Thursday, May 21, 2009

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 !

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