There are many rides in South Africa who claim to be the toughest. Come and try this one for size.
The task at hand seemed simple enough – hop on your bicycle and cycle 500km to the coast, then turn around and come back the same way. You’ll cycle through night and day, and have your card signed at various checkpoints along the route.
There are 5 mountain passes for good measure and seeing as this is an out-and-back route you get to cycle them once from each side. So a total of 1000kms (with 11,200 meters of climbing) that needs to be completed in 75 hours. Check out http://audaxsa.co.za/the-cape-1000-brm/.
This would also be the first 1000km BRM for South Africa and everyone was rather excited. There was much more fanfare at the start than with any prior local BRM I have done. Our friends from the North joined and it was great to hook up with Eddie, Kenneth, Michelle, Salim and all the other familiar faces again.
Nine of us rocked up to Lord Charles in Somerset West for the 9pm start on Tuesday 26 April 2016. Perfect timing, as Wednesday was a holiday. As we rolled out of Lord Charles I felt like a bit of an arse – this ride was Rob’s brain child, he should have been in the middle of the group picture at the start, not holding the camera. And Gerhard generously offered to drive the safety vehicle.
“You ride your motherfucking bicycles” —
This was heard on our way through Stellenbosch when a delightful group of students cheered us on as we passed the Goldfields sports grounds. Bacchus was their head cheerleader and I doubt they remember us.
And we did
Everyone was excited and chatty over Helshoogte and on to Franschhoek. This was going to be a great adventure, after all. Little did we know.
Our highest failure rate yet
12 entries. 9 starters. 2 finishers.
Gideon & Ernst were entered but a last minute change saw them do the Joburg2c instead – in hindsight I’m sure they are very chuffed with this decision.
What went wrong?
We started off in good spirit and then riders dropped off one-by-one as we went along. Kenneth (back), Peter (chest), Henri (personal), Theunis (bottom), myself (stomach), Michelle (alone) & Salim (wind). Valiant effort by all, especially the last man & woman standing.
And these are seasoned long distance riders. I’d like to get the total historical BRM kilometres for each rider to prove the point. The majority of participants have done continuous 1000km rides before. At the very least a couple of 600’s. So the pedigree was there.
The average rider won’t finish the Cape 1000
I know the sample size is small, but look at the numbers. The 1230km PBP has a 90 hour cut-off. Chris did in a shade under 55 hours and Wimpie in 61 hours – meaning that they finished with between a third and almost 40% of the allotted time still in the bank. But they completed Cape 1000 with just more than 10% to spare. Big difference.
My humbling experience
Feel free to skip this section – just a brief account of a crap in the bush.
The night of the Stomach Volcano
Our second stop was for a quick coffee at Villiersdorp. I only had a coke, coffee and droëwors. We promptly departed onto one of my favourite Audax stretches in the Western Cape – those fast flats to Worcester. I was in my stride and rode a few metres in front of the group. Then it happened.
Suddenly my eye twitched. I was standing at that stage. Stomach cramp. My body cringed into the shape of a Niknak – it felt like I was being electrocuted. I shrugged it off and continued, ever so cautious. Then the second one came. This one more like a stun gun to the gut. By now I knew what was coming and started looking for a site. Things got blurry.
Gerhard was ahead in the safety car. I sprinted towards him, begged for toilet paper and headed across the road and out of sight. I stripped off faster than co-ed on a girls-gone-wild weekend and assumed the position. Then it happened.
My anus parted like the Red Sea before Moses. I lifted off the ground and hovered a few centimeters off the ground, as if strapped to a jet pack. Out of control.
Gerhard warned earlier that the group would pass me. As they approached I feared their tires might burst. But still in a state of involuntary levitation, I lifted my hand like the Queen and waved them by, hoping to unnoticed.
Toxic fumes filled the valley. A car alarm went off. I heard farm workers fighting in the distance – blaming each other for the stench. But I was in a state of total bliss. My relief was tangible. Nothing could go wrong anymore.
As I sat there, waiting for the next surprise, I gained some perspective. Things could always be worse. I thought of Eugene who went through the same ordeal during the last DC. Luckily I wasn’t sitting in the rain as he did.
