Monday, April 27, 2015

36ONE - 2015

The annual 36ONE was scheduled for the weekend of 17 April 2015. Once again organised by Dryland and to be run around the “basin” around Oudtshoorn. I do not think it is a good idea to drive a long way on the day the race starts, so we booking into a B&B in Ladismith for the night of the 16th. Alex, a Scotsman who has been living in SA for 16 years, runs the Ladismith Manor. He moved down to Ladismith after retiring from a corporate job with a plantation company in Swaziland. He really made us feel welcome and we can recommend him to anybody who wants to stay over in Ladismith. We left after a scrumptious breakfast and made a quick visit to the local museum before heading for Oudtshoorn. We arrived there at 12:00 and had a light lunch before registering for the race, which was due to start at 18:00. In the queue I met a father and his son, Tonie and Bredell Roux form Johannesburg, who was doing their first 36ONE. They were looking forward to the race with some apprehension and I managed to give them some ideas on how to tackle it, which I think they found useful during the race. After I collected my number and the two boxes, in which I could put clothing and other supplies for control point 1 and 3 and another one for control point 2, we took the drive to Oue Werf, 12 km outside Oudtshoorn on the Cango Caves road, where we were staying for the two nights, or rather Sue for two and me for one only! It so happened that my daughter and her husband were invited to a wedding on the neighboring farm, so we were scheduled for some babysitting on Saturday afternoon and evening.

Race briefing was scheduled for 17:00 and there was an informal invitation for all Freedom Challengers, who participated in the 36ONE, to be there at 16:45 for a photo, so I asked Sue to take me through to the start at 16:15. She immediately went back home and agreed to watch me go by Oue Werf at approximately 18:30. I met quite a number of Freedom Challenge participants there, but somehow managed to miss out on the photo! The race briefing was at 17:00 and was as efficient as usual with no real additional information. The one change for this year was that we were starting in three groups. The relay teams were due to leave at 18:00; the teams at 18:05 and the solo riders at 18:10. The relay teams consisted of individual riders doing different sections of the route, while the teams consisted of riders riding the whole route together.

The start was punctual as usual and the solo riders got going at 18:10. The first couple of hundred meters was a natural zone, so racing only started once we left the tar roads of Oudtshoorn, which was after approximately 1 km. We managed to ride the first 30 minutes without lights, but then it got too dark and everybody switch their lights on. By this time we were on the tar road leading to the Cango Caves. This riding was fairly even a we were maintaining an average of more than 25 k.p.h.  This would stop shortly after we took the right turn towards Rust en Vrede Falls.  The road up to the turn off to the falls is tar and also reasonably flat, but it then becomes a gravel road and the gradient increases immediately. From kilometer 24 to 37 it is a constant climb, with a number of small down hills. We climbed 308 meters on this stretch. Once you get over the final hill after kilometer 37, it is all down hill to the De Rust/Oudtshoorn tar road, where we took a right turn and also had our first water point. 53 kilometers completed in 2:25. We went down the tar road for 6 kilometer before taking a left to cross the railway line. Shortly after crossing the railway line, we took a right turn down a farm track, to link up with the next district road leading to Dysseldorp. Most of the last 9 kilometers were fairly easy with only minor little hills to negotiate, but once onto the Dysseldorp road, the gradient intensified. I caught up with Jack Black, a fellow Freedom Challenger, on this section. This was until we reached kilometer 63 where we took a left turn and started the first major climb. The gradient was not that bad, but it continued for 12 kilometers with not respite! Once over the top we encountered some variation with both down and up hills until we reached water point 2, which also was the first control point, after 81 kilometers. It took me 3:45 to complete the first 81 kilometers, giving an average speed of 21.6 k.p.h. While stocking up with some food I bumped into Jack Black again and also saw Coen de Bruin who rode with us from PMB to Moordenaarspoort during the 2014 Freedom Challenge. I also used this stop to collect my leg warmers, an extra Buff and additional gloves from box 1, to arm myself for the colder hours of the night. The leg warmers went onto the legs, the Buff around the neck, the warm gloves into the front of my windbreaker as it was not that cold, but I did put the inner gloves on as additional protection. All this took 23 minutes and I was on my way again.

