I’ve become rather cynical after 22 years
in sports journalism. I’m aware of it though and try to temper my reactions
accordingly, especially those that are rapidly typed and sent via social media.
Sometimes I type an impulsive response to a tweet or a Facebook post and my
aggression can be heard by my office-mates in the way the keystrokes go from
the smooth, controlled touch to a more pronounced, sharp stab… I often delete
the reply though. The social media equivalent of biting my tongue. What good
does negativity do? I always ask myself. It just creates more negativity and the
world doesn’t need that.
Sometimes though I send the reply, once
I’ve had a good think about it and its potential consequences. This of course comes with experience or age.
I started mountain biking in 1990 shortly
after it arrived in South Africa and have participated in most races around the
country. The last few years though I’ve become less selfish and have committed more
time and energy to my family and work. As a result, I have kept racing to
minimum, and then I’m usually under-prepared.
The one race I’d never done was the sani2c.
Being a mountain biker though, it’s an event that’s come up in conversation
over and over and over. And over… And usually always glowingly spoken of. It
started to really get to me at times. I felt sidelined. Excluded.
“It can’t be that amazing,” I would say to
my wife, “but it’s all I flippen hear about.” Getting a three-hour ride in is
about my limit these days. I have an abnormally busy family, in addition to a
time-consuming career. So fitting in a THREE-DAY race in another province isn’t
a regular feature in my plans.
Then sometime last year I got a press
release announcing that due to popular demand a third event would be added to
the sani2c in 2012. Seriously? It’s that popular? I published the press release
on the TREAD website and tweeted a link, my cynicism not even vaguely veiled…
“Not sure what all the fuss is about, but Sani2c now has a third event,” was
pretty much the wording of that tweet.
More excited banter among the mountain bike
A couple of days later I got an email from
Full Stop Communications, the company that does the PR for sani2c.
“Would you like to see what all the fuss is
about? We have an entry for you if you’d like,” said the email.
Hmmm… I get offered race entries all the
time, but I seldom accept any. In fact, I’m normally so spontaneous (or
disorganised) that I end up entering races on the day and paying the entry fee
and the late entry fee.
Here was an offer months in advance to ride
a race that you can’t just get an entry to. There’s a waiting list for goodness
sake – a long one! A queue of people dying to get an entry. Not me. How great
can this event be anyway? Mr TREAD became Mr Cynical – again. I mentioned it to
my wife and she was immediately interested. “Would you ride it with me?” she
asked. Hmmm, suddenly things had changed. A few of her mountain biking friends
had got entries and she was keen… Dilemma. She’s keen and I’m the race’s biggest
After some discussion, I decided that if we
were doing it together, I wouldn’t be considered selfish. Sure, I wouldn’t be
able to ride as hard as normal, but I’d get to share the experience with her
(she’s never done a stage race before) and I’d get to see if it really was
worth all the fuss.
We started training for ‘Sani’ as everyone
calls it. Then in January she misjudged a step (sober) and broke her ankle and
tore some ligaments. End of her ‘Sani’? No, you’ll have a good 6-8 weeks still
to prepare said her orthopaedic specialist, himself a mountain biker and also
doing ‘Sani’…. “They’re all over the place, these ‘Sani’ lovers,” I thought.
She didn’t heal as quickly as expected.
Ligaments are stubborn things. So talk changed to me doing the race with
another partner… Suddenly the dynamic changed too. I wasn’t so sure anymore…
Part of the appeal was that I’d experience it with Mrs TREAD. Then, at the end
of March I misjudged a step (sober) and broke a metatarsal (small foot bone). I
figured that was it. A sign. We’re not meant to do the ‘Sani’. We’re also both due
for an eye test…
But my ortho, also a mountain biker, said
I’d be fine to ride within two weeks. I thought he was kidding. He wasn’t’. I
gave it three weeks and started riding with a brace. But surely with so little
training, ‘Sani’ was out of the question.
I happened to call my old school buddy, Nic
Jordan, for a catch-up chat. Nic’s a sugar farmer that started Holla Trails in
the Ballito area. By the end of our phone chat, he’d convinced me to ride ‘Sani’.
