“Do you know all my passwords?” asked my wife, Joanne, after just less than an hour had passed during the 84km Pursuit Challenge at Buffelsdrift on Tuesday. “If I die on this ride, you’re going to need to know all my passwords,” she said as we made our way up ANOTHER rough-surfaced climb. We’d only covered 13km, was she kidding? Turns out she wasn’t…
His – by Sean Badenhorst
Quick rewind: We started a ‘His and Hers Diary’ for the 2019 FNB Wines2Whales three-day stage race to document our preparation and the event itself as Team TREAD. It was relevant content at the time and gives some insight into the differences between what a married couple (in their late 40s) with full-time work and a family go through in order to prepare for a mountain bike-themed challenge.
This whole Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant lockdown has thrown everyone’s lives into disarray. We’re both committed to riding the 2020 FNB Wines2Whales – the first edition of the Switchback (reversed route) but aren’t even certain if it will go ahead.
Our riding during the lockdown (now in Week bloody 19!) has been consistent, but not hugely challenging, so when I saw the Pursuit Challenge I thought this might be the perfect way to measure where we are both physically and mentally and what’s required in order to be ready for FNB Wines2Whales in late October…
At first, Joanne declined, saying she didn’t think she’d manage 84km at Buffelsdrift. But the next day she changed her mind – because she can. Although the Pursuit Challenge must be ridden alone using individual time trial-style rules, we decided that we’re not going to be chasing any kind of podiums, so would ride together from start to finish.
Time together has been lacking during this lockdown, so a bike ride on a weekday is almost like a date. Actually, it’s exactly like a date, just with 25 years of marriage experience thrown into the mix.
We’d both ridden a few times at Buffelsdrift before, so weren’t unfamiliar with the type of riding there. But when you’re down to complete the 84km Buffuni route – Buffelsdrift’s toughest trail – and aren’t a local, there’s a reasonable level of trepidation.
We’d seen on the route profile that there was a lot of climbing in the first 25km, so we were prepared. But not prepared enough. Because climbing and descending repeatedly is one thing, climbing and descending repeatedly on loose stoney and hard rocky surfaces is quite another! You cannot relax for a moment and have to be 100% focussed on the trail – ensuring you have traction and control.
That’s why, after just 13km and almost an hour, Joanne, starting to become worn down by the challenge, brought up the passwords topic.
Fortunately, the route changes completely after 35km and becomes more open and uncomplicated, with minimal climbing and descending. Joanne started singing a few songs to break the monotony and asked if I was going to sing a song too?
“No, I’m saving my energy. I may need it later on,” I mumbled.
At around 3 hours 30 minutes Joanne mentioned that her feet were starting to burn (something she experiences on most long rides when it’s hot/warm). Dipping them in cold water normally sorts this out, but of course this socially-distanced race has no traditional water points, so she just had to wait until we reached the second water point at 60km. It got hotter (Garmin showed it reached 31 deg C) and she became a little wearier as we got close to the 60km mark which we were both looking forward to as our scheduled second stop.
But 60km came and went and there was no sign of the JoJo Tank mentioned in the route description. With each passing kilometre we grew a little angrier with the race organisers at this oversight. And then almost unexpectedly, at 65km we came across the large green JoJo Tank. It was a huge relief! Joanne was able to douse her hot feet and we were able to fill our bottles and gather ourselves for the final 20km or so. [Turns out we didn’t read the instructions properly, which said the second water point is at 64km. Silly us!]
The next 10km passed without incident and then with 10km to go, everything changed. I looked back as we started the bitch of a climb named Ockies and saw Joanne had stopped. I could see she was very uncomfortable.
I quickly thought about her passwords quip earlier and asked if we should just stop and I could ride back to the car and drive to collect her (we weren’t far from the main gravel road). She shook her head and started pedalling up Ockies, which seemed to go on forever.
It really is a tough climb and she decided to dismount and walk for a while. I walked with her, empathising with her and agreeing that it’s ridiculous to send competitors up this stupid climb so close to the end. Eventually we reached a flatter section where we remounted. I was starting to feel a bit tired too (I haven’t done a five-hour ride in months). We encouraged each other and covered the last few kays rather slowly.
