Seeing that I couldn't recall any great memories from that race around Parys, I was rather happy when Paul recommended we go up to Swaziland and do something different for a change - The Logico Swazi Frontier.
So after a few days of training the Coach attached a small chain-ring to his bike and a Map-deck to mine. Wednesday morning we then test rode the Dogma's to Bicccs just to make sure we where sorted before heading off.
As we arrived at registration, I soon noticed a very different than normal vibe amongst the competitors. The food court seemed more like a beer tent. I could see all the navigators were excited about the size 11 font on the navigation cards.
Day 1: Needless to say it took me some time to get the hang of reading while riding cattle tracks along cliffs and through rivers, so we decided to follow the leaders for a bit, while I tried to find our location and the old guy his legs, the perfect start.
It didn't take too long for the testosterone levels to settle and we soon rode off the front. Now we had no one to follow but at least the scenery was great for being lost - as we found out not too much later.
After riding in circles for a couple of minutes, we found ourselves back on track somewhere in the top 10. Chasing hard, we caught back up and leapt off the front again.
A few more minor navigation errors on my side kept the chasing group close which meant that they could follow without doing a whole lot of map work.
The stage came to an end with a very brutal climb, called "TOO BRUTAL". I am proud to say that with the help of some grippy Conti tires, I was in fact the only rider to make it all the way to the top. I figured Paul must have ran out of High5 gels at this point. On his second attempt he threw in the towel and found out that the Sidi's are also very comfortable when walking up steep gradients.
So 4hrs and 35min later we crossed the line in 1st place. Almost broken!
Day 2: A few kilo's in, just as I got held up in a river crossing, my partner attacked. Great move I thought and after burning a few matches to get back we were out of sight.
Once again they sent us out on some amazing tracks. Down a valley with about 34 river crossings just to name one section. With no navigation issues and just a quick stop to apply Squirt on our chains, we arrived at Piggs Peak Hotel and Casino. We extended our overall lead by a few more minutes.
It didn't take long for the pool bar to start pumping.
Being serious athletes, we skipped that part and spent most of the afternoon in our luxurious room with the aircon on full blast. Unfortunately no Top Gear on the tellie, so after the evening’s festivities we did some gambling.
5 minutes later we both won a fair amount and cashed out straight away.
Day 3: When I saw the temperature on my CycleOps Joule was 24ºc on the start line at 06:30 I knew we were in for another rough day. I then figured, let's get it over with as quick as we can and so dropped the hammer right from the start. 500 meters later, I realized that uncle Paul was under that hammer. I basically crushed my partner...
A while later, the old diesel engine got going. We navigated our way over a few more mountains and through some stunning valleys. We finished things off with another stage win and with a solid gap over the chasing teams.
Honestly, this whole race has some of the best tracks I have ever ridden. Ungroomed but lovely flowing tracks with amazing scenery all around.
As the sun started setting, a few beers were enjoyed by the pool over- looking Maguga Dam.
The final prize giving or as some call it "stage 4" was special. Very different from the normal ceremonies. A bit more relaxed, to say the least!
All in all, for me this was a great way to end off a good season. I realise that I am very privileged to have been able to experience this awesome event.
Hats off to the Organisers and a big thank you to Paul and a[s]gPYCycling for making it possible.
Hot as Hell but Sweet as Honey, will be back to revenge !!!
Several intrepid mountain bikers set off from the Cape for a cross-country adventure in search of some of the best mountain biking Southern Africa has to offer. And as much as we'd like to believe that we live in mountain biking heaven with the fantastic trails in Stellenbosch, Grabouw, Somerset West, Durbanville and Tokai right on our door step, it is the tiny Kingdom of Swaziland that was our destination for mountain biking nirvana in the form of the Swazi Frontier. Judging by the smiles of the mud covered faces each day, it's difficult to find another event that comes close on the smile-o-meter.
Annabelle's first Swazi adventure
This is in part due to the eagerness and passion of the event organisers - Brett and Lesley, and in part due to the superb landscape they have to work with in Swaziland. There is no shortage of leg burning climbs, knuckle whitening descents, sweeping switchbacks, and never ending panoramas that the route follows as we traverse the north western corner of Swaziland. The attention to detail, both on the route and in the general event organisation is quite impressive, and should be the template from which all other events operate. Throw in a bit of what the locals call Swazi time - the laid back carefree nature that things will happen when they're ready - and the friendliness of the locals and you've got an event with a truly unique flavour.
Unlike the other representatives from the Cape who had mistakenly flown up a day early or had forgotten their passports behind (Swaziland is indeed NOT part of South Africa), The Flaming Marshmallows (consisting of Captain Craig and myself) had a rather uneventful trip via Johannesburg, through the border post at Oshoek, and on to the race registration at Hawane Resort. We'd heard that the Kenyan Grasshoppers of David Kinja and Davidson Kamau were going to be back and rumour had it that they'd spent the entire year attending every course on navigation and map reading that they could find. They were now pretty much unstoppable. With first place practically sealed, we were eager to see if there were any other up and coming Kenyan Crickets that might be reducing our podium aspirations to just third place. Enter the duo of Vincent and George - smaller and skinnier than their mentors, but just as lethal when the road starts going up.
The Kenyan Crickets flanked by the Grasshoppers
The Swazi Frontier consists of 3 stages, each unique and so very different from each other that together they pretty much cover all aspects of mountain biking. Stage One is The Killer and if there is any particular skill that you haven't yet mastered, it will expose that weakness and have you on your knees begging for mercy. The 60km route would take the leaders just under 5 hours to complete. The climbs are brutal - literally - there is a climb called Too Brutal that even has the Kenyans crying like girls, while inducing serious bouts of sense of humour failure amongst the rest of the field. Friends have been known to swear at each other, and wives call their husbands childish. The downhills are just as treacherous - taking you to your limits, and then gently nudging past them. No matter who you are, you're always riding a little too fast, throwing caution to the wind and loving every second of it. Like a scene from Alice in Wonderland, dessert comes first in the form of tough technical yet extremely rewarding descents and is followed by Brussels sprouts and cod liver oil in the form of unridable climbs in the midday heat. Only in Swaziland could they get away with this because the good parts are just so darn good.
Captain Craig chilling at Maguga Lodge
With 15kms to go in Stage One, The Flaming Marshmallows were in the mix with both the Kenyan Grasshoppers and Crickets, and the first mixed team of Phil and Jane just behind. I'd drawn the short straw this year and so I was trusted with the dreaded responsibility of navigation. Having been a pilot I thought this was going to be a stroll. Until I had to read a route direction in size 6 font while doing 35km/h down the side of a rocky mountain with my eyeballs bouncing around my skull like balls in a pinball machine. It's a miracle we didn't end up in Tanzania - lost to roam the plains of Africa forever. I did however make two crucial mistakes that day in an attempt to outfox and out navigate the Kenyan competition. The rather generic direction to turn left at a grassy junction cost us in excess of 15 minutes and any chance of a strong finish. But it didn't matter.
Yes, it's nice to do well, but after the sweeping switchbacks of Heenen's Staircase, the intimate single track next to a river of The Brown Crocodile and even the loose and precarious climb of Baboon's Back, the adrenaline and endorphin fix more than made up for 15 minutes of bundu bashing and Brett cursing.
The pool at Bulembu - 2010
Sun shining in 2011
Back to its former glory in 2012
Another thing that sets The Swazi Frontier apart from other races is the intimateness of the event. With only 90 teams taking part, it's easy to share stories and listen to tall tales while sharing a beer overlooking the finish line and cheering in those teams that have yet to finish. Much like outcomes based education - everyone at Swazi is a winner, whether you shave your legs and count calories, or are carrying a few extra kilos around the middle, a few more in a bulging CamelBak and only ride in baggies. This is an event where we're all just mountain bikers.
Stage Two is The Queen Stage - the stage where a little bit of climbing is rewarded with hours and hours of downhill, some stunning scenery, and between 27 and 43 river crossings (depending who you ask, and after how many beers you ask them). To put a slight dampener on things, Mother Nature had finally answered the forester's calls for rain and by the time we left the inspiring town of Bulembu it had been raining solidly for 14 hours. The riders from the Cape were licking their lips - finally we had something familiar to make up for the effects of altitude and give us an edge. The Kenyan Grasshoppers and Crickets rocked up on the start line looking like they were on an Arctic expedition wearing ALL their kit - arm warmers, leg warmers, wind jammers, under vests, winter gloves - the lot.
The rain settling in for the night
My Swazi tattoo - thanks to a stray tree
The pace was furious up front and before long we found ourselves overtaking the lead motorbike. A yelled warning of "WAAAATCH OOOOOOUUUUT FOOOOOR THEEEE TREEEEEEEES" from Brett had me rather confused - we were riding in a forest with hundreds of trees. The warning could have been a little more specific. Until I collided with a tree hanging over the route at chest height while hurtling down a forest track at 40km/h. In what could have been a life altering accident, I somehow managed to stay upright, despite being shot backwards after coming to an abrupt halt. The only thing I had to show was a small flesh wound on my arm, and racing pulse, and a wounded ego. Later on I heard that while I was the first victim of the tree, I certainly wasn't the last, and in comparison I got off rather lightly.
By this stage, Captain Craig and I were in 4th place, chasing our Cape cousins and the over dressed Kenyans as we crisscrossed the river in the Mganda valley when disaster struck. In addition to riding with no back brake, Captain Craig broke a chain which gave the leaders a gap on us as we fiddled around in the dirt to put it back together. As we left the Mganda valley behind us and the safety of the river, we found ourselves having to navigate the uniquely Swazi sticky red mud of death. It's like jam mixed with super glue and baby poo. All forward motion is halted as the mud clings to anything it touches, eventually clogging up anything that is supposed to turn. As I waited for Captain Craig after a particularly punishing patch, a local took one look at my bike, shook his head at said "Eish - it's time to throw in the towel". But we're better than that, and we persevered on.
Just when it looked like we'd be settling for 4th place with 5kms to go we came across the Arctic Kenyans bent over in a huddle. A rather strange scene greeted us - I saw a shoe cleat, what looked like spoke spanner, a broken chain and a rock which was being pounded against the other items. This was our chance for a podium! But that is not what Swazi is all about. Without hesitating I gave them my chain breaker and a quick link and then set off to make use of the two minutes head start we'd get over them up the final climb of the day to Piggs Peak Hotel. With only a quarter of the hill behind us, the Kenyan Express came storming past us like we were out on a recovery ride. To see these guys in action is quite amazing - the effortlessness and fluidity with which they climb is impressive. We eventually rolled into Piggs Peak in 4th place behind our Cape cousins and the Kenyan Snowmen - covered in mud from head to toe with aching legs and burning lungs, but with massive smiles - the luxuries of the hotel awaiting us.
Little John getting put back together again, also indicating their planned position for the next day
Making Swazi Soup in the Piggs Peak hotel room bath
Making Swazi Soup at Maguga Lodge
After a scrumptious dinner, a few beers and a good night's sleep we once again awoke to the pouring rain. There is nothing worse than leaving the comfort of a warm bed for a cold wet saddle for the start of Stage 3 - The Playground. In the past this stage was more like a transitionary stage between Piggs Peak and Maguga Lodge, but with all the changes made it turned out to be my most enjoyable stage of the event. The lead group were off at a furious pace, but before long things were starting to go pear shaped. People are very quick to criticise the guy that leads the whole group astray, and while I didn't get any shouts of appreciation when navigating correctly, I sure did get a lot of abuse for missing one or two (or three) turns. After that, I changed my navigational strategy - I'd rely on Phil and Jane, and if they weren't around, the SCPS - Swazi Children Positioning System. Captain Craig was once again showing us just how hard core he is by again riding with no back brakes. Apart from the odd fall at high speed he managed to survive the stage in one piece - mostly.
Before long it was the usual suspects were at it again - the Kenyan Grasshoppers were asserting their dominance, leaving the Crickets, our Cape cousins, the incredibly strong team of Jane and Phil and us to dice it out. Our Cape cousins were in 2nd overall, and so when we came across them fiddling with a loose cleat The Flaming Marshmallows stopped to offer help.
If anyone had a chance of dethroning the Kenyans, they'd need all the help they could get. By the time we got to the water point, Captain Craig was having cleat problems of his own, but in his usual tough and carefree manner chose to ride on, effectively pedalling with one and a half legs as he rode away from our little posse. It was around this time that we entered The Playground - goat track blending into jeep track, traversing dongas and ravines, picking virgin lines to avoid the obstacles that the trail threw at us. Score 10 out of 10 on the smile-o-meter. None of us wanted it to end. Of the three days of riding in Swaziland this was the highlight for me. But like all good things that end we eventually left The Playground and popped out on the Maguga Dam wall and had a short sharp climb up to the lodge. The Kenyan Crickets were back on their preferred terrain and disappeared from sight as The Flaming Marshmallows crossed the line in 3rd place.
Racing in luxury
The first out of category climb of Stage 4
All that remained was to clean up, pack away the bikes and get ready for the 4th stage. Unlike the previous 3 stages, here the back markers hold the advantage and it's the race snakes that suffer. The Swazi Frontier once again exceeded expectations - the fantastic, raw mountain biking, the friendly locals, the enthusiasm and passion of Brett and Lesley and the like minded fellow cyclists - all combine to create an exceptional event and I'm pretty sure The Flaming Marshmallows will be back again next year.
If you ever dream of experiencing true mountain bike riding heaven then entering The LOGICO Swazi Frontier mountain bike stage race in Swaziland is the way to go.
The culture of The LOGICO Swazi Frontier is heavily weighted towards purist mountain and bush MTB riding, is complimented with a healthy competitive spirit and is only rewarded with bragging rights as opposed to big prize money.
Most participants are “slightly older” (but not necessarily wiser) and are filled with an over-developed passion for adventure-type riding.
The LOGICO Swazi Frontier is not a heads-down and race event; it’s a “have fun, ride hard, manage your bike well and have a few drinks each night” event! Hardened “racing snake” types might not respond positively to the seemingly mellow atmosphere that the organisers, Brett and Lesley, have created since their first race in 2006.
The ethos of The LOGICO Swazi Frontier is all about like-minded people that love MTB riding and not just racing. This ethos is a rare treasure that Brett and Lesley have openly pledged to protect. Added to this is having to navigate your own way through some of the most beautiful African scenery you could ever hope to experience and for this it’s imperative that you have a good sense of humour. Getting lost is part of the fun with the only variable being how badly!
My riding partner (Brian) and I first entered this event in 2010 but separate injuries prevented him from participating in either 2010 or 2011. A bit of bad luck for my accepted 2012 partner, however, resulted in Brian joining me to finish what he had started in 2010. I had thoroughly enjoyed participating in 2010 and 2011 resulting in The Swazi Frontier being my favourite event by far and for this reason our expectation for 2012 was huge. We were not disappointed!
Day 1, a 60km day, demands respect in that although the distance is short by stage race standards, the terrain is brutal, the views exceptional and the overall experience extremely challenging and rewarding at the same time.
The start at Hawane was filled with good humour especially as the local “Swazi Time” ensured that all participants were ready before leaving. The course is too stimulating to detail in full, however, the highlights have to be the views from the top of Baboons Back (Ngwenya mountain being the 2nd highest peak in Swaziland), the fast technical descents in the Malolotja Nature Reserve and without doubt the blistering descent down a series of switchbacks named Heenan’s Staircase.
Our goal was hopefully to have something left in the legs to survive the last 8kms which includes the infamous Too Brutal climb up to the overnight stop in Bulembu. This climb is aptly named as it’s quite simply too brutal to ride although there are a few places where some of the really talented climbers were able to show their mettle. We were surprised to find that the race leaders had opted for a longer more scenic route which afforded us the short-lived opportunity of a podium finish for the day. The nature of The LOGICO Swazi Frontier is such, however, that it is a three day adventure and that anything can happen, which in most cases it does, and in this case it did!
Experiencing a stay over at Bulembu is living proof of what can be done to boost a community in desperate need of assistance. Bulembu in short boasts great accommodation, superb food, good massages and plenty of cold beer, all of which is complimented by very friendly and helpful staff.
Day 2, also a 60km day, is often rated as “one of the best MTB days you will ever enjoy”, and for good reason. A series of tricky climbs and descents drop you into the top of the Mganda valley which is filled with a series of animal and single tracks that charge downhill alongside the river for nearly 20kms. It includes over 30 river crossings to keep things interesting and the full rural African experience of animals, villages and pure open bush. The wet conditions led to a short re-route at the beginning of the day to avoid the mud and the Swazi Clock was delayed by an hour until the rain stopped.
Management of equipment was one of the biggest challenges on this day. Many of the riders managed to stay clear of trouble but most of the field had great “war stories” to tell later at Piggs Peak Hotel, the finish of the 2nd day. Our day was great until the water point, after which we suffered a few mechanical issues slowing us down over the last 15km. We were not alone, however, and still had a fantastic day consoled by the fact that the playing field was level for everyone out there in those conditions.
Despite the wet weather, our opinion (and pretty much everyone elses) of Day 2 remained unchanged in that it is simply “one of the best MTB days you will ever enjoy”. Piggs Peak Hotel (as always) put on a great show of hospitality, excellent food and friendly tolerance of nearly 200 mud-drenched mountain bikers swimming in and around their hotel.
A short section in the early part of Day 3, a 62km day, was also re-routed because of the previous day’s wet weather. Whilst the conditions were wet and muddy to start, it later developed into a typical humid, hot summer Swazi day.
The first two thirds of this day is littered with paths and tracks through local communities. Riding through these communities is made magical by the incredibly enthusiastic local support. It also includes the famous single track descent through the Boshimela Private Game Farm where the baggy shorts, long travel forks and purist trail-bike riders were given a proper opportunity to show off their downhill skills; the rest of us simply enjoyed ourselves at a “lesser pace” with hot squeaking brakes. Brian and I “afforded” ourselves a few extra minutes in this portion due to a burst front wheel caused by an unscheduled airborne dismount while unsuccessfully negotiating our way over a rogue log that had jumped across the track. Fortunately the minor injuries incurred did not impede the enjoyment of the rest of the ride in any way but did highlight that TheLOGICO Swazi Frontier does require more than beginner skills.
The highlight of day 3 for me is the 12kms of classic African bush single track that runs along the Komati River intersecting many farming and rural communities after the Gap.
Finishing The LOGICO Swazi Frontier at Maguga Lodge was filled with many mixed emotions. The tough part was accepting that this amazing race was done for the year and that we were left yearning for more. However, this emotion was quickly drowned by ice cold beers, a great lunch, and an afternoon nap followed by the famous evening thrash!!
All three days were scrutinised piece by piece by the happy finishers at the prize-giving dinner and, to be honest, the stories got more “colourful” as the evening (morning) wore on. The LOGICO Swazi Frontier is organised, sponsored and ridden by seriously like-minded people who are primarily there to have fun despite the challenges of logistics, terrain, weather and competition.
