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Having fun, writing about the stuff I like

Nils Flaatten – Prepare for the second half

Oscar Foulkes May 11, 2018 Adventures of Re- No comments
While waiting for my coffee shop meeting with Nils Flaatten, I was eavesdropping on a financial adviser running his client through her expected financial position at age 65. It was more than a little sobering to process the numbers. It’s a good thing I don’t have any retirement aspirations!

Nils has intimate knowledge of casting around for new opportunities, having spent two years looking for his next big idea.

His advice to me was simple: “Look at your swim lane.” In other words, what are your fields or skills, and is there a way of finding an overlap between them? This would admittedly be the more conservative way of approaching this kind of situation than an outright fresh start in a completely new direction/lane. People in the tech world would describe this as a ‘pivot’. The rest of us will just say that someone has reinvented themselves.

His observation, also, is that for all its apparent economic vibrancy, the Western Cape is a difficult space in which to launch new ventures.

He went to great lengths to illustrate how shallow one’s ‘network’ can be. If one starts the process expecting little of the network there is less room for resulting disappointment (if not outright depression). Having said this, ‘the network’ is a useful route to “adjacent possibilities” as described in this interesting TED Talk.

Nils asked me some key questions, the first of which related to the kind of financial buffer I might have. In other words, how long before the money runs out? It’s not something one likes to think about, but it’s an important parameter.

His second question was as direct, although it dealt with a different aspect of this process: “What are you going to do at 10.00 on a Monday morning?” In other words, the school run is finished, you’ve possibly had a coffee with someone at 8.00, and now you’re back home.

This partially relates to active recovery, but it’s also about warding off boredom, isolation and depression.

Nils disagreed with me saying that I was hitting the reset button, making the point that this was more a recalibration for the second half of my life. In fact, with us living productive lives for much longer (not to mention the likelihood of our retirement savings not lasting) we have to keep preparing ourselves for the economies of the future.

He asked me if I listen to podcasts, and then proceeded to recommend Reid Hoffman’s Masters of Scale.

When I mentioned that I’d thought of blogging my experiences during this process, he suggested that I name it Adventures of Re- (with apologies to Ravi Naidoo for appropriating his concept).

The prefix “re-“ is attached to a bunch of neat words that fit in with the concept of making a fresh start. Given the progression of the morning, you might think that “retirement” is a negative slant on things.

However, I invite you to look at the etymology of “retire”, which has French origins:
re- (back)
tirer (draw/pull)
So, withdraw.

In French, a corkscrew is un tire-bouchon (in other words, draw/pull the cork, which relates to the Afrikaans kurktrekker).

I like the idea of looking at the years leading up to reTIREment as a pulling of the cork in order to release something beautiful. Perhaps, despite our failing bodies, parts of us can get better with age. Just like wine.

Swimming Pool Lane, a photograph by Skip Nall

Swimming Pool Lane, a photograph by Skip Nall

Heather Parker: Living with purpose

Oscar Foulkes May 8, 2018 Adventures of Re- No comments
I met Heather Parker the journalist more than 20 years ago. Having fulfilled a variety of roles in publishing, by the age of 47 she reached a point where journalism had become a dead end for her. Not because possible avenues had closed off, but to borrow from HD Thoreau, she felt she had “sucked out all the marrow of” journalism. Or perhaps it was in danger of sucking the marrow out of her.

She then started an executive MBA at an age when her friends were starting to think about taking their feet off the gas. Instead, she entered what could have been the eve of retirement in full generative mode.

If ever there was a ‘pivot’, this was it. I thought that she would be a prime candidate for offering guidance on the process of ‘taking a fresh look’.

Far from launching straight into prescriptions, she opened with a beautiful affirmation. Much of our hour together involved so much of her listening empathetically that it took me a while to pull together the bits of guidance that she dropped into the conversation (and I have no doubt that there are important bits I haven’t held onto).

This was as much about me reconnecting with my positive energy as it was about her sharing wisdom. It was a master class in how to handle someone coming to you for help.

One of her major themes was doing stuff in the final third of our lives that draws together – and honours – the first two-thirds.

Following on from this was the need to put a stake in the ground with respect to how our output is valued. ‘Not settling’ also applies to the new direction we decide to follow.