The finish line banner was a truly welcome sight! The place was deserted – not one human anywhere to be seen. No finish-line buzz. No encouraging clapping or contagious spectator energy. Nothing. The venue was empty but we felt fulfilled and hugely proud of ourselves for completing the Pursuit Challenge. Our total time was 05 hours 42 minutes and 57 seconds. It was tougher than I expected, but damn, if feels good to be competitively challenged on a mountain bike again…
If you have reasonably good cycling condition and if you can afford the entry fee (R299) and the time required, give the Pursuit Challenge #1 Buffelsdrift a bash. It ends on Monday, 9 July. No matter what, it will challenge you in some way. For Joanne and I it was a challenge of survival and, ultimately, revival. Our focus is now on improving our condition for Wines2Whales 2020!
Hers – by Joanne Badenhorst
Its been almost 19 weeks since our president launched the Covid Lockdown. In more ways than not, it has been devastating. The lockdown restrictions have crushed the event industry across the board, from social events, concerts, cycling events. Basically, anything where more than 50 people can congregate.
Yet, in this time, cycling has boomed. People want to ride their bikes. South Africans are competitive by nature, so new ways of competing have been created. One of those ways is Social Distance events, like the Pursuit Challenge #1 Buffelsdrift.
Sean and I spoke about this event and I thought he was crazy. Then I thought what the hell, I need a challenge. I have been fortunate enough to have kept my cycling up through-out Lockdown Level 5 on the indoor trainer, Lockdown Level 4 within-five-km-of-my-home outrides and the indoor trainer, then Lockdown Level 3, pretty much any place I could get to within my province, with a little bit on the indoor trainer. Although I’m the heaviest I’ve been in ages, thanks to menopause and bad diet, I’m probably the most cycling conditioned I’ve ever been. I knew it was going to be a long day in the saddle, but I was up for the challenge.
Off we went early on a Tuesday morning to tackle 84km of pretty rugged African mountain biking. We were the only car in the car park. Not a single person to greet us, to check our access bands or to sell us a coffee. No music, no MC, no fellow riders. Just us. The new norm for social distancing events.
The first 30km saw us tackle some proper MTB trails, with not much time to take a sip of our Biogen energy drink. But I loved it. Being in the quiet bushveld, with my favourite person, riding our mountain bikes. The ‘waterpoint’ (a tap) at 35km was a welcome little rest stop. We lubed the chains, drank, filled the bottles and had some snackage that we were carrying in our pockets. Baby potatoes are our go-to at water tables at events. I thanked the imaginary waterpoint staff and we continued along the race route.
The next 30km were fairly easy going. Lots of straight dirt roads and cattle paths. We managed to pick the pace up nicely. (Disclaimer: Sean and I rode the route together; it was the only way I would consider doing it – we will not be eligible for any prizes). I started getting the hot feet thing in this section, so was eagerly awaiting the second water point, a JoJo tank at around 60km. It was not there, so we just kept pedalling.
Just as we were beginning to think the organisers had dropped the ball, or somehow we had missed it, there it was. A beautiful big green JoJo tank! A welcome sight at 65km. We cooled off a bit. I wet my feet, we lubed the chains, drank, filled the bottles and thanked the imaginary waterpoint staff as we headed off to tackle the final stretch. [Afterwards we re-checked the race info and saw that the second waterpoint is actually at 64km, not 60km. We create our own anguish sometimes!]
I had been watching the elevation on my Garmin Fenix 5s. Kilometre 65 to 75 ticked by and I was still in fairly good spirits. I was tired but with the bulk of the distance and climbing behind me, I knew I was going to make it to the end. I did also realise that there was still about 100m of climbing to do before the 84km finish line. Then bam, there it was! Ockies, a climb I knew nothing about, but apparently those who frequent Buffelsdrift are familiar with. I completely lost my sense of humour. Could not understand what person in their right mind would include a super tough climb, about 3km of steep and loose rocks, at the end of an already tough ride. I muttered a few choice words and eventually could not pedal anymore, so resorted to hike-a-bike mode.
After a stroll up the hill, I regained my composure somewhat, mounted my Mia, and looked forward to the final 6km of mostly downhill. By this time, I was in all sorts of discomfort. So much so that I didn’t even enjoy the downhills to the finish. The only reason to smile was that I had made it. Ours was still the only car in the car park, not a single person to greet us, to check our access bands or to hand us a medal. No music, no MC, no fellow riders, no witnesses. Just us.
A last-minute decision to do an 84km Social Distancing event left me with a huge sense of achievement and I was incredibly proud of myself. In my head I guessed it would take us six hours, so was chuffed we broke that six-hour mark, stopping our Strava at 5h42. The ride was tough, but I am tougher. I am already looking forward to the next challenge with my favourite person.
For details on the Pursuit Challenge: https://pursuitchallenge.co.za
There are still entry spots open for the 2020 FNB Wines2Whales here: https://wines2whales.com/home/