Cape Epic Day 8: Lost on Lourensford

Sunday 28 March 2010. The big day had arrived. Not only was it the FINAL day of being a soigneuse/ cycling slave; it was also the day of The Maiden Trail Run. Oh, and it was the last stage of the Cape Epic for the boys.

On registration day for the Epic, my fellow soigneuse and I discovered a reason to give ourselves licence to moan, feel important, eat lots, be stressed etc. The reason was a 12km run. There was a 6km option but we decided to sign up for the longer one to get more airtime during the dinner table conversations on heart rate, lactic acid, carbo-loading, aches and pains and other such phenomenally fascinating topics. In truth, we weren’t too stressed about the run.

Initially.

Then I heard that it was an off-road run on Lourensford Wine Estate that would take us half-way up the Simonsberg Mountain and back down again. The Husband suggested that a 12km trail run was probably “roughly equal to” to an 18km road run. That’s when the panic truly set in. Only, I’d been moaning so much and milking the 12km thing so extensively, that no-one took me seriously once I was in genuine terror mode.

Pride alone got me to strut to the start of the run on that Sunday morning. As we waited for the gun to go off, I surveyed the competition. It was a fairly small group so there was no seeding – just one mass start. This meant, that instead of being in Group J with all sorts of shapes, sizes and ages, we were standing amongst some of the leanest and meanest most athletic-looking people I’ve ever seen. There was even a bunch of sports nerds in matching uniforms with the following logo embroidered on their backs: The Drinking Club with a Running Problem. They weren’t fooling me for one second. They looked as though their body fat was about 6%. Between them.

Sh**

And then the gun went off and this herd of elite athletes took off. Quite literally. Almost immediately, we had to hurtle up a bl**dy hill while we were in full view of hundreds of spectators. And the competition was SPRINTING. I kid you not. So was my fellow soigneuse. She’d kindly offered to run a chilled race with me, but I honestly could not blame her for bolting right in the beginning. I mustered up every ounce of energy I could and I hauled myself up that little hill as though my life depended on it. Well, my dignity certainly depended on it. Within seconds, my heart rate was through the roof and I’d broken my personal average speed record. I was heaving and spluttering and could barely breathe. But that was not the worst of it, with every step I took, about 10 people FLEW past me. It might have been more like 20 people but they were going so fast, they were blurred. After about 500m, so many runners had passed me that I started to wonder if there was anyone behind me. “Oh my God,” I thought. “I could literally come last in this race. Absolutely stone last.” Another blur of people flew past. Was there anyone left now? I had no idea but I knew that if I turned around to see the motorbike marshall, I might just fall down and die of embarrassment. So I devised this little survival mantra and started repeating it to myself.

Don’t look back.

Don’t look back.

Whatever you do – DON’T LOOK BACK!

While I was chanting away like Lot’s wife, I was passed by a seriously out-of-shape chick with an arse the size of Simonsberg. She didn’t fly by, she just steadily sidled past me.

That was it. I was going to beat her if it was the last thing I did.

Incidentally, I did beat her. But not through athletic ability. Once we were out of sight of spectators and hidden amongst the vineyards, I found my fellow soigneuse waiting for me. When I saw her, I felt it was safe to turn around. Mercifully, there were some runners behind us. Granted, they tended to be septuagenarians or carrying up to 30kg in excess weight, but the point was: WE WEREN’T LAST!!! And so we began the long walk/run up the mountain. And then down. And then up some more. And some more. And then down. Basically we were zig-zagging up and down the mountain in between the vineyards. Around the 6km mark, the route sort of looped back on itself. This did seem a bit odd but the signs were telling us to go straight, so we did. The next thing a bunch of runners just in front of us starting shouting at us. They told us we’d taken a wrong turn and that we’d missed a section. I thought they were kidding, so I just grinned at them and carried on shuffling up the mountain. But they were serious – somehow we’d managed to miss a section of the route. This sort of made sense because I didn’t recognise anyone around us anymore. Crap. We had two choices: we could either continue, having effectively cheated at an amateur trail run or we could run back down the mountain and try to figure out the correct path to get back up. So as you can see, it was a no-brainer – we carried on with our new group.