It is easy to become shrill about matters of being monetarily valued, but she was being assertive in the most gentle way possible.

She spoke about the need to share the lessons we’ve learned; to enrich the lives of those around us.

Heather introduced me to Otto Scharmer’s concept of the “emerging future”. Without having read his book, the next best way of sharing this with you is this paragraph from Patrick McNamara’s review of Leading from the Emerging Future on Kosmosjournal.com:

“At the core is a shift of the interior condition of the leader. That is a shift of perspective—connected to source, sensing the emerging future and letting go of fighting the old system. It’s about shifting the place from where we operate so there is increased awareness, a stronger sense of purpose, and an intuitive notion of what is emerging … Another critical component is the way [the] model includes all stakeholder groups and integrates across multiple sectors—engaging the whole system with an intention to serve the highest good of all.”

Heather spoke about an exercise she likes to do annually to ensure she’s on the right path, and sent me the diagram that forms the basis of it (alongside). This is a difficult process at the best of times (I can attest to that!), so it’s great to have a neat way of corralling one’s thinking on the issue.

After an hour, Heather Parker the coach excused herself for a meeting with an aspirant journalist seeking career guidance. The young woman was radiating eagerness. How interesting, I thought, for Heather to move on to that particular type of glow, having helped dust off the gleam on a patina worn by my 51 years of living.

I'd love to credit whoever's original work this is, but I've been unable to find any such reference on the interwebs (and it seems other people are similarly confounded).

I’d love to credit whoever’s original work this is, but I’ve been unable to find any such reference on the interwebs (and it seems other people are similarly confounded).

AfrikaBurn: Great for ‘Re-‘

Oscar Foulkes May 3, 2018 Adventures of Re- No comments
It seemed appropriate to be going to AfrikaBurn in the first month of my ‘fresh look’. People’s experiences and perceptions of the event vary, so I’m going to stick with my perspective (you can read my previous AfrikaBurn posts here and here).

My observation is that it’s a space in which judgement is suspended. While it may be completely divorced from so-called reality, that’s a big part of the appeal.

There are people who fly to Tankwa, but there’s something to the final 120km driven on dreadful gravel roads. I’ve described the drive as akin to a birthing process, in which one is delivered into an alternative reality.

Much of what happens at Tankwa wouldn’t happen in a regular day in the city. It’s space in which to play, to explore, and to reconnect with parts of ourselves that have been inhibited. I think it’s relevant that getting there is difficult.

This was my fifth AfrikaBurn. While there have been differences in my experiences, the one common feature is that I generally find myself experiencing stuff on an emotional level. And it’s not necessarily predictable what those emotions might be.

I had primed my brain to use this time to explore alternative scenarios for myself. I don’t know if there was much action in that regard, but it certainly was four days of decompression.

One of the highlights was dancing on the far edge of the playa as the sun was setting on a beautiful day and an almost-full moon was rising on the opposite side of the desert.

I’ve returned feeling refreshed and relaxed, with a sense of creativity I haven’t had for a long time. The first days back have also been hugely productive, in that I’ve written three different pieces, comprising nearly 4000 words.

As far as ‘Adventures of Re-‘ are concerned, AfrikaBurn would be a double thumbs-up. I’m loving this feeling of being energised.

AfrikaBurn-style cycling kit

AfrikaBurn-style cycling kit

Like a bat out of hell

Oscar Foulkes April 23, 2018 Uncategorized No comments
I recently realised that Meat Loaf gets hardly any airtime on radio. Well, not the broader range of his epic, almost operatic, balls-to-the-wall rock marathons. I suppose the issue is that they are ‘marathons’ and not neat little numbers that fit into three minutes with a couple of repeats of the chorus. In the spirit of research I did a 150-minute ride while streaming his music, and ever since then I can’t get the raise-the-dead chorus of Bat Out Of Hell out of my head.

Since Thursday last week my brain has been similarly active, getting to grips with the experience of riding the Santa Cruz Blur. When I took delivery of the Tallboy in December, I knew that a top secret, super-light marathon bike was on its way. The timing didn’t quite work out for us to ride Cape Epic on Blur, but I’m pleased I had that time to bond even more closely with the Tallboy.

