Sunday, May 31, 2009

Gadget Rides Again

I missed Saturday's ride because the bike rebuild wasn't finished yet and hadn't done anything else this past week except pack boxes. Anyway I paid my school fees with the bike building and am happy to say that with some kind assistance from Doug (special bike tools) I completed the job on Saturday evening.

I also got my Ergon BC3 TransAlp backpack this last week so I was eager to go out this morning to confirm my bike building handy work and test the bigger bag. I had already purchased the 15L version for the Ride to Rhodes but it wasn't going to cut the mustard on the Freedom Challenge.

The bigger 25L+ version is a similar design and is fantastic as it distributes the load directly onto the hips and one carries only 20% of the load on the shoulders. It also has a swivel shoulder harness that gives one unrestricted upper body movement and it works superbly.

Anyway we (Fiona, Doug, Dave C, Dave B, Carine & myself) set off this morning @ around 07:30 am from a restaurant (nothing new about that now is there !) on the Broederstroom road. It was around 1'C early this am but it warmed up somewhat and by the time we got to the Wimpy (still nothing new there either !) it wasn't bad at all.

A quick cup of coffee later and we attacked a Lehanna type portage (much shorter of course, maybe 1km) straight up the side and along a rather large rock strewn hill.

It was another great opportunity to refine bike carrying techniques with full backpacks and test trail shoes and such like. It certainly got the heart rate up for a bit and then we were down the other side on our way to the Bridal trail.

We weren't in luck today as there was apparently a race on and we couldn't do the route. It was a catastrophe for me because there would be no coke stop at the trading store at Skeerpoort either !

After some route strategy deliberations we decided (Actually Queen B hijacked Dave C's ride) to head up through the veggie farm and over the saddle (a geological feature in case you're wondering) towards Franks farm, one valley away and then head across the other way back to the start at the restaurant.

It wasn't a long ride (50 odd km's) but was taxing enough with the loaded backpacks. The restaurant was an interesting experience - A 1hr + wait for toasted samies and a kiddies cheese burger - They sure know how to torture hungry MTB's ! I nearly died...

Now I know what you may be thinking, but WE DIDN"T have breakfast here before we started and ONLY had a coffee at the Wimpy. Ok, they gave us a complimentary biscuit too. The bike handled a treat and so far the Ergon bag is the best thing since bubblegum.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Final Preparation - Boxes, Maps & Narratives

The kitchen counter looked a bit like a lab scene out of a sci-fi movie this evening. Plenty of last minute bits and pieces as well as sorting, packaging and labeling the boxes in preparation for shipping down to Capetown on Thursday / tomorrow, no make that today.

You'd think that remembering to pack toothpaste, hair gel and some shaving gel would be a given, but I guess with all the other things that needed considering one can easily overlook these things. That's what's in these little babies: Tot o' paste, Tot o' H&S and Tot o' shave. It's really not polite to use your hosts VO5 with extra lift and curl and 20 odd days of helmet hair just won't work for me either !

Also got some Biotone tonic from our good mother 'Queen B' as a 'pick me up' for the mornings. It's a fairly new product on the market and we were fortunate enough to secure some for the upcoming ride. I was recovering from a bad cold about two weeks ago and felt a bit flat so Fiona gave me some to try before we went riding. I am normally a bit of a sceptic with these things, however this one certainly did the business and I jumped at the chance of laying my hands on some more for the race. The taste puts hair on your chest, but it works, so there's one in every box. You certainly won't be sleeping in class !

The boxes are now complete and hopefully I've remembered everything else in addition to the obligatory can of coke. They're packed to the top and I made sure I remembered to include the white gold so there's enough spare to share in case of an emergency if needed. My biggest concern has been ensuring that the right maps and narratives are grouped together and that they are put with the appropriate box. I guess I'll find out for sure on the trail. So now it's off to get some shut eye and then delivery later on today.

