Monday, July 30, 2007

Argus vs Jock vs Tour de France

I don't know where this graphic came from so I don't know who to credit but this really illustrates just how big the mountains in the Tour de France are and just how pisswilly small Suikerbossie, the famed and feared mountain in the Cape Argus actually is. Of course when you're half way up Suikerbossie, you would feel entirely different.

Anyone for climbing the Col du Galibier? And don't forget that not only is it very big and steep but at 2500m, the air is just starting to get that much thinner.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Spring is sprung ...

the grass is ris, I wonder where the boidies is.

We're a little ahead of schedule this year but we have an annual spring clean where Caron and I both go through our clothes and other cupboards and throw away anything that is frayed, damaged or just plain useless. This is entirely my initiative because left to her own, Caron would keep absolutely everything and our house is way too small for everything. The day goes something like the following:

R. Are we actually going to ever use this bed frill for a single bed of which we own none?
C. Well, you never know when it might be usefull.
R. I think we should get rid of it, we aren't likely to ever buy a single bed and even if we did, would we want a bed frill?
C. Oh Ok (carefully suppressed anger), get rid of it.

Now I just have to remember never, ever, to buy another single bed because as sure as night follows day - this little conversation will be regurgitated at that time.

Actually the bed frill is a no-brainer but it is easy to imagine more touchy subjects like the single bed sheets - again for the bed we don't own. Bedsheets are multi-purpose items, much to my amazement, and double as tablecloths. But do we really need five of them? I don't think so but I lost that argument, actually, after courting disaster with the bed frills, I didn't even try and argue the point.

After the throwing away phase we take stock of our surviving clothes and make up a shopping list for my annual foray into the clothes stores. Normally Caron chickens out at this point and delegates to Kim who is more than happy to help me spend some money. We have a very simple shopping strategy - go to Woolworths and if we can't find it there, it doesn't get bought.

P.S. We don't actually throw the clothes away, we actually donate them.

Tour De France

The tour is finally coming to an end and I can have my evenings back to myself. I think I have watched a entire years worth of TV in the last 3 weeks following le tour which has become quite addictive (no pun intended). The last week has seen several notable events to do with doping on the tour and I find that people are starting to ask me why cyclists are so un-sportsmanlike and take so many drugs. The jury is out on whether cyclists - as opposed to any other sport discipline and in particular any other endurance discipline actually do abuse drugs more. For this to be answered all sports should have the same code when it comes to testing of samples, random tests throughout the year etc, etc - which not all sports do. If, as Gary Player accuses, a sport like golf can have wide spread drug abuse - then all sports need to be monitored much more carefully than they are.

On a personal note, I choose to believe that all good cyclists are on drugs as it really is a very convenient way of explaining away my complete lack of performance in cycle racing.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Jock

I've survived and we were very thankful at the end of the 105km that we hadn't entered the 150 as we would have been woefully under prepared. We left johannesburg at about 14:00 on friday afternoon and had a rather uneventful drive down to nelspruit other than my tyre pressure warning going on for what appears to have been nothing. A few anxious moments before we crawled into a garage only to find that there wasn't actually anything really wrong so I don't know why the warning went off.

Arrived at Conifer Cottages and checked in and spoke to Jason and Cathy who by the time we had arrived had only just left so they were expecting to get to Nelspruit at about 23:00 so we went to bed. Had a quick shuftie over my bike and I was horrified at the state of the brakes not to mention the tires - I think a major service is in order when I get back to Johannesburg.

The next morning we were up and going at 04:30 and it was surprisingly warm or so we thought. By the time we were at the start at BergVlam highschool which translates to burning mountains it was decidedly freezing. The event seems to have got smaller since last year but then we were only doing the 105km so we couldn't really compare since we did the 150km last year.

The organisation wasn't so great and it was the little necessities of life like toilet paper that had everyone getting tense. Having been to the army where toilet paper or the lack of it is a daily reality I was very used to this. Loads of jokes about how to only use one square so as to conserve the white gold as much as possible. Somehow a youngster, he must have been a local, was spotted with a whole roll and we tried to get him but cycling shoes are not conducive to running and dive tackling so he got away. Eventually we managed to beg some of the white stuff and do our thing but it's not the right way to start of a race - really it isn't. Note to self - pack some bogroll next time.

