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  1. Hi All, I've receive a couple of requests, questions and comments regarding my 3rd place position in 2020. Will do my best to add as much detail as possible to what I can remember and try to give you the feeling of what we went through on the road. Please don't give much attention to my grammar or spelling mistakes :) I can't even promise that it will be a good read....maybe I should have posted more pictures in Part 1 to avoid some of the pain some of you will endure for reading this. I really would like to put some time aside for writing this but can't promise how fast I will be posting Part 2. Munga Part 1.docx
  2. In February 2021 I got to be part of small four-person team, led by race director Chris Fisher, that did a reconnaissance of the race route for the inaugural edition of the Freedom Circuit scheduled for April. This is that story. Words: Carlo Gonzaga Good photos: Llewellyn Loyd/Reblex Photography Bad photos: Riders “Kuphi isipaza? Kuphi isipaza!?” Warm greetings aside this will be the most often asked question of locals during the inaugural Freedom Circuit bike packing race scheduled for April 2021. This begs the question, ‘why do I need to know the whereabout of a shop for a bike race?’ The last 20 years has seen South African main-stream mountain biking culture grow up on a diet of multi-day stage races. These are world class events where a riders’ every need is catered for. I’ve seen inflatable swimming pools and pizza ovens in locations so remote I could barely get my bicycle there. Riding ranged from damn hard to easy, and almost always on well-maintained routes and tracks. Stage race fatigue birthed gravel riding events and its favourite tool, the gravel bike. These events are similarly well organised: manned waterpoints; 100% ridable routes and large fields. Great camaraderie and a real test of pure lower limb horsepower. Given the relatively fast riding speeds and numerous support stations, 100mile (160km) and 150mile (240km) events are within reach of average riders. The Freedom Circuit is none of these events. The Call I got the call from Chris Fisher in January asking me if I wanted to do a reconnaissance ride of the race route in February. My reply was simple – “count me in… for whatever”. I assumed this recce would be done at a leisurely pace and was a little surprised when I got a text message with the ride plan. Chris wanted to mimic the average riders experience and complete the longer 700km route in 100hours, 20 hours quicker than the five-day cut-off. He also wanted us to ride our bikes in race trim, with all our gear on board – clothing, power, bivvie, and food. When February rolled around the recce team had grown to include accomplished adventure racer Julia Fisher and veteran ultra-endurance cyclist, Mike Woolnough. My leisurely-pace ride had morphed into “I’ll be hanging-on-by-my-toe-nails-to-keep-up ride”. The objective was to lay down a perfect bicycle GPS route for use in the actual event in April; to explore some alternate routes; and to establish potential re-supply points for competitors in the actual race. If this picture doesn’t stir your soul, then you’re probably being shown this photo at your funeral. The Format At its core the Freedom Circuit is a self-supported event. There are two courses: a long course of 430miles (700km) and a shorter, 250mile (400km) course. Both have the same cut-off of five days (120hours). Riders will get a GPS route and have to stay on the route. So far so good. At this point the format diverges from the norm: while there are checkpoints where riders sign in, these points are not support stations as you may have come to know them. They will offer basic meals and rustic lodgings, but riders will need to pay for these just as if they were using commercial hotels or restaurants. Riders have to carry everything on them from the start. Clothing, water, food, and power. There is a list of mandatory gear designed mainly around safety and catering for the range of weather you’re sure to encounter. ‘GPS route’ you say? Don’t be fooled into thinking that you cannot get lost. I’ve seen many people utilise the wrong settings on their GPS and get woefully lost. I’ve also had a GPS fail on me 600km into a 1000km race. Bring a spare. The route traverses properly rural South Africa and you will only pass through two small towns – Underberg and Matatiele. You can choose to camp or use commercially available lodgings. The golden rule is that you may only use support that is available to all other riders. i.e., no outside or personalised support. Riders will be allowed to ride in pairs or small groups. Save for this localised concession the race is classified as self-supported. For the rest you’ll be left to fend for yourself using community taps to refill water; spaza shops to find coke and snacks; and the checkpoints for a more filling meal. “Kuphi isipaza?” You will thank me. Heart and soul For the purist bike-packer accustomed to Tour Divide-type rules, the localised differences may sound like anathema. I disagree - bike packing and self-supported style riding is about the spirit of adventure. It is about self-discovery. It is about putting oneself ‘out there’, opening yourself up to an experience that is potentially life changing. It is about reducing, for a few days, your life to the basic nomadic needs of eating, sleeping, and moving forward. There is an inner kid in you yearning to get muddy again. There is an inner 30-something wondering how to get out the office again. There is a wiser 45-year-old wanting to connect with herself again. That is what these types of events are about. The rules merely facilitate these journeys. On a 100 hour plan we got into CP2 at around 10:30 at night having ridden in the rain for four hours. A sense of humour is part of the mandatory equipment list. The terrain There’s an old phrase I enjoy repeating: “just as the spreadsheet is not the business, the map is not the terrain.” This rings true for the Freedom Circuit. It cannot be ridden on google earth. Trust me on this. You absolutely will push your bike. Sometimes for an hour at a time. When you see 14% on your GPS it’s likely the gradient and not your battery power. If you’re new to a GPS this is generally bad news. You will cross so may rivers you will need to start counting on your toes. Your belly button may even get wet. Mine did. When you finish the long course, you will have climbed the equivalent of Kilimanjaro two-and-a half- times (13’000m or 43000ft). Just under twice for the short course. Race director, Chris Fisher walking the talk. He wanted to ensure that he experienced the route as riders would and he rode every single (and then some) mile. The route covers iconic sections of the region. Names that when uttered at a local bar are sure to get you a free drink and a front seat on which to tell your stories. When your children hear these stories they will be reminded how you were their first hero. And still are. Traversing “The Vuvu Valley” you will track the Tina river on the valley floor for some 9km. Like the road of bones in eastern Russia the tracks on this valley floor are filled with a small piece of every rider that has ever come through here. I can barely type the words without getting a lump in my throat. Food at Mrs Kibi’s house. The most delicious potatoes I’ve had in some time. Once you’ve refuelled at Mrs Kibi’s house, you will wet your feet in the “Tinana” river. Thirty minutes later you will have carried your bike through what appears to be the eye of a rock needle. You will need to take photos as no-one will believe you. At “Black Fountain” you will follow the scars of cattle tracks that descend for 13km before you, once again, hoist your bike on your shoulders to scale the nasty ascent of “Koebung”. At this point you will curse the race director. If you don’t, you should. You will pass “Mariazell Mission” and negotiate the spectacular uphill single track of “Stations of the Cross” that draws you up as if on a ski lift. Julia Fisher crossing the Tinana. In case you’re wondering, Julia is not especially short. It’s the water that is deep. Yes, they are related. The blue skies, green hills and red wattle drag strips of the “Mpharane Ridge” will fill the reservoir of your soul. You will silently apologise for having said such nasty things about the race director earlier. You will follow ancient paths that join the “Three Villages of Queen Mercy”. Route directions pre-GPS included gems like “turn left at the outdoor bathtub after the blue house”. Tubs break and houses get painted. You’ll tip you helmet to Mr Rattray as you traverse Pleasantview Farm on the access road to the magnificent section through “Politique Kraal.” Here, your odometer will click through 600km and your altimeter will reflect over 10’000 metres ascent. If you pass here in the dead of night you should take a moment, turn off your light, gaze upwards, and reflect in wonderment on your journey. Not just this one. You will meet Mr Dalu Ncgobo who “sleeps with one eye open” at “Ntsikeni Lodge” waiting for riders to arrive. You simply being there keeps him and the lodge alive for yet another season. You will have stories. Stories that can only be earned, never bought. Some advice Having done this route in 100 hours I can tell you: It. Is. Hard. You will be broken at some point. You will wonder “why?”