What drew you to the sport of mountain biking?
For me, it was always the difficulty. The massive challenge. There are no shortcuts in cycling – effort and pain are the only currency that matters. There’s a direct and very clear relationship between how hard you work and what you accomplish.
Last week I re-fell in love with the sport. And the Swartberg Xtreme is to thank.
On the Monday before this race at 11pm I got a message from one of the event staff. It essentially said “We like what you’re doing. We’ve got an awesome race. And we want you to come do it.”
Say no more – I’m in!
Now I had never heard of this event before and likely you haven’t either. That’s because this was the very first running of it.
It’s based just outside of Oudsthoorn and is about 150km (about 100miles) long with 4600m (over 15,000ft) of climbing. All but 20ish kilometers are dirt.
Now cycling is still a big part of my life. It always will be. But it has been over 2 years since I have ridden over 100km. I live 200m from the sea and the biggest climb in the area is about 300ft. Out of my entire cycling career, this event would be one of the top 10 biggest single days on a bike for me.
For the first time in a very long time, my mindset wasn’t competitive at all. It was strictly survival because I knew I had no business doing a ride like this. Pain was the only thing in the forecast for me and I was giddy like it was my first bike ride again.
We started with headlights mounted on our bikes at 5am. We had 18 hours to complete the route. I desperately hoped I’d be done in 10 because I knew my body would be shutting down around 7.
It’s an immediate 3000ft climb right from the start. With groups still intact, we zig-zagged up the Swartberg Pass – cresting the peak as the sun carved it’s way through the mountains and into the sky.
From the summit you embark on a 30km trek to “The Hell”. On the race profile it looks mainly downhill, but in reality it is a brutal stretch of straight up or straight down “rolling” two track. This is the most technical of the route, with a good mixture of rocks, sand, and water crossings.
From “The Hell”, it’s back to the summit of the Swartberg pass and this is unfortunately where the headwind began. What should have been a brutal trek turned into a nightmarish trek.
I made it back to the summit at the 7 hour mark. From here you descend into a little town called Prince Albert on one of, if not the most incredible road I’ve ridden in my life.
It felt like being in Le Tour, descending a famous Alp, but on gravel, in the middle of the desert.
Once in Prince Albert, we turned around and headed back to the summit of the pass and then dropped back down to Wilgewandel Holiday Farm for the finish.
It has been a very long time since I’ve rolled onto a starting line with the single goal of survival.
Everyone else seemed fairly confident for me – but I was genuinely concerned. The only way to accomplish massive rides is to ride your bike. Something I have definitely slacked on the last 3 years.
So with no concern for holding on to the wheels of the lead group, my focus was able to shift to everything else:
The incredible landscape. The wildlife. The massive sunrise. The artistry in the design of the gravel mountain passes. And more than anything, the divine selection of snacks at each and every rest stop haha.
As you already know there have been so many things that kept me here in South Africa. This event really summed all of them up.
The entire staff putting this race on made me feel like family. The immense challenge of this race was only matched by the level of support everyone putting it on provided.
The vast, wondrous landscape of the Klein Karoo.
The adventure as a whole, especially the wildlife.
And the inspiration to push yourself out of your comfort zone.
Now I’m not sure when the 2022 dates will be just yet, but I hope to see you at this race next year. You can checkout the full details at https://www.dust4glory.co.za/swartberg-xreme-mtb-challenge/