Even though I later figured out that we’d skipped about 1.5km, we were still nowhere near the super elite, lithe front-runners. This was really fortunate because the middle-of-the-pack group we found ourselves with now didn’t give a toss that we had this massive unfair advantage over them. There were three super friendly middle-aged ladies who were chatting away and more than happy to include us in their group. And then there were two 30-something class clowns who were more interested in chatting us up than turning us in. I reckon their mums had told them that a running club might be just the place to “meet someone nice, dear.” Clearly they hadn’t been as successful as their mums had made out, because they were in full-on spade mode. They didn’t seem to care whose attention they attracted out of the 5 females around them – anyone who laughed at their jokes would do just fine. Lucky for me, I can’t speak when I do cardio-vascular exercise, let alone laugh. When our friend realised that his jokes weren’t going down too well, the leader of the the little duo changed tack. He heard one of the women cursing litter-bugs as she picked up a runner’s coke cup and so he launched into a long speech about how littering runners should be lynched. Now he had this woman’s full attention. Nice going, buddy.

Finally, 10.5km later, the finish line was in sight. I can’t say that I was gagging to run another 1.5km at that stage but I was nonetheless racked with guilt. I had visions of being reported by the chick with big butt whom I’d now beaten illegally. I felt as though I had the scarlet letter “C” around my neck and was convinced the crowd was about to start chanting “Cheat! Cheat! Cheat!”. I was so convinced I was about to be bust that I started explaining myself to the volunteer at the finish line who was recording runners’ positions as we came in. “No, no, don’t take my name! I didn’t finish the race. I mean I did finish, but I skipped a section. Not on purpose. OBVIOUSLY. It’s just I followed the wrong sign and then I couldn’t find the right one, so actually I’m not supposed to be in this position. It’s my first trail run and I’m very unfit…” I thought that if I gave her the full, honest sob story she’d just omit to write down my race number and that would be it. But she was taking her volunteer role very seriously. In fact, I don’t think she’d heard a word I’d said to her. All she wanted was the race number pinned to my back and before I knew it, she had grabbed hold of my waist and spun me around, before ripping off my race number and screaming at me to “move on!” I was shoved across the finish line and presented with my finisher’s medal: a wine glass adorned with the Lourensford logo. It might not have been much compared to the flashy yellow and gold Cape Epic medals that the guys were presented with, but hey – try drinking beer your beer out of your medals, boys…

Cape Epic Day 7: Botrivier Goes Bos

On Day 7, I decided to crawl back into bed once the boys had left at 6:30am. We were in our B&B in the thriving metropolis of Botrivier – in a delightful guest house in one of the four residential roads that comprise the town. I was on my way back to wonderland when someone down the road decided to throw a party. Seriously. Blaring bl**dy music at the crack of bl**dy dawn. Who does that? Someone in Botrivier, that’s who.

Eventually, both my fellow soigneuse and I gave up trying to have a lie-in and got up and put on our running kit. We’d been training all week for our very own little epic – at 12.5km trail run starting and ending at the Cape Epic’s finish line. Still yawning but with our ears throbbing from the music, we set off down the road and ended up running to the beat of Botriver’s Saturday morning jam.

About half-way through our run, we thought we heard a loudspeaker. This got us thinking – perhaps there was some kind of event going on? Yes – that must be it.

Then, about 500m from home, we saw a bunch of cyclists flying by. Could the “event” be the Epic? And could the music be coming from a spectator point? It slowly dawned on us: there was a spectator point literally on our doorstep and we didn’t even know. We debated jogging down to the point to wait for the guys to come past, but we decided breakfast was a bit of a priority. We’d go and have a squizz after a warm shower and a croissant.

