Monday, September 20, 2010

Queen of the Mountains

I had lots of things planned for this weekend. A bike trip to the Garden Route across the Prince Alfred Pass towards Uniondale, searching for the Uniondale ghost, riding down into the Langkloof, everything to make my weekend hopefully a memorable one. But unfortunately the "Forces of Nature" had other plans for me, or the people at the SA Weather Bureau just had their worst weather predictions in a decade. Rain, rain and more rain was predicted. So the results of their most inaccurate weather predictions left me chaperoning my other half on her way to her first Karoo to Coast Mountain bike race.

Forest side of pass close to Knysna
Road cutting through the rocks
When my wife decided about a month before the infamous Argus Cycle Tour that she was going to take part, she had a lot of people raising their eyebrows. Some gave tips and without actually suggesting that she would not make it still made her feel as if she was not going to make it. To cut a long story short, she was not going to back out and eventually completed the rest in a very good time and with a smile on her face. Take into account that her Trek 830 mountain bike is about 18 years old, that she did her last fun ride about 15 years ago and that she did not really train for this, in many's eyes she did very well and even had me surprized. To allow herself to stay motivated and not quitting from keeping up her new interest in cycling, she looked for another challenge. This time it would be one of the more grueling mountain bike races, the Karoo to Coast. This time some experienced riders told her in her face that she was not going to make it. And to make matters worse, with her current bike her chances of finishing this real mountain bike race looked even dimmer. So, MY weekend changed into HER weekend as I was taking her over the Outeniqua Mountains towards Uniondale were the race would kick off. The last time we crossed the Prince Alfred Pass was about 15 years ago and I could see on her face that she couldn't remember how many steeps climbs and sharp bends there were on this pass.  The pass would form part of many other steep up and down sections that makes this race according to a well-known cycling magazine "one of the 10 best mountain bike races in South Africa".

More bikers on their way to Uniondale
Pronce Alfred pass
The road between Knysna and Avontuur hosts one of the most impressive gravel passes in Southern Africa. The scenery on the coastal side changes from subtropical forest into Karoo "bossies" on the other side, from a moderate climate to a very dry and hot climate. One has to drive the pass to experience the beauty and appreciate the extraordinary engineering skills they had many years ago, and what better way to do it than on a mountain bike. But there was another objective for her doing this race. If she could complete it, she promised herself a new mountain bike. When asked by a less informed relative what the difference is between her current bike and the other bikes taking part, all I could say was "light years". From the 2000 bikes in the race, she probably had the oldest one, and only one of two bikes with no front suspension. The rest were new high tech stuff. This made her motivation to finish just more intense. I was actually feeling sorry for my wife for attempting this race with "less than adequate" equipment, but she couldn't be phased, she was riding for honour and for a new mountain bike and was determined to do it on her trusted work horse. At least the bike has new tyres and the gears are still in working order. She has a very good bicycle mechanic in the shape of her husband, me, and I did some fine tuning the day before, adjusting the gears, cleaning the chain and setting the brake blocks just right for that important downhill sections. All she had to do was to get on and finish the race.

The big guns in front
Tasting the Karoo dust
Because inacurate information was given that the road back to Knysna would be closed on the day of the race, I dropped her early in Uniondale and after taking a few pictures close to the start I hit the road back to George with the plan of catching up with her again as she enters Knysna. For the remainder of the race she would be on her own, doing her own pedalling and changing her own tubes. My biggest concern was punctures and not that the bike would break up into pieces at the weakened corroded  spots or that she wouldn't give up because of tired legs, but waisting time and consequently missing the cut-off time would mean dropping out and not being able to finish the race. That was not an option. My first chance of seeing her again was close to the finish, about 4 kilometres before the end. All I had to do was wait. And what a long wait that was. After getting too worried that she might have ended up in the sweeper truck or still sitting somewhere with two flat wheels, I phoned her hoping that she would be in a place where there is reception or in a position where she could answer her phone. My luck was in, she was about seven kilometres away from the finish, just three kilometres away from where I was waiting to take an victorious "after" picture. She only had seven kilometres from the initial 100 to complete, and minutes away from "qualifying" for her new bike. Oh and minutes away from silencing her critics. What a pleasant view it was for me when she came around the corner with a big smile on her face. I knew at that point that the weekend belonged to her, that she was very impressed with herself and that she was my "Queen of the Mountains". She did it! She's been there, done that, got the T-shirt. Next week we are going shopping, and I hope she gets the bike she deserves. I don't really think she needs it though, but she worked for it and she can have it. I suppose women can also work on their toy collection. "Geluk ou skattebol, jy het gekook en ek is trots op jou!!"

"Before" picture after 5 kilometres into the race

"After" picture after 96 kilometres

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