I wonder how Badger, Queen B, The Prof and Limp Wrist are getting along with their packing...?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Horns of Dilemma

Well, with a leaking geyser & water pipes, a bloody sore vitamin B shot, hairline cracked stem mountings, a thoroughly seized crank set and a half inch gash in the head to boot, it's been a great day. All that headlining about seizing the day and giving it horns has come home to roost - I think I got skewered on the horns of dilemma today...!

I guess some it is my own fault. I should be dedicating my time to packing those 2L boxes before Thursday with the final maps, narratives and other intermediate things like lubes, the chain, batteries and the like. Instead I have spent time stripping down the bike for a major service & rebuild, so I can sort out any issues arising from all the new components etc.

As you can see I was successful in the end, well at least to the extent that the frame is now bare of all but the water carrier - don't ask. It's a bit nerve racking to see how many dings, scratches, scrapes and knocks this frame has taken over time and I caught my breath more than once over what at first appeared to be significant frame damage.

None the less it'll still get a thorough going over once it's degreased and cleaned just to make sure. I'd hate to have to abort because of a cracked frame or worse. It's happened before but that fellow managed to finish with a rudimentary fix. I'd rather not tempt fate so I'll do my best to inspect every significant scratch with a magnifying glass.

It took less than an hour to strip all the parts except for the crank set which needs a crank puller to remove the arms and a splined BB tool to remove the BB. And that's just where the k.. hit the fan. It is a simple exercise to remove these items or at least should be.

The damn cranks were seized onto the BB shaft so tightly that the crank arms threads stripped after tightening the bolt to remove them - both sides ! This rendered the crank tool useless.

Using Q20 to penetrate and loosen them didn't work either. Eventually I bought and used an automotive bearing puller and after some serious effort the chain ring side came loose. The BB doesn't disassemble from this end so I was still stuck.

The other side didn't budge at all and after one particularly strenuous effort the frame slipped out of my grasp and hit me on the forehead leaving me with a bloody gash ! The net result of all this ? #$$$%%^&))+_)#@$%^&*()_ !!!!!!!!!!!!!

The only other solution that I could see was to use a hacksaw (very very very carefully) to cut into the crank arm to loosen its clamping effect on the BB shaft. I had to stop cutting eventually because there's no space around the BB and the frame is millimeters away. After another herculean effort with the bearing puller the crank arm finally came away and I could remove the mashed BB cup.

That's where the whole lot has been left for another day. I'm 'gatvol', but have at least regained some of my composure after making a cuppa and tucking into some of ma's fruitcake.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Freedom Challengers Prayer

Good heavens and possible damnation,
Always I come before you with some trepidation.
Your routes be done,
on earth as they are on the satellite run.

Give me this day my daily mtb ride,
And take it away from those who continue to slide.
Tempt me not with the easy road,
Because it’s the single track I’d rather be showed.

Even though I ride through the shadow of numerous a valley,
I fear not the river crossings and gladly add the single tracks to my tally.
Because you have given me the maps, the narratives and a satellite tracker,
to see me through yet another daily knacker.

For this is a mountain bikers challenge,
For ever and ever...

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Well Struck Sire !

A chord, a note, a high C, a low G, maybe a composition and usually taboo in polite company ? Well let's start at the beginning and try and take it from there...

This weekends riding was tremendous fun and included two new routes for me - An 80km loop on Saturday out to the Ruins and a 100km ride on Sunday out towards Irene with Anton from Summit Cycles. I guess that's one of the benefits of having such a great training group. On Saturday at around 06:30am we headed off into the blue yonder for a 80km ride with back packs.

The trail wound its way through and around various small farm holdings, up a very loose rocky trail to a spot referred to as 'the Ruins' and from there down a steep decent into 'The Cheese Shop' (literally) somewhere in the Hennops River area where a meal break next to an Aga did the business as far as sustenance and warmth was concerned.

