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The Munga 2016
Just over a year ago I assisted my brother Alex Harris in mobilizing Water Points for the first edition of The Munga Endurance Mountain Bike Race.
Over 1077km’s – from Bloemfontein to Vanderkloof Dam to Britstown to Loxton to Sutherland to Ceres and eventually on to Wellington in the Western Cape.
I was in awe of the generosity of the farmers in-between all these towns, the stunning views of our countryside and the physical & emotional journey the riders had to endure over the course of this race.
There was one specific part of the route that had a very profound effect on me. About 45km’s after leaving Sutherland (Race Village 4) you descend down Ouberg Pass towards the Tankwa River Lodge (Water Point 7) and then on towards the Tankwa Padstal (Water Point 8). I knew I had to come back here one day.
After getting back to normal life in Johannesburg after the race I couldn’t stop thinking about whether or not I would ever be tough enough to compete in a race like The Munga.
After much soul searching at the beginning of this year, I dusted the cob webs off my Mountain Bike and started training for the second edition of this race. My personal goal was just to complete the Munga within the 5-day cut off period.
A year later and I found myself on the start line in Bloemfontein with another 70+ riders – ready for the second edition which covered more or less the same route – 1085km’s.
The first 50km’s before we even got to WP1 was brutal. Temperatures over 40 degrees, a head wind over 40km’s per hour and in some sections the sand was so soft that it was impossible to pedal, you just had to get off your bike and push. At times I had to keep checking my heart rate monitor because I wasn’t sure it was actually working properly. I was averaging 170bpm. There was no way I would even make day one if I continued like this. It was only after talking to one of the other riders did I realise that I wasn’t alone and many other riders were experiencing the same effect because of the extreme heat and extra power we were having to exert riding into the hectic headwind.
I stuck with Gavin Horton from Gemini Sports Lab at the start of the race. Gavin is also my brother’s coach and he put me through four months of strength training in the gym leading up to The Munga – something that would be one of the most critical factors in ensuring I was able to complete this race. After the first few kilometers he started experiencing technical issues with his bike, so I carried on without him knowing that he would catch up with me a bit later.
About 10km’s before WP1 a group of about 8 of us found ourselves camped under a tree in the shade hoping for the temperatures and wind to die down a bit. Alex came driving past and let us know that it was probably the best strategy as a number of the riders at the front end were already burning the candle at both ends.
The group I was with eventually got going again to WP1 and then from there we stuck together for most of the way to WP2. I felt pretty comfortable and secure riding in this group because it had Neville Higgs (that finished the race last year), Garth de Jager, Braam Roux and Pieter van Hoogdalem that I had done a few Mini Mungas with, along with some other riders. Neville had endless trouble with his back tire and had to stop every so often to keep pumping it up. Late into the night this group thinned out a bit and I eventually found myself riding alone. I slowed down because I saw some lights in the distance behind me and I thought it was Neville. Eventually the lights caught up with me and it was actually Gavin. I was starting to wonder if he had abandoned because I hadn’t seen him since the beginning of the race. His back breaks had seized completely and he was also left having to borrow another riders GPS (that dropped out of the race) because his GPS stopped working. From this point on I stuck with Gavin all the way to WP2 and then on to Vanderkloof Dam, which we reached at about 6am in the morning – 222km’s and 18 hours later.
After signing into the Race Village at Vanderkloof Dam I had something to eat and a cold shower. The intention was to sleep for about an hour but my mind was still buzzing so much I may have slept for about ten minutes at the most. We got our stuff together and headed off for RV2 – Britstown.
The next 70km’s to WP3 seemed relatively easy compared to what we had to endure the day before. We arrived at a Farm House that a lush green lawn under some trees. A perfect opportunity to having something cold to drink and bit of food and a little nap for about half an hour.
Before we knew it we were on our way again to WP4 (another Farm House) which was another 50km’s away. Once I left WP4 the next 30km to 40km were exceptionally difficult because the sleep monsters had arrived. I remember weaving from one side of the road to the next. I had to stop and have a power nap on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. Eventually I got to the Transkaroo Lodge at about 12:30am which was RV2 in Britstown. The Race Village Lead was Renato Sabbioni and he was so efficient in pointing out where everything was. A very good thing at this time of night, especially since I didn’t know whether I was coming or going.