I felt extremely conflicted to hand it over in anticipation of the Blur taking its place, because, well, Tallboy. That bike just takes whatever you throw at it in its stride (assuming that a bike could have a stride, of course).

While waiting for the Blur to arrive, I was back on Yeti for a couple of weeks, which gave me a gradual transition. The Yeti is a bit lighter than Tallboy, and the Blur is lighter still, weighing under 10kg.

It might be an exaggeration to say that Newton’s Second Law rules my life, but not by much. The weight carried by racehorses (i.e. jockey plus saddle and any lead added to get up to the weight the horse has been allocated to carry) has a measurable drag effect. Over 1600m this equates to 2 lbs per length (approximately 8 foot), which gets scaled in either direction. So, the drag effect over 1200m is 3 lbs per length, and 3200m is 1 lb per length. Weight also enters the equation via weight-for-age (WFA), whereby horses of different age are allocated different weights to make up for the difference in maturity (younger horses carry less weight).

Similarly, a lighter bicycle enables you to go faster while expending the same effort, or to take it a little easier and still ride at the same pace. So, my post-Epic rides on Yeti delivered a bunch of new PRs on sections that were flat or uphill. I wasn’t necessarily a slow coach on the descents, but I had to think about it a lot more than when riding Tallboy.

Then I rode the Blur. I purposely rode the same routes as I’d ridden with the Yeti. The times improved again, and not by marginal degrees. By a lot. I smashed my remaining 2015 PRs, from when I had close to 100% of my breathing capacity (and I was still in my 40s).

If this seems like vanity, please forgive me, but there is another angle to this. I could be taking advantage of the bike’s lightness to save effort. Making climbs easier is the reason why people ride ebikes. The Blur effect might be low on the scale of percentage power provided by an ebike, but up to a point it does the same job.

Riding the Blur, compared with the other bikes I’ve ridden, is like putting your car into Sport mode. It’s just so responsive to even gentle turns of the crank. And, of course, if you put the hammer down it flies. When you feel you want to take a little break on a climb, the bike’s lightness enables you to expend less energy getting to the top.

That it’s lighter and faster is measurable. The rest of what follows is my experience/opinion. I’m not a pro rider, so bear that in mind when reading my comments on the experience of riding the Blur.

If you’ve ever sat on a racehorse in full training (i.e. fit and geed up) you’d have some sense of the feeling that absolutely anything can happen at a moment’s notice. Plus, looking down on the horse’s muscular neck between the reins accords with the sleekness of the Blur’s design.

Following on the experience of bonding very closely with Tallboy, it’s not unexpected that I’d be looking at the Blur’s descending capabilities first. Coming from a stable that has downhill in its DNA, I knew it would be there.

Thus far, I haven’t ridden really sketchy trails, but on everything I’ve done thus far, it’s been quick on downhills as well. The difference is that I found myself being more conscious of using body weight to keep everything under control. It’s definitely a more cerebral experience, in the sense of me having to think more about what I’m doing.

Which brings me to the tyres. The standard kit for Blur is 2.25 inch tyres. I’m a big fan of riding 2.35, because one can ride them softer. It took me a little while to get in tune with the rhythm of riding the Blur (i.e. for my body to adapt to the point of being able to subconsciously anticipate how the bike is going to respond to the trail). Now I just want more of it.

I started off questioning Santa Cruz’s choice of 2.25 over 2.35, because I think the wider tyres ridden at lower pressure will give a better ride. However, the 2.25s give more than enough traction, and one does get used to the slight bit of extra bounce of the harder tyres on rocky sections (I think I’m still going to change the tyres, though).

I love how responsive the bike is to small shifts in body weight, especially on twisty-turny trails.

The Blur’s single lock-out for both shocks works well, leaving the bike pretty much as rigid as a hardtail, for times when one is out of the saddle.

I’ve done a bit of comparing of Tallboy and Blur, which isn’t entirely fair, because they are built for slightly different purposes. They are both great bikes, it just depends what kind of riding you want to do. Which is not to say that there isn’t crossover – we had a great Epic on Tallboys, and there will be plenty of casual trail riders picking the Blur because it’s easier to ride up hills.

