This is not your typical mountain bike race, but rather an endurance event testing man and machine, teamwork and determination. Starting at 10am on Saturday morning riders had 24 hours to complete the route in 2, 3 or 4-man teams.
My dad did the event last year and enjoyed it so much that he just had to do it again in 2017. We don’t get the opportunity to ride together that often, but this was the perfect chance to team up and relive days gone by. Splitting Team Garmin MTB for a change Melt teamed up with another Free State resident as he joined our friend Raymond Odendaal for the adventure.
The freezing weather that swept over the country in the lead up to the event was on everyone’s lips and people were preparing for a cold race, but as it turned out conditions were optimal on race day. Despite snow covering the surrounding mountaintops, it was sunny and cool with only a slight headwind to contend with come Saturday morning.
The opening 100km to checkpoint 1 is mainly on open, district roads where everyone tries to save as much energy as possible while staying close to the front of events. This year it went by in a blur, not so much because of the speed but rather due to the heavily corrugated roads which made everyone shake until their eyeballs touched the insides of their dust covered glasses!
Getting only slightly carried away with ‘race fever’, my dad and I stayed in a strong group making life as easy as possible for ourselves. Melt and Raymond was with the front bunch when Raymond had to slow down while feeling ill. Raymond had been sick in the lead up to the event and by the time we passed them he was standing still, paralyzed with cramp. Not a good sign when there is still about 170km left to go.
Just before checkpoint 2 things got more interesting as we entered the Baviaanskloof Reserve itself rolling on to smaller roads littered with river crossings. My dad started paying the price for a fast start (and about a hundred cappuccinos the day before!), so we slowed down in an attempt to aid recovery. By checkpoint 2 Raymond and Melt had caught back up to us (which was a relief) and we left the waterpoint together encouraging each other as we slowly picked up the pace.
Melt and Raymond forged ahead gaining some momentum over the Baviaans Back climb into checkpoint 3 while my dad and I kept it steady to consolidate our good start.
Next up was the aptly named ‘Fangs’ climbs which served as a warm-up for the MAC (Mother Of All) climb. This beast reared its ugly head just after the halfway mark leading up to the infamous checkpoint 4 at Bergplaas. All of us made the most of the hot soup at this waterpoint as dusk slowly brought on the cold of night.
The descent that followed off Bergplaas was a nice break in proceedings giving some momentum for the 50 km stretch that followed to checkpoint 5 at Komdomo. The big pack house, generous crowd and chip buns on offer were just what the doctor ordered before we faced the final challenge.
Neverender is a 26km drag, relentlessly ramping up just as the race distance started gnawing at our legs. Unmanned checkpoint 6 signalled the end of this slow death after which we descended to our final checkpoint 7 at Zuurbron. The hot jaffles served here revived us and with only the mini MAC climb and 25km left to ride to the finish at Fountains Mall in Jeffrey’s Bay we knew we could make it.
After 10hours, 56minutes and 17 seconds Raymond and Melt made a fantastic recovery riding into 11th place overall, a mere 4 minutes off of a top 10 placing.
My dad and I got more value for our money spending 12hours 14minutes and 31seconds out on route to finish 40th overall and 8th Mixed team.
In sports timing and results are used to measure success, but for once I can honestly say that being in the privileged position of facing this challenge in the company of my dad made everything else seem insignificant. It was a fantastic weekend spent in wonderful company making memories to last us a lifetime!