Doing an event is always to some extent stressful as the unknown/unexpectant factor is always looming in the distance. For different people, different questions pop into their minds as an event comes closer. Let's take Jane, coming from a running and triathlon background (newbie to MTB) and Elrika that played competitive netball and then embarked on becoming a more competitive cyclist in the last 4 years (that means no stopping at waterpoint when racing) the two backgrounds can’t be more different. However, they do live close to each other and met each other through the local cycling community and just immediately clicked and now regularly train together.
Due to a serious running injury, Jane ended up taking up MTB’ing more seriously, and almost by default ended up being coached by the same coach as Elrika; Barry Austin. Jane initially had concerns that she wasn’t good enough to have a coach such as Barry, but he simply stated “everyone’s dreams are important, not just Olympic hopefuls”. It was only a matter of time before talking about doing an event together was inevitable, but fitting it in between work calendars/training schedules was key. The timing for the Berg&Bush Tour was perfect and the entry was booked!
As this was Jane’s second ever MTB stage race, and still with a lot to learn, combined with Elrika, who only ever races events (and never stops at water points), it was important to agree on how they were going to ride this race together. The agreement was to ride at Jane's pace, with her never going too deep into the red, making sure they had fun, appreciated the scenery and just enjoy the moment and live life to the fullest.
Getting to the race village a bit late on Monday was not the ideal start, as it is always nice to explore the village, maybe get a leg loosener ride in, and know where to go for the start the next morning. Typical of these two, they would send their coach a video in pitch darkness screaming “Barry do you like our pre-race ride?” Not knowing exactly where to go the next morning, they always know where to find the food. The race village is beautiful and the scenery is absolutely mind-blowing with the glamping/luxury tents on the edge of the Tugela River under the big trees. Lots of crisp evenings with no clouds in sight.
One of the most important factors for these two is good food and coffee, and Berg & Bush is renowned for its amazing food. Both have confirmed this was the case. Every day there were hot, cooked breakfasts, lunch and 3-course dinners available. Do not go to this race if you need to lose weight! And wait for it, there is also a 24/7 snack in the dining tent including the best peanut butter cookies and bottomless hot chocolate, tea and coffee. There is also the Terbodore coffee stand which was visited every day, maybe multiple times, by these two coffee lovers.
So Let's get to the riding...
Day one is a 57km ride with 800 odd meters of climbing. You start the day early on with singletrack and that style of riding keeps going for the rest of the day. You get rewarded with the most beautiful views, so the climbs never feel that bad, because you are constantly blown away by the scenery (or looking for a giraffe). Elrika did need to remind Jane to look around every now and then, because at Jane's first stage race earlier the year, when they rode in different teams, Jane was too busy concentrating on the route and appeared to miss the views of the ocean, the waterfalls and other spectacular sights. Elrika made a real effort to remind Jane every now and then to look around but she also realised to not stop too long to take pictures, else she would get left behind unknowingly.
Jane has a great fear of floating bridges, like many people new to mountain biking. The organisers, who were super funny, briefly mentioned a floating bridge in the race briefing but they glossed over it so quickly that Jane assumed they were joking. But as the pair got closer to the finish line on day 1, Elrika saw on her GPS map that there actually was a crossing over a blue water mass (clearly a river). Elrika now had a dilemma; does she tell Jane? She even took a video asking Jane how she feels about floating bridges if they happened to come across one. Jane replied, “definitely a no!” As the pair got closer to the water there was a short loose rocky descent (rocks don’t freak Jane out anymore, very good progress made) and then the floating bridge was right in front of them. Until today, both ladies don't know how and why she attempted it (probably because there was no choice), but she did, singing Happy Birthday out loud. A fist pump at the end confirmed she had made it. Whenever Jane is scared of an obstacle she sings to herself to 1) distract her and 2) it also forces her to actually keep on breathing (great tip there). What a way to end the first day!
Day 2 was a slightly shorter day with 48km and 800m of climbing that included more district roads but still awesome trails in between. This race is the perfect race to do in order to grow your confidence. The whole theme of the race is to enjoy the trails and make sure you appreciate the spectacular scenery. They even put signs up saying “check the views!”. Although the routes are not particularly technical, do make sure you can do switchbacks, as there are hundreds of them (literally!) Elrika also gave Jane a USWE pack to use. Riding on technical terrain, she has found herself being able to just quickly put the tube in her mouth and drink while both hands are on the handlebar. Between the two of them, they even had a fun challenge where whoever has the highest fitness score, come the start of B&B, that one has to push the other one. Let's just say Elrika chose Spioenkop to get her push.
The water points are stocked with the most amazing treats, and the temptation to just stop and eat everything (well Elrika did) is almost too much. The pair quickly figured out that if Jane barely stopped at water stations (this was one way to minimise time), Elrika would stop, collect all the snacks (eat some date balls while there) and then make an effort to get back to Jane. YES, Jane enjoyed picking the pace up slightly, and making El work to catch her 😉. Oh and Elrika was almost sent back 1km when she didn’t collect enough of the homemade fruit cake for Jane from one of the food stations.
Day three ended the event with the hardest stage - 57km with1200m climbing, including the famous Spioenkop climb that is really steep. Completing Spioenkop is a real highlight, and you get a sticker if you can get all the way up. The things adults will do for a sticker, right? But the last waterpoint was one for the books, even Jane stoppedbest-tasting and gave the audience a food review of the different sausages (that is actually why she was not allowed to stop at the others, as it would just end up being a foodie experience 😉)
At the finish line, they gifted us with the best-tasting cupcakes, although most of the icing ended up on the faces of Elrika& Jane (we won't say who started this).
The organisers were also a lot of fun, although one of them needs to work a bit harder at trying to mimic Jane’s English accent. This all happened when she tried convincing them she doesn't need to start Day 2 in A batch, as the duo had purposefully started the first day in batch B as it was self seeded, but they told her she shouldn’t have ridden so fast if she didn’t want to be in batch A!
Overall, this is one race that we definitely want to do again, so much fun!
To find out more about the 2023 Berg & Bush, visit their website, https://bergandbush.co.za/, and get your entries in:)