About two hours later we drove the 0.3km to the water point (the return journey consisted of a LARGE up-hill). It seemed a little quiet so we asked someone what level of rider was coming past just then. “No level,” we were told. “Everyone’s come through this point.”

Oops.

And to think we could have upped our spectator stats to 2 water points out of a possible total of 16, instead of just 1. Oh well. 1 would have to do. We had a ladies lunch to get to at Peregrine Farmstall in Grabouw. Smell you at the finish, boys.

Cape Epic Days 5 & 6: Searching for Stuyvies in the Winelands


Because the Epic was so, well, epic – i.e. LONG, they needed MC’s to keep the crowds entertained and up-to-date. The race employed three such lads. The first – and by far the funniest – was a guy called Dan Nicol who really did keep us entertained with his dead-pan humour. I forget the name of the second dude – probably because entertainment is not really his strong point, but he did a good job keeping us up-dated about who was arriving, in which position, etc, etc. The third guy was a German import who went by the stage name of…wait for it… “Mike Mike”. I kid you not. If he was a hugely ironic dude, then perhaps you’d smile when you heard his name, but his commentary was literally cringe-inducing, which made his stage name even worse. Not only was the poor guy NOT entertaining at all, he also had a penchant for techno-techno-techno-techno. As in the song “no, no limits…” from 1993. And when I say 1993 I am not exaggerating – I have vivid memories of bopping to that song at the back of a school bus in Std. 7.

For some reason, Mike Mike was always on duty for the most crowd-pulling aspects of the race like the finish of each day. Day 5 was a little different in that it was time-trial day, so all the top cyclists started later in the day, after the regular people. As a result, The Husband, his partner and my fellow soigneuse and I were sitting on the grandstands of the Worcester Gymnasium, watching the pro’s take off and listening to Mike Mike and 2 Unlimited. My head was throbbing from the super loud techno and I wanted to go back to the Nuy Valley and drown my boredom in a bottle of lovely local wine. The Husband, however, was fully into the race.

“Oh my God, that’s Helmut Schlusserdorf!” he’d scream.

I could see a skinny, little dude in a pair of tight pants and a funny shaped hard hat, but he looked exactly like all the other little skinny dudes in tight pants. The Husband was beside himself – he was acting as though we’ve just seen George Clooney in the flesh.

And then he’d go: “No ways! That’s Siegfied von Underheim about to start the time trial!”

Whatever. Wake me up if you see Lance Armstrong.

This went on for several hours before we were finally able to head home to our lovely guest house in the Hex River Mountains. A short time-trial day meant something glorious: an afternoon kip. I wasn’t going to miss it for the world. Unfortunately, it was over all too quickly because before I knew it, it was 4:45am on Day 6 and we were back to the 8 hours-of-cycling-a-day routine. Day 6 saw the race village move from Worcester to Oak Valley Wine Farm outside Elgin. Driving there to pick up the boys, I could sense that I was getting closer to Cape Town because it was raining. And I was in a tearing hurry. I’d been swanning around with a schoolmate in Stellies – I managed to fit in a spot of pilates at her studio – and I had NO IDEA it’d take me so bl**dy long to get over Sir Lowry’s. So I tore through the mud into Oak Valley and ground to a halt at the race village at 3:30pm on the dot. The Husband had said they’d be in at 3:30 but I still had to half-run, half limp about 2km across the grounds to the finish of the race. Which would’ve been fine if I’d remembered to buy his friggin’ cigarettes in Stellenbosch. But of course, I hadn’t. Normally, I faced a tired, ravenous and slightly grumpy husband. Now, I’d be facing a tired, ravenous, sopping wet husband, gagging for a cigarette.

Sh**.

As I was loping over the grounds I scanned every single human being in sight for signs of a smoker. A marshall, a girlfriend, a parking attendant, SOMEONE! But all I could see were sporty types in Cape Storm and First Ascent gear. And absolutely no Peter Stuyvesant. The Husband knew this, which is why he’d asked me 30 times to buy cigarettes on the way. Eventually, I decided to take a flyer and went to the “beer tent” (First Ascenters do drink beer, apparently). The barman’s response was, “you’re going to be hard-pressed to find cigarettes in these parts.” Thanks, mate!

