Phew. So the joBerg2C is finished, and for those who’ve been following this blog, it’s clear that I was too! Yet I never wrapped up the experience with my final posts of the last few days. My apologies. My body had taken such a pounding over the last half of the race that I was struggling to get on the bike each morning, let alone put my hands to the keyboard to describe the ordeal. This racing and writing gig is tough enough when you’re healthy…
Maybe it’s fitting that I’m finishing my reporting of this great stage race over two weeks later. Just as its older, shorter and wildly popular cousin, the Sani2C, wraps up on the beaches of Scottburgh. No, I didn’t sign up for the Sani ride, and for once I’m happy to be missing out. Because I sit here reminiscing on the joBerg2C with a dry cough I still haven’t managed to shake.
It’s amazing how small your world becomes when you’re sick. The race village at the Old Mutual joBerg2C is alive with chance encounters – long banter about bike tech and endless war stories from the day’s ride. Bikes to be fixed, beers to be drunk. Pranks to be played. Essential to the mountain biking experience, and a crucial part of the ethos of this race. Yet when you’re sick, these things are no longer the prize at the end of a hard day. They become noise. Interference. As you struggle with the basics: showering, eating, sleeping. Everything becomes more calculated as you try minimise movement.
I was hell bent on finishing this race – this spectacular journey across my homeland. I sucked it up for my partner Raoul, race organisers Wappo, Farmer Glen and Gary (they’d done such a great job it would be downright rude not to finish!) and the communities we were raising money for. But selfishly, I desperately wanted to have a crack at the world-famous last three stages – the soundly stunning Sani2C route. The final three days of joBerg2C are the dessert at the end of a sumptuous main course. Even if I’d overindulged I was going to at least sample what was on offer.
Day 7 – Hazeldean Farm to Mackenzie Club: 78km
Yes, I know. I’m aware of how idiotic I sound trying to “minimise movement” in the race village. Really. Making an extra trip to pick up my toothbrush shouldn’t be so critical to my well-being when I am still willing to put my body on the line for 80-odd kilometers. An outsider might take a look at my predicament and suggest staying off the bike for a day or two. To let my body recover. But I was clear that I was okay to continue riding, albeit at a more sedate pace. Besides, a few trips to the medical tent confirmed that I wasn’t dying, and I vowed to myself to pull out if I felt my condition develop into something more sinister.
My scratchy cough from the previous day’s riding had turned into a belter. Raoul thought I was starting a lawnmower in our tent at Hazeldean Farm. I was now hacking up large oysters. We had an emergency team huddle, and decided that we’d try keep our A batch seeding as long as my lungs would hold out but wear baggies. A signal to all around us that we had adjusted our racing-snake approach. After a night cooped up in the same tent, sharing my foul breaths, Raoul was also starting to sound a little raspy.
Despite our pact to take it easy we both got caught up in the blind singletrack fever that is known to grip riders on these final three days. Before we knew it we were leading the second bunch into the first singletrack section. It was stunning and I quickly forgot that I was barely able to breathe. I spanked it hard into the rows of trees chopping the morning light into a strobe. Raoul was hot on my heels and when we emerged we had gapped our bunch just about caught the lead group. So much for taking it easy…
With a solid lead out of the singletrack we hit a long gravel drag and exercised restraint, deciding not to push towards the leaders, but stay ahead of our chasers. Then, suddenly, the Red Bull Run was upon us. Nothing to do but wind it up again. Another dense forest of split singletrack, where we could choose one of two trails that twisted alongside each other through the trees. We went right. The perfect call, as we caught and passed a few slower riders who’d taken the left line. Unfortunately we caught a train of the leading mixed teams before the Red Bull Run was done, and had to back off over the serpentine floating bridge as we hit traffic. This was probably a good thing as the ferocious cornering we’d thrown down in the earlier sections of the Red Bull Run would definitely had as swimming at the floating bridge!
The most fortuitous event was the lockring coming loose on my rear wheel as we spotted the first waterpoint. It meant we had to stop and McGyver it as there was no mechanical support. But there was an abundance of doughnuts and koeksisters. Score. And even after we’d sorted out the problem with my bike we hung around to sample the vibe. It also put us firmly back in the field, and adjusted our tempo. We decided to cruise from then on. Mackenzie Club was a welcome sight after I crashed in fairly easy terrain en route – another sign we were struggling.
Day 8 – MacKenzie Club to Jolivet: 104km
By now we were reeling. Both Raoul and I were holed up in our tent by 7pm. Horizontal the moment we’d forced down a plate of dinner. I felt much the same I’d felt over the past few days. Which was pretty awful. Amazingly Raoul had managed to stay healthy and had towed me through my pain. Until now that is. He was grim in the morning.
But a new route to the start of the Umkomaas Valley beckoned. And somehow we still had an A-bunch seeding. So we were off with the racing snakes. We momentarily forgot what a fitful night’s sleep we’d both had, and were keen to have a clean-ish run into the 20-odd kilometers of absolutely mind-blowing singletrack descent to the raging river below. Our fading health meant we weren’t bashing bars with the frontrunners anymore, but as no-one was 100% sure where the entrance to the Umko drop started, the tempo remained high. Everyone was keen to get in first. Eventually we were rewarded with the familiar “Murray’s Meander” and then “Wow” trails.
There are few words that can do this stretch of trail justice. It goes on and on, and delivers corner after corner of wide-eyed joy. I snuck ahead a bunch of Masters riders who had caught us in the early racing. It meant I had a fairly unobstructed crack at the Red Bull Run about halfway down the trail. What a day.
But at the valley floor it was different story. With the adrenaline quickly dissolving back into my bloodstream I was confronted by how average I felt. And then remembered that there was no way to hide from the climb out of here. Raoul wasn’t doing any better. We stopped at waterpoint 1 and prepared ourselves for the hard slog home.
I remember the rest of the day as quiet. And when I ride in silence it’s because I’m hurting. I could see that Raoul was too. Mute acknowledgement of our shared plight. A few kilometers from the finish line Raoul slipped in an open muddy corner. I heard him go down. He groaned loudly. Like a wounded buffalo. There was little I could do. He’d slipped in a quagmire of muddy trail and picked out the only rock in the mud pool with his knee. We limped home. One night left…
Day 9: Jolivet to Scottburgh: ±85km
No-one was really sure how long the route from our overnight stop in Jolivet to the race finish on the beach of Scottburgh was. Not even the three organisers; Wappo, Framer Glen and Gary Green. But I’m not sure anyone cared. It was a new route home, a brilliant maze of cane field traverses, riverside singletrack and twisting trails alongside the highway. The part that caught everyone by surprise was the wading across the finish line on Scottburgh beach. Accustomed to the exciting and extravagant bridges as we were.
Raoul and I wore baggies to the beach and ended up 97th on the day. This was a pure cruise. At the end of nine days, we finished 37th Overall. And I was stoked with a brand new pair of Salomon trail running shoes for placing 5th overall in the Red Bull Runs. The result was respectable. Not what we aimed for, but finishing was a real triumph given the way we’d battled in the final days. We had stuck together and seen sides of each other I don’t think we’d expected. I was impressed. Raoul is a tough bastard and a pleasure to be around, even when the going gets ugly. But the best part was that we’d raised over R40,000 for community food gardens through Pure Planet Racing.
The 2013 joBerg2C was a jol. A test, for sure. But a jol nonetheless. Day 4 stands out as one of the most beautiful days of trail riding I have ever experienced. If I could clone that stage and ride it for the rest of my days I’d die a happy man.