The Blur experience is more racehorse than rock music, but it goes like a bat out of hell.

Blur comes in matt black, and this fetching tomato red (pic: Forrest Arakawa)

Blur comes in matt black, and this fetching tomato red (pic: Forrest Arakawa)

On a racehorse, anything can happen, or in this case a Thoroughbred stallion. This was me in my early 20s (the mountains in the background were part of the 2018 Epic route).

On a racehorse, anything can happen, or in this case a Thoroughbred stallion. This was me in my early 20s (the mountains in the background were part of the 2018 Epic route).

Ravi Naidoo: Life of Re_

Oscar Foulkes April 17, 2018 Adventures of Re- 1 comment
I shouldn’t have expected anything less than supercharged inspiration from my hour-and-a-bit with Design Indaba founder Ravi Naidoo.

In reference to my ‘fresh look’, I observed that I’ve come across many men my age taking a sabbatical with a view to starting something new. However, it seems that this isn’t always a period in which new directions flourish.

Ravi’s view is that many have left corporate life, so the absence of defined structure or direction turns into a problem. On the other hand, entrepreneurial types live the life of modern day hunter-gatherers. It’s not to say that this group doesn’t experience difficulty in the face of not being able to kick-start that fresh beginning, but it’s more ‘normal’ to be hustling for opportunities.

In chatting about the implications of this downtime, I painted the picture of the stereotypical wait for the telephone to ring.

Ravi spoke about the value of ‘active recovery’. He was referencing weight training, but there was active recovery throughout my cycling training, so the concept struck a chord with me.

In essence, recovery from intense training sessions requires some kind of appropriate activity, not complete rest.

The implication for this ‘fresh look’ period is that one should remain active, even if it’s volunteer work. For inspiration we could also be immersing ourselves in new experiences.

Finally, Ravi introduced the concept of “Life of Re_”, which has wide-ranging implications. To quote from the YPO conference he is organising with that theme:

“In the tech world, software is in perpetual beta, never fully finished, constantly updated. As newly minted digital citizens, this is a process we could emulate. To live La Vida Beta. By leaning forward optimistically into the future to re-skill, re-tool, re-boot, re-invent. Welcome to the Life of Re_. A new way of being. A life of constant upgrade and improvement.”

It’s all about words that start with “re-“.

phone

Introducing a new theme

Oscar Foulkes April 16, 2018 Adventures of Re- No comments
This blog started as a repository of writings about things that give me pleasure; alternatively subjects that are covered ‘at my pleasure’. Eating and drinking featured, for obvious reasons.

2015 was a particularly barren year, and then 2016 kicked off with a few posts about the experience of being ‘treated’ for cancer with radiotherapy (absolutely no pleasure in that!). I led straight into two years of sharing my experience of training for – and riding – Cape Epic. Reading the blog is optional, of course, but there wasn’t much for people that weren’t interested in following the journey of a person willfully putting himself through a tough time (that journey has been covered by others here and here, if you want a quick snapshot; alternatively follow this tag on my blog).

The central theme over more than 12 years, though, is me sharing personal experience. There are times that I tend to rush where angels fear to tread, which can result in some ‘interesting’ experiences. There’s always learning involved, but seeing as I’m as happy learning by experience as getting told stuff, this is not a bad thing.

Which brings me to the experiences that I’m expecting to provide the theme for blog posts for the foreseeable future. As a result of parts of the family business downsizing, I am voluntarily without structured employment.

I’m using this as an opportunity for ‘taking a fresh look’. It’s also a prime opportunity to catch up with people I’ve been meaning to see, but have just not got around to. Getting guidance on this ‘fresh look’ thing wasn’t the objective, but the first few interactions have spontaneously yielded such great insights that I have to share them.

I should add that my daughter, in her final year of undergraduate study, is on the lookout for productive internship or part-time employment, and my matric son is having to make decisions about what to do next year. So, while I’m in a different position on the ‘life curve’, all three of us are going through a similar process.

Updates to follow…

One cannot talk about making fresh starts without referencing Oh, The Places You’ll Go.

