Berg and Bush Descent 2017
There are two of us by the way. One is Richard, and one is Ricky. So go with Rick to always get it right : ) Rich was there to meander the trails in a detuned capacity with our mate Darryl in the first of three Berg and Bush events, The Descent. This has become known as the racey event of the three but Darryl is a put stickers on his bike kind of guy and he’s also a big believer of long travel is your friend so the rules were laid clear at the start to ~Richard the speeding bullet Cornish. They were there to have a jol and Richard dutifully packed looser fitting items and set out to be a trail rider for three days.
The daily reports from my business partner to me indicated that I was set to have the time of my life but shouldn’t hang about on Day one’s start as they were held up in a bottleneck at Sollies Folly. I was told to rather gun it from the start to get an uninterrupted run down one of the finest and most iconic pieces of trail to grace a stage race.
So back to the bag I went to offload the baggy in favour of the tightest, fastest most breathable gear I owned gear. Legs were shaved – this is rare by the way but it also means that I’m extremely excited. They were looking a bit ugly though so I self tanned them too to look slightly less ridiculous. More people should do this. My lady gave a nervous smile. Try to avoid that knobbly tough skin under the knees as it seems to hang on to orange like a Gu in the back of your throat. Of course you can also just ride more than me and your legs should naturally go brown but this requires serious devotion and that permanent loafer midday summer approach. Not many people have that luxury.
It so happened I’d picked a partner up to this go fast out the blocks task. I had previously had a good dual with Nick at Tankwa Trek but I also knew he’d raised his game since then. Further highlighted by his real sock tan for one but I was also aware that he makes his way to Killarney track sessions mid week. I didn’t think Id embarrass myself too much though so I asked him to be my wingman to which he said yes.
Within the first 10 minutes of day 1, I realised Nick had a far better grip on our aircrafts controls and I dutifully handed over full responsibility to our new Ace pilot. Wingman crouch positition was adopted and for three days I largely locked on to his mud flinging tyre whilst wondering to myself if I really had two lungs.
The road is looooooonnnnggggg… especially for a Cape Town boy. Geepers do people really go to this effort this to ride their bikes? On our 8th hour of crossing the country to get to the start line I started to wonder how good can these trails could really be?! This was a pretty long haul and not helping things was that I was convinced our driver was trying to take a nap. Nick was fortunate enough to not be able to see the his eyes or simply adopted the if you cant beat em join em approach and proceeded to nod off whilst I invented strange sounds to try keep our driver alert.
Yes trails can be that good is the answer. Even if you miss out on a whole bunch of them due to adverse weather conditions. At the same time we were set to start Day one, thunderstruck started playing in celebration of my arrival. Sadly not through the PA system like I smaak it. Actual clouds, possibly the same ones from my Sani event earlier in the year had returned, with more baggage than Grace Mugabe on a holiday. These clouds meant business and we’d heard Durban was currently experiencing the storm of the decade. The slopes of the Drakensberg, where we now were, was getting snowed upon and the clouds were letting it all unload. It was messy but at least I had my highly breathable performance race kit with me.
The crowd were for the most part unperturbed, these were mostly trail guys after all and had come to ride bikes no matter the weather. The organisers did a reshuffle of the route and found a way to make this happen but sadly we would need to miss a good part of the fun stuff and the day would be neutralized for safety concerns. Nick somehow missed this part of the update despite it and as soon as the lead vehicle left us to it, set off for the win. I watched his wheel for just over 4hrs. Incidently the Vittoria Barzo is fantastic in a defensive somebody-trying-to-attack-you-from-behind kind of way. Sadly it cant tell foe from friend and whilst his decoy mud flares stung my face we were at at our new home in good time and in a dryer and warmer location ninety or so kilometers down the road. Massage time. Lower back and everywhere please.