But there was something about the tone of his voice or the glint in his eye that got me thinking…

“You don’t smoke by any chance, do you?” I asked him.

“Actually,” he replied, “I do. And I happen to have a brand new box with me.”

“Really? What brand?” I almost knew he was going to say Peter Stuyvesant before the words were out of his mouth…

“How much?”

Again with the glint in his eye.

“One hundred bucks and that’s my final offer.”

This man had himself a deal. Now I know what I’ll be doing at next year’s Epic. I’m going dress up like Patricia Lewis and I’m going to strut around the race village brandishing a burning fag. Then I’m going to supply a secret stash of ciggies to the all the undercover smokers, at a huge premium. Suddenly, being a soigneuse has some fringe benefits…

Cape Epic Day 4: To Worcester It Is


On Day 4 of the Epic, the riders left Ceres to make their way to Worcester, where the race village would be based for the next two days. Thus far, my fellow soigneuse and I had successfully avoided all spectator points. But on this day we joined The Parents-in-Law and the rest of the crowds at “Vantage Point 2”. Unfortunately for mountain bikers, the sport is about as spectator friendly as scuba diving, so when I say “crowds”, I mean three other cycling widows and their bored-stiff kids. When we emerged from the warmth of the car, it felt as though a mini tornado had hit the outskirts of Worcester and we stood behind the spectator railings (lest the over-excited mobs storm the riders), munching on mouthfuls of dust and waiting for our boys to come past.

At some point…
When you’re ready…
Aaaaaaanytime now, boys…
A leeeeetle chilly out here…
Now would be good…
Here they come!
Where?
Thzzere! (mouthful of dust)
Where?
Oops – not them. (eyes full of dust) Seriously, NOW would be good!

And so we stared at the portaloo across from us, teeth chattering, matted hair in eyes, hoping, praying, that they were just around the corner. Note that we didn’t stare at this portaloo by choice. We stared at it because the thing was basically facing us – just slightly to the left of where the riders were coming past. To make matters worse, I was desperate for the loo – I crossing my legs and clenching my teeth but there was just no way I was going to strut out from the “crowds”, be ushered along by the marshals and wave to everyone as I entered the plastic vault to do my business.

An hour and a half later, and a bursting bladder later, the boys pulled in with some lame excuse for their tardiness – something about a “cross-wind”. Whatever. We’re freezing here!

Of course, they said “hi” for all of 12 seconds and then sped off into the dust storm.

It was all worth it, though, once Day 4’s riding was over and we started heading out to our guest house to some place I’d never heard of: the Nuy Valley. I still can’t pronounce that word. Some of the locals told us that “Nuy” rhymes with “play” and others that it rhymes with “dewey” as in “dewey decimal system”. No matter how it’s pronounced, it’s absolutely gorgeous. The valley is framed by the beautiful Hex River Mountains and there are vineyards almost as far as the eye can see. You could be in the South of France, except that the wine costs next to nothing. And better still, it’s out of this world.

Definitely worth standing in a dust storm for…

Cape Epic Days 2 & 3: Butt Sores & Friendly Boers

If you think that chivalry is dead, you need to move to the Ceres region. For the first three days of the Epic, we found ourselves in Op-die-Berg in the Koue Bokkeveld. (Yes, that’s really what it’s called). I don’t think you could really call it a town. It literally consists of two roads: one residential and one commercial. The commercial road boasts no fewer than two drankwinkels and a Spar. I don’t know if it’s the proliferation of liquor outlets but the residents could not have been friendlier.

