So, I signed up for the fabled Ezelenduro back in July, thinking that it would be the perfect event to kickstart me on my way to fitness. Family matters and work got in the way of my training, and I really wasn't able to train as hard or as often as I wanted to, but I gave it a go anyway as I'd paid, and I'm not one to back out from a challenge. Especially when I'm doing it with a bunch of mates who are as befok as they are. So, here is an account of my experiences, from the perspective of the average Enduro-Joe who has gotten in way above his head. The stoke was super-high on our way in to Eselfontein, with Raydek and I heading through at about lunch time to get a lead on the traffic out of CT. We got to Ceres at about 12h30, and swiftly got the obligatory Spur burger and beer out of the way. Yes, this event calls for burgers. And beers. Lots of them. packing for the trip The #pedovan. Complete with lekkertjies. After a few more of our "team" got to Ceres (you were allowed to enter as a team of riders, between 3 & 6 per team - we entered 2 teams and had a total of 12 riders journeying together) we went to cast dibs on our favourite beds at the B&B we'd booked. Yes, yes... Ezel is "supposed to be about the camping vibe" but screw that. Those showers after the event were AMAAAAZING and there was more than enough gees with the amount of people we had in our group. Plus, less snoring. We'd hoped.... Dibs cast, we then went for dinner (again, at Spur) where the rest of the team joined us. We then went through to registration, got our number boards, tags and route profile stickers (STICKERS! YAY!) and saw a few of the stage race riders coming through the finish line. The music was pumping, the food smelled amazing and the tents looked good. Instead of getting involved in the festivies, we decided to call it an early night in preparation for the event the next morning. We'd need it more than we realised.... Fast forward to the next morning, the alarms went off at 5am and we got dressed, the bikes loaded and the cameras checked. We got to the farm just after 6, and people started arriving for the 6h30 start. Rupert VT got on the mic, and gave us the race briefing. The first climb, he told us, would be a quick "15 minute" climb to the first koppie, where stage one would start. "Lekker!" we thought. Just what we need. A quick spin to warm up the legs. PAH. 15 minutes turned into 45m. 5km and 305m climbing later, we arrived at the start of SS1. Where the normal "Enduro wait" commenced. I used this time to eat my brekkie, which consisted of droe wors, a Far Bar and some USN's Endure energy drink. I can't eat at 5h30 in the morning - it just upsets my stomach for some reason, and I didn't want to start off on the wrong foot. Race Briefing The climb to st1. Pic by Carlos Neves Me in front of the cam... 30 minutes later, I dropped in to Stage 1. A lekker little descent into the first right hander hinted at what was to come - not much grip, off camber corners and straights as well as powdery soil ripped to shreds by the ~ 60 people in front of me. But that didn't matter - it was ON!!!! Loose, flowy but off camber single track with a few jumps here and there added to a trail that was SUPER fast, and over in just over 4 minutes for me. Not a great time, but it was okay. A couple of special moments where I didn't lean hard enough and went into the bushes, but again - that's part of racing. I think this is the time to complement the timing solution that was used at Ezel. KZN Enduro Timing aka Elite Timing Solutions really came to the party on this one. Not a single issue reared its head. Simple, effective and fool proof. A simple box was pressed against your tag (on your right hand) at the start, and again at the finish. You got your times as soon as you handed in your tag at the end, printed off on a little slip. Perfect for comparing against mates' times... I digress.. The climb to stage 2 was next in our sights. What looked like a simple switchback-laden climb back to the top of the koppie behind St1 turned out to be a hellfest. 400m over 6km, with some 120m being in just 1km on loose, rocky jeeptrack. This climb took 1h20 to complete, and it's fair to say that I, and a few riding buddies, were completely shattered by this point. As a comparison, the climbing to this point was just 60m less than the ENTIRE Contermanskloof Enduro, over 4km less distance. And it was just to the top of stage 2. 12.3km and 705m climbing. Yummy. It was at this point that I realised I'd gained a slow puncture JUST at the lip of my rear rim, so I had to deal with that rather quickly or face a squirmy tyre down st2. Thank goodness for good sealant and bombs... Stage 2 was a shorter, equally as loose but not as off camber section, filled with devilish little climbs that caught you in the wrong gear at the wrong time. Flowy, fast, fun and oh so easy to wash a wheel out on one of the corners. 