We formed a team of four cyclists to tackle this year’s Trans Baviaans. One team member had completed 3, two of us were on our second and one was about to embark on his first.
There really is something special about this race that is aptly named the “Toughest single stage mountain bike race in the world”. The race starts in Willowmore, and from there winds its way through the Baviaans mountains to Jeffreys Bay, a distance of just over 230km’s. The mountains that one rides through are spectacular.
Some High and Lows….
Our team slept in Jeffreys bay on Friday night which meant that we were on the road on Saturday at 4:30 a.m. to get to Willowmore on time to set up. (I am slightly allergic to waking up before 4 in the morning). Getting ready for the race includes making sure that your bike is working, and that you pack the boxes provided with the kit you will need later on during the day and night.
The box system works as follows: There are a number of stops on the way. As a team you get boxes for these stops. Things you pack in these boxes include warm clothes, your lighting system and nutrition. These are then placed in different trucks which make their way to the stations.
At 10 a.m. the starter’s gun was fired, and off we went. The first 6 to 7 hours of the race include a few climbs and some great stretches where you can work on getting your average speed up. There are also a few descents that are fast, breath taking in their beauty and frightening as your bike bounces through the corners! We hit a top speed of 75 km/h on one of these descents.
We decided, as many teams do, to make station three our main stop. There we kitted up for the cold night ahead and got the light systems on to the bikes. The entire team used Magic lights and they worked brilliantly. (Pun intended). The stop provides the cyclists a dinner that consists of potatoes, sosaties and wors. It’s after this stop that the race starts in earnest. As you exit the stop you are faced with a fairly major river crossing and then three major climbs. The first two are short, but really steep. (They go by the ominous name of ‘The Fangs’). From there you drop into a valley with more and more river crossings and stretches of path filled with rounded stones. This makes for some really tricky and tiring riding. This part of the ride together with the finish line constitutes my favourite part of the ride. Valleys mean only one thing, you have a climb up ahead! The climb up ahead is called the “Mother of all Climbs”. It manages each year to live up to its name. The climb is steep, in some sections too steep to ride, so you end up pushing your bike, and it is seriously long. As usual, I had my worst part of the ride on the climb with a prolonged moment of exhaustion and needing to wait for my heart rate to drop to more normal levels.
At the top of the climb is station 4. Trans Baviaans would not be able to exist if it was not for an army of supporters that help out. There is a woman at camp 4 who makes soup. Her soup rescued me last year and things were no different this year for both myself and the team. It really gets cold at this point and your clothing after the climb is now wet with sweat. Having a cup, or five, of her soup is an absolute rescue. The mix of vegetables and the minerals that they have, protein from the beans and meat and the carbs from the potatoes is akin to Asterix’s magic potion. Her warm smile and the fact that each year she calls me “seun” or “son” in English always warms my heart. At 47 years old no one calls me son anymore. The descent after mother of all climbs is just frightening. I am not the world greatest descender, and so I go down with my heart strangling my throat. With limited vision, you get the odd glimpse of just how far you would fall if you were to misjudge a turn. This is also an opportunity to really cool down. The next hill is called the “Never Ender,” and at that stage of the night it never ever ends.
Toward midnight, a massive head wind came up together with ice cold temperatures and hard rain. Fortunately, you know at this point that you are on your way home and you are just too tired to care.
The finish this year was at the main shopping centre in Jeffreys Bay. I have never been happier in all my life to see a shopping centre.
On a personal note.
I was involved in a fairly serious mountain bike accident 9 weeks before the race. I ended up in theatre twice and managed to break a few bones. There weeks before the race I had the ‘wires’, (a rather euphemistic term to describe skinny nails) removed from my hand. As a result my participation was in doubt for weeks. The human body, however, is a wonderful thing and I was able to cross the finish line. My team members were just fantastic and I need to thank Rieghard Janse Van Rensburg Richard Manser, and Morne Reinders for their patience and encouragement. The order of cyclists in the photo is as follows, Rieghard, Richard, myself and Morne. There is something about doing an endurance event as a team that brings out the very best in people. Part of my accident involved a cattle grid and so every time we would approach one the guys would all scream out, “Cattle grid coming up!” This caused massive confusion with the other cyclists around us and peals of laughter from our team.
Will we be back next year? Of course.