He said he’d be my partner. He claimed he was as unfit as me, if not more so.
We’d ride it socially so I that I could experience it properly (he’d done four
My wife agreed. Very important that. That
she and Nic were in the same class throughout the whole of high school probably
I panicked. Three weeks until the race and
I was the at about 30% fit for a 70 kay race, never mind a three-day race over
260km. I snuck off on fast 90-minute rides as often as I could. Some condition
would be better than none I figured. I’d had excellent results from USN’s Epic
Pro in the past so figured I’d rely on that to help get me through the one
stage and up the next day for the following one…
Magazine deadline time followed a week
later and I slept about three hours a night for a week and did no riding at all…
Oh well, finishing a race is some people’s only goal and I was about to adopt
the same goal. Just finish it with a bit of composure I figured. You can’t
cheat endurance, but man I was thinking of how I could. I stocked up on VO2Max,
an anti-cramp/lactic acid buffer product I’d also felt worked for me before –
and Epic Pro. Well stocked!
I bought three pairs of brand new
top-of-the range imported bib shorts from Decca. If I was going to be in the
saddle for a long time, I wanted the best technology to minimise the
discomfort. I have access to loads of bike brands and models as a TREAD bike
tester. I chose to ride the Momsen 29-er aluminium hardtail, which I’d recently
purchased, because it’s a good balance between light weight and well-weighted. I
didn’t like the idea of bouncing around on a feathery light, super-stiff carbon
frame for hours – I’m 42, not 22. And it has big wheels.
At registration I stood in a queue for 25
minutes to buy a CSA licence, which would essentially buy me public liability
insurance for the race. Hmmm, I tweeted my dissatisfaction about that, but
understood that it wasn’t ‘Sani’, but CSA that created the delay by only having
one staff member for 1500 riders! I aimed the angry tweet at CSA and then drank
a beer, relaxed and soaked up the buzz at the pre-race briefing, which only
about half the people seemed to be listening to.
I was entered in The Race, the last of the
three events. It just seemed the right one to enter, even if I’d ridden with my
wife. We hate being held up on singletrack and figured ‘The Race’ would attract
the highest level of skill… Nic checked our race number – A batch! Holy cow!
Must be a mistake. I’m a pro writer, not a pro rider! Nic boasted to his mates
about the A batch seeding for a while and made us pose with our race number for
some photos. Then we asked to be re-seeded. G batch. That sounded more
realistic. Less pressure…
We started Stage 1 as if we were pros –
riding way too fast for our conditioning, but we’re male and testosterone makes
you do stupid things. Dirt roads aplenty with some superb bits of singletrack
and stunning mountain scenery. Was this really what people were getting excited
about? We finished the stage in a reasonably broken state. Epic Pro and VO2Max
can only do so much I suppose. You can’t cheat endurance. A lesson I’d learned
before, but not adhered to… again.
Nic’s box of things was there but mine
hadn’t arrived yet. It didn’t bother me too much. I gulped down the Recover Max
drink the buff USN blokes were handing out at the finish line and tried to work
out how the Bryton GPS I was testing worked. Seems I mistakenly paused it for
an hour of the ride… Bugger.
Nic and I both decided we were actually
pretty broken. I suggested we drink another whole bottle of Epic Pro and have
an afternoon sleep. We woke up feeling better and the next day both felt pretty
good. The 9-hour overnight sleep no doubt helped – longest I’ve slept in years.
We were still in G batch and our strategy
was to get to the front as the singletrack started so we’d have a clear run
down the big descent into the Umkomaas Valley. As we approached the singletrack
(I was caught a bit off guard) everyone ahead of me chose the right-hand line.
I went left. Nic followed me. Woo-hooo! What a thrill. Clear singletrack for an
experienced mountain biker is like being the only surfer out when the waves are
cooking. I think.
Turns out the right-hand line was faster –
or shorter – because a few G batch guys were ahead of us a few minutes later
when the tracks joined. We quickly got past them so that the big descent could
be an unhindered one. Success! With a 10-minute gap to F group, we dropped into
that valley with the excitement levels of a Ryk Neethling groupie. I think.
