A little over 5 years ago a long weekend away in Hermanus changed the way I would ride a bike forever, it also changed an unhealthy lifestyle to a supercharged one, and the way I look at, and go about life in general too. That fateful weekend away turned into a head on challenge of a lifetime – The ABSA Cape Epic – Round 1. In 2008 the route of the race is still regarded to be the hardest ever, longest and containing the most climbing. The old point to point race – and the last of its kind – from Knysna to Cape Town on dirt was certainly in my mind the most brutal course ever conceived by Dr Evil and his merry men.
You could say that my arm was twisted by Sean, but in reality I’m crazy enough to try anything so I quickly agreed to race with him at his suggestion and we began our journey together. Training for a common goal meant long hours out riding together and we had a lot of fun, which turned to mindless miles, then to pain and agony and then into fun again. Thereafter we raced the whole Epic side by side and forged a bond that only other Epic competitors know, I call him brother or even just “-1” (the suffix of his race number to denote which member of the team he was) We can speak freely at anytime and after any length of silence as life carries on in between our meetings and still feels like it was only yesterday that we were together, out riding our bikes or just talking trash.
After the race for us our lives went different ways, I went full wide open into competitive cycling in various disciplines , but Sean didn’t, he ran a little, he changed career, studied and then began working, meanwhile we both grew families. We rode together once, for an hour post race and that was that…
5 years on he’s rediscovered the bike and I managed to put together a great deal on my Methanol SL hardtail for him, his love for Bianchi ran deep so it was love at first sight, then love at first ride and the rollercoaster ride has been emotional since. He’s trained in other circles for a while and we’ve stayed in touch about rides and getting together but only this morning really got it all in sync.
Not many dedicated cyclists would arise before 4am on a weekday to ride a bike, let alone with a very good chance of rain, up the biggest steepest hill in town, in the dark and freezing cold, but somehow the allure of the ride got Sean ready to roll. I met him en-route to the mountain and donated some warmer gear to prepare him for what lay ahead.
Amazingly we got a gap in the weather, it was starry above, the air crisp and clear and we chatted as we rode up hill, ticking along at first, then things get tougher and silence falls and all you hear is the grind of gravel beneath your tires as you focus on just making progress on pedal stroke at a time. The riding gap between us grew but I stayed close enough always keeping within sight. Its a long lonely climb alone, so having a mate nearby helps a ton with the motivation. Just before the summit the wind was head on and we rode together wheel to wheel breathing heavily. The steam from each breath billowing backwards as we made our way. A faintly falling sleet drifted down from the darkness above and a glance at the computer read just over 1 degree celcius. All around we could see for miles below, from Table Mountain to Cape Point and the dancing lights of the suburbs in between and its a wonderful sight few will see and even less of the fortunate few who climb here will stop to watch in the darkness.
We stopped at the gate on top and took some photos to commemorate the ride, put on some more clothing to keep out the cold on the way down and set off together. On the descent the wind chill bit, our headlights ignited the falling sleet in front of our eyes and the corners and switchbacks came rushing back up at us as we sped downhill with smiles on our faces. The chatting began again, we pedaled the frost out of our toes, shook the blood back into our fingers and we talked more trash as usual. We even stopped to listen to the hoot of an owl high up in the pine trees, and hooted back to hear it answer…
Just like old times.