At 06.00 on 9 January I will start pedaling south from Cairo. I hope to reach Cape Town on 9 May, 12 000 kilometers later.
27 days to go. Why am I doing this seemingly crazy adventure?
Eight months back, post a divorce, living on my own (that’s mostly how these things work), and a little directionless as a consequence of retiring a year earlier, I chanced on the Tour d’Afrique. It’s a most remarkable bicycle ride from Cairo to Cape Town, over some four months.
I remembered some years ago seeing on TV a group riding into Cape Town, and at the time thought I could certainly do a trip like that. I followed up and found out that up to 60 people do the ride between January and May each year. 27 have signed up for the ride starting in January 2015.
Could I do it? The answer was a resolute no. Should I do it? My answer is a resolute yes! So armed with this “yes” attitude I set about registering for the ride. This was quite simple, on the web, with a smallish ‘joining fee’. Then I was introduced to a lady Shona and her husband Miguel, both of whom completed the ride in 2013. It was very interesting talking to them at a coffee shop in Greenside Johannesburg and I was soon convinced this was a must do adventure for me.
But first I had to get fit. I couldn’t find any proper training programme or minimum performance standards specific to the Tour so I set about my own method. I was fortunate to meet Gary Beneke, South African cycle champion and international-quality peddler. He put me on a stationery ergo bike, and very quickly found out that I was in an appalling physical state and certainly nowhere near good enough for the Tour ride.
Gary was not deterred and soon I had a programme: two to three months riding on flat terrain on a road bike. So off I went, as enthusiastically as a novice can be in the winter temps around the Swartkoppies in the south of Joburg. The middle of a Johannesburg winter is plain not nice … cold and windy. One of the advantages of being retired was that I could move my training out to 10 o’clock in the morning to pick up a little warmth and I managed around two hours riding every second day.
I am not blessed with a particularly light build, but continued to haul it along, in the cold, mostly with great difficulty. Then I met a dietitian, Karen Paquay, who started advising me how to eat.
Karen pre-dated Tim Noakes with regards to cutting out almost all carbohydrates and I quite enjoyed this change in my eating habits and the way it started to show in my weight. With Gary’s riding programme and Karin’s diet I dropped some twelve kilograms.
Next I headed to Cadence classes. These are run on stationery bikes using Watt Meters to measure performance. It’s a very intense process with lots of feedback on your performance. The classes got me focused … particularly on the pain.
I was doing fine but somehow … stupidly … contrived to stop all my training for about two months, only getting back into my routine in late September. My riding had slowly started to improve and I began including Sunday mountain bike riding in my training.
But still no answer to the question ‘Why’.
In my younger days, I spent a year in SA army parabats. It was physically very tough but as in many things perspiration and resolve can compensate for lack of any real talent. I completed the full parabat course and I admit that forty years later the glow of that success still lingers. Unfortunately over the same forty years my life style caused a steady build up in my weight.
The Tour d’Afrique seems the ideal ’fat camp’. I’ll be away from most eating temptations and I’ll be riding an average of about 120 kilometers almost every day. Ideal partners if you’re looking for a dramatic improvement in fitness and a drop in weight.
How has the training been going? Since my two months off, progress has been slow and steady. I can now train seven days a week, made up of five hard (for me) Cadence sessions, from six to seven every morning, a Saturday Cycle Lab club ride of between 40 and 70 kilometers, and a Sunday fun MTB ride of about three hours. I can feel it’s working.
I don’t gasp for breath as I used to and there’s a certain satisfaction in powering up a hill with legs that no longer feel as if they will fall apart at the next pedal stroke. In the next couple of weeks I’ll include a five to six hour ride on the Sunday… and lots of sleep! I think one of the keys to surviving the Tour will be good sleep.
A typical day will be to to ride from six in the morning to about three o’clock in the afternoon; put up my tent (forgot to say I’ll be camping for the 4 months of the ride); allow time for bike cleaning and maintenance; followed (I hope) by a two hour afternoon nap, supper and a good eight-hour sleep before the next day…when I’ll do it all over again.
We ride in blocks of 4, 5 or 6 days between rest days. I have to admit to some trepidation about the first section from Cairo…6 days riding before the first rest day…
The first month I do not intend anything fast or quick; it will be about acclimatizing. Months two and three will be stamina building. The last month I intend to go at it hard, arriving bright, skinny and very fit in Cape Town. Well that’s the plan…
Am I nervous, definitely yes! It’s a big physical test. In the past I’ve risen to the occasion: never top of the class but also never last. I expect the same again!