. If you want to avoid riding at night and get a good night’s sleep, do the 250-mile (400km) course. Doing the 430-mile route (700km) will force you into forgoing sleep, riding at night and having to, in Mike’s words, get a “wiggle on”. Community water taps will be your friend. This one is at the top of Black Fountain. Please don’t use a gravel bike. Even if you’re a masochist. Lower your expectations when it comes to amenities. Don’t be a ‘tjop’ (colloquial for idiot) just because you’re paying for something. After all, this is rural South Africa where every person you see likely lives off less than $1 a day. You won’t even have electricity at some of the re-supply points. One of them is a fully functioning school. Others are the actual houses of rural South African folk. Be nice and people will return the smile and be helpful. The trail and its people that eke out a living are sensitised to riders and ensure our safety. Don’t ruin that for future adventurers. A typical spaza shop. This one had frozen ice lollies which we jammed into camelbaks to cool the water! You’ll find cokes, crisps and perhaps some peanuts & bread. They don’t typically adhere to nutritional guidelines. Be focussed, but don’t miss the important stuff on the side of the track. Carry spares. There is definitely nothing resembling a bike shop on this route. Be self- sufficient. Spaza shops may not be open. Cokes may be warm. Taps may be dry. Rain may ruin a previously ridable road. You may not have cell signal. TIA (this is Africa). Early morning departures will be required whether you are doing the short or long course. Why Larry, why? When I recount stories like this I am, at some point, inevitably met with silence, followed by a hushed “but why do that?”. The question is fair, the answer complicated and highly personalised. I imagine my life as a canvas and each experience a dot on it. Some dots are larger, representing a greater influence on my life. Having children. Finding a soul mate. When I was younger these dots appeared disconnected. As I’ve got older, I understand that the dots are in fact joined. It is my job to ensure I place new dots on my life’s canvas. I want dots that are both large and spaced further apart from the existing dots. This broadens the canvas of my life and ensures I influence my future with positive, large dots. I ‘hit the wall’, on the base of the climb through Pleasantview farm. I could pedal no more. I had to stop, take a few minutes, and renegotiate a new deal with myself. I needed to remind myself about the ‘why’. Having completed a few of these events in the last two years I am reminded that my happiness no longer comes from things, but from doing things. I am reminded how much more, less, is. I am reminded that my happiness doesn’t exist somewhere in the future but comes from my past. Last, I am reminded that I am solely the author of my happiness. This, is freedom. [PS: Mike and I paid our own way. We have entered the 700km race in April. If we said anything nice about Chris or his race its not because he paid us. Onward!] There are only two formal grocery stores on route - Matat and Underberg. The latter is 34km into the race so not too usefull. Matat has a Steers. I ordered a few hamburgers there on Tuesday at 9am. I ate the last of those hamburgers on Wednesday at 4pm. Mike Woolnough posting his ascerbic updates on one of the whatsapp groups during our ride. A great travelling companion that rarely gets his feathers ruffled. Mrs Kibi's house is at Tinana. This is one of the CP's in the race. Mike Julia and Chris keeping the wall up. Food in these parts of the world is always seems to be just what your body wanted. There are no service points or "technical zones" on this route. You had better make sure you have lube for 700km and that you carry enough spares. We didn't have one puncture between us but had a couple of shoe issues. Bring cable ties and duct tape. Some of the rocky descents will shake your teeth loose. Change your brake pads before hand. You will use your stoppers regulalry. Have a camera handy. Stop and take photos. You will want to show folks sitting in their armchairs what you've accomplished. Make sure you smile. If you're not feeling it, fake it. Grumpy is on the 'leave-at-home' list.
  3. Hi Guys, just some pics we took at the race registration last week --- so awesome to see the amount of VIPA's ( some old, some new ) on the startline. well done to all the riders -- each and every one of you are LEGENDS!!!! interesting to note how the bike setups have evolved over the past 3 years in terms of setup / bags / cockpit etc. please feel free to add to this thread if you rode the event or even just have a VIPA . we love seeing our bikes being put to good use like this!!!
  4. Ramrod

    The Munga 2019

    I did search to see if there was already a thread started but didnt find one. Thought we could have a group who want to talk about this years Munga and maybe some of the guys and girls who have done if before can also offer some tips. That being said i would like to find out what saddles most guys are using.
  5. Munga musings from a novice Part 1 of [unsure] Part 2 on post #33 (page 3) Part 3 on post #56 (page 4) The Race on post 121 (page 8) “Men Wanted for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success.” Supposedly the text of a recruitment ad placed by Ernst Shackleton when assembling his team for his 1914 South Pole expedition. Those were the days when ships were made from wood and men from steel…and sheep had no reason to be scared. There is a likeness to The Munga. While not months of pain (the world does move faster in the 2000’s) the journey does appear to have its unfair share of hazards – corrugations like the waves of the south seas; enough dirt to fill that big hole in Kimberley; and wind. Not just any wind – this wind is apparently from hell itself. Hot and filled with vengeance it follows you around threatening to boil something. A little like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. Last year it rained - in the Karoo. The days get over 50 degrees (not Fahrenheit, the other one) and when all you’ve got is a postage stamp sized buff even the Karoo gets cold at night. You are not assured of finishing: attrition rates are probably the highest of any race on the continent. In the 2016 edition the wind claimed the scalps of twenty percent of the field. Within 100km’s – that’s the first 100km’s. Terrifying stuff really. And, if you finish, you won’t find yourself arriving to thunderous applause from crowds on the grandstand. Nor to a refreshing Woolies branded soft drink and a nice cold towel. Instead, you’ll most likely only be greeted by a chap called Alex, standing next to his bakkie, who absolutely will clap you in. Oh, and you get a medal. If you happen to be the first soul that Alex claps in, you also get a piece of railway line as a trophy. “So, what made you enter?” This is normally asked with a side order of sarcasm and a hint of a chuckle. My response of late has simply been that I’m having a mid-life crisis. People chuckle some more, nod in agreement, and lower my perceived IQ a few points. My pedals stopped turning in anger in March 2010 roughly at the same time I crossed the finish line of my first and last Cape Epic mountain bike race. To be clear, I never raced, I participated. Role forward eight years and I had just clicked the pay button on internet banking – reference “MungaEntryFee”. At that point the longest I’d ridden my bike in one go was about 120km – which I’m sure was one of the stages in the Epic or the Cape Pioneer. I’d certainly never found a need to mount a light onto my bicycle, preferring sunlight to light my way. I’d certainly never had bags of clothing on my bike – the only time clothing has been on my bike was when I hung some over it to dry. Roll forward to October and it’s a little under two months to go until the sun is directly overhead in Bloemfontein and Alex Harris pats us on the bum and gives us all sorts of good wishes, knowing full well that wishes don’t convert into watts. By that point I will probably have done about 5600km in nine months of training. For some perspective, for the three months of December, January and February I totalled 48,5km. Like a good South African politician, a little knowledge can get you far. But a lot of knowledge can just make you **** yourself. To paraphrase US General Rumsfeld (he of Weapons of Mass Destruction fame): “there are known knowns, but there are also unknown unknowns”. As a newbie to endurance cycling and a Munga first timer I can say with a fair amount of precision that I don’t know what I don’t know, and the more I know what I don’t know the more I *** myself. The format The instructions appear easy to follow: be at the start in Bloemfontein for a 12pm start on a Wednesday late in November. Meet you at the finish in the Cape, hopefully before 12pm Monday, but definitely within 1100km. Make sure your phone is charged and you have at least 2.5 litres of water and a space blanket. You are also required to have a light “at the start” of the race. This implies no-one really cares if you do or don’t have it at the end or whether you like riding in the darkness or not. You should have a GPS as the route is not marked, and you must attach the tracking device you are given to yourself. Very importantly, you must check into, and ideally out of, five specific locations on route. If you do the math that puts these checkpoints about 200km apart, give or take of few kilometres. At 15km/h that’s thirteen plus hours of riding in addition to a few rest stops. There are other places to obtain water on route, but that’s about it. There are no stages. No breaks. 