You have recently teamed up with Qhubeka. What is your new role at the organisation?
I joined Qhubeka part-time 3 months ago to help with Events and Ambassadors and also to contribute towards marketing. My main focus is to help ensure that the events that we host are implemented properly and to liaise with fundraisers to help them achieve their fundraising goals. I had been pestering Anthony Fitzhenry, the Founder, about working with them for a long time and so it is really great to finally be able to contribute more.
Can you explain a bit about how the charity works and who benefits from it?
Qhubeka provides bicycles to individuals who earn them in various ways. The individuals who receive the bicycles are from poorer communities and the bicycles allow them easier access to school, work, health care, and also become their transport around their towns for day-to-day tasks such as visiting friends or doing the shopping. The key is that the bicycles are earned through an organized programme. The recipients have shown that they truly want the bicycles. The way that people earn them varies from going to after-school programmes to growing trees to showing leadership in their work environment, so both adults and teenagers are all able to earn the bicycles in various ways.
Photo credit: Donovon Thorne.
You like doing extreme endurance events and activities. How have you managed to pair these activities with promoting Qhubeka’s aims?
From my very first Everesting three years ago, I have always believed that if you do something that raises attention in a positive way then you should try using that to give back to a cause and, for me, Qhubeka has always been that cause. I have been lucky to do a few events now that are considered ‘not normal’ and people have been kind enough to say their 'well done' to me by donating to Qhubeka. I have seen this work in the past and will keep trying to do so in the future.
The Climbing for Qhubeka campaign will run from 29 September to 1 October. Can you explain what it is and how people can get involved or contribute?
Climbing for Qhubeka is heading into its 4th year now and has donated about 100 bicycles to Qhubeka thus far. It has traditionally been an Everesting ride but this year we have extended it to allow anyone anywhere to dedicate their weekend activity, whatever that might be, to Qhubeka.We encourage people to try and push their limits somewhat for this but it is not necessary, most of all we just want to give people an avenue to show their belief in Qhubeka and to express that to the world. Anyone can register for just $10 at www.climbingforqhubeka.org with 100% of proceeds going to the Charity and putting people on bicycles. Once registered a person can choose to ride, run, walk, hike or even throw a kids party, as my sister is doing – there is no need to do something crazy but we would like to encourage people to do something that they love and give back while doing so. We have even seen people selling t-shirts to raise funds, so the ways to contribute really have been varied.
You recently rode the Race to the Rock: a 3000-kilometre self-supported ultra-endurance race from Albany, Western Australia to Uluru in the Northern Territory. Can you tell us a bit about the experience?
What an experience, it was completely new to me and really did change my life, opening up my perception of what is possible. We started as a group of eight but were soon scattered across the route and I probably rode 2,900km of the race entirely alone without a rider in sight.It was an incredible experience to be alone in a foreign country and literally in the middle of nowhere completely by myself. The landscapes were stunning but barren and the towns were far apart, so the sensation of loneliness was very real. Initially, the loneliness was tough to deal with but eventually, you accept it and realise what a gift it is. When it is just you and your bike you really feel the land and see the beauty in it. I loved that I had the opportunity to connect with the country in such a way. The self-supported aspect was a new challenge and a great learning experience for me too. There were no organized stops and we had to rely completely on ourselves to find resupply points and then carry whatever we needed to make it to the next one. When you have to rely on what is on your bike and your ability to endure for stretches of up to 400km at a time, you learn a lot about what you can do from both a mental and physical standpoint and find new limits. Managing my body, mind, and resources over that distance was a huge challenge and one that I am proud to have succeeded at. I was also lucky to meet amazingly kind people along the way. From people who would drive past, slow down and ask if I was ok to people in the towns we stopped in helping me with information on what was ahead to people sending messages from all across the world in support of us all. I met and interacted with people from so many different backgrounds during the journey and all were kind and caring, it gives you a little more faith in humanity. That was a great experience, maybe the best part.
