Monday, January 31, 2011

mountainbiking lessons from an MBA class

Instead of riding this weekend, I was attending marathon lecture-sessions - from 8 in the morning till 9 in the evening, and then some homework.

Subject after subject and lecture after lecture it sounded exactly like mountain biking theory.

Lesson 1: Don't be scared of technical sections - challenge yourself
(from the business writing class)
You can buy a dual suspension with lots of travel and have it professionally set up; you can do some weights in the gym; even run a little bit and attend regular spinning classes. This will certainly make the uphills easier. But the only thing that will make you ride single track faster, is riding it. Add variety. You won't get better if you always ride only the tracks that you can ride already.
Same way that you can learn how balance sheets work and be comfortable with them, and have a super-fast computer to balance your sheets on, and know Excel inside & out. But you won't go anywhere if you only know how to balance sheets. If you're not willing to explain these to colleagues, or present them to management, you'll balance sheets till you retire. (Which is not a bad thing if you want to balance sheets ... or only want to ride up hills.) 
But if you want to ride fast down hills too, only way to do that, is to ride them.

Lesson 2: Confidence is everything
(from the presentations class)
Well, not everything, but a lot. If you don't believe that you'll clear an obstacle, you probably won't. And then when you fall, you say - 'see, i told you so'. 
But that's because you prepared for failure. Only way to build this confidence, is to go ride single track. Often. 'till you like it, and then there will be no turning back.
Same like when you have to stretch yourself a bit at work - when you have to do something that you're uncomfortable with. Do it till you like it - and when you like it, take on the next thing that you don't like.

Lesson 3: Small steps
(from the leadership class)
Lessons 1 and 2 don't mean that you have to go ride the provincial downhill course. Not a week after you bought your first bike, anyway. Ride things that are on the edge of your ability - not two miles above it. Learn to deal with unexpected surprises along the way - small surprises that you're a little unsure of. Go ride the green tracks at the bike park; first slow, then faster and faster. Till you've mastered them. Go play on the blue - carefully, till you know what the unexpected surprises are, then quicker. Go back to the green often. Only then you'll carefully go check out the black routes. And check that your medical aid is up to date, too. 
Same like you won't promote the shop floor supervisor directly to CEO, even though he was the best supervisor the company has ever had. Challenge him first by progressive (or horizontal) managing positions in different departments, so that the errors are contained; so that he stays confident; and so that he can learn. By the  time he gets to the top, he'll be addicted to learning and used to not having all the answers all the time.

Lesson 4: Darling may not be the best place for mountain biking
(from the research methodology class)
The research example happened to be about the Feasibility of Wind Farms in Darling. From the amount of research that was already done on this topic, it looked like there's a lot of wind in that area. So by induction it may be too windy to cycle there.  There's no wind in Joberg - I'll think i'll stay here for a while longer :)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Another extra-ordinary ride on the same weekend

The other extra-ordinary ride was on Sunday in the ordinary Groenkloof. Except that there's nothing ordinary about Groenkloof.

It was wet and deserted - besides Zu & myself, we saw one adventure racing team on what looked like hiking training, and 3 other cyclists with huge grins. 

 There's a lot more singletrack than when i saw it last. Something for everyone: some gravelroad, fast flowing singletrack, downhill switchbacks, technical singletrack, some highergrade technical singletrack (which I'll have to go back for, because I couldn't clear it) and enough reason to stop and take pictures if you overestimated your fitness levels :)

Note to self: go there more often - and next time take running shoes with.

Still the best R23.00 you could spend in Pretoria.

an extra-ordinary ride

When Dawn invited me for the umpteenth time to ride with them, i said yes 'cos the weatherman promised a very wet weekend with lots of rain. The festive season took it's toll on me: I was a little heavier and a lot slower than the last time i rode with them, and i didn't want to ride with them, cos i knew i'd hold them up.

But when the alarm went off long before dawn on Saturday morning, there was no sign of even a remote cloud. There were no more excuses: I had to get up, dress up and pitch up.

And was I glad i did!

It must be some of Joburgs' coolest tracks: We left from the Carlswald shopping centre in Midrand. It was 60-odd kays of singletrack, jeeptrack, dirt road, some long climbs, even longer downhills, very pretty views, and a coke-stop in Gerhardsville.

