A Belt Buckle from Leadville

The Father Figure drew this remarkable likeness of The Husband competing in the Leadville 100 mountain bike race on Saturday. Leadville, Colorado is at an altitude of 3,000m (about double that of Jozi) and the race goes up into the mountains to about 3,600m – hence the oxygen tank on The Husband's back and the puff of carbon dioxide billowing from his mouth.

The Sister and I were lucky enough to be selected as The Husband's official soigneuses for this epic race. (The competition was stiff, but I'm pleased to say, we came out on top). Soigneur duties involved waking up at the ungodly hour of 3:30am. I'd made some calculation errors (I'm blaming the on-line conversion tool) and Aspen is not exactly 50km from Leadville – it's more like 55 miles away – i.e. 90km. Still, you'd rather be in Aspen every single day of the week. Not only is Leadville a bit of a dump, it is also (we subsequently learned) one of the coldest places in the United States. So when we dropped The Husband at the start of the race at 6:30am, the temperature was precisely zero degrees celsius. Just another summer's day in Leadville.

After queuing for coffee, The Sister and I made our way back to our big-ass Chrysler rental, which we'd kitted out with duvets, pillows and enough snacks to keep us entertained for our 12 hour soigneur shift. Yip – 12 hours of 'butt-on-bike' for The Husband. At least, that's what we were hoping for because 12 hours was the cut-off time for the Leadville 100 mile race. If you finish the race in over 12 hours, there will be no belt buckle for you. No, Sir-ee! And yeah, you sure did hear right: I sure did say "belt buckle". That's right. That's what ya get for cycling 160km in Leadville – a bonnie, bright 'n shinin' belt buckle! Eyes on the prize, mountain bikers!

By Pitstop 2, things were hotting up. Literally, thank God. The sun was out and the temperature had risen substantially. Whole families of American supporters were out along the sides of the race track. They had camping chairs, cooler boxes, sign boards and LOADS of spirit. The favourite cheer was "Good job! Good job!" but my personal fave was: "Yeah! Keep goin'! That's BUCKLE pace!"

After just over 4 hours of riding, The Husband tore in to Pitstop 2. The Sister and I had forgotten our vuvuzelas to try and catch his attention so we had to improvise and waved him over with my red pashmina instead. At this point, he was on track to make cut-off with only 10 minutes to spare, so we were under major time pressure with our soigneur duties. We'd lined up sandwiches, energy drinks, water bottles, chocolates, food shakes, you name it. We felt a bit like the tyre changes at a Grand Prix, only less…er…less able to change a tyre. We were also less able to unscrew the top of his Camelbak to fill it with water.

All in all, we proved utterly useless. As we stood there helplessly, watching The Husband try to hop out of his leggings and wolf down a sandwich simultaneously, a random supporter appeared from across the track. "You got lube, man?" he wanted to know. The Sister and I looked at each other blankly. At that point, I think the dude realised who he was dealing with and lost no time running to other supporters for lube. Before we knew it, The Husband's bike was lubed up, the Camelbak had been unscrewed and topped up with water and our mystery man was practically picking The Husband up and putting him on his bike.

Pitstop 2 = success.

By Pitstop 3, we'd made friends with another random supporter –  Jaime from Texas – so when The Husband came screeching down the hill, Jaime provided much-needed back-up. This soigneuse thing wasn't turning out to be so hard, after all. You just had to be strategic about it.

At Pitstop 4, we found Nemo:

Pitstop 5 was the finish line, back in Leadville's main street. I knew The Husband would want to murder a large burger within half an hour of finishing, so just after Pitstop 4, The Sister and I went in search of one.

Our enquiry at the local diner as to the availability of take-away burgers, was met with: "We only got Buffalo Burgers." Now, call me blonde, but I really thought that a "Buffalo Burger" was some kind of Buffalo Bill Hillbilly All American Mid-West Special, so I politely asked, "what's in a buffalo burger?".

I was honestly expecting to hear that there'd be an extra patty or some deep fried bacon or something. Instead, the dolly looked at me as though as I was just plain stoopid. Even the drunk dude at the bar turned to look at me as though I was just plain stoopid. He decided to answer my question on the waitress' behalf.

"It's buffalo," he said in his best imitation of my accent. Don't ask me why, but I was still kind of confused.

