Capetown. We made it!

It would take four months to ride between Cairo and Capetown according to the TDA schedule and 11th of May 2013 was the big arrival day. Though we were driven through much of Kenya and I had taken a few days off the total distance between points A and B would remain the same (11, 793km) and the length of time the journey would take was also fixed. While TDA was a a significant physical achievement, the mental challenge of the trip can itself prove to be even more testing at times. The ups and downs weren’t simply about road gradients.

For our last week we would be on tarmac and dirt roads for around 750 km – the TDA tour still proving itself to be gruelling and one of the toughest bike races/expeditions you could ever be crazy enough to take part in. Given this, it was strange to think we were almost there. A tough four months – I was so looking forward to the end now. We had a fantastic group of riders but being part of a large travelling circus for this time was enough for me. In fact, it was probably too long.

The last night would be spent in Yzerfontein, next to the coast – the smell of the sea bringing on that holiday feeling. Sadly the weather that night at camp felt less like a holiday – it was so cold. Despite sleeping in three layers of clothes, in a fleece liner, in a sleeping bag, in a duvet cover, under a blanket and with a hot water bottle I was freezing. The next morning and our last ride would be no different. Fingers and toes were slow to warm and I rode the 60km to lunch with John in fleece and windproof.

As we turned onto R27, our main route into Capetown, all eyes were focused on Table Mountain – our destination was in sight and I was starting to get excited. We were nearly there. Lunch would be at the beach and from there we would wait for a police escort, riding as a group to the waterfront area. The police were delayed and while it was frustrating to have to wait being just 30km away, once the convoy started so too did the buzz.

We arrived at the waterfront, congratulated fellow riders and made our way to the medal ceremony. I was so proud all all riders but of course given my first few days and John being ill I was pretty chuffed that we had seen this through. We had made it.

The auditorium was packed as we walked in and the welcome was amazing. The band played “celebrate” by Kool and the Gang and we would. That’s for sure. Medals were awarded to all full tour riders, called up in turn while standing next to their country flag. It was a bit like our own olympics! Additional recognition was given to those who had acheived their EFI (every … inch) and of course the winners of the race. It was gobsmacking to hear that Pascal (winner of the mens race) had an average speed through Africa of 32km pr hr. I was perhaps a little slower!

With the ceremony over there was just enough time for a complete new outfit shop before we would be collected for the evening party. I was pleased that after so long in cleats and crocs I could still dance the night away in my new heels – surely that’s an alternate EFI?

The next morning would be slow for me and the goodbyes would begin. John and I would leave the hotel the following day though some were already starting to make tracks. Confident I would see some of the group again for many it would be the last time. While sad in part very quickly a sense of relief was also coming – just simply as less people were around. I was able to pack away things I didn’t need and finalise arrangements for our last two weeks in South Africa.

We rode out of the hotel with our panniers for the first time since arriving In Africa. On our own with route planning, no rider meetings, no chef and of course we were now carrying our own luggage. The bike felt heavier yet I somehow felt much lighter. Freedom.

I won!

Some of you may remember my 24 seconds blog….for those who don’t you just need to know this – I came second in teh ladies race by 24 seconds. I was gutted and still determined to get a stage plate. Just the one.
Since then I’ve tried a couple of times and yet again I even made the board (ie the top three). However, the stage win was remaining elusive. to be honest I wasn’t sure I would ever get one and had pretty much resolved myself to this.

As the details were annouced for the last week of riding I looked to see if there was still a chance. I was looking for a day that was not too long (so I didn’t need to do the lunch stop), not too hilly (I simply can’t climb at race pace on my heavy bike…and I’m not as good at that) and a day that was on a paved road. Of the six days we had left there were only four included as part of the race and two of these would be off road. With two days ruled out immediately it left a 133km day which would be a race starting from the South African border and a 117km day from Springbok to Garies. With 1431 metres of climbing in day one and only 741m descending I knew that was not my day. I would have to see what the 117km day had to offer.

At the rider meeting the night before we received further information on the route and terrain. That day would include 1021m ascending though there would be 1648m downhill. I have to be honest I thought that was it. I had no chance. In fact, one of my riding pals Gus pretty much said so. Oh well.