Epic 2018: Hoarse Power

Oscar Foulkes March 26, 2018 Cape Epic No comments
Every Stage of Epic, whether long or short, has its own challenges. In the case of the final one, from Wellington to Val de Vie, the pressure point was doing more than half the day’s climbing in the first 18km. Piet and I had agreed that we’d ride this at a manageable pace, expecting to suffer for anything up to two hours, and then see what we’ve got left in the tank.

I woke up on the Sunday morning noticing that my legs were considerably less painful than they’d been all week. Good start.

We were also blessed with a cool start to the day, thanks to overnight drizzle and remaining cloud cover. Also good.

Due to the obscene amount of climbing, the start operated as batches of three groups all going off together. It wasn’t long before we got into the climbing. I need to understand the phenomenon a bit better, but there is something quite different to the pain at the start of a day than at the end. To take my mind off it, in my head I replayed a video I’d been sent the day before, of Sergeant Hardy taking a roll in the sand (posted on my Instagram account).

The top of the Hawequas climb is just below Du Toitskloof Pass, which is a long way up when you look at it from the perspective of the valley floor, and the slopes are steep. There was a group of drummers at the end point of the climb, who could be heard from a long way away. That was cool.

Due to traffic on the descent, we couldn’t make as much use of the free miles as we might have wanted to, but at least we were no longer climbing. Shortly after the first water point there was another significant climb, and then we were into a route profile one could describe as rolling hills.

From the second water point to the end was a distance of about 30km. However, the final bit was all downhill or flat, so we effectively had just over 20km to the end. Once again, I was like a horse on its way back to the stable. I didn’t mind taking the pain of riding hard on hills, because they weren’t long climbs, and were followed by descents. This was not only recovery time, but also additional opportunity to pass other riders, especially when the terrain was making them think about what lines to take.

We may have passed 50 or more teams between the second water point and the top of the final climb. I was in the red, but unlike the previous stage when I had desperately been clinging to Piet’s back wheel, this time I was setting the pace (being in the driver’s seat does make a difference). I suspect I may not have been able to do it if that stretch had all been on the flat. The undulations gave me recovery time, and letting the Tallboy loose on the downhills got the adrenaline going.

Then we reached the section I’d been waiting for since the start of Epic. The Land Rover Technical Terrain for Stage 8, called Bone Rattler, is a zig-zag descent that ends at the entrance to Pearl Valley. The terrain of the final zags comprises rocks of varying sizes, up to baby head and slightly bigger. I pedalled hard at the top of the hill to get momentum, pointed the Tallboy, and released brakes. The bike is made for that stuff, and handled beautifully.

Then it was just a case of getting across the finish line.

Last year, Piet pulled me up Franschhoek Pass. Over the final 20km I was just going through the motions. It made a big difference to reach the end of Epic feeling the strongest I’d felt all week. If this isn’t proof of Erica Green’s excellent coaching then I don’t know what is.

On every stage, we moved up the GC, ending just below mid-point in the field. Considering that my participation was in doubt 10 days before the start, and that the final month of preparation was interrupted by injury, I’m delighted with the outcome. But regardless of GC position, it was a great week on the bike.

However, it’s not just about the bike. Cape Epic is a team sport, and as a partner Piet is investment grade. My top tip for people contemplating Epic is to make sure you have the right partner. I don’t know how one assesses this stuff in advance, because I got lucky.

Of course, none of this would be possible without my family completely embracing this project, and giving me the support and time to do it. Thank you!

P.S. Being a noisy breather, especially when the going gets tough, results in a wide range of comments from other riders. At the top of a particularly difficult climb this week, Piet asked me how I was. “I’m breathing”, was my answer, indicating that at that point I was capable of the bare minimum of biological activity to sustain life. The sounds of my laboured breathing suggested I was inhaling more than my fair share, because quick as a flash, a rider close by pipes up: “Leave some oxygen for us!”

Team Hoarse Power (pic: Amanda Bloch)

Team Hoarse Power (pic: Amanda Bloch)

Epic 2018: Fun Day

Oscar Foulkes March 24, 2018 Cape Epic No comments
We’ve made a point of riding relatively conservatively to ensure that we don’t blow up on the early stages. However, whatever we kept in reserve was liberally distributed over the Wellington landscape this morning. Piet rode with a sense of urgency from the moment we rolled across the start line. It would not be inaccurate to say that he was in a ‘galloping mood’. I was solidly in the red all day, as I desperately clung to his back wheel (or as close as could be described as being on his wheel).

