Vetseun maak klaar
EARLY IN 2017, RIDE AND THE ORGANISERS OF THE MUNGA RAN A COMPETITION, ENCOURAGING RIDERS TO SEND IN MOTIVATIONS TO COMPETE IN THIS SUPER-TOUGH, MIDDLE-OF-SUMMER-THROUGH-THE-KAROO, 1 100KM BIKE RACE. BLOEMFONTEINER DALE DE KIEWIET (VETSEUN IN CYCLING’S ONLINE WONDER-WORLD) MADE THE STRONGEST CASE. HERE IS THE FINAL CHAPTER IN HIS STORY.
Words by Dale de Kiewiet
Photos by Erik Vermeulen / The Munga Image Pool
This feature appeared in the March/April 2018 edition of Ride
The day had finally arrived. Months of preparation would now indicate if it had been enough. We were standing in the starting chute for The Munga 2017, not too far from where I live. Bloemfontein, home, would be a memory for a few days as I set out, with 120 other mad souls, for Wellington, in the Cape.
I was never overly stressed about day one. I knew that my first target was to reach Vanderkloof Dam at about 230km. The unknown awaited after that. The race rolled out and we were off. A comfortable pace was held with a small group of race snakes gently going off the front. At the 30km mark, there was an unofficial water point manned by a friendly farmer and his daughter that would be my first taste of the wonderful hospitality of the locals whom we would meet across the Karoo. A quick chug of water and off again. Just after this, we hit a massive storm: Free State style. Dust and more dust with a few drops of rain to dirty everything. At about 100km we stopped at a farm stall and refuelled the bottles. At this stage, the ride was still tightly packed and slowly but surely, things started to stretch out. I just maintained my strategy of keeping a controlled pace and showing no interest in chasing riders down or doing anything silly. I rolled into Race Village 1 at about 00h30. It was a frantic, buzzing nest of cyclists, most grabbing a bite to eat, some standing impatiently waiting for the mechanics to sort out some issue on their bikes, some heading for a sleep and some leaving again. I wolfed down a lasagne and a bun and a few glasses of Coke and asked for a room for a lie-down. The alarm clock was set for 03h30 and I collapsed on the bed.
I woke up after a two-hour nap feeling fantastic. I was surprised at how fresh and strong I felt. A quick bite to eat and I was on the road again. The stage started with a scenic albeit rough route through the local game reserve. Before too long I rolled into the town of Petrusville. From there it was district gravel road. I lay down in my aero bars and ticked off the miles at a steady pace, constantly passing riders who had been ahead of me. The stage passed like a dream; steady pace with no wind to bother about. I reached the last water point on a remote farm feeling strong and super positive but… The Munga was about to show her teeth. After the water point, the road made a sharp turn and I hit a headwind full in the face, a quick glance down at my Garmin revealed 44 degrees.
Why hadn’t I felt it earlier, what the hell was happening now? Those 50km to Britstown are ones that I have stored in the memory bank, filed under worst experiences in The Munga. It is amazing how fast 3.5l of water can disappear when you are riding into a 40km/h headwind in 40-degree heat. Before too long fences had to be scaled to access windmill dams to top up bottles and cool down. It took long, very long but eventually Britstown crept closer. I could see the local church steeple and I rolled in, feeling broken. The local hotel was stunning, the food was top class, the rooms were air-conditioned, there was a bath to soak tired legs but the plan was for only two hours’ sleep there so I had to make them count.
WHY WE LOVE ALEX
We cycled out of a very hot Britstown in the late afternoon. Time-wise, things were looking really good. The ride to Loxton was long and hard. It was a matter of settling into a good rhythm. It was remote and it was hard; we spent hours and hours on farm tracks riding from farm gate to farm gate. The stage, although long, went off without too much difficulty until the first time that I hated Alex. Oh boy, did I let him have it out there on the road in the middle of nowhere where he couldn’t hear me.
