Michel Roux

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Taking Absa Cape Epic training to the extreme

Closing to reach Du Toits Kloof pass with Riebeek-Kaastel in the background
This is a true account of how my Absa Cape Epic riding partner and I took training to the extreme.

It is Saturday 20th September, crisp morning but the sky promises a warm day to come. Clive and I decide to start early for one of our Absa Cape Epic training session and we depart for our ride at 08h15. As always, before a ride, I have some fried eggs on brown toast and some fruit to fuel my muscles; considering the ride we have planned for the day, I decide not to carry any additional food with me.

Our aim for the training is to do some serious climbing and ride an undiscovered single track which connect Du Toits Kloof pass to Bains Kloof pass, riding through the Hawequa Mountains; an estimated 50 km ride with 1355 m elevation in the first 20 km.
We set off from the foot of Bains Kloof pass, ride through some vineyards in the town of Wellington as we approach Olyvenbosch Road, at the top of Bouvlei Road.

That is were the serious climb starts; a mix of gravel, rocks, forest riding, mainly jeep track, at the foot of the imposing Hawequa mountain.
The rhythm is slow with an average speed of 7kmph; because we took a wrong turn we gain an extra climb, as if it was needed,and ended at a cul the sac with rewarding breathtaking views of Wellington and Riebeek-Kasteel.
We reconnect with the original track and keep on climbing until we reach the top of Du Toits Kloof pass and enter the Limietberg Nature Reserve through a private road, tarred and uphill, that lead to the Telkom Tower.
The climb to the Telkom tower is tough, although on tarred road, as it climbs for about 8km with a constant gradient. By the time we have reached the top we have rode for 17 km with an elevelation of 1355m.

We decide to take a break and admire the unsurpassed views of Paarl, Wellington, Riebeek-Kasteel and the majestic Table Mountain in the horizon from the Telkom tower whilst trying to determine at which point the two passes are joined by the single track.

After refilling our bottles with fresh mountain water we start the descent until we reach the start of a jeep track; this is it, our studies on Google map showed that the jeep track should lead to a single track which should ends at the top of Bains Kloof pass. So far our training has been fun and rewarding with the long climb.

The jeep track only runs for 2 km and soon after we found ourselves in thick fynbos bush and had to practice carrying our bikes; at the briefing we attended on 13th September we were told that a certain amount of bike carrying should be practiced so Clive and I were both happy that we encountered some challenging and difficult terrain.

But the fun soon stops; as we keep on walking into thick bush we realized that by now we are too committed to track back so we carry on; the path become thicker with more obstacle thrown our ways.We have to cross streams of water, climb and descend rocky areas and soon Clive gain some grounds on me as his Specialized carbon bike is much lighter than my Merida. We keep contact as we can see each other silhouettes and hear our voices echoing through the Limietberg valley.
It is now 14h30, the day has developed into a hot sunshine and luckily for us all the streams we have crossed have fresh and clean water in abundance, much needed now.

Clive and I lose contact at about 15h00; by that point I have reached a rock where I last saw him waiving his hands; below the rock I see some foot tracks going up the mountain and I start climbing. Around me just streams, fynbos and mountains that all looks the same. I check my IPhone and battery is low and beside I do not have reception, so I decide to switch it off to safe some battery and keep on climbing.

The adrenaline and determination keeps me going but by 18h15 I realized that I have to think of plan B; I stop on a rock and can see a white cement tower in front of me (I later realized it was the Telkom tower we rode to earlier); luckily I have cellphone reception and make contact with Clive, who made it safely home as eventually found the track, and my wife. Explain my location as best as I can and ask my wife to locate my phone with the Ipad application "find my phone" but only after I have reached my sheltered area which stand 30 minutes away from where I am making the phone call. We decide to reconnect at 19h00.

My shelter location is situated below a curved rock with a medium size Protea tree in the middle; I chop some thick fynbos to make a mattress and some larger trunks to build a small hut; the most spectacular room with a view in the midst of the Limietberg Nature Reserve. It is time now to make contact but I do not have cellphone reception!!!

Meanwhile Clive and my wife Tina have alerted personnel at the Nature Reserve, the local cycling club and the Police; soon after the briefing at 20h30 a search team of 20 is dispatched on a rescue operation but they come back empty handed just after 23h30.

My sheltered hut seems to keep me warm enough, but only until 23h00 when a light wind picks up and temperature drop drastically to 6°. Luckily for me, when we set off for our training ride earlier in the day, as the morning was still chilly I decided to wear an under-vest, long jersey and pants, a beanie and long gloves, my saving grace.

Although my body was telling me to sleep and rest my mind switched to survivor mood and having packed the hut with more fynbos branches I lye down in the fetus position to keep my body warm.

I survived a cold sleepless night and my new day was welcomed by the most amazing sunrise which lit all the surrounding mountains with some warm sun rays.

At 05h30 I climbed the rock above my hut to get my bearing right; in front of me I still see the white cement tower but further on its left I can spot a winding road above the mountain; my mind is set on reaching that road and started to study a route from my view point. I type a message to Clive and Tina which I will send as soon as I have cellphone reception, probably only once I reach the road. My target is too reach the safety point by 10h00.

At 06h00, Merida on my shoulder, I resume my Epic training!!! The first stream crossing I reach I quench my thirst with fresh water, refill the only water bottle left (the second one was lost through a rocky descent)  and wash my face, more of a wake up call then anything else; in the meantime, back in Wellington, rescue operation has resumed, and  a decision to bring a chopper is taken, not one but two.

Clive decides to hire a friend's chopper and follow our training route while the rescue chopper flies over and around Bains Kloof pass.

With some difficulties I have descended the rock from where I sheltered overnight and by 07h30  I am starting the ascend towards the road which is still on my sight but so far away; attempt to delivered the message typed earlier fail repetitiously as reception is not found.

By 08h30 I reach a plateau just below the road; my attempt to reach the road by 10h00 seems to be on schedule. I decide to take a short break to recoup my energy when I hear the familiar sound of an helicopter blades; to my disappointment it is not the traditional red colour of a rescue helicopter, it is blue but is hovering above me so I start waving my arms.

Photo taken from the Blue helicopter. Below the arrow is me and the Merida

In the blue helicopter there is riding partner Clive, pilot Ross and good friend Tom; they radio the Rescue helicopter my co-ordinates and five minutes later, the familiar Red rescue chopper appears from behind the mountain in a scene that reminds me of the great Francis Ford Coppola's blockbuster Apocalypse Now!!.

I am overwhelmed with emotions and relief but still determine to reach the road, so while I wait for the Rescue helicopter's crew to finalize their rescue operation I keep on climbing.

By 8h45 the paramedic from the Rescue chopper starts descending towards me, a fellow mountain biker, reassure me that he will first hoist me to safety and then come back to rescue my Merida!!!

Finally landing to safety

My Absa Cape Epic training ends at 09h15 when I finally lands just outside Wellington. Although tiring, unexpected and tough at times, this training has taught us a few lessons; always stay with your partner and ride on marked tracks.
However we have also learned that we can trust each other, we are determined, committed, mentally and physically strong.

So Absa Cape Epic 2015.......here we come.

Team Grand Dedale Penetron


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