1100km, one-time-shoe-shine. And that’s the beauty (I think) of this race. You are treated like an adult. You decide when you stop, whether you sleep or not and whether you give up or not. Do not mistake these checkpoints for a ‘softening’ of the difficulty of the race. You see, at these points you will be beckoned by the alluring call of a warm shower, a spot to get horizontal and some home cooked food. You could even charge your phone and have a swim. There may or may not be a bike mechanic around to help you locate your sense of humour along with your missing seat clamp bolt, for example. These all appear like ‘amenities’ but instead they are designed with a Machiavellian sense of humour by Alex to test your fortitude to continue. Your willpower to continue will be tested five times. Each time you will have to consciously leave the comfort of the checkpoint and exchange it for the pain and discomfort of the next 24 hours of riding. Did I mention five times? Getting from ALPHA to ZULU Unlike Alice in Wonderlands’ yellow brick road the Munga road from the centre of South Africa to the Cape is littered with the aspirations and disappointments of those that started but did not get that final hand clap within the 120-hour time limit. No doubt many of these folks prepared damn hard. There is also no doubt that some didn’t get past having a little knowledge and thought they had it waxed. It appears The Munga does not suffer fools lightly. Through an abundance of luck, I have ended up meeting and riding with several past participants of The Munga. In these few posts I will endeavour to share what I’ve learnt from them to date and pay it forward, so to speak. I also hope to record my own mid-life crisis ramblings so when I’m old and senile my grandchildren will find evidence of my claims of accomplishing the impossible. How hard is hard? Unless you’re Julia Roberts this is the wrong question to ask about The Munga. On the face of it – just using the stats - The Munga looks eminently doable: 1100km. At about 7700m ascent and 9200m descent one could argue its actually downhill. You have 120 hours to do it in. You would not be laughed at if you were left with a quizzical look on your face wondering what all the fuss was about. And therein lies the genius of the course and its founder Alex Harris. Alex has done some hard stuff. Summited the highest mountain on each continent. Led expeditions up both sides of Everest. Walked across the south pole - dragging a 250kg sled. He can also cycle a bit, bagging some medals when he decided to try indoor track cycling and broke the record for the Freedom Challenge. Raced the Tour Divide three times – with his best being an average of 300km a day for 14 days – in a row! The latter is a 4400km race from Canada to Mexico, across some very big mountains. Context matters: If you ask an Australian about cold weather you should not take them seriously – if however, they tell you it’s going to be hot you should listen closely. Similarly, if Alex says it’s hard you should probably start taking notes. To get back to Julia’s question - consider this: in the last two years the winner averaged less than 20km/h moving average. In 2016, the top 10 averaged 17,5km/h. Those are not the speeds you’d expect from a ‘downhill’ route. Clearly, the stats don’t tell the whole story. Truth is, I haven’t figured out what makes it hard. It appears to be an alchemy of road surface, heat, wind, and lack of support that produces something harder than the sum of its individual difficulties. If you talk to Alex he knows what that alchemy produces – but he won’t tell you. Like Golum and those damned rings you will have to chase 1100km down the road to find the answer. I think Alex has figured out through his own experiences that the there is no measure for hardness of the human spirit and this is what I believe he is trying to capture. It is not about whether the Munga is longer; has more climbing; or has more or less support than other races. It is whether you can do it. Everyone I have spoken to from top 3 finishers to ‘just made the 120hour cut off’ don’t talk about their time. To a person they all say the Munga medal is the one they’re most proud of. To a person they say that the experience changed them. And to a person they all left physically broken. I am reminded of the Starbucks (the coffee sponsor for this event) mission statement – “to inspire and nurture the human spirit”. The greatest human endeavours arise from inspired moments and The Munga has all the promise to be one of those moments. (Part 2 is on page 3 - post #33 - further down) (Part 3 is on page 4 - post #56 - further down) Mzansi - 18 October 2018 Not the typical steed for this event: 3” wide black stuff and enough travel to earn you voyager miles. It's like riding my lounge suite and my rear end thanks me continuously. With all the equipment choices this is the slimmest you’ll see her… more on that in a following post. In addition to the main event, Alex arranges eight 'Mini Mungas' during the year. These range from six to twelve hour long rides with fellow participants. It's a great way to increase your options from 20 to 200 and contributes greatly to the move from knowing nothing to knowing enough to *** in your chamois. This was the longest ride I'd ever done. After that only had to figure out how to do that seven times in a row by race day. As part of my mid life crisis I also converted to a low-carb lifestyle in January and fully plan to do the Munga with next-to-no carbs. Just to make it harder, you see. Some stories on how riding without the red ambulance (coke) in a future post. One chap I heard about got such severe saddle sores that he was on antibiotics for a month after the race. That's like losing a limb. If you've never had cause to ask how to lube your arse I suspect that, like me, you've never ridden long enough. The ingredients below are part of a very special recipe, the source of which I cannot disclose, nor the ratios of mixing.
  6. Words Carlo Gonzaga. Photos: Carlo Gonzaga/Alex Harris/Nic Louw/Chris Fisher/Llewellyn lloyd “Are you joking? Two hundred metres? Is that all we missed it by?” In a bike race that’s 475km long, with 13’000 metres of vertical ascent that’s what it came down to. Two. Hundred. Metres. If I could, I would have cried. But I couldn’t. The tears would have frozen my eyelids shut. Quite ridiculous really. ‘Ridiculous’ is probably the appropriate description of the Freedom Challenge in general and the Race to Rhodes specifically. The Freedom Challenge is a 2300km race across South Africa that takes place in South Africa’s winter months. The Race to Rhodes follows the first 475km, which, in the scheme of things, doesn’t sound like a big deal. But it is. The general format This race is categorised as a mountain bike race. Having now completed this event this categorisation feels a little like classifying both apples and tomatoes as fruits – technically correct but obviously wrong. The race is unique in quite in a few ways. It describes itself as a ‘non-stop, self-sufficient and, self-navigated’ mountain bike race. Like much of life the devil is in the detail and facts do matter. The race starts at the doors of the Pietermaritzburg city hall and ends in the tiny village of Rhodes, almost at the foot of South Africa’s highest peak, Ben Macdhui. As the F16 flies it’s 287km and google tells me its about a seven-hour drive by car. So far, so good. Obviously, we are piloting neither and are told its 475km, minimum. “Urm… what’s this minimum story” you ask, in the same tone as one of the “rights reserved” legal letters. That would be a very good question to ask. The ‘mandatory’ (read: you must follow this line or be disqualified) route to Rhodes is hand drawn with a thin green marking pen across 18 A3-size paper contour maps. I repeat: Eighteen. Paper. Maps. Until March this year I couldn’t remember what was on a contour map and was surprised that there are two north arrows on such map, not pointing the same way. I would try and explain the ‘two norths’ thing but really cannot. If we follow that thin green line diligently, we should clock up 475km. That’s highly unlikely as the rules prohibit the use of any form of GPS device. No Google maps. No Garmin. Not even phone-a-friend to try and direct you left or right. Getting lost is an absolute certainty. Consequently, the 475km in the brochure is really just a guideline. It would be reasonable to think that, as a consequence of this prohibition, the route would follow large, well-marked roads. This race is many things – but, as I’ve come to learn, ‘reasonable’ is not one of them. To add more weight to your map-filled in-tray there are 11 pages of written narratives that are meant to support these maps. These narratives contain gems like “Put your bike down and follow one of these tracks for about 20 metres. You should find a jeep track in the bushes. Retrieve your bike and follow the jeep track across the base of the spur.” I was fully expecting to find a mall with a Spur Steak Ranch at the end of this jeep track. And my absolute