Descents were the only time I was able to recover just a little, and then Piet would unceremoniously toss me straight back into the pain cave.

We did a total of 2000m of climbing, so there was a lot of lung busting going on, but I do need to make special mention of a climb called the Green Mamba, which is a similar gradient to the final part of the Big Tree climb to Tafelberg Road, except that it’s 1.6km long instead of 200m.

The Green Mamba climb was just after the first water point, which we reached soon after the sublime experience of riding down the 2.5km Rollercoaster without any traffic to slow us down. For a few minutes I was able to forget all the hardships that Cape Epic has thrown at us this week.

We also rode large sections of the Welvanpas singletrack, although not in the usual configuration. I need to make special mention of the True Grit section, which is a very rocky piece of singletrack that runs behind the old stables on Doolhof.

Completely coincidentally, we entered it just behind another team in which both riders were also on Santa Cruz. Given that every second bike on Epic is a Specialized of some description, this was a rare sight. True Grit is Tallboy territory – there were a couple of times that I picked the least ideal of the lines available to me (read: should have ended in a fall), but I got through fine.

Much of the singletrack we’ve ridden this week (especially getting to, and from, Worcester) was just hard work. The trails were rode today were a heap of fun. We worked for the downhill fun in the climbing we did, but this sport is called mountain biking, after all.

Thanks to Piet’s pacesetting, we had our best stage finish, and crept a few more spots up the GC. The main thing, though, is that we had fun and finished in one piece, ready for the final push to Val de Vie.

Screen Shot 2018-03-24 at 3.59.33 PM

Epic 2018: This ain’t no party

Oscar Foulkes March 23, 2018 Cape Epic No comments
When the 2018 Epic route was announced, there must have been widespread rejoice at the 39km of Stage Five. A chorus of “rest day!” was heard in coffee shops around the land (you know, the ones that have so many bikes parked against railings that access is nigh impossible).

Then reality started sinking in. Almost all the 1430m of climbing in the first 28km, with the final dose being delivered by way of the Seven Peaks trail. There’s a cut-off time of slightly over four hours. And don’t forget that it’s coming immediately after roughly 450km over four consecutive days.

Today dawned bright and clear. Neither cloud nor breeze made an appearance to mitigate the effects of late summer sun in the oven that is Wellington. The top riders set off in the relative coolth soon after sunrise. Our start time (9:58) ensured that we would finish at around 1:00, in the heat of the day.

All I did was walk to the start, and sweat was already pouring off me. Riders huddled in scant shade, desperate to remain cool for as long as possible.

We rolled off the start line, pedalling out of the race village at a sedate pace. The brief from Coach Erica was not to ride on heart rate, but rather on ‘feel’ (every day on Epic drops riders’ heart rates a little). The first little climb on tar was hard on the legs, and then we entered farmland. The climbs came thick and fast, with too-brief recovery flats and descents in between. We more-or-less stuck to the plan of keeping it conservative, but many of those ‘testers’ were so steep that effort was required to get up them. I was in too much discomfort to feel gratified that the effort was translating into passing teams that had started ahead of us.

By the time we covered 18km we’d already climbed 900m. In the words of Talking Heads:
This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco
This ain’t no fooling around

I drained two bottles before we hit the water point at 20km. There was temporary respite, and then the climbing started all over again.

Seven Peaks may be one of the most depressing climbs in the Western Cape, because every time you round a corner, thinking that you’ve finally beaten this thing, you see riders on the hillside above. It’s relevant to point out that the chain of riders takes the form of a zig-zag reaching up the mountainside. You just know you’re in for a tough time.

Suffering eventually comes to an end. We reached the top, and then descended via Cool Runnings, eventually getting to the finish roughly three hours after starting.

We continued our pattern of gaining GC positions on every stage. We’re now halfway in the Grand Masters, but I can’t see us getting to halfway on the overall GC.