The LOGICO Swazi Frontier is a “must” for any MTB enthusiast who really wants to be challenged and satisfied by the offerings of sharing quality time on a mountain bike through Swaziland’s mountains and bush.
Once again, the cousins from Cape Town found themselves re-enacting the Groot Trek as we made our way from Cape Town to Hawane, via Johannesburg, Hendrina, and Carolina, for the start of the 2011 Swazi Frontier (possibly not the exact Groot Trek route).
Apart from the odd ablution stop and run away whirlwind, the trip was rather uneventful. No lost baggage, no forgotten passports, no missing customs receipts. Until we got into Swaziland. Rather prophetically, in the space of 9kms, we got lost 3 times, but eventually arrived safe and sound at Hawane Luxury Chalets. After registration and picking up our race goodies, chatting to familiar faces and sussing out the competition, we made our way to our accommodation. Once again we hadn't quite cracked the nod for a luxury chalet, but we had been upgraded from the tents to the stables.
Once we'd made sure the airline hadn't performed random drop tests on the bike boxes, we un-boxed and rebuilt our bikes. I'm always a little nervous about riding a bike that I've just put back together - I always have this nagging suspicion that I might have missed tightening an important bolt or two, particularly when I'm flying down a bone rattling descent, and of all the races to discover a loose bolt, Swazi is not the one.
Dinner and stage one's briefing was a rather subdued affair by Fossil's standards - there was no talk of distance or altitude gained, and the profile for the stage was only subliminally flashed on the screen before we were distracted by the arrival of desert. There was some mumbling about a big climb, and drinking lots of water before we were told the difference between a stone and a rock (something along the lines of a stone can be picked up in one hand and thrown, while a rock requires at least two hands). Apparently, all stones had been removed from the course, which leads me to believe that Fossil can't pick up and throw anything bigger than a golf ball.
As far as the competition went - the Kenyan Grasshoppers were back again, and they'd brought some reinforcements in the form of two youngsters. The Swazi pair of Thulani and Fana were looking good, and eager for a spot on the overall podium. Bad luck had struck the Osama Bs (is it just me or are they a magnet for bad luck) with Bruce Turvey falling sick in the week leading up to the event. We spotted a couple of other racing snakes and made mental notes on people to keep our eyes on.
Bright and early at approximately sometime after 7 (Swazi time is a non-exact concept) we were off and almost immediately we were climbing. What little air there was just seemed to get thinner as we gasped our way up the climb, our team name of Altitude Sickness suddenly feeling quite apt. Meanwhile we watched the Kenyan Grasshoppers and their protégés disappear up the climb, but we weren't overly concerned. We knew the Grasshoppers couldn't navigate, and so they were falling into our trap at the front of the race.
Another tough day in Africa
In what is becoming a rather regular occurrence, Little John had an early mechanical problem with a dodgy pedal and several teams came flying past us. We got going quickly again and made our way back up through the field. With the footage of the mountain bike hating buck fresh in everyone's mind we entered the Malolotja National Park and almost immediately spotted one of the now feared and infamous Red Hartebees. I held back a little and made sure I was behind Little John. Everyone now knows that it is the front guy that gets taken out!
Up ahead we could see our plan in action as the Kenyan's had indeed taken a wrong turn and we quickly nipped around a corner and out of sight. Another tough, rock littered climb awaited us before we encountered one of the scariest, death defying technical descents I have ever ridden. I have fondly named the descent Tyson's Traverse, and although I can't remember too much of the descent because my eyeballs were bouncing around so much in my head, I survived the prolonged 10 minute crash-in-motion, my entire body feeling like I'd just been in the ring with Mike Tyson for 5 rounds. Bruised hands, aching kidneys, cramping arms, and sore legs. Several times I questioned the wisdom of riding a hard tail at this event. By the time I got to the bottom Little John was out of sight up ahead, I'd lost a bottle (Fossil's warning about drinking enough suddenly haunting me), and I was convinced I'd forgotten to tighten several bolts on my bike.
Thankfully the descent had given us a bit of a gap, and while Little John and I both had some Mother Earth reacquainting falls, we were in the lead. We flew through the water point, gulping down some Pepsi and ignoring the temptations of the doughnuts and ice lollies and crossed the suspension bridge. All we had to do was keep our cool, follow the map and get to the last climb with a sizable gap and the first stage would be ours. What we hadn't quite banked on was that we'd miss the simplest of turns, get lost on the wrong side of the mountain and then bump into two teams of Kenyans.
We knew were we had to go, and the only thing standing in our way was the almost vertical side of a mountain. While I was trying to find a route AROUND the mountain, a decision was made to go OVER the mountain. I still wonder what Little John's reasoning was, not about going over the mountain, but the decision to take navigational advice from the Kenyans. Half an hour and four blisters later we'd made it to the top of the Kenyan Crux to find that we were now in second place, with several teams approaching fast and one last opportunity to make up time on and lose the Kenyans on the descent.
The Country Club at Bulembu
However, Little John had other ideas and got us lost again, somehow sniffing out an illicit plantation of Swaziland's finest cash crop. And it wasn't just us that ended up among the tall, healthy plants - half the field of the Swazi Frontier got "lost" there. This probably explains the ten and a half hours it took the last team to complete the stage (and why they were giggling like girls when they finished).
With our morale at an all time low, and several teams ahead of us by now, we started on the final climb (with the imposing name of Too Brutal). Both the Adult and Nymph Grasshoppers were back on their preferred terrain and flew up the hill as Little John and I adopted a rather more sedate approach of riding, pushing, carrying and dragging our bikes up the climb, eventually crossing the finish line at Bulembu in 5 hours and 7th place, for what has to be one of the toughest day's out on a bike I've had in a while.
Lunch at Bulembu
More worrying than the lack of BMT displayed by Team Altitude Sickness was the news that Little John had cracked a rib. Thankfully, the hospitality, food and surrounds at Bulembu provided enough of a distraction - we would deal with the rib in the morning.
In stark contrast to the treacherous nature of stage one, stage two has to be one of the most enjoyable days one can have on a mountain bike. Fantastically fast descents, countless river crossings, twisty single track - what more could a mountain biker want. Fortunately, the route was almost exactly the same as the previous year's stage, so while we couldn't rely on the Kenyans getting lost, at least we wouldn't get lost either (or so I thought).
The bicycle cleaning and self servicing area
With Little John doped up on anti-inflammatories and pain killers we set off from Bulembu, leaving the inspiring town behind and headed off towards Piggs Peak. Our plan was the same as the day before - try to lose the Kenyans on the descents, and make them have to navigate for themselves. Before we could really put our plan into action, Little John once again had his early morning mechanical, breaking a chain. We got going quickly again, and watched as the group up front were forced to make some navigational decisions.
The pool at Piggs Peak
We rejoined the group just as the long downhill was about to begin and almost immediately noticed that the baby Kenyans were under pressure on the downhills. The Kenyans had to make a decision - wait for their protégés or stick with the lead group. They chose the latter and soon there were just three teams from three countries at the front, Thulani and Fana from Swaziland, David and Davidson from Kenya, and Little John and myself from South Africa. The Swazi guys were riding a great race, they'd ridden smartly on day one and now were setting the pace on the front. I was worried that they would out climb us on the final climb of the day, and so was eager to put them under pressure in the technical stuff.
Now this is luxury
We got a slight gap through one of the longer river crossings and while the Kenyans rode across to join us, the Swazi duo took their time. A lightning fast stop at the water point and we were on our way again, the Kenyan's marking us (obviously relying on our superior navigational skills). One minute we could see the Swazis hot on our heals, and the next minute they were gone - nowhere to be seen. We put this down to them missing a turn, but the reality was that Thulani had broken a frame. Not just a dent or a crack, but a solid clean break. His bike now consisted of two halves, held together by gear cables and brake hoses.
Thulani and his new bendy bike
In a rather courageous move, Thulani told Fana to go on ahead - they'd never been in the lead group before and he would like to know how well they could have done if he hadn't had a mechanical. In order to be considered finishers of the Swazi Frontier, Thulani had to finish the remaining 18kms of stage two with his bike, and so with a borrowed pair of shoes began the torturous trek up towards Piggs Peak, carrying what used to be his bicycle.
Secretly, I think every rider checked their bikes for cracks that night
The only bit of route advice Fossil had given about stage two was that when you see the big blue concrete block, turn right. Guess which way Team Altitude Sickness turned? Ironically, it was the Kenyans who had to tell us we were going wrong, before they kicked it up a gear and vanished up the final climb, eventually riding 11 minutes into us as we settled for second place in just over 3h30.
Once again the BMT jokes were flying around as we lounged around the pool when Thulani arrived, bike in hand, to the applause of all those there. We might have beaten Thulani on the stage, but there is no denying that he was the true victor that day.
I came back from Swaziland 2kgs heavier
Much to The Pipe's disappointment, the route for stage three had been changed quite considerably. Mickey's Madness was a thing of the past, as was the long boring district road that climbed out of the valley up to the beginning of Mickey's Madness. Instead, we were all in for a new surprise. Ordinarily, this would have played into our hands, as this would force the Grasshoppers to either follow us, or do their own navigation. However, the Kenyans no longer trusted Little John's navigational skills, and were quite prepared to venture out on their own.
The finish - no high fives allowed!
Instead of having our early morning mechanical within the first hour of racing, Little John decided that 5 minutes before the start was a better option. As if our navigational skills weren't under enough pressure, his speedometer had stopped working. Perhaps we would be following the Kenyans today.
Enter The Pipe, who the previous night had made a bit of a nuisance of himself, immediately offered up his own GPS. Just another one of those things that makes this "race" so special. After a quick crash course on how to use the GPS we were off, and almost immediately the whole lead group got lost. Several times. Team Altitude Sickness wasn't to blame this year, as we were still trying to figure out the GPS at the back of the bunch. I suspect it was the Kenyans who were trying a new tactic - Treacherous Intentional Route Extension - they were trying to T.I.R.E us all out by making us ride up and down hills we didn't need to. A very sneaky tactic.
Do we really have to go home?
After passing back markers for the 3rd or 4th time (that's how many times we chose to ignore the route card), the racing upfront settled down and we reached a pact - we'd help with the navigation if the Kenyans didn't push too hard. Unfortunately, the Swazis were feeling the effects of the previous day's bike portage and were off the pace. However, the Kenyan protégés were in the mix, and this time we wouldn't be able to shake them on the descents.
The Kenyan youngsters - Antony and Kennedy. Keep an eye out for them - you saw them here first.
After a fabulous section of single track along the Komati river we were faced with a couple of torturous kilometers on a tar road up to Maguga Lodge - both Kenyan teams ahead of us, and another team hot on our heals. As the road went up, the Kenyans vanished and we were left to defend 3rd spot. A rather brutal way to finish another fantastic tour of northern Swaziland. We'd done enough to hang on to second place overall, thirty minutes down on the Kenyan Grasshoppers. Once again Little John was the bridesmaid to the Kenyans - and that's not something we minded too much. It's not often that guys like us get to race riders like them and the format of the Swazi Frontier makes that possible.
The overall podium
All that was left to do was enjoy some beers by the pool, cheer in the riders as they finished, pack our bikes back in their boxes and prepare for the prize giving party that night. The Swazi Frontier was over for another year, and already I was making plans for 2012. From the passion of Brett and Lesley, to the hospitality of all those involved, the beneficiaries of the money raised, and the other "competitors" - the Swazi Frontier is quite a special event, and a must do for any mountain biking enthusiast.
Not only did they beat us on bikes, the Kenyans have all the moves on the dance floor too
Time to pull up our socks
If you've been paying attention to that sweet somehow familiar scent on the wind over the last few years you may have noticed that more and more dogs have developed an interest in SWAZILAND. And why you might ask..?
In the face of howls from the hardtail community (and the downed tails of a few roadies who made the trip in error) Brett Foss (aka the Fossil) and Lesley Fitton, as the masterminds behind the Swazi Frontier, have stuck to their guns to deliver some of the best gnarly lung busting eye watering single-track known to man, and their efforts are paying off handsomely.
A very happy pack of hounds went to sample the ample delights of Tjomoloti, Matje Madze, Heenan's Staircase, the Mganda valley, Wappo's Steppes, Marbles, The Chute, and all the Swazi beer we could find.
After much excitement and several upsets in the field, day 1 was won by 2 veterans, Paul Furbank and Johan Spies instead of the grasshoppers from Kenya, David Kinjah and Davidson Kamau. This was also because the real leaders went charging into a large stand of Swaziland's greenest crop, and then just went in circles after that!
Eventually making sense of the chaos we found our way to Bulembu, and a night of much contemplation of the real meaning of completing almost 2km's of ascent over 60km of riding. Day 2 holds the Mganda valley with its 35 river crossings, and the Phopha (say "Popper") which climbs 350m over 5k's to deposit you onto the Piggs Peak Pool Bar. Enough said. No shortcut goes unpunished, and the Kenyans had taken firm control of the race by now. For the rest of us, less vertical meters means more beer, and the staff of the Pool Bar dugout were only too happy to oblige.
Day 3 was a slightly shortened version of last year’s route, with 12kms of hot and dusty climbing replaced with a tranquil shady single-track ride along the river up to the foot of the Maguga Dam, and a short tar section to the finish. No complaints about the changes either, with the exception of the organisers who were heavily fined for not introducing the changes 5 years earlier!
The kids at the Lufafa Primary School and the mutts at SAWS (Swaziland Animal Welfare) enjoy the support of the race. Highly recommended for 2012 if you weren't there.
Introduction of myself
My name is Wout Theuws and I am 58 years old. I live in the Netherlands and I am working with a company which has several plants in South Africa. All my life I have been very sporty and active. I have finished the Paris Dakar rally on a motorbike, the 1/1 triathlon, the Elf steden tour (world’s biggest speed skating event (200 km)), the Trans Alp MTB race and the Marmotte bike race in France. I have also run several marathons including New York and enduro raced for several years. So I am always looking for sporting challenges, no matter what discipline.
Team 33 in The Logico Swazi Frontier 2011
In October 2010, I was in Pretoria for my job when a colleague of mine, Andre Brink, left me on a Wednesday for a special bike ride. I asked him “where are you going?”. So he told me about the Logico Swazi Frontier mountain bike stage race that he was going to do in Swaziland. During that race and afterwards he was sending me pictures and stories. I read the articles on the Internet and I was beaten. I had to compete.
First issue was to get an invitation and I was very happy that Brett and Lesley invited me. I did some preparation races in the Ardennes in Belgium: a hilly region with enough MTB routes. I really did not know what to expect in Swaziland so I mailed a lot to the organizers, Brett and Lesley. They were overloaded with my stupid questions but I had to know because I wanted to prepare myself in a good way. Brett and Lesley were sending newsletters around which helped me enormously. Finally my expectations were that I was sure that I could do the race in a good way. I was ready to go!
But I had bad luck when my mate Wil Daris got a double hernia so he had to go for a chirurgic operation. I had to find another mate in 2 weeks and get him organized, think about flight tickets etc. My wife Jacqueline found the solution in my son-in-law, Ruud van der Looij. Ruud was immediately keen because I had told him a lot about the adventure during the past months. He has, together with his brother, Roel, a company. Roel was so kind to run the business alone for a week. Finally, I contacted Brett and Lesley to check if they had any problem with a substitution and after their blessing we started to organize the trip again!
A friend of mine in Pretoria, Ken van Wijck, organized our bikes. His grandson is a very successful mountain biker and he advised us what and how. After arriving in Johannesburg, we went directly to Ken who presented us with the fantastic Scott bikes, complete with spares and everything on the bike that we needed. Even a bike carrier so that we could put the bikes on the hired car! We were ready to go!
Travelling to Swaziland
The night before we left Pretoria, I called Andre Brink to check when he was leaving and see if we could join them. That was not a problem: they were very glad to see us because we are friends since 8 years. Andre is a member of the Inkunz Emnyama team together with Isak Bothma. If I remember, Inkunz Emnyama means “Black bull” in one of the local languages, and it is the name of a “dark beer” – Castle milk stout, a favourite energy drink!
The trip went fine. Passing the border, we had no problems. The people were very nice for us. It’s always nice if you enter a country having or getting the feeling that you are welcome there. We entered a more than beautiful country.
Arriving to the start
The time schedule was really perfect so we had time enough for a meet and greet and registration. Of course we were somewhat nervous because we were not sure that we picked everything up the correct way but Brett and Lesley helped us enormously. After that, we started adjusting and testing the bikes because we did not ride the bikes for one inch before we got there!
From the meet and greet and the moment we left, we were impressed by the high quality of the organization. Everything was well organized - really above European standard.
Day 1 – Hawane to Bulembu
After the briefing from Brett, we started for one of the hardest days in my sporting life. But it was a fantastic adventure! The route was heavy especially to Baboon’s Back and the climb to Too Brutal: forever this hill climb will have a place in my memory! We had some bad luck with tyre problems but we managed.
We were very happy to reach the waterpoint which was well organised with a fine relaxed atmosphere. After 8 hours and 8 minutes we reached the finish after a wonderful day. We were positively impressed by the people of Swaziland, the children who supported us and also Mother Nature! We saw zebras, snakes and buffels (wildebeest). For us as Dutch people, we only see these animals in Zoos????
At the finish in Bulembu, we had to lie on the bed in a fantastic hotel for a few hours to recover a bit. Also we arranged a massage to recover the muscles quickly. My bike had to be repaired because the crankset had got loose. Also I had to send a race report to my fans at home! I did this during these days by updating my own site www.wouttheuws.nl. Everything was possible really. The evening sessions were really amusing: photos, movies, reactions from the riders. We never have seen this before in this way but it was really great!
Day 2 - Bulembu to Orion Piggs Peak Hotel
We have been sleeping as if we were at home but the morning arrived quickly. I was not sure of myself for the race this day. My legs were still hurting a lot. To be honest, I was in a sort of dream where I was flying in the clouds. On the other hand, we were not sure whether we had prepared ourselves enough? Was yesterday a normal day? If that was the case, we were in deep s---! (trouble!)
We prepared oursleves for the start and we had luck because we were not the only ones with this leg problem. One of the nice things of such events is that people of the same stength get together. So we got together with Inyatsi team Dave Roberts and Richard Cunnigham of Swaziland. During the next days we stuck together a bit, even in the bar at night!
The ride was not a copy of the first day. Even the nature differed a lot. We past the school where Brett and Lesley are building a kitchen. We were impressed by this good work. The ride through the valley of Mganda was more than beautiful. The waterpoint was again very good and well-organised. We had some pens etc for children with us so they were very happy.
After that, we had a number of river crossings: in one of them, I lost my camera. After 6 hours and 3 minutes, we arrived at the wonderful Orion Piggs Peak hotel .