favourite… “This is then followed by an equally ridiculous 400 metre climb”. Their words, not mine. So… “No” to following large well-marked roads. When I received my 18 A3 maps and read the narratives for the first time I ‘kakked’ my chamois. The green line follows cattle paths, an assortment of tracks, and some roads. Often it simply asks you to follow geographical features like mountain ridges, dongas or rivers. For enhanced entertainment the line crosses more than ten rivers (not where the bridges are) and goes up or down a handful of sheer cliffs. (I’ve learned the closer the contour lines to each other, the steeper the cliff. Good to know.) Often there is a track on the map but, rather disturbingly, no such thing on the ground. Equally as often there is one track on the map and seventeen on the ground. I asked a mate who had done the race for some info and he sent me 84 emails with over 200 attachments. Asking for some in-person guidance you got pearlers like “Turn right at the apple tree. What apple tree Dave? Someone ate an apple & dropped the pips there last year, there should be an apple tree there this year.” Turn left at the “blue house” or at the “edge of the plantation” occur frequently. As it turns out people paint their houses and plantations get harvested, quite regularly. And then, obviously if you think about it, cattle tend to be quite unconcerned with keeping to the same path the surveyor-general saw when he plotted the contour maps 15 years ago. And that’s just the “self-navigated part”. The race is also “self-supported”. That means you carry everything you may need for about 5 days on your person or your bike. You are expected to finish with the equipment your started. Presumably, you are also expected to finish with the same body you started. The rules are not specific in this regard. You may not receive any outside support while on route or you will face disqualification or a time penalty. If your bike breaks in half you are expected to fix it with the tools at hand which are most commonly trees, cattle, and rivers. If you break in half, you are expected to fix yourself. There isn’t medical assistance on route. Sure, you can call a doctor, but unless his advice is to cut your losses and beat yourself to death with your own phone you may have to do the stitching yourself. Some participants actually carry suture kits. In the longer, 2300km event, most carry antibiotics. Stories abound of broken bike frames splinted together with branches and saddles held in place with fence wire. I was even taught that you can ‘weld’ with the foil cap of a wine bottle and a lighter. After downing said bottle of wine, I suppose anything is possible. While you may use “commercially available” resources this is a rather moot concession in the rules as the track is in rural, mountainous, South Africa for much of the time. About the best you’ll get is a shepherd or herdsman. He won’t speak your language, even if you speak his. If you’re lucky he’ll have a horse. If you’re unlucky he’ll have six and a half hungry dogs. Don’t expect water tables with cheering wives’ or children filling your water bottles. Instead, expect community taps or streams to fill your bottles and the odd informal traders selling beer, warm coke or Chinese nik-naks. There are five checkpoints on route that you must check into. Ideally you should check out of them as well. These are mostly community operated lodgings located in villages, or more often, in the sticks somewhere. Some of them don’t have electricity and a couple don’t even have running water. Lodgings are modest by normal standards, but seven-star when you’ve got 300km and 8000m of climbing in you. At the last checkpoint, at a modest village labelled on the maps as ‘Vuvu’, you will sleep in the huts of the local residents, who will move out of their dwelling for the night. Your dinner will be served in the office of the head of department at the local junior secondary school. You will, as a rite of passage on the trail, freeze your saddle sores off if you attempt an evening bucket shower in Vuvu. True story. There is a passing reference to inclement weather in the rules. The clue to look out for is in the mandatory clothing requirements of ‘base layers, other layers, waterproof layers and emergency blankets’. The route tops out at about 2600m. This is well into snow territory when the conditions are right. Or wrong if you’re on a bike. This year we recorded -8 degrees and it has been known to get well below -15 degrees. Not Fahrenheit – the other one. This year (and apparently in many years) the wind was gusting up to 80 kilometres an hour. Snow in a gale becomes sleet. Dust particles become birdshot. Your sense of humour disappears quicker than a politicians’ promises after election day. This year riders had to look out for steel roof sheeting that had become airborne. I’ve seen videos of bicycles being lifted off the ground as riders grimly hold onto to the handlebar. If you see men peeing on their shifter cables, its because they’ve become frozen. If I were honestly marketing the race to newcomers, it would go something like: “Come and join our Race to Rhodes. You’ll definitely get lost, most likely in the dark and probably in sub-zero temperatures. We hope you’ll make it through all the river crossing and not fall down a cliff. You will be wet. It will be fun. As a midfielder you’ll be riding about 8-12 hours between support stations so you should be able to carry that much food and water with you. You must also carry all your own clothing, medical kits and bike spares for any eventuality. Be mindful with baggage as you will have to pick your bike up and over fences and should be prepared to hike up cliffs with your bike on your back. It will be fun. As there is no way to get a motor vehicle to many parts of the route please ensure you have airborne medical evacuation as part of your medical insurance. That will not be fun.” 5:00am. 71 hrs since departure. Top of Lehanas. Middle Earth, so it seems. Knees tucked into my chest. Lips pursed. Breathing shallow to limit the cold air into my already chilled lungs. I am lying on my right side directly on the ground, in what probably looks like the ‘foetal’ position. I am shivering, almost uncontrollably, but not quite. My eyes squint through foggy lenses into the moonlit night. My ears are filled with the continuous crackle, pop, and hiss of three space blankets fluttering in the icy wind, anchored only by a hand, a foot, or some other bodily appendage of their owners. It’s around five in the morning and my handlebar mounted temperature gauge looks like its reading minus-four-point-something Celsius. I would try and get a better look but the batteries in my helmet mounted light seem to have lost their amps, like we have lost our bearings. We’re at the top of Lehanas ‘Pass’. That much we know. We’re about 35km, or two-and-a half hours from the end. This we also know. What we don’t know is exactly where we are. Therefore, we can’t be exactly sure of where we need to go. Maddingly, we know the track we need to find is so close. So. Damn. Close. It’s been seventy-one hours since we left Pietermaritzburg, and we’re around 440km down the official track. Myself and my two travelling companions have had no more than four hours sleep in total since our city hall departure three days ago. Our last water and food refill was twelve hours ago. Half an hour earlier we were walking around in circles looking for the track that would take us off this exposed icy plateau. In one last gasp attempt to locate our exit, we each forge out a few hundred metres in opposite directions. Our lights, batteries weakened by the cold, tentatively prod the darkness ahead. The darkness gives no quarter, gives no inch. We reconvene once again. No good news. None of us find the road we intuitively know is there. Too tired and cold to think through the problem we abandon our joint quest to finish the race in under three days. To achieve that we needed to find that road by 3:30am, latest. Since we’re no longer cycling, our sweaty cycling kit starts to freeze in the increasingly stronger wind. We don all our remaining clothing, four or five layers in total, including that damned space blanket, and decide to bunker down until the sun comes up. Lying on the ground, I recall thinking to myself that this is probably how people die in the cold. They just… well… they… just… lie there…. and, er, …. die. No fanfare, no last wishes, no dramatic rushes to save yourself. Just a very, very long sleep. Lehanas Pass is legend on the trail. The adventures birthed on Lehanas generally secure you a front row at the bar, drinks included. Why it’s called a ‘pass’ is still somewhat lost on me. There is no road. Not even remnants of a road. In fact, there could never have been a road as the route required to traverse the 8,4km from base to peak requires a careful balancing act on the spine of a mountain range. It’s a venus fly trap. It’s a con artist. She is heart achingly beautiful in photos. Gorgeously smooth from google earth. I sound smitten. She draws you in. And then she’s Glenn Close and bunnies. She’s Hannibal Lecter making dinner, for one. It seems that Lehanas has a score to settle with almost all riders. In those 8,4km you will ascend 1000 metres. That’s nearly the same as the last push to the summit up Kilimanjaro. Except you’re the porter with a bicycle. Gradients