This week has flown, probably because of the length of stages one to four. Basically, our days have consisted of waking up early, eating breakfast, getting everything ready to start riding, and then riding until early afternoon. Thereafter, it’s a rush to hydrate and eat, drop bikes for wash and service, shower, followed by rest. By this time it’s supper, and bedtime is soon thereafter. Repeat for four days.

Tomorrow and Sunday are cooler days, which is a blessing, because Wellington and Paarl can get really hot. While both days are significantly shorter than stages one to four, we have 2000m of climbing on both days. Knowing how steep the mountains are around here makes me aware of the need to respect what awaits.

Just one of many climbs today (pic: Greg Beadle/Cape Epic)

Just one of many climbs today (pic: Greg Beadle/Cape Epic)

Epic 2018: Hou bene, hou

Oscar Foulkes March 22, 2018 Cape Epic No comments
I wrote yesterday about the spectators along the route. The majority of them have some kind of vested interest in the race, but given the routing through farms and past schools, at various points we also have the wives and children of farm workers. Apart from the kids pleading for “sweeties”, the standard chorus of encouragement is “hou bene, hou.”

The translation is something along the lines of “hold legs, hold” or “last legs, last.”

Legs were top of mind for me last night. Every time I moved in my sleep I could feel my legs complaining about being forced to pedal me around the Cape Epic course. I couldn’t imagine how I was going to get through the Queen Stage.

The first 10km this morning were mostly on the flat, and were done at quite a lick. First we were on a stony gravel road, mostly riding into the wind. Then we were on a tar road, and then back onto gravel, before entering vineyards.

One of the strengths of Piet on a bicycle (there are numerous) is his ability to ride strategically, especially in picking riders to sit behind. The windy conditions made that a necessity, and we got pulled along very nicely.

Once in the vineyards, we started hitting sand patches. Riding through them is also a ‘technical’ skill (although not often on riders’ practice schedules). We managed to negotiate them fairly well, passing many riders in the process.

Erica’s Epic Intervals were designed with the Goudini-Slanghoek section in mind, but I thought they were particularly useful in helping my legs deal with the particular type of pedalling required in sand.

The route deviated into numerous singletrack sections on the mountainsides between Rawsonville and the start of Bain’s Kloof. They were mostly rocky, sandy and unsculpted, resulting in slow progress. A lot of walking was being done.

As expected, the singletrack climb (and descent) starting at Goudini Spa was extremely tough, and also took a long time to get through. There was a welcome water point soon after this, and then the route (once again) took a detour up a gratuitous hill with gnarly terrain. The gnarliness continued until the final waterpoint at the base of Bain’s Kloof, and then the slog started.

Yes, it was on tar, and the gradient isn’t steep, but it seemed to take forever to get to the top. At various points we had a stiff head wind. Eventually we crested (slightly earlier than indicated by the route profile, which must be a first for Cape Epic). Due to head winds, we were having to pedal quite hard to get some speed on the downhill.

About halfway down, we were diverted onto a big gravel descent above Doolhof. Piet graciously let me lead, and in the exhilaration of the descent, I seemed to find my mojo again. It helped that we started overtaking other teams for the first time since starting the Bain’s Kloof climb.

We reached Welvanpas with less than 10km to go, and then had to do some more climbing. With about 5km to go, it seemed all downhill (well, there was a steep descent just ahead of me). At this point, the Tallboy took charge, especially when it spotted another couple of teams just ahead.

Without turning to check with Piet that he was fine with it, I sped up (or, as he put it me at the finish, I behaved like a racehorse that knows it’s headed for home). We passed those riders, and then close to the finish I spotted another few teams ahead. By now, all aches and pains were forgotten; in a completely misdirected and pointless moment of flamboyance I sprinted for 364th position, which is a big improvement on all our stage finishes thus far. Partnership counseling isn’t a premium service currently offered by Cape Epic, but if there were I’d be signing up tonight.

My top tip to average Epic riders (like us) is to start conservatively, and to just ride at a comfortable, steady pace. Thanks to this – and Piet’s strategic riding – we’ve consistently gained positions on every stage since Prologue.

The Time Trial tomorrow will be interesting, and then we have two stages that are more sensible in length.

Hou bene hou!

The route profile.

The route profile.