COUNTRY LIFE digital editor IAN MACLEOD has begun morphing into the #CountryCyclist, and he won’t stop until the trail meets the sea Pictures Marc Thomas, Jeremy Kirschner and Supplied
I reckon this challenge is 15 times harder than any sporting venture I’ve undertaken. I’ve even done the sums. Take the most trying endurance outing of my life: the six-and-a-half hours I spent clambering up and down Table Mountain to finish the notorious Bat Run last year. Multiply that effort by nine, for each day in the saddle en route from Joburg to Scottburgh. Add, say, two units for the lack of a rest day, and one each for the wildly varying terrain and weather, sleeping in a tent, the certainty of several prangs and at least one setback nobody could forecast.
That’s exactly – albeit unscientifically – 15. Welcome to #CountryCyclist and the 2014 joBerg2C.
The Mission Established just four years ago, the joBerg2C has fast become an essential notch in the gun belt of any hardcore South African mountain biker. The nine-day expedition begins on 25 April in Heidelberg, just outside Joburg, near the Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve, and grinds its way south-south-east for nine consecutive days to the finish line on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast. Succinctly, at almost 900km, this is the longest MTB stage race in South Africa.
The race’s trump card is its access to nearly 100 private farms, usually off limits to riders, runners and hikers. Specially cut single and double tracks snake through everything from the Free State platteland and game ranches to flower crops and pine plantations. Often combined with breathtaking geography such as the giddy descent from Sterkfontein Dam to Winterton, it’s these surroundings, alongside the famous spirit of the event, that I’m most drawn to. Why? Firstly, it’s the ideal match for the brand. Outdoor adventure, travel, wildlife and photography are pillars of both COUNTRY LIFE and the joBerg2C. This is a chance to live our mantra ‘The real heart of the countryside’. But that can’t happen exclusively through a portal to the internet. To borrow the military term, we want ‘boots on the ground’. Already we’ve forged new partnerships and visited chunks of countryside previously unknown to most.
Secondly, as much as I’m unearthing fresh trails and rumbling over new obstacles, this is a handy experiment for COUNTRY LIFE that’s vital in this fast-changing media landscape. Print and digital platforms have irreversibly collided, old advertising models are warped or broken and the next publication revolution is just a Zuckerberg or Jobs away. None of that will change what COUNTRY LIFE is, but it must determine the where, how and when.
Finally, and I’ll level with you here, I absolutely love this sort of thing: the outdoors, the purity of sport and the inspiration of a team effort.
You didn’t think I was taking on this monstrosity alone, did you? No sir, I’ve brought the cycling equivalent of Big Brothers to this playground. Biggest of all is Cycle Lab. In fact, I’d have been defeated before starting, without them. From the carbon-fibre weaponry (my Scott Spark 910 bike), to their training facilities and in-house expertise on nutrition, kit and training, they’ve been in my corner from the start. Founder Andrew McLean, in particular, has been a wise and inspirational guru.
We’ve also been galvanised by the vote of confidence from several excellent sponsors. Garmin’s GPS technology has been integral to training, and with the J2C eschewing route markings this year, the race would be impossible without it. Our GoPro from World of Heroes has been a revelation. Often my only buddy on long rides, it has captured some superb content that nothing else could. Of course, the hospitality from joBerg2C and their title sponsor, Old Mutual, is the foundation stone on which this all rests.
The Things We’ll See With the back of preparations now broken, I can afford to peer ahead and contemplate the experience as well as the challenge. McLean’s input has buoyed me most on this score. “You’re in for the best nine days’ riding of your life,” is his prediction. “The only bigger event on the local scene is the Cape Epic, but for genuinely enjoyable riding, there are very few events worldwide that can compete with the joBerg2C. You’ll get to the end and say it was worth all the blood, sweat and tears. It’s a race at the front, but for most people it’s just the most awesome ride and a chance to meet like-minded people.”
Lest I get too comfortable with the idea of a friendly trundle to the beach, I have pinned the following words from race organiser Craig ‘Wappo’ Wapnick to my desk: “If you’re not tough enough to ride nine days, don’t come.”
Parting Shot By the time you read this, I’ll be weeks away from lining up at Heidelberg with 799 other souls, all wrapped up in Lycra, our thoughts already tens, if not hundreds, of kilometres ahead of our bodies and bikes. If I know sport, we’ll all closely guard fears that we haven’t done enough to prepare. There’ll be surreptitious glances comparing kit and composure, stern efforts to read meaning from muscle tone – or the lack thereof.
The truth is, not one of us will be truly ready. Not the way we’d imagined when we took this on. It’s like actor Hugh Laurie says, “There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now. Generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.” I think I’ll have that printed on my handlebars, replacing ‘now’ with ‘25 April-3 May 2014’.
Join the Peloton
The # indicates this campaign’s digital roots. While our online content will all be found on our main COUNTRY LIFE accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Google+, we’ll mark posts on Ian’s expedition with #CountryCyclist.
Feel free to follow, join us for the ride, ask questions of our biking boffins or just shoot the breeze about the great outdoors.