Sunday, June 10, 2007
Dwarskersbos – Hopefield – Malmesbury
The day started with a sort of haunting cold and haze. It was odd to be so cold, when we knew it could get up to the mid thirties (Celcius) by noon. We began to move out, a train of cyclists, silently stirring up the heavy morning mist.
My partner had been Andre’s partner during the Ladysmith to Barrydale stage. They’d ridden well together so I was anticipating a nice, steady ride. As it happens, after an initial roadside refreshment (outside Veldrif), while Lize huddled nearby on the ground in a blanket, trying to sleep, Andre shot away with his new partner, on a long, flat roads.
I took my partner with me on very long surge and then finally caught him. I think I told my partner at this point: “This is the first time I’ve ridden the first stage anywhere NEAR the front.” Although I suppose with Ize, over those crushing windblasted climbs near Hermanus we were at the front, but then the majority gave up that day. My partner said she’d ridden at the front every day. Fair enough.
I’m not sure what it was but there didn’t seem to be a helluva lot to talk about. My partner thought my Steve Hofmeyr husky voice was my own, not a sore throat that wouldn’t give up. That was okay since there was a strong sense of the Tour approaching its end, and wanting to really absorb these last few moments and scenes. It’s amazing how blabbing all the time can also cheapen and demean a situation that is, in itself, graceful and elegant.
We pulled away nicely, the four of us, so that the dots behind us completely disappeared behind us. But we ended up doing a 30km loop – a circle – meaning we looped right back towards Veldrif, based on some other riding we’d missed somewhere en route. Andre and I were complaining that this didn’t make sense because in terms of the distance we were supposed to be covering, and our next stop, we simply couldn’t be on the right road. When we finally reached the next water point, Chrisna jumped out with a big sign: APRIL FOOL. We were not amused. I wasn’t. The good sensations evaporated at that point for me – I didn’t feel like I had the luxury of energy on Day 7 to be riding an extra 30km on another 110km + day in this heat. 140km after all is a lot further than 110km, it has additional fuelling implications (including needing extra salt) especially when you have 600km of Mountain Passes and all the rest in your legs from the previous 6 days. Moan moan, I know, but that’s how we felt.
I was slightly in observer mode, so I noticed my own irritation and wondered what to make of it. Was it normal? When PJ pulled up he was fuming. He said what we were all thinking: “SHIT! It’s easy for us to do an extra 30km if you’re not doing it.” The point was it’s never easy to be motivated when a distance keeps getting further, and you don’t know where you are going. (Ironically, that sentence appears to be the scenario the world faces in terms of Climate Change, and Peak Oil – our species is going to struggle to remain motivated as everything gets more and more difficult, and unknown – unpredictable – to endure, then survive).
But back to the ride. I was feeling good about health, although I was still not healthy. What I mean is, by Day 7 I realized I would definitely be finishing; for many of the preceding days it looked very, very ominous. This is because, once again, I’d started another Fietstoer (to God’s Window) with a slight cold, and on that trip I rapidly deteriorated, until my cold had consumed me, and the infection turned into a secondary ulceration of my throat (all that constant exposure; the cold wind being breathed in and blowing against my face). Finally a cowboy scarf I was wearing (around my neck and over my mouth) was blown by a sudden gust straight down into my chain, which snapped the derailleur. That same night someone said they had prayed that God stops me from riding. And so for one whole day I didn’t ride, and I remember in that one day how my health flooded back. But the lesson I learned was this: know when to give up, because sometimes you must.
So what was interesting about this Fietstoer was that this time it was about NOT GIVING UP, and investing in inner resources – keeping the Faith. I started in a much sicklier state, and common sense suggested: give up and go home now. And yet somehow I had prevailed. As I said, I felt Sally praying for me combined with staying away from any sugary foods and drinks seems to have helped a lot. And getting enough sleep after two nights of 4 hours total. The sleep thing was crucial. It comes down to discernment: knowing when to give up, and then being in a similar situation but things somehow turning out differently. So I think one has to allows be aware of what you don’t know, being aware of Possibility.
We spent a long time at the watering point, so that a lot of other riders caught us, and so another surge was necessary. We closed a gap, but some other riders got away, and shortly before we reached them, one of the riders, a girl, fell, and fell hard.
She had a small mob around her, so we rode on, at a gentler pace, quietly into Hopefield. It was a strangely named place, after the frustrating additional 30km, but it was great to arrive, and we did so in the leading string.
In Hopefield I remember feeling very sweaty and grotty. I just wanted to get into a swimming pool. It was incredibly hot and sticky, and after the morning’s ride:
Distance: 86km (instead of 56km)
Average speed: 23.7km/h
Temperature: 10 minimum, 20 average, 31 maximum.
…it was hard to imagine getting on the bike again when we felt so hot, clammy and tired. That extra 30km was bugging everyone.