Day 3 – Orion Piggs Peak to Maguga Lodge
After a very nice evening, we had a good sleep and were prepared for the last day. The morale had grown in comparison after the first day. The route was totally different to the previous days but so very beautiful ….today also the navigation was a bit tricky but we managed perfectly.
After a few hours, the sun was burning and I had a lot problems with that. I stopped in rivers to cool myself but the power had left my body. After such a sporting career, I know how to deal with these situations so when we got to the waterpoint I ate a lot and stayed out of the sun as much as possible. We reached the finish after 5 hours 35 minutes and were very happy!
Team 33 at the finish
After a lot of beers, we went to bed. The next day we travelled backwards to Pretoria and a few days later, home to the Netherlands.
Getting home: car ride to Pretoria hotel (380 kms/4 hours), taxi ride to airport (45 kms/45 mins), flight to Paris (8800 kms/10.45 mins), train from Paris to Brussels (2 hours/350 kms), car ride from Brussels to home (1.15 min/110 kms): Total 9685 kms/trip time including waiting 24 hours .
During the race, I rode 196 kms in Swaziland so for every 1km I rode, we travelled 50 kms. But it was splendid. It was like waking up after a dream.
We would like to thank Brett and Lesley (the organizers), all the helpers and water point people as well as all the riders for this fantastic event.
During my sporting career, I have done a lot of events. The LOGICO Swazi Frontier is in my top 3. We will never forget this event. The little sticker of this event is on my bike and will stay there.
My anticipation and excitement for the 2011 LOGICO Swazi Frontier began long before the race. Having completed the 2010 experience I had already been touched by the heart and soul of this mountain biking event.
My 2011 Swazi experience began as we crossed the border at Golela. The light-hearted sense of humour and generosity of an official who goaded an elderly lady for leaving her husband alone and finally letting her off the tax due was to set the tone for the rest of our trip.
Arriving at Hawane the cold beers, clear skies, friendly and familiar faces were the effervescent. After dropping off our vehicle at Maguga Lodge and filling up our brown bottles we journeyed back to Hawane in the shuttle with our fellow cyclists amid a buzz of nervous energy.
Brad and I set off in Batch C on Day 1. The first 15km I was nauseous and completely lacking energy. Having not really put in too much training I wondered how I was ever going to finish. It was then that Brad and I agreed that he would stop asking me how I was as this meant that either I had to lie or admit how bad I felt which made it difficult to muster any form of positivity. So gaining some mental foothold, the nausea abated and I lifted my head to take in one of the most spectacular days of riding I had ever experienced. Last year we started Day 1 with a thunderstorm and the mist hindered any clear view of the valleys which lay beneath. Now, the green valleys and mountains, scattered with veld flowers took my breath away. Needless to say, as did the dramatic climbs we were to encounter. Baboons Back, a rideable but very technical climb, was back on the map this year as was Too Brutal which I have to confess I was secretly pleased about as I had heard so much about it. Brad and I are well known for swimming in rivers on our rides and this was no different. So at the foot of Too Brutal we stripped down to our cycling kit and wallowed in a crystal clear, pool lowering our body temperature. It was probably the best thing we could have done as we began the long, hot climb, mostly walking, up the brutal beast. Nearing what I thought was the top, incessant yells of encouragement carried down to us from the Mountain Dew tent. It is these seemingly small things which I often look back on and have to smile. We must have been somewhere near the middle to back-end of the field and here was this guy, tirelessly urging each rider up the last length of the rutted climb, like a voice in the wilderness. And then we were there, Bulembu, I think my favourite of all the stay overs. This little village set on an abandoned Asbestos mine has a vibe all of its own. The traditional end to any day of the Swazi Frontier is the evening awards. At Bulembu it takes place in an old bioscope, with fold up seats and the paint peeling off the walls. It is a blast from the past and holds an awe of its own. The awards encapture the heart and humour of this event as winners are nominated from heart-warming and often hysterically funny stories of the day.
My anticipation for Day 2 was high as I knew the beauty of the valley we would ride through, crossing the river some 36 times. The climbs were nothing like the previous day and the exhilarating speed along the valley floor as we raced old and new friends and competed at each river crossing was the best fun ever. I am most grateful that we rode quite a lot of the day with Anthony of LOGICO (or as we learned more commonly known as Titch) who lives in Swazi. Had it not been for him, Brad would have led us up and down and round the garden path. We had good laughs and much banter. Even the Phopha could not get me down today. Sublime Swazi riding. The day ended at the Orion Piggs Peak Hotel. We off-loaded our bikes, dived into the pool and swam across to the pub. Sitting in the pool, drinking beer, sharing experiences of the day and dining on the decadent spread, I thought I was in heaven.
Day 3 brought with it another clear and beautiful day and for me, one of the curved balls that life is so good at throwing when least expected. About 10km or so into the race, I was feeling unsure on my bike and a little tired. It was in this state that, coming down some fairly rocky jeep track, I tried to pass one of my fellow cyclists and kind of ended up putting my foot down a little too firmly on uneven ground. In that instant my ankle dislocated and I knew that I had broken it. I screamed and screamed and screamed until I realised that that would not help any. It was amazing, as within in a few minutes I had an anaesthetist and two doctor cyclists attending to me. Brad held my distorted leg while I tried to gather myself and one of my many heroes of the day rode back up the hill to call the paramedic. Although it was a fairly traumatic experience for me physically, on another level I experienced something incredibly special and it is a story I have told often to those who are willing to listen. From the cyclists to the paramedics, the ambulance nurse, Dr Jere the Orthopaedic Surgeon and my porter at the hospital, I felt a kindness and sincerity not often encountered.
Although on the face of it, this is a cycling race, it somehow manages to strip away the unimportant things in life. It is as if you get a glimpse of the basic humanity which rests within us. And in that moment you feel deeply connected with this universe. I think more than anything that is what this race does for me, it reminds me that the earth wants to feel my bare feet and the wind wants to play with my hair. Pure, untainted, glorious enjoyment, just for the pure fun of it. It is a unique combination of the unequalled majesty of the countryside, the unfettered humour of both organisers and sponsors, the pain of mastering some of the cruellest ascents I have yet experienced, the exhilaration of riding the technical downhill and the warmth of being touched by the joyous and humble essence of the Swazi people.
From an Osama B perspective, what stark contrast to the slick, well executed performance of last year! If 2009 was the Swazi Frontier of comfort and joy, 2010 was more akin to a chilled breakfast in a Baghdad war zone 20 minutes after the little megalomaniac American president lunatic with wingnut ears woke up in a grumpy mood. For the Osama B’s it was three days of bitter warfare featuring wipe outs, injury and technical abortions of biblical standards – and that is why we love the sport. It always has something to dish up for the lads. But let’s not miss the point here, another sublime year for the pre-eminent mountain biking event in Africa. Let’s take you through it, cos if you weren’t there, you should have been. It went a little something like this....
Started like most others, though it has to be said the tempo was down from years past. I would attribute that to the absence of the likes of Yolande “White Lightning” Speedy and her sidekick Paul “The Speed Midget” Cordes. Word is they just can’t take losing to the Pipe and The Tweek year after year at the Swazi Frontier. The mini twins were replaced by something far more menacing in 2010, the dangerous duo of David and Davidson from Kenya. Don’t be fooled by their big smiles and pleasant demeanour, these guys take some beating it has to be said. Dressed in green one piece suites and built a lot like a Kreepy Krawly hose, but without the ridges or the big flobbery rubber bit at the end, these guys look like they either spend their lives on a bike or not eating. Either way, it translates into lean unadulterated speed. As it happened, the potential of this team was somewhat restricted by a combination of their lack of local course knowledge and a flock of technical problems, not that this kept them off the podium.
Having set the scene, a sedate pelican (Swazi slang for peloton – these okes aren’t strong on French) set forth. The writing was on the wall early on when my partner, The Pipe, was lagging nicely behind out the starting gate. Turns out we had withdrawn a lot more from the training fitness account than we had deposited in recent years, and were reaping the rewards. Despite this, we managed to hang on to the front of the ragtag pack. Apart from the distinctly slow descent abilities of Norm and Grant from team Baggy Pant (Hoss), things were fairly uneventful. Uneventful if you consider me being spear tackled by my new bike and body slammed into the unyielding Swazi turf as uneventful. The clowns from the coastal Team 67789320⅞²-2.co.uk (don’t ask!) with driving skills to match, slammed on their brakes just in front of us on a briskish descent. With nano seconds to react, I did what any seasoned biker would do, and hit the front brake as hard as I could. The ensuing somersault with bike attached to my feet was up there with the more traumatic accidents of my life. Landing as planned on my right shoulder followed by driving the oversized, genuine imitation “Lezyne” multi tool through my back, there were very few molecules of air left in my carcass. The Pipe thought that it was all over for us. It took my diminutive brain a while to readjust, so before it did, I climbed back on my bike and like the drummer from Def Leppard, I continued with one arm. Talk about a personality remover, the chatting ended right there and I just wanted to go home. Luckily we only had 45kms left and the equivalent of Tenzing Norgay’s (born, get this; Namgyal Wangdi) favourite Tibetan mountain left to climb. And so it was that we entered the uphill “make the Alpe D’Huez look like a the Spruit” stage of Day 1. Thankfully most of the compo dropped off and it was just us and the coastal cuzzins cruising up front.
My name’s not Kwazimodo, but I still had a serious hunch that something was missing from this equation. I was right, the East African turbo grasshoppers had fixed their tyres for the fifteenth time and were on the move. They came past us like we had swapped in our KTM and S Works for a set of granny walkers. And not those cool ones with the quick release dashboard either, but those walking stick wanabee walkers with the sprout of mini feet at the bottom. We successfully gave chase, for about 36 seconds. The Pipe said he was blowing so we had to settle back to our new found octogenarian “racing” pace. What had happened though, is that we had dropped the coastal lot and were in second spot. Then Team Green punctured again and we were up front. We hung in on some severe climbing to take the tape cruising into Bulembu. Apart from my bleating like a school girl for a medic at the finish, things were good again in the Swazi hinterland
Bulembu gets better and better every year. An astonishing history, this once uninhabited mining city has been rejuvenated and, apart from Fossil’s ridiculously inadequate motor bike skills, is easily the highlight of each year’s visit to Swazi. That evening consisted of some great humour in the race briefing, a huge feed and me seeing how many drugs I could find to ease the paining in my shoulder. Apparently I had torn my AC joint, I thought that was some kind of rock band from the 80’s, so stuffed myself full of anti inflammatories and cortisone and hoped for the best.
Feeling about 102 years old, we were greeted with a misty and rainy Bulembu with slick surfaces to complement what is normally a tricky start. We successfully navigated VERNON’S STEPS and a fairly solid climb out of Bulembu. It was the usual suspects up front. The Danger men were clearly the grasshoppers, kitted out with new tires to complement their lumo green one piece racing suites, these were going to be the men to beat. Four pairs of bikes crested together and then started the festive forest downhill on the way to Mganda Valley, the place of one million river crossings. The Kenyan pickup sticks being downhill shy, it was the Baggy Pant, the Coastal Cuzzins and Osama B’s out front through the epic single track section. Great riding to be sure, fast sweeping single track and once again things were going well up until the hunt for Orion Piggs Peak Hotel. In the closing stages, with the grasshoppers and us leading the pack, the collective navigational ability of the lead group amounted to zero. We took a few wrong turns but were finally on track for home. Placed nicely with the danger men from Kenya, we were feeling pretty good and hoping to right the wrongs of the abortive Day 2 bogeymen of years past. It was at that point that my rear derailleur popped. So with limited single speed capability and a lot of standing we maintained our pace and sight of the grasshoppers. Then, with 6kms to go, the derailleur shredded itself. I was now on foot, and with not one shred of humour left in the general area, I took the loser run into Piggs Peak. With a few pushes and a pull from the Pipe we made it in to the comfort of Swazi’s finest gambling establishment. Fourth place was our lot for that day, the first time we had ever finished behind okes that rode in beach baggies – self esteem was about as low as a coelacanth mine shaft operator. Nevertheless, we were still in second place overall, 4 seconds behind the grasshoppers, and we started scheming...Night Two
What a thing, the truck with all our kit had gotten stuck in the mud during the course of the day, so we were all kitless at the Orion. Fantastic to watch the whole place get transformed into a Toga Party where every cyclist was sporting nothing more than a few towels and a beer. Surely the Toga theme will become tradition in this fine race. As my brother always says, clothing is there to be removed. What humour and hospitality from the lads at the hotel and the riding mob lapped up the luxury.
Over about 2.5 kilograms of dinner, a couple of mils of cortisone and some strapping for the wobbly shoulder, the Pipe and I were planning our next move while Lazarus, the mechanic from Dunkeld Cycles, tried to rebuild my rear derailleur out of discarded parts. I could not escape the irony of it all, turns out we had to structure our fight back for the podium around our superior descending skills. This from the team that spends more time upside down or in the bush than on the bike. It was usually our game to win on the uphills, but with the advent of the Kenyan Daves, the realm of high gravity was clearly theirs alone. And so it came to pass that on the third day.....
It was not to be! Amongst rumours of torrential rain and cataclysmic climactic activity, it was a relief to have day three dawn cool and calm. If the weather Gods were playing along, I need to have a word with the God of Shimano. That deity is a proper snapperhead, or if He isn’t, He certainly has it in for me. The Pipe and I were doing our best to pace ourselves and not eat all our sarmies at first break like Lee John always does. Tucked in nicely behind the usual suspects, “Team Coastal Bad Driving,” “Kenya Green” and the lads from Dunkeld Cycles, things were going fairly well apart from a few mechanical complaints emanating from my rear derailleur once again. I was trying to treat it with the mechanical sympathy that it had not earned, ensuring I removed any grass or stick activity at the first opportunity. Suddenly the range of gears available was drastically reduced, but not wanting to drop off the lead pelican, I was forced to continue. And continue I did, until the Gods of Shimano belched forth with great wailing of cables, shearing of parts and gnashing of little pointy bits. The stuff we needed at the back for the chain to go round had self destructed. And like so many of our taxi operating brethren, we were forced to the side of the track to beg and steal bits from passing commuters. Our hope of podium time was nothing more than a distant memory. We were pretty far from jabula (isiZulu for “well chuffed”), while the Pipe was trying to reconstruct my bike in the postman configuration – no gears. We tried that for a while, without success. Then in a flash of rare brilliance, the Pipe rebuilt the derailleur with a combination of cable ties, hair elastics from his current-future-ex nubile and some chewing gum (okay the last one is an exaggeration) and my bike was kind of working again.
Just to put you in the picture as to how much time we had lost, Narcotix cruised up to us tripping as always. “Hey Tweaky,” he bleated in his subtle way, “if I had known you would be this far back I would have packed a reefer and a six pack!” Times were bad, this is about as low as one can be, sharing imaginary contraband with Narcotix at the back of the field in the middle of Swaziland with a bike running about as well as my first ever BMX one-speed that was rebuilt from scavenged parts. The race was over, but not for the Pipe, he was still on a mission. So we were off once again. Eish, my mate made me pay. We made it home amongst some superb retro slamming beats from the DJ.. What a relief to be in the tranquil surrounds of Maguga Lodge, multiple beers in hand and some good mates.
The usual kaleidoscope of too much beer, Fossil’s debrief, acceptance speeches, fines and humourless CycleBad™ riders in matching, cling-tight cycling gear (where do they get that stuff?). Festivity and childishness levels were starting to escalate.. Highlights of the evening were “inebriated indoor BMX trix” and gangsta dance moves led by Dangerous Dave 1 from Team Kenya.
What a peach of an event once again. It improves every year and is seemingly becoming an annual piece of a lot of our calendars – and for good reason! Undeniably the most enjoyable mountain bike event on our Southern Tip. Viva Swaziland, Viva!
In a small land locked country on the south eastern tip of Africa, roughly the size of Wales and better known for things like the Reed Dance and being the last absolute monarchy in Africa, is an event that captures the very essence of mountain biking. How this event hasn't received more publicity is a mystery. The country is Swaziland, and the event is The Swazi Frontier.
Swaziland, here we come
After hearing some fantastic stories from several sources, I composed the best suck up letter ever, promising the naming rights to my first born, and large sums of money and other favours, should I get an entry. (I have kept the letter, and will be using it as a template for similar events. I haven't yet told my wife that we'll be having a rugby team of children). I also bribed some past participants into putting a good word in for me. After several nervous weeks I finally got the email - I had cracked the nod.
The next challenge was to find a partner. With Craig preferring the company of older men, I was left to either find someone of a similar level as me, or someone who was brave or mad (or both).
After exhausting the former options, I had to resort to the latter, and thankfully I didn't have to look to far. Enter Tree John - best known for his lack of skill at avoiding trees. I made a couple promises, about riding sensibly blah blah blah, and suddenly, Team Goat and Guru was born (I am the goat, as I go uphill well, and John is the downhill guru, provided there aren't any trees).
After months of planning the logistics, Team Goat and Guru and Team 5339.co.uk (feel the creativity in the name) set off on a country crossing adventure. Hermanus to Somerset West, Somerset West to Cape Town Airport, flights up to Johannesburg, hire car to Pretoria, sleep - the junior team got relegated to the caravan by a rather grumpy Little John (of Little John and his Merry Men fame, the other half of Team 40.is.old), road trip to Oshoek, fighting with obstinate customs officials, lost customs forms, missed turnoffs, before finally arriving Hawane Lodge in the pouring rain. Us Capies know all about the rain, and aren't scared of a bit of mud and gunk, but throw in a bit of lightening and thunder and we become quivering wrecks - looking for the nearest bed to hide under. The other concern was that the sum total of my wet weather gear consisted of a pair of arm warmers (once again, Team 666.be.evil providing us with bad advice, telling us how hot Swaziland always is).
Stage 1 was a "gentle 60km ride through some beautiful surroundings, with a bit of climbing near the end" - to quote Brett, the event organiser and finalist for The Most Understated Route Description award. Brett just lets the track do the talking - up, mist, long grass, wild animals, trees, dam wall, down, stile, down, river crossing, waterpoint, up, up, up, trees, down, down, down, river crossing, forest, up, up, mud, up, trees down, waterpoint, up, up, up, down, tar, finished.
The old movie house
Something like 64kms with 2100m of climbing for a total riding time of 5h25 through some of the best riding I have ever done. Team 2236.co.uk came in second, losing some time on the last climb.
In an effort to try to be inclusive, and to stop being a control freak, I had delegated the role of navigator to Tree John - that way he had some control over where we went and how fast we did it, and I had to follow him. That was the idea anyway. It became quite apparent that Tree John wasn't happy with this designation, and did his best to sneakily dispose of our route maps when I least expected it. After having to ride back up the track to hunt for our cards for the third time, Tree John finally made a plan and stuck them down with a mouth full of half chewed PVM Energy bar. I always knew those bars were good for something. Thankfully, we were able to navigate by following others most of the time, but this comes with its dangers - several times we followed teams off into the great unknown.
