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.”