A flower sprouted from the basin of rich South African earth that used to be the bottom of my cycling shoe, as I carved into the mud, hunting my cleat. I’d already been clearing fist-sized hunks of clay from my tyres and brakes for the last 10 minutes just in order to get my wheels to turn again. It was seven kilometres into the Serengeti Mountain Bike race on the first Saturday of February and I’d already encountered more mud in half an hour than I’d ridden over in my entire life. – Kendall Smith
Cursing and slipping, I ended up carrying my mountain bike over about one hundred meters of thick muck. Now, I was removing it all to keep cycling the next twenty-odd.
Later on the route a man stood next to his upturned bike, frantically examining his rear wheel. The rider behind me quickly asked if he was ok, and in return he hurriedly asked if anyone had an extra inner tube. Two people immediately offered theirs, and one stopped saying he had two. He crouched down, ready to help replace the punctured tube, without any rancour or impatience, even though he would be losing time on the race clock. This attitude seems to be unique to mountain bikers.
I cycled on, enjoying the wind and fresh air in my face, the green hills, and the trail under my wheels as I pushed and pulled, strained and coasted. Johannesburg is surprisingly beautiful, I thought as I overtook another cyclist with a sense of déjà vu, and realised I’d overtaken him before… That happens when people cycle at the same speed but at different paces.
“Stop over-taking me!” he panted. We chatted periodically as we kept pace along the trail, warning each other of slippery corners or deep mires. Friendly warnings and banter are not uncommon among people that have never met before, but are cycling the same route together, their hearts travelling the same path and revelling in the wind (and mud). Mountain bikers are out there to have fun, not spoil someone elses’…
Later on, I vengefully muttered to myself, if I could tweet my thoughts during a race, my timeline would be full of emphatic statements such as “MOVE out of my way roadie! MTB etiquette is not that hard, stop hogging the trail!” or “Hate that road cyclists that overtake me on the flats and uphills but then WALK the technical sections and descents while I’m stuck behind them.”
I remind myself to breathe and as I winnow my way past the floundering ‘dirt-roadies. I let go of my irritation: I’m here to have fun after all, not spoil theirs…
I finished the Serengeti Classic coasting downhill, happy and weary. Mud-spattered and cheerful I went to join the very long queue to get my bike washed, chatting with fellow cyclists behind and ahead of me. In summer, in Joburg, that’s the real finish line.
Kendall Smith is a matric pupil at Tyger Valley College in Pretoria. Her father introduced her to mountain biking at the age of 4 and she’s loved it ever since….
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Originally published in TREAD Issue 27, 2014 – All rights reserved