Marlette (Molly) de Jager & Rebecca (Becky) Sands
…in Becky’s words
X-Berg Challenge 2021, 2-day Mini Race, Mountain Bike team
Take two adventurous strong headed women, a year of frustration behind them with their wings clipped by COVID, lockdowns and cancelled events, a chance chat with Simon the owner of the Phatt Chef Roadside Diner & BB in the Drakensberg and an attitude of let’s give it a go and worry about the details later… and what do you get? Well, this time, you get Molly and Becky attempting the X-Berg Challenge 2021 two day Mini race. A few things can be said about naming an event “Mini”… there is comfort in that word which leads you to believe that this is a softer fluffier version of the main event. The only word that came from that sentence on Sunday after the mini was attempted was Fluff… and not Fluffier, but FLUFFER.. (think rhyming slang and you’ll begin to get it).
We received a recommended GPS route, in February and we diligently loaded it into our Google Earths and our Garmins.. we even had a zoom meeting to discuss it with a previous race winner. Good prep we thought and smugly went on with our busy lives. Arriving at the race venue on Friday, we started to get the feeling that it may be a little harder that we bargained for. People had recce’d the routes.. in real space not on Google Earth. There was chatter about sleep outs and rescue flares and helicopters…
The Twisted Sisters went to their accommodation and dutifully checked their backpacks for their emergency goods, looked at the loaded GPS again and decided they were ready.
The MTB field was tiny… there were 7 racers in total. We knew Firoz.. super strong, Munga conquerer and super fit would do well. We applauded his intention to smash the 190km or so in one day and wondered if we may also be able to do that..
We didn’t know the other athletes. There was one guy on a 26 er. Where on earth does he get spares??? He was a local and had a lot of route savvy, so we assumed he would do well. The other three were lean looking.. they didn’t seem to be worried. They had lovely matching shirts.
So off we went. Honestly.. Molly has written a lot about our experiences on route – I will just add that this was much harder than either of us had expected. The first two portages were tough, but we were fresh and strong and we handled them well. We were slow and that shift of mindset from doing 100km in 4 hours to just getting to the next point on the map had to be made. Definite highlights on Day 1… out of this world, stunning scenery, riding with a friend who can use Google Earth, finding ice cold coke at a Spaza shop and having amazing support crew.
Bummer moments… the realization that TPC and it’s route was not achievable on day 1 and the realization that day 2 was going to be “vrek” long!
Day 2 dawned.. BEAUTIFULLY, with hot air balloons in the distance and motivational music in the car, we made the long journey to our starting point where we had finished the night before. The X-Berg Challenge gently giggled at us in the background as we got on our bikes and headed out for TPC. Then it bitch slapped us with a 2 hour trek over impossible terrain to our first point.. only 11km in the bag. The route to Bell Park Dam from our day 2 start was IMPOSSIBLY BEAUTIFUL. I could not ride much of it… I’d like to blame my hard tail and lauf fork, but my confidence was not there after running out of talent early on in the trek.
When we eventually got to our support vehicle, it had been a very long morning for a very few kms and it was clear we would not get our planned 110km done on this day.
The riding from there was fairly standard to get to the beautiful Monks Cowl campsite and TPD. This gave us a bit more motivation and we made the call to cut out the difficult looking overland trek to TPE, and cut our losses by going to TPF and then getting back to the finish in time for the cutoff. Suprisingly, we had learned that the three strong guys in the nice shirts had called it a day the previous night… wow.
Congratulating Firoz as he journeyed past us showered and having completed the whole route, we rode back to the finish line with around 140km and 4000m of climbing under our belts.
The Twisted Sisters finished as friends, safely and with strong resolutions to come back better prepared for the unfinished business at the next event.. hmmmm – luckily we have good memories and Molly has recorded good notes!!
Thanks X-Berg Challenge.. for the reality check and the amazing experience. Twisted Sisters.. signing out.