The rest of the afternoon was spent soaking up the atmosphere, chatting about the fantastic riding, gorging ourselves on the tasty food, fiddling with bikes, and napping - all in the old mining town of Bulembu, now an AIDS orphanage.
Stage 2 dawned with the rain pouring down. Resisting the urge to climb back into bed after a hearty breakfast I once again put on all my wet weather gear - a sole pair of arm warmers, and got ready for what promised to be a 60km mud bath. At the Swazi Time of 7am we set off, braving the elements, the mud, and Tree John's navigational skills (Swazi Time is very much like African Time - just a little more random and unpredictable). With the odd slip here and there, mud in the eyes, ears, nose and mouth, wet bum, caked bikes and big smiles we progressed along one of the best day's riding I have ever done, made even better by the weather. We climbed, we flew down hills, we got lost, Tree John staked a claim to a particularly slippery piece of land, we crossed rivers, we crossed rivers, we crossed rivers (something like 32 times), we got stuck in mud, Little John broke a chain, we raced pigs (the pigs won), we high fived kids, and eventually crossed the finish line at the Orion Piggs Peak hotel in a little over 4 hours. Team 8008.dodgy.giant, and in particular Little John, lost time as the mud brought their race to a sudden stop, but managed to hang onto a third place.
Certainly beats a tent!
We weren't the only ones to fall victim to the mud, with the truck carrying everyone's bags getting stuck. The result was that 180 cyclists walked about the hotel in nothing but towels. All in all, the Unofficial Piggs Peak Toga Party went down well, with no reports of wardrobe malfunctions. Several riders even achieved minor stardom as the news reporters clamoured to take photos of people in towels with funny tan lines.
The mud had been particularly brutal on the bikes, and for the first time I experienced what can only be called "Collective Bike Repair" - where a whole bunch of people work on a whole bunch of bikes - often not their own, for the general good of everyone.
Stage 3 was to be a 60km affair with 3 major climbs. The weather was finally playing along, so the arm warmers weren't needed, and I swapped them for a pair of sunglasses. After a slightly relaxed start, we found ourselves in the lead bunch. Just as we were settling in, as happy as a Swazi pig in Swazi poo, Little John of Team 911.im.lost sent the entire lead bunch down the wrong track. We watched despondently as first the mixed teams, and then the baggy shorts clad mountain bikers whizzed past us. The only consolation being that now we had some targets up ahead of us, and there is nothing I like more than something to aim at.
I'd given up on Tree John's navigational skills, and had to find other reliable sources of navigational info. The obvious option was to follow the tracks ahead of us, but there was a certain risk in this. With people like Little John doing the navigation up front, who knows where we might end up. A far more reliable source is what I call SCPS - Swazi Children Positioning System, and involves scanning the route up ahead, and then heading off towards the largest group of Swazi children on the side of the road. I'm still working on a business plan to commercialise my new positioning system, so watch this space.
Tree John had finally found some legs, and was making me work hard. While not as technically challenging as the previous days, the riding was still top notch, and as an added bonus we got to see the scenery. We also got a hint of just how warm it can be, and were more than grateful for the cooler weather we had experienced. We enjoyed some steep climbs, sweeping descents, a swing bridge crossing, angry Swazi cows, emaciated Swazi dogs, friendly Swazi supporters, beautiful panoramas, swamp crossings, flowing cow tracks, and a fast tar descent to finish off at Maguga Lodge in a little over 4 hours, securing 7th place overall. "If you ain't first, you're last", and the Kenyan team of David and Davidson made sure they were first. Team 0002.isnt.bad secured a well deserved 2nd place with the defending champs - Bruce Turvey and Rob Dormehl of Osama B's - succumbing to mechanical issues and finishing in third.
The rest of the day was spent packing, cleaning up, enjoying a few drinks overlooking the Maguga dam, and just chilling - we had Stage 4 to look forward to that evening, and a long trip back to reality the next day.
It's not often that event organisers get everything just right, and yet some how, Brett and Lesley have managed this. Even when things go wrong, it just doesn't seem to matter. From the race briefings, to the route, to the food, to the accommodation - everything is just perfect. The Swazi Frontier isn't a race, it's a ride and an experience that is out of this world. Many thanks to Brett, Lesley and all the other unseen helpers that make the Swazi Frontier the event that it is.
Still no word on the name of my first born, but I expect a call any day now...
“Dogs” and many other species descended on Swaziland this last week to ride its little hills at the annual Swazi Frontier stage race. The weather gods went dilly and sent a giant cloud to lurk above the race for most of the three days but dampen our spirits it did not. The riding is superb! Day one takes you from the border through sweeping rural landscapes, through the Malolotja Nature Reserve and up to the remote and quirky once-deserted mining village of Bulembu. Day two drags you up a monster mountain and then you descend through a forest at warp speed and into the Mganda valley where the author dog saw his hairy butt up close on a slippery rock before managing to drag himself through the 36 river crossings. Oooocha! Finish for day two is at Orion Piggs Peak Hotel. Niiiice! Our truck got delayed due to the weather so we invaded the place in towels and had a massive Toga party at the tea trolley and scoffed all their cake. Day three takes you klapping down one of the best technical downs around and up and over a few Swazi bumps to the finish at Maguga Dam and Stage 4 - "The Afterparty" on the deck. Highly, highly recommend this one. Good humour, great riding, superb accommodation and a chance to see Swaziland and party like a wild dog afterwards. Don't be fooled by the seemingly short distances of 60km btw. It’s a tough ride –
As a last minute partner finding effort, Dane asked me to do the Swazi Frontier with him. I would be punching a bit above my weight, but Dane kept assuring me we would be sightseeing!
I cleaned and lubricated my bike on Monday night, only to find a break which split the chainstays and cracked the right; the seat stay also had some damage. Adding my worn stantions into the equation made me nervous - would my bike be able to carry me the length of the Swazi Frontier?
We flew up to Joburg and overnighted at Craigs’ parents (Craig Edwards and John Leppan would be our tour guides before offering their services to the Kenyans!!). At the airport they do not take kindly to people photographing the X-ray of your bike or inquiring if the cargo hold is bomb safe (honest mistake). We also used some equipment to weigh ourselves. I was the fatty and tipped Dane by 5kg. Interestingly enough both of us picked up 2kg on the trip! On the drive down, Dane and I were told lavish tales of technical tracks and meter drop offs. Things started great with Little John (John Leppan) tossing our border pass into the nearest bin after lecturing us on border etiquette. We also got lost on the way to the registration venue – a great start to the navigational multi stage race!
Dane assigned me to chief navigator as I had the Cycle Computer. This was as amateurish as giving up my aisle seat on the flight up. Never be the navigator – you can only give late or incorrect directions and suffer a mutiny when your ship goes astray.
Day 1: Hawane Lodge to Bulembu
From the start we were accompanied by riders on horseback and a few thunder strikes were heard. It was quite misty and also drizzled. Navigation was tricky in the mist. The route started with a fast 17km. My legs were nowhere, the bike felt heavy and no air was to be found at altitude. My lungs had a gasping rhythm going. At the first river crossing Dane disappeared only to reappear with a stern look on his face and our route cards. Those might come in handy. The elastics obviously didn’t have enough hold. After the second time I stopped to herd my cards I decided to use some chewed Energy bar which did the trick and would so for the remainder of the Swazi Frontier. We did, however, even with our route cards, still manage to explore tracks not on the route!
We passed through Malolotja Nature Reserve and some downhills where we found some quite technically tight turns and rocky sections. Some of the long travel guys walked down. We had some extra hill climb practice as we missed a dodgy marked river crossing and headed up a climb called TOO BRUTAL. What a climb that would have been, but Dane managed to see the light!
The single track downhills which followed were dangerously close to some cliffs and the loose gravel of the terrain ensured all riders had to maintain concentration. On the climbs to follow we did however manage to keep going and ended up in 7th position. The route offered 2100m of climbing!
...view from our room at Orion Piggs Peak Hotel
Arriving at Bulembu, we could not help to feel like we had entered a ghost town as this abandoned asbestos mine would be suited to provide the setting for a Shyamalan novel. We were, however, welcomed with friendly faces and treated to some much needed lasagna.
Day 2: Bulembu to Orion Piggs Peak Hotel
Some serious overnight rain was experienced which made for some slippery conditions. We started in a light rain and were continuously warned about the conditions. Drafting would be impossible as riding behind another rider was like entering a mud storm! My speedometer stopped working (most probably from the excess mud covering it) and whilst adjusting it, my front wheel slipped out and I slid a few meters on the slimy path. I had a gentle slide in the mud and was totally covered in sludge from head to toe. Straighten handlebars; ride on! Just after this a fellow mudslinger executed a perfect endo over a tree stump just ahead of us.
Some of the DH sections in ZIGZAG to follow were extremely slippery and needed extra care. We headed down a valley and started on the river crossings section. Dane became quite the river crossing Guru and I joined in the action. This was pure bliss and found myself in my element! Numerous tracks intertwined down the valley. There are apparently 30 or so river crossings of which some are not rideable! The glare off the water made dodging the boulders waiting beneath the surface troublesome. This did however ensure that we could get some packed mud of our chains and derailleurs.
Coming down from WAPPO’S STEPPES, I was adjusting the route cards and took a wrong line only to take some sharp drop-offs in the single track. I thought my race was over, but miraculously the chainstays held.
A serious little climb (the PHOPPA) was to follow, and after some serious chainsuck I was glad to limp home! Chances of finishing the race were looking grim as the horizontal movement of the Merida was becoming very noticeable.
The luggage truck experienced the same mud as we did and was delayed a few hours. This resulted in a massive ‘Toga Party’ with hot showered riders lounging around in towels in the dining area of the Orion Piggs Peak Hotel to the astonishment of fellow guests. We were treated as Roman Emperors and ate our fill of the luxurious chow. After an entertaining prize giving with numerous chirps from the back, we enjoyed a good night’s sleep!
Day 3: Pigg's Peak to Maguga Lodge
After seeing the route profile for the last day, I knew it was going to be tough. The day started an hour earlier, and for some reason my legs began to feel fine. The route started with a climb and John decided to lead the group on a scenic detour – something he would regret at the fines ceremony. We rejoined the route way down the field behind the long-travel guys wearing the baggies!
Team "5339.co.uk" and "The Goat and the Guru"
The horizontal flex on the frame persisted, but my early morning cable tie modification seemed to add some strength.
We took the downhills quite gently but there were still some tight corners. On the first serious climb Dane leant a helping hand and we made up some positions. The route then went through some villages and Dane quickly started navigation using the children on the roadside!
We were chased up the last climb by some guys in baggies but had enough in the tank to sprint the ship home. Some tense moments were however experienced as the route card read “Right down track at yellow house” and it seemed like the Swazi king gifted all his cousins with a dash of new paint.
A fast tar section led us home to Maguga Lodge and a celebratory beer was in order whilst overlooking Maguga Dam! We ended the day 6th and overall 7th.
We took our time to disassemble the bikes before dinner. Some serious fines were served at prize giving – like Craig for stealing some gasoline for his water bottle! Little John won some Ngewenya Glass wine glasses in the lucky draw and Craig and John received some prizes for second position. Pancakes at Ngwenya Glass are a must.
The event is superbly organized and humorous characters seem to flock back year after year to enjoy the great tracks and company that the FRONTIER has to offer. Hats off to Fossil and Lesley for organizing the SWAZI FRONTIER…see you next year!
The view from Maguga Lodge
What an event, and more importantly, what a change from last year. I referred back to the Osama B’s race report from 2008 and it resembled a Vietnam flashback of sorts. A complex kaleidoscope of falling, pain, bleeding, equipment destruction, budget accommodation and hardship. In stark contrast, this year turned out to be one of sublime riding, little pain and infinite comfort. A series of crash free days followed by fine dining and tranquil accommodation. Apparently being last years’ winner had something to do with the accommodation, but the lack of pain had to do with something else entirely. Turns out the rowers have learned how to ride. Now that’s a helluva thing!
To put you in the picture, I rode this thing last year with my equally virginal mountain bike rowing partner, Warren. This team was all about enthusiasm and very little about talent. In terms of the confidence to competence ratio, so important in sport, the former way outstripped the latter. Yet, enthusiasm overcame all and we managed a hugely unexpected win.
But things change, and Warren saw it fit to immigrate to a small, largely uninhabited island off the north coast of Australia. This in a move to advance his mining and work (no other) career. I was left partnerless and faced the wrath of the jockey and his gravity proof nubile on my own. Needless to say, I panicked and considered my options for a new partner. It even crossed my mind to quit while I was ahead, cut my losses and enter into MTB retirement, pride intact, forever known as the “one hill wonder,’ yet forever unbeaten in the Swazi hinterland. Now there’s something to tell the grandchildren – if there ever are any.
What I did for a partner, was unashamedly poach the new Osama B from a last year’s team that placed third in the men’s section. Enter “The Pipe,” so called due to his remarkable likeness to those flugelbinders used to clean the inside of rifle barrels. Obviously, another rower, this one longer than your average garden hose and slightly more powerful (I’ll leave out the drinking problems and rap sheet of run ins with the law at this stage). A more accomplished mountain biker than Warren and myself, the Pipe needed some fine tuning and we were on. “We gotta win this dice bru!!” was the call and “We can’t lose to a bunch of sawn off garden gnomes, best we put in the training.” True to form, I hit the bar and the rowing machine by way of preparation, and the Pipe hit the bar and the cliff-like hills behind his dairy farm in Knysna. “This cycling lot train too much,” we agreed. “It’s not about volume, it’s about intensity.” Not known for conventional training methods, the rowers thought they were in the dice. We were exposed to any stage lasting more than about four hours – but you gotta back yourselves. If it’s not hurting, you aren’t trying.
Day -1: Preparation
Willy and the Pipe arrived in Johannesburg and it wasn’t long before we had clocked in at Dunkeld Cycles for a spending competition. What was intended to be a 40 minute visit comically turned into a 3 hour drama. Most time consumption was due to the guys at Dunkeld’s challenge to fit a tyre on The Pipe’s KTM hardtail (aptly named “The garden gate” due to its lack of features). Aiden, aka Narcotix, felt we couldn’t pop this tyre on without a compressor, at which point we went to the nearest BP. One tub of Stans and an hour later, we still had a rim with no tyre. More importantly, we had covered the entire garage floor in Stans and this was the venue of Narcotix’s first one liner; “It looks like a dairy cow exploded in this place.”
Day 1: Brutal
Dawn of day one started like any other day….a brisk start shortly followed by me getting lost within the first ten minutes. There was a strange comfort knowing that very little had changed. We fiddled around on some small hills as the pack spread and concertinaed again, depending on how badly the lead guys were following the route cards. Things seemed more chilled this year without Nic “I’ve trashed every bit of my bike in the first ten minutes” Floros. It also left us quite exposed as a pair. Believe it or not, our tactic this year was to lurk at the front with the leaders and sneak the win at the end of each day. Many asked us “what happens if you have a technical,” to which we replied….”I don’t know.” I may have said something to the effect of “What’s a technical?” It made for interesting riding there is no doubt.
It turns out my new bike, pimped out by the dealers at Dunkeld Cycles, was just the thing for the BABOON’S BACK. Something that ate me alive on the hard tail last year, felt like a warm up on the spinning bike with my new dual suspension cab (bit gay I know). Speaking of gay, I did have to wait about 10 minutes at the top for my “hard core cos I ride a garden gate with 1876 technology” partner. Once there, we spanked the downhill, (thankfully without incident and without the RED TRAILER) and the dice was on. It wasn’t long before the usual suspects were out in front. The Jockey and his greased lightning goose (both on soft tails this year) were beyond neat and tidy through the single and tricky stuff. Hanging on for the ride was The Osamas, the Toyota Twins (again resplendent in their matching outfits) and some cuzzins from the coast….Craig and John from …get this – Team 5339.co.uk. Love the way that team name just rolls off the tongue. More on these two a bit later (ha ha, I just said “more on” he he)
Turns out I managed to mangle the little gear thing at the back of my bike. Great news was I now had one gear to choose from out the back cluster. The Pipe started getting grumpy with me cos I wasn’t keeping up at all. He kept saying “clean that back thing” so after using everything from a used energy bar packet, Leatherman and indigenous foliage – the gears were still smoked and I was doing some quality pushing. At the half way eating hut, I said to the Pipe “Put the potatoes down and fix my bike.” He’s the more technically minded of the two. He then looks at me like my brain was missing. “Your whole back sprocket is shredded.” So it was official, I had 3 gears left to get home.
From there, the mini pair in matching pj’s had the jump on us. There was not much we could do except settle in to a bit of a rhythm up the brutal. It was going well, I had a gear I could use, and the Pipe was starting to fire. We were back in the mix and the jockeys were in sight. I think we even screamed at them something to the effect of “We’re coming for you, you are about to enter a world of pain.” Words I’m sure absolutely no one believed for a second, least of all me.
I couldn’t understand why I was going so slowly and with so much hand pain down HEENAN’S STAIRCASE until I got to the bottom – and discovered I had locked out all the suspension. Technology – who needs it!!! On the way down we passed the mini mountain goats cos they had punctured. We now had the lead and put in some solid rowers walk up those steepish BRUTALS. Having picked up a useful jump, we were lost. Obviously there was no route card, so we chilled and waited for the Toyota Two, who grudgingly told us it was “left.” Back into the Rowers walk, I saw some flickering flags and we flew direct for the top of TOO BRUTAL. Again, not much of a hill, as I keep telling Fossil. Even worse there is only one BRUTAL this year, and last year we were promised 3 Brutal. Things are deteriorating in the Swazi hills – its gotta be said.
Long story short, once we had some bearings and some memory from the year before, we were unstoppable and got in with a useful lead. Day one sorted.
Night One – sheer luxury of the en suite mansion up the hill. A sweet change from the dormitory the year before. Went to sleep thinking “I hope this doesn’t make me soft.”
Day Two – To Bulembu and Beyond
“The day to not eat your smarties early.” Save some juice for the hill into Piggs Peak aptly known as THE PHOPHA. Ree –eaallly!. Two years, THE PHOPHA - 2, Tweaky and the Pipe – 0. The start was civil enough until we got to the business end of the hillage. The hill eating wife was clearly on a mission to put some pressure on us. Soon enough it was just us and the hill people again. The pace was hurting me, as was the chain in my backpack. I started bleating, but the Pipe was hearing none of it, enjoying every second of my pain. It seems three out of the four of us was enjoying my pain. I swear every time I so much as glanced away, there was a mini attack. At this stage, the sport truly sucked. I had had enough, luckily we were only 30 minutes into Day 2, so there was plenty joy left in the tank.