It must be Jozi's coolest crowd: Most of them have cycled the Freedom Challenge all the way to Cape Town. Those who didn't, have cycled the first bit till Rhodes - so all of us have carried our bikes over Lehanna :)
All of them extra-ordinary riders, very humble, very strong, but with nothing to prove. They waited patiently at the climbies, they laughed with me right back to the world and the prettyness, muddyness and joyfullness of the tracks and our aliveness.

An extra-ordinary ride with extra-ordinary people. 

Thank you Dawn for inviting me - and Dave, Doug, Derek, Ben, Fiona, Henry - for babysitting me on the uphills, chasing me on the downhills, laughing with me on rivercrossings, sharing your chocolate brownie recipes and potatoes, lubing my chain, challenging me on the climbies and dreaming up more adventures. And the M&B breakfast afterwards. Like always, an honour to ride with you :)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Trans Lesotho

Isolation, altitude, a flowing footpath worn over hundreds of years .... that's what the Freedom Challenge website promises if you happen to be in Lesotho for the inaugural Trans Lesotho Challenge in the last week of March. 

I couldn't resist, so my name is on the list.

- I have no idea how I'm going to work the logistics for this one out - Argus tour followed by a week of attending (probably intensive) classes in Capetown, then coming back to go to Lesotho in time for this ride
- I have no idea how i'm going to convince my boss to give me the extra leave (which may include possibly 2 days before the Argus, if i do decide to drive down) - I already am planning to spend far more than my annual allowance on attending classes this year (and the next few)
- I have no idea when I'm going to train for this - I haven't even registered for the course yet, and I already have to think up a 1000-word opinion about a 224-page document, eating up all my evenings and into weekend-time. I might have signed up for more than i expected.

I guess I just have to play it by ear and see how it goes - can't wait :) 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Drakensberg Wow-ness

How do you not fall in love with a mountain as pretty as this one?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Spruit - 40 shades of Green

Katkisasieklas - A G Visser

Ja, 40 dae agtereen
en veertig nagte lank gereen
dis 'n rekord, tot op hede
Meneer, mag ek Meneer iets vra?
Maar al te seker, Japie, ja
Was die Boere toe tevrede?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Xtreme Dining for Dummies*

* for Dummies, cos logically it doesn't make sense :)

We chose New Years, but any old excuse to celebrate would be good enough to hold an extreme dinner.

Choosing an Xtreme Dinner venue

When organising an Xtreme dinner, the most important factors are choosing the location, location and location.

Try to pick a dinner site with recognisable features. The Devils' tooth at the top of the Drakansberg's Amphitheatre is one of the most photographed features in South Africa. The inside of a cave, no matter how remote or difficult to get to, will be less impressive.

Take the weather into account. The Drakensberg could be cold even in summer; if it's summer you will very likely experience a thunderstorm during your trip.

Depending on the location and time of year, it might be a good idea to have the dinner for breakfast.The air is crisper, and background features would be visible on pictures - you might avoid afternoon summer-storms if you're anywhere near the Drakensberg.

Some possible venues:
Hiking times are estimates for hikes with daypacks; this may be more than double if it's done in the dark or with dining equipment.

  • Top of Tugela falls, Amphitheatre; Drakensberg
About 4 hours drive from Gauteng; a 2-hour hike up to the Tugela falls which includes negotiating the chain ladders with what might be an unbalanced backpack (because of the ironing board)
Spectacular views; Very variable weather. A very dilapidated hut which could be used for shelter if not occupied by the park's guards.

  • Scaly cave; bottom of Rockeries pass; Drakensberg
About 4 hours drive from Gauteng; a 2-3 hour hike in. Kids might follow you asking for sweets - confuse them by asking first. Water in a river a few 100 metres below, and good shelter.

  • Zulu cave; Drakensberg
About 4 hours drive from Gauteng; a 3 hour walk that includes some uphills. Pretty views along the way. A huge cave that takes about 12 people, well sheltered and with en-suite water (the waterfall tumbles over the front of the cave) - but no significant features for a backdrop. Gatberg is not too far away, but exposed, it would be possible to set up a dinner at the top or inside the gat of Gatberg. Taking pictures might be a challenge. (But that's taking xtreme dining to the next level of craziness, and a subject for another day)

  • Wolfberg arch; Cederberg
About 3 hours drive from Cape town; it's about a 3 hour walk to the arch, so with Xtreme dinner equipment this might be a tough walk.
There's no reliable water source in the area.
The view would be spectacular.

