“Did I just say that? Is she ready for this? Am I ready for this? Almost immediately as the words left my mouth thoughts of regret began to cloud my brain.” Tyrone Rawlins had just asked his girlfriend, Serena, to ride her first stage race with him the week before the 2014 Resolution Health Ride the Rhino.
Sure, it’s heavily marketed as a “ride”, but reality is she has never ridden further than 40km on a mountain bike before. I justify it to her and myself: it’s like going on three training rides, in a row, at an Argus distance, off road, over much steeper mountains, it would be a “fun” weekend away!
The appeal of “Ride the Rhino” begins with the 9am start from Langebaan Country Estate, a leisurely hour drive out of Cape Town. In typical Cape Town fashion on the drive through, the heavens opened and bucketed down, then closed, sun came out and everything dried up, but then the ghastly Cape Doctor (south-easterly wind) blasted through – all in a matter of 30 minutes. Pulling into the parking lot, we were immediately caught off guard by the number of participants. It was great to see that the White Rhino (the shorter route) had included a junior category and how many of the kid’s parents and schools had given them permission to take the day off to ride.
Serena, being a digital nerd and relatively new to mountain biking has spent countless hours Googling bike brands and pinning the “pretty” ones she would like (before querying price), quickly pointed out that the majority of the parking lot’s bike racks hardware totalled to more than some of the vehicles themselves!
Before loading our bags onto the truck the first argument ensued: Are we dressed appropriately? Should we take rain jackets or leg warmers? What is the weather going to do? It was at this moment that the event and Rhino Project ambassador, Steve Newman strolled past us wearing nothing but a pair of takkies and a pink speedo – it was unanimous, we were dressed fine and headed to the start line.
Stage one initially had 80km and 1 334m of climbing installed for us, but a simple error of a poorly placed marker left the field with a 94km and more than 1 600m of effort for the day. The extra distance and mighty unpleasant headwind aside, the stage offered a fairly comfortable ride consisting of tar and district roads through the scenic West Coast National Park. Being spring, we rode through fields of multi coloured flowers, and if your partner wasn’t yakking at the top of her voice, you may have been fortunate enough to spot a variety of wildlife through the Postberg area. Leaving water point one, we were steered towards the beach, thankfully it was low tide and the two kilometre stretch was pleasurable on the hard packed sand through to Yzerfontein. The iKwaTtu Reserve provided some decent single track winding up to the Spur water point. Day one was pretty much a transition period from Langebaan to the quiet town of Darling with a large portion of district road leading us onto the Golf course and finishing up at the club house.
Getting Serena to the end of stage one was only part of my effort for the day, the majority of it was going to be spent soothing over the whole camping experience for my anti-camping princess. The advantage of doing a stage race with your partner is that you can share the load, one bag for clothing and the other for everything necessary to create a glamping atmosphere: double duvet, two pillows, ipads and portable modem – to enter the Argus and stream the surfing in France. Unfortunately, supplying two ply was as far as we could brighten up the ablution situation.
After the extra kilometres of day one, we were assured that day two wasn’t going to be more than 89km and 1 636m of great riding around the Darling area. Riders were treated to some fantastic flowing singletrack including a fast “Old Man’s Bend Challenge” a series of berms wrapping themselves through the gumtrees. It was pretty much all smiles until just before Cloof Wine Estate and the daunting task of conquering Dassenberg Donder – a monstrous climb to the mast and highest point of the ride. This marked the “King of the Mountain” and a spectacular view point, if you had enough breath to take it in. Unfortunately, reaching the peak was just the halfway point of this challenge, riders were tested with the mammoth descend down to Cloof, the kind of terrain that Greg Minnaar would reveal in. For the rest it was pure survival – a coin toss between attempting to ride and burn your breaks out or timidly walk your way to the bottom. On reaching Cloof, the arm pump from the rattling descend hindered my Spur burger eating ability. It was a longer than needed stop at the water-table to refuel and prepare for the final 25km. Thankfully, for the first time the wind was behind us helping to push up our average speed.
There was a festive atmosphere in the camp as beers and wine flowed and the National Anthem bellowed out whilst witnessing the Bokke give the Aussies a hiding! A steak braai (if you ate red meat) kept the festivities going. A quick stroll into town saw us settling into a quaint restaurant where we were joined by Joel Stransky, who despite looking in immense agony gave us a comical re-enactment of his spectacular face-plant during his descend of Dassenberg Donder.
Day three saw very weary bodies slowly emerging from their tents, a combination of distance already pedalled, sun kissed skin and over celebration from a great rugby victory. We were in for another challenging day, although relatively flat we were headed straight into the south-easter as we took on the final 90km and 1 340m to the Hillcrest Quarry in Durbanville. Actual riding aside, one of the bigger tasks of the day was trying to keep tabs on the whereabouts of your partner as everybody wore the event shirts to show their support for the majestic beast, the rhino. There was a fierce pace from the start, people were obviously very eager to get home! There wasn’t much to talk about other than the odd river crossing, all district road and tar until winding our way up to the top of Hooggekraal and our first glimpse of Table Mountain. You can never go wrong with the roller coasting pristine singletrack of Hooggekraal.
The last few kilometres were knocked off fairly quickly along the tar before dropping into the Hillcrest Quarry and the final hurdle: the Tip Trans Bridge. After riding a total of 260km in three days, the last thing you felt like doing was offering entertainment and falling off the floating bridge in front of the thousand odd spectators. To make matters worse, they put a pallet in the middle which you had to bunny hop over. Thankfully the death grip I had on my handlebars saw me make it over gingerly whilst Serena chose the safe option to get off and run across the bridge to the finish line to complete her first stage race experience and collect the all-important medal! Whilst many chose to hang around for the live band and share war stories over a few cold beers, we dashed home to embed ourselves on the couch and fall victim to a sushi induced coma.
The ride is a great introduction to stage racing, geared towards the first timer with the route requiring a very basic skill level with a lot of district road – more about getting the long distances under the belt. Day two was the highlight, although the toughest day, especially in the heat, as it gives riders the chance to experience some great singletrack. However easy, I would definitely not recommend underestimating it like we did and get in a few long rides as preparation.
Where are we?
The Resolution Health Ride the Rhino takes place annually to raise funds to fight rhino poaching and for the conservation of the highly endangered Renosterveld. The three day race runs from Langebaan on the Cape West Coast to Durbanville, in Cape Town’s northern suburbs.
Tyrone Rawlins is as committed to mountain biking as they get having built a business, One Movement Events, around promoting schools mountain biking. In 2013 he completed the ABSA Cape Epic with Craig Kolesky and he’ll be lining up again in 2015, this time with Shane McConnachie for the Dare2Share Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @TyroneRawlins.