Sick of my bleating, The Pipe reached into my camelback and retrieved the spare chain. I think the camera man at the top of the hill was a bit surprised when the Pipe threw the chain at him saying “hang on to this, boet.”
We crested together, and for once, the downhill was a treat. Shortly afterwards we hit the snack stop, with a tidy lead on the rest of the pack. We were off again, naturally following Paul’s directions. When he stopped to check his bearings, inevitably the Pipe would lean over him and say something like, “are you gonna work this one out or what, the okes are catching us” between bites of an energy bar. Not sure if that behaviour is not done, but it didn’t seem to phase us much. Soon enough with a poorly timed bit of navigational advice from me, we got the four of us lost. And our lead was gone. Back in the pack with the Thompson Twins from Toyota and a bit of the Dunkeld Dudes thrown in for spice. This is where we made the fatal error. We backed Paul’s directions instead of chilling with the folk that had this directional thing waxed. A bit of a push for home was on the cards, though it turned out to be more of a push for something pretty far from home. Having navigated WAPPO’S STEPPES without incident, we followed Paul up some mountain of his own imagining. After sometime and some pretty useful additional hill training, we realized we were wrong and went back down the cliff face. Just in time to see half the field come past us. You know you are in trouble when the likes of Willy get a sniff in and come charging down the hill screaming “I got you fu*ers nooooow.” His charge was short-lived at the next hill; nevertheless, things were looking bleak for the Osamas. I think we rode past some dudes in baggy pants, then we knew we had hit rock bottom, and THE PHOPHA wreaked havoc on the two of us. At least we had the jump on the little people we thought. But it wasn’t long before they too came past us. I think it was somewhere around the time where the Pipe had gotten off his bike and rested his head on his seat. Looked like he was having a nap. Things were way bleak. We managed to top the hill and roll into Orion Piggs Peak hotel. If there was any juice left in the tank, there would have been much wailing and gnashing of teeth, but we were too poked. The look on the faces of the Cycle Lab Clones was enough to make me wanna toss my two energy bars and one tot of protein shake. Urrrghhh!
We lost a packet of time, not to mention the yellow jersey. Riding, even in the sublimest of surroundings, can suck properly.
Night Two – more sheer luxury, aircon, TV, swimming pool, couple of beers, some burgers – our troubles were over man.
Day Three – Comeback time for the Pipe and Tweak
“These okes are muck, and the jockeys nubile toasted herself trying to get away from us yesterday, so let’s finish these lurkers.” That was the plan, but without a trace of navigational skill between us, it was always going to be tough to follow the pack and find the six or so minutes we needed once we knew where we were. But that was the plan and we were sticking to it.
For the first time in my racing life, I spent most of the day enjoying the Swazi scenery with about 58 other riders. So lost were we, man. The slow pace wasn’t suiting our riding style. Narcotix, loving being in the lead pelican, summed it up. “Okes, I blow in two hours whether I’m riding or standing, I have one and a half left, could someone please make a decision.” There were very little decisions being made until a cat on a bike told us where to go, and the race was back on….sort of. More getting lost, more milling about and we kind of muddled our way to the snack area again. Sneak of sneaks!! The jockey was off like a shot while the rest of us were taking in a potato and some energy loob. “Pipe, the jockey’s doing a sneak!!” We tossed our snacks and ran after them still chewing and drooling replenishment items. After a few big ones, we had caught them. Life was good again; we had the jump on the matching okes from Cyclebad and could put the hurting down – until we got lost again. And sure enough, we were a happy little group again.
Chances of victory were looking slim. Pipe and I were muttering stuff like, “do you know where we are, cos when you do, we gotta dump the clutch.” Took us a while to work things out, we finally did, but not very far from home. Like a jack in the box, the Pipe and I were breaking like mine workers on a Friday after. Big gear on front, standing and pumping like Rocco Sifreddi on a summer holiday – we were outta there. A little look back saw a chase without much anger. Things were looking up again, as long as you didn’t ask the legs how they were feeling. Crying out in pain no doubt, with the Pipe up ahead yelling “C’mon son.” Fitting, cos I felt like a small child getting beaten by the Swazi mountain. World of pain, a quick summit and a run in with MICKEY’S MADNESS. Watching the Pipe face plant in front of the cameraman raised my spirits somewhat, but what happened thereafter has to be age restricted to be fair. We basically drop kicked, threw and yanked our bikes over The Madness. A clattering mess, we arrived at the bottom getting yelled at by a long skinny local in a one piece biking suit in what must have been some local dialect. We understood little of what he said, but took it to mean “hurry the *&(*$ up.” So we did, and spanked it over the line in first place. Now we watched the clock and counted down the time. Lucky enough, the Boys Blue blundered on The Madness and victory was ours. So sweet it was, man. And just when we thought things couldn’t get more entertaining…..the cuzzies from the coast come caning it towards the finish – give each other a longing look and go for the high five, only to entangle their bikes and land beak first, sliding in a dust ball over the finish. It was spectacular, but did cost Craig a collar bone. Cheap at the price. What a day, what a week, what a millennium!!!!
Night 3 – The most important stage by far
The festivities kicked off early. The bikers wanted to see if they could drink the Maguga pub dry – and I think they did. By the end we had resorted to Malibu and Pepsi cos the beers, the cane and the rum were overs. The blur of feeding, the odd speech, some more Zulu dancing, not to mention the disturbing imagery of Boris topless in an orange G-string busting out moves to ZZ top, was nearly all it took to round off another memorable Swazi Frontier.
Some misguided attempt by some French lady to end the jol early was ill received. “Bluh, bluh, you are disturbing le guests!” was responded to by “We are the frikking guests, and we haven’t ridden one lap of Swaziland and over The Brutals to go to bed early. And touch that DJ system at your peril” The party raged on uninterrupted.
Who could not forget though, the piece de resistance so generously imparted on us by Narcotix. Always having the last say, he hit the middle of the “dancing ring,” bust out some well clevva break dance moves terminating in him spinning on his head and nailing the stiff little man landing to the maximum. He then got up, gave the okes a bow, and retired. Respect!!
Another top race, a top crowd, unreal organization, inspirational sponsorship, spanking scenery, off the scale mountain biking and a ballistic bender. Again, big up to Fossil and Les for a special occasion. Only thing wrong with this dice is…we have to wait about 349 days til the next one.
For anyone not sure, this is not your usual three day mountain bike stage race. Firstly, it is set in the heart of Swaziland and makes use of the two man (men or mixed cat only) format which is not that unusual but that is just about where all the similarities stop. To help paint a better picture let me start from the beginning:
Yolande and I headed out on Wednesday the 14th October from Centurion on about a four hour drive via the Oshoek border post and, unlike last year, I had my passport (the correct one) in order and breezed through the border and a few kilos later pulled in at the Hawane Resort. We ran through registration and soon were settling into our rustic chalet, browsing through our goody bags which included a couple great garments from First Ascent. We prepped the bikes, strapped the clip board on the handlebar (to hold the strip maps as for this event navigation is required – by some of us) of my trusty GT Marathon dual suspension machine (IMC Team weapon of choice for multi-stage events) before we headed for dinner and race briefing.
Now a big hat off to the race owners and organizers, Brett and Lesley, these race briefings are fantastic. There is never a dull moment and, while all the interesting novelty points get explained and the route profile examined, there is just enough information given to get everyone excited of the prospects and challenges of the following day. There is also big hands on involvement from all involved being resort managers, sponsors (directors of many local sponsors were not only involved in the organisation but some also took part in the event!!) which just adds to the magic of this race.
Day one saw a 7o’clock start and after a good buffet breakfast we were on our way. Yolande and I decided to hang back a little as not to get drawn into all the action of getting lost too early in this stage as we knew from last year that this was a potentially long day! Up the novelty section aptly dubbed BABOONS BACK, the race was on for the first rider over who managed to ride the whole thing without dabbing a foot. Bruce Turvey (aka “Tweaky”) took line honours and was awarded a fantastic glass baboon from Ngwenya Glass and a whole bunch of bragging rights later that evening. On the next downhill, however, we decided to take some control and edged out a bit of a lead but were short-lived as the pressure of riding off the front AND in the right direction slowed us up until we were surrounded by another three teams. At the water point we didn’t need to stop and after crossing the swing bridge found that we had edged out a small gap. We made it stick this time and quickly opened up a good lead on a mountain which I didn’t really remember from the briefing the previous evening but this bugger was epic! Near the top we could see the guys a few switchbacks down and just when I thought we could relax disaster struck in the form of a gashed sidewall. Attempting to repair it quickly with plugs ended in failure and later we had to gator and fit a tube which cost us in total around 12min and four positions. Not to be outdone, we put our heads down and slowly started making inroads on our competition up the notorious TOO BRUTAL mountain climb. We got ourselves back into second by the start of the second novelty section and after a quick cup of Mountain Dew supplied by SPAR we attacked the climb determined to make up some time and regain some dignity with regards to the bragging rights! We finished up in 2nd overall about 4min down so quite pleased with the day’s effort. That evening was the prize giving in the old cinema at Bulembu Country Lodge and like the rest of Bulembu one could only just imagine of what this place must have been like in its hey day!
Stage 2 - Another early morning and the weather looked great. Y and I decided to take the race to the guys from the gun and try and earn back those 4min. About 100 meters into the race our competition “lost” their route instructions so I knew if we could shake them early they could be navigating via a sundial to find their way back to Orion Piggs Peak hotel where the next over night stop was to be. We headed up the first big climb and it wasn’t long before Tweaky started squirming around on his bike, off-loading every gram of weight onto the Pipe (aka Rob Dormehl) or whatever marshal seemed to take a notice of his whining. However, to his credit, he hung in very well and every time we had a small gap he managed to claw his way back which made for some great racing. We then hit the river section where the lead changed a few times to help keep the pace up but I got the feeling it wasn’t enough as it wasn’t long until the chase group was bearing down on us. Just after the water-point we had to stop and debate one of the intersections on the map when two teams blew past us! Luckily it was not long before we caught them having a debate of their own and we put in a big effort to go clear together with the rowers (Tweaky and the Pipe aka Osama B’s). Then, just after we caught a glimpse of the Orion Piggs Peak hotel up on the hill, I made a hasty decision at a route marker that read something like “don’t miss this turn” and then turned 400m early sending our foursome up a stunning climb with a great view of the surrounding area and of the road way down in the valley which all the other cyclists seemed to be riding on. Anyway we made our way back to the correct track and clamoured into Orion Piggs Peak feeling very broken and sorry for ourselves in the positions of third and fourth overall. After collapsing under the shade of the trees drinking a welcome Mountain Dew or 3 we made our way to the hotel pool. Diving into the cold water the toughness of the day’s stage was soon forgotten. We shared stories with fellow riders then headed off for a welcome shower and the spread that awaited us for lunch. Prize-giving was held after a buffet dinner in the hotel. Brett captivated us all with the report of the day’s racing; we had a good laugh at the stories of some teams’ adventures from the day as the novelty awards were passed on and, after viewing photos and the video from the stage, headed for bed as it was to be a really early start in the morning.
Stage 3 - With a slight drizzle and overcast skies, perfect weather for the potentially very hot stage, we were ready to take on the challenge of the day’s racing. We would need to make up 8mins on Glenn Williams and Richard Lombard (Drillikins) and 4 on Bruce and The Pipe (Osama Bs) to win overall. Knowing this would be an almost impossible task especially since legs were feeling the previous day’s efforts, we decided to hang back and let the other 2 leading teams make the day’s racing. A few teams stretched out a small lead after negotiating the 2 stiles in and out of an awesome, new single-track section through a game reserve, this was short-lived though as one of the route directions were out by a good few 100 meters (in Brett’s defence, 1 out of the hundreds of direction for the race is surely forgivable...) and the number of riders in the front group slowly grew as we wandered up and down a dirt road in search of a seemingly phantom right-turn. Once back on track the lead group slowly stretched out again as we continued on over some amazing MTBiking terrain. Yolande and I attempted to get a lead on the first longer steep climb of the day heading up towards the water-point, we were, however, soon caught by Bruce and The Pipe and decided to just sit it up and ride together to the finish. We were joined by Drillikins and we let the 2 teams fight it out on the last climb happy to roll in 3rd place overall. We kept a steady pace up the climb and were soon on MICKEY’S MADNESS, the exhilarating downhill to the finish. What an awesome way to end 3 days of real Mountain biking heaven!!!
After a relaxing day of taking in the splendid view of the Maguga dam it was time for the final prize giving and evening meal. This was again a great night of entertainment! This is definitely one race that we will NOT recommend to anyone, it is perfect just how it is!
Again a very big thank you to Brett and Lesley (the race organisers) and all the competitors alike. This race has to be taken in the correct spirit and that is exactly what everyone did enjoying the splendours that Swaziland and its people have to offer true mountain bike enthusiasts!
Thanks to our sponsor IMC Reaction for all the years of support, we would never have had the chance to be a part of such great events if it wasn’t for you!
Hope to see you all next year!
Paul Cordes and Yolande Speedy (IMC Reaction Racing Team)
After months and months of talking about THE SWAZI FRONTIER mountain bike race, the day finally arrived where my man and I got to hop on our bikes and experience this rugged race. It was a tough one - probably one of the toughest stage races I’ve ever done. With a distance of only 60km a day, many of us were fooled into thinking it would be an easy undertaking. Wrong. It’s one of those races where you find yourself begging the same question over and over again: “Why I am doing this? Why am I doing this?” But the social aspect of the race is quite special and easily compensates for all the relentless hills and aching hamstrings. I don’t think I even saw one pair of shaven legs amongst the men - always a good sign.
I can’t share all the stories about this adventure - there are just too many, but hopefully these pics will give you a glimpse into how beautiful Swaziland is.
With only 90 teams, it was an intimate race. To put it in perspective, a race like Sani2C has 700 teams. That’s 1400 people in a race village. Not pretty. Small races rock.
Need I say anything?..We rode over swinging bridges..and up rocky hillsides..and we pushed our bikes. A lot.and when we couldn’t push anymore, we stopped and took pictures.
But finally. Finally. We got to the finish each day and collapsed in a heap of sweat and dirt.
This is Jimmy Arthur…who rode with Jilly…who is single, I repeat single. Look past the dirty face will you - a race in 40 degree heat would do that to you too.
And here we have Dr Steve and Mr. Clarke who show that you can still do tough races like this when you’re in your mid-50’s. Yes you can!
Well done everybody, we did good!
Finally, after 3 years of excuses, we were finally going to take part in the LOGICO Swazi Frontier. We knew that we would be in for a real treat of mountain biking but we also knew that Swaziland was not flat so granny gear needed to be in good working order!
We arrived at Hawane Resort to a welcoming committee of smiling faces, everyone so chilled and relaxed with BABOON’S BACK mountain looming in the background…a mountain we knew we had to conquer the next day.
This race is not like any other MTB Stage race, it involves a little bit of rally-route type navigation as there are minimal route markers. Some of us paid dearly for just following other teams and not following our route instructions.
We had 3 days of some of the best mountain biking imaginable – we were grinning from ear to ear from start to finish. Every day was filled with granny gear uphills, fast exhilarating downhills (ok, more like mine shafts), awesome forest sections, mesmerising single track, a 25km downhill with about 34 river crossings and two awesome swing bridges over the two big rivers. Although each day was roughly 60km, there were huge time differences between the days because of the route profiles. You had to keep a little energy for the end of each day as there was always a sting in the tail.
The water points were the best ever! Every day we were treated to doughnuts, ice-creams, potatoes, eggs and array of ice cold drinks – thanks SPAR and LOGICO. The only problem I had was to get my husband away from them so we could finish the days riding!
Some of the highlights were the MOUNTAIN DEW water point just before the top of TOO BRUTAL mountain. It was a real scorcher of a day and it seemed like we had been climbing to the top of HEENAN’S STAIRCASE mountain in the hot sun forever before we dropped down to the river only to start climbing TOO BRUTAL mountain (the name says it all) not too soon afterwards. There was not an ounce of shade anywhere… approaching the top of the hill we came across the LOGICO gazebo in the middle of nowhere and to our amazement some friendly guys dishing out ice cold MOUNTAIN DEW cold drinks – what a life saver!
Day Two’s race briefing was done in the old cinema at Bulembu Country Lodge and we were treated to some popcorn in true movie style. At ORION Piggs Peak hotel we had luxury rooms and lunch at the pool was just what we needed to re-charge for our last day. Arriving at the top of the escarpment looking down at Maguga Lodge, there was only one awesome downhill between us and the finish – MICKEY’S MADNESS!
The race was finished off on Saturday evening in real Swazi style with a 5 star dinner and prize giving ceremony. Thanks to all the sponsors for the great prizes.
We met a lot of new people in this race, but one sticks out above all. We will never forget you team “Narcotix” – thank you so much for giving us so much laughter every day J.
This race was true mountain biking heaven, thank you Brett and Lesley for all the hours put in to make this such an amazing event – we will definitely be back next year!!!
I am sitting behind my computer, at work trying to concentrate but my mind is giving me flashbacks of the last 4 days in Swaziland. Yes I have just returned from a race in the little Kingdom of Swaziland. My third visit and after each time I did not think it was possible for the race to improve.
Last year I thought that day two had to rate as the best day of mountain biking racing in the country. This year, day one, with the awesome free riding single track, technical uphill sections, BROWN CROCODILE river single track and wild game everywhere surpassed the high standard that day two had set. I vote day one as the best day of racing one can experience on a MTB. Next year it will be day three!
I need to go back to experience the comradeship, the pure mountain biking, the awesome accommodation and catch up with all the Swazi Frontier friends that I see once a year. Next time I will last out to the end of the party of all party's.
So, for those unfortunate souls who have not experienced this race, what is The LOGICO Swazi Frontier race? It is a mixture between a free ride and a mountain bike tour. Yes it is called a race but the majority of participants come to Swaziland to experience the awesome riding. The track is not man-made, it is not marked, it is wild in places and yes you have to push your bike. The other reason we come back year after year is for the "geselsery" (a mixture of vibe and good feeling). The limited entry of only 90 teams and the 70% return ratio make this a must-do event if you are lucky enough to get in. Please only enter if you "smile while you ride"!
When Gawie and I entered the 3-day Logico Swazi Frontier stage race, we had no idea what we were letting ourselves into. We were convinced by a friend that it would be a good experience in preparation for the Cape Epic.
We drove up from Wellington to Swaziland and 2 speeding fines and 1 flat tyre later we crossed the border - things could only get better!! We registered at Hawane Resort where we also stayed the first night. We received awesome goody bags with the emphasis on GOOD!!! Which included a fleecy First Ascent top, Swazi Frontier T-Shirt and Cycling Shirt. We also received our route cards for all 3 days. 90 teams of 2 riders each, all looked very prepared and ready - and here we were with only a Karoo 2 Coast on our list of MTB races.
