Thursday, June 05, 2014

Small adventures before the big one

This is one of those weeks where I thought I'd get a lot done: All of my regular work, finish a manuscript, finish my Iditarod race report, tour around the region, try local cuisine, get all of my prep done for the Freedom Challenge, go for satisfying shake-down bike rides on famous mountain bike trails in the Cape Town region, and post blogs for Beat back home in California. 

Well, you know how it goes. 

I actually didn't expect to do much touristing this week; both time and mobility are limited, and I'm not in Cape Town proper — I'm about 50 kilometers southeast. The weather has been marginal — rain and wind every day, and temperatures ranging from 6 to 12 degrees Celsius, so not terribly warm. I went with Liehann to his office (technically his brother's office) to work on Tuesday and we got out for a lunch ride on a network of banked singletrack and rocky doubletrack through a recently logged forest. The trails were swoopy down and steep up, and the ride probably would have been a lot more fun if it hadn't been raining sideways intermittently. I realize cold sideways rain and mud are going to be a major part of the Freedom Challenge, and I might as well get used to this. But California has spoiled my once-deep all-weather resolve. When it rains in California, I'm one-hundred-percent runner; I don't think I've ridden a bike in the rain since my early days there. And wow, have I fallen out of both practice and patience with the mud barrage. Funny how attitudes can change so drastically. 

On Wednesday Liehann's parents took me on a tour of wine country in Malmesbury, and we attended some olive tastings. Much of the local olive oil has a strong musky taste compared to what I'm used to, but it was fun to try the different olives. I can't say I've tried much in the way of traditional South African cuisine yet, but I'll have plenty of chances to stuff whatever is available into my face during the Freedom Challenge. From what I understand, most of the available cuisine is quite provincial (in both good and bad ways.)

 Twice this week I went out for runs on the Helderberg, which is the nature preserve and mountain range next door to Liehann's parents' house. Weather prevented me from becoming too ambitious, and I often stepped out the door far too late, so I had to time my run with sunset and set a hard deadline to turn around.

 I was thrilled to get out for these runs, though. I developed a weird quad tinge after the long plane trip, and the runs actually helped me work it out. Tonight was the first night I didn't notice it. A series of fierce thunderstorms meant I was the only person in the park. I showed up at the gate clutching my 15 Rand, and the Indian guy manning the entrance chided me, exclaiming, "Where are you going? What will you do in this rain?" What I was going to do was run up this mountain, as far as I could. Steep doubletrack gave way to a rocky footpath carved in rough switchbacks up the brushy slope, and then a scramble along a cliffy ridge. I was crawling toward a saddle between two peaks at 3,000 feet elevation when my watched buzzed, informing me that mile five had taken 47 minutes. What? 47 minutes? That can't be right. But sure enough, I checked the time. 4:45. Oh no.

I scrambled down the slippery ridge as fast as I could coax my fearful feet to move, terrified that any misstep was going to send me tumbling into the ravine, or at best spraining my ankle in such a way that I wouldn't be able to ride the Freedom Challenge. Wind howled, rain picked up strength, and a barrage of hail followed. I tightened my hood and continued to negotiate the scramble inside a green tunnel, shivering with the deepening chill. Once I hit the doubletrack, a torrent of water was rushing over already slippery clay dirt, and I also couldn't justify running too fast on these unpredictable surfaces. When I finally reached the reserve entrance, it was 5:40 and the gate was locked shut. The Indian guy was gone, there was no one around, barb-wire fences lined the boundary as far as I could discern, and this gate was ten feet high with sharp pointing ends and no easy footholds. Damn. Liehann's mom warned me that they locked this gate at 5:30, so I had only myself to blame.

I paced around for a few minutes, searching for any other way out. I tried to pry the gate open, and then placed my foot on a wet rod, where it slid of instantly. I thought about the contents of my pack and whether they'd enable me to survive a night out if I really couldn't get out of there. But of course I knew I wasn't going to sit there and freeze; I was going to climb that gate even if it meant impaling a limb to escape. Finally, I placed one of my Hokas on the sharp tip of one of the fence rods; the point actually dug into the shoe but stopped short of stabbing my foot. Thank you Hoka! That was just enough height off the ground to swing my other leg between two sharp points higher up, and leverage a flying leap to freedom on the other side. Actually, the shoe did not pull away from the point easily, and I nearly twisted my ankle upon landing, but freedom!

And now there's still so much to do. How did this week get away from me? 

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