We sat in a small lounge area and chatted, and at a certain point I left for the loo. It was while I was on my own, walking through the churchyard in the insufferable heat, and feeling uncomfortable with the idea of another 60km, that I felt energy well up. GET IT OVER WITH!
As we got ready to ride ideas and tactics and visions popped into my head like so many dancing thought bubbles on a comics’ page.
And so we headed to Malmesbury. The wind was a factor, but less so than it could have been on the West Coast. And so, I stretched my legs on the first steep climb, with the silver guard rails guiding us upward. I pulled slowly away, saw no response, then settled into a rhymn. I remember Annetjie did something here, she got herself quite a lead, but then we stormed past. Not sure how long it was, perhaps 5 or 10km, I kept a sizable gap on what was obviously a chasing bunch, with riders organizing shifts. But unlike the Porterville stage, I knew Andre would be there as well as PJ. But I followed the same strategy – I sat up on the climbs, and then floored it on the downhills. It was on a major uphill that I realized, I was going to need a breather. So I sat up. Perhaps I could ride 20km with them, and then shake them off in the final third. It wasn’t long after we’d consolidated that San Marie got a puncture. We all stopped and I gave her my tube, as well as my CO2, Andre did the honors inserting the tube. We were stuck for about 2 minutes, and as we got ready to go, another rider (involved in the crash earlier in the day) that had dropped off earlier, joined us again. It was an odd twist, me allowing myself to integrate and now being stuck here, donating my gear to fix a girls puncture in the sun. I might have been more goedgesind – umm…happy to give…except I had specially gotten permission for San Marie to ride (I’d specially spoken to Sally on San Marie’s behalf and so an exception was made – there were already too many girls riding) but no thank you, and that was still irking me. Would I get a thank you for giving her my CO2 and tube?
Still, I was impressed with San Marie’s riding, she’d been superstrong on Franschoek Pass, but whenever girls ride with guys, they almost never work in front, and if they do, it’s a token effort. If they did do as much as we did, they’d fall out very quickly. But it’s interesting to see what a difference sitting in a slipstream can make; you’re able to stay with riders on a completely different level.
Having said that, I was determined to shake this group. I put on another 10 or so attacks. That’s a lot. I was like: guys, I am going to attack you around the clock, and they were like: he’s going to attack again, brace yourselves. I thought someone might come with me, especially Andre, but each time they simply closed the gap and then hung with me. Then, much later, in the final 15km, Andre and San Marie attacked, a good hard one on a very steep section. That was where I was able to prove my mettle – not only to them, but to myself. After all, I’d been left for dead on Franshoek Pass, so apparently I couldn’t climb? I was hurt in the beginning, obviously my legs had worked the hardest all day, but I took a breather with the runner’s up, while the steep hill bit into everyone the same. And then, my heartrate stabilized, and I slowly moved up, caught Andre and San Marie, and then pulled ahead so they had to put everything on the line to stay in touch. That was an amazing moment, the infliction of suffering and then bearing it out.
PJ pulled an attack at some point too – but the nice thing was, we were now putting big amounts of energy on the table, and each time big servings came back. One rider was bearly hanging on, in fact he was falling off completely and then coming back during intermissions. I liked this game because even though I was getting tired, I wasn’t weakening, and I felt they were. If they felt stronger than they did, why insist on working in a bunch each time to close a gap, and work together? Without a bunch platform to prop up my effort, I was just as strong, and that’s a great position to be in.
Andre spotted a cement dam right at the side of the road, and there was no hesitation: DAMDUIK! We abandoned our bicycles and our clothes. It was my first, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The roads, with us on it, were cooking! Funny hollow sounds echoed out of the cement dam, and soon, other riders joined us.
Erna took a photo and then joined us, and not long after that, we were cycling again in high spirits, dry as a bone in the searing heat.
I’m not sure if it was good luck or bad, but we thought we were faced with a final monster climb, the final decider, when we saw the bakkies and the bus hovering in a dusty roadside clearing. Here we had to stop and wait for everyone else. We waited for around 90 minutes. Even my partner had ridden the second shift. Some people said they would rather cycle than sit in a hot bus all day.
What remained was 5.6km into Malmesbury in 37 degree heat. And one final challenge. While still on the hill, we were laughing and joking about the attacks, and some people were saying that they had it all under control. So I said, let’s do one last uphill race, a sprint to the top of this hill, ending at the junction with the Highway.
So we stepped up the gears, and brought our banquets of energy to the table. I got there first.
There was a deep and terrible chasm, where the highway fell down into a valley and there, nestled in the dry desert mountains, was Malmesbury, shining white steeples and sparkling roofs, like a lake of silver roofed humanity on some dusty, desolate planet.
In one of those roofs San Marie got herself locked into a bathroom, and Jean broke the door down to get her out.
It was a beautiful day, filled with extremes, and stories. On our last day, the next day, we would turn back towards Langebaan, but reach it on a different road.
Some of the above images courtesy Erna Nel