And yes, a regular feature of our riding seems to be halfway stops for food, tea and coke in my case. Well being a cheese shop meals included fried Haloumi salad with freshly baked wholewheat farm bread and preserves, toasted cheese samies and of course some of the boys opted for 'Russian' sausages and chips for breakfast.

Badger of course had nothing but a banana (recall his 2L box contents) - far too much discipline that boy !

Might sound rather strange, but I know from my own experience that hard riding brings about the weirdest cravings and unless you're a world class competitive athlete, indulging those cravings isn't a bad idea - and why not, after all it's good practice for those packed lunches we're going to get when doing the Freedom Challenge !

Well now, as you can imagine all that food and drink and all those fantastical tonics and protein/carbohydrate mixes in the water bottles plus other food items consumed along the way can only make for an interesting ride home especially when one is confined to alot of single track flanked by tall thatching grass where not even a field mouse could squeeze itself through.

I have often observed slightly pained expressions (myself included), particularly on the faces of those boys riding in close proximity to our mother, Queen Bee.
Under no circumstances is a chord, a note and heaven forbid any kind of composition allowed within earshot of one's mother ! This is simply just not cricket, so trying desperately to drop off to the back of the group, out of range and preferably sight of our mother has become somewhat of an unspoken art form.

After all, the 'art of dropping a dart' must be practised with some decorum as well as the right posture (note: this is also a dead give away) to avoid the dreaded 'burn'.

Boys will be boys, so next time you're out riding the range and one of your mates let's rip, just remember your manners with a dignified: "Well Struck Sire !" Heaven forbid that it should ever happen, but if you're in polite company and there's an incident involving a lady in the riding group an equally dignified "Well Chimed Madam ! " may well save the day !

Friday, May 22, 2009

Show Me Your Box

What's in a box ? Well plenty depending on how clued up you are on packaging of course and in my case I hope I'm up to the task. The Monk will happily divulge to you that I don't know the meaning of packing economicaly, prefering instead to cater for as many eventualities as possible. After all one might get stranded on a desert island in the South Pasific with nothing but a tattered jock strap and then what the hell are you going to do ? Well you just never know with those FC maps and narratives now do you !

So what does a Gadget boy do when faced with the prospect of 1, yes, just 1 single 2 litre ice cream container for every support station ? I must confess I felt a little like an addict going through the phases of a recovery process: Denial, disbelief, acknowledgement and finally acceptance. I did consider asking Big D in Capetown to please allow me one for snacks & treats, one for coke and another for tools, maps and equipment but was reliably informed that I would lose the case.

Well the contents of support station boxes has been an interesting road of discovery. I have had numerous chats with Queen Bee, Badger, Limp Wrist, the Nutty Prof and of course a few others about the essentials of a Freedom Challenge Box and not surprisingly have had a different response from each and every one, from the sublime to the fantastic ! The Monk gets a 100L crate for every night of his adventure to Rhodes and I must admit again that I did consider going back to the Rhodes ride just so I could get a bigger container for my stuff. Oh well...spilt milk and all that.

Badger's boxes are a no nonsense inventory of staple dehydrated/regular carbo's, protein, vitamins & mineral powders and the other all important fare of butt cream, chain lube and few other bits and pieces at alternate stops. It's basically more austere than an army rat pack on a cold day in hell, but it will keep him alive and satisfied if nothing else.

With careful phrasing I politely enquired as to the contents of Queen Bee's boxes and was subsequently completely blown away by the sheer contrast and variety of goodies in that girls inventory. She could show the QE2's head chef a thing or two about luxury catering away from port - bloody hell and then some ! I would've needed a computer to record the variety of items, but will try and recall just some of the many goodies from my shattered memory: Smoked mussels, salty cracks, cheese wedges, cuppacino and milo sachets, cup a snack soups, mini bar bottles of plonk, chocolates, biltong bars, chips, salty snack packs (various), tuna sachets, two headed tonics, goji berry juice and the list goes on and on... This is all in addition to creams, chain lube, plastic utensils and maps & narratives etc.

