With only a week to go before the start of JoBerg2c mountain biking race, after many trials and tribulations the “Going AWOL” team, Meike Aschenbroich (AWOL German Tour guide and consultant) and Sally Petersen (AWOL Tours Director) are ready for the challenge ahead of them.
JoBerg2C is said to be the most popular yet longest stage race on the South African mountain biking calendar. It’s a challenging journey through spectacular rural scenery over three provinces with 900km in 9 days and over 12,000 meters of climbing. Leaving the city smoke behind, riders cycle through the dry grasslands and maizelands of the Free State to ride the spectacular descent down the Drakensberg into Kwa-Zulu Natal, back up into the mist belt of the Kamberg and down the notorious Umkomaas valley to the coast just south of Durban.
What started as jest became a personal challenge for both of us, as we had no idea of how big the strain and commitment for such a challenge would be. It would push ourselves to the brink of our limits, strain on friendships and families and put our boss-employee relationship to the ultimate test.
Years ago, Sally was tempted to do a challenge such as the Cape Epic or Comrades but the huge time commitment of training put her off. She already had the challenge of getting AWOL Tours off the ground, then marriage, home ownership and motherhood put off all personal ambitions – the timing never seemed right. Then Meike, who originally started working at AWOL Tours as the the young German intern suggested the challenge.
After completing the Wines2Whales, a three day stage race in November, Meike was really nervous as Sally and her sister came second overall women’s team on the W2W ride. She knew she had lots of pedalling to do to keep up with Sally.
Sally on the other hand was anxious to keep fit and to find the time to train in between being a mother of two young children and keeping AWOL Tours on the straight and narrow. It took a lot of creativity to train in between work and children’s school timetable. Sneaking out of the house at 5am in the morning without waking anybody up is tricky. She would often park the car at the kids school in the early hours of the morning and cycle through the Constantia Greenbelt to the V&A Waterfront and back.
At the end of December Meike was not in a good shape after having enjoyed the Christmas holidays too much. She was depressed and obviously began to panic whether she would be able to keep up with Sally on Joberg2C. Sally knew that she was made of strong stuff and convinced her that there was plenty of time to train and they had three months to get fit.
Thankfully we managed to convince many AWOL Tour guests to go out mountain biking and so the AWOL Girls got paid to train.
The new year came and by the end of January, Meike had a proper training plan in place. Her fitness improved but her technical skills were terrible. She signed up for training rides with a skills coach, but on one such ride she had a complete panic attack as the rocks and roots in front of her looked too scary and the hills too steep. That was a throwback for team “Going AWOL” and there was talk about splitting up and doing Joburg2C as solo riders.
After Meike did a few solo training rides in Durbanville she gained confidence on the switchbacks and downhills. Sally and her coach couldn’t believe the remarkable improvement and were envious of her youthful ability to learn technical skills in a few months that has taken Sally years to overcome!
On Argus ( Cape Town Cycle Tour) race day we both did personal bests, Sally did 3:58 on a mountain bike and Meike did 3:27 on a road bike. That was a reason to celebrate as we had both improved our previous Argus times by far!
But then we slipped back into a bad technical week when Meike lost her sense of humour on a morning cycle to work at the V&A Waterfront. Meike was being very hard on herself and got frustrated with those *** rocks and switchbacks! Sally wasn’t very impressed and from own personal experience realised that losing a temper was a quick way to drain energy. On an endurance challenge such as the one we are preparing to face, she has learnt that being in control of your temperament and a positive attitude was imperative. We had a heart-to-heart conversation and an agreement was struck – Meike would try her best without loosing her temper and Sally would be patient and wait for her after technical singletrails sections.
Since then we have managed to do many training rides together. One morning we drove out to Durbanville to conquer the entire Tygerberg mountain biking trails. Staring at Hoogekraal we rode to Contermanskloof, to Meerendal, back up again, did Bluegum, all the trails at Bloemendal, Majik Forest, and back again via Hillcrest. We felt like the Queens of Durbanville after we finished the 78km ride with 2140 meters of total ascend. This was a huge boost of confidence and the ‘Going AWOL’ team spirit.
After Easter, the AWOL Team together with work colleagues and tour guides, Bevan, Tish and Dave set off to explore new cycling itineraries and of course the recce doubled up for endurance training. The plan was to expand on the Garden Route mountain biking itinerary and ride Montagu and finish in Groot-Brak, via the Attakwaskloof. It was an amazing trip and we both rode nicely together, having improved much on fitness and strength. But there is one thing that astonishes Meike about Sally: The steeper the hill, the faster she climbs. She can keep up with her on gradual climbs, but it is impossible on the very very steep ones. And by steep we mean those climbs on which your granny gear starts crying. Sally the machine! The Attakwaskloof was an endurance challenge that set the tone in preparation for Joberg2C – the ‘Going AWOL’ team had started riding in sync!
One of the many challenges of any working mother taking time out for personal challenges is the ‘mother guilt’. Fortunately Sally has an understanding husband who has his International World Fistball Championships career. Her parents are also very supportive in minding the kids for the school holidays, even joining then on the recce and assist with map planning.
The amount of preparation for such an event is incredible. Apart from the physical preparation,the mental preparation is enormous! We think we all agree that a strong mind is what you need the most for such an event (apart from the bike). Bike service, cycling gear, spares for the bike, new tyres, chain drives, new shoes and gloves, the right camelback, the right GPS device, warm clothes, flights and transfers… it all needs to be planned (and paid for). Getting fit is one challenge but keeping injury free and healthy is another huge challenge. We both have our personal “Muti” to stay healthy before the race finally starts: Raw honey and a shot of Jägermeister every evening before we go to bed.
Sally confessed that she is incredibly nervous as she only now had time to check out the route profiles and realised how tough the cycling is going to be with some days being over 120km with 2200 meters of climbing. She has never cycled more than 109km in one day!
Now it’s only one week to go. Come whatever may, the AWOL Girls are going to have a blast on JoBerg2C and there is no doubt that we will finish it. Team “Going AWOL” is ready to’ Ride The Beloved Country’!