The Run

I found myself a coach and after nearly three months of following her programming I requested a week of ‘testing’. I wanted to know whether I was making progress and more specifically whether I was making progress at the required rate.

So, upon my insistence an entire week of testing was set aside. On Monday a time trial on a watt-bike was scheduled followed by a 10km run on Wednesday and a 1000m swim on Friday.

I was looking forward to the week but on Monday morning when the alarm went off, somehow my wheels also came off. Against my better judgement I ignored the alarm and decided to push the time trial out to Tuesday. Sometime during that morning my phone rang and without a stutter the HR manager of the accounting firm I was hoping to work for, shattered my hopes of rebuilding my professional career. I abruptly spiraled into a free fall of self-pity and in my mind scrapped a week of testing I was very much looking forward to doing.

The rest of the week was characterized by moodiness and inactivity, getting progressively worse as the week rolled on. By Friday I was overcome by guilt and shame (some ugly habits rearing their heads during the preceding days) and just as quickly as I had fallen into the pit of self-pity I decided to punish myself. The ‘punishment’ would be in the form of a trail run (I’ve never done a trail run before) to a little desert oasis, named Goanikontes, situated roughly 32km to the east of our estate. I have cycled the route hundreds of times before but have never had the inclination to run it.

At 4h30 on Saturday morning my alarm went off. Without my normal hesitation I got out of bed and into my running gear. It was still dark when I left. I resigned myself to the probability that the first 5km would be slow. The low-lying fog, coupled with the pitch black darkness made it nearly impossible for me to figure out exactly where I was. Despite my best efforts I could not locate the track which would take me out the estate and into the adjacent Swakop Riverbed where a single track would lead to the jeep track I was hoping to follow. I ended up scrambling over and through a ‘wall of boulders’ and crossing the riverbed a few clicks east of where I wanted to be.

As predicted the pace over the first 5km was slow. I eventually found the single track I was looking for and steadily built up a rhythm and a pace which I thought would be sustainable over the entire distance (having never run that far I was guarding against emptying the tank too early).

I was now totally alone, in the dark on a single track in the desert. I felt comfortable and relaxed and the only sounds were that of my hydration pack gently slapping my back and the monotonous pounding of my feet. My headlamp struggled to illuminate the track, managing only to reflect off the thick layer of fog covering the barren landscape. Not being able to see much further than a couple of yards in front of me allowed my mind to wander.

Apart from ‘punishing’ myself for not sticking to my training schedule I was also hoping for an ‘a-ha’ moment of sorts, some kind of sign or voice to explain why I haven’t been given the job I so dearly wanted. Seeking comfort and clarity at the same time. Up to that point nothing of the sort happened…

The second 5km’s flew by. I made a mental note to keep an eye on my watch, not wanting to miss the moment I pass the 12km mark which would signal the furthest distance I’ve ever ran. Breezing past 13 kilometers I celebrated in my mind by performing Fortnite’s ‘take the L dance’ (not that I can dance, in fact I don’t have enough rhythm to knock on a door…).

My next mental milestone would be reaching the 15km mark, which if I did my calculations correctly, would be approximately halfway there. At the halfway point I slowed to a brief walk and ate a small energy bar, gulped down a couple swallows of electrolytes before continuing at my now steady pace. Three more kilometers passed by before I was greeted with a spectacular blood-red sunrise.

Sunrise at 18km

Although feeling energized by the dawn of a new day it also woke up the monkey in my mind. With the desert being as flat as can be I was now able to see the track stretching into the distance, disappearing on the horizon. Suddenly being made aware of the magnitude of my undertaking the monkey promptly fired a barrage of doubt through my mind. ‘You have never ever run even half as far as you’re trying to do now’; ‘Soon you’ll be overcome by fatigue’; ‘Isn’t your legs tiring?’; ‘You chose the wrong pair of running shoes for this terrain…they’re heavy, they’re holding you back and will soon cause you to come to a grinding halt…’ My mind was now sifting through all sorts of messages of doubt and inevitably my paced slowed. A quick glance at my watch confirmed what I suspected – the last kilometer was more than half a minute slower than the average pace so far.