The worst part in all this is that Admin will not under any circumstances let me change my start day so the thought of enjoying cheese, mussels, crackers and wine at the top of Black Fountain will be nothing but a gleeful sms from Queen Bee and Limp Wrist to me, The Monk and Sean (Queen Bee he needs a name) one day ahead on the trail.

There was much amusement at the fact that I had a coke in every one of my 26 boxes and the group will still not accept that coke is an effervescent ! Only my other riding buddy Sean sees the wisdom and value in this, mostly because we drive each other completely round the twist with descriptions of slush puppy bottles of coke on those hot dusty rides around here.
There's one other critical item you had better not forget to pack. This basically follows one of natures fundamental laws of physics: What goes in must eventually be turned around so don't get the sh..s with us if you haven't got any because you're getting fair warning: White Gold !!!
Without it you'll be left to roam the plains and valley's alone for the rest of the day and God help you and all his furry little creatures if your immodium isn't working !

Thursday, May 21, 2009

An Ode to Queen Bee

Whilst perusing my mail one afternoon I noticed a mail titled "errr... apologies" from Fiona to us boys in the riding group. Once openend I was struck by the single line that stood out for its brevity and that read "I have given all of you a bit of a rev on the blog..." Being a sharp and observant woman at the best of times and often catching us unawares with some or other occurrence or navigation instruction especially when we've already plummeted down some hill or other, I wondered what we were in for. Well plenty as it turned out because we had all got very carefully thought out nicknames highlighting some of our peculiarities and personality ( traits amongst others ! Included was an oblique reference alluding to what she thought hers should be and so consulting Wikipedia I found her picture reference and the following notation: "The term queen bee is typically used to refer to an adult female that lives in a honey bee colony or hive; she is usually the mother of all the bees in the hive.[1] "
It is very apt, particularly if one is part of this wacky group as she does "mother & manage" the group rather well and of course we're happy to follow along. So to that end here's a snippet of our Queen Bee:

An Ode to Queen Bee
Our Mother, pretty as a flame,
‘Queen Bee’ be her name.

When weekends come, her routes be done,
Across the mountains, around the dam and second to none.

Her hungry boys she ne’r forgets,
With halfway stops of pancakes, chips and maybe coke he gets.

When your saddle goes, our mother she knows,
“Sorry for you, still 20 to go on the saddles nose”.

As the ground you hit, a jumble of grass and tit,
She’ll sigh and say: “Now look what you've done you limp wristed twit”.

On navigation she is queen of her domain,
with "Go left, the other left, no brain”.

When homeward bound you go, life’s lessons she’ll continue to teach,
Along the railway track with broken saddle, just to make you screech.

And so our mother goes, with us in tow,
through the veggie farm, across the mountains and over the hedgerow.

Always homeward bound, to apple pie, tea & toys,
Ah Queen Bee, she's a mother to us boys...

Endo-Dolphins & The Sani2C Nonstop MTB Race

Endo-Dolphins ? Well Endorphins actually, but it was always easier for me to remember my version in those light headed days riding around Northern farms. It was during one of our recent training rides over the Cradle of Mankind that Badger ( mentioned to me that he may need a third member to make up a full team for the Subaru Sani2C Nonstop MTB race from Underberg to Scottborough, a non stop distance of around 220Km's. Further incentives included an automatic entry into the Subaru Sani2C Adventure race for 2010 as well as being a fantastic training ride for the Freedom Challenge. As you may know endorphins generally give one a feeling of euphoria and on that particular day it was definitely the case with me. So with the rush of blood to the head I volunteered my services for the team and a week later my race entry was confirmed.

