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  1. @Vetseun If you manage to find a source / method of getting these here, I'm 100% interested in getting a set of these too. My monster gravel bike dreams are much simpler with these, unless I can find some equally rowdy/large gravel bars locally and then just deal with the schlep of brifters.
  2. Thanks for the kind words everyone. I don't consider myself a wordsmith, but if it made your Friday workday feel shorter then I'm happy! Screw 2023, I'm sure entries for the full-fat one in 2021 are still open. Or at the very least 2022. Just click that little Enter Now button. It's the hardest part of the journey (I'm assuming). Look, given an unlimited budget I would be on a full-sus Open gravel bike, some nice 700c x 50mm tyres and a wireless Eagle MTB groupo with a 38t chainring. But, practically, the biggest difference I could make would be the chainring. Being able to spin up climbs just conserves a lot of energy. The rest of it you can change will just make certain sections suck less, and others suck more. I had quite a few chain drops, but to be frank, what do you expect out of an 11-spd bike that costs R15k out of the box? Upgrade to a good clutch derailleur and it'd be golden. I was surprised by how hassle-free the drivetrain's been so far, and I have not been kind to it (evidently).
  3. Chapter Eight The Start of your new life. I have been humbled by the response from my family, friends, and even barely-known cycling acquaintances. I’ve never been called Yster so many times in my life. I’ve been told I’ve inspired people. I’ve had a few questions repeatedly asked in response to hearing I had taken this challenge on. Is your butt still sore? Did you lose any weight? How did you sleep? This experience has redefined many of my boundaries. It has redefined what I think it means to be human, to find gratification in being in complete control of your destiny and of meeting your basic, primal needs. It has redefined my spectrum of what I consider easy and difficult, giving me a true appreciation for how fortunate most of us are to live the lives we do. As my brain catches up on processing those fifty hours, I’ve formed a much clearer understanding of what it meant, and a singular statement has become apparent as the fog of sleep deprivation and physical exertion has lifted. It is one of gratifying simplicity. I’m not special. I’m just human. In no way, shape, or form, or by any measurement mankind has yet to discover would I be considered anything more than an average Homo Sapien. Flesh and blood, farts and hair. Indistinguishable, in the grand scheme of things, from you, reading this right now. I don’t consider completing the Munga Grit as an accomplishment that elevates me above anyone else. I consider it a testament to the ability that lies within everyone that you or I know to face adversity, and use whatever you can muster inside you to rise above it. It’s a testament to starting, even if you’re pretty sure you’re going to fail. It’s a testament to the power that resides in all of us. Nothing is impossible.
  4. Chapter Seven The Grand Finale I had persistently chased that little green cutoff marker, and had come up short against its relentless progress along the route. As I ambled out of WP4 just after 07:30 I took stock of the situation. I was now behind, again, I was tired even though I had managed an hour of solid sleep, my feet and nipples were getting wet-sanded, and if my progress up to this point was anything to go by I had no hope in hell of making the two o’clock sharp cutoff. I had accepted this fate, chalking this journey up as a learning experience that I would use to try and conquer my next Munga event. I had overcome adversity, I had pushed my boundaries, and I had grown so much already. Coming to terms with this disappointment hurt, but the optimist could only take so much, and the realist was now snarkily calling the shots. After a few kilometers I sat up, as if only truly waking up suddenly, and realised that I was making swift progress. The roads were smooth, the climbs were gradual, there was a slight tailwind and the sun was beaming. I was averaging 15km/h, and was starting to feel better with every pedal stroke. Could it be that the fiery crucible of the preceding days had been forging me into something, more, than I was when I rolled through that Portal for the first time? The dirt highway that was pulling me to the horizon As the distance ticked on I started upping the effort level, and my legs responded with rapacity. My average speed from WP4 onwards started rising, and my internal sums started revealing that I was gaining on the cutoff marker, which was roughly 20km ahead when I rolled out of WP4. The harder I started pushing, the better it felt, and the more energy I was drawing out of some imaginary flywheel that had attached itself to my bike. What force had energized this flywheel initially wasn’t of concern to me, only the swelling momentum it was providing me was. By the time I sent the next update to my wife two hours later, something had changed. The defeat heard in my voice had turned into vigor, dulled acceptance had turned into a blazing defiance, and the energy that was now raging through my veins was being broadcast loud and clear. “I might still be coming home in a sweeper vehicle” I conceded, “but he’s going to have to catch me first!” I was going to give the final hours everything I had. I was going to ride until I exploded into a sugar-fuelled mushroom cloud of Coke and energy bars. This was the day, this was my day, to kick the next 80km’s ass. My average speed was reflecting the burn my legs were feeling. 