Saturday, March 24, 2012

Cape Town acclimatisation

My last full day in Wellington started early - a phone call from Ash the night before had revealed Revolve were short a driver for the van pick up.  I met her and Marjolein at the top of Aro St, and then drove with them out to Lower Hutt.

We made our way to Rees' house, to pick up some Home Brew to as a Super V spot prize.  Rees had not only laid the beer down himself, but he was using some of his own honey as an ingredient, AND he'd made special Super V bottle labels.  I asked him if he had his phone number on the label, but my cryptic allusion seemed lost on him, eligible bachelor or not.

Super V beer bottle labelling!
I drove Ash's vehicle from the van-rental place at Seaview, but alas I was too early for Fidel's once back in town.  They were open on the return trip though, and it was good to finally get a bit of coffee into my gullet.

I helped out at registration for a while, before finally becoming overcome with anxiety about getting home and packing.  Ash sensed this, and sent me packing...

Loading the bike into my new EVOC travel bag was a breeze, and I experimented with loading a spare rear swingarm, eventually bungying it onto the down tube, with a spare Maxxis Ikon sandwiched in between.  By the time I was finished, the bike bag clocked in at about 22kg, and my other checked bag a little over 10kg.  I'd be pushing the 32kg allowance my new Qantas Club membership afforded me, but with luck I'd be OK.

Snug as a bug in a rug!
I wasn't quite quick enough to get done before Kaitlyn arrived from her school fair, so missed out on sifting with her there, but we did have time to go chill out at the Super V finish for a while.  It was good to see the women there having a blast, and luckily we left before seeing poor Keryn come in with her split knee.

After dropping Kaitlyn home to her Ma, I loaded my gear in the car and drove over to  Mum and Dad's - their home in Strathmore has long been a launching pad for the early Sydney flight for this Karori-ite.  We had a nice family dinner, joined by Jo for the main course, and Simon for dessert.  While I was sitting on a plane to Sydney, he'd be driving out to Karapoti for the rerun.  I told him I had him down for a top 5 finish before finally shooing him out so we could all get some sleep.

My alarm went off at 0415, and a few minutes later I was struggling down Mum and Dad's path with all my gear.  Soon after that, I was   at the Check In desk, and being offered the opportunity to pay $840 excess baggage charges for the Jo'burg-Cape Town leg, or to take my chances in Jo'burg.  I took the latter option - I was pretty sure the SAA domestic charges for more like $10/kg.

Luckily I left my phone on for a while, as I had a couple of calls from Dad - I'd given him directions but hadn't mentioned the car was on the top deck, and in the second call had to explain the clutch had to be to the floor for the car to start!  I was accosted by a woman I didn't recognise just before the Customs screening, who asked me if I was John. It turned out she was an ex Mitre 10 MEGA employee who'd been managed by Megan.  Small world...

The first flight was uneventful, and I made good use of the Qantas Club upon arrival in Sydney.  I would've avoided spending any AUD, but I'd forgotten to pack my two-pin airplane-headphone adapter.  Often as rare as hen's teeth, I was glad to find a huge display laden with them.  I was somewhat shocked to see a syringe disposal unit in the Qantas Club bogs - I assumed for junkies, but maybe not.  In any case, a premium club in an International Airport seems an unlikely place for intravenous drug use.

I had an empty seat next to me on the 747 to Jo'burg.  I made good use of my nice headphones, watching four episodes of Californication (which ironically I'd watched on DVD only a few days earlier) and then a couple of low-brow movies:  Tower Heist and Moneyball.  I cleared customs quickly at O.R. Tambo airport, and no one wanted to inspect my beautifully clean bike.

In anticipation of an excess baggage charge, I transferred pedals, shoes and sleeping bag from my checked baggage to reduce its weight.  I couldn't check my bike bag at the transfer desk, and en route to the check-in counter upstairs I managed to pick up a friendly porter.  He was useful enough,  escorting me directly to the proper counter.  The dude there didn't blink an eyelid at the weight of my bags, and a second hanger-on arrived to take charge of my bike bagh.  He announced it was his job to move it from the counter to the baggage handlers out back.  It was now clear I needed to organise two tips.  I had no cash at all, and was worried about leaving these dudes with my bike and no gratuity, so asked to be shown to an ATM, where they hit the jackpot.  I tried in vain to suggest they split the smallest denomination - a 50 rand note (a little less than $10 each!) - but they played dumb, and got one each.  Fleeced, but hopefully buying a small bit of insurance at the same time.  I did contemplate that I might have just paid two guys to steal my bike...

