If, buts and onlys
Even before the start of the race, in true Jenny fashion, I had several mishaps:
I lost my saddle bag on the trails the night before leaving and only realised the next morning. Fortunately after a couple of WhatsApp messages I heard it had been found on the trails and I was quickly reunited with it!
I brought 10 million chargers but not the one that fits my backup lights. (Thankfully I managed to borrow a charger from a friend and I didn’t need my backup lights anyway)
A bird pooped on my arm as I was loading my checkpoint boxes into the car. (Good luck rather than a mishap!)
There was a power outage in Oudtshoorn on Friday from midday til 3pm which meant I couldn’t cook my pre race meal as there was only an electric stove in my Airbnb. Made do with cheese and avo sandwiches instead!
The predicted temperature for the start of the race had been 42c but it was actually a bit higher (My Garmin recorded the max temperature as 50c!) So off we set at 3pm into the furnace and a strong headwind, which kindly increased in strength for the next couple of hours.
I decided I’d push to keep with the front bunch, in which there was one other lady, Fienie.
The bunch split and Fienie and I rode together for a bit until my front light decided to fly off. I quickly stopped and turned back to get it and then chased to catch Fienie again. A small bunch formed but at about 30km as we crossed a road I lost the wheel of the guy in front. I could have chased to catch and maybe should have, but my heart rate was still through the roof (due to the heat) so I decided to ease off and hopefully another small bunch would come past shortly that I could join.
The heat and wind was hectic. You couldn’t quench your thirst. My fluid in my bottles was now so hot it almost scorched my throat.
As I approached the first water point at about 58km I could see Fienie leaving. I couldn’t skip the water point though as I was desperate for ice and water.
There was a small incline as we left the water point and I realised I was stuck in my granny gear and nothing was shifting. I jumped off to have a look, not that I knew what I was looking for! My chain had slipped off the jockey wheel, and continued to do so every time I used the granny gear. If I just kept to the other 10 gears then it was fine fortunately.
The headwind continued to be relentless and then became a gusty crosswind but fortunately it was getting cooler as the sun was going down. I could see Fienie and the bunch ahead in the distance but they were slowly pulling away from me.
I reached the first checkpoint just after 8pm. I didn’t need any extra clothing from my box nor my back up lights as my light seemed fine and I had a battery bank ready to recharge it if needed, along side my Garmin Edge.
A couple of guys came past not long after I left Checkpoint 1 so I thought ‘Great! They can tow me!’ Sadly it was short lived as they stopped to fix a bottle cage and then they never caught me again.
Despite it being dark I recognized bits of the route from when I had done the race in 2017. And my worry before the race about getting lost if on my own was unnecessary as the route was extremely well marked with orange tags, arrows, flashing lights and marshalls.
It’s quite strange riding through the night, in the middle of nowhere, on your own. The only time I got scared was when I heard some rustling in the bushes and then had some kids running after me. I swore at them and pedaled hard! I’ve no idea how close they got to me. I just heard their laughter and footsteps right behind me. And then later there was something dark at the side of the road which I couldn’t work out what it was, or maybe I was just sleep deprived and delirious but I just put my head down and pedaled!
The water points had a good selection of food; I mainly ate bananas, banana bread and salted potatoes, in addition to my own bars which I carried in my pockets and replaced at the checkpoints. And I took a strange liking to the little cartons of orange juice. The volunteers at the water points were very helpful at lubing my chain and filling my bottles.
Checkpoint 2 at 180km (8hrs45mins into the race) was very quiet. I had been craving a cup of tea but I didn’t end up having one! I had a couple of boiled eggs instead. And went to the toilet for the first time. I’d lost count of the number of electrolytes I’d used in my bottles but I wasn’t nauseous nor cramping and I felt quite good so must have been about the right amount!
I wasted a bit of time at this checkpoint deciding if I needed to eat more food. But just before midnight I was soon on my way again. This next section had the big Rooiberg climb and the slightly rough descent and then the sun would be rising as I reached the bottom and then on to Checkpoint 3. The sunrise was very pretty; I tried to take a photo but it didn’t come out very well.
I was looking forward to pancakes at checkpoint 3 but somehow didn’t see them. I downed a can of Red Bull and was on my way again. There are quite a few climbs on this final section but they weren’t as bad as I remembered.
The volunteers at waterpoint 10 were very friendly and asked if I was lonely riding on my own; fortunately I like my own company. I have no idea what thoughts went through my head for the 19hrs.
The last stretch went pretty quickly and before I knew it I was back in Oudtshoorn and over the finish line. Sadly there wasn’t much of an atmosphere at the finish due to the Covid rules of no spectators.
All in all a fantastic race in brutal conditions. (Apparently almost half the riders withdrew by the first checkpoint!) Can’t wait to do it again…but hopefully next time I’ll have a dual sus not a hardtail mountain bike!
Position: 2nd lady
Overall position: 13th