Monday, February 18, 2013

Hills, Dust, Fog an' Wind

I have never pushed myself so hard. Never. Not when I did the Dusi at the age of 18, not in the army during national service, not since. I must be getting older, and more stupid.

2011's Dash was fun and it was hard, but in an exploratory kind of way, keeping lots in the tank. In case the extra bits at the end rose up and bit us .

This year I had the fortune (or misfortune) of having a lot of time on my hands to prepare, mentally and physically.

Training started at the beginning of August, helped by the fact that I had kept riding through winter.

Those icy winter mornings - the three-Buff rides- where things still froze up are now a distant memory. Winter was long and cold (Shane..quiet! ) and summer was late in getting here, but it's making up with a vengeance now.

Half way through the training schedule we hiked 4 days of the Naukluft trail with a group of very special people, kind of cross-training with a difference. And it helped to have JC around (yes, the same one) to instill a bit of HTFU in us (OK, I speak for myself, the girls managed just fine). But that's another long story.

Back home for a few weeks, I ramped up the training. Using an interval programme worked out for me by the famous Maryke Verster. Very scientific. I have developed an irritating habit of proselytising....about the advantages of interval training. If you want to know more about my habit, email me. (Or just get hold of Maryke directly)

Two weeks before the Dash I caught the bus up to Windhoek, plenty of time to acclimatise, finalise training and get everything ready. (also enough time to carbo-load on the Windhoek's)

By the time "Race Day" dawned we were almost over-prepared, fit, rested, organised, in a word "ready".

Due to a pressing engagement with a fat Greek singer and some sloppy airline management by AirNam, our usual back-up driver Michelle had to pull out at the last moment ;) We were very lucky that Annalie (more of her later) stepped up to the plate. You need a back-up driver that knows their stuff and we had been spoilt the previous year.

So organized were we that we drove our own backup vehicle to Annalie's house and then rode to the start. Simplifies things for all concerned, as parking at the start is not a pleasant sight to behold. People tend to forget their manners before a race, but at least there are only a couple of hundred here and not the 35 000 of that other race!

The start zone is, well, the start zone...where 500 cyclists stand around trying to look calm and collected. Some of us actually even manage the "fatalistic deadpan" look.

The race starts out with a few kilometres of neutral zone on the Western Bypass (with full closure thankfully), and then it's a short left towards the sea and the razing sneks tear off up the hill. The road soon becomes gravel, Namibian gravel, and climbs. To the top of  the Kupferberg Pass and then more undulating distance to Checkpoint 1. Undulating indeed.

At the end of the Kupferberg stage I get into the backup vehicle and head for checkpoint 2 at the Kuiseb bridge while Sandra rides on. This is a long exposed stretch across the Khomas Hochland and this year the wind blew. Hard and head-on. If you're not pacing yourself correctly, this stretch can eat you up, ask a number of the "manne" who pushed it a bit hard.This is certainly a stretch where you don't need any ego egging you on, not here and not down the Uis Pass in the dark either.

And I have it on good authority that some young "men" tucked in behind the women and were dragged along and then neglected to do their share of the work. What happened to chivalry? Little shits.

Then it's down the Uis Pass ( and due to the relentless headwind, no luxury of speedy descents ) and the infamous 101 short sharp hills to Checkpoint 2. At the checkpoints there is a really complicated system.......both riders sign the in/out register together. So complicated, so difficult to master. It is embarrassing to see how many people who can ride a bicycle and chew gum can't actually understand this? Geddit guys. Together. So your simple little gyppo plan won't work.

By now it's about 9.30 at night, so I set off on stage 3 in darkness and dust, but a hell of a lot less dust than previously. Congratulations to the organisers for re-arranging things and hence decreasing the number of cars on the road. Very smart thinking indeed.

This is reputed to be the most difficult stage (which is why I made Sandra do it last year), so I had focussed my mind on lots of short sharp climbs and very fast sandy/rocky riverbed crossings. About 20km into the stage I met Schalk (second year law student at UOFS, boerseun, snake lover and hard rider and killer of rear gorillas;)
The highlight of this stretch was the waterpoint, "manned" by two of Windhoek's finest, Tina and Swazi. Schalk and I set up a cracking pace and for more than 40km we flew, unfortunately Schalk started cramping so I ruthlessly left him for the hyaenas, no time for prisoners here. What was the hardest bit of this stretch? The last bit from the Khomas Safari gate to the new checkpoint. I heard at least one rider complain that he didn't know that the checkpoint had been moved. (Note to JC and Aidan: At next year's compulsory briefing, make sure people bring their ears with them. And put it in the race book, and tell them three times....oh, you did?)

Did I mention that by now any feelings of guilt I had harboured about riding in the backup vehicle had completely disappeared? Completely. More than 4hrs at 85% of max HR was quite enough for me.

Flying out of the dark (by now it's about 01h00) and into these checkpoints  is a buzz. Sandra and Annalie were waiting for me, ready to roll. (At a later checkpoint I saw a rider come in, only to be told that his partner was still sleeping. Ooops, flip.)