18, 19, 20km/h… I was watching that number more than the route on the Garmin, watching it grow steadily until I reached RV2 at midday exactly. Just seven minutes later I was fuelled up, signed in and out, and was Hellbent for Leather on catching that green cutoff marker, who’s lead had now dwindled to just 4km. 32km to go, just under two hours to do it in. I was so fired up I burst away from RV2 with a standing sprint. I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket almost constantly, knowing that it was the family WhatsApp group pelting me with motivation after seeing my tracking marker gain unprecedented progress. I rode harder in that last 32km than I ever have, managing to overtake some roadies on a gentle Sunday cruise in the Cradle, my average speed increasing to 25km/h as a result. It hurt, it burned, and it vacuumed up whatever little energy I had left, but the optimist had pulled himself up by his bootstraps, and had dealt his own devastating gut punch. The impossible had become the improbable, then the doable, and the sure-as-hell in short order. Forty nine hours, forty two minutes and thirty seconds after riding through the Portal for the first time I came back through it, with a wheelie (a finish line not wheelied over doesn’t deserve to be called one). I had made the cutoff with less than 18 minutes to spare. That’s 0.6% of the race’s duration. I had covered the final 104km in five and a half hours, and the last 32km in just one hour twenty. As I crested the final hump I heard my wife yell my name, I heard clapping, and I realised that I had made it. An understandably tired Mr. Harris hung medal number 65 around my neck, and told me that I was insane for attempting this on my bike. Only three riders came through the Portal after me, implying that of the 120 starters barely more than half had completed the journey, one of the highest rates of attrition in any Munga event. The first thing I did was give my wife and two kiddos the grossest hug I’m sure they’ll ever receive. And I thanked them, because without their faces and voices running through my mind, without their acceptance, and without their love, I wouldn’t have bridged the 513km gap between those two Portals.
  5. Chapter Six Here be… Gorillas? What I assumed to be a minor hiccup of having one of my battery chargers imploding suddenly turned into a very serious problem. When I plugged my front light into the “charged” battery, I was met with a flashing red light, indicating I had less than fifteen minutes of battery left. My only alternative source of light was my Leroy Merlin checkout row sourced headlamp, which had an unknown amount of life left, and charging my primary battery with enough juice to last the night would take hours. Hours I didn’t have. For those that have ridden with me in the dark you would know that my primary front light can fry an egg, stun small game, and blind airliners crossing overhead. It is brilliant in every sense of the word, and has allowed me on multiple occasions (like the night before) to bomb down technical descents with reckless abandon in what would otherwise be pitch black darkness. I was downgraded from that to the low setting on an el-cheapo headlamp that didn’t bash the night away pounding its chest with victory, but rather asked in a quivering voice whether the night would maybe, if it felt like it, just for a little while, scootch a teeny bit out of the way. “Well, I guess that’s that then. Giddy on up old chap.” I thought to myself as I tried to cram down a cold, dry boerewors roll at WP3. This stop was a bit of an anomaly. I had by now become accustomed to Munga-grade feed stations. They reminded me of the inviting, cosy, stew bowl slurping and beer cup clanging Inns you’d see weary horseback travellers entering into in medieval films. The hospitality, the kind-heartedness, and genuine empathy expressed by every member of the feed station was a soothing balm the gravity of which you could feel pulling you closer as you approached. They were truly one of the highlights of this experience and were fully stocked, thoughtfully organized, and expertly manned. WP3 though, for some reason, was a cold, uninviting, sparse hovel by comparison to its brethren. During my time at