The next section was very much up and down, but the length of the hills was manageable. Riding at night is very interesting because on cannot see what is coming and you tend to follow the lights in front of you. This also has some interesting twists like going up a hill and seeing the lights disappears, but one remaining. After a while you realize that the remaining light is not a light, but a star on the horizon! The other interesting twist is the reflecting of the lights in front of you in a pool of water only to discover that is actually is some riders going up the next hill. We passed through water point 3 on this section. The undulations in this section were pretty severe and with the rain of the previous day, there were a number of pools of water in some of the drifts. One such pool nearly caught me out when I hit it at speed only to find that there was some soft mud, which twisted my handles bars. It was by pure fortune that I managed to maintain control of my bike and did not have a rather unpleasant connection with mother earth! Passing underneath the road along the railway line negotiates the crossing of the Oudtshoorn/George road. This necessitated riding next to the line for a while and then going onto some farm tracks before linking up with a district road again. This brought us to water point 4. After a quick stop I was on my way again. This next section to water point 5 (control point 2), was fairly easy with a fair number of undulations again, but generally heading down hill. At kilometer 163 we joined the Mossel Bay/Oudtshoorn tar road. After 12 kilometer we turned left onto the Highgate road to Volmoed. I managed to get into a good rhythm and was going hell for leather to reach the halfway point. When I started this section I was on my own, but caught up with some other guys along the way. As we turned left I pushed the pace and after a while realized that I dropped the rest of the guys. I managed to maintain this pace right up to control point 2, which I reached after 9:56. I therefore achieved an average of about 18 k.p.h. for the first half of the race. While refreshing here, I bumped into Tonie and Bredell Roux as well as Coen de Bruin and Jack Black. By this time my Garmin was beginning to run short on battery power and I had to connect it to my Power Monkey to recharge it. Unfortunately I left my long cable at home, so I had to take my Garmin off the handle bar and leave it inside my cycling top while it charged. During this switchover I managed to stop the timer, with the result that my time and distance from water point 5 to 6 was not recorded!

I notice, during the previous section that two guys kept on passing me and then shortly afterwards I would pass them again. This continued for quite a while, but we never spoke. These same two guys passed me again shortly after leaving control point 2 and this time I recognized them as the Roux father and son pair. Once again the passing and re-passing started to happen. The first part of the route to water point 6 was mostly uphill and the going was pretty slow. We were about six to eight riders who sort of rode together. Everybody seems to have different strong and weak points, with the result that there were lots of passing and re-passing. At 05:26, the red light on my headlight came on. This meant that I had about another 3 hours of lighting at the current level. (I always ride with my head light on level 2 as this gives me about 10 hours of light and it is strong enough for normal night riding as long as the route is not too technical). The passing with the other guys continued up to water point 6 which we reached shortly after sunrise, where I arrived with the Roux’s.

After a quick stock up again, I was on my way. The Roux’s managed to get the jump on me and was down the road allready by the time I left. Initially there was a number of hills, which made it difficult to catch the Roux’s, but once we hit the down hills to the crossing of the Gouritz River, I quickly reeled them in and even passed them before we reach the river crossing, but once we started climbing up the other side, they had just too much “vooma” left for me to keep up with them. At this point my energy levels was very low. My legs were barely ticking over on the inclines and there was 120 kilometers to go! I reached water point 7 at the foot of Rooiberg, just as the Roux’s left. The drag up Rooiberg was slow and determined. Slow due to lack of energy, determined because I was not going to revert to pushing. It took me close to an hour to complete the 5.65 kilometer climb to the top, ascending 380 meters in the process. Once over the top, it was easy going, but the road surface was such that I could not use the gravity of the downhill to full effect. Once in the valley it was just a big grind into Calitzdorp and to make matters worse, the road was very corrugated. I rolled into control point 2 (water point 8) after approximately 17 hours in the saddle. That meant that it took me nearly 7 hours to do the 77 kilometers between control point 2 and 3! An average of 11 k.p.h. Here I bumped into the Roux’s again, for the last time. I found a nice place to relax, collected some food and proceeded to have a good rest. I also disposed of my lights and extra clothing in my box transported here by the race management. I also changed to a different pair of riding shoes. My stop over here was approximately 29 minutes.

When ì left the legs felt a little better, but the backside was very tender! Initially I did not want to sit down because it was too painful, but after a while I got used to it and it became bearable! The section from Calitzdorp to Kruisriver is very scenic with a fair number of undulations and a general upward trend ascending from 242 meters to 690 over a distance of 26 kilometers. All of this is reasonable until we get to the last 4 kilometers where we climb 200 meters before descending to water point 9 at Kruisrivier, where they seems to farm with flies. I have never in my life come across so many flies! It nearly is as bad as a plague! I remembered from the previous races that there are a number of nasty climbs between water point 9 and 10, but my memory did not serve me well. I thought it was two, but it is three and they are brutal, especially coming after 310 kilometers and to make matters worse, when you come over the last one, another one looms in front of you! Fortunately we took a right away from this in the valley to start the journey home. The rest of the route up to water point 10 is quite scenic again, running down a valley next to a stream and with cultivated farmlands along the road, intersected by the odd hill or two. I was quite pleased to reach water point 10. With only 23 kilometers to the finish, the end really was in sight, but for a weary body, that is a very long 23 kilometers, especially as the road tends to go slightly up. Under normal circumstances this incline would not be a problem, but at this point of the race it was not very pleasant! My joy was great when I got to the tar road leading to Oudtshoorn with only a couple of kilometers left.
As I took the last right turn leading to the finish at Kleinplasie, I saw that my time was on 21:50, with the result that I put everything into the last kilometer, which was down hill and managed to finish in 21:52:26! The Roux’s beat me by 24 minutes, but I managed to come in before all the other Freedom Challengers, with the exception of Chris Fisher, who finish in just over 17 hours.

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