Days before the start of the 2015 Lesotho Sky race, I got my bike back from the bike shop. “Are you seriously going to ride it with this gear ratio?” asked Donna, the local mechanic. I was running a one by nine with a 36 on the front. Sure, I said. I rarely ride in my granny gear. On the trails of Delta Park in Johannesburg, I used to hammer every climb in low gear. How tough can Lesotho Sky be? Sure, it’s a lot of climbing, but a mountain pass never really scared me – until midway on Day 2, somewhere between Ramabanta and Malealea. Oh how I wished to be back in that Joburg bike shop, while pushing my bike up a technical piece of climbing that my partner was able to ride. In hindsight I was totally unprepared for the race. Looking at the pics, the fact that I was 5kgs heavier than I am now, also highlights my limited preparation. But, my unpreparedness had less to do with time on the saddle and more to do with being naive about what “old school mountain biking” means. Although 34 years of age at the time, with a number of races under the belt, looking back now, I was still a rookie on a bike.
This race was my biggest experience on a mountain bike. I cannot describe it in any other way than to say that it was my rite of passage as a mountain-biker. A passage to the wonderful world of Darol Howes and Christian Schmidt. A clan of seriously cool mountain bikers like Cherie Vale, Robbie Powell, Phetetso Monesi and that old school bike legend Hendrik Lemmer. A place beyond the brand names and bike bling. A world where the simple love for the single track is stronger than the search for the next STRAVA segment. It’s the discovery that your mountain bike is more than a hobby horse, it’s a vehicle to a breathtakingly beautiful experience of live beyond the tar road. Or it can be a vehicle of utter frustration and pain, if you are still wet behind the ears.
So here are a few things to consider before entering for the race.
The altitude will leave your breathless, literally.
The trails are not “designed” by a farmer called Glen. It’s made by the God of the Old Testament with the help of rivers, rain, rockfalls and hundreds of Basotho farmers and their livestock. It’s real trails carved out by ordinary life in Africa. After you get to the top, you discover that the top is still the bottom. Prepare to climb a lot.
In other words it’s riding in high altitude, on nature’s toughest trails and going mostly up.
Before I did the 2015 race, this piece of advise would have put me off to enter, but not anymore. My 2016 entry is in and I can’t flippen wait! I now belong to a group of people who get’s bored on a trail that does not challenge your ability to stay on the prefered side of the handlebar. For a fun ride, I seek out the nearest mountain and try ride it all the way to the top. Behind my seat dangles a little Basotho hat. I am a member of an amazing clan in the #MountainBikeKingdom.