  • Top of Kasteelspoort, Table Mountain
It's about a 2-hour hike to the top. This venue is not for the feint-hearted - it might be wise to move the party to safer ground after the first bottle of bubbly. I can't remember if there's any reliable water source close by - there might be a small river on the way to the front table.

Like with all mountains, the weather is unpredictable - but the views would be quite cool. You might see some city-lights and fireworks far below. An added benefit is the possibility to hike to the front table and take the cablecar down after the party.
(haven't had an extreme dinner here, so it's an old pic with no formal wear and no candles and white tablecloths.)

  • Other places worth exploring (don't know if possible)
Inside the cave at Waenhuiskrans at low tide?
In one of the Magaliesberg kloofs? That sandy beach-bit just after the compulsory abseil and swim in Grootkloof? Or inside the stream in Tonquani?

Choosing the Xtreme Dinner guests

Once you've found a suitable venue, the next step is to identify the guests. Any party is made by the people who attend to it, and an Extreme dinner is no different. People likely to attend functions like these, will most likely have an excellent sense of humour - so anybody that would be up for it, would make a very good guest.

Adventure people are generally suckers for anything - hang out with mountain club members, start mountain biking, or join an adventure racing club - all of these would have potential extreme diners.

A word of warning: it's not called 'extreme' dining for nothing. Mountain weather is very unpredictable; it might be cold and wet, the diners may have to brave chain ladders or narrow cracks. It's therefore not the best place to invite the potential new girlfriend ... it may end up in a break-up - or a wedding; i know of at least one :)

Choosing the menu for Xtreme dining

Depending on how many people accepted the invitation, you could have anything from a 3-course to a 7-course dinner - you decide. The dishes could include anything from appetizers, soup, fish, meat, veggies, salad, desert, a cheeseboard, chocolates, coffee.

It's easier and much more fun if you distribute the responsibility. Let everyone decide what dish they want to be responsible for - and then they make, carry and present it at the top. I've had fresh butternut soup, tiramisu, braai-sosaties, pancake, roast veggies, chocolate cake and plenty other interesting stuff on these outings. Those who claim to really can't cook, could buy ready-made cheese-platters or veggie-trays - or invest in some Lindt chocolate to go with the filter coffee.

Setting the scene - equipment

Good tents, good rain jackets, good stoves that will not run out of gas are essential - survival first; you have to live to post the facebook pictures.

For dining you'd need a table, (preferably white) tablecloth, chairs. Add some candles, or some form of table decoration, maybe a chess set for afterwards, glasses and some bubbly. A tripod is handy.

Xtreme ironing boards, tables, chairs, jamie oliver pans and bubbly all add up to the weight. Try to balance the weight in your backpack - especially if you know there's gonna be chain ladders or narrow cracks that you have to go through.

What to wear for Xtreme dining

Don't pick a gown with lots of net or lace, especially around the seams of a full-length gown - it might catch on bushes, tentpegs and other outdoor things.
Heels may seem like a good idea, but they tend to sink into grass, swamps and other soggy places. No matter how well pedicured your toes are, killer heels will look bad with mud all around them. Rather stick to your trusted boots, and choose a long gown to hide them (Just not something netty or lacy; it tends to catch, see point 1 above)
Black dresses don't show wrinkles; Red make pretty pictures.
Don't bother with make-up, except if it's something that's gonna make an impact - like if you've got an extremely red lipstick that will show up on pictures.


Try to save weight where possible - you're already going to carry enough other paraphernalia to test your endurance. You could get away with your black capestorm pants with a white shirt, bow-tie and jacket. Or simply carry the whole suit, including cufflinks - there will be someone to help you fasten them.

If you're not taking a jacket, make sure that your shirt has no wrinkels - you could always iron it if it did get some wrinkles in.

If you're on a place known for it's bad weather, or any mountain top, you might have to get into party gear on very short notice - e.g. straight out of bed after a sleepless night lying in puddles inside the tent listening to lightning just outside. Throw a xmas hat, wig or party hat in to instantly fix bad hair days.

Final Notes

If you choose the right company when you climb kilimanjaro, or cycle to everest basecamp, then every day is an extreme dining day :)

And don't forget the sunscreen while you're dining!