Tales of the Great Cape Epic
by T. Brandon Clark
For a year from mid 2016 to mid 2017, I lived in New Zealand with a working holiday visa. I had quit my job after a few years in sales as I was nearing the cut-off age limit for a working holiday visa. While living in the amazing country of New Zealand, I got back into mountain biking after taking a bit of a hiatus from the sport. A gentleman named Anthony, the owner of the local bike shop in Matamata, NZ had a Yeti SB5 that he was selling. The bike had been his personal bike, but he had barely touched it, and sold it to me at wholesale cost. From the moment I got on it, I loved it, and so it came home with me. An hour away from where I was living were the legendary trails of Rotorua, where I really got to test the bike out. It was an amazing ride and I was quite satisfied with my purchase from the previous owner. Anthony had also ridden in the inaugural Pioneer Mountain Bike race in 2016. While I had no intention of riding in it, I looked on the official web-site from time to time over the next couple of months. Less than a month before it began, I saw on the site, they still needed some volunteers, so I reached out, and got accepted. I put in my two week notice after working at the Green Dragon Inn at the Hobbiton movie set for the last few months as a bartender and tour guide, and began to pack to make the journey to the pristinely beautiful South Island.
I arrived in Christchurch two days before the start of the then seven-day race across the South Island from Christchurch to Queenstown. It was also where I first learned of the Cape Epic mountain bike race in South Africa. The Epic had a booth set-up at the Pioneer. Both the Pioneer and the Cape Epic are part of the Ironman family, and make up two-thirds of the Epic series, the other one-third being the Swiss Epic. I had an absolute blast for the ten or so days I spent volunteering with the Cape Epic. A couple of months later, my working holiday visa was up, and due to a couple of unforeseen incidents, I moved back to the United States for the summer. I knew though that my travels were not over as in a few months I would be setting back out to travel as I had originally planned. I was to go back to New Zealand for a couple of weeks, and then to Australia, and then to Southeast Asia to do the somewhat classic backpacking route - Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Nepal, etc. Late in the summer, a good friend of mine called and said he knew I was going to be traveling in a few months and asked if I wanted to join him and his wife in Nairobi, Kenya to visit a mutual friend of ours living in Kenya for the 2017 into 2018 New Year’s. I thought about it for a couple of days and then said why not. So instead of going to Asia, I decided to after Australia, I would make the venture to Kenya. Knowing now that I would be in Africa in early 2018, I got thinking about the Cape Epic. While much like the Pioneer, I had no intentions of riding in it, but I got thinking about it and since I had had such a good time volunteering with the Pioneer, I thought I would reach out to the Cape Epic about volunteering. I got online in early September 2017, saw that the volunteer applications had just opened, I applied and a couple of weeks later I heard back. I was accepted to be a volunteer in the 2018 Epic. While I began to think about planning and packing, I thought ok, what next, what am I to do in the time from New Year’s until mid-March, and I also began thinking about riding in the 2019 Cape Epic? One of the benefits of being a volunteer with the Cape Epic, is that they give you a short two-week window after each year’s
race to accept an invitation and pay in full for you and your mandatory teammate’s spot. I thought well, if I was to do this, who would I want as my partner? Who did I know that was crazy enough to want to travel to South Africa and ride a mountain bike for eight days straight across the Western Cape? Well, it was a very short thought, as my good friend, Tim O’Fallon, is that person who came to mind. Tim was someone I rode with, ran with, and swam with back in college. Since then, I knew he had completed multiple half ironman’s and run a few marathons, etc. I reached out to him and told him about it. A little to my surprise, he was full-on interested in it.
A few weeks later, I was back off to New Zealand, then to Australia, and then to Africa. The only two things I knew that I was doing in Africa was spending a few days with my friends in Kenya in early January and then volunteering with the Cape Epic in mid- March. I had a ten week gap in between to fill. I began looking into volunteer teaching, safari trips, climbing Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti, Zanzibar, Victoria Falls, etc. I found a two-week volunteer gig teaching Math, English, and Science in a township of Nairobi called Kibera, which held the title of the largest slum in Africa. Before the start of teaching, I was able to get in a couple of Safari trips, one of them to Masai Mara and the other to the Serengeti. During the volunteer teaching stint, I began to look into climbing Kilimanjaro and found a seven day trip starting three days after my teaching gig was up. In short, I went, I hiked, and I summited. Both my trips to the Serengeti and hiking to the top of Kilimanjaro were fabulous trips. Later on, a trip to Zanzibar, then a two-day train ride into and across Zambia, a couple of bus rides down to Victoria Falls, a Zambezi rafting trip and sunset cruise along the upper Zambezi. A few more stops - Chobe National Park; the Okavango Delta; Zimbabwe, Johannesburg, Kruger National Park, Swaziland, Lesotho, etc. and then an overnight bus ride to Cape Town.
I volunteered with the Epic, and much like when I volunteered with the Pioneer, I had a blast, made some new friends, drank a few beers, and ended up traveling to a couple of places after the race with the people I had met. One day, about half way through the Epic, I received an e-mail from a friend that I had not talked to in a while. It was my good friend Tim. He asked where I was, how I was, and about that bike ride thing in South Africa, which he thought may be going on at the moment, but he wasn’t sure. He also reminded me he was still one-hundred percent all in for next years Epic. I responded I was well, at the Epic now, it’s going well, and will talk soon about next years Epic, once this one’s all over. After the Epic, and a couple of trips to the the Cape of Good Hope, and Stellenbosch, I reached out to Tim. After some exchanging of emails, and a bank wire, we were paid in full for the 2019 Cape Epic.
