same track in 2008 with Doug and Stu Brew and knew we would come out at a good spot. Wattle drag tracks are also incredible riding and we bolted along until we could see the bell at Tinana Mission where the bakkie was waiting for us with hot noodles and coke.

The other group had left about 15 minutes before us so despite the pioneering route we took, we were not that far behind.

We rode hard to the turnoff to the Vuvu valley taking in another spectacular wattle drag descent, and there Dave and Dawn loaded us up with fruit cake. Pawel elected to ride around on the road and Derek, Andries and I set off in our race against the sun.

Memory, maps and narrative are an excellent combination for finding one's way. I relied too much on memory and we did a 10 minute detour before getting back on track. As we entered the valley, Derek spotted the other group heading up the wrong river valley! Too far for us to call them back.

Nothing for it but to grind our way through. And we did. There was quite a bit of pushing and shoving of the bikes as I strove to remember the quick route of 2009. I needed to calm down and think but I was just too tired.

Eventually we got it together and it was really quick to the point where we started to ascend from the depths of the river bed. By now I had regained my equilibrium and we reached the newly graded road halfway out the valley as it got dark. Well satisfied with our effort, we sat down, added clothing and ate all of the fruitcake.

We were out the valley in three hours which was a bonus. Luckily the other group realised their mistake and came in an hour after us.

We were assigned an awesome home to sleep in and I was more than happy to pile in under the heavy blankets knowing that there was only one more day left.

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

A New Experience

I'm not sure this would ever have appeared on my bucket list but today I went gliding. 

Gadget decided I needed a wake up call from the endless cycling and running so presented me with a gliding voucher for one of those birthday's that shall not be named.

I nearly forgot.  When it finally occurred to me that there was an expiry on this gift, I had wasted a whole summer and apparently the best gliding time. What do I know about thermals and best and worst seasons? So I duly presented myself at the Magaliesberg Gliding Club this fine wintry Sunday morning. I saw the windsock showing some activity but alas, wind doesn't seem to be a pre-requisite for getting the balsa wood and fibre glass contraption off the ground.

I must have looked like I knew what I was doing because I was asked if I was the Duty Officer as I arrived. It was my "pilot" who asked showing very poor judgement! For his sins, he got lumped with taking me up.

The group I approached knew nothing about my contact person there but took over the arrangements with aplomb and lots of enthusiasm.  It was all happening a bit too fast for me. The plane was tilted on the grassy runway looking very small and about two inches from the ground. 

I decided I wanted the real deal so opted for the winch launch (I don't know all the correct terminology) as opposed to being towed by a small plane. A very thin cable with a parachute lay partially concealed in the grass and I believe it tows at about 100km/hour.  A quick loading of a parachute and instructions on its use followed - that was really going to help! I could just see me extricating myself from a four point safety belt system, unlocking the canopy, hurling myself out and pulling the rip cord all in that order. But, Chris the pilot said, he had no plans to ditch the plane in mid air. He added later that he had ditched it into muddy fields several times in his flying career, joy of joys!

And of course there were the snide comments about the barf bag!  Unfortunately, there was an odour lurking from the previous week when the occupant had apparently ditched their breakfast.  Uh uh - no way. I was not going that route. 

Then there was a bit of waggling of the controls, some radio coms and the cable came to life and we were off.  it was noisier than I thought with the wind whistling past the canopy but we were airborne so quickly and steeply, it was freaky.  One is used to the rumbling of a jet engine down a tarmac strip building in crescendo before taking off - not here.

At about 1500 feet, the cable jettisoned itself and we were free and flying.  Chris kept a running commentary to what was going on which made me feel a lot more in control but it was a strange motion with lots of corkscrewing to keep on a thermal.  We stayed at that height for a while but then started to drop altitude a bit.  Chris manfully worked at the controls and used all of his 30 years of training to find us stronger thermals but we were circling the drain. Damn winter weather!

There comes a point where one has to call it quits and he had already decided that it was safer to go back and land.  We turned (again) and headed in a slightly different direction (yes, these things are very mobile as you'll read) and all of a sudden picked up a strong thermal and we climbed and climbed and climbed.  There was much less corkscrewing and just more lift. The buzzer that indicated ascent and descent was constant beeping instead of whining and all of a sudden, reaching the clouds was an option (literally).

We reached close to 10 000 feet which was incredible - the panorama of the region laid out for miles around. Then the fun and games started. Chris, having done the impossible, could relax and show off some of his skills and exactly what the plane could do.  He showed me how they chase thermals when racing cross country and we reached speeds of about 170km/hour. As you hit the next thermal, you start turning to gain height and all of this is done on feel and visual cues - amazing.

Good, kind pilot that he was, Chris kept asking me if I was ok. Silly me - I said yes and we launched into a complete loop. I briefly opened my eyes and saw the ground above me. Freaky with no engine to power out.  I had done that in a Harvard aerobatic plane (name dropper I know) but this was way cooler.

Then we sped off in a direct line to see how much speed we could get and I swear it was heading towards the 200kmk/hour mark. I felt as if I was in a fighter plane with the narrow cockpit, clear canopy and speed. We did a few slidey things (the name escapes me) where you do half turns and bank rather steeply and then, just for laughs, we did another 360 loop.  I kept my eyes open for this one.