The race didn't start of well for us because I managed to miss the timing matt which is not an easy thing to do so I had to circle around and go over it again which meant that jason was far ahead and I hadn't even started. Fortunately the first couple of km's are in town and they don't allow you to race so I managed to catch up with him quite easily. As we headed out the bunch started to pull together and it was very pleasant if a bit chilly and we were ready at the bottom of boulders for a good work out. Boulders would rate as a category 2 climb in the tour de france which barely rates an honourable mention by the commentators but it is still a pretty impressive climb of 6.5km at 6.8% gradient. Managed to keep the pedals going smoothly but I didn't dare look at my heart rate monitor. We overtook a number of riders but didn't have a lot coming past us so we were pretty happy with our climb and going down the otherside was great fun. About 1/2 way down we were overtaken by two riders going at breakneck speed with a car following them which really messed around with everyone else's lines around the corners and with the steep drops over the hairpin bends - messing around with one's lines is not something one wants to do. Turned right at the bottom at kaapmuiden and straight into a headwind. From kaapmuiden it is a 60km climb up to barberton, there are a few downhills but basically you just climb and climb and climb. We formed a group which then took on a life of its own and we decided to drop out and then spent about 30 minutes picking up othe riders dropping out. At one stage we were a group of about 5 riders trying to catch the tail of another group of 5 riders just 300, 200, 100 and then 50m ahead and there we stayed. It felt like we could touch them they were so close but we just couldn't make it across. In one of my less than wise moves I tried to bridge the gap which I did bringing everyone with me and we joined at the bottom of the hill and as we joined they started to pull away again so there is nothing for it but to grit one's teeth and just push and hope that you have enough left. Once we were in the group of 10 people it was great and we rode together until about 10km from the end when the pace picked up a bit and we were dropped although we caught most of the rest of the group by the line as they were slowly dropped as well. Finished in 03:55 which doesn't sound like a good time for 105km but I'm very happy with it. The winner's time was something ridiculous like 02:36 which is just demoralising.

Back at the chalets we had an afternoon nap and some time just to relax before we went to 10 on Russel which is a popular Nelspruit restaurant. Great meal, made all the better for being ravenously hungry. One of the really great things about excessive exercise like racing is that the sleep you have that night is the best, the longest and deepest and definitely the most fantastic. You wake up in the morning feeling absolutely great.

Packed up and went to the Nelspruit Botanical gardens for breakfast which was very respectable before we bought the inevitable plants. Caron has found an ally in Jason so Cathy and I just waited patiently while they asked questions about what felt like every single plant in the nursery.

We took the long way home and went via Sabie, Lydenburg and Dullstroom before getting back onto the N4 bound for Johannesburg.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Sunday, bloody Sunday

Hmmmm! Jason and I have both entered the Jock of the Bushveld cycle race which is widely regarded as the toughest single day roadrace in South Africa. It is 150km long but it goes over some serious mountains - not in the same league as the french alps but tough enough for us ageing amateurs. Neither of us is actually in shape to actually do the 150 so we have chickened out and entered the 100km race instead - and even then I think we may by in trouble.

On Sunday morning we did out first road ride for I don't know how long, mostly just to see how much trouble we're in. A fair amount as it turned out. I've had a substantial break due to the operation and then just as I was getting back on my feet Jason got the flu and as a result we're both looking a tad tubby - and I'm being kind to Jason. We decided to do the 95km route backwards so we got the busiest roads over first which proved to be a great idea. Not only is the traffic much better but the hills get progressively worse as the ride goes on which is absolutely ideal. We both struggled up Krugersdorp hill in the granny gear unlike last year when we would speed up it in second or even third. Methinks that Saturday is going to be one mother of a day. All in all we coped reasonably well other than on the hills and averaged just a shade under 26km/hr which, given the amount of training, isn't too bad.

