An article I wrote for the Cycle Lab website
At just after midnight on Saturday morning 16 June, six of us left Thaba Trails to start the 600km Audax. We had our route cards that needed to be signed at 10 control points along the way – mostly at garage shops, where the etiquette is to buy some food or drink in return. Soon after we started I looked at the countdown on my GPS – only 594km to go!
Preparation is critical. The ride is unsupported, other than a bag drop at the church in Greylingstad – 342km into the ride. You need to carry everything you need with you – lights to last through 2 nights, warm clothing, tools to cater for mechanicals, GPS loaded with the route and batteries to last the 30 to 40 hours I expected to take.
I had arrived at the start at 11:30pm, after 3 hours sleep and wearing all my warm clothes (except my rain jacket). The weather forecast indicated minimum temperatures of 2°C on the route and I was prepared for up to -3°C. I was pretty confident I had it all covered.
We lost one rider quickly. Ernest had taken sleeping pills to try and get some sleep in before the start and was now drowsy on the bike – not great for riding through the night. As we rode through Three Rivers and to Deneysville on the Vaal Dam, it was clear that the weather forecast had been optimistic, with an average temperature of 0°C and a minimum of -5°C. I was struggling to stay warm. On the section to the Villiers truck stop, we lost another rider, Kenneth, who dropped back, continuing on alone to about half way before calling it a day.
That left 4 of us to ride to the end – myself and Michelle Gahan from Cycle Lab, Tiaan (who I had done a D90 with previously and who has a record of 23 consecutive days of 200km+) and Marlé(a strong, experienced rider, who I had not met before). The others had done the 600km before – Michelle has done 1500km. My longest ride was a paltry 300km.
In daylight, after defrosting in the Villiers truck stop, we did Heidelberg, to Nigel, to Devan, to Greylingstad, where Tonya at the local church provides a meal and a mattress to grab a few hours’ sleep. We left, very grateful, just after 10:30 pm. Being wise to -5°C, I now had a third base layer on, but again I was to be surprised.
Back to Devan, Nigel and Heidelberg we rode. This section became really tough; temperatures below -5°C for extended periods, with a low of -8°C. Tiaan had our only puncture of the ride on this section – very luckily in Nigel where we could repair it inside the garage shop. (I am still not sure whether I could fix a puncture at -8°C.) Tiaan rode much of the night with no light after his light had failed.
From Heidelberg we went directly to the Vaal Dam, where the sun finally rose on our backs to end the bitterly cold night.
After a final coffee at Deneysville, it was up to Vereeniging and back to the start at Thabo Trails. I finished with Marlé. Tiaan and Michelle finished not far behind. We had great support coming in to the end. The organisers had followed our progress with WhatsApp location sharing and were there to welcome us home from the coldest ever 600km Audax. Somehow the learning that winter months are not ideal for 600km events had been lost when planning the 2018 calendar.
What an amazing experience, where I learnt so much about myself, my cycling companions and redefined the limits of what I thought was possible. Other than the cold, this was not that difficult. With good training and preparation, it is simply a matter of keeping the pedals turning. Try it.