We checked into Oppi Berg (not a typo) Guest House, owned and run by the Hanekom family, aka Oom, Tannie, Boetie, Sussie and Boetie’s wife. And each family member was more charming than the next. In fact, I think Tannie’s biefstuk may have saved The Husband’s life. I brought him back to the B&B at 10pm at the end of Day 1, battered and bruised by The Masseuse and just generally looking miserable. After a few bites of rump, he had regained his sense of humour and forgotten about his debilitating ITB from just an hour earlier.

Subsequent meals featured not one, but two types of meat. We’d be served chicken AND lamb the one night and then pork AND beef the next. Luckily, the surrounding dirt roads provided gorgeous, peaceful running routes for the two soigneuses, since every time we crossed paths with Tannie Aletta, she offered to feed us.

At lunch on Day 2 we shared the dining room with four friendly, khaki-clad farmers who’d tootled into town for Tannie Aletta’s famous grub. I honestly think I spotted one of them tipping his hat at us as he walked in. Before we knew it, we were “aangename kennis-ing” left, right and centre and 20 minutes later we’d been invited on a “farm tour”. Later that day, we had another taste of local chivalry. We were headed for Ceres to go and fetch the boys when a piece of industrial plastic flew up and got caught in our front fender. We didn’t feel like stopping and figured we’d simply rip it out when we got to Ceres 40 minutes later. But just as we were entering the outskirts of the town, we saw a farmer in a bakkie behaving rather strangely. He pulled over in front of us and seemed to be making hand signals at us. Ever the alert Joburg gals, we assumed he was the local loon and we put foot. Only to have him follow us. He was flashing his lights madly and seemed to be signalling for us to pull over, which we eventually did. He then appeared at our window, tipping his hat and smiling broadly, before ripping out the piece of plastic now wedged in between our front grill. He politely explained how dangerous this was as it would overheat, melt and cause all sorts of complications. And then he smiled, tipped his hat and was gone.

Then it was back to real life with “where’s my burger” and “go get my bike from the wash-bay” as we met our boys at the finish. “It’s fine,” I thought. “The Masseuse will exact revenge on our behalves”.

When we arrived at The House of Pain, we were greeted by the now slightly more familiar sight of near-naked men. But this time, one of the riders (a respectable dentist, I might add) had his jocks whipped into a wedgy to form a lovely thong up his butt. Not only did this reveal his taut bum cheeks, it also exposed the nastiest-looking boil-like butt sore I’ve ever seen. Ouch. And then on top of it, he was wincing in pain as The Masseuse dug her elbows into his quads. If only his root canal patients could see him now.

The Masseuse interrupted her work to thrust a box of Epsom Salts at me and to tell me to get The Husband into bath in these salts. I decided not to beat around the bush and told her that The Husband doesn’t bath.
“Just tell him he must,” she said, looking at me as thought I was nuts.
“I’ll tell him but he still won’t bath,” I said.
She looked at me as if to say, “what do you mean he doesn’t do what you tell him to do?”
I just stood there, so she grabbed the Epsom Salts in one hand, the Husband in the other and marched him off to the bathroom.

I heard running water and then The Masseuse emerged from the bathroom sans The Husband. I actually think she may have locked him in.

Welcome to the Boland. Where the men treat the women like ladies and the women take no sh**.
Love it.

Photo: The “Bum Clinic” inside the medical tent at the race village.

Cape Epic Day 1: Jock Straps & Strapped for Jack

/>epic |ˈepik|
noun
• a long film, book, or other work portraying heroic deeds and adventures or covering an extended period of time

If only the Epic were a long film or a book. I’d be so much more into it if that were the case. But no. The Cape Epic – or simply “the Epic” to uber cool, inner circle, mountain biking peeps – consists of 8 long, butt-numbing days on a bicycle.

On Friday 19 March we rocked up at OR Tambo with new fewer than 83kg of check-in luggage between us. And bear in mind that the bl**dy bike only weighs 10kg. It’s some super duper, carbon-framed, fuel-injected piece of machinery and I’m not allowed to touch it. Anyway, so the remaining 73kg consisted of a few items of clothing for me (25kg) and then 48kg worth of Dischem products in first aid kit. I kid you not. The shopping list took up a full A4 page and the medicines filled an entire suitcase. One thing the emergency kit did not contain was a bottle of Jack Daniels. Big mistake, as it turned out. But I’ll start at the beginning.