I chose to ignore the voice and to concentrate on my breathing, gently inhaling and then exhaling in two short bursts, ‘in, out-out, in, out-out…’ I was creeping up on the half marathon mark, a milestone that’s been on my radar for a while now. Not only will it be first time to that distance it would also mean that I have covered two-thirds of the run. I felt a real sense of achievement and even a tinge of gratitude upon running past the 21.1km mark. At that moment I also knew I was going to finish this without walking.

The last 4 kilometers were brutal. Not because of fatigue but because of the steepness of the decent into the riverbed and my own imaginary ‘finish line’. With every pounding step my quads exploded with pain, not knowing how to deal with the sheer impact of each stride other than by sending sharp bursts of pain through my upper legs. I remembered hearing once that you should not fight the slope but that you should ‘go with it’. I lengthened my stride and allowed myself to accelerate down the gorge towards the finish. This somewhat helped, either that or the thought that this will soon be over…

I reached Goanikontes with a sense of sadness. My run was over, yes I made it but no ‘moment of enlightenment’, no ‘lucidum intervallum’, no message or sign… It was only after I showered, lying flat on my back in the shade that it occurred to me that, although not profound or life-changing, I ventured into unknown territory, I operated outside my comfort zone and I achieved what I set out to do by simply refusing to give up (and a dose of belief). Something I will cling to in my quest to resurrect my professional career. In that sense I guess the run served it’s purpose. I will not quit.

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There is no “I” in “team”

On the 7th of December 2018 I lined up for my 4th Desert Dash. A 24hr MTB race covering a distance of 373km and in the process crossing the Namib Desert from east to west.

I am in a 4-man team. Twice I completed the race in a 2-man team and last year I completed a solo. The 4-man format should therefore not present any problems whatsoever.

That was also the overriding thought during my preparations for the race. I’ve soloed this thing so riding a 4-man should be easy. Not necessary to train all that hard. Just show up in reasonable shape and the rest will take care of itself.

But the Dash had other ideas. Straight out of the start-shoot we were met by a nasty westerly wind that derailed our carefully worked out plan for the first two stages. I deliberately took it easy up the Kupferberg Pass on stage 1 knowing that stage 2 was straight into a headwind. The youngsters on our team were however either full of adrenaline or just simply over excited as they blasted up the pass hardly pausing to wait for me as I gingerly made my way up to the top. (Everyone can start strong but it’s not about how you start, it’s all about how you finish…a lesson that’ll be learned during the next 20 odd hours…)

I suffered through stage 2 and handed over the baton to one of the young guns who’s unenviable task was to deal with the unrelenting hills of stage 3. He did a stellar job but arrived at the halfway mark looking ragged and utterly spent.

Another youngster took over on stage 4, a flat stage and by far the easiest of the 6 stages. He arrived at the end of the stage cramping like crazy and for the first time the thought occurred that we might not make it to the end.

Pieter, my Dash partner for my two two-man finishes was on next, only he could not get himself on the bike! He had severe stomach cramps, was throwing up and already in a state of dehydration. We still had 126km to go and the possibility of a DNF was now real.

Summoning every ounce of willpower Pieter got on his bike and wearily started the 72km 5th stage. Waiting anxiously at the end of stage 5 word arrived that Pieter was found lying on the ground next to his bike at the waterpoint midway through the stage where somebody gave him valoids and something to drink (and persuaded him to again get on his bike and cycle to the end of the stage). In the meantime we arranged for the ambulance personnel to be on standby for his arrival. Pieter arrived at the end of the stage, grey as a ghost and went straight into the ambulance and onto a drip. There he lay for an hour while a little bit more than a liter of fluids slowly entered his system.

Pieter in the Ambulance, end of stage 5

Pieter is not a quitter, In fact he is one of those you would want to go to war with. Pieter still looked weak after the drip but he spent a couple of minutes walking around, allowing his system to cope with the added fluids and then looked us in the eye and said that he was ready to get going. The last stage, although shorter than most is by no means easy. A fair bit of climbing, thick sand and against the prevailing westerly breeze, it hammers in the last nails…

Just the fact that Pieter got onto his bike and was literally willing his body to the finish line gave me all the inspiration I needed to drag the team to the end. I went to the front and sat there dishing out a steady but brisk pace, the youngsters on my wheel and Pieter following in the slip. On a few occasions one of the youngster would come to the front to help with the pace setting but neither lasted more than a few minutes before slipping back onto my wheel again. Pieter did not say word, he kept his head down and clung to the wheel in front of him as if his life depended on it.