It wasn't long before I was sitting on plane next to a big Afrikaaner who sat with his legs spread.  I figured two could play at that game, and eventually he started to yield - I could feel my leg was kicking out a fair bit of heat, and it was obviously pushing him over the edge!

The plane was almost at full speed when the engines were cut, and the stewards two rows behind us started chanting "emergency brace position, emergency brace position, emergency brace position".  We hadn't started to rotate back, so there was no need for terror, and we were soon told that the plane had hit about 6 or 7 birds, and it would need to be checked out and the fuel topped up again before we could continue.

That bright bit on the nose is concave...!
We disembarked on the apron, and got a great view of the stoved in nose cone, and the bloody smear on the left engine.   The next couple of hours were a bit of a shambles, but eventually we were all put on a new plane, and a couple of hours after that there was spontaneous applause after the announcement we'd arrived at Cape Town.  I was relieved to find Megan and Gavin (and my bike) waiting at the Cape Town end.

It was dark on the drive home, so I got no sense of the surroundings.  After a good sleep, we left the house for the short walk into the Observatory (Obz)town centre, and some decent coffee, breakfast and internet.  I was shocked to see we were very close to Table Mountain with Devil's Peak overlooking us.

My first view of Cape Town...  Could be worse!
After breaky, I got my bike out of its bag, and assembled it.  Everything seemed to have travelled well, and so it was in good spirits that we caught a train into town, for a wander around.

Views of Table Mountain were off the hook, and we also good our first taste of the intensity of the mid-afternoon sun.

Team Mitre 10 MEGA / Yeti NZ, and Table Mountain!
We decided to pull the pin on our walk, and caught the train back to Observatory.  Gav was home, and suggested a ride.  At the end of a short commute to the local trail head, I finally realised I hadn't tightened my stem bolts sufficiently, and my lovely Yeti was suffering from droopy handlebars.  None of us had a tool, but Gav was sure we'd soon meet another rider, so we continued.  We saw dozens of joggers, and when we finally flagged down the first rider we saw, he couldn't help.  I managed to tighten the bolts slightly with a stick, but we made the call to pop back home.  Then, we turned around, and actually enjoyed a bit of riding!

Gavin, Megan and I at Rhodes' Memorial
We were joined by Gavin's partner Sara for dinner at Hello Sailor.  Taking full advantage of our hosts' advice, I ate disco fries (shoestring fries + mushroom sauce + molten cheese + feta), Pork ribs, and Hot Malva pudding with creme anglaise.  Gav said we should be on "fat camp" this week, and the meal seemed to fit that bill!

I'd had a bit of drama with the three Racing Ralphs I'd ordered to Wellington from Chain Reaction in the UK.  While I wanted 26 x 2.25, they'd sent 29 x 2.25.  A rare mistake I was assured.  So, it was with some dismay I discovered the one I had sent here to Cape Town was also a 29er tyre.  Bastards!!!   Luckily Gav's LBS swapped it with no grizzles.  I might not have been so lucky with 26 to 29, but it was great to have such a painless solution to my problem.  Megan and I had a jolly good sift around Olympic Cycles - a 75 year-old family business.  It was a decent sized store, but had stock which could easily have filled a shop twice its size.

After getting home, we switched into tourist mode, and had fun checking out the noon day gun - fired every day for the last 64703 days, according to the sign - followed by a gondola ride up Table Mountain.

That afternoon we went for a ride with Sara, and ex-South Afrian rep mountain biker, and I was pleased to pick up first my thorns.  I'd been fretting about them, and it was finally good to know what we'd be dealing with.  They were hardly the monstrous barbs I'd been imagining (perhaps in line with the image I'd conjured up reading Willard Price's "African Adventure" 30-odd years ago), but instead were a funky little amalgam of what looked to be 4 small rose thorns.  I was advised to leave them in my tyre, and let the Stan's fluid do its thing.