Fast forward four months to my returning to the United States. I quickly joined a local gym, signed up with a personal trainer, and began investigating GMAT prep classes. The GMAT exam was in my future as I had been planning to go back to school to get a Masters of Business Administration starting in the Fall of 2019. Shortly thereafter I got a job at the Pro Desk at a local Home Depot about eight minutes from my house, ten minutes if I caught every traffic light. The hours were good, basically bankers hours, Monday to Friday 9AM to 5PM. I couldn’t complain, and the gym was about a ten minute drive away. Pretty much every Monday through Thursday afternoon after work, I
went straight to the gym, and would do two one-hour long spin classes back to back. Friday afternoons I would do a one hour yoga class. Saturday mornings, I was back at the gym for a 9AM spin class, then a thirty minute boot-camp cross-fit style class. Sometimes there was a twelve noon spin class that I would join. Often, if the weather was good, after spending three to four hours at the gym, I would head up the road thirty minutes to my local trail and spend a few hours riding the trails there. On Sunday, the gym offered a couple of spin classes, one at 9AM, and one at 4:30 PM. I often did both, meaning two trips to the gym in a day. There were even some days, where I would make three trips to the gym. I worked with my personal trainer typically twice a week. It was good balance between all of the leg work. We focused a lot on the core and back muscles. For the next seven months this was basically my routine for training. I now had a training regimen down, I got much better about eating a well balanced diet, focusing more on whole foods, and protein heavy items, including fruit and veggie laden protein shakes. I had a good friend and solid teammate, that I knew I would have a blast sharing this experience with. The only thing I really needed now was a cross country race bike.
As I was quite a Yeti fan after having owned my SB5 now for a couple of years, the new SB100 was very appealing. I knew though, that I needed to look also at other manufacturers. I didn’t want to be just another guy opting for the Scott Spark or the Specialized Epic, because simply put they were the lightest bikes out there. While they were proven race bikes, I wanted a bike that was also fun, that felt right, and that was just comfortable to ride. After all this was a marathon of a race. I owned three older Rocky Mountains, more free-ride type bikes, so I knew I wanted to look at the Rocky Mountain Element, their dual-suspension XC race offering. It was definitely a contender, as I did do a demo ride of the Element for a couple of hours one Saturday afternoon. I demoed the earlier released Yeti SB100 a couple of times as well. The hundo just felt good, maybe I was a bit biased, as it felt very similar to my SB5. I also did a lot of research online on the bikes that I was considering. Honestly all of them had good reviews, but one thing that kept coming to mind was how every review on the SB100 mentioned it would be an ideal bike for the BC bike race, the Breck Epic, and how it was such a long distance marathon XC bike. I had also heard that it was contending for the bike of the year. I came to the decision that that was the bike that I wanted. It was not the lightest bike, but I just enjoyed the feel of it. I loved it’s handling and just found it to be comfortable, and I knew that for multi-day races, comfort was definitely something that I wanted. The next decision was finding a somewhat local bike shop that I wanted to work with, and that wanted to work with my teammate and myself. I began to look online for some of the local Yeti dealers. My local and closest Yeti dealer was not the friendliest as I had been to his shop a couple of times. I was looking at bike stores anywhere from Chattanooga, and on up into the Carolinas.
One afternoon, I called Speedshop Cycles in Anderson, SC. I told the gentleman on the phone the bike that I wanted, the wheels that I wanted, and a couple of other changes that I wanted to make. The guy that really needed to quote me was off that day, but I got a response the next day. We confirmed the details, and then in the next 48 hours or
so, I had a quote. From the get go, the price was good, it met my requests and build spec. and I could tell this shop was generally interested in working with me. They had the bike, the wheels, etc. that I wanted but also made some further recommendations as far as other products to consider. They were willing to make the changes that I wanted to the bike, which was my main concern, as it was somewhat of a custom build.
A few days later I made the trip up the road to meet Dave Qureshi, the owner, as previously I had only talked to him on the phone. We met one Friday afternoon at the shop and began talking all things bikes, but a lot about the Yeti SB100, the Cape Epic, and our team name, Rad Racing!, which we took from the 1986 BMX movie simply titled RAD!. The movie RAD! was a movie that I grew up watching often. Just about every time it was available at the local Blockbuster Video, I would make my parents rent it. It is a movie that has received just about the worst rating ever by Rotten Tomatoes, the online movie rating website, and it has been long discontinued. That said, it has somewhat of a cult status and oddly enough, it is supposedly still available in Canada.
Dave, the owner, was also a fan of the movie, and points to the TV behind him, with a stack of DVDs sitting underneath it, and says “I can make a copy of it for you”, which I am still waiting for, insert smiley face emoticon. The movie Rad! stars Bill Allen as a small town still in high school local paperboy named Cru Jones who claims the only thing he is good at is riding his bike. When the big Helltrack race comes to his town, he is compelled to enter against his mothers wishes. Cru meets his love interest, the lovely Christian Hollings, played by the actress Lori Laughlin, later of Full House fame, and most recently back in the news as having paid half a million dollars for her two daughters to be admitted into USC as rowing crew recruits even though the daughters had never before handled an oar in their lives. I’ll be honest, I had a crush on Aunt Becky back in the day, as I think most men probably did.
My best friend growing up, and his two older brothers were originally from California, but moved to the neighborhood behind my house in my home state of Georgia when they were young. When we were not attending class in elementary and middle school, we were outside spending a lot of our spare time on skateboards and BMX bikes. We would find hills in the neighborhoods to jump or build ramps out of whatever materials we could find. Between these friends, and the movie RAD!, I credit my passion to all things bikes to both of them.
Further talking with Dave turned later into discussing getting kits consisting of jerseys and bibs made through the company Jak-roo, based out of California. Another question that came up was would I be interested in having some custom wheels built for the race? Dave and Speedshop Cycles are OEM dealers for Astral wheels, handmade in Oregon, and Onyx hubs based out of Minnesota. I was more than welcome to entertain this offer and Dave would later put together the order for the wheels for Tim and myself. Dave put together two pairs of black carbon 29” Astral Hollywood rims, and some Candy Red Onyx hubs. My pair of hubs had orange accents to highlight the orange accents on my turquoise colored bike and Tim’s pair had black accents to compliment his raw carbon fibre SB100. Tim also bought an SB100 through Dave’s shop. Dave was able
to get the RAD star logo as seen in the film on Cru’s jersey etched into the hubs too, making for a really cool two pairs of a kind. Also fitted were some Yeti turquoisey-blue spoke nipples on each pair. Later, I would receive quite a few compliments on the wheels, and they performed solidly during the race.