Despite being 11 years my senior, Badgers heart rate up the back end of Breedts Nek is generally so low that one wonders sometimes whether the dude is alive, but one is simultaneously left in no doubt because he chats the entire way up whilst some of us (me) are generally trying our best not to pass out from the exertion of trying to keep up with him (Riding with him, I sometimes still get that Great Dane feeling) ! It was therefore with some trepidation that I wondered what the hell I had got myself into by volunteering so readily for the upcoming race. Our other team member Gerrit was an ex 'Old Blanket' as the Freedom Challenge finishers are fondly referred to (One gets a rite of passage Basotho blanket for completing the 2300km epic) and he had competed in the recent Cape Epic.

So it was with the experienced Rob Wiseman as the support vehicle driver and co navigator that we set off to Underberg on that Friday morning for the midnight race start. Being given the opportunity of a support vehicle with no restrictions as far as kit and food is concerned is wonderful until you have to pack the bloody thing and then still add four strapping blokes to the equation. Just as well we had a double cab with high canopy because I'm pretty sure we packed everything including the kitchen sink and as it turned out we would soon need the bike spares.

After arriving we did the necessary admin, attended the pre-race briefing and got fed before heading off to a 19:30 pm lights out. It's always a little difficult to get shut eye with a dorm room full of cyclists 4 hours before a race start and on this occasion it was no different. Snoring and the odd bit of nerves (Phew ! - one wonders what race fuelsome of those boys put in their bottle mixes) later made for a short 1 hour sleep and then we were off.

Despite being midnight it wasn't as cold as expected and a few layers of kit sufficed. Lights definitely played a part because it was pitch black out with six hours to go before daylight and all that poking fun about Gadgets handlebar light soon turned to nods of approval and a little envy. We started well, heading out in the middle of the 300 odd strong field but were soon stone bloody last as Badger hit something in the dark that nearly took him off his bike but ultimately only slashed his tyre completely.

No support vehicles allowed for the first 20km with 15km still to go was a major blow to morale so early on, however Gerrit's Freedom Challenge experience prevailed as he miraculously produced a spare tubed tyre from his backpack - Go figure ! We had the entire Subaru events sweeper posse watching our goings on with much amusement. Nonetheless we prevailed and were soon on our way again, or so we thought.

A faulty valve saw us stumble along with regular pumping sessions to the rendezvous point some 15km on. Well by that stage our 'race' was properly shot having lost an hour already (20-30km behind the field ) and I dare say our spirits may have flagged but for the groups tenacity and sense of humour. After all we had come a long way and still had about 200km to go ! We made it to the first check point at the McKenzie Club at around 05:15 am and after some well deserved cccoca cola and snacks we headed out of the valley up the first of many significant ascents that day.

With steady consistent riding we had caught up with some of the trailing teams at McKenzie and from then on we made steady progress up and down every valley and mountain known to man and some only to God and the organisers between Underberg and Scottborough ! I was ravenous by 7am and we decided to have our 'breakfast' at about 9am after climbing out of yet another valley.
By this point Badger had heard all about my food cravings, in particular about the bunny chow, samoosas and chili bites with sweet chili sauce and I'm sure he was relieved have me shut up with a mouthful of food and yet another coke !

I was starving and wanted food every 30-50km's much to Badgers amusement and disbelief. With 70km's to go I very mistakenly thought that the route would flatten out a bit - ha, sorry for you. The race organiser must have a tremendous sense of humour to have dreamt up this route because it got worse and to top it off I was riding on a borrowed saddle having broken mine on one of our rides across the Cradle ( which caused the most painful chaffing imaginable. So much so that there are serious teeth marks on the mini tin of Zambuk that I was trying to pry open in sheer desperation with teeth and pliers after doing a particularly difficult bumpy climb out of yet another valley.

Oh well, we had no choice but to persevere so on we went. 1'o'clock came and went with no other serious incidents besides a knackered middle chainring on my bike and then near the end when one of the teams mysteriously leap frogged us to to the start of another section, having missed much of the now notoriously hilly sugar cane 'bumps' about 10km's out of Scottborough. This peeved some of us a bit and of course Badger lived up to his name by tearing a strip off them for being so unsporting almost all the way to the finish.

