The Hell Of The South,
a backmarkers perspective
Words by: Max Menzies Images by: OakPics
Founder of McGregor Young Warriors and SS mullet
I find myself sitting in front of my PC on the Ninja website somewhere around September and confirming my entry for Attakwas – this is when you realise you all in and it sits in the back of your mind as the year-end fast approaches, and the holidays start. This one will be my 8’th Atta ride and 7’th one on my beloved steel ss bike, called Scelerat. Proper, pure and hard mountain biking like Dryland’s Attakwas keeps you humble and honest as there is no getting away from what will happen late January when you arrive in Oudtshoorn. No matter your fitness you going to suffer, but hey is that not the appeal?
Living in McGregor it is just over a three-hour drive and we load up and depart on the Friday around midday joining all the cars with their bikes on the R62 as we push towards Calitzdorp/Oudsthoorn. Stopping in Barrydale for the traditional burger and milkshake from Diesel and Crème with dozens of other skinny middle-age & elderly dudes!
Saturday 6am – we all start arriving at Chandelier Game Farm 10km’s outside of the town. It seems like the same folk each year, attracting only a few newbies. This event is brutal, and one thinks carefully before taking this on. I am pretty chilled with my riding these days and don’t take this biking thing too seriously anymore. Being a “heads-up” type of rider, I focus on taking in the spectacular scenery even when I am bleeding out of every orifice! My charity riders who are getting ready for that other ride taking place in March have dialled into my approach & ethos, and always have a smile on their face assisting where they can if other riders need technical help or a small push up a climb. We drop off our vehicle at the designated zone where Kalbas Nel takes on the mammoth task of getting 110 vehicles down to the coast at Klein Brak. A short 5km warm ride takes you to the official start area at Chandelier.
After the elite riders get off at 6:30am there are the 4 chutes of A, B, C and D – not too much talking, just a little nervous laughter & light banter. By 7am the final chute D chute is off and we begin with the official time clock starting at a designated spot just under 2km away – I don’t bother to wait and press start on my Garmin wrist watch when we leave Chandelier already. This year I had to mount my three aluminium kleen canteen bottles on my bike plus with all my bike spares and nutrition as I decided to wear my kilt (commando of course) with a decent dress shirt from the famous clothing designer Paul Van Der Spuy.
Very little talking on this ride, folk just settle in and start targeting the four main water holes – basically dividing the ride up into five quarters. Strict cut offs at WP’s 2,3 and 4 to ensure ridder safety. Last year’s Attakwas with its extreme temperatures played havoc with both the riders and organisers. The riding terrain is really tough on the bikes and the most common bike repair was for punctures. The tracks are loose rubble with deep rutted sections till WP3. One lasting memory from Saturday was a young rider who had obviously crashed (think it was just after WP2) and had been ”strapped on” the back seat the Medi Quad Bike and was been transferred to the water table some 5km away for treatment – looked like he broke his collar bone and had taken a knock to his pip as there was some blood running down his face, probably had a slight concussion. I pulled over on the jeep track allowing safe passage for them and this rider looked up at me and I could see the bewildered look on his face as he was to not too sure what to make of this chap pumping his arms on this unusual bike wearing a kilt & dress shirt …..reaching out to him I gave him a reassuring touch – priceless.
By the time you drop in at WP3 (we used to call it the Spur WP) the bulk of the technical riding is behind you and you will now be tested on how much gas you saved for the final leg of rolling hills with a slight head wind. You see The Hell Of The South is really about how you manage that box of matches – burn too many too soon and you will find yourself in a pickle. On top of saving those matches you continually juggling that fine nutrition/hydration balance.
As the day unfolds and wears on, the riders at the back of the field start resembling wobbling zombies, trudging up those long winding climbing district roads that make up the tail end of Attakwas. After the first few “dangers slow down red arrows” I just switch off to them, all 121km’s is dangerous. There are so few free km’s as it always seems another climb awaits you – we have to knock off the 2900 metres of elevation somewhere is suppose.
There is a count down every 10 kms, with boards saying how much to go before arriving at the end. When you get to that final 10km board you pretty much want this thing to end now, but once you drop down that final short steep tar section to the end, man is it worth it. The evergreen Paul Valstar doing his magic on the mike welcomes all of us home and you then get a chance to unwind and share war stories with all your rider buddies and family & mates who have patiently waited for you.
The four Warriors that rode with me pushed on from WP3, finishing ahead with their Epic ride partners - a very chuffed and proud old ballie I was that they managed the day so well. Yes, they cramped at times and had one or two mini-bonks, but that’s life – overcoming these challenges and achieving your goals. Most importantly, have fun and enjoy that moment. There not many people who can take on this beast and it is an immensely satisfying moment when you roll over the finish line. A ride like this is a personal battle for most riders – most have a time goal they trying to achieve, but just finishing at the end is just awesome.
Camping on the river that night with my four Warriors ends off a perfect weekend away….having a doppie and braai, watching the sun set over the river with Paul Valstar, Doug from Big Shot Media, Philip & Shelley Playdon, Seamus Allardice, etc makes it all worth it – next morning we do the traditional breakfast at the Engen Mossel Bay Wimpy/One Stop before making our way back to our sleepy village in paradise, McGregor. Bikes must be cleaned, and bodies rested.
PS The men’s winner Mat Beers klapped it in 5 hours and 29 seconds and the first lady was Sarah Hill in 6 hours 33 minutes and 29 seconds