Team Radler at the finish

I’ve seen, and experienced this type of thing a couple of times. When you’re weak, you’re strong. Pieter could not have been physically weaker than he was, yet his courage and determination fueled me with a strength I did not think I had. Fitness wise I was not supposed to be able to operate at that pace for that length of time as I did on that last stage, but somehow I did. The mind is able to override the body, it is however most likely to happen when fueled by strength in the face of obvious weakness.

Pieter at the finish, all smiles

The 4-man Dash of 2018 proved to be my most memorable Dash yet. Even more memorable than the Solo attempt of the year before. It’s the tough times that linger longest…

A New Year, a New Mountain

It’s Monday 14 January 2019. A new year with new opportunities beckons. I’ve made a decision, I chose myself a new mountain to climb. No, wait, I chose two mountains to climb. Summits I intend to reach simultaneously. More on the second mountain later…

The first mountain involves the sport of triathlon. I’ve set small little goals throughout the year, all intended to make reaching the ultimate prize in April 2020 a reality.

I’ve never run a marathon, ever. In fact I haven’t been beyond 10 kilometers. I have also never swam further than 5 meters in my life. So, two of the three disciplines are going to present me with a proper challenge. The third discipline is cycling and I would like to think that I’ve got that covered.

Although I’m not one for dwelling on the past, I am a little pissed at myself for not grabbing the bull by the horns much earlier than January 2019. I’ve had this dream of completing a triathlon for three years now and, up to now, haven’t done anything about it. That all changed on the 14th. My brother send me a text message to meet him at the pool at 12h00. Like I said, I haven’t swam the length of an Olympic sized pool in my life. I figured I first needed a coach before jumping off into the deep-end. But on that day I decided, screw it, I’m giving this a go. I swam 325m. A small step for mankind but a giant leap for myself! Since then I bagged another 3000m. The point is this: procrastination will cause your life and your dreams to pass you by. It will steal your happiness and rob your life of meaning and purpose. Don’t stall, go out there and just do it!

In the meantime I’ve also ran my first 10k and a week later took 4min 30sec off that time! Needless to say that I’m very happy with my progress. That’s not to say that I haven’t experienced my fair bit of frustrations. Swimming is still far from easy and on most occasions I still swallow half the pool. But I intend on doing something about it. I found a coach and for the next couple of months I’ll work on my technique and get it right.

Looking back at the progress I made over the last couple of weeks I realised that the real rewards are to be found in the process. Yes, crossing the finishing line and getting the medal hung around your neck is great but it is only by embracing the process of getting there that the goal will be reached. Reaching small milestones, seeing progress and dealing and banishing the daily frustrations is where the fun lies. Too often the end goal overwhelms us and causes us to quit. Striving to be better, stronger and fitter each day will turn each and every step of the way into small victories worth celebrating and will keep you edging ever closer to achieving that goal.

So, whatever mountain you chose for yourself, get up and go climb it. Don’t delay another day.

Wines2Whales 2018 – Event Report

The W2W is one of South Africa’s most iconic MTB events and this year it celebrated its tenth anniversary. It is a three-day stage race contested by teams consisting of two riders each. Due to its ever-growing popularity there are three races to choose from. The Chardonnay took place from 26-28 October, the Pinotage from 29-31 October and the Shiraz from 2-4 November.

Entries are notoriously difficult to obtain. I was lucky to be invited to participate in the Chardonnay by Werner de Wet, a friend with whom I completed the Solo Desert Dash during December 2017.

All three races follow the exact same route, starting at the Lourensford Wine Estate en ending on the coast in the picturesque town of Hermanus.

