Tuesday, June 24, 2008

21 June 2008 - Vuvu to Rhodes

Another early morning start at 05:30. We started in the dark riding down the sand road looking for a hairpin bend about 5km away. Eventually we found one (or so we thought) and headed off into the valley. After an hour or 2 of pushing the bikes, because the mud was so thick, we stopped to re-evaluate our position. No matter how hard we tried we couldn't get our surroundings to tie up to the map (this is unusual because you can normally convince yourself you are anywhere).

We decided to head up onto higher ground to get a better view, only to realise that we had entered one valley too soon, and now that had split into another valley. We are two valleys away from where we should have been. There was nothing we could do except start walking with our bikes slung over our backs. The terrain is too steep and rocky to push or ride. Slowly step by step, hour by hour, we could see the top of the Drakensburg getting closer. As we neared the summit the wind picked up and was throwing us around with our bikes on our backs, you have to use your bike like a sail to keep you balanced. At one stage Fiona managed to pay a sheapard R50 to carry her bike for a while. She then felt so guilt that she ended up carrying some of the other bikes. It does make a fantastic photo though.

Seven hours of carrying our bikes we reached the summit. We could now start riding again in places. Eventually we got to Tenahead Lodge where we quickly drank down some steaming hot coffee and continued on our way

The rest of the ride was fairly uneventful, but quite boring as it was all on district sand roads, with the exception of a monster 1000m decent down Naude's Nek pass into Rhodes. It was very exciting to see our family and friends waiting for us in Rhodes ofter one of the most challanging, yet rewarding events of my life.

20 June 2008 – Malekalone to Vuvu

A long day was expected here so we had an early start at 05:00. The first 2 hours were on reasonably well maintained roads. Apparently the locals are given 1km sections of road to maintain for a year to provide an income for the local population. It was interesting to see a lot of local standing at the side of the road at this time of the morning. Later we realised why when a bus came trundling past picking up their passengers.

As the sun started to rise we headed off the sand road and headed out into the veld. Here we passed all the local villages with there herds of goats and fire wood collectors. These guys cut down the wattle trees and tie the branches together, and with the help of oxen drag this firewood many kilometers back home (making fantastic paths across the land)

Then the rain came back, but I wasn't going to get caught again so I hurriedly got out my raincoat which worked like a dream. We reached an old shop at Black Fountain and had to turn left and follow a water pipe for a few kilometers across the ridge.

There was now an option of a route choice. Fiona and I opted to try the new route going down to the right of the peak, while the others used the more conventional quicker route. We all got to Tinana Mission where we had lunch.

We now had another option, to take the long boring district road or the single track. We opted for the single track. It was fantastic, heading in and out of the villages, alongside the Tina river. It was slow going as there was so much mud from the heavy rains that day, but we had to move as quickly as possible to use the available sunlight to identify the features for navigation. Eventually as the sun was setting we saw the tower at the base of Vuvu and had to prepair for a monster climb. The path was so muddy that we had to carry our bikes as the mud would packup on the wheels ont they wouldn't turn. By this stage we were all pretty exhausted.

We arrived at the local school where they had prepared supper for us, rice, potatoes, samp, marog, chicken and goat. We were then assigned a local family and they took us off to their homes to sleep. Fiona and I were hosted by Prudence and her husband, who had given us their beds with, I am sure the entire family's blankets. We had a fantastic nights sleep after a 13 hour, exhausting day.

19 June 2008 - Masakala to Malekalone

First of all apologies for net sending posts through earlier. We didn't always have access to electricity or cell coverage at the stopovers, and on the 2nd last light my box was dropped with Aileen's laptop, which stopped functioning.

This was our 'rest day' with only 60km to travel. We started off at sunrise and headed out across the very we sodden lands. There is a large wetland to cross and you need to keep high to avoid it. I was in front of the batch that morning and noticed that the ground was getting soggy, but I continued never the less. They rest of the group could see it was getting too wet and turned around, but I was sure I could get through. Eventually the water got too deep to ride so I started walking getting deeper and deeper, throwing my bike to flatten the reeds so I could walk on them. When the water reached my groin, I had to turn around ant retrace my steps, this was a hard decision as the road was less than 50m away. On the long slog out of the swamp I heard someone else also stuck. We then headed back loosing about an hour and went around.

We had to turn off at a small village and head towards the mountains through a floodplain. We were stopped at this village by a local who said due to the rains we couldn't get through the floodplain, so we took the long option around on the road.

Eventually ve got to Queens Mercy and stopped
at a local shop for a Coke, where the SABC TV van was waiting and took some footage. We than headed off to Mariazell Mission, a beautifull Sandstone church built over 100 years ago.

We headed off
the the fantastic accomodation at Malekalone Nature Reserve and arrived at 13:15 after only 7 1/4 hours of cycling (and swimming).