Day 1 consisted of 60km of REAL tough riding. It took us 8h56 to ride 60.7km with a total ascent of 1890m. Riding at the back was great! We met all the slow “go-errs” Helping other teams and them helping us became part of the normal daily routine. Our first BIG climb was BABOON’S BACK, which was daunting – but the downhill that followed was reward enough. Besides the fact that I took 2 falls going down. We crossed small streams – some had wooden bridges others you had to carry or ride your bike through. At a certain bridge Gawie’s front wheel got stuck and he went flying. We passed through the most beautiful landscapes, encountered a bull (not blue) that would not let us pass and eventually got to the water-point with lots of potatoes, boiled eggs, dough-nuts and ice lollies!!!
From the water point we crossed the river over an awesome hanging bridge and this is where all the fun ended. The 2 major climbs of the day awaited us… the last one better known as TOO BRUTAL. When we started at the bottom of TOO BRUTAL we were already 7h30 on the bike - our new friends assured us it would take at least another 1h30 and they were right. With less than 8km’s to go fatigue was getting the better of us. We were out of water and really struggling. When we got to the top of TOO BRUTAL we took a break and I wanted to make sure Gawie was OK. I gave him a GU but this seemed to make him nauseas. We only had about 3-4kms left and were riding along the contour of the mountain on a jeep track and this is when it happened…. Gawie just rode right off the track over the cliff!!! I could see him flying!!! Luckily he landed in a bush (and he claims that he caught his bike by the wheel to prevent it from going down the mountain but unfortunately I can’t confirm that part)!
Our “hind-tail” friends were luckily about 200m behind us and gave me a hand to retrieve Gawie and his bike. The last km going into the town of Bulembu was great, knowing we actually finished day 1
At Bulembu Country Lodge we all had hostel type rooms with bedding – Africa style but ….oh so welcome!! We were treated with a great supper and I had my wounds cleaned up by the very professional medics from Netcare 911. The bike wash is included in your entry fee at every overnight venue – so no worries about cleaning your bike.
Day 2 is apparently the nicest day of the event. You start with 2 big climbs then you have a down hill of I think 14 km followed by 30+ river crossings before you tackle THE PHOPHA, the last climb up to Orion Piggs Peak Hotel. Unfortunately, I missed out on the nice part and only made it ¾ of the way up the second climb. Gawie realized I was not doing ok and as soon as we got to the medic on his quad bike, Gawie asked him to take a look at me. He took my blood pressure and put me immediately on a drip. Gawie continued and I stayed behind - they insisted that I should be fetched by the ambulance. While we were waiting for the ambulance another marshal came along with his motorbike and said that one of the teams’ behind had smashed their wheel and were trying to fix it with a stone – as I was out of the race for the day, I offered my wheel to the guy.
I was taken to Orion Piggs Peak Hotel and all I can say is WOW!!! The view, the room, the food, the swimming pool !!!!!
On day 3 I found the first part relatively OK – until I had a very hard tumble, going over the handlebars, with my bike landing on top of me. I was already telling Gawie to phone the medics when another team stopped to help. The 1 guy sounded as if he knew what he was talking about and asked me all the important questions, like “can you wiggle your toes?” When it seemed that I had no major injuries he said with a very stern voice…” so what’s your problem – get on the bike we’ve all got a cut-off to make!” That comment and the tone of his voice made all the difference and before I knew it, we were tackling NGINAMADOLA, the big climb towards the water point. A nice easy downhill got us recovered for the last 2 huge mountains of the day. We approached the end of the last climb in thick mist and almost missed the marker to MICKEY’S MADNESS – the gruelling 100% ride-able to them 0% ride-able to me technical descent. Wow! What an experience!!!
I must say I admire the guys riding in front – but I absolutely loved riding at the back. Strangers helping each other and sharing each other’s pain. I have not done many MTB races but THE LOGICO SWAZI FRONTIER got me addicted. I am so glad we made the effort to go to Swaziland and dive into the deep end – sometimes my head was way under the water but in the end it was the best MTB experience ever!!
I am in poor shape, having done little riding since relocating to Kenya, but I am home in Cape Town for a week. I go for a MTB ride with my friend but the route gets technical and difficult and fun! Suddenly, I’m down hard. The rider in front of me dislodged a big rock. I hit it straight on with my front wheel and went over the bars. Unfortunately, right where I am about to plant my face is another big rock. It does not move, but my facial features get a tad rearranged. Concerned riders gather around while I apparently lie still for a while. I eventually sit up bleeding profusely, knowing that I took a very big hit in the head. I am not concussed but dazed and sore and immediately concerned about my ability to ride The LOGICO Swazi Frontier. I can see the right number of fingers and answer all the questions but I am taken to Worcester Medi-Clinic.
By Monday my eye can open and although I still have a blinding headache, I know that I will be OK for the Swazi Frontier! Woo Hoo!
After an extensive search for a partner, the partnership of Dick and Konrad was reborn, now featuring a leaner, meaner Dick and an older, lazier Conman who was dragged kicking and screaming out of retirement. Read: a much closer match this time round; we may even be within camera range of one another! We adopted the team name Afripex Tigers, having procured the distinctive Afripex kit to ride in. With all this exposure, we hope to get a much bigger deal next year! We had teamed up with William and Malcolm (William’s Bike Shop) for travelling and gathered at OR Tambo airport on the morning of Wednesday 14/10, where Malcolm had hired a Toyota Quantum. We jam the 4 bike boxes in the back and set off for Swaziland. Sporting a shiner of note, and doped up on Myprodol for the headache from hell that has become my companion, I doss in the back most of the way.
Immediately upon arrival at registration at Hawane Resort, all comparisons to other multi day stage races go out the door. This is so very different. Firstly, it’s a small, intimate field of only 90 teams; therefore everything is handled quickly, easily and informally. There are snacks and beverages available while you are efficiently registered and directed to your accommodation for the night, either a chalet, backpacker, dorm or tents. We were satisfied with a tent – which was fine, it was dry and warm and spacious enough. Dinner was a great pasta meal with salads, desert and coffee etc, followed by our first proper introduction to ”Fossil”, one of the race directors. It is now clear that we are in for a different kind of event. The camaraderie and familiar banter amongst previous participants, along with the informal yet professionally delivered briefing by Fossil gives insight to the spirit of the event ahead.
Day one dawns foggy and cold. After a hearty breakfast, we proceed to the start area. Of course, I am still sporting world championship shiner and have to deal with the barrage of sarky comments and questions. I am still on big doses of Myprodol to keep my headache under control.
The Conman and I at the start
Without much fanfare, on the stroke of 7 am (or thereabouts) we set off. After a few k’s we hit the first big climb of the day – Baboon’s Back. Oh man – it’s a doozy. It’s not long before almost everyone’s out the saddle and walking. There is a section near the top where the climb levels off slightly and then gets really steep. During the briefing, prizes were promised for those who could make it all the way up there without dabbing. About 10 m before it starts levelling off I run out of steam, traction and direction and come to a huffing and panting stop. I don’t see anyone around me making it but later at the evening’s briefing several riders are rewarded with chocolate bars and accolades for their worthy effort. Now at the top of Baboon’s Back and traversing along the top, we are rewarded with a panorama that demands we forget racing and stop to take it in and shoot some pics.
Riders walking up Baboon's Back
The Conman descending into Malolotja
Then the start of the first of many descents that immediately distinguishes this ride from other stage races. Some sections are technical and you hit them at high speed – I’m glad I brought the big hit bike. On the descent I get a little ahead of the conman which is good because he will soon catch me on the climb! About a 10 km section follows, mostly level, through the plains of the Malolotja Nature Reserve. We spot some wildebeest and zebra.
The route is unmarked and largely un-marshalled. Competitors are well briefed months in advance to be self sufficient in terms of nutrition, hydration and 1st aid. Navigation is by route cards which turn out to be very accurate and easy to follow.
I am using a RavX cordless bike computer that I bought just for this ride; Polar being difficult for an adult to read and too unreliable (the dreaded big red button) and GPS being contraband. But the computer is defective and resets every time I scroll down – so we have to rely on the polars for tracking the race cards. The conman is carrying the cards as he can read. My job is to measure distances.
Along a short descent we overcook it and miss the turn off, climbing a small hill instead before we realise that we have gone wrong. In the distance we see some other riders take the correct route and backtrack for a while to a spot where we decide to traverse the hill, involving a bit of portage. Valuable time lost but since we are not in the running, it does not faze us. Then we hit the next big descent leading towards Tjomoloti – moderately technical but again fast with some dodgy sections.
We get to the water point, about halfway, in the Malanti Valley. It is stocked superbly. Ice cold water, Mountain Dew, bananas, boiled eggs, potatoes, donuts. We pig out and it’s 15 minutes before we tear ourselves away from there! Immediately after the water station is a dodgy swing bridge which proves difficult for some but both the Conman and I manage without dabbing, including the hop onto the concrete section at the end. We nearly manage the technical climb that follows but have to dismount ultimately.
Shortly afterwards we hit the penultimate climb for the day up to the top of Heenan’s Staircase, now having to deal with the noon heat. It seems to go on forever and is mostly through felled forest with little shade. We take regular breaks to seek shelter where we can find a bit of shade. We look back into the valley from where we have come and see the backmarkers just starting the climb way below. Finally we crest. The view across the mountains ahead is reminiscent of the French Alps.
The view back from the top of Heenan’s Staircase
X marks the spot where I wiped out
Now a long, fast descent down Heenan’s Staircase before the final climb up Too Brutal. We fly down; I pass several teams and take some big air over the contours. At some stage the fine line between exhilaration and sensibility gets “Blurred”. I am invulnerable. I can still go faster. A slight bend; flat soapstone; my front wheel washes out and I am down hard. Luckily there are no obstacles and apart from the risk of sliding over the edge, I know that I will be safe. But the instant I am down I know that I have broken a rib. I get to my feet and make sure that the bike is at least off the track and not a hazard. I pretend I am hunky dory and we’re off again but a bit more gingerly now. Down in the valley along Brown Crocodile, we take some time out to bathe in the cool stream. I clean my wounds; they are not bad. But we know what’s ahead and can’t keep ignoring it – the climb aptly named Too Brutal. Somehow it does not look that steep, and if you try ride, it’s doable but it’s just too energy sapping and everyone walks. The Conman walks faster but wants to rest longer at every hint of shade that we find. We lament about how bad geography works, pointing out how rivers are wasted in valleys and should rather be on hills.
We see the Mountain Dew stop in the distance and that provides some motivation. A few mountain dews, an energy bar and we are able to ride the final section of the climb. Now only 5 km to finish, we are already fantasising about beers and food. But misfortune strikes again. The Conman gets a flat. We inflate several times, to no avail – It’s a 3 mm tear in the tyre and the Stan’s sealant will not hold as soon as any load is put on the wheel. We make the decision to change tube and are back in business. We finally roll into the tiny village of Bulembu; our time for the day over 7 hours. It’s a deserted mining town. It’s a beautiful setting in a valley with sports fields and ravine below. Bikes are taken from us and properly and carefully washed. Lunch is great.
Getting our accommodation sorted is quick and efficient. We are in a 10 person dorm. Without delay, we hit the showers and the sack. Lying down with a broken rib is not easy. And once a comfortable position is found, getting up is impossible. Delicious dinner; more beers and time for bed. The Conman has changed his tyre – we were advised to bring spares.
Early morning faffing at Bulembu
Day two dawns amid the usual flurry of activity of breakfast, last minute bike faffing, etc. Despite our misgivings about the previous day’s performance, we finished around 50th. A short neutral section then a nice downhill after which we traverse the ravine below the town and start the first climb of the day – all jeep track so far. 1 km into the day I break a chain. A quick and easy repair job but we lose 5 minutes and are immediately amongst the slower riders, affectionately named (by Fossil) “The Captains of Industry”.
Exiting the forest
Exiting the forest in the direction of Mganda valley
We regain places quickly as we climb up into the main part of the village, where friendly people and school kids line the streets to give us a hero’s send off. Then some of the most spectacular single track descents begin. It’s steep, amid forest, challenging. It is called Vernon’s Steps shortly followed by Nathi’s. This is Blur country and again I fly down, a little more careful now but still overtaking wherever it is safe to do so. 400 m of descending later, we emerge into a clearing and a dry river bed crossing which most riders are walking. It looks perfectly rideable to me so I set off across the rocky moonscape. Near the other end, I have to divert to avoid a walker and take a more rocky line. I hit a big protruding rock and go down! Mindful of my injuries, I pick my landing spot carefully and avoid further injury. I am up quickly, but realise immediately that I am face to face with the camera man! I took a rather painful blow to the knee and now have to bravely walk out of view to go and cringe in pain privately.
We climb upwards steadily, temperature already soaring and it’s only 08h30, then comes what can be regarded as the “signature” section of this event – a 900m vertical descent, spread over 25 km including more than 20 river crossings through the Mganda Valley! The section following the river is obviously not a steep descent but all single track and challenging. The Komati river crossing is allocated for prizes for anyone who can manage without dabbing.
Note how I am taking pics while riding while the Conman is dismounted!
A rare pic of me
We reach the water station, once again superbly stocked and this time in a spectacular setting amongst trees. We scarf ourselves silly on potatoes, eggs, fruit, confectionary, ice cream (!) and cool drinks. It takes 16 minutes before we can tear ourselves away from there, but we perform some essential bike maintenance too – new disk pads for me. Another breathtaking descent and we hit the final climb of the day that will take us to Orion Piggs Peak hotel. Only 6 kms; only 350m of climbing – we have visions of a time of less than 4:30 for the day. But the temperature is now 39° and we have no energy left. At one stage, through a beautiful nature reserve along a section called the Phopha, we cover only 800m in 25 minutes! There is a spring next to the track so we immerse our heads in the little waterfall over and over. Several other teams stop to do that too. One final plod remains, then a level section and Voila! Orion Piggs Peak Hotel! What a venue for a stage overnight venue! Just over 5 hours for the day, so we have plenty of time to enjoy it.
Conman dunking his head in the spring
The pool bar
Our bikes are taken from us for cleaning, we walk to the pool, shedding gear as we approach and simply fall into the huge, sparkling pool. After cooling off a bit, we slowly swim over to the pool bar, crawl onto a bar stool immersed in water and order a beer. Meanwhile, the lunch is on the go, and we can help ourselves to the magnificent spread whenever we feel like it. Life is good on the Swazi Frontier. Reluctantly we tear ourselves from the bar. Some don’t manage and are stuck there till the evening – The average participant at this event is a little different to what we have come to know at other stage races!
View out of our room
The room is superb. The view over the Komati valley is breathtaking. We have a killer nap and then later a lazy walk around the area. We meet Paul Cordes and Yolande Speedy here and have a few beers with them. They were the leaders yesterday but had some misfortune today and came in 3rd. Cool people: one of the landmarks of this event is that top finishers and “Captains of Industry” socialise together. Dinner, as you can imagine, is brilliant. Accumulated fatigue, too many beers, a big meal, some excellent red wine and a really comfy hotel bed combine to overcome the headache and broken rib and I have great night’s sleep.
The Fossil and Lesley briefing the riders for the day
An early 06h00 start is called for the notoriously hot day 3 but it’s much cooler with some drizzle. Once again, within a km from the start, along a steep concrete strip climb, I have a chain break. As I come to stop, I hear the one of the sweeps riding a KTM bike yell about picking up a saddle bag but I am too preoccupied with my chain to take notice. It later turns out that it’s my top tube bag containing my camera! Hence no photos of day 3. From the top of the climb, we hit a single track descent through bushveld, climb over a stile then fly down through the nature reserve at Vmax. The Conman is on top of his game today and together we overtake a few teams on the descent until we reach another stile.
More descending then we hit the first long climb of the day. It’s a meanie. Another fast descent and we find ourselves meandering along the valley. Another mean climb then we reach the water point for the day. It’s magnificent as before. Another fast, long downhill, starting in a village on top, getting progressively narrower and more challenging. I misjudge the height of a hump and get far more air than I anticipated but luckily I nail the landing. A technical swing bridge crossing at the bottom, some technical climbing out of the bottom of the valley, a few ups and downs, then we hit the last climb of the day. It’s long and one of those where you never get to see the top, always thinking it’s just around the corner.
By now the Conman has hit his straps and I am flagging. But we finally get there and hit the defining section of this race – OMG!!! It’s a full on downhill course! Some sections are fast and rideable and we have a great descent. Other sections are desperately technical but we are intent on riding them and do manage. We make up many places here because several teams opt to walk it. One section is totally crazy and I remember commenting that even Greg Minaar would not ride this. But several people did ride Mickey’s Madness (not us) and were given man size chocolate bars as a reward!
All too soon the event comes to an end as we ride through the gates of Maguga Lodge on the shores of the spectacular Maguga Dam. Or does it? No, there is still the prize-giving dinner that evening at the Lodge and breakfast the next morning! The prize giving is a hoot – lots of forfeits and awards and a meal and desert table beyond compare. We can party till late and don’t have to worry about early start line faffing.
After a huge breakfast, we finally get down to the last task of the event – dissembling and boxing bikes, the drive back to ORT and the flight home. A memorable event and one that stands head and shoulders above all multi day events.
The highlights for me were, in no particular order;
The view from the dorm at Maguga
Of course, also there were all the participants – we came in 47th overall out of 88 starters. I dig all the funky names like “Beer Made Me Do It”; “Swazi Sweaty Pies”, “Camel Toe and Hungry Bum”.
Thanks Brett and Lesley; Thanks LOGICO; Thanks Conman. Thanks KTM dude!
Full results at http://www.theswazifrontier.sz/results.html
And read Tweaky’s report at http://www.theswazifrontier.sz/race report_archive.html – it’s hilarious!
Mountain Biking is a helluva thing! Having done the Swazi dice, I’ve got people asking me why we do it and what’s it like etc. Cos we are usually pressed for time, the response is something like…”it’s a little bit technical, you have to know how to use gears, it’s a little bit tiring, there is the odd shot of adrenalin, quite a lot of pain, plenty falls, some bleeding, bruising, blunt force trauma, personality and friendship testing, its expensive cos bent parts need to be replaced…and so on.” Having delivered the overview, people then tend to ask…”so why do you do it again?” And the answer is always, “cos it’s the most fun you can have in your spare time.”
Swazi was just that, unhinged fun. Spanking it through mountains and tranquil snippets of Africa on overpriced pieces of tin is amongst the best experiences one can have. The beers at the end of each day (especially day three) are also right up there. But I digress.
How it started is that Warren (my partner) and I have recently retired from international rowing. Filling a gap like that takes some doing and in order to prevent ourselves from slipping into oversized, couch dwelling Pringle-gobblers, we decided we had to enter as many events as we could. Goals are important and fitness would be a spin off. Fossil has been nagging for years for the lads to play in the mountains with him (on bikes this time) and left excuseless, we entered.
