This has been one helluva year! The South African government’s reactions to Covid-19 have been devastating on many levels, affecting the livelihoods – and lives – of millions. Everything is relative and many things are linked. But there has been one vital thing that has carried many through this dark time and for me, that one thing was most evident at the 2020 KAP sani2c.

By Sean Badenhorst

“It should be okay. It’s only seven kilometres to go,” I said to the elderly gent who lubed my chain at the final waterpoint on the detoured Stage 2. While turning the cranks backwards he felt my right crank was a bit loose and looked up at me with some concern.

“It’s 13 kilometres to the finish from here, not seven,” he said.

Oh well, at least I had a heads-up about the distance remaining. But I was rather eager to get to the finish. This stage is normally the highlight of the annual three-day race, but persistent rain had forced the organisers to send us (rightfully) on a safer route around the Umkomaas Valley.

I’d done this detour route before in 2017 when there was heavy rain. It’s mostly a toil along some rolling gravel road, onto rolling tar road and then back onto rolling gravel road before it finishes with some bits of forest singletrack. It’s really just the easiest way to get you and your bike to the next race village. But it’s not all that exciting. Not by sani2c standards. Nothing close to the world-famous singletrack we’d had to miss riding that day.

It was starting to rain again and we were soaked through already. All of this, combined with the loose crank arm started to bother me a bit. Fortunately, my wife and teammate, Joanne, seemed fairly chipper still. But I could tell she too wanted to get to the end quickly now, partly because she was sympathising with me.

A few times during the three days Joanne I had chatted, looked around us and agreed on how amazing it was to be able to do a stage race in Covid-19-wracked 2020. It truly was a privilege to be healthy and in a position to travel and enjoy this event along with a few hundred others similar to us (although mostly much faster).

But this wasn’t one of those moments. We rode in silence with the occasional ‘TICK’ of the loose crank brushing the chainstay the only prominent sound. We caught some weary riders, one of them who’d been a bit of a knob in the singletrack earlier when passing us. I had run low on patience and since Joanne was on an eBike, I said let’s just ride ahead of this lot, which we did. Even though it meant going into the red for me.

A few more minutes and we turned a corner to hear the music and the MC at the finish line. But as we neared the school where the stage finishes, drowning out the MC and his speakered music, we heard the most beautiful, cheery singing from the high school kids in their school uniforms. These kids are either from low-income or poor communities, yet they were singing with full commitment. They were also dancing with enthusiasm. And it was raining lightly.

I immediately went from feeling glum and gatvol to being overwhelmed with gratitude. Here we were, voluntarily suffering our way through three days of mountain biking on bikes that cost a fortune and, welcoming us to the finish at their school, were these excited youngsters who don’t have much and may never even be able to afford a bicycle. Any bicycle. It was a most humbling experience and I will never, ever forget it.

The instant-mood-improvement driveway… | Photo: Action Photo

The communities through which the KAP sani2c route passes benefit each year from the event in some form. For some, it’s the biggest fundraising opportunity of the year and they look forward to it happening in the second week of May every year. They don’t only look forward to it, they depend heavily on it happening each year.

That the organisers had to postpone it from May 2020 to December 2020 showed their commitment to both the riders and the communities. Mostly the communities because for us riders, it’s a hugely enjoyable bicycle race, a luxury. But for those people that live and work along the route, it’s an essential economic boost that benefits thousands in some form or another, a necessity.

It rained all afternoon and all night and on the morning of Day 3, hundreds of us got up, got dressed, got on our bikes and made our way through some of the most challenging wet conditions I have experienced in my 29 years of mountain biking to the final finish line at Scottburgh.

We passed a number of riders and were also caught and passed by others on the exceptionally muddy five-hour ride. Not once was there anyone that seemed unhappy. Challenged by the conditions, yes, but there was a general sense of positivity.

I saw smiles through layers of mud at the water points. I heard good natured chirps. I felt the rain on my skin and it felt cleansing. I smelled the delicious food at the waterpoints so meticulously prepared by caring people.

In the most atrocious conditions, nobody seemed negative. Certainly not anyone I encountered. The finish line was Covid-restricted, but what it lacked in spectators, it made up for in energy and good vibes.

As I said at the beginning, this has been a dark, difficult year for everyone, but one vital thing has shone brightly. It was shining on Day 2 in those excited school kids. It was shining in the smiles of the organisers and race volunteers throughout the event. And it was shining in riders that were determined to finish the race and finish the year on a high note. That vital thing that shone so brightly at the 2020 KAP sani2c, is the resilience of the human spirit. Bring on sani2c 2021!

Entries for KAP sani2c 2021 are open here. sani2c 2021 entries