Dave and I, working through a contact of his, went through the company Jak-roo to get jerseys and bibs made. Dave has a friend, who is a designer with Jak-roo, who was able to get her hands on the RAD! logos from the movie. As it turns out, she had worked on a previous project and already had access to the logos. I basically had an idea of how I wanted the kits to look. Red is the quintessential color of RAD!, since in the movie, Cru’s entire kit is solid red. There were a few blue and white components to it, and some small stars, and one large star on the front, the one that inspired the etched star on our hubs. We wanted some red jerseys made, but also some light gray ones for the long days in the heat. We kept it simple with black bibs. Other design components to the kits included some black and white checkerboard, reminiscent of the classic Vans shoes prevalent in the eighties, and some orange and blue tiger stripes, to represent the University that Tim and I attended, which is where we met. We also added the Yeti and the Astral logos, and the Dynaplug logo, since they mailed us some super sweet tire puncture repair tools. Thankfully, we did not need them during the race. After a handful of adjustments to the kits - adding this/removing this, change this, move this here, etc., we ordered the jerseys and they arrived almost a week before I left.
The Saturday before I left, I made the trip up I-85 to Anderson to visit the Speedshop one last time before I headed to the bottom of Africa. This was my fourth trip as Tim had been able to come up a couple of times to meet with Dave and see his shop, and meet his new bike. I should note that when my bike was assembled, Dave made the hour and a half trip down from Anderson, SC to deliver the bike to me while I was at work. The purpose of this trip up to Dave’s shop, other than just a quick tune-up of the bike, was to pick up the two pairs of custom Astral wheels and Onyx hubs that were ready for Tim and I. I currently had a pair of Santa Cruz wheels on my bike, but I wanted to switch to the new Astral wheels, which was more of a performance wheel. This meant that the tires, brake rotors, and cassette needed to be switched from the Santa Cruz to the Astral wheels.
While Dave was working on the bike, I headed over to a local restaurant for some food while I left my bike at Dave’s shop. After lunch, I went back to the shop. I put on the jersey and bibs and we took some photos of me with the bike. Dave and I next began to pack the bike shortly thereafter. Since I had spent a lot of money on a new bike and a whole lot of accessories already, I didn’t want to buy a bike specific transport box, and I don’t travel a whole lot with my bike to justify the purchasing of one. Instead, we used the finest double-walled cardboard box, a large Santa Cruz Bicycle box in this case, that we could find.
Dave and I began to break the bike apart. The handlebars, headset, seat-post, wheels, and the front fork, all came off, and all placed ever so carefully and strategically into the
box. All of the smaller components were placed in ziplock type plastic bags that jerseys had come in. Once packed in the box, I loaded the bike back into the car and drove back home.
Sunday turned out to be a day of going through all the gear of what to take and what not to take, and then carefully and strategically packing it all. I ran a couple of errands and one of them was to buy a Casio G-Shock to take as my timing companion during the ride since I did not have a GPS. The very next day, Tim came in town as he had a work conference in my neck of the woods. He was able to try on the jerseys and bibs, since they had arrived a few days before. He was able to take his kits and his wheels with him back to Florida before flying to South Africa.
My good friend Johnny, the same one that I grew up with riding bikes as mentioned earlier, gave me a ride to the airport the day of my flight. I got a great deal on a one- stop flight from Atlanta to Cape Town on Turkish Airlines. My flight was the evening of Tuesday, March 12th, leaving around 11 PM. I had a twelve hour flight to Turkey, a nine hour layover, and then another twelve hours to Cape Town. The flight to Turkey was good. I had a couple of in-flight meals, watched about three movies, and got a little bit of a nap in. I arrived in Istanbul about 5PM local time. I contemplated about going into the city for a few hours and having a nice dinner somewhere. I had been to Istanbul for about four days before, and it is one of my all time favorite cities. I decided against going into the city though, as I did not really want to take a taxi in and out of the city, go through security again, etc. Plus, there was this fear of getting lost in the Grand Bazaar, haggling over a fine Turkish rug that I just had to have, losing track of time, and then missing my flight. So instead, I stayed in the Istanbul airport, took a short nap on one of the terminal four-chair couches, hopped between about three cafes, and read a few chapters in a GMAT study guide. My next flight, from Istanbul to Cape Town was about the same as my previous flight - two inflight meals, three to four movies, a little bit of sleep... maybe.
I arrived in Cape Town around high noon, got my bags and bike, and went through security and customs with the utmost of ease. The next thing was to do the one thing that I really hadn’t planned ahead on, even though my teammate and I discussed it, and that was getting a rental car. It just seemed like it may be the easiest of ways to get the bikes into the city. I stopped by a couple of the more prevalent known rental car companies, and they had zero available. It was recommended to me trying Woodward Rentals at the end of the rental strip. I stopped in, had to wait about five minutes to get to the counter, and then as it turns out they had a couple of options to choose from. I selected the cheapest one that met our needs, as we only were going to need if for about 48 hours. I went through the contract, paid, etc., loaded the bike and bags in the car and was off. It had been about eight months since I last drove on the other side of the road, the previous being in Northern Ireland. This time though, the car was a manual transmission, which meant you had to shift gears with your left hand. I had experience with this from the previous year when I was in South Africa and Namibia.