With the amount of flab on us at the moment at least we're not likely to run out of energy stores. :-)


I've been a little out of touch during the last couple of weeks and I'm going to blame it all on the Tour de France which I have been following avidly. This is the first time I have actually followed the tour and I am totally absorbed, way more than I thought I would be. What I failed to realise was that it takes a specific genetic make up to actually win the tour overall, one can't be a specialist in any one discipline to the detriment of the others and still harbour hopes of winning. This has made it so much more interesting because there are all these races within races for instance the green and polka dot jerseys are unlikely (but not impossible) to be won by the same person that wins the yellow.

Of course, actually having a South African team albeit comprised of internationals with a lone South African in it has added to the interest. Thus far my impression is that Barloworld is doing exceptionally well for a team on their first tour. At the moment they have a rider in the top 5 on both the sprinting and the hill climbing rankings and even if they fade towards the end of the race - so what.

I finally took the plunge and purchased a (new to me) used mountain bike. I think I succumbed to peer pressure when I realised that the guys that I was riding with had all paid about 6 times for their second hand mountain bikes as I had paid for mine brand new. I am now the proud owner of a Yeti with XTR, SRAM and Avid equipment. My first ride was a 55km effort out to Northern farm and it was just amazing. The bike almost climbs the hills by itself. What a win and that is without mentioning how it handles the single track which is equally satisfying.

Other than that, my parents-in-law have finally sold their house so they are arriving in August which isn't far away. They're going to build a cottage in the back of Kims place which is leading to all sorts of family dynamics and discussions as to what to build, how to build, finances etc, etc, etc. A little tense at times where one or the other of us has a certain view which is not shared by the remainder.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

In Debt we Trust

I happened to get invited (along with the trusty wife) to a screening of Danny Schechters latest documentary which I found extremely interesting and illuminating particularly since the line of work that I am in was cast as the evil empire - chewing up innocent, ill-informed americans and spitting them out on the trash heap of life.

The basic premise of the movie is that the credit card industry gives people, in this case americans, access to too much credit and once they have availed themselves of this seemingly free resource - they find out that it isn't really free and it drags them down in a spiral of interest induced debt. The director spends most of the movie concentrating on the evil empires of Mastercard and VISA and how they actively plot the impoverishment of the masses for the enrichment of the few which, although difficult to prove, is even more difficult to disprove.

While I appreciate that one needs to lay it on thick to really punch the point home I do feel that Danny should have attacked the credit industry as a whole rather than just the credit card industry. Nonetheless, he makes a very good point which is that while credit in some instances is a necessary facility, in most it is merely an additional cost on the purchase of the goods in question and that without management it can lead to people entering the debt spiral.

One really interestig tidbit that emerged from the movie was that research conducted by the credit card companies in the 60's and 70's showed that the poorer people were, the more likely they were to be honest and the more likely that they would try their utmost to repay their debts. I've never heard this from any other source but it sort of makes subjective sense.

In south africa we are currently suffering from a lack of capacity of electricity and the government has set up a division of eskom (I think) called "Demand side management" which is supposed to come up with ways and means of limiting the demand for electricity. We need some Demand side management programs for individuals to help them manage their insatiable demand for credit. If one managed to solve this conundrum one could gain instant osama bin laden status because of the number of industries it would destroy. It's easy to make up a few sensible rules as when to or when not to use credit but that definitely isn't the answer - nobody wants the rules.

After the movie we were chatting around the table and one of the other film makers asked me whether I had reconsidered being in the card industry and I felt like responding by asking if she had ever reconsidered being in the film industry because there was porn but I held my tongue and laughed.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Skiing African Style

Woke up to a brilliant cloudless day which just happened to be -5 deg. C. Frigging cold, especially being an African I am used to the heat not the cold. Nobody had slept well last night thanks to the other tenants who managed to disturb everyones' sleep at various times of the night so everyone was feeling a little green around the gills. Breakfast was very plain fare but quite edible and we hurried through the breakfast to make sure that we arrived at the ski slope before one of the other parties which had at least 40 people in it.

Driving down to the the Afri-Ski resort we were greeted with the following view which was very encouraging, at least there was definitely snow to ski on.

