This was my 2nd Munga, having finished the last year in a healthy 55th place. Now I wanted to do much better, knowing what to expect. But alas, have you ever read a blog post here where things turned out as planned?
Ps, WP is Water Point and RV is Race Village.
Training was brief. I was lucky to fit in 4 days during the week before the race. It included 3 road bike rides towards Malmesbury of 50km, 70km and 100km, plus a Parkrun with little Nico where we comfortably sat on my shoulders as we walked the 5kms at Root 44. That was it, I was ready.
I was much better prepared with the drugs this time round. Last year the phlegm was debilitating and not a single pharmacy in sight or medic with a solution. This time I took Amuco and popped a tablet in the water bottle daily. Had I known we would go through such vast amounts of windpump water this year, I would have requested an antacid sponsorship from Rennies.
Kit was the same as last, just a little less. Single headlight with 2 battery packs that should last the distance sans charging. Ignoring all the warnings of starting a long ride with untested equipment, I had a new bib (standing annual order from Rapid Sports), new helmet (this one with MIPS) and new shoes, for which I only screwed on the cleats and wore them for the first time on the morning of the race. Yet all of these were highlights en route.
While riding with Philip in the #MoveMyBicycle convoy to Bloemfontein, I flipped open a laptop to upload the GPX file to the trusty Garmin Etrex 20x — but only to find the route file contains around 43k points while the device has a limit of 10k points per file. I WhatsApp’d Rob in the UK and he immediately had the solution, having split the files and uploaded them to Dropbox even before I could finish the same task with intermittent internet access on the N1 North.
It was scorching during the race briefing and in hindsight I should have had more to drink before we set off. Last year I made do with just two filled water bottles (third one just for show), but this year was a different animal. After a quick Spur steak for breakfast we queued up and set off.
I left the casino enthusiastically and overtook a couple of riders from the back. With the first right turn (about 6kms in) my rear tyre burped. I used a CO2 bomb and continued, but there was a slow puncture and a couldn’t find a leak. As luck would have it, I lent my hand pump to someone earlier and never saw it again. The process of inflating and overtaking the last riders continued thrice more.
With just one bomb left I fitted an inner tube. But moments later there was a sandy patch we evaded by cycling on the right-hand side – which turned out to be a thorn farm. The inner tube was no match for hundreds of duwweltjies. I continued cycling with the tyre flat on the rim until kilometre 35, where the very last couple of riders were filling bottles at a shed.
I stopped, stripped the tyre off the rim, removed excess sealant, fitted a new valve, new sealant and set off with cautious trepidation. It lasted less than 5kms. I carried om riding on the rim until the tyre came off completely. There was no-one around. Less than 4% into the race, my Munga pretty much ended, even before it started.
I walked the last 20kms to the first water point, making an effort not to stumble over my lower lip. It was blazing hot and I felt like Jeff Goldblum with all the lazy flies landing on my face. Three water bottles weren’t going to cut it. I already had two more at the shed and stopped for another two at a rural school.
It was getting dark as I was last to arrive at WP1 and saw Joggie’s mate from Spur earlier leave on a bakkie as I walked up the driveway. It took me 7 hours and 7 water bottles to cover just 60kms. So be it. You win some, you lose some.
But there was no way I was going the take a flight or car back to Cape Town. I had 4 days booked out to cycle and didn’t want to forfeit the opportunity. The plan was to get to the first available mechanic to sort the wheel that I can be on my merry way.
Having cell phone reception again I notified Alex via WhatsApp and requested to continue cycling at my own risk. He agreed but said we could be in for a long wait for a possible lift to a mechanic. I took a shower and had some sandwiches before hanging around with JC (stomach bug).
Got a 4am wake-up informing us that the ER24 Accicent Angels will transfer us to RV1 at Vanderkloof dam, where there is a possibility of mechanical help. We arrived close to 8am and I was carefully optimistic when seeing there were still a few bicycles standing outside.
I asked the mechanic which tyre he recommends, and he proclaimed, “For you sir I would suggest to Bontrager Team Issue 29er — because that is the only one that I have left”. Deal. He fitted it while I had breakfast. There were no CO2 bombs or inner tubes left, so if anything went wrong again, I would be back to square one, but at least I would be on the move soon.
I was absolutely delighted to get cracking again and keen to catch some riders. Madeleen was also there and we set off together, riding into the heat. The mercury rose and we stopped at many a windpump, to always ensure full water bottles. About 15kms before the water point I went off ahead.
WP3 was a highlight for two reasons — it was the first where I arrived while actually cycling, but more importantly, I was delighted to find about 25 riders lying on the grass under the massive tree. It looked both like an oasis and the scene of an accident. No-one was prepared to cycle through that heat.
Richard was also there and the two of us set off together. Eventually darkness fell and it turned into Friday morning. Last year Francois and myself covered the first 400kms the RV2 in 23hrs, but this time round we were almost a day behind schedule.
Richard wisely called it quits at Britstown. It was a decision I admired, because doubt whether I would have been able to do the same. The Munga is a huge time and financial commitment and I know how well he was prepared for this, but safety first.