After a while it hit me. I should get going. Fast. For the fear of being associated with this mess. Luckily I was sure that no-one would come running towards the blast site.
I feel sorry for the farmer, who certainly had to burn down a good block of vineyard. And I want to apologize to the local community. I can only imagine their disgust the next day, when they found ground zero.
Kindly refrain from sharing this story outside the cycling community – I’m afraid the Breede Valley Municipality gets hold of this and places a complete ban on cycling in the region.
Long story short
This process repeated itself, multiple times. Heading off into the bushes seems fine at night, albeit cold & inconvenient, but having to suffer the indignity during daylight is rather unfortunate – as you cannot accurately time the explosions.
I struggled on to the 400km mark. On a good day this would take me 17¾ hours. Now it took 30 hours. Something was wrong. I usually fancy the longer rides because it feels like the more I ride, the stronger I get. But this time I was completely without energy.
After falling asleep while riding the stretch between Calitzdorp and Oudtshoorn, I stopped for my own safety. The turnaround back to Calitzdorp was a reluctant one.
Did not finish. It is the worst acronym in the world, but also the best motivation. If something is not hard enough then it is not worth doing. I can’t wait for the next Cape 1000 – it feels like if have fallen in love with cycling all over again.
It is not called the Cape of Storms for nothing. As we returned on Thursday they were broadcasting radio warnings of an approaching storm. So this ride had it all – heat, cold, clear skies, rain, and as certain as death and taxes, wind.
Live tracking was brilliant
The GPS tracking system proved to be immensely popular. It was the same units as piloted on the 36one just over a week ago. I’m glad it was sponsored as I think their pricing is a bit prohibitive, but it certainly works fine. I can’t remember how many times I refreshed my browser in order to see our guys finish. Very addictive. Have a look at http://africa.findmespot.com/en/
What would I change?
Sterilise bottles. I’m not 100% sure what caused my explosive situation, but cannot rule out a potentially dirty water bottle. I have (too) many of bottles, so before each ride I just grab from box. Next time I’ll put the baby bottle sterilization kit to the test.
Teamwork. I usually prefer riding on my own and after the first 90km went off on my own again. But on this type of ride you would be better off with some company. A bit of conversation goes a long way.
More rest. Especially before the ride. I woke up at 05:30 on the morning of the ride and had a full day at the office before our 9pm start that evening. Which wasn’t ideal. Try to get in more sleep before the start.
Remember these. From now on, on long rides, I’ll make sure I have these 3 basic items with me – any form of toilet paper, some Immodiums and a few sachets of Rehidrate. Not quite the Tour de Pharmacy, but it should keep you going.
How does it compare to PBP?
There is relatively more climbing. On PBP you encounter more gradual climbs and rolling hills, whereas the Cape 1000 has 5 mountain passes and you cross each one from both sides.
There is no one around you. On PBP you cycle with almost 6000 others, from around the globe, whereas on the Cape 1000 you are all on your own. No group riding and no hiding from the wind.
During PBP you feel like you are riding the Tour de France, with fanatical supporters everywhere. But on the Cape 1000 the only feedback you get is the odd vehicle passing – and when they hoot it is probably to force you out of the way instead of cheering you on.
And the final difference between PBP and the Cape 100 could be that the financial stakes are low – you didn’t spend much money to take part so the perceived opportunity cost isn’t great.
Live & learn
Looking back, I’m not sure why I didn’t take along Rehidrate, as this was the cornerstone of my nutritional intake during PBP – I religiously took one sachet at every checkpoint and it worked like a charm. I suppose this could be due to my relative inexperience when it comes to long distance cycling, as to date I have only done 20x BRM’s.
Rob for the initiative. Gerhard for the safety car. Family for the support. Dad for collecting us. Eddie for visiting. JHB for joining us. Theunis for the waiting game. Every participant for the adventure. And our finishers for making history. Congratulations Chris & Wimpie. And herewith some more pics, courtesy of Just Keep Pedalling – hop on to their facebook page for more.
After posting this I’ll grab the diary and pencil in some dates to start our regular monthly 200+km Audax rides. Watch this space.