I woke the next morning and prepared to set off as normal. On other days when I have been aiming for a win I removed my handle bar bag, loaded my cycle jersey pockets with food and ensured I have all the water I need. Today, all the weight was on my bike, I left in my cycle jacket and even timed out then went to my bike to put on gloves, helmet etc. It was only as I started riding that I thought I could just go for it. As I went down one of the early downhills at 55km pr hr I thought I may just have a chance.

One of the other riders, Ali, caught me at 35km and said he would ride with me. It’s great to have a pacer and the moral support. Unfortunately drafting pooved tricky with the up and down terrain – I was too slow on uphills and too fast heading downwards. As we came closer to lunch the climbs were long and I started to think that I would just get another third. I was dripping with sweat. I really didn’t need my jacket on but having lost another attempt by just 24 seconds I was stopping for nothing. Despite this I kept going. Well, you never know.

It was downhill as we came to lunch. Ali had gone ahead on the previous climb and as I passed he gave me the thumbs up. I noticed one of my key competitors, regular racer Rosie, was still grabbing a sandwich and I had done 700m of the climbing. My determination increased. I was still in with a chance. People cheered as I went by. It was obvious now that I was going for it.

As some of the guys overtook me they shouted their support – “Just keep pedalling hard”; “Go for it”. So I did. I knew on the downhills i needed to hit 55 to 65 km pr hr and maintain a good speed on the flat. I had to make up for my slower climbing.

It didn’t take long and I caught up with John. i think he was surprised. “Is Bridget infront of you”? I shouted. He couldn’t hear but on repeating the question the answer came back no. Game on. John cheered me on becoming my new supporter. I looked behind. I could not see anyone following. Gee. This race stuff is stressful. I don’t know how people do this everyday. I was physically and mentally tiring. “Come on Nay” John shouted.

We hit a 6km downhill. I wanted to keep my speed above 60km but my legs also needed a rest. I stopped pedalling momentarily to hear John shout “keep pedalling. The others will be. You don’t want to lose this by 24 seconds”. He was right. We only had 10km to go now. I still saw no-one behind and I knew more than half the route were descending. I really could do this.

The last few kilometres involved a few turns from the main highway. John cycled ahead – looking out for a clear road and signalling directions. i just had to pedal and as we turned the corner there was the final flag. I had not been overtaken and unless there were any wild cards the stage plate was mine. The final annoucement would be at the rider meeting later that evening though I did buy a large beer just in case!

In the end I came in at 4 hrs and 19 minutes exactly and ended up with an 11 minute lead. While stopping for lunch would have cost me it was only now I realised I could have taken my jacket off afterall! Not bad on my 18kg Koga plus handlebar bag!

TDA vs our ride schedules

As we move in to our last week with TDA and John and I will be about to start being back out there on our own I thought it may make an interesting blog of the comparison.

At the start of each week, following the rest day TDA run through the weeks ride and expectations. Given this tradiytion from our Africa leg I thought I would continue to do the same.

TDA Final week

May 6th, race Felix Unite to Springbok 133km , off road Camp
May 7th, race Springbok to Garies 117km, off road Camp
May 8th, mando Garies to Strandfontein 162km, mixed Camp
May 9th, race Starndfontein to Elands Bay 73km Camp
May 10th, no race Elands Bay to Yzerfontein 158km Camp
May 11th, no race Yzerfontein to Capetown 105km END, Hotel

Naomi and John
May 13th, ride am Capetown to Paarl c65km, paved Hotel
May 14th, ride am Local ride c25km, off-road Hotel
May 15th, ride am Paarl to Franschoek c21km, paved Fancy hotel
May 16th, Eat World renowned restaurant 0km Fancy hotel
May 17th Franshoek to Stellenboshe c25km, paved Hotel
May 18th, Eat Boschendal vineyards 0km Yumm.
May 19th, ride pm Stellenboshe to Gordons Bay 20km + 20km, paved Hotel
May 20th Gordons Bay to Simons Town c50km, paved Hotel
May 21st Simons Town to Hout Bay c45km, paved Hotel
May 22nd Hout Bay to Capetown c20km, paved Hotel

To be fair, with TDA it’s a real push on the bikes but they carry our gear, provide lunch and give detailed directions. For us, this is our last two weeks in Africa and we always like to finish with more of a holiday. We will at this time have panniers and given it is winter in South Africa we are opting not to camp. We will also be joined by my good friend in Franschoek. She is not cycling and so we need easy distances so John and I are not always on our bike. Besides, having cycled from Cairo to Capetown we figure a rest is in order..not to mention a treat.