Despite everything that had happened since midnight we all had enormous fun and our indomitable senses of humour or perhaps the weed smoking dood we passed in the Umko valley carried us through a really tough race to a 16.5 hour finish (13 hrs in the saddle). Kudo's to the team and thanks guys for a fantastic experience !

From Lardbottom to The Freedom Challenge 2009

'Lardbottom' - Wikipedia doesn't have a description for this one yet, probably because it's uniquely peculiar to the good old days of slang in the sunny KZN. Well for the unknowing out there and for those unfortunate souls who still fall into the general category, a 'Lardbottom' is defined as follows:

"Lardbottom - an extra large rotund person with an equally extra large rotund rear end, usually brought about through an abnormally high intake of seemingly nutritious junk foods, winter dinners and copious quantities of red wine which is instantaneously converted to lard (fat) and deposited in the glutemus maximus".

So there I was a short 10 months ago now, all 100kg's of me doing the weekend warrior thingy at Northern Farms and feeling mighty proud about only walking up the rolling sandy incline from the rivers end twice a month ! Shocking I know. In those days I felt a bit like a great dane trying desperately to assert my bark only to find that I had no compression at the fhincter ! The polite version is that a very red faced lardbottom had to walk for lack of oxygen which made me feel decidely light headed.

Anyway my good mate Dave (aka ''The Monk' so named by our very own 'Queen Bee') tells me one day that he has entered the Ride to Rhodes which is basically the 550 km adventure ride version of the Freedom Challenge from PMB to Rhodes in the E-Cape.

Of course he's built like a grey hound and is as fit as a fiddle to boot, so with a bit of extra miles in the legs it'd be no problem for him. I loved the idea but weighed more than him, his bike, his pack, his poodle and his 4x4's spare wheel together. So of course the problem was how to get to the point where he would'nt leave me on the first day in the middle of the Drakensberg wondering which kraal I was going to bed down in for the night. The scenario did arise in our discussions and being the good buddy that he is he made damn sure I understood that he was going to finish come hell or high water i.e. with or without me.

So being mindful of our longstanding 27 year friendship I made the decision to start training, a rather foreign concept on a MTB for me. I also developed a basic Excel based training log, along with showing him my bike computer to record and prove (yes I know you can attach an electric drill to a static trainer to clock miles on your MTB !) that I was making a concerted effort for our upcoming adventure. Despite a bad bout of flu I progressed well and he was satisfied that I was coming along nicley even though I was still several miles behind him up Breedts Nek. The homemade pies at the bakery at the end of the ride was still a source of some concern to him though. Nonetheless I was poised to go to Rhodes until he went to Mozambique for 10 days and I attended the JHB race briefing and met Queen Bee & Co who did the Rhodes ride last year !

Well now, I was invited to a post race briefing 'scare session' at a pit stop on the way home by Queen Bee and subsequently with some trepidition accepted an invitation to go riding across the Cradle and around the dam along with another 3 days of riding to follow. Of course the whole group was doing the full Freedom Challenge (2300km of it) and having watched the DSTV footage of the race I felt decidely let down that I would be stopping at Rhodes whilst this great bunch would be continuing on to Paarl.
So after expressing my thoughts to the group a few weeks later, realising that I actually was'nt that unfit anymore and with very little persuasion from my new friends I changed my race entry to the Freedom Challenge with the provisor that I stay in my starting group so I could still ride with The Monk to Rhodes !

Well in case you lot out there are wondering, ol' lardbottom aka Gadget (I apparently have a penchant for MTB related gadetry) ( now weighs 79kg's and counting and I am doing around 15 hours of solid training a week. I just can't stop talking about food, much to the amusement of my new found friends - Just ask Badger about the Sani2C nonstop race !!! And yes the Freedom Challenge does have the ability to change your life, in more ways than you might realise...