The wind howled throughout Argus Eve night. I know I slept because each time a mighty wind rattled the windows it woke me. Why am I doing this ride?
At 5:00, when the alarm went off, I asked myself again.
And again when I rubbed the pain/inflammation compound on my knee, sun screened, pulled on biking pants, shirts—2 because it was chilly—biking socks, shoes, gloves, adjusted my helmet, clipped the race chip on the bike wheel, checked that my race number was in place on my back, that my green medical ID sticker with allergy info was properly placed, stuffed my pockets with my shuffle, camera, lip balm & Advil, I asked: Why are Curtis and I doing this ride?
Everyone else in the Mason/Voysey family group had trained. We’d arranged to meet at Fountain Circle in Downtown Capetown, so we could all start together:
o Uncle John (80 and the inspiration for this ride)
o 4 Mason Brothers (Andrew, Robert, Charles, David)
o 3 Voysey Brothers (Donald, John, Peter John)
o Harriet (Robert Voysey’s wife and tandem partner)
o Caelia (Donald Voysey’s daughter and at 18 the youngest rider)
o Cousin Robert
o Cousin Darrel Voysey
o Mason side Cousins: Luke, Chris Mason
o Mason/Voysey’s “To Be”: Ed & Luke (who proposed to cousin Eve at the top of Table Mountain)
Even after we’d saddled up and were coasting downhill from Shona and Charles apartment toward the starting place, I asked myself: Can I back out now? Should I?
Through the sleepy, pre-dawn streets, the announcer bellowed and music thumped as thousands of riders, like ants converged into a solid clump thousands—35,000ish—thick.
Corralling 34,500 riders, sorting them into groups of 500 riders (some more or less), herding them through the streets and across the finish line at 5 minute intervals, seems a herculean task. With 36 years of experience the Argus organizers manage it handily and cheerfully.
At sunrise, 6:19 am, The Argus 2014 was on!
The first group set off with dollar sign race numbers on their backs. Then came groups with other symbols, then A group-through to z, then double AA group and so on. (The Voysey/Mason Family group is DD). As each group was announced and set off with a blast of the start horn, the rest of us moved closer to the finish line. The sun rose. I stopped asking why? I started asking: Can I?
The announcer called out tidbits about each group as its members waiting in next off “pen”. The DD group included:
· The oldest Argus rider, at 91
· 3 or 5 participants who have ridden in every Argus Ride—this being their 37th
· 5 riders in their 80s, including the oldest female and Uncle John (we gave a huge shout out as his name was announced).
· Amputees & folks with MS and other diseases riding recumbent bikes they pedaled with their hands.
I had been secretly feeling a little proud of myself that Curtis and I, oldsters that we are, were riding, until hearing this list. . .
The bullhorn blasted. The announcer shouted “And their off!”
And we stood.
A pack of 500 people on bikes does not surge forward in a wave. It oozes forward like goo in the bottom of a squeeze tube. Even slower upon hearing “Mind the wind under the bridge!” “Hold Steady!”
Head down as the wind blasted us, knocking forward riders sideways. I gripped the bike (not my bike! I already hated this fat wheeled, thick-framed, stocky mule of a mountain bike), and inched my way across the starting line.
The Argus route starts with a long, slow uphill. Even though I was pedaling as hard as I could, it felt as though I was sliding backwards as everyone else in the Mason/Voysey group, including Curtis and every other DD, then EEs and FFs, JJs, KKs rolled passed.
If I had ever thought about trying to keep up, I quit trying then. The best I could do was keep pedaling, and make the best of it.
Spectators lining the route, waving, cheering, carrying signs, some in costume, some holding out beers or hands for “high five” made it better.
The scenery: breathtaking vistas, aquamarine seas, buff shimmering sand, quaint and varied building & villages, attention grabbing, I-could-hop-off-and-go-in-for-a-look shops, ostrich farms, eucalyptus groves, hills and mountains and down hills gave me plenty to look at as I pedal-crept past.
I didn’t have a speedometer or odometer on my bike, or a watch, so I had no way of knowing how long I’d gone or how far—felt like hours and a million miles—until I spotted a bright yellow sign: ONLY 98 KM TO GO!
When everyone—Curtis included—left me in the dust at the starting line, I abondoned the thought of ever see any of them again. Of maybe crossing the finishing line as a group, the way they had discussed at the "Strategy Meeting" the night before. It was freeing to know I didn’t have to even try to keep up. All I had to do was keep going.