1.5km went down in a smidge over 4min, ending in a lekker little gully and in the shade of some trees, preceded by a blind embankment that you *could* drop, but that would have landed you in the warm embrace of a tree. And the marshall sitting underneath it. Cool. 2 stages down, 3 to go. Still well within my min target speed of 4.5kph, which needed to be hit in order to make the cutoff at the bottom of the Stage 5 climb. Lekkertjies. The climb to stage 3 was next, so off came the chinbar on my sparkly new Leatt lid. This was a far more sedate ~ 108m climb over 2.6km, and it was despatched in 25 odd minutes. Netjies. At the top of st3 I had a bit more to drink, and settled down into the Enduro-wait that is so en vogue nowadays. That was the shortest stage of the day, at 90m drop in 900m. A rapid, fun section of trail that was dealt with in 2m35. Trail conditions were - you guessed it - off camber, loose and rutted. Still no sign of the legendary Ezel Rocks, but from riding & camping there before, I knew that we were about to start infringing on their territory. At the bottom of St 3 we decided to break for a bit of a snack of droewors, gummi bears and various other things, and it was at this point that I realised that the reason I wasn't able to get any water out of my pack was because it was still bloody frozen. Seems the pack's insulation characteristics are pretty darn good... So out came the bladder, and it went into the outer webbing, normally used to stow half-shell helmets or knee pads for easy access. Much better. Now I had a steady supply of melting ice, to complement my energy drink. And over the next 4 hours, I'd need it. After we'd had our lunch / 2nd breakfast, it was time to start the traverse to stage 4. This was where it started to get VERY interesting. Starting off with a gentle, undulating climb, the terrain started changing from the aforementioned loose, rutted moondust sort of soil-based trail, to a rock-splattered orgy of shale and sandstone. The setting could not have been different. Where I could previously get into a sort of kerfuffling rhythm and slowly eke my way along the liaisons, here every metre was populated by different rocks, all interjecting with one another. A sort of supersized cobblestone path, with far less order and symmetry. When your route is so varied and difficult to get a rhythm on, and you're more tired than a sixteen year old on her first spring break, then every metre becomes a battle with the tyres, bars, legs and brain. The initial stages were okay. Insofar as pulling your big toenail off after an overzealous interaction with a doorjamb is "okay". Progress was excruciatingly slow, and littered with mistakes, stalls and laughter as one after the other in our little group of averageness managed to just.... stop. And fall. Liaison to st4 (beginning bit) The reason that the initial stages were okay is that the terrain was, by and large, flat. In an undulating-but-really-just-torture sort of way. Over the first 5.2km we climbed 74m. Quite achievable, and utterly unremarkable, but for those bloody rocks. You could not get any rhythm. And when you had hit your hither-to achieved maximum ascent in a record period of time, any form of concentration was sort of... gone. Lost in the wind. Not that there was any, thank Beelzebub. Temps at this point were hitting a peachy 22-24 degrees. Utterly brilliant conditions, they really were. However, over the next few km, things got a bit.... different. Over the next 500m, we climbed 100m. This was only achievable with the bikes either at our sides, or on our shoulders, thanks to the terrain. Take any sort of hike on table mountain, and add loose jagged rocks to the mix. It was literally like hiking platteklip gorge with your bike strapped to your back. Except your arms are the straps, and the downtube is resting against your neck. From the high point (waypoints at this stage are rock cairns) there was another 1.2km traverse on the same sort of terrain. Some parts you could ride, others... not so much. Finally, after 5h38m of riding, waiting our turn, gallumphing down the trails and trying our best to remain cheerful (which we managed to do the entire time - we owe this to the bunch of people we rode with) we reached the top of stage 4. And promptly collapsed. Cue proper lunch. It was at this point that we realised that stage 5 was just a bridge too far. We sat at the top of st4 for 10 minutes to take stock of what we'd accomplished to that point, replenished our stores of energy as well as we could, and then prepped for the onslaught that was stage 4. I topped up the air on my rear tyre (it had leaked a bit more since the liaison had started) and made sure I and my riding mates were ready. Top of st4 And then it started. What can only be described as MTB nirvana. It wasn't particularly *big* or particularly cumbersome, but what it was was a class in just how to hang on to your bike at ~20kph (12-25kph excl the walking I HAD to do) on the loosest and rockiest terrain I've ever encountered. Lose grip, and come down, and you're toast. Almost literally in most places. The thing that made it difficult wasn't the size of the features, nor the speed that you're going through them or the time that you've spent on the bike (or walking) to get there. It wasn't the loose rocks ranging in size from golf balls to rugby balls just dotted along - and in some cases carpeting - the trail, catching your front and rear tyres and forcing you into 2-wheel rock-carpeted drifts of glory. It wasn't the ruts in the lower reaches (also filled with shale) or the 30cm - 1m drops that had landings of (again) loose rock, kicked in by previous riders. It wasn't the lack of trail signage, relying in slightly lighter rock shades and neat arrangements of rock to denote direction change and corners. It was all of these combined, over a period of 15 minutes (I clocked a 15m59 - it's still 15 minutes. I'm claiming it, the rounding gods be damned) that resulted in one of the most rewarding, terrifying, exhilarating and frankly - AWESOME - experiences of my life. I managed to pass 3 people in front of me, and another who had