The Epic began at Diemersfontein Wine Estate on Sunday 21 March. Only the home of my most favourite Pinotage in the whole wide world. At least this presented me with somewhat of an incentive to drag myself out of bed at 5am that morning. As we pulled into the wine farm, I was greeted by a row of bottle-green portaloos. The Epic had indeed begun.

The Husband and his partner eventually set off when the gun went at 9am. And my fellow soigneuse and I dutifully stood on the sidelines cheering for our boys, along with a handful of other “Epic Widows”. As soon as they were out of sight, we set off in search of wine.

Armed with supplies from the cellar door, we began the trek to our guest house in Op die Berg, north of Ceres. Ordinarily, we would’ve headed over Bain’s Kloof, but were told that it was closed for the lunatic cyclists’ use. Of course.

Six hours later we were once again assembled with the Epic Widows, but this time at the finish line. At 5:20pm, our boys came in – 40 minutes before the cut-off time and over an hour before the extended cut-off time of 6:30pm. (Cut off was apparently extended after an accident caused congestion on a section of single track). The boys had survived Day 1!

Or so we thought.

After they’d eaten their bicycle weights in burgers, we dropped them off for their daily massages. I didn’t tell The Husband, but I admit I was a little nervous when I met The Masseuse. I had spoken to her on the phone earlier and had pictured a bit of a bokkie from the Stellenbosch beauty college. Boy, was I wrong. She was blonde alright, but she looked more like a German shot-put champ, than a delicate dolly with a faceful of base. I left to take The Husband’s bike to the mechanic, just as The Masseuse was ordering him to strip down to his jocks. “Uh-oh,” I thought and made a dash for it.

Twenty minutes later my phone rang.

Me: Hello?
The Husband: I….OWWWW…aaarrgh….%#*&%#….OWWWW…*&^%**
Me: Uh-oh
The Husband: I need….OH MY GOD….aaaargh….I need Jack Daniels!
Me: Whisky? Isn’t that a banned substance?
The Husband: %#*&%#. I don’t CARE! Aaaargh…owwww!!! Bring me my Myprodol!

Since I had half of Dischem’s OTC supplies in the boot of the car, I could help out with drugs. Or I could try to persuade the Ceres Arms to sell me booze illegally on a Sunday night. I opted for the drugs.

When I arrived back at the house where the torture was being carried out, I was greeted by the sight of several prostate men in their jock strips. Most were writhing in agony. The Husband sounded the worst of all. No wonder – the German shot-put champ had her elbow implanted in his upper thigh and was leaning into it with her full (not insignificant) body weight. When he saw me, all he could manage was a strained “whisky!@$%#!” in between the screams. “Does anyone have booze?” I asked. Four elite athletes looked back at me as though I’d just asked them for crack cocaine.

Apparently not.

But that didn’t stop me from raiding every cupboard in the kitchen. I’d find their secret little stash if it was the last thing I did.

Except there really was nothing. Nada. Not a single drop of the good stuff. They didn’t intend to ingest a drop of alcohol for the duration of this 8-day race. Good for them.

Not so good for The Husband, though. Fortunately, by this time he’d laid into his stash of painkillers and his screams had subsided somewhat. He was just reaching for the Stopayn when he got his hand firmly smacked by The Masseuse. “No more drugs for you! You’ll get kidney failure! Anyway, I’m nearly done here.”

“Thank God,” The Husband groaned.

So The Husband survived Day 1 of the Epic. And the riding was pretty rough, too.