exceed 40% and the upper reaches require scrambling up ledges that are head height. On a particularly steep windswept section I could do no better than flatten myself against the grassy, rock strewn slope, face into the ground. And sort of leopard crawl with two legs and one arm, the other securing my bike to my back. On one steep section Pieter was throwing his bike up the hill and then stepping up. The wind on Lehanas is something to behold. It doesn’t ‘blow’. It roars up its slopes like the death charge of a wounded lion – you hear the grunts but can’t see the lion until the last second. It tears through shrubs and trees, branches snapping back like mortars above Normandy. It clutches at your clothing and your bike. It’s like getting in a boxing ring with Sugar Ray Leonard in his prime. The punches come from nowhere but are everywhere. I have had riders tell me of having their bikes ripped from their grip by the wind and having to crawl down to retrieve them. A few riders have actually been trapped on the mountain, unable to crest the summit for the ferocity of the wind. For a reason unknown to me there is a blue container at the summit. One year riders had to break into it, seeking refuge. When they wanted to leave, Lehanas had the last laugh. They were locked inside for an hour or so, unable to open the door. Did I mention that, through all this gradient, wind and weather, you have to carry your bike? You do. Unavoidable really. How do you train to carry your bike up a 40% rocky incline; in -3 degrees centigrade, in a gusting, 100kph wind? If you know, do tell. At about 6:30am the darkness finally begins to recede. First, the ridgelines of the surrounding mountains show themselves in monochrome silhouette. At this point the temperature always drops a few more digits. I am standing now, space blanket wrapped twice around my torso. Still shivering. Henry and Pieter are stoically holding onto their fluttering space blankets, still grounded. As the light pushes the darkness away, I start to make out a straight-ish line in the distance. Not too far – about two hundred metres. A few minutes pass. You must be joking? That straight line is the road. That’s the thing with being lost. One moment you are lost. And, eventually, at some other moment you are instantly un-lost. You don’t gradually un-lose yourself. You either know where you are, or you don’t. 10pm. 15hours from the start. The Wall. I am walking down a hill I’ve just pushed up. I am shouting “Hello” at darkened rural houses. I am hopeful that my waking someone up will somehow be forgiven because I have done so with a “Hello”. Dogs bark, which I’m happy for. I figure ‘barks’ plus ‘hello’ should get someone’s’ attention. Finally, I see a light in a window of a small brick one-roomed building. I start with “Hello” in conversational tone. After escalating my conversational “Hello” to a rather hysterical ‘HAAALLOOOWW’, I advance toward the lit window. Mercifully the dog doesn’t eat me, and the resident doesn’t think I’m an intruder. As we try to bridge the language gap, he points frantically up the road I’ve just pushed down, and supports this gesturing with “Straaait, Straaait”. At that point I see two lights walking up the road. Ok… the lights aren’t really walking – they’re attached to the bikes of Peter and Henry. We’ve been riding a few minutes apart for the last 15 hours. I dash out the yard, thanking the local who is still gesturing and shouting “Straaait”. Henry and Pieter have done this four times between them and they must know the route. I ask if I can ride with them a bit. Three navigators are better than one. Or so you’d think. Two hours later we finally acknowledge we’re lost. We cannot pinpoint where we are on the paper maps. We’ve asked more local residents. Language is a problem. I must learn Zulu. We have travelled about 5,3km on an incorrect road, most of which has been uphill. We round a corner and Pieter correctly concludes that we are going in the exact opposite direction that we’re meant to be going in. We round another corner, this time in the right direction, but facing a steep uphill. The ‘protocol’ for getting un-lost is retracing your steps until you can pinpoint where you are on a map. Not wanting to scale that climb, just to have to come down it, we sagely agree to do the adult thing and acknowledge our mistake and go back down the 5,3km we have just come up. Given the now almost zero temperatures we stop to layer up for the descent. I record a video on my phone. 20 minutes later, at the base of the climb we find our error: just metres up from where I met Peter and Henry the good road breaks left, with a track continuing straight to a rock-infested section referred to as ‘The Wall’ by riders. It is un-rideable which is the clue that tells us we are on the right track. Days later, after the race, I review our GPS tracks that the race office gives me access to. The point at which we turned around, after 2 hours and 5,3km of uphill, was just two hundred metres from the road that we were meant to be on. We had taken the vehicular road that bypasses the un-rideable section we call The Wall. If we had stayed on it, we would have re-joined above the un-rideable section and been hi-five-ing and back-slapping at our genius navigation. This sounds made up. It is not. I have pictures. Two hundred metres. Again. Race office, we have a problem Per the rules you are allowed seven days to complete the course. Sounds like a long time for just 475km. Until you consider that you continuously stop to check your maps; the path is largely on tracks and grassland; and has its fair share of un-rideable sections. Compounding matters there’s the hills - by the time you’ve quaffed your first G&T in Rhodes you will have ascended the equivalent of Mt. Everest one and a half times. Of the 49 starters in this year’s edition just two finished in under three days. Only six finished in under five days. Of the eight that never made it to Rhodes, one was washed down a river he was crossing. And he wasn’t on a boat at the time. At race briefing it became apparent there were three other riders with a sub three-day game plan, including myself. This was my first time so my ambitious plan could be blamed on first-time stupidity. Roger was on a single speed, rigid bike. Think about that for a moment. I subsequently learned he is a plastic surgeon, so I blame his crazy attempt on second-hand anaesthesia inhalation. I don’t know if that’s physiologically possible, but I hope you get my point. Peter and Henry had narrowly missed a sub three-day attempt previously and their plan was fuelled mostly by revenge. There is a sub two-day strategy, but that is currently reserved for just one rider. Just five riders have ever managed under 2,5 days. A veteran of The Trail, Mike Woolnough was on track for a sub-two this year until the sleep monsters and weather tightened their grip. To achieve under three days, you essentially must ride double the time of other riders, each day. Conceptually not difficult to grasp, but there are a couple of critical pinch points to consider. First, you probably need to ride the first 200km to the remote lodge in Nstekeni Nature Reserve in one go. That comes with 6300m of climbing. You should get that done in about 18 hours, leaving you with a couple hours to sleep, eat and consider other necessities before mounting your steed at around 4:30. A warm up, so to speak. Assuming you won’t get too lost during the day you’ll have the privilege of negotiating some tricky night-time navigation. If that goes ok-ish you’ll have the morning to get to Vuvu. Its highly desirable to get past Vuvu and to the foot of Lehanas in daylight so you can get your bearings on that little blue container 8,4km away. If you get that right, you’ll get to Rhodes in about 2 days and 15 hours. Like Roger did. Be like Roger. Don’t be like us. Leaving Vuvu at 5pm already put us on the backfoot as we’d only get to Lehanas at around 6pm. It’s darkest just after the sun is fully tucked away and the moon isn’t quite shiny yet, making it difficult to get bearing on aforementioned blue container. So, in what history will judge as a… mmm... err…. let’s just go with ‘crap' decision, we decided to try an alternate route up Lehanas. This involves not actually going up Lehanas at all but finding an adjacent mountain to the west and scaling that instead. Just writing that plan down sounds bad. Trust me though, it was a good idea at the time. No – beers were not involved. Roll forward four hours. We’re back at the foot of Lehanas, around 10pm. We found the mountain to the west. We even found the track on the mountain to the west we were meant to be on. For 4km. Then we ran out of track, skill, experience, and humour. We scribbled messages in the ground. We found the southern cross. We studied our maps and compasses. Still only 4km progress in three hours. At about 9pm we called the race office. “We have a problem”. To his credit and our good fortune Chris Fisher, race director, took our call. He advised us, as he had previously, to try Lehanas instead. I don’t even think he said “I told you so”. Mountain 1 – Three Musketeers 0. 