We had no idea what to expect, some of the mates were giving it the “you okes are fit, you should win it.” Usually followed by some hysterical laughter, so who knows what that meant?
Night one needs special mention. About 50 Mountain bike nuts all sharing a converted horse stable, snuggling up to their newly purchased soft-tail (and by that I mean mountain bike with rear suspension). I don’t think there were any tail-gunners on tour, though one can never be too sure. The sound of tinkering with parts (again, bike parts) could be heard late into the night, mingled in with the tranquil sounds of flatulence and midnight Vietnam flashback fits, the scene was set.
Superb! After the first in a line of Fossil’s briefs (the term “brief” being relative), that included talk of there being only 5m of track the whole day that is not rideable, our falling, running and climbing skills were tested to the max. Basically what won the day for us was a dose of good luck and some chivalry. Having nipped over “Brutal” we were doing a bit of a fence hop. Being gentlemen, we waited for the pair behind us; last year’s mixed category winners, Karin and Mark, to offer some assistance with their bikes. This was fortunate because as became his trait, Warren had thrown away the navigation card and we were soon at a serious decision point. Left up some crazy angled hill, or straight? I interviewed Mark on the spot. “You done this before bru?” “Yes I have,” he replied.” “You any good and do you get lost often?” He answered “We won last year and I’ve never been lost.” “You are my boy!” I rejoiced and said to Warren, “we are going with this oke.” And what a choice! Turns out we took the direct route as per the navigation card over Too Brutal, which should be renamed Baby Brutal. I’ve seen steeper speed bumps in Parkhurst. We ran up that, got to the top and some dude with an overabundance of Pepsi told us we were in the lead. I downed 1.5 litres of the stuff (cos I had inserted my camelback bladder in upside down and ran out of lube before Brutal…there was a bit of thirst at this stage) and said to Warren….”We gonna win this thing.”
There was some major activity, wheel spinning and dashes of speed as we headed with enthusiasm towards a destination we hoped was the finish line. Being in a navigational vacuum at this stage didn’t help, luckily Warren had remembered the name of the target town and a bit of local interrogation got us home. Unreal to have won day one. A complete fluke? Sure it was, but good humour.
The previous night, having listened to Fossil for two more hours and being asked repeatedly “what’s this rowing again?” we were off. Warren and I had decided, in his words “to win this *&%$ing thing.” We had gotten the taste and on Day 2 the gloves were off. Having navigated the slippery steps of death, we were comfortably with the leading pack going up a cheeky little forest hill. We were on top of our game saying stuff like “this mountain biking story is easy and we aren’t even working, give me a real challenge, the Turbo Jockey (Paul Cordes) and his goose (Yolande Speedy) are gonna pop any second I can tell” blah blah. Then came the downhill and the skills were found wanting. I couldn’t believe the pace with which some of these okes descend. Not wanting to relinquish our lead I decided “no brakes” would be the strategy. My cornering not being what it was aged 12 on a bmx (Mongoose, silver front fork), turns out I failed to turn at upward of 50km/h and went spanking over the edge of the road. Tiny scenes of my life flashed before my eyes, as well as various items in quick succession; grass, sky, road, sky, bush, sky, rock...intermingled with sharp pains and acute disorientation. The experience came to an end to the cries of “Rideeeer doooowwn!” as some guy shot past me. I’m sure I saw a grin on his face. Bas*&rd!
My partner was off down the hill, I got my stuff together, denying myself a health audit thinking it would add no value and resumed the chase. Every man and his dog came past me on the downhill. I had lost my mojo and confidence was way, way down. I eventually made it to the bottom of the hill to find one angry partner. Some expletives and cursing and 20 mins of panel beating (turns out I had bent the back wheel in the fall and rode the hill with the brakes on) we were off. This time with the anger! We rode the valley like it was a bmx track trying to make up the aeon of time we had just handed over. This hurt, I think we ate all our smarties and had small amounts of juice left for the closing stages. We managed to find ourselves level with the Turbo Jockey and his hill eating wife with a few Kms to go. This was a good sign, and we were back on track. Until Wappo’s Steppes. I was a bit behind Warren and I saw him disappear completely from view. Next thing I saw was two wheels in the air, and Warren’s face planted squarely on what would be Wappo’s Landing – the bit below the step. There was some wholesome language, unrepeatable here, even in a Hustler column, to which I replied “what the $&^% you doing down there bru?” This took our sporting relationship to new depths. We then hit BMX mode again to try and catch the Psycho Climbing Bike Couple from hell.
The last “little hill” took us apart. Hallucinating and hating life, Warren took an imaginary turn off and cycled into a fence. I think he was hoping like hell it was the Pigg’s Peak off ramp. In the process he fell off the bike and, as usual, donated the map to the Swazi landscape. We rode on in anger. Then got lost, could not for the life of us work out where to find Orion Pigg’s Peak Hotel. Interviewing a German on the road didn’t seem to help and we eventually found our way to the finish.
All personality and humour was lost, until Les told us we were just a few minutes behind the mini matching couple in white. Things were better and we went for beers in the pool.
Having called in a million favours to replace a back wheel and sprocket (thanks to Rob, Willy and Fossil for the help), day three was the decider. We had a 10 or so minute lead and the game was on. A cute little hill cut the pack up nicely at the start, some pacey descents got us down through a dense forest incident-free. Peach section of riding though! The hints and tips Warren and I had picked up in the pub the night before were paying off and the cornering had improved dramatically. We were with the pack at the halfway mark and things were looking good for the Osama B’s. Then Swaziland threw some proper climbs at the problem. At this stage the turbo jockeys got the jump on us, but were in view. Climbing was tough but sustainable while we were crunching numbers knowing we only had to be within 10 mins of these guys to win. Things were going according to plan until Mickey unleashed his Madness on some wanting bike skills. A little crash that induced cramp and a sprained ankle didn’t help. Warren was screaming at me “What the &*(% are you doing?” continually…the pressure was beginning to tell. We made it through the insanity gorge only to narrowly avoid killing myself on a neat flower bed at the Maguga Lodge entrance. Turns out we hung on to the lead, and it was beer time.
Prize Giving and dinner was a beautiful blur. Never had beer tasted so good and a dance floor been so inviting. Apart from a bit of abuse from Wappo who brought our masculinity and sexual orientation into question, things were good. He seemed to have a problem with the amount of time we spent off the bike, pushing. He left me alone when I told him if he practices, one day he might be able to ride as fast as we walk.
Major congratulations to Les and Fossil for a top event! Big up yourselves. We will be back next year, there is no doubt. A top experience and peachy all round. Catch you all there in ’09.
I’m not sure if I should let the Swazi secret out … but, I will. This is for those who are also thought a little weird by their colleagues because their ultimate holiday is riding their bike. It’s for those who love riding scenic African tracks with others just as passionate about mountain biking. This is about one of the most enjoyable stage races I’ve done – The Swazi Frontier
Brett and Lesley, the organizers of the event, are committed to giving riders a 3 day treat of legendary but challenging tracks, cheered on by friendly locals. Set in the north west corner (the most mountainous part) of the Kingdom of Swaziland, each of the 3 days has an intimidating route profile. But the reward at the end of the day is luxury accommodation at some top notch hotels with laughs and engaging conversation over brilliant dinners.
The start is at the attractive Hawane Resort on the edge of Malolotja Nature Reserve near Mbabane. There was much good humoured banter at the initial briefing from Brett, and the tone was set for the next few days of laughs and fun … Just don’t believe him when he says “It’s 100% rideable”. The first day certainly wasn’t!
We started the 58km day riding up into the misty rolling hills of Malolotja and up the technical climb called “Baboon’s Back” to Ngwenya mountain. A technical descent followed, then we rode along tracks past local homesteads until the waterpoint where we crossed the river on an unstable swing bridge. The toughest part of the race awaited us … 2 killer climbs aptly named “Brutal” and “Too Brutal” which were even more savage in the mid-day heat.
After much walking and pushing, we were fairly broken when we rolled into the old asbestos mining town of Bulembu. Nestled in the mountains it’s almost like a ghost town with matchbox worker’s houses dotted on the hills, luxurious former managerial houses, sport’s grounds and clubhouses. We stayed in comfort in the Bulembu Country Lodge mostly made up of converted houses or dormitories. Even more surreal was the evening’s prize-giving and slideshow that was held in the fascinating run-down cinema.
Although there were daily prizes, it’s not all about who wins the day. With a relatively small field of 140 riders, many of whom know each other, even if you have the most spectacular fall of the day you might be eligible for a prize. Prizes went to those who had stayed on their bikes up the toughest, trickiest climb, or over the rockiest river crossing or those who had flown down the most hectic, technical descent. There was also fierce competition amongst the back markers to win themselves a pair of “All Day Riding” Hoss baggies for being the last pair home!
A lot of the 3 day route is unmarked, instead each team of 2 is given a set of route description cards.
“1,02km. Road Junction. Go right.”
“0.50km. Fork after stream. Take right track.”
Although the cards take a little getting used to, it certainly ensures that there’s no bunting or marshals spoiling the remoteness of the ride. Cleverly, the fast flowing downhills are marked with orange stickers so that the downhill junkies don’t have to slow down midway on a decent to check they’re on the right track.
The 61km day 2 was another treat of awesome riding. We started with a loop around Bulembu along slippery forestry tracks and “Nathi’s” great single track before climbing up a forestry road to the start of a brilliant 25km descent. First, we zigzagged down through the plantation and then down the legendary “Mganda Valley” single track through fields and homesteads, crossing the river some 12 times before reaching the waterpoint at an abandoned London Bus (don’t ask me how it got there?!) A hot, tough ride took us up to the Pigg’s Peak Orion Hotel, the final “Phopha” climb through the Phophonyane Nature Reserve was steep, slow and hard work.
But what a finish! A refreshing swim in the cool water of the hotel pool followed by drinks at the pool bar with our feet hanging in the pool. Then we feasted on an awesome lunch on the pool terrace where we swapped stories and experiences. The final cherry on top was our fancy hotel room with the most amazing view over the valleys we’d just explored on our bikes!
The final day was more top quality riding: flowing downhills through plantations and along the river; granny gear climbs; paths in the bushveld; enthusiastic locals to encourage us; cute kids to cheer and even offer a push. After a double puncture early in the day, there were times we couldn’t see any other riders ahead or behind us, so we were able to savour the tranquility of rural Swaziland. The ultimate highlight was the final 2,5km rocky single track downhill, “Mickey’s Madness”, to the finish at Maguga Lodge overlooking the magnificent Maguga dam.
The pace in the front of the race was hot, and the organizers on motorbikes had a hard time staying ahead of the front pack on the final day! Paul Cordes and Yolande Speedy (who had got a bit lost on the first day and took a scenic route before they tackled the last brutal climb of the day) showed their talent winning overall on both the 2nd and 3rd days. Defending champion Nic Flores and his partner Mike Smith were plagued with endless mechanicals from 4km out on the first day – derailleur, tyre, punctures, rim … So it was a couple of hardcore lightweight rowers, Bruce Turvey and Warren Wellbeloved who took the men’s and overall honours.
What a stunning break for just 2 days of leave and a chance to experience some of what the Swazi Kingdom has to offer. The Swazi Frontier’s objectives are to promote mountain biking development in Swaziland, to link mountain biking with tourism development and environmental protection, and to contribute to the well-being of the communities we rode through. Brett and Lesley contributed some of the proceeds from last year’s race towards improving the water supply in Malanda, a small community outside Bulembu. Part of this year’s focus is to support anti-poaching initiatives in Malolotja Nature Reserve.
I love that The Swazi Frontier is all about the quality of the ride and the fun and not so much about who wins. Brett and Lesley promise that even if The Swazi Frontier’s popularity increases, it can’t grow any bigger because of the limitation of numbers due to hotel space. The problem is one needs to get on the invite list in order to enter … but as this is Swaziland, bribery, bartering and leverage are sometimes possible. Cows, whisky, poetic verses, mountain bikes might work …
Last week Yolande and I headed down to an event that we had heard a lot about and were excited about finally making it happen. Every season we try to fit in a few events that we have never done before, that will take us to new places around the country and where we will get to meet new people who also love the sport.
With all this in mind we packed up on Wednesday and headed for the Oshoek border post. Once there I was told that my U.S. passport was not acceptable and if I had two ID photos with me (at 6pm?) then they would arrange an emergency passport. The funny thing was that I did and with a few evil glares from Yolande for almost ruining our weekend and 40min later we were through.
We registered and checked into our accommodation at the Hawane Resort. This place has a fantastic rustic feel to it and after a well presented opening briefing and diner we got to bed early looking forward to the next days ride.
We rolled off the line at 7 and had no performance expectations except to get some great photos and have a fun day. The format of the race was simple: no route markings but armed only with a route map and our trusty Garmin 705’s to navigate ourselves between 50-60km a day through the country side, pass the daily water point and finish at the over night venue. Easy! Well as I walked up the first climb of the day I realised that sun tan lotion may have been a good idea – not realising that this was going to be almost a 5hr day for us!
The following downhill was just as hectic, choosing life over bragging rights I had to eject to help slow myself down! Thinking that this was unridable and therefore not too worry the next several teams bombed passed me making me re-evaluate my technical abilities. Finally we were back on track, passed the water point, crossed over a rickety swing bridge and headed for the last two climbs aptly named “Brutal” and “Too Brutal”. I was quite proud to make it the whole way up Brutal especially seeing that my Gary Fisher wasn’t sporting a small chain-ring for the event (strong knees). Soon Yolande joined me and we plummeted down the next downhill with only one climb to go and in a comfortable first place I was feeling good. Too good obviously, a wrong turn, extra 4kms, 300m extra elevation and about 10placings we were back on track - just this time with a damaged sense of humour! We lost a little less than 30min but on the upside Bulembu mine and country lodge was stunning!
The bikes were looked after by the event organisers for the entire event which was a small sign of some of the detail that was put into this event! There was always food and drinks on hand, music, great accommodation, daily novelty awards, fantastic feed back and stories from organizers and athletes alike at the daily prize giving and briefings and everything ran on time – Swazi time of course!
Day 2 was awesome! So much down hilling and river crossings that one almost forgot that we were participating in an event! There were 32 river crossings to be exact – completely ridable (for some). We got ourselves out in front but then suffered a couple punctures which was going to make the day a little longer but on the upside – we still knew where we were (-;.The day finished on a climb called the “Phoppa” and as you can imagine was not for the weak. We climbed steadily all the way up to Orion Piggs Peak Hotel and to our amazement won the stage in around 3 1/2hrs! Stunning days ride finishing with a fantastic venue to spend the evening. And if it couldn’t get better we were treated to the first big thunder and lightning storm for the season that evening!
Day 3 we headed out on a crisp clear day with the promises of spectacular views and a wicked downhill to finish off the event and we were not disappointed. We had a couple of stops with wheel problems and a quick bathroom break but were soon back into the mix with the last big climb and down hill to go. We finished the climb with the luckless Subaru Team and plummeted down a part called “Mickey’s Madness”. After my eyeballs were both focused on the same plain again and I managed to pry my hands off the bar after some proper forearm pump we hit the tar road and got our breaths back – wow, that was some good fun! We ended the stage with a sprint finish where Mike’s tactic was to ride on the inside of me through the last corner where he managed to neatly fold his wheel around his frame and for my Gary Fisher to just about ride over him which worked out great – he got to run in another days stage finish (-;. Jokes aside these boys had a tough, unlucky race but never gave up through all their problems and showed us their quality on that last day and a little of what could have been.
We finished 2nd overall behind the “lighties” of Bruce and Warren who were a spirited bunch of Olympic quality oarsman who through perseverance (and amazing on-bike technical acrobatic abilities) consistently put in some fantastic efforts throughout the event.
To Brett and Lesley, thanks a stack, you have a great event going and we will look forward to seeing its progress in the future and with a little luck we will make it back to the start line next year!
Thanks to all my sponsors IMC Reaction, Activeworx, Gary Fisher, Cycle Lab, Giro, Rudy Project, Geax, Fizik, Garmin, Shimano, Squirt lubricants, Cycle PT and Skins for making another great weekend of racing possible.
Paul Cordes (Team IMC/Activeworx with Yolande Speedy)
IMC Reaction Racing Team
Nick and I headed off to The Swazi Frontier this past week. The trip started exceptionally well, with a smooth and effortless drive up in the new Subaru Forester. The car was great, and we had very scenic trip from the southern border-post of Houdkop, up through Mbabane and on to the first night stop at Hawane Lodge.
Day 1: Traditionally the Swazi Frontier is known for its misty starts in the North Western Mountains of Swaziland, but this year, we were met by a beautifully sunny and clear day. The race began with a very slow start, lead by a pair of local horses and horsemen. Struggling to get into the swing of things, the field made a minor navigational error up the first climb, with Nick and I taking the correct route and putting everyone into a bit of panic. The field re-grouped and we all ‘sat-up’ as the first tricky hike of the day allowed for a bit of time to glance at the route cards again. After another navigational hesitation up-front, Nick and I who had been sitting a couple of places back to watch the goings-on took the lead again and were suddenly in the mood to drop the hammer!
It was just then, at 5.1km into the day, when a small twig jumped up from the dense bush and removed my entire rear derailleur and hanger. In shock of the poor luck, we continued to try and fix the problem. Having an integrated hanger in my frame made the fix a serious dilemma. Begging and boring we managed to acquire about 6 different hangers, none of which we could alter to work on the frame. Nick, kneeling on the ground, with a Leatherman in one hand, a large rock in the other – trying to chisel a hanger into shape is a sight I’m unlikely to forget. Needless to say, we were unable to resolve the issue and a conversion to single speed simply wouldn’t work!!
The rest of the day was an adventure, to say the least. We towed, pushed, ran and hiked the rest of the day – fortunately still in good humour. On the descents (which I must add where absolutely spectacular, taxing and treacherous) I was able to freewheel, on any slightly elevated gradient, I had to run, and on the flat’s and slight climbs, Nick towed with all his brute force, while I enjoyed the scenery and a nice rest from funning. All in all, it was a character building day to say the least and we managed to finish and gain 18 places, to 40th overall. The course was truly amazing and astounding in terms of difficulty. If there were one day of mountain biking to have a broken bike, this would be it, as the climbs were often easier to master with ones bike on the back.
Day 2: Having had such a disastrous day 1, we were eager to get back into the race and eat into, at least some of, the 2h20 odd we had lost on the previous day. The race began fast and we sat up front with the pack to judge the situation. Unfortunately, our poor luck continued, with a flat tyre on the first climb and then a puncture which had to be repaired at approximately 6km. We chased hard and as we caught sight of the leading pair (Paul Cordez and Yolanda Speedy from IMC) Nick’s rear tyre literally exploded. The 2 inch tear in the tyre was unfixable, and we were forced to begin some serious bush-mechanics again. Using one of the route card’s, we managed to keep a tube in the tyre while Nick rapped the outside of the tyre with an old tube, to keep the mend together.