Stage 1: 69km and 1650m of climbing

W2W D1The climbing starts straight out of the start-shoot up the Lourensford Neck. The temptation is there to get sucked in by the hype, nerves and excitement of the start and race up the hill but that would be something you’d pay for dearly later on in the race. The ideal is to get into a rhythm early and to race you own race.

Once up the the hill you are rewarded with spectacular views of Stellenbosch and Cape Town before descending down a long and steep downhill. The first water point sits at 18km. It’s then another 20km to the second water point at Idiom Vineyards but between these two refreshment stops is the notorious Vergelegen climb – the toughest of the entire race. We encountered temperatures in the high 30’s, low 40’s making the ascend a brutal affair. Shortly after the climb the track winds down through some vineyards which was also the scene of my first crash. At nearly 40km/h I missed a route marker and my attempt to turn only served to send me flying over the handlebars and into a vineyard. Apart from minor damage to my front brakes and ego I managed to limp into the second refreshment station unscathed.

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Shortly after my fall – that white cycling jersey would never be the same again…

Shortly after the second water point, the Gantouw Pass – a compulsory portage section – provided the iconic challenge of the day. Carrying your bicycle up the steep incline in soaring temperatures was tough to say the least. The reward on the other side was some of the best single track in the country.

Day 1 was made all the more difficult by the extreme temperatures and a word of advice would be to take it easy on day one. The best is still to come.

Stage 2: 66km and 1350m of climbing

w2w d2Dubbed “Play Day”, Stage 2 is one of the race’s many drawcards, with sublime single track, manicured berms and mind-blowing descends. The first 25km flies by with the real fun starting as soon as you enter Paul Cluver via the new Rietvlei Roller. The thrills continue on the feature-laden rollercoasters of Raka, Swing, Ark, Cobra, Mamba, Boomslang, Pofadder, Jakkals and Pine Singles. Despite the heat and the exhaustion it is nearly impossible to wipe the smile of your face.

The Thandi switchbacks, which appear just after water point 3 at the 52km marker, are a sting in the tail before the thrilling, purpose-built KROMCO-PERI Bike Park.

On Day 2 I managed to stay on two wheels and it was definitely the most fun I had on a bike in a long time.

Day 3: Distance 72km and 1250m of climbing

w2w d3The third day is a challenging affair. Most of the climbing comes in the last 30km of the race so it would be wise to not empty the tank right from the start. The trickiest section of the stage is the Kat Pas descend just after the Houw Hoek trails. Caution is advised as this is a particularly fast descend on a rocky, loose and rutted surface.

The first water point (24km) is located at the Botrivier School where hundreds of school children line the streets, cheering on the riders. The next 20km takes in a large portion of the Wildekrans trails before rising to water point 2 at 43km. Its wise to pace yourself through this section as a nasty series of ups and downs await – the breathtaking Gaf-se-Bos and Hemel and Aarde trails will take your breath away (literally). The last few kilometres drop you into Hermanus and the magnificent Marine Hotel where we were welcomed by the very whales that inspired the event.

The FNB W2W is an event not to be missed and if you haven’t experienced it before it should be right up there on your bucket list.

Kaokoland – All Roads lead to Puros

The Community Camp at Puros is Kaokoland’s best campsite. I know, there are other camps with better facilities. But there’s not many other camps where you can be seated on the “throne” with an elephant showering in the cubicle next to you. The place is simply special.

Getting to Puros is half the fun. From Sesfontein you can either take the gravel road (D3707) or you can follow the Hoanib River to Amspoort and travel via the Ganias or Giribes Plains. I’d suggest the latter option (9 hours). Although, following the gravel road will take less than half the time, you’ll also arrive with less than half your teeth still in your mouth – the corrugations are terrible.

The camp itself is well shaded. Large camel-thorn trees provide ample shade and the ablution facilities is well concealed in the salvadora bushes scattered throughout the camp. Most of the time there’s running water, flush toilets and warm showers. The camp is however not elephant proof and when these mammoths do come for a visit it is not unusual for them the ‘interfere’ with the water supply to the ablutions.