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Mark and Fi

Doug and Fi at some stop over point - I think on day 2

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Half way to Masakala

We left at 7 as everyone was pretty tired after the previous days exertions. Ian Waddilove led us through the maze of marshes and we all pretty wet feet early on which made it all pretty soggy going. This was two rides in one day - before lunch at banchory and after.
The first half was similar to being on top the the Dtrakensberg escarpment with spectacular fields of orange grass fields. Miles of stunning scenery and just a few specks which were the cyclists. We stayed together as a group for most of this and the cameraderie we experienced was unbelievable. We simply enjoyed our environment and each other. Andrew Barnes led us up and down dales but was pretty unerring in his memory of the route. There was much portaging today and bikes on backs as we climbed up and down.
Eventually, we hid the amazing wide dirty road in the middle of nowhere which led us to a most spectacular farm. It was time to do major bike wash - thanks to the farmer. With the mud washed off, the bikes creaked and groaned less and we headed off on big district roads for lunch at Banchory Farm. Delicious soup and rolls on the lawn.

After lunch we hedded off again with the sun shining and a fairly cold breeze to keep us cool. There was an optional single track route (compulsury for Freeom Challange) Doug choose to do this single track. It was the most amazing scenery completely unspoilt, with no roads and virtually no paths either. This made for very slow going but a wortwhile experience. The downside of this option is it took a total of 11:30 to complete 95km. FIONA AND mark got in at 9:30. Another fantastic day in Africa.

The Beeg Day

We left Allandale in the dark with warmish weather which buoyed our spirits. Soon some of the guys disappeared up front but Doug and Fiona teamed up and got a good system going with their navigation. Eventaully Mark and Danie joined them and we headed off throught the forests leading to Donnybrook. After Donnybrook was the most spectacular indigenous forest (Nxumeni). The funny thing is that the navigation adds such a different dimension with the front riders suddenly arriving from behind. We rode quite quickly to Centacow which has a magnificient church established by trappist monks.
Then the epic began with the weather beginning to close in with drifts of rain as and indicator of things to come. The rain obscured many of the navigational features which were key to decision making but we muddled through crossing rivers and wandering through plantations. We got lucky with turning off the mountain to find that we had leapfrogged all the riders who had gone around Bosholweni Peak instead of turning off early.
Man, it was a slog after that with much portaging and pushing and the rain was fairly continuous. Combined with this was wind which created a wicked chill factor.
We got colder and colder and the rain added to our misery. Eventually we entered the Ntshikeni Reserve and the last five kays were a race against the dark which was coming early. Huge puddles of water impeded our progress and both Doug and Fiona fell into the water.
Eventually we spotted the little lights of the lodge. As we got into the lodge we were welcomed with blankets, soup and a roaring fire.
It took a while to stop shivering. It had been a long day - 11:30 in all. The wind and rain continued throughout the night but we were snug indoors and had a welcome long sleep before the trek to Masakala.
The overall distance was 101km.

17 June 2008 - Allendale to Nsikeni

Day 3 Ride to Rhodes

I have had brief conversations with Doug - there is mainly bad cell phone signal. They are all doing well physically and emotionally. Yesterday they rode for about 7 hours in the rain and were frozen to the core. Today is apparently drier but is muddy.
He will hopefully be able to write in the blog this evening.

Monday, June 16, 2008

16 June 2008 – Pietermaritzburg to Allendale

This morning we all cycled from the guest house to Pietermaritzburg Town Hall. We were due to start at 6:00 with to clock tower except it was 2 ½ hours slow. The ride from Pietermaritzburg was a good start to the ride with gentle rolling hills for the first 50km or so.

We stopped for lunch at one of the farms where the owner was a collector of old farming implements, tractors, motors, aircraft engines, motorbikes, in fact anything old and metal by the looks of it. Very interesting though.
After lunch we descended down a monster 12 km downhill to the Umkomaas river, and then a MONSTER 10km uphill. I haven’t checked the elevation of this mountain yet but it was steep and long. About ¾ of the way up one of the locals also cycling showed us a crystal clear cold spring just off the road. This was a life saver. The rest of the ride was very hilly, virtually no flats, either up or down hill. Mark and I stopped at a local shabeen for a coke, quite an experience.

We arrived at Allendale farm, welcomed with snacks and tea and coffee. Just what we needed. We are staying in a modified chicken coop, straw on the floor, covered with a canvas ant foam matrasses on top. I think it will be a cold night tonight.

Todays ride was 105 km with an altitude gain of 2600m

Sunday, June 15, 2008

15 June 2008 - Comrades Day

None of us had a particularly good sleep on the train. It is not a smooth ride like you would find on the European trains. The whole night the train stopping, starting, veering from side to side, but I am sure you could get used to it. Our coffee arrive at about 05:30 (twice) good old railway coffee.

