The Munga was an eye opener to what average people can do when they put their mind to it. Looking at the start list, you would never have picked a sure winner. The challenge itself is incredible, even just to think about it, and to do it within 80 hours is just next level.
I rode my motorcycle from Stellenbosch to Bloemfontein on Tuesday morning to support my friend and colleague, Kevin Benkenstein. In my head, I thought the trip would be 670 km, but to my surprise it was just on 1,000 km and took me way longer than expected.
The race kicked off at noon on Wednesday and a small number of riders gathered at the Windmill Casino in Bloemfontein for the start. With the total elevation over 1,110km only being 6000m, it was always going to be a fast start. Riders faced 40-degree heat and a massive headwind that seemed to never subside. I rode to the first water point at the 60 odd kilometre mark and waited for their arrival.
By my estimate, they would have been there in just over 2 and a bit hours, but time went by and no one showed up. When the first rider appeared it was Jeannie Dreyer and I was completely taken by surprise. I knew she was an amazing adventure racer, but to lead a field of men who had trained hard for this event was next level.
Next up, four riders appeared together and Kev was one of them. He looked smashed. I could not believe what I was witnessing. After 60 km into a race that would take 80 hours to complete, people are broken at the first water point. How would they finish? Later we found out that a small amount of people never reached the first water point and I was not surprised. This was brutal.
From water point one, I leapfrogged the riders and made my way towards one of the Spaza shops (small cafe) that riders were allowed to stop at to buy themselves refreshments. Riders started appearing around 5/6pm and had only done just over 100km. Every single rider that arrived while I was at the shop looked ready to call it quits. The heat played havoc and they still rode into a headwind that I reckon was roughly around 40 km/h. It was a war zone.
The roads were mostly straight, dusty, and corrugated. Riders who had tri bars on their bike certainly had an advantage in the conditions. With no shelter next to the road, I made my way to the overnight stop at Van Der Kloof dam and sat down, waiting for the first riders to make an appearance. The heat never subsided and it felt like 30deg at 11pm. One by one they arrived, with hours separating the top 10. Incredible.
After they signed in, they had the option of taking a nap on a bed provided and a shower if they should need one. Most riders opted for a quick meal and got on their way, trying to make the best of the cooler conditions without the sun beating down on them. I was able to source a mattress and tried to get some sleep in a store room of the hotel. It did not really work out, and, after the first day, I was nearly broken myself. Riding a big 1200cc motorcycle at night on gravel roads where you can hardly make out if the surface is hard packed or sand, and with numerous hares trying to become road kill, started to take its toll.
I got up at first light and tried to catch up with the riders. It would be a long day of leapfrogging and waiting. With gaps now hours between riders, no cell phone coverage and no shade, the days dragged out. Taking a limited number of photos was not inspiring and the grey, dull surrounds did nothing for my confidence. Eventually, I reached Britstown and waited….
When Kevin eventually came in, he looked in bad shape. I have never seen him like this before, and I have seen him do a few Everests. He managed to get some food down and indicated that he would go for a sleep. It was roughly 11am. Around 2pm, I started getting nervous. He never mentioned that he wanted to sleep that long. At 3pm he made an appearance and we realised that he missed two of his alarms. The first sign of fatigue.
A dropped Garmin caused havoc for around 2 hours. It would simply not switch on. The race is self-navigated and a GPS is crucial to reaching the finish. With a huge amount of luck, the device eventually rebooted, had to be set up again and the ride could go on. Roughly 5 hours longer than anticipated…
The sun started to set and driving became hazardous again. I nearly collided with a few small buck and once had to stop dead in the road for a little Bugs Bunny who simply did not want to give way. When I reached Loxton at 11pm that night I was shattered. The kind people offered me a meal and I booked a room with a bed. I tried to get some sleep.
Kevin arrived at 4am and left at 6am. I missed him. Not ideal with the limited opportunities to get a variety of content. With only a few farmers allowing cyclist access, it meant that I had to skip big parts of the trip at certain times. Waiting at Rv3, it was Jeannie and Heinrich who arrived first. They have only slept around 90 minutes at this point and decide to take a quick 20 min power nap. Mike arrived and decided to take a nap on a bed before heading out again. The heat got up to around 35deg and people were suffering. Riders could access water reservoirs next to the road which became a life saver on many occasions.
We made our way to Sutherland and the time went by slowly. Most riders took some time to nap. Jeannie and Heinrich managed to descend Ouberg pass in daylight which gave them a massive advantage. From there we made our way to Tankwa padstal on roads that would drive anyone batty. Straight… dusty… corrugated. The day came to an end in Wellington and I was relieved to see my mate finish his challenge and achieve a goal. I must admit, I have never seen one human put up a smile every single time he was in company. Just have a look at the latest cover of Ride Magazine if you want to see what I am talking about.
I was broken. The riders were smashed. I don't see myself ever doing this event. It is brutal. Congratulations to every single one of the riders that finished: you are truly special.
The only problem for me now is: I can never not finish a ride, or complain that it is too long or too hot or too windy. I cannot unsee what I have seen. I have a new perspective on cycling.