"Ah, so you mean it's not like meat from a cow, it's like meat from a buffalo?"

Alrighty, then. No burger for The Husband.

Armed with a hot dog instead, The Sister and I positioned ourselves at the finish, hoping and praying that The Husband would make "buckle pace" and would cross the line before the 12-hour gun went off. At 30 minutes to go, I was getting mildly concerned. At 15 minutes to go, I was panicking. Then, with 13 minutes to spare, The Husband came into sight and crossed the finish. It was a perfect vuvuzela moment. We'd flown halfway across the world and he'd made it!

The Sister and I joined him. He was looking half-dead but also elated. He had a medal around his neck, but no belt buckle. "Where's your buckle?" I wanted to know. One of the volunteers at the finish overhead us and told us that the buckles would be handed out at a prize-giving ceremony at 7:30am the next day. There was no way that we were going to leave Aspen at 6am the next day to make the prize-giving, so The Husband decided to see if he could make another plan. It looked as though the dude in charge was the guy who was about to fire the 12-hour cut-off gun. The Husband turned to the very friendly volunteer next to us and asked if it would be wise to approach him about his buckle. She literally replied, "I don't know, he's got a gun." And she didn't look like she was joking.

Nonetheless, The Husband had just spent 11 hours and 47 minutes on his bicycle and he wanted his buckle, so he decided to approach the man with the weapon. I watched from afar. The guy was wearing a pair of denim dungarees and had the longest, wildest beard I have ever seen. But The Husband strode up to him confidently to enquire about getting his buckle ahead of the prize-giving.

Scary dude's response was: "There is no f*cking way that is ever gonna happen, son!"

So that was that. The Husband, The Sister and I climbed into our van for the long drive back to Aspen. The Husband had come, had seen and had conquered the Leadville 100 mountain biking race.

Apparently, his buckle's in the mail.

Holidaying in Leadville

The Husband had a rush of blood to the head a few weeks ago and decided that we hadn't been on enough cycling "holidays" this year. The good news is that the latest cycling sojourn will take us to the States. The bad news is that it will take us to an ex-mining town: a place called – wait for it – "Leadville". Okay, so Jozi's also a mining town, but no-one holidays in Carltonville, do they? Just like no-one willingly holidays in Leadville – which is why the town created a mountain bike race to lure obsessive cyclists to its parts once a year. The Husband being one such sucker, of course. He'd already paid his race money and taken his chances when his American friend broke the news that Leadville is – and I quote – "a sh*t-hole".

Nonetheless, we had to find accommodation in this sh*thole, so The Husband's PA set about making some enquiries.

Everything was full, full, full. Like I said, no-one willingly vacations in Leadville. But people (like The Husband) obviously make an exception for the Leadville 100 cycle race and all accommodation was booked out.

Finally, we had a bit of a breakthrough when The Husband's PA forwarded me this mail:


I have a large studio apartment available.  Fully outfitted, cable tv, right in town.  That is the busiest week of the year in Leadville.  This unit just came available. 

Have a super day!

I was so relieved that I promptly called up Kyle to see if we could book it straight away. Kyle had that super-cheery American service industry thing going on. In fact, he was so overwhelmingly friendly, I was almost expecting him to wish me "happy holidays" or something (even though we were nowhere near Christmas). Still, super cheery is better than grumpy so I tried to raise the level of excitement in my voice to a near hysterical level, to match his. In fact, Kyle's enthusiasm was so infectious that I was about to hand out credit card details then and there. Thankfully, the ever-efficient Kyle offered to quickly send me some pictures before I made a final decision.

A little later, in came this mail from my new friend, Kyle:


Here are a couple of pics.  Obviously, the place will be cleaned.

Have a great day!

What precisely did Kyle mean when he said "obviously, the place will be cleaned"? I almost dreaded opening the attached pictures to find out…

Apparently, this here below is what he meant.


Based on photographic evidence, I've managed to convince The Husband that we cannot possibly spend 8 days acclimatising for his mountain bike race in this mine dump.

Happily, Aspen is a mere 50km away, so I'll be acclimatising by the pool while The Husband chugs up and down the surrounding mountains on his bicycle. And I've just managed to convince The Sister to tag along from London, so actually the two of us will be cocktailing by the pool…So much more civilsed…

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.


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.


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.”


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.


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!
Thzzere! (mouthful of dust)
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…