I got into the city around 1:30 PM, checked in, left my gear and then headed up the street to Revolution Bikes, a bike store that I had remembered from being in the city the year before. I bought some CO2 cartridges for both my teammate and myself, as I did not want to wait until the last minute for these, for fear of them selling out with the large influx of riders in town for the race. After this, I headed over to a local taco joint for a little bit of a late lunch before heading back to my accommodation. The plan of attack now was to unbox the bike and begin the assembling process. I got the bike out of the box and somewhat assembled it. I had a little bit of an issue with the headset as it did not want to seat properly. After a little more prep and a shower, I went out and got a small bite to eat, and then got the car, and headed back to the airport. Tim was due to arrive around 11PM. I planned to be there around 11:30, that way he would have time to make it through passport control, baggage claim, and customs. I got to the airport, parked the car near the terminal exit in a parking garage, and walked in. It only took a couple of minutes to find Tim, pushing a cart loaded down with a bike box and a couple of bags. At 6’ 5” he is hard to miss. I loaded the car for the second time that day, and drove back into the city. Once back in the city, we unloaded the car into the accommodation, took a short walk down Long Street, and found a rotisserie Chicken shop for a late night snack. Then back to the room, and we began to assemble Tim’s bike. We finally went to bed around 3AM, which was about 9PM eastern standard time.
The next morning, we took a little bit of a sleep in, until around 10AM or so. Eventually, we got up and went out the door, and headed over to Truth Coffee, a Cape Town favorite of mine. The place has a lovely steampunk theme to it. After this, we began our hour and a half drive down the Eastern Cape headed to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. We parked at Cape Point, walked up the hill and out to the lighthouse. We then made the hike across the rocky plateau and over to the Cape of Good Hope. It was here, where I ran into Lukas, a Polish volunteer from the previous year who I had hiked Table Mountain with. After walking back to Cape Point, we drove up the western side of the Cape headed back to Cape Town. After a quick shower and change of clothes, we made the ten minute walk over to the Tsogo Sun Cullinan hotel for the welcoming Cape Epic Around the World Party. We stayed about three hours, we met some other riders, and I saw some friends that I had met the previous year. Jan, her daughter Lisa, Sharon, and Katie, a volunteer from Asheville, North Carolina, that I worked with last year were all there. Last year, as a volunteer, when I was at this event, I met George Hincapie and Christian Vandevelde, both US ex Tour de France riders. This year, Tim and I met Robbie McEwan, a previous 12 time Australian Tour de France rider. He was commentating for the event this year, as he did the previous year.
The next morning Tim and I headed over to The University of Cape Town to check-in at the Registration tent and pick up our rider bags. We stayed at the site for a bit, but then I had to return the rental car. My friend Nicole picked me up later from the rental car/ airport terminal and headed back into the city to finish preparing as the race began the next morning. Later on, my friend Nicole, my teammate Tim, and I all went down to the Waterfront for a nice dinner at an Italian restaurant.
Tim and I were up around 5 AM to get ready. My friend Nicole was picking us up around six to take us back to the University of Cape Town as it was day one, the prologue. The prologue was 21km in length, with 600 meters of climbing. It was basically halfway up Table Mountain, and then back down. We arrived around 6:45 AM, and found a local bike shop, Manic Cycles, and a gentleman named Francois, who we were looking for as we had talked to him the evening before about being able to look over our bicycles before the start of the race. We left our bikes with him, and then we finished kitting up. Our start time was 8:20AM, but we needed to be at the race shoot around 8AM. We got back to our bikes a few minutes before 8, made a couple of last minute adjustments, and then had to run over to the starting line, as we were already a couple of minutes past eight. When we got there, they were calling for us, so we had to quickly get into our position in line. The day was a bit overcast and gray, with a low lying fog. My friend Nicole took some pictures of us at the starting line, before the starting gun went off.
The Prologue, or the Grand Depart, started across a grass field and then up on to some pavement as the path zigzagged throughout the University. I soon noticed that my back tire seemed a bit low, as I was bouncing up and down more than I thought that I should be. Finally about ten minutes into the ride, I had to pull over and pump up the back tire, which was frustrating, as I was concerned and was wondering if I had a flat tire already? Luckily I did not as I kept checking on it, and it seemed to be holding pressure. It was a nice ride up the hill. There were a lot of people at the very top, at a place called Deadman’s Tree, which also seemed to be the steepest climb of the day. After that it was a pretty quick ride down a road before hitting the first Land Rover Technical Terrain of the event. It was a bit of a tricky downhill with a few step downs that were pretty close together. I cruised through it pretty solidly. There was one part that was a bit technical, but I managed. My teammate Tim though, had to get off and walk the bottom section. His background is more road riding, triathlons, marathons, etc. so we knew going into this that he would be waiting for me at the top of the hills, and I would be waiting for him at the bottom of the hills. He rejoined and we continued on down the hill. The remaining part of the track was pretty cruisey with a good bit of flowing single track through a forest. Finally back down to the University and over the line. We finished in just over an hour and twenty minutes. Tim and I caught a ride with my friend Nicole that afternoon out to Hermanus, where the race village was for the next two days.
Day two was the longest day at 112 km and for us non-pros, most of our departure times were around 8AM. The first few miles were all on road heading out of Hermanus before finally hitting some long windy dirt roads up and through the mountains. There was a nice mix of single track as well throughout the entire day. The average for most of the stages was one hydro, or liquids only stop, and three main water points which included about fifteen or so food options, anything from watermelon and bananas to gummies to marmite sandwiches, pretzels, fruit bread, and potatoes covered in salt. There was water, about four different flavors of Powerade, and there was always Coca- Cola. The hot “it” drink these days is a mixture of half water and half coke. I have even heard of a one-third water, one-third Powerade, and one-third Coke mixture. I myself was drinking a nice mixture of the three, but all separately. I will say that a good cold Coke tastes amazing when you get to the water points, and I am not just saying this
because I am from the home of Coca-Cola and have had four family with a combined 90 years work for Coke. The bite, the sugar and the caffeine were extremely refreshing and a welcomed delight. I made sure that I filled up my water bottles and that I drank plenty of fluids throughout the entire day. My teammate as far as I know and knew was doing the same, but with about 30 kilometers to go, he started cramping pretty bad, so we took the ride a bit slower, with an extra stop or two, while keeping a check on our time and distance to go. We finished the day around a time of nine and a half hours.