We kitted up in the ski shop without too much of a problem although I heard some people who came in after us complaining vociferously. They had paid about 20k for ski passes, hire etc, etc and Afri-Ski didn't have them on their list so they weren't going to give them their gear. I can hardly blame the customers irritation but the Afri-Ski staff really need a serious wake up call. One just can't run a ski resort like they do - in mitigation, the resort only really opened in 2004 but by now they really should be getting their customer service right. They clearly aren't.

So finally we were ready and after a couple of tries on the baby slope I worked up to the full run quite quickly. I think that this slope has to be the best slope I have seen or can imagine for beginner to intemediate skiers. The half of the full slope which was open could be divided into thirds. The first third was between a green and a blue, the second third more or less a blue and the final third between a blue and a red slope so as people got used to the easy slope they could progress to slightly steeper slopes easily.

By the end of the day, I as well as Kirsten and Carl had more or less remembered how to ski albeit a bit like a robot. All stiff and not smooth and flowing. Caron was doing fine on the lower slopes snow ploughing here way down and complaining bitterly about the stress being put on her knees. I keep on telling her that as soon as she starts to parallel ski, all that stress just goes away and the whole experience becomes a million times more pleasant.

We actually stopped mid afternoon because we were all getting tired and that is the time when one has accidents so we retired back to the lodge where we could sit in front of coal fire and drink wine and whisky and relax.

Carl had to get a report finished and sent to one of his colleagues - a simple task or so he thought as the following days were to show. We asked about internet connection at the lodge but they only have a satellite phone for emergencies. There wasn't even a cell phone signal at the lodge. There was a cell signal at the ski slope but only caron who has MTN was able to actually make phone calls. Carl and myself are Vodacom subscribers so we had absolutely nothing.

The kids struggled to get to grips with the snow, this being their very first experience of snow. Not exactly happy campers at the end of day one.

Skiing African Style

Contrary to popular belief, there is in fact skiing available in Africa south of the equator although I might be stretching the definition of skiing a little. This is not the miles and miles of ski runs with quaint coffee, gluhwein or vin chaud shops perched precariously on the mountain side, this is African style. There is one ski run and the one and only coffee shop is at the bottom of the run a mere 500m walk (not ski) away. Be this as it may, it is still snow and you do get to use real ski's and if you aren't careful, make an idiot of one's self.
Having been to Tiffendell a couple of times and experienced their exemplary service orientated culture (not!) I was expecting pretty much the same thing at Afri-Ski and I was not disappointed.

We left on the friday morning at 11:00 and arrived at about 16:00 which included a border crossing and the usual stops for calls of nature - like food. Once in Lesotho the speed at which one drives decreases to about 80km/hr because at anything much more than that you wouldn't be able to stay on the road let alone avoid oxen, sheep and children. There are no fences beside the road so one's speed has to take these into consideration - a typically african experience. We overtook several ox carts plodding along the tarred road. I thought that we might see donkey carts but I was surprised at the ox carts. The moteng pass (2820m) which climbs about 1000m up the escarpment is absolutely fantastic. Good road all the way with loads of ice and snow next to the road from the cold front a couple of weeks ago. I would not like to do this pass with snow actually on the road, I think it would be extremely dangerous. The Oxbow lodge where we were staying is a short drive from the top of the pass and wedged between the road and the stream and driving into it reminded me of some of the Nepali villages where the road winds between the houses. The Oxbow Lodge cannot be described as luxury accomodation by any stretch of the imagination but it was warm and reasonably comfortable thanks to the winter sheets, four thick blankets and a thick duvet not to mention the gas heater which we left on the whole night.

In the lounge after supper we met an eccentric englishman, they (the english) really do have a knack of producing them. I wonder if it is a sign of in-breeding? He is busy cycling around Lesotho and according to him, and he has done almost 100 000km of cycling in various parts of the world, this is by far the most strenuous terrain he has ever encountered. I must say, that as a cyclist, the mountains are pretty daunting. He has spent the last 10 years travelling by bicycle or public transport all over the world and intends doing another 5 years before going home to the UK. I don't think anyone who has done that amount of travelling will ever again settle down in one place.