Sunday, April 20, 2014

36ONE MTB Challenge

The 36ONE Mountain Bike Challenge was due to take place during the weekend of 11/12 April. As this was the weekend before Easter, I decided to take the next week off and make a holiday of it. We left Cape Town on Thursday 10 April at 11:00 after I managed a last “loosener” to Duynefomntein and back and also managed to get some last minute work related things tended too. We arranged to sleep at Karoo Life in Calitzdorp. We arrived there at 16:00 and were pleasantly surprised by the wonderful hospitality of Trevor and Tania. Trevor was quite intrigued by the 36ONE and agreed to come down to control point 2 when I came round on Saturday morning. We left at 10:30 and traveled towards Oudtshoorn on the old cement road.

Registration was from 12:00 and we arrived in Oudtshoorn at 11:50, so decided to wait till 12:00 before we book in at our weekend accommodation, which was 12 km out of town on the Schoemanshoek Road. I also placed my emergency cloths in the boxes the organizer provided to take to the various control points. Our weekend accommodation was at Oue Werf, right next to the Schoemanshoek DR Church. Once again the beauty of the place and the hospitality of the owners pleasantly surprised us. It also transpired that the owner’s daughter was at our daughter’s wedding in 2011. After unpacking and putting my bike together, we went for lunch at the farm’s coffee shop. Race briefing was scheduled for 17:00 and Sue dropped me at the start at 16:45. Just after she left, I realized that my water bottle was still in the fridge at Oue Werf. Fortunately the route we were taking went right past the Church and I knew it should take me about 40 minutes to get there. I therefore phoned Sue and asked her to wait at the church with the bottle.

Race briefing was well handled and completed by 17:30. Entries ballooned from just over a hundred last year to more than three hundred this year. We then had the wait till the start at 18:00. The race got going on time with a neutral zone through town until we hit the gravel road leading up to Schoemanshoek. The moment we went onto gravel, the front guys went. I decided to maintain an easy pace and was passed by a number of people. We got to the Church at 18:38 and Sue was waiting for me with my full water bottle. From the Church we joined the road to the Cango Caves and took the turnoff to the Rust en Vrede Falls. We were on tar from the Church to Rus en Vrede Falls and then went onto gravel. Very shortly after that the first major climb started. During the next 10 km we climbed 250 meters and then it was down hill most of the way towards De Rust. Where the average speed from the beginning to the top of the climb was 18 k.p.h. it increased to 21.2 k.p.h. after the down hill, but I must confess going down a hill at 50 k.p.h. in the dark on a curvy gravel road on a mountain bike is quite scary. We reached the first water point after 52.6 km and 2:36:06 with 705 meters ascent. I had a Coke and was on my way immediately. We joined the De Rust/Oudtshoorn road about two kilometers on the Oudtshoorn side, travelled about 500 meters on the tar road and then went left on a gravel district road. After another kilometer or so we were directed onto some farm roads, which connected us with the main gravel road from De Rust to Dysselsdorp. This road was fairly level and I was making good time. Just before Dysselsdorp we took a left turn and stated one of the many “never ending hills” in this race. For the next 12 km we continued going up, not very steep but at such an incline that you can never relax! After 28.49 km and 1:29.23 I reached control point one. In this stretch I reached a maximum speed of 56 k.p.h. but from here the road was much straighter and it was less scary to pick up speed on the down hills. We were treated to a nice warm cup of soup, of which I had two plus some other things to eat. Total stopping time was 9:42.

The next section of the route was supposed to be the “easiest” part with no major climbs, but it very quickly transpired that every nice down hill was followed by an up hill. We had numerous down hills only to have to go up the hill on the other side. I never realised that the Klein Karoo had so many “valleys”! From control point two to the end the water points between the control points increased. Two between one and two, two between two and three and two between three and the finish. The distance to the next water point was 30.24 km and it took me 1:47 with 512 meters ascent and a maximum speed of 52 k.p.h. The next section was 33.68 km and it took me 1:53. Ascent was 423 meters and maximum speed was 53 k.p.h. The last section, which included a stretch on tar, was 36.73 km and I took 1:45 to complete it. I arrived at the second control point at 03:40. Here I had some lasangne and hot chocolate and a nice rest. Total time spent at this control point was 23 minutes and I got going again at 04:04.

The section between control point 2 and 3 is the hardest part of the route because it includes Rooiberg Pass, but we first had a number of other obstacles to overcome. The first 5 kilometers was tar. We then turned off onto a local farm track, which led us onto a district road and some serious climbing. Fortunately the incline was not too severe and I managed to maintain a good pace. During this stretch we had the daybreak over our backs and by the time we went through the Gouritz River, it was light. The next water point came after 34.64 km and 2:09 riding time and total elevation gain of 474. The riding surface was pretty rough and the part of my anatomy where my body and the bicycle met was getting rather tender! Water point 7 arrived after 27.97 km and 1:44 riding time. Here I had to prepare mentally for Rooiberg, which was between me and the next control point at Calitzdorp. This section of 35.72 km took me 2:21. The climb of Rooiberg, where I had to ascent 486 meters over a distance of 6.5 km, took me 60 minutes! The descent was also quite hairy because the recent rains have washed large sections of the road away and I had to go down with great caution! In the outskirts of Caltizdorp I phoned Trevor and was quite glad to see the familiar face when I rode into control point 3. The “roosterkoek” and Ostrich meat offered was well received as well as a soft seat and some coffee. I also had a nice chat with Trevor and after 24 minutes, I was as ready as can be after 280 km to tackle the last leg.

Looking back at my overall progress during the race, this first section of the last leg transpired to be the slowest one! I do not really know why. There are some major climbs in this section, but nothing quite as significant as during the previous part of the race. I suppose it also is a case of at what point in the race this came and the heat increased the fatigue. The distance to the next water point was 30.09 km and it took me 2:24 to complete this distance, which included 581 meters of climbing. The average temperature increased to 32.5 degrees Celsius. Most of the water in my backpack was used to cool my arms and chest rather than for drinking! After refilling my water bottle, back pack and cooling down with some ice water over my head, chest and back, I was on my way again. The temperature was constantly increasing and the hills did not come to an end. We had to “struggle” over four more major climbs gaining a total elevation of 404 meters during the next 29.84 km, which took 1:53 to complete. Half way through section, I met an “angel”! By this time I have ran out of water for cooling down and had very little water left in my water bottle. On my way up the third hill, one of the Dryland bakkies passed me in the opposite direction. As he got level with me, he stopped to find out if everything was OK. I asked for some Coke and he obliged by half filling my bottle with Coke and topping it up with ice! That was sufficient to last me to the next water point. By now the climbing was over and after filling my water bottle I settled into a good rhythm towards the end. It took me 56 minutes to complete the last 20 km, making it the fastest section of the race! I managed to complete this 12 minutes faster than some other competitors who left the last water point with 15 minutes and me into some other competitors who I passed on my way to the finish.

Total distance: 360.17; total time 22:09:48; total elevation gained 4,929, total calories burned 13,230! There were more than 300 entries, but only 111 finished. I came finished 65th and 4th in my age group, finishing 15 after 3rd and 2:34 after the second finisher in my age group! Competition is getting tough!