At the end of each day, a volunteer would give us a cold, or hot, wet towel and a light massage on our neck. Then, we would sit in the recovery area, where we sipped on ice teas, chocolate shakes, and ate sandwiches, burritos, or some other well needed meal. They had salads everyday too, and everyday, I would grab one, and I don’t think I even opened one of them. My teammate’s legs, that had been cramping earlier, were now shaking while laying on his back in the recovery area. Thinking he was fine and that he just needed some extra time to relax, I left the recovery tent to take a shower, and get changed for dinner. I went to dinner to hear the race briefing for the next day’s ride, as well as to eat lots more food. After this, I went back to the tent, and I saw that my teammates towel was laying on the top of his tent, and his bike shoes were on the grass. I knew he had been super tired, and I figured he was a sleep, as it was approaching 8PM. I went for a walk and ran into my friend Nicole. She asked about Tim. I said I think he is sleeping, but we also went by the bar area just in case he was there. We didn’t see him there, so Nicole said let’s go check on him. We went back to the tent and unzipped it, and no Timmy there either. We messaged him, and he responded that he was in front of the Mediclinic sitting inside an ambulance. We quickly made our way to see him. He explained to us that even though he was intaking a lot of fluids, the body was not absorbing them properly. A nurse had checked his levels, and they were either too low, or too high, especially his Potassium level. They wanted him to go to the hospital to get checked out more. As it turns out this hospital was an hour away, half way back to Cape Town. Nicole and I started to make the journey, but then called him on our way. He told us to turn around when we learned that the hospital was so far away. I was riding the next day, and so I needed to get some rest. Tim spent the night in ICU, and unfortunately he had to stay a second night in the hospital as his levels still were not good on the second day. This unfortunately meant he was out of the race. You could miss only one day and continue.
Day three, stage two was nicknamed “Enter Sandman” and not because South Africans are huge Metallica fans. The day began at Hermanus High School again, and for the first fifteen or so kilometers, the route was the same as the day before, before splitting off to head over the mountains towards Oak Valley. Shortly after the split, is when us riders got our first taste of the sand. Let me just say the day was accurately named. The sand made for some slow going, but I kept pushing. Day three was my first day on my own, so I would join with other teams and would ride with them. It was quite nice actually, I met a lot of people riding solo. Meghan and Melissa, Thabo and OG, Craig and Songo, Christi and Izelle, Ranie, Derek, Marius and Adele, were just some of the people that I rode with. The two guys that I spent the most time with were Sean and Dean, both from South Africa. Their team name was the Hillbillys, and one was riding a
five inches of travel Santa Cruz, and the other a Yeti SB5.5, with five and a half inches of rear travel. These guys would smash the downhills, passing everyone, but then only to get passed back on the uphills. Dean had a strategy, bomb the downhills, cruz the flats, and walk the uphills, which was often the case, when it came to the steep uphills. I also finally ran into Jimmy on the trail this day. His kit through me off though, as I had seen him earlier, but said, no that cannot be Jimmy. Jimmy is from Denmark, but he was wearing a jersey that had the Belgium flag on it. As it turns out, his partner, an ex- pro who had ridden in previous Tour De Frances in years past, rode for a Belgian cycling team, and they were able to get jerseys through them. Jimmy was having a tough day this day. It was a warm day, and the sand was a bit annoying, but both he and his Partner Alan finished the day, as did I.
Day four, stage three, nicknamed “The Emerald Princess” turned out to be one heck of a day. It was a lot of climbing, 2800 meters. A couple years back, this stage had been the Queens stage, aka, the hardest stage of the eight days, but not this year. That day would come a couple days later. Most of us were wearing pink jerseys that were given to us on registration day. Absa, being the title sponsor, in partnership with Lumohawk, a non-profit organization that supports disadvantaged children with educational and sports needs provided these jerseys to wear on day four. Towards the beginning of the day, there was a long long climb, that gained nearly 800 meters in elevation over a few miles. As I neared the top, it began to rain, and visibility was horrible. I did not carry an extra layer this day, so I about froze to death, but I just kept pedaling, and I knew eventually I would be heading down hill and would warm up. The downhill was long and rocky. I was using all of my grip strength just to hold on. There were some times where it got so bumpy that I had to slow down, as my forearms were taking a beating and becoming numb to where I felt like I would loose my grip. Eventually I got down off the Groenlandberg mountain and back to the flatlands and vineyards. The remaining portion of the day was a lot of double-track with some single-track mixed in. There were still some hills to go, but I was over the mountain. I kept pedaling, I made my water point stops, and I kept pushing the entire day. I finished somewhere close to nine hours. Thinking back on this day, the amount of uphill, the terrain, riding solo for many long sections, riding with new people on other sections, nearly freezing at the top, and all of this while wearing a pink jersey just have made for the most Epic day of mountain biking of my cycling career. I still have that pink jersey and it will accompany me on all future epic mountain biking adventures.