We eventually started catching some
cautious F group riders near the bottom, so stopped and waited for a gap before
heading down again. What an incredible experience. It washed away any cynicism
I’d been harbouring still. And if that 20-odd kay descent wasn’t enough,
another 20-odd kays of sublime singletrack along the river valley followed.
Our under-conditioned bodies began to rebel
and we rinsed down the VO2Max tablets with Epic Pro. Certainly kept us from
bonking that’s for sure. And we never cramped once. That Stage 2 is a beast by
anyone’s standards, even the pros. I know, because I asked them afterwards. We
gobbled down a Nando’s burger each at the second water point. Seriously? A freshly
made Nando’s burger when you’re starving? Do you know what a significant
impression that can make on you?
We finished the stage quite strongly. Well
Nic did. I was just keen to get to the finish to end the ITB pain in my right
leg and the tendonitis in my right wrist. Lack of conditioning. Lack of
flexibility. Age… Youth and flexibility is seriously wasted on the young I kept
Strangely, we felt better than after Stage
1. No desire to sleep, no desire to drink an extra Epic Pro serving; although
we did have the Recover Max the USN guys handed us almost as we stopped; and we
did have a leg massage. We felt good about ourselves. Better than the day
That night we smiled after seeing we’d moved
up to F Batch for the final day. We felt a bit successful. Worthy even. I
couldn’t stop thinking about how balanced the Day 2 route was. It was the
perfect all-round challenge for a mountain biker. Yes, perfect.
By now I’d been overwhelmed by the attention
to detail of the organisers. From the food to the ablutions to the recognition
of the communities that get so involved in making this race run so smoothly.
You even get ear plugs (tents aren’t soundproof); there’s a place to charge
your cell phone and/or GPS unit; there are hot showers – all day; there’s a
free bike wash facility. The list goes on. And on.
Day 3 dawned cloudy and cool with a chance
of rain. Perfect conditions to gun it to the end I thought. I felt really
strong. Keen for a dice. Nic didn’t quite share my feelings, but attached
himself to my wheel anyway. A lot of descending on this last day, but man,
along some fantastic trails – through a game reserve, through indigenous
forests, through sugar cane fields. Even Heart Rate Hill wasn’t too bad. I
measured it to be 1.7km long, followed by yet another well-stocked refreshment
station. The variety of food and drink at these stations is ridiculous! I’d
have to say my favourites over the three days were freshly made flapjacks with
syrup, jam doughnuts and Chelsea buns… Yoh!
I figured I might as well “burn my last
matches” on this stage and certainly resurrected some dormant muscle fibres in
the process (every single leg muscle was seriously stiff the following day).
Besides, my ITB and wrist tendon were seriously painful by now and I didn’t
want to prolong that pain. Nic gamely helped me set a rapid (by our standards)
pace to the finish, except on the final tar road climb to the school from the
beach. That did take me by surprise even though Farmer Glen had warned us about
it at the race briefing the previous night. Farmer Glen (Haw) for those that
don’t know, is the guy who started this whole event. A man with high standards,
vision and a sense of community. A man for whom my respect grew every hour
during the ‘Sani’.
Another Nando’s burger at the finish and a
finisher’s medal I’ll actually keep. I’ve only ever kept a handful and only
because the experience meant a great deal to me. This was one of those. I never
doubted I’d finish, I just wasn’t sure how composed I’d be in the final few kilometres
of the race. I finished feeling pretty chipper. A few aches and pains, but
nothing serious. What I did have was probably the most fulfilling 72 hours of
my bicycle riding life. Cynicism? Nothing left of that.
Sure, I did wonder if they’d perhaps grown
the event too large, but that was only when I heard other regulars discussing
the race. I had nothing to compare the 2012 edition to and I felt it was
superb. Would I be back? Of course! Would I pay to enter it? Damn right I
I can now understand the magnetism of this
race. Three days is just enough to give you an escape from real life. From the
grind. Like only being able to have one big sip of beer when you’re seriously
thirsty and hot. You want more. You want to gulp it down. But you have to wait
a year. And that wait is where the fuss occurs. Around braais, at weddings, in
corporate boardrooms, on rides, on social media… Is the sani2c worthy of all
the fuss? You bet.