16 hours 33 minutes. That’s how long it took us to reach Rhodes from Vuvu. 51km according to the maps. 75 hours, 33 minutes since we had city hall in our rear-view mirrors. Four hours sleep. And we missed our plan by 3 hours 33 minutes. Two hundred metres. Twice. The thing But here’s the thing: I feel fulfilled. Energised. Richer for the experience. Even taller. I inhaled more just than a few beers and slept for a week after. Sure, I got lost for some 9 hours of the 75 hours I was on the trail, without which I would have smashed my goal. But that would be too easy. I now value my first time on The Trail. To grow physically you need to stress your body and then, during rest, the body adapts to a new expectation, becoming stronger through each cycle of rest. It’s the rest after the physical activity that makes you stronger. The Trail under race conditions has more than its fair share of physical stresses. These you will overcome, and be stronger for, with rest and few glasses of wine. It’s the stresses The Trail places on your mind, your spirit, your self, that are uniquely valuable. These don’t happen at the gym, a morning run, or in board meetings. Getting lost is part of life. It happens all the time to us across multiple spheres. In relationships, business, strategy. With our families. Most often we are in denial about being lost at all. We convince ourselves we are on track. On the trail you are either lost or not. There is no ‘convincing’ yourself. You are forced to face reality; admit to being lost; and start the process of finding your way back. This is the stress. When you find the track, as you will, you will be mentally and spiritually stronger for it. You will be more appreciative of the need to pay attention next time. To be engaged with your surroundings. To prepare better. To be present. You will be more willing to help others, for one day you may need the help of others. These are my lessons from Lehanas. The Trail is filled with old-school adventure. You will genuinely scramble down cliff faces. You will drop your bike down 3m vertical dongas. You may get washed down a river. You will feel inspired and invincible when you successfully navigate your way at night through the three villages to Queen Mercy; or ride ‘flat-box’ down red-earth wattle strips on the Mpharane ridge on a crisp, cloudless, blue-sky day. You will turn around and look down the section you have portaged up and resist patting yourself on the back. You may even have the need to find the Southern Cross because you lost your compass. You will humbly push your bike up, and down, hills. You will crest the Umkomaas valley and get goose bumps from the view before you descend an impossibly steep track. You will thrash your way through thorn trees, wattles and river debris. All while pulling, pushing, and dragging your bike. Always forward. Always forward. Most of all, the trail is filled with people. Their aspirations. Their stories. The giant Dalu Ncobo and his wife, Gladys, at Nstekeni. He sleeps with “one eye open” and made us breakfast - or was it dinner - at 2am. Sheila and Charles Raven, their daughter Kerry - hosting cyclists around the clock for three continuous weeks at their home in Glen Edward. The never-ending stories from Dana and Ian Waddilove, whose brother, David, founded the Freedom Challenge in 2004. The giant, syrupy vetkoek that Buhle makes at the modest Masakala support station. The residents of Vuvu who actually give up their bed for cyclists. The children who run next to you for kilometres, shouting “Where are you going? What is your name?”. The spaza shop owners for whom the race represents a mid-year Christmas rush. There's the lone horseman who points to where you should be going and sometimes, seeing the exhaustion written in, and on you, leads you to your path. This is The Race to Rhodes. This is the Freedom Challenge. 'Gonzo, out' The enormity of the navigational challenge becomes tangible when you unpack your maps and lay them side by side, for 475km. Its about this point that you either start drinking or throw up. Or the latter after the former. I think I may have invested over 100hours over five months in the maps. I rode the google earth version of the route multiple times. Still not getting it right I rode the actual route on my bicycle in April. Clearly I still have work to do. The end result of all my navigation preparation. Alex Harris, once record Holder for the 2300km version, said reading them was like trying to decipher the Rosetta Stone. I actually took that as a compliment but couldn’t help noticing he was carrying no maps at all. One year, Ingrid Avidon had to navigate with just these remaining pieces of her maps. That little blue section of road is 200m long. Not knowing where we were that is where we made a U turn and headed back down the red line to the missed turn. We then went up the green line. From a different perspective, we were merely doing hill repeats on the The Wall, which sounds far more heroic. This is what a section of The Wall looks like from the perspective of my knee in April. During the race this was just black. Kids relish the humour in being able to walk faster than riders up t hese steep, most ofetn un-rideable sections. Riders are allowed to send one 2L ice cream tub to certain checkpoints on route prior to the race starting. You may put whatever you wish in these. What you leave behind is considered a donation to the trail. If you withdraw or have passed a checkpoint the contents of your box may be scavenged by following riders. If I combined the contents of my five boxes I was almost able to build a new bike. Next time I shall put a spare compass in one of those boxes and not use so much duct tape. I needed Semtex to open those tub, which is ordinarily difficult to come by on the trail. You may read the word ‘shop’ in the narratives or hear it from fellow riders. Lower your expectation and then half that. This “U-Save” was in fact well stocked in April, but closed on Sunday in June. Notwithstanding, if you ask nicely, they’ve always got one cold coke in a fridge somewhere and there’s always a nik nak or two to share around. One thing you’re assured of is breath-taking, uncluttered views. But that’s only half the time. At night its just black and terrifying. Day one – you’ve already done 1500m of ascent in the first 50km. You’ve thundered through the tiny village of Kwangeshe along its slightly downhill, undulating track. This is your view. The Umkomass Valley. Don’t be fooled into thinking that road on the left is somehow for you. No, your path goes does to rivers edge and will see you thrashing about for an hour or two in the riverine bush, until you cross the river. Photo: REBLEX Photography/Llewellyn Lloyd Oliver Greaves crossing the mighty Umkomazi River. Ollie is 17 and was one of two father-and-son teams to do this years Race to Rhodes. Don’t be fooled by the calm. This river can get angry. In April it was impassable. Photo: REBLEX Photography/Llewellyn Lloyd A lone rider crosses the Umko river. One rider tried to cross near the rocks where the water flows faster. He and his bike, were washed down, and over the rocks. Finally making it to the other side he had to withdraw from the race. Photo: REBLEX Photography/Llewellyn Lloyd Hela Hela. 7,5km on the steepest section. 741m ascent. 9,3% average gradient with maximum of 39%. It’s a beast on a good day. A monster in the heat. Gorgeous from above. Photo: REBLEX Photography/Llewellyn Lloyd There is not much tar or electricity on this part of the trail. If you get into the lonely support station of Malekgolonyane after dark you will have a romantic paraffin lit dinner. Photo: REBLEX Photography/Llewellyn Lloyd If the narratives say anything similar to ‘dongas’, don’t expect some technical riding. Expect carrying, dirt and straight-up walls. The only way in, and out, is through cattle paths. If there are no cattle in that area you’d best consider alternate transport. When I crossed this river during the race (riders call it the Boshelweni, which is entirely incorrect) it was at night, but only half full. I took my socks and inner soles out so that they wouldn’t be wet in the freezing temps. Half-way across my feet were so cold that I contemplated turning back, or tip toing onto an exposed rock so my feet could warm up. The bottom reaches of Lehanas during my recce ride in April. It’s a pity I didn’t get to see it again during the day. But then I wouldn’t have the story or the free drinks at the bar. That's Alex Harris patiently waiting for me. Again. Lehanas in daylight from the base. There is a faint line which indicates one of the ways to get up. For clarity – the line is not actually there to help you in real life. The arrow is pointing to the blue container that is on top of the mountain. 8,4km. 1000m ascent. You just have to get on with it and “take your medicine” as Alex Harris would say. Photo: Nic Louw The view of Lehanas from the lens of photographer/rider Nic Louw. When you get to the top this is the view down. Can you see the rider – bottom middle of the photo. That thing that looks like the spine of a dragon’s tail. It is. That is what you’ve hiked up. No matter how much riders tippy-toe up this pass we always seem to wake the dragon. Thanks to Nic for strapping a real camera to his chest for the whole 6 days. The only thing strapped to my chest was a pretty useless heart rate monitor. He was one of two father-and-son teams on this year’s Race to Rhodes. The Freedom Challenge will not go according to plan so it pays to have a glass-half-full attitude. And if the going gets really tough, a peanut butter sandwich and coffee doesn’t hurt.