Day five, stage four, nicknamed “Just like clockwork” was the time trial day, a 43km with 1000 meters of climbing day. This day turned out to be a lot fun. It was a big windy loop with a lot of single track and switchbacks. There had been a big brush fire a few months previous to the event, and the fire was very evident on this day in certain sections. Immediately after the first water point, the trail cut into a forested section, and two trails emerged, and neither were marked, but they snaked along together, often criss-crossing one another. It was like a long dual slalom course. It was a lot of fun to ride, and somehow I managed to emerge unscathed as I nearly caught my handlebars into the trees a half dozen or so times. There was a really nice tree-covered area that was part of a vineyard’s outside sitting area that we rode through near the start of the
day and then again nearing the finish line. The path on the way out took us winding through some barrels and trees, but on the way back, we rode up and over some little bridges that went above the path we rode on the way out. On the way back in, my partner Timmy was waiting near the entrance of the vineyard, and he snapped a few pictures of me coming across a bridge. He then quickly ran over to another area with more bridges and raised platforms, and snapped a few more of me when I came through. It took me just over 3 hours to complete this day. It was nice to have a short day, especially given the previous day. I was able to shower, and then just rest in the bar with Tim, and some other riders and volunteers.
My morning routine for the last few days consisted of the following: Every morning around 5:15 AM, the entire race village would be awoken by a gentleman dressed in full Scottish garb, complete with kilt and bagpipes, who would walk up and down and in between the riders tents. He played the more “well-known” bagpipe songs, from “Scotland the Brave” to “Amazing Grace”, and I even heard “The Fields of Athenry” one morning. After a few minutes of awoken resting, I would throw on a hoodie, make a stop by the bathroom, and then on to the dining tent. Every morning, I would have about two plates full of eggs, pasta, toast, yogurt, and granola. After breakfast, I would go back to my tent and change into my kit for the day, and then walk over to the mediclinic. As I had never ridden for so long each day, nor so many days in a row, my bum was rather sore at the end of the day. In the back of the mediclinic tent, there was a “bum clinic” that’s sole focus was to assisting in bandaging the sore spots on your bum. I must say for me, it was a well needed remedy. While this helped tremendously, I knew early on that whatever pain my butt was in during the race that I would endure on regardless.
Day six, stage five, was nicknamed “Newton’s Queen”. This was to be the hardest day of the race. It had the greatest amount of climbing coming in at 2850 meters. Most of the climbing was towards the beginning of the day, before dropping down into the valley of Stellenbosch. The day was not as bad as I was thinking it would be. Maybe I just had a preconceived notion of how hard it was going to be, but it seemed to not be any harder than the second or fourth day. The end of this day warmed up a bit as we dropped into the valley of the beautiful region and town of Stellenbosch. Being from America, the Napa valley is really the only comparison that I can give to describe the Stellenbosch region. Stellenbosch, the town, has a cutesy little college town atmosphere with some great little cafes and shops, with hills and vineyards abounding in the surrounding distance. I spent about thirty-six hours in this town and region the previous year with some volunteers after the 2018 race. We went to four vineyards, including the one owned by the legendary South African golfer Ernie Els, where I holed my first and only shot of the day on his sixty foot chipping area off the back patio of his winery. I won a bottle of wine for making this shot, which I would later carry with me to Morocco and shared with my godparents who by chance just happened to be visiting a mutual contact of ours. I finished this day, again, another long day, a lot of double-track, some single track, riding solo sometimes, and other times with the rest of the pack at the back.
Day seven, stage six, was nicknamed “Death and Taxes”, which was appropriately named as these are two things that I do not like. I did not like this day as it turned out to be the hardest day for me. While it was not the longest day, or the day with the most elevation gain, it turned out to be the hottest day by far. Previous days, either along the coast, or in the mountains were much cooler, but now we were in the valley.
Everyday up until this day, the cycling groups were starting at either three or five minute intervals, but this day, the intervals were every ten minutes. I typically was starting around 8:05 to 8:10 in the morning, but this day, I did not start until almost 8:45 AM. I found this frustrating as we knew the weather forecast had been stating the high temperature of the day to be around 35 degrees Celsius, which translates to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. When the other riders and myself reached the first water point, it was a bit of a surprise when they said we had twenty minutes to cut-off. Every other previous day, I always had over an hour until cut-off, and just like every other water point stop up to this one, I did what I needed to do. I filled up with fluids, food, a quick shot of chain lube from the Squirt Lubrication crew who were on-site at every stop, and then left. I did not hang-out at the water points. On a couple of occasions, I would have the Oakley crew clean my sunglasses, and maybe re-apply some sunscreen if needed.
There was only 200 meters less of climbing this day than the previous day, and mid-way through, the sun got to be a bear. It was flat out hot. I kept on pedaling, I made the hydro station and the second water point with time to spare, but again, I got in and got out. Somewhere in the mid 70 kilometers, I was caught by a couple of gentleman, Rob and Rich, in their golden and black speckled jerseys. I had been caught by the hyenas.
The hyenas role was to serve as the race cleaners. They stayed at the very back, monitoring the cut-off times for all of the stops every day of the race. I had not seen them up until this point. Rob caught me first and we chatted a bit as we rode together towards the third and last water point. Then Rich caught up to us. At one point, I am not sure if they drifted off the back, or I was beginning to pick up the pace, but I began to put a little distance between us. Then, I got to this long downhill. It was singletrack, through an emerald green forest, the track was smooth, and looking down, I could see forever it seemed. I opened the brakes, and let the bike rip on this seemingly forever long straight downhill. I am not sure how fast I was going, but I am for sure this was probably the fastest I had gone the entire race. This race was not a drag-strip track though, and eventually a turn to the left emerged. The turn was a somewhat hard left, all while still going downhill at a decent grade. I pulled on the brakes, and then I pulled back on the brakes a bit more, as I did not feel like I was slowing down any. The brakes were locked, and I was slowly slowing down, and the turn was rapidly approaching. I could see straight ahead past the turn that there was a large pile of debris piled up - a nice mixture of limbs and leaves. A thought entered the mind, if I cannot make this turn, this was my bailing point.