But you’re not there for the toilets or the showers. You’ve traveled to Puros to experience a bit of Kaokoland’s magic. The camp is situated on the banks of the Hoariseb River. The riverbed is frequented by plains game such as Springbok, Oryx and Giraffe. I have alo been lucky enough to spot a lioness with her cubs 3 km’s downstream from the camp.

Then there’s the desert elephants. They love the Hoariseb River. Drawn to the riverbed by its many natural springs and ample food supplies lining its banks. They also like the camp, frequently visiting, especially “after hours”.

When camping at Puros it is a good idea to park the vehicles in such a manner that it forms a laager of some sorts. The idea is to keep the elephants out. They are curious and can smell an orange from a mile away. If you want some “action” during the night, stick a few oranges underneath your mother-in-law’s tent, and wait…

Like I said, the ablutions are particularly well concealed in clusters of Salvadora bushes. The bushes however do not prevent the elephants from entering a shower or a toilet cubicle. It was September 2012. We were camping at campsite no.3 (my favorite) when shortly after dinner auntie Karien went for a session on the “throne”. She was already safely seated when a large bull appeared between us and the ablutions. Pierre was visibly nervous knowing that his wife is blissfully unawares of the elephant lazily grazing on the branches directly above her. It was only when the elephant rounded the corner and entered the shower cubicle next to Karien that she became aware of her predicament. The only thing separating Karien and the elephant was a flimsy make-shift barrier of dry reads. The elephant, not bothered with Karien, proceeded to dismantle the shower plumping and after (what must have felt like ages for poor Karien) taking a drink, nonchalantly turned around and made its way out of the shower, past Karien and off  into the night. We had to “sedate” both Karien and Pierre with a 12 year old whiskey…

The Puros area also provides one of the best sun-downer spots the Kaokoland has to offer. After making sure there is no edible temptations lying around in camp, grab a cold bottle of sauvignon blanc and head out to the Jan Joubert Koppie. “The Hill” is situated on the eastern bank of the river and it takes about 15 minutes to get there from the camp. It offers spectacular views of the Hoariseb Valley. Enjoying a glass of wine while the sun sets over the flat-topped mountains to the west is a truly enjoyable experience.

If you’re going to visit the Kaokoland, make sure you spend at least two days at Puros. I’d recommend three.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nedbank Desert Dash – The Second Half of my Solo Ride

Continued from Part 1

We’re one stage 4. In my head, I’m on my 6th loop. We are still slightly ahead of schedule. It is as if stage 3 tired my legs up to a point and that they have now “settled” there. I’m not capable of going much faster but I’m not slowing down either. My legs are simply going through the motions now, propelling me forward at a steady, constant pace. Other things, such as sore hands and a very sensitive backside starts to bother me. Getting off the bike at a water-point is a relief but getting back on, literally becomes a pain in the ass. It takes a while after re-mounting to find the “sweet spot” where the pain is bearable. A cluster of lights in the distance brings the realization that we’re nearing the next water-point. The sixth loop will shortly be a thing of the past.

The stage 4 water-point is, as always, a highlight of the race. A well-stocked table of refreshments greets us. Friendly staff fills up our water bottles and after a quick visit to the loo we’re eager to get going again. As we’re about to set off Werner appears out of nowhere and with a broad smile proclaims “I told you I would catch up!” We’re all together again. Over the course of the race the four of us have been bound together by a common goal. A camaraderie developed and upon leaving that water-point together I knew,  barring a real tragedy, that we would finish the race together.

At the end of stage 4 we are allowed to again meet up with our support vehicles. Spirits are high with the end in sight. It’s 05h30 when we start stage 5, for me, loop 8. Psychologically I’ve won this battle. There is no way I’m going to quit after having completed 7 out of the 10 loops. Fifty more kilometers and we would reach the 300 km mark. Only 69 km left after that. Suddenly the realization dawns that I’m going finish this race. That’s not to say that the last third of the race wasn’t tough. Every so often Pieter or Silvio would set a brisk tempo at the front prompting me to remind them that we’re well within what we aimed for and that they can take it a bit easier. Stages 4 and 5 goes by in a blur.

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Descending to Goanikontes through the spectacular Moon Landscape at the end of Stage 5.

