A week or two ago I participated in the ninety niner cycle race. I started in E group, which started out far too slowly for a race, so I decided to hammer hard from the start and see how far an all out effort would take me. It was raining and quite windy in sections. The out of season rain had dissolved what I thought to be fertiliser and other chemical which had been spilt on the road by farm trucks and the water that sprayed up from other riders’ wheels left a funny taste in my mouth. I was enjoying the race though.
Towards the end of the ride, after bridging the gap from group to group, and riding among C and D group my legs had given just about all that they could. As I was approaching Vissershok, which has a decent 1.1km stretch at 9% gradient, I had a flashback to one of the last times I can remember riding out in the Northern Suburbs. It was the 1992 Falke Funride, my second ever funride. I was 11 years old and I was inexperienced. You cannot buy experience. I was suffering out somewhere in the farmlands, when I decided it was time for some nutrition. I hauled out the energy supplement of that era, corn syrup! I can remember riding along on my “outeniqua” mountain bike fussing with the sachet and really battling to open it. I decided that I needed two hands and promptly slammed on brakes! No sooner had I done this, a big fat dude slammed into the back of me and we both crashed. I landed on his lap. I remember him being very upset and I also remember that he was riding a very nice bike – and that the seat tore in the incident.
I rode off, a bit shaken, and wondering why such a big guy was drafting an 11 year old!
As I ground up Vissershok in the ninety niner I thought about that crash, and I thought about how long I have been cycling for and how so much has changed in the interim, from sports nutrition, to the bikes we ride these-days and to how much harder it is for me to climb these days because I am so much heavier. I thought about how in those days I would hit the wall hard, often with more than 50km to go in a ride and how I could ride a serious distance in a hypoglycemic state. I thought about how in that state of suffering, quick strong riders doing the “long route”, with massive calf muscles and with A, B, C, D and E numbers on their backs would fly past me as I limped to the finish line. I thought about how I would lie on the couch broken for the rest of the day. They were all good, pleasant thoughts that I look back on with massive fondness now. And I figured that often the key to enduring suffering is the awesome memories that emerge and the experiences that you cherish. Because of the memories of my early cycling days, I have got to say that I enjoyed the ninety niner a whole lot more than I would have otherwise, and Vissershok became a special reminder of awesome memories, and not just an incredibly difficult climb ending an otherwise pretty miserable race.