I set off alone and even though the temperature was kinder (granted it was only 5am), the wind was picking up and YR’s predicted 50km/h headwind looked likely. There were more riders around as I got to WP5, where the Steenkamps apologized for Benky devouring most of the peanut butter.
Between WP5 and WP6 the sandstorm hit and I was blown off my bicycle, which is no mean feat, but also partly because when you lose sight in the dust your inner gyroscope breaks down.
WP6 at sunset was delightful as always, with a massive spread to set us off into the night. It was here that I met up with Bertie and Hannes for the first time and we ended up dovetailing each other all the way to the end. Fun chaps indeed.
The new RV3 at Jakhalsdans just outside of Loxton was a treat. Warm open-air shower, great food and you got a private room in which to nap — as you walk down the corridor it looks like you were assigned a cell in an asylum but it turned out to be units in which they kept the animals, also with an open-air section. Brilliant.
Getting up from RV3 was probably my low-point as I took some strain yesterday. But just a couple of minutes pedaling and all is well again, and I am heading for WP7 where the friendliest kids in the world is waiting to serve you. They remembered me and struck up a conversation, which went down well because “al die ander ooms kom sit net hier en slaap”. When I left there even was a motivational card stuck to my handlebar — how cool is that.
The dreaded stretch to Fraserburg followed. I didn’t see anyone else and it went by easier than expected. Upon arrival, it took a visit to 3 different establishments before I could order a toastie. And a beer. And another one. After a 15min catnap on the concrete I was right as rain for my favourite stretch from the previous year — that playfull sometimes singletrack course before you get back onto the R356 to Sutherland.
The lovely Cape-Dutch house at WP8 provided a welcome dinner snack and even though I can’t remember their names I do recall it was a management consultant from Stellenbosch and another Paul Roos old boy from 1998. I was tired and in hindsight a nap would have been the best option here, but I pushed on for Sutherland.
About half-way there I realized this was a mistake. By now I’ve seen about five scorpions and wasn’t overly keen on lying down next to the road, but later I couldn’t help it and fell asleep on the bicycle. Twice.
- First time was in a sandy patch on the right (I prefer cycling on the right-hand side of the road). I just laughed it off and got going again.
- Second time I woke up in a bush, still cleated in. As I was lying on my back looking up at the myriad of stars above, I realized the relative remoteness of this adventure — the trackers don’t have emergency buttons, mobile reception is non-existent most of the time and the ER vehicles go directly from one RV to the next.
The wind was in full swing for the last couple of kms on tar into Sutherland. Eat. Shower. Sleep.
Tada, time for the home stretch. I left two hours later than planned, but it was so worth it. I felt great, grabbed breakfast and started climbing, knowing what lay ahead — the Tankwa Karoo. Ouberg was first and didn’t disappoint. I was much more conservative on the downhill this time round. Failure there would have a binary outcome: vegetable or death.
Upon arrival at WP9 at the Tankwa River Lodge I spotted a lady who did come off her bike on Ouberg. She was in good spirit, despite the missing chunk of flesh on her leg and and clearly in need of stitches. Some bandages later and they were off again. Tough as nails. I didn’t wait around long and also set sail, knowing there is a hike-a-bike waiting around the corner —
That 4×4 climb that zig-zags over the Northern Cape / Western Cape border is not what you would call a firm favourite. I wasn’t going to waste a lot of energy by trying to cycle over it again. This time I started walking when the gradient and terrain got rough and it took less than an hour up and over, with much less effort.
The sun was in full swing through the moon-like landscape that followed. Only now did I appreciate doing it at night before. Once again there was no shade whatsoever and we were exposed to the elements. Getting to the Tankwa padstal was energy sapping stuff and the flags of WP10 was a welcome sight.
I left at sunset. The wind picked up and clearly getting to Ceres was going to be hard work. But tonight I had some company and staying awake wasn’t an issue. At the R46 T-junction we stopped for a minute before starting one of my favourite climbs, Bo Swaarmoed.
Cycling on top of that mountain in the dead quiet of night was a wonderful experience — soon followed by the fast and seemingly never-ending descent into Ceres. By now my Garmin’s batteries have died but I knew where I was going.
Arriving at the sports hall of Hoërskool Charlie Hofmeyr was bittersweet. It was the last race village and the adventure would soon be over. We hooked up with what felt like 20 riders inside and they promptly decided to cycle to the finish as one large group.
I haven’t slept since Sutherland, but same funny chef from Dennebos last year served up a great breakfast that kick-started me back into action. It was still dark when we rolled down Michell’s pass and my lights were depleted, so I sat in the group until daybreak.
Bainskloof was serene and the green fybos was a stark contrast to the five shades of brown from the last few days. I crossed the line at Doolhof around 8am, a whole day later than planned, but ever grateful for arriving home safely — and on a bicycle.
This Munga had been described as hell on earth, but I cannot wait to do it all over again.
WP1 stap. WP2 skip. RV1 VDKloof. WP3 boom. WP4 Nina. WP5 Steenkamps. WP6 pannekoek. RV3 Jakhalsdans Loxton. WP7 garage. Fraserburg 700. WP8 Cape Dutch. RV4 Sutherland. WP9 Tankwa River Lodge. WP10 padstal. RV5 Ceres.