I missed the turn. I plowed straight into this ball of sticks, and thankfully it absorbed a ton of the energy I brought into it. I ended up upside down, intermingled with the branches, and a large brown dust cloud pouring into my face. My bike was also upside
down, half on top of me and the other half laced into the branches. I began to unthread myself and my bike out of this mess. It was a bit of a struggle getting up as my bearings were a bit skewed and the debris pile was more cushiony than supportive. I finally got myself and my bike out it's clinging claws. I was okay, a bit shaken, but fine. I had one cut, about two inches in length down my front left shin, and I broke one of the two clamps that was holding a water bottle cage to the back of my seat-post. This was the Epic though. This was all part of it. I knew coming into this that at one point over the 624 kilometers, I would probably crash. I think it would of been surprising if I did not. I had heard stories of crashes already and ridden past many a riders who had crashed. I personally witnessed on two separate occasions, the rider directly in front of me going over their handlebars. One team of two riders from Spain both went out the day before the prologue with broken collarbones as they were pre-riding the course on registration day. After a few seconds of composing myself, I got back on my bike and began to ride. Rob just caught back up to me, and we continued to ride.
A couple of kilometers later, I saw another rider in front of me. This rider was not on their bike though, but rather walking and pushing their bike. As I got closer I could see it was Meghan from team Wonderskids, one of the female duo from California. As I caught and passed, I asked her if she was okay. The look on her face was enough, she had hit a wall, which was surprising as she always seemed solid. I could not stop though, as I was on the verge of the cut-off time. I kept pedaling as did Rob. I could see that Rich was approaching and new that he would stay with Meghan. Rob and I rode on before he finally moved ahead of me when we hit the one kilometer to the water point sign. I finally had made the last water point. Earlier, I was worried that I would not make the third one and here I was at the fourth and last.
I missed the cut-off time. I was told later that I had missed it by what turned out to be about ninety seconds. My seventh day was over, as I was not allowed to ride the remaining nine kilometers of the day. Even though by this time, the heat had subsided a bit and I felt much stronger, even after the crash, than I had earlier in the day. I wanted to keep going, but I couldn’t. It made for a disappointing and quiet dinner.
My evening routine was upon finishing the ride for the day, and after a few minutes in the recovery tent, I would go and shower and get changed for the evening. I signed-up for the laundry service on the first day, so every night I would pick up my clean laundry and then drop off my dirty laundry. I would often take some time to relax and prep for the next day before heading to dinner and the next day’s race briefing. Dinner consisted typically of salad, rolls, pasta, vegetables, a white meat, and a dark meat, and a dessert. I almost always went for seconds. After dinner was the race briefing where the race director would go over the next days ride. This usually lasted about fifteen to twenty minutes. Shortly after the briefing, I would typically head back to the tent, do more next day preparation if needed, check e-mails, brush my teeth, etc. I was usually in bed by 8:30 to 9 PM.
The grand finale, stage seven, took place on the eighth and final day - seventy kilometers in distance, with 1800 meters of climbing. It was a morning of mixed feelings for me. It was the final day, and it would all be over soon. The months of training that I had done for this race, all the new gear that I purchased, all the prep, everything was coming to a close. I honestly was somewhat not wanting to ride this last day, as I was still bummed about missing the last cut-off the previous day, and not being able to ride the last nine kilometers of course. This also meant no finisher medal for me, which is something I wanted so badly. You could miss one cut-off or even an entire day, and continue to ride. I eventually reminded myself that I came to ride and not give-up.
This last morning was a bit of a scramble getting ready and finding the temporary race office so I could get my new blue number board. I finally pulled all things together and was at the starting line with a few minutes to spare. My good friend and teammate Timmy was on the sidelines at the start and snapped a few pics of me before the start whistle blew. It was not going to be an easy day. The first water point was about thirty kilometers into the ride. The start though seemed to be quite fast early on, as the terrain was flat for a while, before finally starting to gradually ascend. About thirty minutes into the ride, I could hear the speakers blaring from the first water point, which I found odd to be hearing it already. I had the terrain and distance sticker on the top tube of my bicycle, but it only showed elevation gain over the distance. As it turns out roughly 25 kilometers of this first part of the day was riding deep into a box canyon, winding up and down the right side, before finally zigzagging our way up, and making a hard left before snaking our way back down the left side of the canyon and back to the water point. About twelve or so kilometers into the ride and nearing the top of the endless uphill switch-backs, there was a massive bottleneck, and I could look up and probably see a couple hundred riders, all stopped, and having to walk their bikes up the trail. It was slow going at this point. I looked behind me at the other riders, and not too far off in the distance were the dreaded hyenas. Rich finally got up to where we were and said that if he touches us, we were out. He was only kidding, as we were all well ahead of the cut-off time. Finally this slow train of riders made it's way to a more steady pace, and nearing the top, some double-track opened up.
There were some great amazing views from here, as we began our descent. I neared the bottom and some delightful very flowing singletrack emerged. Finally I could hear the speakers from the water point that I had heard a couple hours earlier. As per my typical routine, get in, get what you need, take a big breather, and jump back on the bike. The remaining forty kilometers was a bit smoother, a lot of short ups and short downs. I hit the second water point, and after a quick stop, I kept on going. It was a very bitter sweet day, as I kept thinking about the day before, and it fueled me to keep on pushing.
I was going to make it today, and I knew I had plenty of time. I finally hit the ten kilometers to go sign, and then the five kilometers to go, followed shortly there after by the three kilometers sign. From here though, it seems like it took forever to hit the one kilometer remaining sign. I had reached the outskirts of Val-de-Vie, the rather large fancy neighborhood of houses and polo fields, but I was riding through what appeared
to be a new and developing section of the hood. It was quite rocky with a lot of loose dirt, and it made the last few minutes tough.
I eventually made the one km to go sign as the terrain changed to grass. I then rode across a street and up a small grass hill, where the path took me between pairs of trees lining the street to one side and a polo field on the other. The path then dropped, again across a street, then through a field, then up and a hard left turn, which took me back along a ridge line, this time by a single row of trees, and the finish line and welcoming party to my right. I rode behind the big Jaeger LeCoultre polo fields clock and then downhill with a hard turn to the right continuing on the ridge line that sloped downwards with only one more right hand turn to make before crossing the finish line. There was a small embankment made of wooden planks to assist with this final turn.