Goanikontes is a little oasis in the desert and also the start of the last stage. Loop 10. Being solo riders and having endured everything the previous 323km threw at us we have little regard for the difficulties of stage 6. It is by no means an easy stage, but thick sand, steep climbs, rising temperatures and tired legs fail to dampen the spirits.

Realizing that the end is near a strange feeling of sadness grips me. It’s all going to be over in a while. A challenge that dominated my thoughts for much of the year is about to be completed. I’m grateful for the guys I’m with. Silvio was a constant source of encouragement. Tirelessly doing his turns at the front. Werner, steady and calm throughout. Even when he wasn’t feeling well after stage 3 he did not look fazed. I was glad to see him rejoin on stage 4. I always knew that Pieter would make it. I’ve known him for a long time. Twice we’ve partnered up and completed the Dash. You’ll search hard and long to find a more solid person and a more loyal friend than him. I’m quietly pleased with my effort. Earlier in the year Kilimanjaro kicked my butt, and despite a very sore behind, the Dash was not about to.

A couple of kilometers before the end the pace picks up. Pieter is aiming for a sub 21-hour time and he’s pulling us with him. Like a horse turning for home I find an extra ounce of energy and hang on to the wheel in front of me. We duck underneath the bridge and swing onto beach. The site of the Atlantic Ocean is just beautiful! I scan the crowd gathered at the finish for familiar faces and spot my daughter. There’s time for a high-five before the timing-mat beeps to signal the end of an epic event. Official time: 20 hours 50 minutes.

There’s a lot of hugging going on and plenty of emotion. “I’m proud of you” my wife whispers. That’s reward enough.

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From left to right: Werner de Wet, Silvio Suardi, myself and Pieter Praetorius. Solo Dash 2017 – 369km 20 hrs 50 min

My 2017 Solo Dash, is dedicated to Josh Williams. A “Little Big Man” that taught me to focus on the “awesome side” and not the “other side”. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Nedbank Desert Dash – Soloing through the Namib Desert

This is part 1 of a two-part series on my solo ride through the Namib.

I’ve written about the Desert Dash. A 369 km mountain bike event, slowly turning into Namibia’s premier test of grit, determination and the ability to endure. Soloing the dash is about mental toughness, not physical ability. The reward is life-enriching, even life-changing.

It is a little after 13h00 on 9 December 2017 and I find myself in an underground parking lot of Windhoek’s largest shopping mall surrounded by other “Dashers”. All in all one thousand mountain bikers are herded into a couple of starting groups. Solos first, then followed by the 2- and 4-person teams.

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Organised chaos at the start of the 2017 Nedbank Desert Dash

I’m nervous but at the same time at peace with my fate. There’s nothing I can do now that will change the outcome of this event. Finally the loudspeakers crackle into life and the countdown begins, 5..4..3..2..1..Go! Tentatively I swing a leg over my bike and without clicking in start up the ramp. The bottleneck, before exiting the parking garage, causes a few riders (who have clicked into their peddles) to fall over. I’m not taking any changes, and gingerly make my way out and into the hot afternoon sun. My solo attempt is finally underway.

When faced with a daunting prospect or a seemingly insurmountable challenge, brake it up into small bite-size portions and concentrate on one piece at a time. I’ve broken the 369 km route up into 10 “loops” of roughly 37 km each. The first stage is 35 km in length and takes us up the Kupferberg Pass onto the highest point of the race at 2050 m above sea-level. Stage 1 is loop 1.

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Pieter and Me at the start of the 2017 Desert Dash. Still all smiles.

The first couple of kilometers are on tar. Shortly after hitting the gravel I find myself in a group with Pieter Praetorius, Silvio Suardi and Werner de Wet. Exactly five years ago Silvio talked me into driving a support vehicle for a 4-person team. The rest is history. It’s Silvio’s 3rd solo. For the rest of us, it is our 1st solo attempt. All of us planned how we’ll tackle the race beforehand. A quick chat reveals that our plans are more or less the same so we decide to stick together for as long as it lasts. We realize that at some stage self perseverance will take preference over the interest of the group and it will be every man for himself. That is just the nature of solo endurance events.

