Friday, March 21, 2008

Sani2C - my take on things

Sani2C adventure 2008

"There is a lovely path that runs from Underberg into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and the singletracks taking you to the sea are thrilling beyond any singing of it. The track sometimes climbs 7, sometimes 8 miles into the hills, and from there, if there is no mist, you look down on the fairest valleys of Africa. Below you Nick's pass go down and down on its way to the sea; and beyond and behind Nick's pass, great hill after hill; and beyond and behind them, sugar plantations, mountains, climbs and downhills.

"The singletrack is windy and twisty and flowing, and you cannot see the end of it. There are bridges and steep turns and roots. Stand unshod upon it, for the track is holy …"

- Cry, the beloved country, Alan Paton

Sometimes an experience is so overwhelming that it's almost sacrilege to talk about it – maybe if you keep it all to yourself, the memories will beam you back to that magical summers day on a mattress in the shade of a huge tree – but then you open your eyes and you are not surrounded by a great bunch of people, and there's no more downhills and no more singletrack waiting for you the next day - you'll have to wait till next year to ride those tracks again, and see those valleys again, and feel so alive again. Next year, when you'll train a little harder so that you'll reach the singletrack a little earlier, before the madding crowds get there …

Sometimes an experience has so many highlights that it's impossible to pick a favourite impression.

And sometimes you just don't want to share an experience – you don't want other people to discover the almost-holy tracks & trails – jealous on what you've experienced, you want to keep it all for yourself, so that it can stay yours, to enjoy again and again, if only in your mind.


All of the above made it very hard to write a report about the Subaru Sani2C adventure. You could describe the steep hot never-ending technical climbs, matched by even steeper even longer biggest-grin-ever-downhills, and the doughnuts and the mcCain hot chips and the ice-cold water and the watermelon and the vibe at the water points, and the beautiful snaking big-grin-singletracks, and the children cheering & waving flags, making you feel like you're taking part in the Tour de France; you could describe the incredible vibe at the end of each day, the bike wash, the steamy-hot showers with huge pink bouquets and matching pink towels, hand cream and soap in the girls' bathrooms, You could describe reliving the day's climbs, the telling and retelling stories of your favourite singletrack of the day over donuts on a mattress in the shade, – you could explain all that, but you won't be able to describe the thrills and joys of flying down the handcrafted singletrack downhills – oh, those singletrack downhills!
You won't be able to describe the heightened senses, the endorphin overdose, the fully aliveness, the.complete satisfaction with life in general,

For anyone to understand all of this, you'll just have to go experience the Subaru Sani2C adventure for yourself.

So - here's how to do it yourself:

- Don't work for a company that doesn't allow its employees to take leave over tax year-end. Change jobs if you have to.

- If you change jobs, make sure that the boss-to-be understands how important it is that you get leave in February.

- Entry fees are expensive. It's worth it, so start saving now. Don't buy that new dual suspension if it would mean that you won't be able to afford Sani2C. You can do Sani2C on a hard tail (and you'll have more bragging rights doing so).

- Get a team mate. One who climbs your speed (or preferably slightly slower than you, if possible.) You don't want to kill yourself on the uphills. No matter what the official website says about life not being all downhill – this ride is not about the total ascend of over 4500 metres. It's about the 6500 metres or so of awesome thrilling breathtaking descent. So get a team mate who can descend – preferably faster than what you can, but only just, so that you can let her go in front of you and you can just hold onto the rollercoaster that your bicycle becomes when it follows her line.

- Secure an entry. 2008's entries were sold out within 3 hours. Learn to speed-type and arrange access to the fastest internet-connection you can find on the day that entries open. Log onto the website a few minutes before entries open and keep refreshing the pages until you've secured your entry.

- Train. Climb as many hills as you can find. You want to be strong enough to enjoy the ride. The ride is about the downhills, but you want to enjoy them, so climb every hill that you can find.

- Train some more.

- Don't break anything on your bicycle at the Sabie Classic the weekend before the Sani2C – all bicycle shops are fully booked the week before Sani2C / Cape Argus, and you might have to replace the front derailleur yourself.

- Do not arrange a very important un-movable meeting at 16:00 on the day before the start of the Subaru Sani2C Adventure. Do not leave Jo'burg at 19:00 on the eve of the event, even if your team mate does offer to register for you.

- If you can't leave Jo'burg before 19:00 on the eve of the event, then fit the broken derailleur the day before you leave – there won't be time to do it before the ride. Also sort your toothbrush and other essentials out before you go; otherwise you might not see if again until you arrive in Scottsburgh. Have your tent mate do the same.

- If you arrived in Underberg at about 3 on the morning of the event, and you still have some sorting-out, packing and bicycle maintenance to do, don't oversleep. Your friends (who registered for you and were in bed at 9) will think they're doing you a favour by not waking you up. Set 4 alarms if you have to.

- Drop your freshly-packed race-box, fill your bladder, and arrive at the start line just as the race starts. There will be enough time to put sunscreen on and find your gloves before the people around you start moving.

- You've made it – you're on the ride. Let the games begin!