We booked a stay and “foodie package” at Quartier Francais at the start of our trip. With three dinners included (one in world renowned resturant with wine pairing) and our own pool this will certainly be a real treat. All this said I have to say my only food disapointments on tour have been in most restaurants and hotels along the way. TDA food has been excellent.

It will be strange when the TDA tour ends and we are once again just two people on our bikes. Further, the comparison above does not imply a better or worse, I could not do such a relaxed cycle tour for more than a couple of weeks. As I said in an earlier blog – independent touring and a group trip are just different. Right now however I am definately ready to take a break from such a gruelling schedule.

Roll on Capetown. Just six days to go.

Naked in Namibia

We crossed the border to Namibia on April 22nd and boy we were glad to. Not only did the border crosssing into Namibia also mark the 1km to go point at the end of a 207km day but Botswana was boring. Simple. Flat roads with just a few short bushes and grass on either side going on for miles…and miles…and miles. We were riding the elephant highway though I was to see just ostrich and impala. Boring.

I arrived at camp to a big cheer just as the rider meeting was taking place. Climbing would increase daily over the next few days and we would eventually drop down into Windhoek – before the inevitable uphill out of the valley. While many would assume flat is a cyclists friend, I definately prefer to climb – not only is it more interesting but your legs can rest on the downhill – little chance for that on a continual flat.

In three days we would be in Sesriem. The route would go through dusty roads and we would not see tarmac for some time. Surrounded by stoney peaks , walls of sedimentary rock, short scrubs and again vast open landscapes this would be challenging yet glorious ride. We would be camping in the national park from where it is customary to head to the famous sand dunes for sunrise. For TDA riders it was not the only custom many of us would observe.

Unlike some of the riders I had read about “the naked mile” from previous participants blogs. I knew it was while we were in Namibia but on stage 83 of the riding schedule the whilte board at the riders meeting also pointed out the now auspicious day had arrived. Immediately the chat began. By the end of the evening the girls were forming a plan. We would head out after lunch for a group shot….way after the boys had left of course! Only James the photographer was given a green card….well, it would be foolish not to engage the man with airbrushing skills!! I too announced i had a costume….for the naked mile….unusual yet all would “not” be revealed until the following day!

I left camp with John having placed my costume in the handlebar bag..ready if needed..and it was. We were soon overtaken by one of the male riders. While cycle helmets are always an essential, he was otherwise completely starkers with just his race number covering critical zones. It was time to join in the fun. I told John I would stop around 5km from the lunch truck for a quick change and to my surprise he said he would do the same. We were riding the naked mile together and would stop just past the food stop having given a wave before covering up for lunch.

We pulled over and as we did 3 giraffe ran out infront of us crossing the road just ahead. While it delayed us “getting dressed” it was fabulous to be ready with the camera at this exact moment. Amazing to see and while meaning a short delay we were soon heading up the road.

John left first so I could get photo proof of his ride and I followed…in my costume. While my leaves were fake and attached to my underwear it was reminiscent of pictures of Eve in the Garden of Eden. I felt fabulous and we certainly raised a giggle as we passed by other riders eating their sandwiches. What a laugh.
Covering up again we ate lunch and the boys gradually departed – some revealing all just as they rode away! The girls left together ready for a photoshot….

The times would come around 1km down the road and while initially nervous it did not take long before everyone had entered into the spirit of the occasion. The photo would be taken from behind as we continued our journey. Tour D’Afrique 2013 displayed on our backs. The girls carried on for a further 11km apparently. I was staying behind for a photograph as was another rider Anne.

It was a very hot day and many of us had commented that it felt much cooler riding so you could feel the breeze pass over your skin so with that in mind and perhaps the fact that we were complete exhibitionists Anne and I rode all the way to camp. While a very quiet rode the few drivers around seemed amused as we proudly waved when they passed by. Just as we drew close to the finish line I put the costume back on while Anne used flagging tape – usually used to mark our route – to cover up a little. Heading straight to the bar (by then in a sarong!) we rewarded ourselves with a nice cold beer for a job well done.

In total I did around 45km that day in my birthday suit. It was a day I’ll never forget yet may also never repeat but you have to try most things once eh?

(photo to follow…just waiting on good wifi!)