Then it was all the pre-landing checks and we glided into land. Smoother than many a 747 landing I've had.

Chris, Martin, Peter (the other newbie) - thanks for a great morning. And to Gadget - that was an awesome gift, one I'll remember for a very long time.

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Friday, June 10, 2011

Busy June

The year is almost over - I exaggerate not. It seemed just the other day I updated this blog with all the activities.

Now its months down the road.

I've found an editor for my Nanowrimo novels, @gardengodmother and I have started running more seriously even including track work, I entered Ride2Rhodes for some inspiration and I spent four days last weekend hiking in the magnificent Drakensberg.

Like I said....Busy, busy.

Ian had a drink to many last year when we were in the foothills of the Drakensberg and suggested we go and hike "that sucker".  He rustled up to other Capetonian mates, Simon and James and the date was set for early June.

The only problem was the discrepancy in the term - hike.

The Myth and I mission when we go, covering bigger distances than considered normal and we somehow failed to convey this to our coastal brethren.  The food list should have given us our first clue - brie cheese, cucumber, baby tomoatoes, humus, cos lettuce, exotic mushrooms, sundried tomatoes and olives.....you get the picture.  The Myth and I - well, Outback dried meals. lightweight crackers and snacks and some Jack Daniels for comfort. 

There was plainly a problem looming which was exacerbated by the taking of the espresso coffee pot and ground coffee.

The plan was to hike up Icidi Pass to the cave on top and work our way across the escarpment to Easter cave before descending back down via Ntonjelana Pass.  Hint: the best kept secret of the Mweni area of the Berg is the Mweni Cultural centre. What a fantastic base to begin from. Agrippa (head honcho) organised a taxi to get us to the end of the road which saved about 7km of walking and we organised with the driver to meet us four days later on another road with an aproximate time - saving another 5km of hard walking.

It was perfect weather - sunny and cool and before long we had stopped at the river to brew coffee!  Confusion between GPS routes (new school) and map routes (old school) had us split up before long and eventually we re-united with a very tired James finally arriving at the second river stop.  We'd lost time so we bashed our way further upstream before calling it a day and bivvying in the boulder strewn river bed.

Eish - the hike up the river to the looming exit and steep climb to the escarpment hung over us and the quads quailed at the prospect. But we made it and flopped down out the wind at the top. (This sentence does not do justice to the effort)

Re-arranging our route plans meant heading for Mbundini cave - which we missed, ending up at Rat Hole cave. Literally a long narrow passage with a slightly wider area at the back. Ian and James were offended at the name and its implications and decided to try and find Fangs cave. Nobody knows what they found but it was an overhang keeping out the worst of the cold.

The hike to Mponjawane cave was a big one with a howling wind which forced us to lean at crazy angles. while we walked. Many of the rivers were frozen solid on top of the escarpment.  It was a long day but oh, so worth it. It is one of the most spectacular outlooks in the Berg: Mponjwane Pinnacle (Rockeries Tower) is mysterious and the view extends for miles over the community lands far below.

As it got dark, it started to snow. The flakes grew larger and world grew silent.  It didn't last long but the morning still brought a white world and mist to five weary hikers.  The descent down Rockeries was misty but there was no wind so clothes were stripped off as we descended. The views were non existent but every now and then the mist would lift her skirts and we would see massive cliffs and deep river cracks.

Then it was over. Bongani met us as promised (my feet and hips were very grateful) and it was hot showers, spare ribs in Harrismith and home to icy cold weather.

And now its off to Pietermaritzburg for the Ride2Rhodes - the first 6 days of the Freedom Challenge Race Across South Africa (www.freedomchallenge.org.za)



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Monday, March 7, 2011

Catching Up

We're well into March and there hasn't been a shortage of goings on especially on the cycling front.

The Alchemy Trail is two weeks away and we spent the weekend checking out the BIG day.  What a difference to September last year - green and lush and very overgrown.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

In quick order, these are the events done and lined up for the year.

Alchemy is the big one for the first half and I surprised myself with being very motivated to get fit. I upped my game with at least 11-12 hours a week of spinning/cycling. This included a 90km race in the mielie heartland from Frankfort to Reitz. It poured in the night and we had short squalls of rain come hissing through the tall mielies to drench us. Although flat, it more than made up for difficulty with the soft squelchy mud. The Bielie Mielie festival was a hoot and we indulged in all sorts of local fare.

Around about the same time, @gardengodmother and I entered the Wild Run - a 3 day trail run in September from Kei Mouth to Hole in the Wall.  This required a good hard look at our training or lack of and tendency to injuries.

So its been 6 weeks of intense work at the biokinetiscist, a visit to a running expert for assessment and an exciting structured training schedule. Its really nice to have someone else do the thinking for me.

There was also the obligatory membership of the FFC.  Fat Friends Club or any other version you like. December had been good to many of us, too good so we decided to motivate each other to get rid of the lard.

@GadgetRules finally joined the gym and when not making excuses, pitches for spinning. @Kennaugh has been running and spinning a bit and we'll all made the effort to get out on the weekends.

The weekend's recce up in the heat of the Oliphants River valley is for another post. But what a great riding and characters exist in the area.

Stay tuned.

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