The fix lasted about 5km, to the next water-table, but was flat when we arrived, as the route card had eaten through the tube. We took a seat at the water table, fixed the tyre again and enjoyed the ice-lollies for a full 32 minutes. We then continued at a very sedate pace.
Day 2 of the Swazi is quite phenomenal with regard to raw mountain biking fun. The Single track sections and river crossings that continue for kilometre on kilometre were serious fun. The final climbs, again, were completely shocking and the blistering heat took its toll as we submitted them. It would be perfectly fair to say that we were both Blown!
Day 3: After a completely disastrous two days of Mountain Biking, we decided that day 3 was not going to be a race for us; we would simply enjoy a laid back pace and some time with friends in the field. We started off reasonably, sitting with some friends, but seemed to still be in line of sight with the leaders. Determined to stick by our word, we remained further back – but when the leading back took a 50 metre wrong turn and we popped out in front of them, the race was on.
Nick’s superior navigation skills resulted in the pack sitting directly behind us, and keeping to the pace that we set. A large group of us continued together until approximately 35kilometers, when a rather significant river crossing split the group and saw us and the IMC pair of Yolanda and Paul riding together. The race was on, and the lead changed a number of times over the last astonishing climbs of the day. We joined again at the top of the final mountain and headed into the last rocky single track descent together. If one were to compliment Brett and Lesley (the organizers) on anything in particular, it would be this. An absolutely treacherous but amazing descent down the rocky mountain, with one minor portage and some awesome rock drop-offs.
We hit the final road with Paul and Yolanda, uncertain what to do at the end of the day. A win would really be insignificant to us lying in roughly 28th position, but when Paul shouted “Sprint Finish”… the race was on! We headed at speed into the gates of Maguga Lodge. Nick had to hop a pavement to avoid colliding with Yolanda. I was unfortunately not as lucky as I entered a corner with far too much speed and locked up my back brake (riding a loaned bike with brakes oppositely opposed to mine) and collided at speed with Paul. My rear wheel was destroyed and so I finished the race with my bike on my back. Running down the road and over the finish-line was probably quite an appropriate finish to our Swazi Frontier, but none-the-less we had a superb experience.
Thanks to Brett and Lesley, all who were involved with the race and all the sponsors for putting together such an amazing experience. I say, “Experience”, because it would be hard to describe this event in any other way. It is not simply a mountain bike ride. It is a downhill event, a hike, a place to meet with like-minded people from across Southern Africa and to say the least, a complete challenge.
Mike Smith (Team Subaru with Nick Floros)
Sometimes in life if we are lucky we will come across things where substance is still more important than form. When I arrived at the first Swazi Frontier three years ago I realised I was part of something special. The event was fresh and a little rough around the edges in those days but it had substance from the outset. The third Swazi Frontier is now more polished but the substance of this truly great event is still the major draw card for those who live to ride.
The people I ride with love mountain biking. They avoid the hype of mass events and the usual marketing hysteria that tries to tell us what we will experience rather than the experience selling itself. At The Swazi Frontier the event does the talking. We are left to make up our own minds. For me personally it is a wonderfully simple equation: did I have one of the best riding weekends of my life? Yes. So will I be back next year? Yes. The Swazi Frontier is simply an honest mountain biking event in every department from start to finish. It has some kick-ass sections both up and down that make you work for your first beer and that provide stories to take you to your tenth.
After doing one or two 800km sand road rides in my time, it is nice to have a ride which reminds me why the sport is called mountain biking . Surprisingly, this involves riding in mountains. The Swazi Frontier is a wonderful reminder of this neglected point. It is the opposite of a district road ride where distance is king and riders draft with a bum in their face for the entire day.
The three stages of The Swazi Frontier are not long in distance, 60k’s max, but they are “moerwa” hard and technical in places. The idea is that riders are challenged in every way and that they come back next year to do the stuff they could not do this year. When Brett told me he was going to include Brutal and Too Brutal (two massive climbs) in this year’s route after leaving it out last year, I trained specifically to ride them both. I never made it. Close but no cigar. So, next year, I will shed a few tubes around my belly and I will conquer the Brutal Brothers. That is what this ride does to me – it makes me want to be fit not to win (this will never happen) but to ride everything. Looking around it seemed to have the same effect on everyone else too.
Brett and Les included a downhill section to end the last day that left me with half-a-lazy for the next two days. It is this type of vision that will keep me coming back for more.
Brett Foss and Lesley Fitton are partners in crime and in time. They created this event. They have put their hearts and lives into making this event special and it shows. The Swazi Frontier is one of those events with its own individual personality. There is no other event like it and it now has an almost cult like status. The fact that riders navigate the course with route cards is just one of the quirky additions that Brett and Les have included to make this a unique event. If you don’t have the patience to read the cards properly, you will get lost (in fact, my partner and I would have won the event if we had not got lost due to our impatience to read directions, if we were fitter, if we could ride properly and if we were 10kgs lighter).
If you want official results call Brett or Les or check out The Swazi Frontier’s website at www.theswazifrontier.sz . I am more interested in the 70 teams who rode The Swazi Frontier; the ones who came in with massive smiles on their faces despite the pain. The humble attitude of Yolande Speedy and Paul Cordes (Team IMC/Activeworx), two professional world class athletes, who were as much a part of the spirit of this event as the last place riders; the SA rowers , Bruce Turvey aka “Tweaky” and Warren Wellbeloved (Team Osama B’s), who actually won the entire event in their first stage race ever (These guys had only been riding for three weeks. It was not their winning that impressed but more so their attitude and approach to life, not to mention their Zulu dancing); the riders throughout the field who tried to make it up technical sections and who, with white knuckles, confronted some serious downhill sections. These people, the environment, and the route are what The Swazi Frontier is all about. This is why I will be back.
The food, the accommodation, the organisation and the friendly vibe were all superb. The overnight stay at Orion Piggs Peak hotel was a highlight – when you arrive there the sparkling blue pool sucks you in and the delicious buffet is a feast. Everywhere I looked, whether on the route or at the overnight stops, people were always laughing, chatting and happy. This despite the pain – believe me this route is tough. Thanks to people like Brett, Les and their amazing crew, Mountain Biking rocks in Swaziland!
Stage 1 winners:
Baboon’s Back, Brutal, Too Brutal, Red Trailer Descent, Mbanjwa Descent.
Stage 2 winners:
The “ridiculous” Mganda river valley single track, another incredible water point, the Nivea novelty section and all the river crossings.
Stage 3 winners:
The final Mickey’s Madness downhill, the after party, me, EVERYONE.
Craig Wapnick aka "Wappo" (Microhard with Kelly O'Keefe)
On reflection (because opinions made when pushing your bike up a steep, technical 500m climb in 42C heat must always be revisited!), this is a ride I'd like to do again and again. It's totally different to anything out there...here's the important stuff:
It's small: 70 teams of 2 is a small field. It's by invitation. The result is that the field thins out, but also that you get to know the people you haven't already met, and the vibe is simply amazing. Think of Sani2c put on purely for the crazy fringe of MTB and you have the idea.
Hard riding, loads of support from other riders along the way, and an after-party that was the best post-ride party ever. Most of the participants have done epics/sanis, etc. It would be a crazy first race to do (but some guys did, and they came back this year only to finish last on day 1 again!).
It's tough: between 52 and 62kms a day, between 1400 and 1900m of climbing. A lot of single track. A lot of no track. About 1km of tar in total, and not much district road. Winning time was 4h30 for day 1, about 4 hours for day 2 and about 3h20 for day 3. We did 6 hours, 5 hours, 4h30, typically finishing in the top half of the field. The climbs are steep (so even the winners push parts of it), and the descents are very steep (so even the winners portage sections).
It's mostly unmarked: you navigate from cards given to you each day. It's trickier than it sounds and the consequences can be brutal: a wrong turn and you can go down a 500M descent before you realise your mistake. Last year, a friend was coming 5th on day 1 when they made a mistake and ended up finishing last. One mistake added 5 hours to his time! We made 2 small navigation errors that we're fixed within 100m each time, but even on day 3 we had a whole bunch of really fast guys pass us 3 hours into the ride - where they had gone wrong we don't know.
It's tough on your gear: you are advised to carry a spare deraileur, not just a hanger! Also spokes, rims, tyres, etc. In dry conditions I went through a set of rear brake pads - steep descents indeed! You have to be able to self support. You need bike tools in your overnight bag. On day 2 we did over 23 river crossings, most of which we rode, but water, sand, sticks, and sharp rocks make the ride unlucky for some. With no support, some guys who broke things early ended up pushing their bikes over 40kms to finish the day.
Weather dependent: we had 2 hot days, then an overcast day. It rained overnight on day 2/3. The overcast day 3 saved us from almost certain baking under the African sun. With only one water point on each day, you need to carry at least 3 litres at a time. Rainy weather would make some descents very tricky - its that red-clay soil we all fear...The higher altitudes of day 1 are often mist-covered. Last year navigation was tricky - visibility was 5m only for many sections...
The vibe is what makes it. If you like your bike enough to want to carry it a lot, and be challenged way beyond the most technical sections of a Sani or Sabie, then if you get the chance, do this one. But then go to Breedts and do the main hill only as your training. Just don't bother doing it on the road, ride next to the road and you'll get a much better feel for what's involved! Prepare to ride long steep uphills, be rewarded with great views, blistering descents, and then a party to end all parties afterwards.
Gareth Ocshe (The Older We Get, the Better We Were with Bruce Taylor)
Four brave Franschhoek Cycling Club members, Chris Chance, Charl Verster, Graeme Malcolm and his wife Janet participated in one of the most challenging Mountain Bike races in Southern Africa, The Isuzu Swazi Frontier MTB Challenge held in the Swaziland Highlands.
There were 70 teams participating in the race from the 16th to 18th October 2008. Each team consisted of two members who had to cycle together throughout the race.
This was no ordinary MTB race as the route was not marked. Each team was given a set of navigation instructions which had to be followed. These consisted of two laminated sheets showing a reference number (in case of getting lost), altitude (challenging), total distance travelled from the start, time split between the points, and an instruction. These were ingeniously placed on the handle bars of one of the team member’s bikes.
The idea was that the team navigator would call out the distance to the next point (e.g. 1,93km), the point of reference (e.g. gate on corner of Malolotjwa fence) and the instruction (e.g. go straight on track) – while the other team member reset the odometer to measure the distance. Follow other riders’ tracks seemed a good idea at times but was not advisable as many a riding team took a wrong turn at their peril. Just ask Graeme and Janet!! So the first real hurdle was to get familiar with the process – in itself a challenging task as there was often a time that we would lose our place on the sheet and wonder whether the next reference point was 0,48km or 0,77km – a big difference. Despite an occasional severe difference of opinion, Graeme and Janet are still married and I still have a cycling partner!
The first day was a 55km ride from Hawane Nature reserve through the Malololtja Game reserve to Bulembu, starting at an altitude of 1402m, climbing in the first 11 km to 1812m, before a wicked descent (I went over the front of my handle bars twice) into the Malanti Valley at 646m before getting to the only water point (36km) of the day on the Komati River. Water points were eagerly anticipated as they had “food” and liquid to replenish tired bodies, especially as the temperature was 43 degrees C. So far so good. The next 7 km was fast and undulating. Fortunately we were blissfully unaware of what lay in store for us. To end the day there were two notorious climbs – brutal and too brutal. The first was a 5 km climb up a rocky jeep track to the top of the Malolotja reserve. The views of the Mkhomazane gorge were worth the effort but fear soon gripped us at the sight of the second descent and climb. The second “too brutal” climb of 6km up relied on strong legs, strong arms and a huge amount of energy as we often had to carry our bikes on our shoulders as the climb was too steep to ride or even push the bike. Once at the top it was an undulating ride to the finish of the first day.
The second day was another 59km ride starting at the old Bulembu Asbestos mine and finishing at the Orion Piggs Peak Casino and Hotel. This was a fantastic day’s ride, being a little less strenuous than the first day. At one stage we crossed the same river 32 times, mostly without incident, but an occasional fall into the water was not unusual for some of us. Once again there were challenges as the course took us through forested single tracks and roads covered in branches, over pedestrian suspension bridges and through many dongas and river crossings. Once again there was a sting in the tail as the race finished with a “juicy” 5km climb to the top of the Phopha and the hotel.
The final day was a 53 km ride from Piggs Peak to the Maguga Lodge on the Nkomati river. Once again this started with a 6km climb along forest tracks, then along cattle paths and rural homesteads before dropping down for 14km to the bottom of the valley. What a relief, but what goes down must go up!! At the water point on the river we were once again refreshed before having to start the 13km climb to the finish! Just to challenge us, the last 2 km was over a sensational drop off down a steep single track strewn with rocks to the finish!!
This was a challenging and yet exhilarating experience as the rivalry between the top teams and the camaraderie that existed between all the participants was well worth the effort. It was also very satisfying to know that the sponsors’ money, not only provided us with a fantastic event, but that part of our entry fee and proceeds was being ploughed back into the community in the form of conservation of the Nature Reserve, and the provision of water to many rural households. The efforts of the organizers (Brett and Lesley) must be admired. To race in such an environment was a privilege and an experience not to have been missed; and the newly formed Franchhoek Cycling Club was there!!
Chris Chance 2008
After a leisurely 3 hours drive from Joburg, we received a warm welcome from the friendly officials at the Oshoek/Ngwenya border post in the north-western corner of Swaziland. A further 10kms down the road and we had arrived at Hawane Resort to a misty welcome. Excitement levels were high as over 50 pairs teams were arriving from all corners of South Africa and Swaziland. Race organizer, Lesley Fitton, completed the registration formalities with us and handed out our “goody bags” including the critical route cards which give The ISUZU Swazi Frontier its unique flavour.
That evening, Race Director, Brett Foss, started the proceedings in his laid back and welcoming manner, which immediately made everyone feel at home. Last year’s winners, Nick Floros and Roger Mann, and many potential challengers were welcomed. Amongst these were Roan Exelby who teamed up with farmer Glen Haw, the man behind Sani2C . A few Dusi canoe marathon gold medalists were spotted in the field along with Lee John, 3rd in this year’s Freedom Challenge and our own legendary Craig “Wappo” Wapnick, ex-Springbok squash player.
After a comfortable night’s sleep and refreshing breakfast, Day 1 started with a misty 11km climb over Ngwenya mountain in Malolotja Nature Reserve. The racing snakes set off and the field soon split up along the single-track climb. After the climb, there was a re-grouping on the challenging descent after Nick’s front shock lost pressure and the bridge holding the two shocks together snapped! After a dangerous fall, in true farmer style, Nick tightly secured the wheel skewer which effectively held the shock together, and rode for the rest of the day with a rigid shock. Roan hung back to offer some assistance. The two teams had lost their lead for now.
Day 1 had some awesome technical descents like the one to the “red trailer” which only a handful of hard-core riders rode without getting off their bikes while the majority of us had to scamper down some of the more tricky drop offs. My partner, Andrew “Broomy” Broom and I found ourselves ahead of the pack at this point, and by the compulsory half way water point we had a 10 minute lead! It was not long until we saw Glen and Roan on our way up yet another mountain pass.
Some navigation trouble saw us lose a bit of time whilst Nick and Roger flew down the blistering descent of Heenan’s Staircase into the Gorge. It was a sharp portage out of the Gorge and a massive haul up the zig-zag towards the Day 1 finish at Bulembu village completing the 60kms for this stage. We later heard that Roan rode most of this climb in middle ring!
After scoffing the fruit platters, tea and scones, and enjoying some of the post-race banter in front of the fireplace, we headed to our rooms for a well-earned rest.
Day 2 saw us head straight into some challenging jeep and single track as we weaved our way out of the forests of Bulembu. We followed a gruelling zig-zag ascent, up, up and more up. The descent into the Mganda valley was fast and furious. This is where riders need to keep their heads – measuring splits and diligently looking for the right junctions at high speed. One wrong turn here and you’re tickets!
The famous river crossings started. We swept through the pristine single track in this exquisite valley, riding through over 30-odd river crossings. Exhilarated, we checked into the halfway water-point, re-lubed, wolfed down some snacks and juice, and shouted out the next split: “0.2 km away, keep straight at the junction”. More climbs.
Some challenging single track descents and then the vicious climb through the Phophonyane Nature Reserve to round off the 60kms for the day by the time we reached the finish at Orion Piggs Peak hotel. Brett has this amazing ability to finish off stages with hectic climbs – just when you think you’re there the bite begins. I suppose if it does not kill you, it makes you tougher!
The food platters at Orion Piggs Peak hotel were magnificent to say the least. Such variety, so tasty! Wappo managed to flatten most of the dessert. Although slightly overcast, most of us gravitated to the bar in the pool to share a few war stories and gear up for the Rugby World Cup final. Others were doing bike admin at the bike park on the tennis court or snoozing in the luxury rooms.
A late night for the rugby made Day 3’s earlier start seem even earlier as we embarked on the last of the 60km legs. The strong Swazi team of Thulani Gule and Ntokoza Mamba set a blistering pace early on making a challenge for another podium position.
While climbing some testing single track the group started edging away from us. The Swazi’s showed real talent – with heavy weight bikes and minimal nutrition they stuck with Nick and Roger for most of the day! Down the jeep track to the water point, over the swing-bridge, through the winding paths, over the river, and then more big climbs. Once we crested the mountain at the 50km mark, we thought it was plain sailing home. But no, Brett and Lesley had something else in mind for us: one more mountain! On the portage up I almost blew but managed to recover near the top. The climb was well worth it for the wicked descent to Maguga Dam and the finish at Maguga Lodge.
Some competitors battled with the hard-core nature of the terrain but hey – that’s what this unique race is all about! Besides, no one said Swaziland is flat! A few hours later, all the pain is forgotten.
A race with a difference, where the tables can turn any minute, combined with a fun, lighthearted and brutal component. The ISUZU Swazi Frontier is a true mountain biking experience in “proper” mountain biking terrain.
The camaraderie of the participants combined with the Swazi hospitality of Brett and Lesley and their team made this an event that will be remembered.
Something to slot on the calendar for next year – especially for the MTB die-hards! For more information, go to: www.theswazifrontier.sz.
Nick Floros and Roger Mann, 1st
Roan Exelby and Glen Haw, 2nd
Charles Pritchard and Andrew Broom, 3rd
Kim Roques and Ara Monadjem, 4th
Thulani Gule and Ntokoza Mamba, 5th
Karin Hendry and Mike Preen, 1st
Joke Hoffman and Sean Williams, 2nd
Linda Loffler and Paul Loffler, 3rd
Charles Pritchard (Knob and No Mates/Andrew Broom)