passed me, when he had crashed. I had to stop TWICE to just release cramps and lactic acid in my forearms, and there were times that I had to get off and walk just to overcome a small climb on the trail. My legs were that dead. Once I'd rounded the final corner, I saved a slide that initiated after my bike had tried to climb out of a rut. I put my foot out, shouted out in glee at the result of the save, and had Dan Dobinson (Dobby) complete my run by smacking the tag on my arm. I knew I'd missed the cutoff by a smidge (got to the bottom of st4 at 12h49; cutoff was 1.5km and 11 minutes away) but I didn't care. I'd made it to the end of the Queen stage. I waited for my riding buddies, shared tales of near misses and moments of utter awe, and then we made our way to the bottom of stage 5 to congratulate some of our other riding buddies on finishing the entire Enduro. Beer was cracked, stories were shared. A 16 year old by the name of Keira (Ky-rah, ito how to say it) Duncan from up norff managed to take the overall honours, trailed by Gary Barnard and Chris Nixon. I had to take Keira's bike from him at the end, he was so toasted. Literally shaking from the effort, battling cramps in both legs from a herculean effort over the day's stages. Gina Nixon managed to hold out and secure her first place for the 2nd year in a row, beating Rika Olivier and Kath Fourie in the ladies comp. Out of our riding mates, Dan Potgieter managed to take the title, on his Niner ROS9 hardtail with a bloody blistering time down the mountain, in 25th overall. From there, we went down to the race village to hand in our tags and collect our times and shirts. Beer was necessary. We then went back to the B&B to refresh, drop off the bikes and head back for prizegiving, potjie and stage 6 - the after party. MUCH stoke was had. Fines were issued, fresh-baked roosterkoek was destroyed and battle-stories were shared. Such is the nature of Enduro on SA's most difficult - nay, gnarly - Enduro. So - what did I take away from this. 1 - I can do a lot more than I thought I could. Tally for the day was 31.5km and 1150m climbing. 400m more than I've ever done, till this weekend. 2 - YOU NEED TO BE FIT. Not just be able to turn a gear for hours on end, but be able to walk or carry your bike for hours at a time. Functional strength, and stamina. Doesn't matter where it comes from. If you have it, good. If you don't, you're gonna ***. 3 - NUTRITION IS KEY for performance on the day. For an event such as this, where even the top contenders are on the bike and on foot for 7h... YOU NEED TO EAT AND DRINK PROPERLY. It doesn't really matter what you eat, as long as you eat what you're used to and keep fuelled. 4 - It's not difficult because it's technical. It's difficult because it's technical and you're exhausted and you're on the edge of passing out and you're cramping everywhere. 5 - It's the best event I've ever done. Full stop. Including non cycling events. 6 - Train. Train however you can, but train. One of my mates managed to train by carrying his lightie everywhere on his shoulders, so that he got used to having 15kg on his neck. 7 - This is the new normal. Makes CT trails look pedestrian in comparison. The only comparison I can make is Plumber in Jonkers, sections of Pat's track on TM, Plum Pudding also on TM, and the upper reaches of Tokai. Everywhere else will not prepare you for stages 4 and what I've seen of 5. And these comparisons are not equal. Ezel is more than all of them. 8 - MTB is awesome. Will I do this event again? HELLFREAKINGYEAH!!! What will I do to get myself more prepared? Well, that started today. Strength training, for today. But something that Rupert said in front of the prize giving really stuck. Ride everything top to bottom. Don't stop. Just ride. Ride, ride, ride again. The only way you'll get used to stages of 10-15 minutes in length is by riding for 10-15 minutes at a time, on a single trail, at full gas. That's how you learn to hang on, and make decisions when you're stuffed and just want to hold your blanky and cry yourself to sleep. These trails can't be flowy and chocolate-cake-looking examples of bermed goodness. They have to be gnarly. Rocky. Test your abilities and reactions. Not just test how well you can rail a berm. That doesn't teach you how to hang on when you're suddenly skating on shale or hitting a drop to a rocky rutted mess of goodness. Ride. Ride, ride, ride. Long hard days in the saddle with aforementioned top-to-bottom runs. Climbs that make me question my sanity. Downs that terrify me. Every.Fu**ing.Week. Hike. With big ass weights in your pack, or unwieldy things carried in your arms. Some of the traverses were simply *not* *possible* to ride out. Take that in your stride. Own it. Carry on. Sort out your suspension. This is MUCH more important than having "the right bike". Danie du Toit, the first hardtail, was 11th overall. ELEVENTH. Okay, he's an absolute fecking monster on the bike, but that's beside the point. What will I not do? Spend as much time pfaffing around between the end of the stage and the beginning of the liaison. That was around an hour of time (all told) that would have gotten me to the end of st4 in time to make the hike to the top. Timing is key. But then again, I'd probably have been even more farked by the end. Avg hr of 154 over 7 hours isn't exactly easy for the likes of me. Overall though, if a fat, overweight average Joe with performance anxiety can come along and almost do it, then so can you. Get training. Ezel 2018 is coming.