Annalie had already excelled as a support person, but it was here that she really showed her mettle. Eat! Drink! Now! The only problem was when she tried to push my bike to the car for me. Annalie, I needed the bike to keep me upright!
Into dry kit, eat, drink, sleep. And to then wake up having been magically transported to the next checkpoint. Annalie and DeWet you were extremely professional. Thank you.

Fast forward to about 4am when I'm now ready and waiting at the checkpoint for Sandra to come in from the Ganab stretch. It's dark and cold and the dust quickly gives way to fog, slowly drifting in from the ocean, which by now isn't too far away. Well, OK, relatively.

Now the Ganab stretch has some very tricky the lit up, clearly-marked turn-off, you uuhhm, turn off and follow the signs and at the waterpoint you will receive a sticker on your race board as proof that you went through the checkpoint. (Note to JC and Aidan: At next year's compulsory briefing.....oh, you did? ;)
Now there's a rider standing at the checkpoint bemoaning the fact that he didn't know he had to turn off and that he didn't know that he had to collect a sticker...and where did it say so in the race book....
When their driver entered the fray and started asking if the backup vehicle had to have stickers, I told her yes, three. Even at 4.20am there were some smiles in the crowd. (That particular part of the route is a very specific NO VEHICLES section (Note to JC and Aidan: At next year's compulsory briefing....;)

I set off in fog so thick that I stupidly chose to ride without my glasses .....that worked fine while it was dark and foggy. As the sun rose and burned off the fog, the dust and the glare came back with a vengeance. Eyes that looked like piss-holes in the snow and felt like arc-eye. What was I saying about dumb riders? The world is round and the universe knows when to give a smart-arse the klap he deserves ;)

This next stretch was good, flat and foggy, leading up to the sandy bit along the pipeline that riders dread. Actually the sandy bit along the pipeline was fun, forcing one to keep awake and not to fight the sand. I'm proud to say that I overtook a number of people along here, sand is my thing.
Then follows an interesting stretch,  forever uphill and forever into the wind except for the last few hundred metres of downhill (was it really more than that?) down to Goanikontes which has, I believe, been called a few other things, particularly that morning.

As we were not racing, I had ordered quite a breakfast at this stop, coffee, porridge, etc. No luck, I was handed a recovery drink, bottle of something else, a cup of coffee, a sandwich, a banana and told eat, drink, we're outta here. I almost ended up chewing the recovery drink and drinking the sarmie. Wode out of there wif a mouf fool of food. I was still chewing when we hit the sand. Ja JC, jou bliksem. I can just see that wry smile of yours.

This is the final stage, and all riders must do this bit to the finish. In previous years it has been a flat stretch along a road with plenty of opportunity for drafting and idle chatter. The new, extended route takes riders through some interesting countryside. Ancient erosion dongas in a near waterless desert, fascinating. Lovely little sharp climbs and cute sandy bits in between. Heaven. Oh yes, and those blue FNB banners on the tops of the hills, not sure how those contribute to positive branding - How can we help you?
Not too long and you pop out onto one of the numerous "salt roads" into the back end of Swakopmund, against the wind, but it smells of the cold Atlantic, so there's no holding back now.

Salt road has never felt so good.

We crossed the finish line in 22h06m17s, feeling very proud of ourselves. Done and dusted, it took a lot to get here.

Did I mention that every person who finishes the solo category within the time limit receives a hand-made finisher's medal. The rest of us finishers receive a hand-made finisher's dog tag. I cherish mine. None of those mass-stamped lucky packet medals here, no sir.

Adan, forever the comedian, outdid himself this year. Where else is the winning two rider, woman's team referred to as the two man woman's team? And the mixed four person team referred to as the  "four man two women and two men team". Maybe it's the relief of knowing it's all over for this year?

It's appropriate at this stage to stop and reflect on all the work that Aidan, JC, Anette, Stephanie and all the other staff and volunteers put into the event. Always a smile and a "nothing's too much trouble" attitude.

Thank you, all of you, for the effort you all put into the Dash to make it the fun event it is.

Never a dull moment, the Dash is something else.

For those who are interested, this is what we used:

Niner EMD, 3 x 9, SLX spec, No-tubes Crest wheelset with Maxxis Crossmarks, flat bars, Ergon grips

Niner SIR, 1 x 9, (32 x 11-34), No-tubes Crest wheelset with Maxxis Crossmarks, Manitou Minute fork, Murray Orthoped saddle, Thudbuster seatpost, On-One Mary Bars, Ergon grips

The bottom line?

Proper training and preparation, physical, mental and technical.


  1. What an incredible journey.... thanks for sharing!

    Erm, and if you ever need another warm body to pedal with, just let me know.

    1. Thanks Babble.
      It was quite a journey, the race just being the last part of it.
      Those young bug boys of yours would be in their element in Namibia, more interesting stuff than you can shake a stick at. Whatever you do, don't show them this
      Also check out

  2. My Man!

    I raise my can of cheap Australian beer to honour your intrepid team, (okay I'll raise several but only because you deserve it).

    Mooi gedoen!

  3. Thanks Hurben, it was fun, and that's what matters to me.
    What a pity that SA's in the news for all the wrong reasons right now!

  4. Got that right, Cry the Beloved country, indeed.

  5. I think the lady did so well because the bike is pink....