Day two came with a welcome delayed start to allow the trails a little more time to absorb the previous days problems. The clearer day made for a fantastic scene. The mesa and koppie terrain is straight out of a Wilbur Smith novel and our Kingfisher Camp also came with warm showers overlooking the river so whilst you scrubbed mud away, a kingfisher (eureka moment) made a nest. Pretty amazing. Once again we had to forgo some of the trickier single track for safety concerns and I despite the scenery this time was a little begrudged. This was obviously exacerbated by me battling to hold on to Nick through the longer dirt roady type sections. I would have had a better ride with some single track to tone the pace down. Grumpy Hill tried to live up to its name but my heart was still strong at that point. It was the unnamed FFS end already whats wrong with you headwind straight that cracked me 18kms from home. But that was quickly rescued by the finish. A flowy section roughly 10kms long winding along the Tugela river where we’d managed to catch up with some well paced individual riders for a strong finish. This event is one of the fer that allows both team and individual riders which is fairly rare but for me an absolute win as partner pair ups for me often become a bit of a hassle. If not for the logistical complexities of time of work, traing schedules but for the fact that sometimes I don’t want to be a hammer or a nail. I just want to ride my bike. In that respect solo events appeal to me more than strict team only events.
By the way what headwind, I recall fighting my way through one about 18kms in to day two but that was before the last meander came to wash away my blues.
Our times were good despite my suffering and we’d found a good fight with another team who we could tell who wanted our spot. Nick was riding like a gent too and wasn’t too bothered that he could have gone faster. Cold beer by the river buddy? And how about another?
Volvo were keen on displaying their SUV lineup and had arrived with an assortment of vehicles to display to the MTB community. I took a liking to the XC70 but ended up lucking a ride with the motoring crowd to the top of Spionkop in an XC90 – nothing wrong with this one either if I’m honest. The Volvo silently compressed some diesel and up Spioekops flanks we went but all in the car knew it was going to be more than a silent effort on a bicycle the following day. This 400m high hump is landmark historical battleground in our countries anglo boer history and the organisers had arranged for an amazing historian to give us a record of events whilst we watched the sun set. Ron Gold must go down as one of the finest speakers to ever hold a microphone and I thank you Volvo and Berg and Bush for that daring and rare opportunity. A history lesson on a famous battleground at a mountain bike event was certainly a first for me.
Day 3 was pegged at around 50kms and after my lift up Spionkop the evening before I knew I was in for a tough one. The stated days climbing isn’t much but I found the linear manner it was delivered to the legs quite brutal. It also meant our rivals could more than likely outpower us to the major climb as they seemed better prepared in that department. The steady 1-2% gradient nibbled at my power output the whole morning so when I finally reached the climb that mattered I was well and truly past my sell by date. On dead legs I now had to climb a quick 400m in about 3kms. I remained determined to ride it and I managed to achieve that. Nick on the other hand recorded the fastest climb of the day but his time as a comparison was nearly double what Pyga Euro Steel rider Matthys Beukes managed to achieve in the racier field a few days before. Astonishing really because Nick was pushing and and can sit pretty comfortably in the A bunch at most events. There’s A bunch and then there’s Pro.
The Berg and Bush team are kind to you after the penultimate climb though and there is nothing in Cape Town that can come close to the playful, groomed and outstanding 17km descent that completes the days riding.The sheer length and finish of this descent is unrivaled in my opinion. The closest comparison I can muster would be the descent at the Garden Route Trail Park. We rolled in to the race villiage all smiles and wobbly knees from pumping so many whoops and berms but had slipped one spot to 11th on the overall leaderboard which still goes down as one of my finest efforts on a bicycle.
In summary, I completely underestimated the effort required in completing this event. I thought it was going to be a bit of a Jobergers can’t ride hills kind of affair. And that I would be shredding single track in an easy capacity for the most part. I had acknowledged day one as a proper distance but with only around one thousand metres of climbing I thought it would be ok to hammer it out the way and have plenty left to unleash the traildog in me on the remaining shorter days. The truth was that day two’s sixty felt like eighty and day threes fifty felt closer to a tough sixty. Keep in mind we were also relieved of nearly forty kilometers of its famous single track sections too. I’m sure the altitude played its part and riding at race pace took its toll but those factors aside, make no mistake the Berg and Bush is a proper stage race.
Without a doubt I’ll be back in 2018 for all the bits I missed and another round of well organized and wonderfully hosted hospitality. Will Nick want to tow me again is the question.