Sani 2 C Day 2: Weather Blues, Blow-drying Shoes & Portaloos

Things started looking up around midday yesterday when we moved to our new accommodations at Emfuleni Camp. I know it doesn’t sound glamorous, but next to the slimy, mouse-‘n-mozzie infested backpackers, it’s paradise. We have en-suite bathrooms! And I’ve yet to come across a dead rodent, which is always positive. On the downside, however, the weather hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations. Before the trip, I think every single member of our nine person crew thought: KzN = Durban = boiling hot. And then threw shorts and slops into a bag. Not ideal because we haven’t seen the sun since we crossed into KzN on Tuesday afternoon. In fact, I haven’t donned a pair of sunglasses since the Grasmere Toll. It’s been so frigging freezing that one of my fellow soigneuses almost bought a second-hand ski jacket from 1982, to try and keep warm. Check this beauty out in the pic below:

It’s available in one size only from the Fashion Palace at the Underberg Mall. Not that I can talk about trendiness. I’ve been wearing my slip slops with socks for the past two days, because my takkies are soaked through and because I saw no reason to pack closed shoes for my sojourn in “Durbs”. Yesterday, the boys had to peddle downhill through thick mud and arrived at the finish shivering and looking like they’d been rolling around in mud. But then they wanted to ride their silly little bicycles up and down big ass mountains…

 

 

 

Last night I learned that the job of the soigneuse includes washing dirty cycling kit and then…wait for it…drying it with a hairdryer. My little 1,200 watt travel hairdryer has never worked so hard in it’s life. It has also never seen the inside of a pair of smelly cycling shoes – at least it hadn’t until last night. The pic above is me, hard at work.

So, as you can tell, I’ve been working my ass off here. What has helped is that my fellow soigneuses are the personification of Domestic and Logistic Organisation. I swear, they should start a business. Before I even realise what town we’re supposed to be in, they’ve mixed the recovery drinks, planned the spectator routes, booked the boys’ massages and liaised re dinner. And they employ some of the most innovative methodologies I’ve ever come across. They hang all the washed cycling clothes in a cupboard, plug in a hairdryer and leave it on – inside the closed cupboard. This way, the clothes dry while they’re busy ordering sandwiches for the next day. How bl**dy genius is that? (I learnt this after I spent two hours holding a hairdryer over The Husband’s shoes).

And then today I stood in the freezing cold waiting to take pics of my boys at a watering point. The first pair in our greater group eventually pulled in and pulled up next to me to say hi, and to find out how I was doing. I asked them how their race was going, they gave me a quick up-date, told me The Husband and his partner were about 10 minutes behind them, and then they continued on their way. For the next few minutes, I stood in the cold with my camera poised. I even unzipped my warm top so that my supporter cycling shirt was visible (sort of). About four minutes later, I saw my boys. I screamed like a banshee to let them know where I was standing so that they could come over and say hi. Instead, the Husband yelled, “Can’t talk – we’re chasing the other team.” He disappeared and I was left with a photo of his elbow. By this stage I had blue lips, a bursting bladder and nothing but a portaloo to turn to.

I then hung around Tent City (where the riders finish their race each day and where some poor sods spend the night) for THREE HOURS waiting for the boys to decode their race performance, eat 42 burgers, get massaged and get their bikes washed. After coping with yet another portaloo, I was on the verge of losing it altogether. But just before I screamed, “THE BUS IS LEAVING!!!!!” I negotiated the most brilliant deal with The Husband. I promised that I would climb onto a mountain bike, put it into granny gear and ride a three day road race… IF…and only IF… he would be my soigneur for those three days. It might sound crazy, but remember, I didn’t say I’d make the cut off time, I didn’t say I’d refuse lifts from cute Netcare medics on the sly. I said I’d “do” the race.

Telling The Husband the Omo isn’t quite foamy enough while he washes my cycling pants, will be worth every agonising kilometre on the bike. I can’t wait.