Loop one flies by and despite the suffocating heat we reach the first water-point on schedule. We allowed just under two hours for stage 1. In my mind I tick off the first loop, 9 to go.

Stage 2 is a scenic 67 km stretch of gravel road with a water-point roughly halfway into the stage. This is my loops 2 and 3. A tailwind pushes us along at a much faster pace than planned. Instead of using the wind to expend as little energy as possible while still sticking to the plan, we go hard. Pieter is in a particularly racy mood and soon disappears off into the distance. I glance down at my Garmin and with my heart rate hovering in the low 160’s decide to take my foot off the gas. I make peace with the fact that the next time I see Pieter will probably be at the finish. I’m a bit disappointed but appreciate the fact that were not a team like the previous year and that on a solo mission it is indeed every man for himself. Werner is happy with reigning it in a tad. Somehow, at the Stage 2 water-point, we’re all together again. Silvio reminds us that the coast is still a long way off and that we need to keep something in the tank for stage 3. Stage 3 is a notoriously difficult stage of endless steep climbs.

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Silvio and Pieter having fun on stage 2

After a quick drink we set off on the second half of Stage 2. My loop 3. The pace is bearable and there’s even time for some idle chatter. Apart from working out a plan of action before the race, I also dedicated parts of the race to my family. It is a strategy that worked well in the past. It gives me purpose and focus my thoughts on a cause other than myself. That way, when the going gets tough I’m not pitying myself but rather focused on something outside of myself. It tends to make me squeeze a bit more out of the tube.

We are nearing the end of stage 2, a part of the race dedicated my sister, Craig her husband and their young family. Like us, they’re in the early stages of “the battle” and they already had to traverse numerous steep hills with many more still looming in the distance. The thought of them makes me forget my aching legs.

We reach the end of stage 2 (also referred to as the Kuiseb Water-point) approximately an hour before schedule. The water-point itself is a disappointment. The supply truck got lost and failed to deliver the goodies that were supposed to replenish our energy stores. Without dwelling on the small setback we head off on stage 3. The sun is setting and it’s getting dark. The stage starts with a series of steep hills. Less than ten minutes into the stage my light fails. No worries, we still have three lights between the four of us. Then Silvio’s light goes out.

Stage 3 is a suffer-fest but having ridden the stage three times before I expected my legs to complain and my heart to race. The discomfort I’m in does not surprise me, in fact I anticipated it. The effort I’m putting in was expected and therefore something I’m happy dealing with. It is when things get much harder than expected that it catches us off-guard. You are much more likely to quit when the actual effort is harder than the perceived effort. So expect the worst, it helps.

Still staying slightly ahead of our schedule we reach the water-point on Stage 3. And as always, it looks like a scene from a war movie. Cyclist lying everywhere. Bicycles on the side of the road abandoned by their riders. The four of us are all on the wrong side of forty. Scanning “the battlefield” I realize that many abandoning the race are much younger than us. There is definitely a correlation between the ability to endure, and therefore to suffer, and your age.

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Me, dirty and tired at the halfway stage of the race.

We reach the halfway mark of the race after ten hours of cycling. It is 01h00 in the morning as we roll into checkpoint 3. I’m relieved. Although tired I’m still feeling alright. Pieter’s wife, Tanya shoves a plate of lasagna in front of me and orders me to eat. It’s a real battle trying to force down the food. I manage a few forks full and walk over to where Pieter’s cousin offers me a bowl of water. I wash my dirty face. It feels really good. In the meantime Jasper (my support driver) filled up my water bottles, my camelbak hydration pack and shoved a few energy bars into my shirt’s back pocket. Reluctantly I grab my bike and stroll down the gravel road, now lined with support vehicles, to sign-in for the second half of the race. Silvio and Pieter joins me and we’re ready to get going. Werner’s missing. After a short search we find him slumped in a chair complaining about an upset stomach.  He tells us to go ahead and promises to catch us later. Didn’t thought we’d see him again.

Departing from the halfway point was particularly pleasing. I’ve heard from others who have completed solo rides that if you’re on your bike after stage 3 you’re on your way to collecting that coveted finisher’s medal…