WP3, scavenging what I could to consume, I met up with a fellow rider that was busy fixing a major mechanical. He was unsure whether his fix would hold, and I was unsure whether my light would, so we decided to team up until the sun came up for safety’s sake. We’ll call him Bob. Now Bob had evidently had a very different preparation experience than I had. He had bags that contained more bags to keep his other bags full of tools and spares and batteries and watermelons (I’m assuming) dry. He rode a titanium and carbon riddled dual suspension house mortgage on wheels. He was the mountain biking equivalent of the inside of a nervous mother’s handbag. He was, for reasons I’m still to fully comprehend, out of breath the entire time we were at the waterpoint. And Bob, dear sweet Bob, dropped me like a sack of hot garbage within 10km of leaving the waterpoint. He was evidently a stronger rider than I was, and was driven to finish at all costs, so when I had pulled over to have a wee, the last I saw of Bob was his little red tail light bobbing away into the distance. I was now alone, again, on an arrow-straight road, some time after nine in the evening, and I had another 85km to cover to WP4. At this stage I had covered more than 320km, I’d been awake for forty one hours save for a two-hour nap at WP2, and only had an uninspiring puddle of light to keep me company. As I started plugging away at the neverending road in front of me the hours and kilometers started to fade into a hazy blur. I could feel my speed slowing to a crawl, but I was helpless to do anything about it. I knew I needed to, in the immortal words of Dory, just keep swimming. It was here that the sleep deprivation started taking hold, and the crazy hallucinations started happening. At first they were minor. I would become aware of something in my peripheral vision, but would ascribe it to the wind shaking a shrub or a bird flying out of a tree. As the hours dragged on though, these somethings started coming into my field of view, and started manifesting as objects I was convinced were really there. At one stage I “saw” a massive gorilla, with an arm span of probably seven meters, lying face down on the side of the road. That one made me do a double-take, only to realise it was a group of burnt bushes. I saw an astronaut in an orange jumpsuit, I saw someone crawling on their hands and knees, I saw someone flashing a flashlight at me. All of which would appear and disappear in an instant. A slurred voice note to my wife at 01:17 on Sunday morning, that I have little recollection of recording, confirms that I decided to stop to have a nap, right there in the road. What I hadn’t realised was that the mercury had dropped to a nippy 2℃, and when my phone’s timer startled me awake 15 minutes later I was shivering so violently it took me a couple of attempts to get it to shut up. With my kit soaked in sweat, that 2℃ had penetrated into my core. In what I now consider a lucky turn of events, this forced me to get on my bike and start riding immediately, if for no other reason than to generate some desperately needed warmth. I can’t recall the majority of the 50km of riding prior to WP4, with the exception of a few instances I was shaken awake by my front wheel riding into the berm at the side of the road, indicating that I had fallen asleep behind the bars again. I can remember trying to stop for a nap on the side of the road again at some point, but being met with dozens of R5-coin sized frogs along the road. I was sure these were also hallucinations, but when I had tapped two of them with my shoe and they boinged away I was mostly convinced they were real. The question of whether the “klein bruin paddatjies” were real, thanks to another slurred voice note I had sent upon encountering them, has already become a Labuschagne family legend. The road was straight, flat, corrugated, sandy and uneventful. If it weren’t for the photos I had sent to the family WhatsApp group at 00:06 bragging that I’d also now completed a 36One, and at 04:18 that I’d finally crossed the 400km mark, I would have little evidence of what happened that night. Had I had the presence of mind and the time this would be an entrancing photo of the milky way that I was seeing. A grimy Garmin illuminated by the aforementioned headlamp will have to do unfortunately. The second dragon I had faced hadn’t snarled. It wasn’t obvious, or loud, or immediately present. It had gently enveloped me and had been steadily tightening its grip over the course of the nine hours it had taken me to travel 96km, slowly constricting that piddling little light until it was barely a spec. I somehow managed to complete the journey to WP4, however unlikely it had seemed to me hours before, which was in the process of being treated to the first glimpses of a gorgeous sunrise as I rolled in at 05:30. This dragon had been vanquished with the first ray of sunlight striking me, and the promise of a meal and a bed.