  7. Too early for Munga 2018 discussions? Wondering if riders on past editions found a need for more than the 2.5L of water from the rules. I saw Jeannie Dreyer's mention of 4L in particular. Do others carry this much? 2.5L I can stash on bike, but 4L is heading towards Camelbak territory - which for longer events I prefer to ride without. MOD EDIT: See also here for advice: https://community.bikehub.co.za/topic/179549-munga-2018-race-news/ https://community.bikehub.co.za/topic/179021-munga-musings-from-a-novice-part-123/
  8. https://bikerumor.com/2018/11/19/momsen-builds-a-special-bike-for-munga-full-suspension-drop-bar-vipa-ultra/ Anyone who has been on the bike through the 90's would immediatelly appreciate the throwback, especially if you knew the man that designed it's own long standing appreciation for the influence a certain Mr. Johnny T had on our sport. My opinion is that this bike is the best of everything you could need for something like the Munga. Dual sus. Aero features. LITRES of drink storage and tons of onboard storage as well. Planned by Victor Momsen and assembled by Robbie Powell and his team who is a legend in his own right. Sho... This bike gives me... feelings. Unsure how something so modern can unearth that "old school" feeling as well at the same time. http://thebodymechanic.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/MTB3.jpg
  9. Hi, we are looking for some serious Munga contenders doing the 2017 race. We would like to investigate the possibility of partnering with one (or more) contenders to gain insight into the specific event in exchange for, well, lets discuss. Please let me know your contact details or send a PM. Thanks
  10. For those of you that loves following dot's, the Munga trail run is starting today at 12h00. www.trackleaders.com
  11. I'm excited to inform you that I will be at The Munga 2016 providing support for the Sheriff this year, so I will be shooting some aerial drone shots + GoPro footage + time lapses, edit the footage and upload as much as possible to my YouTube channel every day, so subscribe: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZyg_lZz-SAqcNgGME2KN1Q I will post here as well for those of you not using any of the other platforms or being blocked at work. So, to start it off, here's a taste of many videos to be uploaded before and during the event and there will be plenty aerial footage of the towns/villages/roads going forward: Have a look in the uploaded YouTube video description for all the relevant information. Also a HUGE shout-out goes to http://www.fines4u.co.za helping to making it all possible. Please note that I'm not getting paid for this. I'm doing this as I am passionate about cycling and creating little videos as a hobby. Any suggestions, comments and donations/sponsors welcome. Edit: Will be using #TheMunga2016 hash tag on twitter and instagram.
  12. RMB Change a Life MTB Academy ace John Ntuli claimed a career defining win at the recent 1070km The Munga mountain bike race from Bloemfontein to Wellington. Photo: Erik Vermeulen. Gracious and humble by nature, Ntuli’s uncanny knack of adapting into a relentless, determined competitor when put under race conditions has fittingly seen the man from KZN’s Valley of a Thousand Hills develop the nickname of ‘Ngwenya’ – isiZulu for crocodile.And call on every ounce of crocodile instinct he had within him Ntuli was forced to do as he redefined his mental and physical boundaries en route to claiming victory in 69 hours and ten minutes. “John's Zulu nickname is Ngwenya, the Crocodile, because he is resilient, tough & powerful. How apt that name now is,” tweeted academy founder and Dusi Canoe Marathon legend Martin Dreyer. Having successfully fought off not only his fellow dogged challengers but treacherous conditions and the event’s mind-numbing distance as well, the result goes to the very top of the pile of achievements for the already highly decorated competitor. “I’ve won a couple of races in my career but this is the biggest race I have ever won!” said Ntuli. “The Munga was such a difficult race because it was so long, it was very hot and dusty, we had to deal with headwinds and side winds all the time and we were in pain throughout, so it really is a rewarding result for me!” he added. With victories in the latest Triple Challenge and recent Maqhwe Mfula multisport races as well having successfully tackled the 369km Desert Dash in Namibia in 2014, Ntuli drew confidence from both his training and strategy prior to Wednesday, 2 December’s race start. All the preparation in the world couldn’t have readied Ntuli for what he was in for though, with the overall experience one that will stay with the RMB Change a Life star forever. “My hands, my arms and my bum were so sore! “I tried everything to get rid of the pain; I took my arm warmers off – and then my shirt as well – and sat on them but nothing helped! John Ntuli's win in the recent 1070km The Munga mountain bike race from Bloemfontein to Wellington further underlined the ethos of Martin Dreyer's RMB Change a Life MTB Academy. Photo: Erik Vermeulen “With about 270km to go I seriously thought about pulling out because I was so sore but eventually I told myself that everyone else was going through the same pain as I was and so I just had to keep going.“I stood and sat, stood and sat all the way to the finish line! “When I finished I was so happy but so tired that when I got off my bike I was just swaying backwards and forwards,” explained Ntuli. Lying second behind Chris van Zyl after the first twenty-four hours of racing, Ntuli went through the halfway point in the lead with Tim Deane after thirty and a half hours. Later relegated to second place, Ntuli surged past race leader Grant Usher whilst heading through the Breede River Valley late on Friday night and ultimately crossed the finish line at Diemersfontein Wine & Country Estate in the Cape Winelands first, over four hours ahead of his nearest chaser. The achievement signifies both Ntuli’s remarkable individual talent and the impact Martin Dreyer’s Change a Life Academy has had on the lives of its members. “Martin (Dreyer) is so experienced and has given me such great advice and support that really helped me win this race and the Change a Life Academy has changed so much in my life as well and I’m very grateful to him for that!” said Ntuli categorically.
  13. John Ntuli’s historic victory at the inaugural 1070km The Munga mountain bike race from Bloemfontein to Wellington on Saturday has reaffirmed his status as one of the finest endurance athletes in the country and further underlining a core ethos behind the RMB Change a Life MTB Academy. Click here to view the article
  14. Johan Badenhorst joined The Munga on a motor bike to document Kevin Benkenstein's journey through the heart of South Africa. Along the way he witnessed the fortunes of many of the leading riders. This is his story of following the 2016 The Munga. Click here to view the article
  15. The Munga was an eye opener to what average people can do when they put their mind to it. Looking at the start list, you would never have picked a sure winner. The challenge itself is incredible, even just to think about it, and to do it within 80 hours is just next level. I rode my motorcycle from Stellenbosch to Bloemfontein on Tuesday morning to support my friend and colleague, Kevin Benkenstein. In my head, I thought the trip would be 670 km, but to my surprise it was just on 1,000 km and took me way longer than expected. The race kicked off at noon on Wednesday and a small number of riders gathered at the Windmill Casino in Bloemfontein for the start. With the total elevation over 1,110km only being 6000m, it was always going to be a fast start. Riders faced 40-degree heat and a massive headwind that seemed to never subside. I rode to the first water point at the 60 odd kilometre mark and waited for their arrival. By my estimate, they would have been there in just over 2 and a bit hours, but time went by and no one showed up. When the first rider appeared it was Jeannie Dreyer and I was completely taken by surprise. I knew she was an amazing adventure racer, but to lead a field of men who had trained hard for this event was next level. I think this race for me has been an accumulation of my life happenings and my genetics. My mom always reminds me of the day I came home from nursery school and said to her that I won a running race AND I beat all the boys. Jeannie Dreyer Next up, four riders appeared together and Kev was one of them. He looked smashed. I could not believe what I was witnessing. After 60 km into a race that would take 80 hours to complete, people are broken at the first water point. How would they finish? Later we found out that a small amount of people never reached the first water point and I was not surprised. This was brutal. From water point one, I leapfrogged the riders and made my way towards one of the Spaza shops (small cafe) that riders were allowed to stop at to buy themselves refreshments. Riders started appearing around 5/6pm and had only done just over 100km. Every single rider that arrived while I was at the shop looked ready to call it quits. The heat played havoc and they still rode into a headwind that I reckon was roughly around 40 km/h. It was a war zone. The roads were mostly straight, dusty, and corrugated. Riders who had tri bars on their bike certainly had an advantage in the conditions. With no shelter next to the road, I made my way to the overnight stop at Van Der Kloof dam and sat down, waiting for the first riders to make an appearance. The heat never subsided and it felt like 30deg at 11pm. One by one they arrived, with hours separating the top 10. Incredible. About 30 kilometres into the race I totally blew. It was 44 degrees, we were in altitude, the wind was hauling face on, deep sand and corrugation, and my 2.5-litre water I carried with me was finished. I started too fast and my body