As we approached Loxton, a tarred road suddenly appeared. A thing of utter beauty for my tender backside. It was going to be such a pleasure rolling along on a tarred surface into Loxton, food and a well-deserved rest. But The Munga doesn’t play soft, she is brutal and nasty, and kicks you when you are down. I had just settled into a comfortable rhythm when my Garmin showed a left turn ahead. What the hell? On this stunning, glorious tarred road, there was a bloody gate entering a Karoo farm. Alex had a little sting in the tail planned. The scenic route, if I may call it that.
Sheep trails, jeep track, loose sand, lots of loose sand. Time to toughen up, cupcake, head down and get it done. Every mile was another one done and dusted. Eventually after what seemed like an eternity, I entered Loxton. I was feeling really tired, physically and mentally. I sat down, downed a few glasses of Coke and got my breath back. And then she appeared… a blonde goddess out of the kitchen doors… I was in love… She approached, my heart rate went through the roof… She placed a plate with two slices of toast, covered in scrambled eggs, cheese and smothered in a tomato and onion gravy. I stared into her eyes, thanked her and warned her to remove her hands fast as there was a high risk of her losing a digit when I attacked that food. Bang. Back to reality, can’t lose focus. A comfortable sleeping place was arranged and two hours of blissful sleep followed.
Feeling refreshed, I rolled out of Loxton, fully aware that the next one was going to be super tough and very long. I settled into a rhythm and the kilometres went by at a slow and steady pace. By this time my bum was sore, really sore but nothing could be done about it, everybody had a sore bum. This stage went well until the first water point. Stunning Karoo people fed us, refuelled us and were so incredibly kind. I noticed that they had placed mattresses in their oasis of a garden under a few trees. I contemplated joining the other riders having a sleep, the wind was next level strong. But no. Focus on the plan. Time to hit the road again. Little did I know that a deep black miserable hole of despair was waiting for me on this section. The road was fantastic, smooth gravel, flat and fast but the wind was miserable: into the face and relentless. But I was mentally prepared for the wind, it was going to blow, and crying about it would not make it go away. Probably from about 30km out, I saw the lights of Fraserburg.
I suddenly noticed this beautiful white, modern farm warehouse to my right. A thing of true engineering beauty. It just felt strange that it would be built here in the middle of nowhere and so close to the gravel road. I had been spending much of the ride in the company of fellow rider Johan Griessel. There were hours upon hours of riding with no word spoken between us, yet knowing that another human being was close by gave us comfort. I commented to Johan on the warehouse here in the middle of nowhere. He broke the news to me that there was just open Karoo around us, no buildings anywhere… The mental and physical toil was starting to take its toll. I was out of it. That section towards Fraserburg had me seeing things, hearing things, speaking to things; I was hallucinating like a crack addict. We entered Fraserburg; it was like a ghost town.
We eventually found an open café owned by a Pakistani gentleman. I was tired. I was broken. I needed to refuel and just take a short break. The shop was disgusting, it smelt bad. There was virtually nothing to buy and vagrants hung around outside the shop begging and generally being annoying. We managed to buy two Cokes, some water, Simba chips and a piece of expired Cheddar cheese. We walked around the corner and sat against the building wall and enjoyed our feast until a dog started yapping at us. It just wouldn’t stop yapping. After a while, I stood up and told Johan that I was leaving; broken or not, I could not spend another minute in that place.
We rolled out.
What followed was a trip to the final water point on this section through some rideable, some unrideable sections. My darkest time in The Munga. I crashed four times through pure mental and physical fatigue. At about 05h00, we reached the final water point. As usual, wonderful people. I asked for a place for a power nap. Beds were available. By the number of cyclists already passed out, I realised that it was not only me who had suffered, it was carnage out there. Two hours of shuteye and it was on to the last 50km to Sutherland. I felt fantastic and super strong again. Johan looked close to death. I decided to enjoy my latest burst of energy and fly.
