I wasn’t planning on doing the Argus this year. Although we wanted to, financial and logistical reasons prevented us from entering. However 5 weeks before the race, I received an e-mail from the cycle tour offices asking if Damian and I were participating. They told me if the only reason was that we hadn’t entered, it wasn’t too late and offered complimentary entries for Damian, myself and a support rider. I didn’t need much convincing, but asked for a few days to give the practical aspects some thought, and after asking my good friend, Anton, if he was prepared to be my support rider I had made the decision.
We arrived in Cape Town late Wednesday evening, in time to take our bike and buggy in for a service on Thursday and to make our 9:30 meeting with the organisers on Friday morning for the special needs teams briefing of safety issues, medical points and everything we needed to know in case of emergency. We were told that winds of 50kmph were expected for the day. Just the opposite of what we were hoping for. Cycling and pulling Damian’s buggy is challenging enough without the added difficulty of strong winds. The wind tunnels into Damian’s buggy doubling the weight.
I woke at 3:30 am on Sunday morning to hear the wind blowing heavily outside. As tempting as it was to snuggle back under the covers, I got up, kitted up and had breakfast – leaving Damian to sleep until the last possible moment before dressing him in his cycling clothes and heading out the door at 4:15am. We arrived at our designated parking just before 5am and began hooking up the bike and buggy. Anton arrived soon after.
Damian and I all ready to go
I met with Chaeli to receive Anton’s jersey and then with Erick and Johann from the cycle tour office to get our Tracker device. A quick photo before we joined the rest of our group to be escorted to the start. While pinning Anton’s number onto the back of his shirt I checked if he had his start card with him now that he had changed shirts only for him to realise he had left it in his car! Our first bit of panic… “I have to go with our group,” I told him, “do you think you can find us at the start?” He assured me he could and off we went through thousands of people and blustery wind towards our start chute. Surprisingly he found us pretty quickly. “I just looked for all the flags,” he grinned, referring to the compulsory flags all the special buggies and hand cyclists had attached.
I was glad I had put a jersey on Damian and brought his blanket as it was a chilly morning outside. With the wind gusting through, we stood shivering while waiting to load into our chute. Then the countdown began and we were off.
As soon as we crossed over the mat and went between the buildings we hit a wall of wind tunnelling through. Two other riders pulling buggies were off their bikes and trying to get through with the wind pushing the buggies across the road. Anton had Damian’s buggy by the handles and two bystanders rushed over to help us push through the tunnel, with Damian crying in fright. A bit rattled and shaky we continued with the wind causing intense resistance and me feeling my ability to finish diminishing with every pedal stroke. As with every ride I know that the first 10km are always the hardest for me, but this time was different, this was incredibly tough. Anton offered to take over but I didn’t know if it was allowed. “Let’s just get past this section then I will phone and ask if it’s allowed.” The only other option was withdrawing from the ride, and so early in that was disappointing. At the first timing mat, around 11km, I phoned in to ask permission for Anton to take over pulling Damian for a bit, I was exhausted, and with it granted, we headed up the rest of Edinburgh drive where, cycling behind the buggy I discovered the reason for my intense struggle – I had left the brake on Damian’s buggy on! No wonder I battled as I did… my first 10km… up a hill… into the wind… with the brake on! It doesn’t get tougher than that!
At Simon’s Town we stopped to take Damian to the loo, drink some refreshments and swop over again. Anton, took us up Smitswinkel as well when I struggled too much. From Cape Point it was an amazing ride – it is always my favourite section as the wind turns and we fly along that stretch at great speeds, then turn off to one of the most spectacular sections – Scarborough and Misty Cliffs. The wind at Kommetjie was really strong again, so I told Anton that if it was tunnelling at Chapman’s Peak like it was at the start then I wasn’t going to risk taking Damian through. “You call it,” he said and we continued until Noordhoek where I stopped to let Damian stretch and go to the loo again. For the second time, I asked Damian if it was too much, if he wanted to withdraw and go on a sweeper bus. “No! Go!” he told me, so I knew we had to finish. I knew we weren’t going to make our 7 hour cut-off, but that didn’t matter to us, winning for us was just trying, and hopefully finishing. At the base of Chapman’s Peak Anton took over again and took Damian up the steep climb. From there I decided he had done enough hills for me and I would tackle the last stretch and the infamous Suikerbossie. I ended up walking a lot of the way up but from there we just pushed on towards the finish.
With 1km to go, one of the motorbikes (whether photographers or support vehicles I’m not sure) came up alongside me and the rider stood up, hooting and pointing us out to the crowd, insisting they cheer. He rode next to me all the way to the end doing this, telling me “500 metres to go… 300 metres… only 150 to go!”
We crossed the finish line in just under 9 hours to the commentary of “Now this is a family outing, but wow times have changed… Mom is doing the pulling!” This was in line with a lot of the comments along the way. When I was pulling Anton got comments like “I hope you’re going to take over at some point”; “What, babysitter’s day off?” or “C’mon dad, why is mom doing the work?” and the like. When Anton was pulling I got comments like “Get off and push him!” and “He’s earning serious brownie points” or “Wow, you really have him by the short and curlies!” A lot of these comments made me realise the extreme compassion and willingness of Anton to do this from his heart for Damian. When people assume that he is the father and that it is a supreme act of devotion as a father to take his son on the Argus, that sentiment is multiplied a million fold when it is actually just a friend or support rider. Mostly we received tremendous support, encouragement and congratulations from all of the other cyclists as well as the supporters on the roadside which helped keep our spirits up and our motivation strong.
I learned so much from this ride. I learned the value of being properly prepared in advance – it would have made the difference between a 9 hour Argus and a 6 hour Argus. I learned to recognise my own limitations and accept help – this was the first time I have let anyone else take over pulling Damian and it was terrifying for me to watch someone else pull him and not be in control myself, my heart was in my throat each time I watched Anton pick up speed with Damian behind him and did my utmost to keep as close as possible all the time. I also got to see the ride from the perspective of a support rider – holding back all the way when riding without weight to keep at the pace of a rider pulling weight. I have great respect for Peter, my support rider from 2013 and for Anton this year. Also by riding on a bike without weight and cruising up the hills, I realised with very little training I was still Argus fit – but I was not fit enough to do it with a buggy and wind. A big reminder to keep my fitness levels up throughout the year.
Overall, it was my toughest physical pursuit yet but once the Argus bug has bitten you can be sure you will return – so next year we will be back! Definitely with a lot more training, and as we have realised, with a bigger buggy needed as Damian has now officially outgrown his little red roadster. Damian was a star passenger – 9 hours in a buggy without complaining, urging me to carry on when I was ready to stop. And when we were back at the car I got a big smile and a “Thank you Mom.”
Deirdré, Damian and Anton after the tour
A huge thank you to the cycle tour offices for making this possible again and for the lengths they go to to ensure our safety and inclusion. Also thank you to Cycles Direct, Sunningdale for quick and efficient work on our bike and buggy each year and good discounts. And to the Chaeli Campaign for support and love and great inspiration.