Some mad-cap friends, a hit-and-miss 10-week training programme, a crash-course in racing in the dark, and a sense of humour is enough ammunition to tackle the Trans Baviaans 24-hour mountain bike challenge, as rookie rider Neill Erickson shares …
It all started at the beginning of June last year with a call from an old squash mate of mine, Tjaart Pretorius. He asked me if I was up for a challenge – the 24 hour, 240km Trans-Baviaans Mountain Bike race. What? Was he crazy? There wasn’t enough time to train I thought. However, after some convincing, I finally committed.
We had 10 weeks to race day.
On our 1st Saturday cycle, I mentioned to Tjaart that another mate, Mike Armstrong (Mike – not Lance!) was also keen to do the race, and finally our three member team was established. I joined a gym for 3 months, and went after work 3-4 times a week. Saturdays and Sundays we cycled, mostly 60-80km from 3.5-5 hours. Tjaart drew up a training schedule which we loosely stuck to around our other commitments. The bike even went with me to the Grahamstown Festival, where I had fun exploring tracks and roads on the many surrounding hectic hills.
Spinning classes at the gym turned out to be essential to our preparations, pushing you past your VO2 max threshold preparing your muscles to cope with lactic acid buildup (which usually leads to cramping) and increasing strength and endurance. After our first long, slow road ride (120km) – our legs were finished and my bum hurt even worse.
Two weeks later, a group of us met up with Mike Glover, the owner of Red Cherry Adventures, who had entered a couple of teams for the race and had arranged a training ride through the Baviaans to give us some “real” experience. This was the first ride that Tjaart, Mike and I were doing together as a team. The objective was to do the distance at an easy pace and get to know some of the route… The difference here was, we were doing it over two days and not just one!
We still had a lot of preparation to do and now only had 4 weeks to race day.
According to schedule, the next Friday was a night ride to test our clothes and lights and to get some dirt road night time experience. After much deliberation I decided not to use the effective but heavy 12 volt creation with limited battery life, which I had made myself, but opted for the LED’s which were lightweight and use negligible power. We set off in horrendous weather and were fine doing 12km/h up an incline and even okay doing 23km/h on the flat, BUT, sufficient illumination takes on a whole new meaning when you’re going downhill at more than 40km/h! It’s an adrenalin rush, but also a bit freaky when your back wheel suddenly lurches violently sideways, and you don’t even see the rock that caused it. Lesson learnt: more training and investigation into warm clothing and lights was required!
The following Sunday was our looooooong ride including the never-ender (part of the route). Mike paid no attention to my warning of the steepness and took off down the mountain with glee – he’s such an animal! Tjaart was a bit more cautious. I was the slowest and clocked 68km/h. At the bottom Mike discovered his shocks were locked out – as I said, he’s an animal! Once again, our aching legs were happy to reach the end – still 104km short of the race distance.
Our training was coming along nicely, and we could’ve been ready in 2 months time… pity race day was in 2 weeks.
The next two weeks we tapered down training with some easier rides and we started sorting out
lighting and clothing and checked out the supplied race info. There were 7 compulsory stops (6 with energy drink and food available) where we had to check in and out as a team. We were issued with 4 Pick ‘n Pay freezer bags for our team that refreshments, clothing, lights etc. could be packed. Each bag was marked and placed onto separate trucks, at the start point and dropped off at check points.
We had a final meeting to discuss strategy.
And then ready or not ….it was time. Five kilos lighter, I looked like a fit, lean racing snake!
Arrived in Willowmore on Friday, 17 August, went straight to registration to collect the team’s 106 checkpoint lanyard, bike race numbers, route/rules book etc. and our freezer bags. Next, we checked into our 4 bedded school hostel room, to pack and prepare cycling kit etc. The next hour or so was a jumble of sorting and carefully putting planned provisions into the correct bags. After the obligatory pasta meal which the local ladies served with Karoo hospitality, it was off to the hotel for more carbo-loading. Sitting quietly by the fire we were entertained by the boeremusik and locals. Then it was time for bed.
Catch Part 2 of Neill’s Trans Baviaans Story tomorrow!