As a result of my newfound energy, I wasn’t paying attention and I rode past the race village and onto the next section. I eventually realised that Sutherland had come and gone but I hadn’t found the village. A friendly farmer advised me that the race village had been at the entrance to the town. Oops! My bad, but I was in a good space so it didn’t matter. I turned and headed back to Sutherland. When I walked in, Johan, who I had left broken next to a gravel road, was wolfing down a tasty-looking breakfast.
THE FINAL COAST DOWN
The wind was howling when we left Sutherland. A small group of four, we headed into the mountains. It was slow, very slow and our little grupetto disintegrated. Eventually I crested a hill and before me lay the Ouberg Pass descent. Until now I had not listened to any music at any stage of the race. My son had put a playlist together for me with the request that I listen to it at a special time during the race. I can place on record that listening to AC/DC while flying down the Ouberg Pass gravel road at breakneck speed is an exhilarating experience and is highly recommendable. In no time at all, I rolled into the first water point feeling fantastic. The next section to the Tankwa Padstal was long and tough. We climbed a big pass that was pretty much unrideable and the descent very close to that. At the Tankwa Padstal, I had a sandwich and a coffee, a 15-minute power nap and was on the road again. Somehow I had made a mistake with my calculations and I thought that the padstal was 40km from Ceres. I was happy, feeling good. I knocked a few kilometres off and up ahead I could see a road sign in the distance. Yipee! That would be the 30km to go sign… 30 and 80 look very similar when you are tired. I couldn’t believe it. Eighty kilometres to go. I hated Alex again. But, I had prepared mentally for this ride, keep thinking positive thoughts and failure was not an option. The kilometres passed at a snail’s pace, night turned into day but the road just continued. By this time I had left Johan again so it was me alone in the middle of nowhere. Suddenly, I saw a sign ahead. Ceres. And a tar road. Life was good. Let’s wrap this baby up. A few kilometres down the tar road, my Garmin indicated to turn left. It couldn’t be, it had to be a massive mistake: Ceres is straight, Touws River is left. I couldn’t believe it, another sting in the tail. Alex, I think you know the drill by now.
What followed were mountains, big mountains. I’m a Free Stater; the biggest mountain I know is Naval Hill in Bloemfontein. These things were enormous. But there was nothing to do but toughen up and climb them. Finally, I crested where I found a fellow rider resting. He explained that the right thing to do was to hit Ceres, refuel and tackle the last section to the end. We enjoyed a gentle ride down into the town. The end was so close I could smell it.
TAR, FOR THE MEMORIES
I enjoyed a good meal and refilled my bottles and set off to Diemersfontein. I had been told that it was all tar roads to the end. I left the checkpoint, realised that I had never signed out, returned to the checkpoint and signed out. I was tired, very, very tired, pulling three all-nighters with a quick power nap here and there wasn’t good for my system. The ride started with 15km of magical downhill riding and then it was onto the Bainskloof Pass. I took the opportunity to enjoy the spectacular surroundings and reflect on what had just happened to me. Utterly amazing. Diemersfontein arrived almost too soon. Suddenly I was there, over the finish line to the warm welcome of Erik Vermeulen. I had done it. I had pushed myself beyond what I ever thought I could achieve and in just four days.
As Erik said to us before the start, this is life-changing.
I’d ridden The Munga, I finished it, I’m not dead. I have to wonder where my limits lie as a human being.
WHAT IS THE MUNGA?
Simply, the hardest bike race in South Africa; 1 100km across the Karoo, in the middle of summer, with a cut-off of five days. It’s virtually impossible to finish without at least one sleepless night. Headwinds, 45-degree temperatures, rough roads, gnarly descents, boredom, sleep monsters, saddle sores, dehydration, tummy troubles… the daily litany is endless, and the dropout rate is colossal. So you want to do it? Thought so. www.themunga.com