Shona, leader of the official Mason cheer squad said she’d be watching us from the railroad track in Cork Bay, but I’d sort of forgotten that until I heard her calling my name. I looked up, around, and there she was waving and screaming wildly with a bunch of other non-riding family members. Their whoops buoyed me for a few more kilometers.
Then again, down the road from their home, Aunt Marie (Uncle John’s wife) leading a Voysey cheer squad, shouted encouragement. How happy I was that their watching post was at a slight downhill spot and not one of the ugly, sweaty, hard-fought uphills.
Hours and Kilometers clicked by. Parts began protesting: my back, knee, chin where the strap rubbed, my seat, my seat, the bottom of my left foot, bottom of the right, knee, bottom . . . The aches, or my attention, migrated, giving me something to think about as I pedaled—it passed the time.
Stopping after a long uphill was a bargain I made. A reward. I’d look up and forward to a point, telling myself “When you reach that spot, you can stop and take photos.” (Taking photos sounds way cooler than "resting."
At one such photo/rest stop, I glimpsed a familiar yellow shirt pedaling toward me. It was Curtis! He’d stopped somewhere to wait for me, then stopped again (and maybe again) until I’d wound up in front of him. Neither of us had even pulled a Daniel Day Lewis Last of the Mohicans and nevertheless, we’d found each other in that sea of 36,000. After that, we decided we’d finish together.
Chapman Hill is what riders veterans talk about. “Chappie” they call it, as if having pedaled up, up, up, up, up it, the road winding up and over the mountains, it becomes a friend.
But the long, gradual downhill after was thrilling, freeing, glorious! Especially as Chapman comes toward the end of the ride.
Having ridden the Argus before, as though through muscle memory, I recalled well the easy, relatively flat cruise from there back into Capetown and the finish. As we rode along, I mentioned to Curtis how Chapman hadn’t seemed as hard going as I recalled. How I’d remembered a stretch where we seemed to be riding almost straight up, with lots of wobbling, pedaling almost to a standstill, and spectators giving riders pushes to help them up. “That wasn’t Chappie,” Curtis said. “That hill you're remembering is the hill that comes after Chappie . . . ”
“After???? There’s another bad hill?” I asked.
“Two more,” Curtis replied.
No one offered to push me up those next two hills. (I would have paid dearly for the service.) There was a group of red winged “Angels” pushing people up hill at one point, but they were on the far right side of the road and I was on the left, too weary and slow to try to cut across the crowd to the other side.
A bit farther on, a man was cooling people down with spray from his garden hose. I recalled laughing when he sprayed me the first time. But that had been a sunny, windless ride, and I'd been hot and powerful. (Fortunately, his territory was at a relatively slight uphill so I could veer out of range—his good fortune, for I think I would have punched him if he’d squirted me.)
As promised, Curtis and I crossed the finish line, together. We looked around hoping Shona & the gang had witnessed our crossing, as they had the first time we'd ridden the Argus. But no familiar voices shouted and whooped as they had in 2011. (Some strangers did. And congratulated us as they handed us our Argus Medals, and herded up past.)
There were 34,500 confirmed riders who started the Argus 2014. Winds at the starting line were clocked at about 35 mph.
The Argus winner, Nolan Hoffman, rode it in 2 hours and 37 minutes, 1 second.
The best Mason/Voysey race time was Ed’s at 4:37
Uncle John, at 80, crossed the finish line together with his sons in 4:45
The exact time it took Curtis and I to ride the 109 km is unknown as our names do not show up on the official Argus website. Charles said they stop tracking chips after 7 hours.
So, according to official records, we may not have finished the Argus 2014. . . .
It wasn’t pretty. Or handily. Or strong. But we know we finished.
Here's proof (recieved via email 3-12-2014):
Now that it's done, and I've slathered my knee with pain-killer, anti-inflammatory salve, I can answer that question of why? Why we rode it?
Why do any of us challenge ourselves to tackle difficult, seemingly impossible, maybe foolhardy tasks?
It's not about whether or not anyone sees you cross the finish. Rewards, the medals, recognition, that's not it.
Why do we do it? To know we can.
Onward Don Quixote!
PHOTO AT THE FINISH TO COME--MAYBE . . . maybe not.