  6. Chapter Five The calm before the storm The soft crackle and grind of rubber tyres rolling over gravel, a sound I’ve luckily always found soothing, was the background music to the arithmetic that was going through my head. My original idea was to have a quick power nap at WP2, get to race village 1 early on Saturday, have a good 3-4 hour sleep and be out of there by midday. Half the distance, half the allotted time spent, leaving well rested and ready to tackle the seemingly flatter second half of the course. I could manage 12.5km/h with one leg while reading a newspaper, I thought. As solid a plan if ever there was one. That plan, evidently, was no longer on the cards, but the roads were playing along for a change. This is, as good a place as any, to discuss the route, and its surfaces, for those misguidedly looking for some advice amongst these words. While it may seem obvious, it is worth remembering that five hundred kilometers is, to put it bluntly, a moer of a long distance. One of the most under-appreciated aspects of South Africa is that, should you point your compass in any direction and travel 500km you will undoubtedly end up somewhere that looks vastly different from whence you had come. This is evident in the variety the Munga Grit’s route serves up. You get to experience a wide gamut of surface types, textures and gradients. Twisty singletrack. Farm borders where the path you follow is only differentiated from raw veld by the incessant compression of tractor tyres. A smattering of the Cradle’s pristine paved roads. And finally, gravel roads. Lots and lots and lots and lots of gravel roads. You’ll bounce over chunky, rocky, bone crunching mountainsides, better suited to the rolling rubber noise factories strapped to the underside of mall-bound Jeep Wranglers than bicycle tyres. You’ll glide along silky dirt highways that seem to flow like brown rivers over the undulating countryside. You’ll criss cross left to right like a drunken sailor looking for that elusive smooth strip amongst the jarring corrugations. Brown, grey, and green gravel, rainbow-coloured shale gravel, pebbles, mud, standing water. There’s a surface perfectly suited to every type of bike from svelte carbon road bike to a burly bruiser downhill bike. Ride what you have. It’ll suck in some bits and it’ll be great in others regardless of which steed you bring. The ride to RV1 was thankfully of the dirt highway variety and mostly uneventful which helped me keep an average moving speed north of my target. I had realised that the speed I could travel at was a function of the road’s condition more than anything else. On my bike, I was playing by the road’s rules, not the other way around. I was feeling awake (enough) when I rolled into RV1, so I would skip the nap, spend a bit of time having a good meal, getting my cooked rear brake pads replaced, charging my light batteries and attempting to still skidaddle by midday. I had a slight hiccup when the magic smoke left one of my battery chargers, accompanied by a bang that startled the whole RV crew. “Nevermind” I thought, “should be fine, my lights should last even with one charged battery”. I left RV1 marginally ahead of the cutoff marker. The time I’d lost to the muddy bog that morning would be sacrificed from my sleeping time, but that concession meant that I was still mostly on plan, if a little worse for wear. The sun was out, there was a cool spring breeze at my back, and a few kilometers of tar road leaving RV1 would mean I could give my appendages a break while still making steady progress. WP3 was luckily only 62km away, a comparative stone throw, but within those 62km lay the most physically demanding bit of riding of the entire course, the much-agonized-over 18km climb. Interestingly, the infamous 18km climb was probably my favourite bit of riding of the entire route. It was a rollercoaster of steep, shale-covered climbs littered with square-edged rocks jutting out of the gravel, seemingly designed by mother nature for the sole purpose of causing pinch flats, and blisteringly fast, smooth descents. This rollercoaster weaved its way through lush farmland, flower-filled meadows and bubbling streams. It was the stuff gravel bike commercials were made of. I was in a groove, the miles were steadily ticking away, and I had started to find some rhythmic zen after the staccato barrage of the first half, arriving at WP3 just after sunset feeling optimistic, although mildly concerned. One of the ascents on the 18km climb What the Munga does so well is force you into a situation that is so far removed from your normal day-to-day experience of life that you’re hopelessly unaware of how unprepared you are, regardless of how anal your plans or detailed your Excel spreadsheet(s) were beforehand. The “unknown unknowns” as CarloG put it. When’s the last time you had to charge your light battery during a ride? Or find a place to sleep at the side of the road? Or have to shove marmite sarmies into your back pockets to fuel the next seven hours of riding? During a Munga those situations, and your lack of planning for them, becomes face-palming-ly apparent.