- The ride starts with 20 or so kays of dirt road, climbing all the way to the first singletrack. Stay out of the bunch. In front, if you can, or (far easier) stay right at the back. Only pretend to cycle hard if there's a camera crew right next to you.

- Enjoy the unexpected bridges and steep turns that soon will become a trademark of this ride.

- One way to get out of the crowds and create some space on the singletrack for yourself, is to take a tumble on one of the rare straight pieces of boring gravel road, where the medics can reach you in their vehicles. It helps if there are people around to help you getting your bicycle out of the ditch.

- When you get to the wooden bridge crossing the river, see how close you can get to the bicycle in front of you and watch the strange effect that this has on the water, the bridge and the rider ahead.

- Appreciate the singletrack, the climbs, the screaming downhills, the ice-cold water and doughnuts and hot chips at the water points, the perfect weather, the people around you – other people are stuck in Joburg's load-shedded traffic.

- The first day ends with a huge climb. Save some energy for it and forgive the organisers for this– they DID get everything else right.

- Wash your bike and then park it on the tennis court. Ignore the warning sign that says that bicycles are not allowed. It is not necessary to make a mental note of where you parked your bicycle – by the time you get there the next day, your bike will be the only one on the tennis court and easy to find.

- If you want the bicycle shop to fit that broken derailleur that no Joburg bicycle shop could fit before the ride, then don't go shower and spend hours chatting with old converted roadie-buddies that you haven't seen in years - the bike shop might be fully booked by the time you arrive there, and you would have to fit that front derailleur yourself.

- It helps to have a friend who knows about bicycles, to supervise the fitting of the derrailleur. Ignore the audience.

- Take an afternoon-nap on a mattress under a tree, then go watch footage of the day's events on the ceiling of the tent while lying flat on your back. Listen to what the next day has in store, brush your teeth before your tent mate borrows your toothbrush, and lie in your tent listening as 1000 cell phones receives 1000 sms's with seeding batches for the next day.

- Don't be tempted to eat crumpets with butter, cheese and jam in stead of oats for breakfast the next morning– crumpets don't last; you will get hungry early in the ride.

- Don't worry about the gears not shifting properly after the derrailleur-fitting-episode - at the first bottleneck there will be enough time to sort that out.

- Then climb up, up and up to the top of the world and a goosebumpy view of the misty world far below.

- Negotiate some singletrack and then draw a sharp breath as you see Nick's pass below you. Observe a moment of silence for a master track builder. And then release the breaks and set the deamon inside you free.

- Feel like a champion as you smile and wave at the cheering kids.

- Enjoy the ride – wow, what a ride! Steep turns, down, ever downer and faster and crasier … scream with pleasure as you negotiate the unexpected bumps and steep twists.

- Careful of the slippery bridges at the bottom – watch several other people fall off them before you get there, and then clip out before attempting to ride them yourself.

- Climb the long climb that follows, stuff yourself with donuts (the crumpet-breakfast long forgotten) and fill your bladder with ice-cold water at the water point. Then attack the downhill again. Try to keep your wheels on the ground. Experience being fully alive. Scream with pleasure and ecstasy as you exit the downhill. Wow, what a life, what a ride.

- Climb.

- Climb some more.

- Note at the Nando's teasers along the way, smile at the photographers if you have some energy left, and finally reach the compulsory stop.

- Lube the bike, eat the compulsory Nandos burger, drink the compulsory ice-cold water, stay much longer than the compulsory 10 minutes.

- Climb, and then negotiate a rare boring piece of district road – it will make you wonder why roadies road, and it will give you a new appreciation for the singletrack and downhills ahead.

- Ride 5 times through the water tunnel at the last water point, stuff yourself with watermelon, and then ride the last few kilometres of singletrack, climbs, downhills and finally tar of what easily was one of the best days of mountain biking that you've ever experienced.

- Repeat the pattern of the previous night: wash the bike, shower, eat…

- It is best at this stage to not discover that you are the third girl team on the adventure event. If you do discover this, then it is best to remind your team mate that this is not a race. If faking an injury also doesn't work, and a broken middle-blade doesn't convince her, then carbo-load during supper, go to bed early and hope that the racing snake inside the team mate will die somewhere during the night.

- The last day starts with climbs through sugar plantations – climbs, downhills, camera crew interviewing you on the steepest climb of the day, singletrack, climbs, downhills, water point. Then a quick dive when you lose the track around a corner, a beautiful cycle through a reserve, a nice piece of technical climb, more ups and downs, a cement track, some sand, a beach, an uphill uphill uphill climb to the school. You may be tired, but you're not remotely funned out. Too soon everything is over – grab a doughnut, go get your bike washed, go collect your race box and finisher's shirt and stand around totally stunned by what you've just experienced, and totally satisfied with life.



- Go pitch a tent at the caravan park.

- Go down to the Wimpy for breakfast early on Saturday morning, and then down to the beach to cheer the racing snakes in.

- Then go up to the school, cheering the riders on as you walk, and welcoming them at the school when you arrive there.

- Go swim, and cheer more riders in as they cycle over the beach.

- Go to the after-party where you probably will not win the Subaru because you've used up all your luck staying on your bike on the singletrack the previous few days.

- Start planning for the next year's ride.