We arrived at the station at 6:00 on had to quickly unload all out kit and try and get the bikes off as well. I had to take the saddle off mine to get it out. Not sure how we got it on. So now we are outside the station with a mountain of kit and three bikes trying to find a taxi. Mark dissapeared and arrived back with a minibus and 3 'drivers' we started to load all the kit while Mark negotiated the price. Everything managed to fit onto the minibus, bikes without front wheels stacked horizontally on top of the seats, Fiona and I squashed onto a seat and Mark somehow 'woven through the bikes.

Eventually we arrived at Aintree Lodge, had breakfast and checked in. Mark an I decided to cycle down to the finish of the Comrades Mariton and watch the willnes come in. It was a great experience. Then went down to the local Mall to get some last minute bits and pieces. A quick nap in the afternoon refershed us all.

Final packing is now taking place. They must be crazy, you want us to get all this kit into this tiny box!!!! Sta thats the status at the moment. A lot of excitement and trepidation for tomorrows ride.

Hopefully the post will be from McKenzie tomorrow.

Doug, Fiona & Mark

Saturday, June 14, 2008

14 June 2008 – Train Trip


Today was fraught with having to decide what to pack, what not to pack...what if I need this, etc. Oh shit, I forgot to buy this etc. Then the dilemma of trying to fit everything into this bag, overall a pretty stressful afternoon.

We than got to Johannesburg station, platform 15. It has certainly changed since I last rode trains. We found our coach and compartments. Thanks to Mark, we got 3 compartments, one for the boys, one for Fiona and one for the bikes. Mark made friends with the train manager (conductor), Precious, who has been an absolute star. The train is called the Shosholosa Meyl.

All our loved ones were there to see us off, this made us realise that this is now the beginning of the aventure. It was quite exciting and I think we all felt like excited kids going off in the train.

We had a fantastic meal on board in the dining car... steak egg and chips, Malva pudding, beers and coffee for under R100. Not bad at all.

They are bringing us coffee at 05:00 tomorrow morning in bed (Aileen take note) and we arrive in Petermaritsburg at 5:30 tomorrow morning.

Friday, June 13, 2008

13 June 2008 - Nutrition

"What food you you eat on an event like this?" is a question I frequently get asked. I have done some research on this and come up with some conclusion which I will test on this event. One of the key factors is:'we cannot replace everything we expend during exercise, but we can keep ourselves going all day long if we replenish appropriately'. As a rule of thumb, calorie/water/electrolyte intake will run approximately one-third of expenditure during endurance exercise. Also it should be remembered that fructose, sucrose, glucose, and other simple sugars are poor carbohydrate sources for fueling your
body during exercise.

I have opted for the Hammmer Nutrition range of sports fuels. There is a vast range of products but I have opted to go with Perpetium and Endurolite during the race and Recoverite after the ride each day. It should also be remembered that the optimum time for a recovery during is within 30 minutes of finishing your exercise. There are also different types of protein that you should take for replenishment, a soy based product during exercise and a way based product during recovery. Anyone interested in endurance nutrition should download a free copy of The Endurance Athlete’s Guide To Success. We have also stocked up with biltong, sweets, nuts, fruit cake, hot cross buns etc. as comfort food for afterwards. I have also prepared 2 bottles of Old Brown Sherry with chillies inside, for the long cold evenings.

We have decided to catch the train to Petermaritsburg. The train leave on Saturday at 18:20 from Johannesburg station. The last time I went on an overnight train was when I was in the army coming back from Walvis Bay. This should be an interesting experience, especially arriving at 5:30 in the morning in Petermaritsburg, but its all part of the adventure.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

12 June 2008 - Preperation

What is this all about?

Fiona, Mark and I are doing the Ride to Rhodes. It is the first 6 days (600km) of the Freedom Challenge which is is 2300km race from Petermaritsburg to Cape Town. Our 6 days covers some of the most beautiful sceenery in the Natal midlands and Transkei.

Its now 4 days before the start and there is frantic packing, list checking and buying of last minute supplies. What will we need, how cold will it really be, can I fit everything into the allotted space. Its difficult to know what clothing to take for the cold: 2 pairs of gloves (Sealskinz), Sealskinz socks, as well as another 5 pairs, Cape Storm base layers (tops and pants), outer layer jacket, 3 pairs of cycling shorts, leggings, raincoat (top and pants), windjammer sleeveless, Cape Storm windproof top, beanie, Buff, 2 pairs of cycling shoes... and thats just clothing for the ride.

The bike has been ckecked and re-checked, a map board made, lights fitted. A toolbox with bike spares hhas been packed, although a lot of the spares havent arrived yet. We ordered them from Chain Reaction in the UK and ther was a mixup with the order. We hope they arrive tomorrow. I have a sprare chain, rear casette, SRAM X0 rear reralier, hanger, cables, brake pads, spokes, chain links, plus all the tooks for my bike.

My intention is to publish a Blog per day during the event, as an online record of this event. I hope it will convey some of the views, excitement and experiences we undergo.