  7. Chapter four Dragons = Mud When I finally stumbled into WP2 in the early hours of Saturday morning I was physically and mentally spent. Nine hours had passed since I had left WP1 in great spirits, and the Grit’s next gut punch had come in the form of deep, gelatinous, all-enveloping mud straight from the bowels of hell. Initially it was a bit of spray, a few wobbly crossings, and Bob’s your uncle you’d be out the other side. But as the rain continued so the puddles turned to dams, which turned to marshes. The wobbly crossings became more wayward, the depth you’d sink in became unrideable, and before long we were all resigned to walking after taking an unpreventable dip into one of the aforementioned marshes. While I was thankful when the rain stopped, this caused the marshes to turn from sloppy to sticky. So sticky that I couldn’t push my bike more than a few meters at a time before both wheels would lock up completely. This would then need to be cleared out with a MudStick™ (I considered hoarding and selling these to passers by at a stage as it took me some experimentation to find the perfect MudStick™) before you could carry on moving. There’s a bike under there, somewhere Push, clog, MudStick™… Push, clog, MudStick™… scream into the void… Push, clog, MudStick™… This agonizing cycle repeated itself for hours, granting me disappointingly little progress for the effort I was putting in. My average speed plummeted, and after hours of demoralizing struggle the sight of the two Munga Grit yellow flags outside WP2 finally beckoned. As the gracious host at WP2 handed me a warm, moist towel and a freshly air-fried mince vetkoek I immediately flopped into the chair nearest to the crackling fire and attempted to update my wife with a voice note. I abandoned the first two attempts as every time I’d start recording, tears would well up and I wouldn’t be able to mumble out two words. Some of the other riders there had pulled out of the race already, due to failures of either the mechanical, sense of humour, or stubbornness variety. After scoffing down more vetkoeks, two Super Ms, a banana, and fistfuls of biltong I waddled to the closest bed, peeled off my shoes and socks, and proceeded to oversleep my 45min timer by an hour. Even though this was not part of the plan, I had desperately needed it and felt at least somewhat reinvigorated once I finally got up. Well, as reinvigorated as you can be after having the worst mud hosed off of you and having struggled for twenty minutes with a stripped frame bag zip. “The worst is now behind me” I ignorantly thought as I rolled out of WP2. “I’m somewhat clean, I can pedal my bike again, my tummy is full and the sun is theoretically rising behind the clouds”. Two hundred meters down the road from WP2 I unknowingly made a slight navigation error, as many others had before me judging by the number of tyre ruts in the mud. The purple route line I had been religiously following on the GPS thus far indicated a sharp left turn. Little did I know that this muddy bog I believed I was required to turn into to follow that purple line ran parallel to a fresh, solid gravel road just five meters from it. Crucially however, these two paths were split by a three meter tall fence. A few meters into the bog the push, clog, MudStick™ cycle had restarted, and continued for 2.5km until I reached the point where the fence I was following was met by another fence. It was at this moment that it dawned on me that I was ever so slightly to the left of that purple line, which was indicating I needed to proceed ad infinitum in my current heading. Unless climbing the said three meter fence was part of Mr. Harris’ sadistic plan, I was on the wrong path. I considered climbing the fence with my bike slung cyclocross-style over my shoulder. I considered just trying to huck it over the fence. I even considered taking inspiration from the warthogs I’d seen the previous day and tunneling under the fence. In the end the only option I really had was to retrace my steps, trudge back through that brown bile the earth had belched up, and go around that bastard fence. An hour and forty five minutes had been wasted on this slight miscalculation with effectively zero progress made, and had put me right back in the defeated mental and physical state I had entered WP2 in hours ago. As I returned to the point I had made the wrong turn I was faced with a literal crossroads. To my right I could still see the yellow flags of WP2, and knew that just beyond them was everything I needed to silence the screams from my basic instincts. All I needed to do was take a short stroll and all my troubles would melt away. No more cold. No more wet feet. No more wading through what I imagine Satan’s underpants would like after he’d had an expired curry. To my left, the remaining two-thirds of this journey, which held no promise of letting up on the pain throttle. I was cold, everything was covered in mud, I was behind schedule and I was toast. I had hit my lowest mental point. This was it. Rock bottom. Standing there, at that crossroads, I had a good, hard, ugly sob. Why was I sobbing? Because it was hard? Most certainly it was, but that wasn’t reason enough. Because I didn’t want to disappoint my family? Partly, even though they had been nothing but supportive of my batshit crazy decision to take on this adventure. No, I was crying like a heartbroken teenager because all of the superfluous, pampered, overstocked and overindulged luxury and remoteness of modern life had been stripped from me. There was no one to blame, no one to delegate to, no one to ask for help and no one to whine to about how unfair it all was. It was just me, standing there in the mud, raw. It was real. It was right here, it was right now, and it was entirely in my control. The dragon was standing over me, snarling. I rolled onto that smooth gravel road a few minutes later, yellow flags at my back, having realised that throwing in the towel was never going to be an option. No matter what lay ahead of me, it couldn’t be worse than knowing that when I was put on the spot, when my mettle was well and truly tested, that I had chosen the shortcut. The easy way out. The dragon had been slain, the pedals were turning once more, and the chase to catch the cutoff marker was now officially on.