I had a good few hours sleep in Britstown and then Gavin and I headed off for RV3 – Loxton at about 6:30am. My body was extremely sore from the previous two days of riding and my new best friend was Anethane! Before I knew it we reached WP5 – another Farm House with the most amazing hospitality and then on to WP6, a Farm called PampoenPoort. I knew this WP all to well from the previous year and saw it as a trap if I stayed too long as I may have never left. Gavin arrived a while before me and was almost getting ready to leave when I rolled in. I had a quick bite to eat jumped into a small sulphur pool to cool down and then left with Gavin. The last 15km’s into Loxton was frustrating. Last year this last section was a tar road into town. This year it detoured via an overgrown single and jeep track which I had to navigate in the dark. Over an hour and a lot of swearing later I eventually arrived at RV3 just after 10pm.
We managed to have a few good hours sleep in Loxton and Gavin and I had an early start the next morning to Sutherland (5am). The first 55km’s to WP7 was fast and fantastic. When we arrived at WP7 (Saaifontein Farm) we were greeted by some farm children and we grabbed some quick breakfast. We didn’t want to spend to long here and were on our way pretty quickly. The next 40km’s into Fraserburg was also a pleasant ride but by now it was about midday and the sun was starting to cook. My wife Carol met us in Fraserburg and topped up our supply of Anethane. We had a brief stop under some trees in the main street and shortly thereafter headed on our way again. This is where the wheels started coming off for me again. There was a hectic headwind and very high temperatures. I eventually made my way to RV4 in Sutherland and arrived at about midnight. Another 18 plus hours in the saddle. I was completely exhausted and needed sleep urgently. Gavin said he wanted to leave at about 3am to push on to Ceres but there was no way that I was going to be able to get up that early and carry on with him.
I eventually woke up at 5am and was sore everywhere. Gavin had left at about 3am but I realised that the next section of the race was the area that I had been waiting to get back to from the previous year – Ouberg Pass and into the Tankwa.
Being in Sutherland, the morning temperature was relatively cool so it made riding to the top of Ouberg Pass a lot easier. Once I was about to descend I got this renewed energy over me and I found myself flying down the pass and all the way to WP8 at the Tankwa River Lodge. I had a quick bite to eat, filled my bottle and Camelbak and had a quick swim to cool down.
I also felt good for the next 70km’s to WP9 – The Tankwa Padstal. My wife Carol was waiting for me there so that gave me extra incentive to get there as soon as possible. I had caught up with Gavin again as he was still at the Padstal after sleeping there for a while. I had something to eat, relaxed a while and then Gavin and I were on our way to RV5 at Ceres. Only 80km’s away but the hardest 80km’s I have ever ridden in my life. The first 40km’s was a straight road into a headwind that never died down and battered and bruised me. The heat also got to me and I ended up getting a blood nose that did not want to stop. I don’t recall how many times I stopped on this long straight road to have a rest, it could have been every 5km’s or maybe even less.
We got to RV5 at the Eselfontein Farm near Ceres at 2am. Over 20 hours since I left Sutherland. Only one short section left. We ate then slept for a little bit and then were on our way from Ceres to Wellington at 4:30am. Just over 70km’s were left to complete The Munga.
The last section is tar all the way to the finish at Diemersfontein. Going up Bains Kloof was also quite majestic, especially after the journey I had just been on. Its a fitting final section of a race that tested me both physically and mentally like nothing I have ever experienced. Going up Bains Kloof I had time to reflect on many things in my life. My Family – Carol, Keaton, Mom, Chris, Monica, Alex, Sharon & Debbie. The most important people in my life. I also thought about my Father and wished he would have been able to be at the Finish Line when I crossed it.
There are so many people that helped on this journey before it even started. I also met a lot of great new rider friends that I hope to see on the trails in the near future. Gavin it was a pleasure riding with you for most of this race.
So what next from here…. well we will just have to wait and see….