Cape Argus Pick-N-Pay Cycle Tour

Feeling has returned to my left palm and I can finally sit again, without pain, so, a few days late, I’m writing about the big race. In case you are wondering how it turned out, forgive me for making you wait. The night before the big race, as dedicated cyclists do, we gorged on pasta. Adrenalin levels were high at our table of 9. Six of us because we were riding the next day: 3 (excited): Charles, his brother Dave & son Vaughan (veterans of the race); 3 (nervous) Caitlin, Charles and Shona’s daughter, a first-timer along with Curtis and me.  During dinner, Shona (The best spectator, cheering section, supporter in the whole world), her sis-in-law, Les, and Caitlin’s roomie and family friend, Claire, the rooting section, plotted where they’d watch us from and how they’d get there.

Claire made a sign cheering us on.

Before dawn we lined up with our group for the start. Charles and his cousin, Donald, pros (especially after their recent 1700 km ride) were in an earlier group. Vaughn, being local, started an hour later. The rest of us were in the International Group with start times of 7:47 for the AA Group and 7:51 for the BB Group. Dave and I were in the AA group but decided to ride in the BB Group with everyone else: Caitlin, Dave, Dave and Charles’ cousin Robert and his dad, John (76 years old) and Curtis.

Spirits were high at the start line. While waiting, riders chatted and lined-up at the Porta-potty for “nervous pees”.

Up ahead we could hear music and cheering for performing flag girls, etc. But we couldn’t see them. All we could see was the giant sign and a sea of bikes and backs.

At the Starting Gun Shot, we expected the crowd to shoot forward—but no one moved. Cycles in mass do not zoom out the way horses or cars do. We stood there, waiting for the crowd in front to begin cycling.

A kilometer later I crossed the start line. The pedals worked, the crowd spread out. As we rode over the timing mattes, Caitlin and I exchanged grins. We had done it! We were riding in the Argus—the largest individually timed cycle race in the WORLD!!!!

Five minutes later—maybe less—we started on our 1st uphill. A long, steady incline up and over the highway overpass. I hated Charles just then. Hated him for suggesting we ride. Hated him for making it sound like fun! It will be over “just now” I told myself, pushing hard on the pedals. “Just now” is a misleading South African term. “Just now” can either mean a little earlier (little being anything from days before to hours or minutes before) or it can mean a little later (as in minutes, hours or days from now.) “Just now” never means now, this minute, as everyone else in the English speaking world would assume, South Africans say “Now now” for that. As in, I’ll get on with my story now now…

When Charles was riding the charity ride, he told us they began every day by saying, “this is a ride, not a race.” The Argus is a race and everyone we knew was riding it that way. That’s how we started out, too. But after that first long, horrid uphill, while coasting down on the glorious downhill. I fought the urge to pedal, the way everyone around me was doing and enjoy. I was not going to race.

So, I stopped to take photos of the magnificent route.

I stopped to photograph other cyclists. Especially those in costume.



I stopped to photograph the first-aid tent. Two guys with matching injuries sharing stories.

The oldest cyclist in the race, Japie Malan (91), fell on a steep downhill after Chapman’s Peak, and had to be immobilized and helicoptered out. (He’s in the hospital now and doing well.) I stopped for a neck and lower back massage. I expected my legs to hurt. But no, pedaling wasn’t the problem; neither was breathing. I could have pedaled a hundred kilometers more but… What I wasn’t used to was bending over handle bars, clutching the handlebars. And keeping my feet in the stirrups (the little toe on my right foot kept cramping…go figure???)

I stopped to refill my water bottles, to sample BarOne Candy Bars (2 of them), to potty (I won’t show that photo).

I took lots of drive-by photos of the crowds lining the race route. One section before the next to the last hill of the race was lined with pink “breast cancer awareness” balloons and pink-shirted spectators. Families picnicked along the road, barbecuing, toasting, cheering and clapping, with signs and banners, chants and encouragement.

I had a grand time photographing the crowds— and they loved seeing me photographing them—but photo-wise it wasn’t good. Lesson learned: trying to take one-handed photos while pedaling and bumping along the road results in fuzzy photos.

One drive-through photo turned out brilliantly: THE FINISH LINE! I rode in 6 hours and 29 minutes, 111 kilometers after the start!

Curtis rode in an hour later! We were all waiting to cheer him in! We did it!

Would we ride the Argus again?

Curtis didn’t say “no” he said… “Hell, no.”


Easy as Riding A Bike

Whoever coined the phrase "Easy as Riding A Bike" must have been talking about a vintage bike with one speed, a banana seat, basket and a bell.. Friday we registered for The Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour--109 kilometers along the South African Cape--the largest individually timed cycle race in the world-the race. Pretending more than 6 years hasn't passed since our last bike ride, Curtis and I sauntered up to the registration counter to claim our race numbers: I'm in the AA Group: start time 7:47 am; Curtis is in the BB group, starting at 7:52.

After collecting our race packets, we toured the Cycling Expo where, along with thousands of other entrants, we bought bike pants, gloves, socks, energy drinks, gels & candies. (Charles made us.) Just touring the exhibits was so exhausting we had to stop for snacks...

Today, we took our bikes for a test spin….in my case a wobble. I tried to ride my bike out of the B&B courtyard, swerved, freaked and ran into a drain pipe. “Walk it out,” Curtis called. As if I hadn’t figured it out.

Riding a strange bike is hard enough…after so many years, I’d forgotten how to switch gears (not that I have ever been very good at it.) Do I push in the little lever on the left to switch to the big wheels? Or the big lever on the left? Is left back and right front gear—or the other way around? And which lever controls which break?

The hand signals are easy enough to remember (nice to know some lessons stick.) But one thing I didn’t reckon on is the roads. In the midst of all that shifting and gearing and signaling and turning, I have to keep to the right side of the road—which in South Africa is actually the left side…I think?

Our test drive was 4.52 kilometers long and lasted 27 minutes—which gave me an average speed of 10.3 kilometers an hour. Considering the Argus is 109 kilometers long, if all goes well, I can expect to finish in…about 10 hours. They start scooping people up and ferrying them in support vans after 7 hours…I’d better do something to improve.

Less than 12 hours to start time and I am as ready for the race as I’ll ever be…