  8. Chapter Three A hooligan without a cause Race day had rolled around even sooner than I anticipated and before I could re-check my Excel spreadsheet for the twelfth time, Mr. Harris was staring at all 120 of us and proclaiming, with an unnerving twinkle in his eye, “Here be dragons”. One rushed breakfast later and we were all huddled together in the start chute. Any World War II movie that depicted the D-Day beach landings (Saving Private Ryan is a prime example) would be a worthy parallel to the palpable tension, sense of impending doom, and nervous excitement for those that were unhinged. We were those poor souls on those claustrophobic landing crafts, minus the death and screaming Germans thankfully. I got a number of odd looks aboard Thunderhorse (my bike’s name if you were wondering, every bike worth its salt has a name). Even before the starting gun I had heard from my fellow riders (as I would many times during the ride) “isn’t your bum going to hurt?”, “that thing doesn’t have any suspension?” and “jirre look at those tiny tyres”. As we set off I ran through my laughably simple plan again. “Just average 12.5km/h while you’re moving, and you’ll have ten whole hours in which to sleep, eat, poop, faff etc. before the 50 hour cutoff” I reiterated to myself. “If you feel up to it, go a little quicker, but don’t push, you’re only racing yourself and that little green bastard cutoff logo”. It was at this point, barely into the double digits of this ride, that the first spanner had been flung by the Munga, and my gusto had graciously accepted said spanner into its works by not sticking to my own plan. On one of the first proper descents I had realised that I could give my average speed a much-needed increase by tapping into my inner hooligan and giving it the beans. The fact that I was overtaking some serious dual-suspension machinery with relatively little effort quickly added some fuel to my easily ignited adrenaline fire. Descent done, riding high on the dopamine injection, I was quickly dealt my first gut punch by a fellow rider that flagged me down, telling me I had lost the bottle out of my seatpost bottle cage (which had only been installed and tested on ride Numero Dos) some 5km ago at the start of the descent. Thankfully after only climbing ~2km back up the descent, now riding alone, one of the medic vehicles provided me with one of the numerous bottles they had picked up on said descent. To whomever lost their yellow Powerbar bottle, know that it may have saved my life, and I’m sure the universe will be repaying you in kind soon enough. Where the road ends, the fun begins The first 75km up to WP1 went by without much fuss as I settled into a decent rhythm, with the exception of one punishingly steep climb that revealed my bike’s primary weakness. It wasn’t the fact that I didn’t have suspension, that just meant that where the dual-sussers could ride anywhere and over anything while sitting down I had to be a lot more active and calculated in my line choice, piling on more fatigue. It wasn’t the fact that I had smaller, less grippy tyres, that was balanced out by having some decent technique and having a solid helping of cement for breakfast. It was the gearing. With a 42/42 granny gear I had to get out of the saddle and grind out every climb over 4% at a knee-seizing 60rpm to try and keep my effort level controlled. Conversely, those with mountain bikes with a 32/50 ratio could sit and spin up those same climbs. While this meant that I could still pedal at 40+km/h without running out of gears, those opportunities were rare enough that if I had to change a single thing to my bike, it’d be a smaller chainring up front. Be that as it may, I managed to ride most of the climbs and hiked those I couldn’t. Lesson learnt, get on with it. (Frankly, I’m just as surprised as you are that some practical advice has emerged from this). I was feeling positive, I was having a blast, the road conditions were mostly easy gravel roads in acceptable condition and I was ahead of my target average moving speed. It was between WP1 and WP2 (75km and 187km) however where the second, and arguably hardest, gut punch would be dealt by the Grit. This would be the longest single stretch between feed stops on the route, it would be mostly in the dark, and the rain had started to fall with increasing consistency. If you had to ask any competitor what the hardest part of this entire experience was I would wager the overwhelming majority would glare at you with a tinge of PTSD in their eyes and simply state; “the mud”.