Sani 2 C Day 1: The Soigneuse & The Slimeville Arms


Sabbaticals can sometimes be less than glamorous. And I’m not talking about grocery shopping or project managing the pool service. At least, not only. I’m talking about being a cycling “soigneuse”. “Soigneur” is a French word that seems to have become part of mainstream English, thanks to the Tour de France. It’s derived from the verb “soigner” which means “to look after” or “to care for”. A Tour de France cyclist’s “soigneur” is basically his dog’s body – the poor sod who carries the pro’s crap around, mixes his energy drinks, administers his drugs, etc, etc. Being a girl, I presume I am a “soigneuse” and so my job during the Sani to C Cycle Challenge is to carry The Husband’s crap around, mix his energy drinks and generally, to act the part of the unemployed housewife that I currently am. Lucky for me, his butt is firmly on his bike for at least the next five hours, so at the moment, he’s wading through mud far from cell phone reception and therefore far from his adoring soigneuse.

As a result, the Soigneuse is presently sitting on her bed at The Himeville Arms in the town of Himeville. Himeville is 5km from the town of Underberg, where the race began this morning. I tried to dull my boredom on yesterday’s seven hour drive from Joburg by consuming half a springbok in droe wors and biltong. I therefore decided to take myself off for a little run around Himeville last night. Besides the two vicious-looking rottweilers that threatened my life, I found it to be a charming village. Our hotel, however, proved a little less charming. Ladies & gentlemen: allow me to introduce you to the Slimeville Arms, established in 1904 (and not redecorated since). Owing to capacity issues, our group of nine were unable to stay in the main hotel and were therefore booked into the Himeville Barns – out-buildings which were probably once stables. Of course, in London they’d be referred to as “mews” but at the present-day Himeville Arms they’re known as ‘The Backpackers’. I can report that The Backpackers lives up to its name and has all the hallmarks of a backpackers establishment: communal ablutions, erratic hot water supply, vile eiderdowns and no bed-side lamps.

To top it all off, our room smells like a swamp. I decided to take the latter issue up with the receptionist last night before officially moving in. “Oh yes,” she responded with a knowing smile, “it’s when there’s alot of rain around the Sani Pass and the water gets into the carpets.” She stated this matter-of-factly as though the explanation would make the stench (and me) go away. I didn’t go away and eventually she threw me the key to the room next door and told me to “give it a bash”. Thinking that I’d have liked to give something else a bash instead, I stormed off to Room B3. (The “B” stands for “backpackers” – just to distinguish us, lest we try to mix with the nice folks from the main dwelling). B3 smelled equally swamp-like, so I stormed back to reception. On my way, I passed a dead mouse lying on the path. It wasn’t even that gross – it had been there for so long that it had completely dried out and was as flat as a pancake.

When the rest of the group arrived back from registration, one lucky member unlocked his room, only to find an unmade bed and a room full of someone else’s kit. Management (in the form of a rather grumpy Irishman) was summoned. It transpired that the German couple whose kit was in the room, had decided to stay an extra night, without informing management. (Or so the Irishman reported, anyway.) To credit the Slimeville Arms, management unceremoniously packed up the Germans’ sh*t and ushered our group member into his newly vacated room.

Between on-going mosquito attacks and the stench of our damp rooms, no-one had a great night’s sleep. I’ve been counting the minutes to check-out time today, ever since we checked in yesterday. All I know about our next stop is that it’s a farm with wooden huts where they hold Christian camps. I guess this triggered sub-conscious memories of the Scripture Union camps of my youth, because last night I dreamt about our next spot. In my dream, the Manager-dude introduces himself as I arrive, before demanding to know if I’ve “found the Lord”.

It’s now 9am the morning after the night of the nightmares and mozzie attacks and all I can say is “hallelujah”, because it’s time to bid farewell to the Slimeville Arms. My two fellow soigneuses and I just need to pack up the boys’ rooms, drag their stuff to the cars, hitch up a trailer, go food shopping, make sandwiches and appear at the finish line with their recovery drinks. I’m staring to think I should just climb on a bike next time. But first, what I want to know from The Husband is: who’ll be my soigneur?