Words: Keegan Longueira ǀ Photos: Zoon Cronje
MTN NATIONAL MTB SERIES RACE 1
RACING FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF AN ADVENTURER THE FIRST RACE OF THE MTN NATIONAL MOUNTAIN BIKE SERIES DRIVEN BY NISSAN, HELD IN DULLSTROOM ON 8 FEBRUARY 2014, WAS UPON ME AND SO WAS A SPELL OF FLU.
It isn’t exactly ideal to wake up coughing and your nose running, while rushing around grabbing last-minute items at four in the morning, in the dark, for a race you know is not going to be easy.
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THE DRIVE WAS QUICK AND IT SEEMED THAT THE WEATHER GOD HAD BLESSED US WITH CLEAR SKIES. BUT NO SOONER HAD THE THOUGHT ENTERED MY MIND WHEN THE 'MORDOR' OF MPUMALANGA APPEARED IN THE DISTANCE. DULLSTROOM AND BELFAST ARE INFAMOUS FOR HAVING STRANGE AND HARSH WEATHER PATTERNS THAT ARE COMPLETELY INDEPENDENT FROM ANYWHERE ELSE IN MPUMALANGA.
After registering for the race, I prepped my bike and ran through a quick checklist. I remember the race announcer mentioning that there had been quite a bit of rain in Dullstroom and it could be wet out there. Horrific images of the first Barberton 2013 race, where I spent my day trying to recover from chain suck, flashed through my mind. Luckily, this time I was prepared and smiled as I shoved my lubricant into my back pouch. I was ready to take on this challenge, which was part of my preparation for the harshest of cycle conditions while on solo bicycle expeditions in Africa.
Five, four, three, two, one and we were off. Despite my initial idea of not pushing too hard, due to not feeling well, I found myself racing to the front of the super elite batch E, cornering hard and sprinting down towards the first climb of the day. “You idiot,” I thought to myself, as my heart rate rocketed up to 182 BPM. I calmed my mind as my legs raced through the first climb. I recall telling my girlfriend the night before about how in an adventure preparing for the worst always, without fail, saves your life. Mentally, we always need to be prepared so that it is easy to deal with when it happens. As a result, I wasn’t surprised when, after the first climb, the fast, rocky downhill and short, open road that was slippery, thick with mud, and sometimes unrideable single track did not scare me at all.
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BETWEEN THE 20 KM AND 30 KM MARK THE THICK, SLIPPERY MUD MIXED WITH UNDERLYING ROCKS THREW A COUPLE OF SOLDIERS OFF AS THEY NAVIGATED THE BATTLEFIELD, TRYING TO AVOID THE MINES (ROCKS). I AM ALMOST CERTAIN THAT
I RODE OVER SOME GUY'S ARM WHEN TRYING TO AVOID THE CARNAGE IN FRONT OF ME. If he is reading
this, I am truly sorry and hope you are not hurt. Passing tired cyclists camped along the route I was amazed at how well I was handling the tracks, which I am sure the course designer of the Warrior Race had a hand in because there were plenty of 'Mud Monsters' on our way to the finish. I rocketed down the last rocky downhill to water point two, not concerned with even attempting to touch my breaks as the joints in my fingers were throbbing from pain from all the jolting. I shook my hands out at the pit stop, filled up with some Powerade, lubed my chain and then hopped back on my steed, ready to tackle a very welcome flat and slightly downhill section along the train tracks.
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IT WAS AT THIS POINT OF THE RACE WHERE I HAD A CHANCE TO CATCH MY BREATH AND TAKE IN THE SURROUNDINGS. WHAT A BEAUTIFUL PLACE I WAS IN. I MARVELLED AT HOW
SOFT THE GRASSY FIELDS LOOKED AND JUST REVELLED IN THE SPLENDOUR OF THE CLOUDS GENTLY CARESSING THE HIGH PEAKS. I flowed effortlessly downhill to the 40 km mark
and was informed by a fellow rider that a steep climb awaited us! I wasn’t afraid of any incline, "I had seen it all," I thought. As soon as I hit the climb, I felt the muscles in my legs shoot in all different directions, trying to find a way out of working up the climb. Then the cramps began and when the pain became unbearable, I hopped off to give my two pistons a long stretch then got back on my bike, changed into an easy gear and spun up the loose and rocky climb. At one stage I found myself sitting behind a Toyota Prada, so I put the hammer down and sped past some riders. At this point I should mention that I know this is illegal and I will gladly accept my disqualification from 132nd place.
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At water point three there was a moment that changed my day, inspired me and made me smile so much. It might not have been a massive thing for anyone else, but as an adventure cyclist this is what I live for. “I’m sorry sir, we have run out of water,” said the shy looking lady. I stared at her, my mouth dry and my tongue stuck to my palate. I was shocked at first, but then chuckled to myself as I saw the progression from disbelief to anger to fed up in the other riders' attitudes. Sure, it was a terrible feeling being absolutely exhausted and unable to quench your thirst. I imagined all the times I had run out of water on expeditions, sometimes with 80 km still to go, and how it was such a test of perseverance and character. I realised then that if you've made a decision to have an incredible day, this really wasn’t big enough to spoil it. But all was not lost, as 2-litre water bottles were brought in from various sources. It was a great sight to see the competitors only taking 300 ml to save some for the next rider, as well as guys sharing their own juice and water with the other riders.
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YOU SEE IN LIFE, THE ONLY THING WE HAVE ABSOLUTE CONTROL OVER IS THE WAY WE REACT TO SITUATIONS.
IT’S THE SERIES OF DECISIONS THAT FOLLOW A BAD EXPERIENCE AND DETERMINE OUR TRUE CHARACTER. WE MAY THINK THAT THERE IS ONLY ONE POSSIBLE WAY TO REACT WHEN SOMETHING GOES WRONG, BUT IN THE END WE HAVE THE FREEDOM OF CHOICE, WE DECIDE OUR OWN FATE.
I pushed on from the water point whistling one of my favorite songs, "Let it be" by the Beatles, as we levelled off onto the highest point of the race. The sign board that said 'Thin Air' really messed with my mind, as my body went into full defensive mode, pretending to be altitude sick. I had a headache and was struggling to breathe, but all the while wondering if these feelings were real. We descended and began
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the final climb of the day through the township of Dullstroom. This was a spectacular touch to the race, as it gave riders a glimpse of the poverty but also the happiness of the people that lived there. They lined the streets, waved, gave us high fives and made us feel like absolute heroes. I felt a lump in my throat as two boys, no older than seven years old, ran alongside me for some time, smiling from ear to ear.
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ANOTHER FAST AND BUMPY DESCENT AWAITED AND DURING THAT DESCENT WE CAUGHT SIGHT OF THE FINISH LINE BEFORE HEADING INTO THE FINAL 7 KM OF THE DAY. THE SINGLE TRACK WAS
MAGNIFICENT! IT WAS SLIPPERY, WET AND FAST, AND I REALLY FELT LIKE VIN DIESEL AS I DRIFTED AROUND CORNERS, BUNNY HOPPED OVER SLIPPERY ROUTES AND POWERED UP THE CLIMBS. I WAS SAD TO LEAVE THE SINGLE TRACK BUT KNEW THE FINISH WAS CLOSE, QUITE A RELIEF AS I WAS BEGINNING TO GET A LITTLE HUNGRY. I couldn’t stop smiling as I approached the finish line. I had been part of a great race and as long as I live, I will remember that on 8 February 2014, I had taken part in a tough, enduring and grand mountain bike race, in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Done and dusted! The race promised adventure and it delivered, and was great preparation for the adventures that await me in Africa. •
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