  9. Chapter Two No good story ends with “...and then everything went exactly to plan”. I want to give some context as to why the optimist deserved the slap. My only bike was a rigid, steel-framed 650B gravel bike. I had been riding exclusively for fun since January’s cancellation of this year’s Transbaviaans, not having ridden a triple digit distance (road or otherwise) in one go since then. I owned no on-bike storage other than two bottle cages. To say I was physically and logistically ill-prepared for what lay ahead would be a gross understatement of the situation. Yet, knowing that life had given me a great set of lemons (ahem) I realised that this, this was the time to get to making lemonade. So, with some parts old, some parts new, some parts borrowed and some parts bought on a Takealot special, I embarked on two preparatory rides. One to test the bike and bum, the other to test the paraphernalia that I had just bolted to said bike. I wanted to at least know that the bike and I could still manage a moderate pace, on a rough 5hr off-road ride, and not spontaneously combust. So I did that on prep-ride Numero Uno. I had also wanted to at least know how to work the borrowed GPS, what the mechanics of navigating with it was, and how my already substantial bike handled with 8kg of Outdoor Warehouse bolted, strapped and cable-tied to it. So I did that on the road based prep-ride Numero Dos. That’s it. If you’re looking for an extensive guide on training, nutrition, packing, bike-setup and handling advice you’ve come to the wrong saloon, compadre. Here the plans are made up and the points don’t matter. To advise anyone to follow my lead would be borderline unethical. Thunderhorse in Munga “ready” guise. With that being said, some part of me believes that this reflects one fundamental truth; the weakest link in the chain between the start and finish Portals is, more often than not, the willingness of the meat bag between the pedals and the handlebars to keep on keeping on. I’m not discounting catastrophic mechanicals (more on those later) forcing you to be added to the dreaded list of scratched riders. Maybe I was just lucky? I do however know that, unless both my wheels turned into molten gloop, this boer was making some plan to drag himself and his bike over that finishing Portal. I mean, I had packed four cable ties, what could really go that wrong that it can’t be fixed by four cable ties?
  10. Chapter One Origins My interest in Ultra-distance cycling started not through my conscious instigation, and I’m certain in no small part due to Google understanding my inner workings better than I would care, or want, to know. As if by some cosmic fluke, within five months of buying my first big-boy mountain bike I had completed a 947 and was entered into the following year’s Transbaviaans. Hardly the vision I had, after watching hours of full-face-helmeted maniacs rip down Canadian mountains, when I had bought that first bike as a “cheaper” way to fill the motocross-bike-sized hole I had in my tail whipping heart. Yet I came, and saw, and conquered that first ‘Baviaans, even though its 227km had, mere weeks before, still seemed as insurmountable as the mountain the route crossed. I had for the first time in my life really extended the boundary of what I thought I was capable of. In preparation for climbing the aforementioned mountain I had been exposed to ultra cycling in my periphery. Images of strung-out, mismatched masochists carrying most of the Outdoor Warehouse on their bikes. Tales of rides orders of magnitude larger and longer than I thought in the realm of possibility outside of stringy drug addicts zinging up mountains every summer in France for a yellow jersey. Diving into this rabbit hole I had discovered, and was instantly ensnared, by Carlo Gonzaga’s brilliantly captured preparation, and eventual conquering, of his first full-fat Munga. It also introduced me to Mike Woolnough, who I had the honour of meeting during my Grit, and his encyclopedia of ultra-cycling knowledge. Should this… whatever it is… bear any resemblance to those fine works, I would not only see it as a form of undue flattery, but as evidence to those authors that their writings had been echoing in my mind throughout my own Munga journey. After committing those insightful and entertaining paragraphs to memory I had given myself a guilt free, excuse filled goal. “One day, when I can afford the entry, and the right kit, and the right bike, and the kids are bigger and I have time to train, maybe I’ll try this Munga thing out”. That “one day” came two weeks before this Grit, when a family member casually asked whether I knew about some race happening in The Cradle in October. Their company had received a sponsored entry, so they were looking for a rider. She knew I rode bikes, would I like the entry? The optimist in me had already sent the “I’M IN!!!!” reply before the realist in me had a chance to slap him on the back of the head. Yup, that’s a PVC frame keeping that poor soul’s head up during the 4,800km Race Across America