We rode some cool singletrack in a suburban green belt, including some nifty technical climbs, some of which I ride well, and one where I ended up tumbling off the bike. We met Gav who was most of the way through his Tuesday evening regular hill intervals.  Sara boosts for home, and Megan and I accompany Gav on his next interval.  I manage to mostly hold his wheel, without feeling like I'm about to puke - always a bonus.

After a short descent, we climb a bit of singletrack, coming across a lone bag-piper before the top.  We pass the Rhodes' Memorial again, and then we blast back home.  After quick showers, we grab pizza followed by a drive across town lest it get cold.  We disembark in the shadow of Table Mountain to watch An Epic Tale on the telly.  This documentary was meant to record the first African win in the Cape Epic, but for a massive crash which cost the team of Kevin and David any chance of the win.  There was certainly no love lost for David in the room!!!

The next day was a public holiday (Human Rights Day) and we were again in tourist mode, this time following a similar route to the Argus - a 105km road race attracting a whopping 35000 riders!  Gav told us later that if he starts in the first wave, he can be finished before the final starters have set off.  Unbelievable.

On our drive, we see ostriches and baboons out the window, reminding us yet again we're somewhere foreign!  We stop briefly at the Cape of Good Hope, the most SW point of Africa (which sees me explaining a tangent line in lay terms), but sensibly compromise our opportunities to avoid walking too much in the hot sun.

The next day we were booked on a ferry trip to Robben Island, home of Nelson Mandela for 18 years of his 27 years in incarceration.  The scale of the Cape Epic is brought home to us upon seeing the massive signage all over the V&A Waterfront, billed as South Africa's most visited attraction.

The somewhat somber excursion is lightened somewhat when our ferry crosses the path of a huge pod of dolphins - at least a hundred by my estimation.

One of the most beautiful things I've seen...
It was odd to hear of a prisoner reunion on the island, where we were told prisoners and guards "forgave each other".  I found that very weird.

When we got home, as usual we made our way in using three keys - a far cry from the standard New Zealand home.  I chatted with Gavin about the end of apartheid, the new South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Africa more generally.

Gavin and Sara were out, so Megan and I had dinner alone.  I was distracted by the looming race, and by the uncertainty about how it's going to play out.  There are so many aspects I'm unsure about: terrain, heat, the local thorns and rocks, and the team.  I'm finding it impossible to predict how hard I'll be riding, and can't wait to get underway so at least I know what I'm dealing with!

This Friday morning, Megan went for a short ride alone, while I headed down to Hello Sailor for a coffee.  When Megan arrived, we ate, and downloaded a recommended gear list from the race website.  Back at the house we went over the bikes, and ended up swapping an allen key from my park tool to Megan's lezyne multitool.  That way we had coverage of all the bits and bobs on the bikes (including Megan's derailleur hanger which had the single bolt her tool didn't cover) and a chain breaker in one tool.  We made a shopping list and then headed down to Olympic Cycles for our promised second visit!

Then, Megan headed into town, and I acted on a suggestion Simon had made overnight for a 15-20 minute hard climb in the heat of the day.  Before heading out, I loaded up all our tools into a newly purchased seat bag, and then got rolling.  It was good to get out and fire the legs.  I sweated like a mofo, but didn't feel like the heat caught up with me at any stage.  Reassuring stuff.

Rhodes' Memorial
Back at home, I gave both bikes a wash, and then demolished half a pack of pasta.  Registration is tomorrow, and we'll no doubt get all sorts of last minute info to process.  Gav and Sara will take us out to the prologue for our start just after half-eight the following morning, and then we'll be on our own for a bit.



  1. Good stuff, bro. Sounds like an amazing trip already, and the race will be a bonus! I know you're fizzing to go, and we're all fizzing to see you go too. Best of luck for the prologue, and the rest of the race as well. Chur, bruv.

  2. awesome, can't wait to read about your adventures.