wasn’t adjusting to the extreme conditions. I thought this was me ending the Munga before it even started. Katja Steenkamp After they signed in, they had the option of taking a nap on a bed provided and a shower if they should need one. Most riders opted for a quick meal and got on their way, trying to make the best of the cooler conditions without the sun beating down on them. I was able to source a mattress and tried to get some sleep in a store room of the hotel. It did not really work out, and, after the first day, I was nearly broken myself. Riding a big 1200cc motorcycle at night on gravel roads where you can hardly make out if the surface is hard packed or sand, and with numerous hares trying to become road kill, started to take its toll. The best part was being alone in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere with every star in the sky visible and nothing but the noise of my tyres and breathing for company. I have never felt as at peace as right then. Kevin Benkenstein I got up at first light and tried to catch up with the riders. It would be a long day of leapfrogging and waiting. With gaps now hours between riders, no cell phone coverage and no shade, the days dragged out. Taking a limited number of photos was not inspiring and the grey, dull surrounds did nothing for my confidence. Eventually, I reached Britstown and waited….When Kevin eventually came in, he looked in bad shape. I have never seen him like this before, and I have seen him do a few Everests. He managed to get some food down and indicated that he would go for a sleep. It was roughly 11am. Around 2pm, I started getting nervous. He never mentioned that he wanted to sleep that long. At 3pm he made an appearance and we realised that he missed two of his alarms. The first sign of fatigue. A dropped Garmin caused havoc for around 2 hours. It would simply not switch on. The race is self-navigated and a GPS is crucial to reaching the finish. With a huge amount of luck, the device eventually rebooted, had to be set up again and the ride could go on. Roughly 5 hours longer than anticipated… The sun started to set and driving became hazardous again. I nearly collided with a few small buck and once had to stop dead in the road for a little Bugs Bunny who simply did not want to give way. When I reached Loxton at 11pm that night I was shattered. The kind people offered me a meal and I booked a room with a bed. I tried to get some sleep. Kevin arrived at 4am and left at 6am. I missed him. Not ideal with the limited opportunities to get a variety of content. With only a few farmers allowing cyclist access, it meant that I had to skip big parts of the trip at certain times. Waiting at Rv3, it was Jeannie and Heinrich who arrived first. They have only slept around 90 minutes at this point and decide to take a quick 20 min power nap. Mike arrived and decided to take a nap on a bed before heading out again. The heat got up to around 35deg and people were suffering. Riders could access water reservoirs next to the road which became a life saver on many occasions. We made our way to Sutherland and the time went by slowly. Most riders took some time to nap. Jeannie and Heinrich managed to descend Ouberg pass in daylight which gave them a massive advantage. From there we made our way to Tankwa padstal on roads that would drive anyone batty. Straight… dusty… corrugated. The day came to an end in Wellington and I was relieved to see my mate finish his challenge and achieve a goal. I must admit, I have never seen one human put up a smile every single time he was in company. Just have a look at the latest cover of Ride Magazine if you want to see what I am talking about. I was broken. The riders were smashed. I don't see myself ever doing this event. It is brutal. Congratulations to every single one of the riders that finished: you are truly special. The only problem for me now is: I can never not finish a ride, or complain that it is too long or too hot or too windy. I cannot unsee what I have seen. I have a new perspective on cycling.
  16. With over 1000km between the start in Bloemfontein and the finish in Wellington, riders charge on through the day and night non-stop, resting when they want to while passing through a number of compulsory checkpoints during their journey to the Western Cape. RMB Change a Life Academy's Sthembiso Masango showed his incredible endurance skills when he completed the gruelling 1000km Munga in sixth place overall and first development rider. Erik Vermeulen/ AdventurePhotos Following in former Academy veteran John Ntuli’s footsteps, who won the overall title in 2015, the Change a Life duo’s effort saw the Valley of Thousand Hills setup’s flag continue to fly high this year. “When they asked John for advice, he basically just told them that their backsides would get very sore!” quipped Change a Life Academy founder Martin Dreyer. “It was an incredible effort from the guys and awesome for them to be rewarded with a podium finish. “The race is more like an adventure challenge than a mountain biking race, with the guys using the 36ONE MTB Challenge earlier in the year to give them some sort of an idea on how to go about it.” The race’s non-stop, rest when you want approach made it difficult for the Change a Life pair to pace their race and Masango went out the hardest, finding himself in the lead at night fall on the first day. However a mechanical, that would plague him throughout the race, meant that he hit a rough patch mentally at that point. “Sthembiso was flying and at about 180km into the race his back wheel buckled. This meant that he had to limp his way into the first race village in Britstown. “Losing three hours on the leaders, he was ready to call it a day. We chatted, where I told him everyone goes through tough times in a big race like this and it’s how you deal with it that counts. You cannot give up. Adversity is the breakfast of Champions!” “After a good rest, a switch flicked in his head and he was off, riding like there was no tomorrow, making his way up the rankings! “He had another issue with his back tyre coming into the fourth race village in Sutherland around the 700km mark, fortunately here they managed to fix it properly. “From there he didn’t look back and powered to fifth over the line but was given a thirty minute penalty for not signing in at the race village in Loxton, but that luckily didn’t change the results,” Dreyer added. RMB Change a Life's Mazwi Smimango finished the gruelling 1000km Munga from Bloemfontein to Stellenbosch in just under four days placing him 16th overall and third in the development category. Supplied/ Gameplan Media This meant that Masango would take the development prize with team mate Smimango taking third place in that same category. “Mazwi went through similar mental challenges as Sthembiso; he wanted to call it quits too when he wasn’t feeling great with diarrhoea issues at the second race village. I told him to take as much time as he needed to recover. “After sleeping for six hours he was back on his bike and powered home to third in his division,” a proud Dreyer added. With incredibly adverse conditions to deal with as well as the unknown physical fatigue, Dreyer praised the mental strength of the pair to not only get through the race but feature so prominently as well. “The guys showed phenomenal tenacity in the face of hardship to get through such a difficult race where riders battled with tough head winds, extreme heat as well as nose bleeds. “We need to do a post-race analysis and look at where mistakes were made and what we can improve upon. But right now, the RMB CAL Zulus are resting with their feet up and the biggest grins of satisfaction on their faces, knowing the hardest race of their lives is thankfully over, until next year that is,” Dreyer added.
  17. The Martin Dreyer RMB Change a Life MTB Academy pair of Sthembiso Masango and Mazwi Smimango stepped into the unknown at the recent 2016 Munga, however the pair rode beyond themselves in the face of adversity to finish first and third in the development category at the gruelling non-stop mountain bike race. Click here to view the article
  18. What a ride! It is not just the culmination of five frenetic days of racing, but of years of planning and dreaming. Often we attribute the genesis of an idea to a single moment in time, or a specific event. But that's not the case with the Munga. Days, weeks spent on the bike on lonely trails, misty mornings, high up in forgotten country, wondering, sometimes doubting, but in the end believing. My excitement was not just for John Ntuli from the #Change A Life Academy who came over the line first, 9 hours after my predicted winning time, but also for the two Wim’s who rolled in 90 mins before the five day cut-off. John was the recipient of the “Directors Cut’ entry, the person who most personified what the Munga stands for. So for him to win the inaugural race was incredibly thrilling. I shared in their plight, the anguish, the toil in the midday sun, scorching wind, and endless bumpy roads. To see them leave each day in the early hours and push through every type of pain confirmed once again how indomitable the human spirit is. When given the right mix of compelling ingredients, and motivating moments, people will dig deeper than ever before. They will find something else, a little bit more, somewhere, and keep going. This is what the Munga ultimately is about. To the 32 riders who made it to the end, I salute you! You personify the best that is human. You stand as a beacon to the discouraged that anything is possible. In you, random people found new heroes. In a strange kind of way, your journey might just have been the spark to begin their own.Thank you for digging deep! Alex Harris
  19. It’s done. The morning after the inaugural Munga, I am feeling exhausted, somewhat relieved but thrilled! Click here to view the article
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