I crossed the line a few minutes past six hours. It wasn’t too long before I was reunited with my teammate who came into the finishing area, handed me a beer while at the same time spraying me with a liquid out of a water bottle that I would later learn was also beer. It turns out that in the middle of one of the largest wine regions in all the world, there was no champagne at the Val de Vie Estates. After a very short celebration, we exited the finish-line area, and over to where you collect your post ride feed bag. Being the last day, you are provided with an insulated cooler bag full of all types of foods, and some drinks, even a couple of beers, all provided by Woolworths, a local supermarket chain.
I was quiet for the first few minutes upon finishing the race. I had come so close to finishing. Everyone kept telling me that I did finish, that I made it to Val-di-Vie. It just didn’t feel right to me. I would later work out the math of what riding 615 of 624km came out to be. As a percentage, it was 98.57 percent - and the last nine kilometers that unfortunately I was not able to ride was mostly, if not all on or along a road.
My teammate and I sat under a large canvas tent as we dined on the food from our Woolworth’s bags. Eventually, we got up after stuffing our faces and found my friend Nicole. She had our gear in her vehicle which she had to return that afternoon, so we got our bags out and placed them in the shade. I got my towel, soap, and a fresh set of clothes out of my bag, and took a shower. I went and retrieved the bikes out of the bike park, while Tim arranged the Sport Taxi to take us back into Cape Town. We were able to fit both of our bikes, and all of our gear into this somewhat small SUV styled taxi. The taxi driver was quite friendly and we shared conversation the entire trip back to Cape Town. Tim would later ask me if I paid for the taxi. I said no, and figured that he had. He told me, no, he never paid. No one ever asked for payment. We think the people at the makeshift on-site office at the post-race village messed up and thought it was paid for.
We arrived back in the city and to our accommodation around 5 p.m. After a short, but well needed rest, Tim and I were out the door and walked over to the Zeitz museum, which has a hotel, bar and restaurant as part of it. We went to the bar on the 6th floor and sat near the front corner facing the city. The museum and hotel are old grain silos
recycled into it's current state. My friend Jimmy and another gentleman joined us for dinner. We each had a couple of drinks and a delicious club sandwich. After a nice dinner which mainly focused on stories from the Cape Epic, we said our good-byes and eventually found our way back to the hotel for a good night of sleep.
The next day was both Tim and I’s last full day in Cape Town. He left later that night, technically just after midnight and I left the following day around 6 p.m. We spent that Monday walking in and around the V and A waterfront. Our new friend Marie joined us for a bit. We went to the food market and sampled a few different cuisines. I had a Springbok burger. We went to the Watershed, which is a quite large old industrial space that on the bottom left has well over a hundred local craftsmen and stores selling their wares. Tim bought some art, a nice wooden carved giraffe. I looked at some prints that I had looked at the previous year when I was a volunteer, and I winded up going back the next day and bought a couple of them. We had to make a stop at the African Trading Company. Marie bought a necklace, and Tim picked up some small items. I looked around, but didn’t buy anything that day.
The next day, my last day in Cape Town, I decided to walk over to the Bo-Kap area first before heading out to the waterfront again. I made a few stops along the way - a coffee shop, a chocolate shop, a couple of locally made clothing shops, and then back to the food market, and some of the local crafts shops from the day before to pick up some last minute gifts and artwork. My flight that night was around 6 p.m. so I caught a taxi around 2:30 p.m. to the airport. I wanted to have ample time in case I needed to re- pack anything depending on the airline weight restrictions since I had added some stuff on my return.
My flight home was essentially the reverse of my flying to Cape Town. My flight was twelve hours back to Istanbul with a nine hour layover, and then about another twelve hours back Atlanta. I watched anywhere from about three to four movies per flight, had the two inflight meals, and slept a little bit. I was flying coach, so not the most comfortable of seats. I arrived safely back stateside is did my bike and the rest of my stuff.
As I look back the Cape Epic was truly a wonderful adventure, maybe the greatest I have ever experienced. The fourth day for me up and over the mountains for nine hours was definitely the most epic day of riding I think I have ever done. It’s a tough race, and I do not just mean pedaling the hills and the condition of the path, while the riding for sure is epically tough, it's the surrounding South African Western Cape scenery that’s pristinely epic. While it’s a little bit of bitter sweetness for me, as I rode all eight days only to finish nine kilometers short of completing the whole thing, I gave it my best having trained many hours per week for a few months. I am not as young as I used to be, nor am I competing for the Olympics, I am just a weekend warrior who prefers more downhill, free-ride style riding. One of the great things about not being a professional cross country cyclist or world champion, is that you do not have to worry about those noisy helicopters continually following you while you are trying to have a peaceful ride through the beautiful countryside of South Africa.
Would I do the race again, I think I would, given the chance. It’s not a cheap race, nor is it close, and it definitely takes a lot of training and preparation for it. There are some other races that I am looking at on the nearer horizon. I have always wanted to do the Pioneer in New Zealand, since that is where I first learned of the Cape Epic while volunteering with the Pioneer. I have also looked in doing some local races here in the north Georgia mountains and up in North Carolina near Brevard.
So for now, my Cape Epic story is over, but it was a truly great experience. It was great to go back a year later after volunteering, this time as a rider, and to see some friends I had met the year before as well. Cape Town is a great city and the surrounding countryside is spectacular. The event itself is well put together, and the people have always been friendly. Make no doubt about it, the Cape Epic is hard. The race is challenging, it’s physical and mental, it pushes you, and it can even break you. But riding in this even along the western Cape of South Africa, makes for one hell of an adventure and story... but then again... that’s why it’s named the Cape Epic.