  11. Introduction The End of the life you once knew. "Don't come early" I voice note my wife in a defeated but accepting tone as I trundle out of waterpoint four just before eight o’clock on Sunday morning. 409km from the starting Portal and, more to the point, 104km from returning to that same Portal now repurposed as a finish line. My battered mind had managed the rudimentary sums and had read, and re-read, the writing on the wall. Even at my initial goal moving speed of 12.5km/h I still had eight-and-some-change hours to pedal. That meant barely getting to RV2 by the time Mr. Harris had hung his last medal, shook his last hand, and had sounded the death knell to the hopes of those still on the course, mine included. "Get here at two. I'll probably be arriving in the sweeper vehicle after that. No need to sit here and wait for nothing. Love you three lots.” I sign off as I bump and grind my way up the barely used cattle track leaving the waterpoint. It, as with many of the features of the Munga Grit, can’t be sufficiently described unless you’re in the thick of it. It’s just a few lumps of grass. It’s just a path through cow dung reluctantly cut by the riders preceding me. It’s just a mild upward grade. Taken in isolation these are just barely inconvenient to even a modest weekend warrior. However, place them all in parallel, and have this situation be only the most recent episode in the season of gauntlets, seemingly placed by design to be directly adjacent to every “resting” point, and these inconveniences quickly add up to a blunt but effective punch to the gut. What makes this experience so special though is that, after every devastating blow, it stands back and opens its palm, giving you a “let’s see what you’ve got” gesture so perfectly embodied by every cheesy Kung-Fu flick villain. It gives you that opportunity, that chance for a perfectly timed parry, around every corner and every muddy bog. Taking it, though, that’s up to you.
  12. I'll be attempting a @Carlog inspired ride report on this, but needless to say it was a life-alteringly tough challenge. Scraped by with a 49h42m finish time. Only 67 of the 120 starters finished
  13. Thanks for the feedback guys, much appreciated! I'm definitely not unaware that there's a mammoth task ahead of me and that I'm going to be in the deepest hurt locker I've ever been in. Luckily, that still sounds like fun! I only have the gravel bike at the moment, so I'll be throwing on a 48mm rear tyre to match the front one for a bit more cush, and a wider gravel bar for some more hand position options. Other than that, a saddle and top-tube bag, two extra bottle cage mounts (going to be using the luggage rack space on the fork for those), power bank and a spare light battery are what I'm planning on procuring. Oh, and borrowing a proper cycling GPS from a friend.
  14. So I've been offered an entry into the Munga Grit Cradle 2021 by a friend who has a sponsored position open. Now, I've been threatening to enter this race since it was announced as I'd love to do it, hoping that it'd push me to enter the full fat Munga, but funds for the entry haven't been on my side so far. So I'm super excited about this opportunity, but I'm not exactly trained to peak fitness at the moment and its two weeks away. I can probably go out and do a 100km gravel ride with some mild/easy climbing in 5 or less hours or do a 2h45m Suikerbosrand loop at this stage for some context. I wouldn't be looking at getting onto the podium, just finishing (even looking like death at 49hr59m, I don't mind). I've completed a Transbaviaans before (with a very unfit teammate) in 18hr. According to Intervals.icu I was at a prak of 45 fitness then, 37 before the race, and I'm at 30 now. People generally consider me a relatively tough SOB (with a hairy 13 year old's face). I also only have a gravel bike at this stage (a Rook Scout) that I've slapped some 48mm wide GravelKings onto and converted to tubeless. So, to the questions / advice from those with maybe some more experience: Am I mad for even considering this at my current fitness? How possible is this ride on a gravel bike? Keep in mind I ride a lot of MTB trails on my gravel bike so I'm used to pushing it out of its intended scope. What are the basic supplies/equipment I need to consider? I already have some Trans ready lights, probably need to slap a bottle cage or two extra to the scout. Pretty sure with some charging at race villages I could stretch my 735xt watch to do the whole race, and I'd probably use my phone for navigation. Can borrow a prpper Garmin cycling computer if need be. Any comments/suggestions/advice would be appreciated!
  15. You can get these for R50 at Decathlon, and they work a treat. What's more, they have guide indentations that you can use to bend the "wings" down. Makes them contour to the fork nicely, and makes the horizontal piece flat and not round. Looks lekker! So lekker that I even added one to my gravel bike (with a bit of custom trimming). A bit of moto is always welcome.
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