What draws you to events that push the limits like that?
I just like to see if I can do them really, if I am capable, and then showing people that we are capable of anything if we put our minds to it and really want it badly enough. It is not much more than those two things. I don’t feel that I need to prove anything about myself or to myself but I do like finding new limits for myself and pushing those. I also just really really love riding my bike and seeing new places while doing that and these events generally provide a great opportunity to do that.
How do you prepare for something like this? And how does the challenge compare to your normal training?
I just ride lots, try not to overcomplicate it from that aspect. These events do not require you to have incredible top-end power but you have to be able to ride at 110-120 Heart Rate forever and so I ride lots at that effort level with maybe one day of going hard on some hills each week, but mostly cause I like to do that. I generally ride 80-100 hours per month which is more than enough volume, maybe too much, so I don’t adjust that much.For each event, I will do some specificity from a nutrition standpoint though, to ensure that my body is used to the conditions it will need to work under in the event. For Race to the Rock, as an example, I knew water would be scarce and so I had to teach my body to get used to 200-300ml per hour whereas I was a big drinker during rides before. That was a big adjustment. Overall though the mental preparation is the bigger aspect, as your body will do what your mind allows it to and so I spent a lot of time on that side of things using visualization mostly as I had no experience like what I would encounter to rely on for this event.
How did your body respond to twelve days on the bike, with very little sleep in between? Is this something you can train for?
The event took me just less than 12 days. After resting into the event it took a few days to get going, to be honest, and I really only felt good from the third day onwards but then I had a really good ride once my tour legs kicked in on day five. It is a weird sensation because I am not used to resting and so I felt sluggish for a few days in the beginning but those tour legs were really good once they came around.The lack of sleep is something different to deal with, and when the sleep monsters come at you they come hard. I don’t believe in sleep-deprivation training as I think that looking after your body and getting it into the best shape possible is important pre-event and so it is something that I get better at as I do more events like this. Early on, the minimal sleep really got me, I collapsed in a bush and only just got my Bivvy out before my eyes shut on the second night, but I learnt how to manage it as the race went on. In the end, I realised that I could stave off the sleep monsters with a quick 10-minute roadside nap if it wasn’t the right spot for a proper sleep, but the need for some sleep always existed. I got about 32 hours sleep over the ride, enough I think but in future, I would try to get it in more consistent 3 hour nightly blocks if possible, the all-night riding was rough when I did it.
Give us an idea of your bike setup and the kinds of things you had to pack for the race?
I rode a rigid mountain bike with drop bars and time trial clip-on bars. At the Munga last year, my hands went numb very quickly and I wanted to delay that, which I managed to do successfully by having more ways to hold the bars than I would using just MTB bars. I also had a dynamo hub on the front wheel to charge my Amped power banks with. I also used nice wide 2.3 inch tyres to try and absorb the corrugations and rough roads as much as possible.I packed quite a bit into my Burra Burra bags. I took a Bivvy and sleeping bag liner to sleep in, warm clothes and a rain jacket, spares to fix general potential bike issues and then some extra stuff such as a vandal-proof tap head to make sure I could get water from taps without issue and spare cleats, which I thankfully didn’t need. The full pack-list was about 50-60 items.
So what’s next?
First up is Everesting Paarl Rock this weekend and then some much needed rest and recovery for a couple of weeks. After that I am not sure, but there will be something and there are some great events in and outside of Africa that I have my eye on. I hope to be healthy enough to do The Munga again, my hands need to be ‘normal’ before I will do that though. Unfortunately, the international events are quite expensive to take part in and so I think I will need to find a sponsor before I can do another.
Climbing for Qhubeka The 2017 edition of Qhubeka's ‘Climbing for Qhubeka’ campaign runs from 29 September to 1 October. For the first time, the campaign will take place globally. Registrations are now open at www.climbingforqhubeka.org.