Attakwas was my first ever MTB event. I only truly started riding a mountain bike in October last year. It’s safe to say I’ve gone all in. Mountains and trails have been my happy place for many years now. Before I share more about the race itself, which as the reader will likely know, they don’t call it the Hell of The South for nothing - I would first like to share a little bit about how I came to be so… well, stubborn.

Eventually, after they removed my spleen (to no avail) and administered three rounds of chemotherapy, my platelets started to rise. I was 18. The first time I had chemotherapy I was 15, for a separate illness: Cancer. At 23, I had to have a partial shoulder replacement because of the damage to my bones as a result of the various drugs and treatments my body went through as a teenager. That’s the short version. The result: I don’t quit. I fight to stay in it. I don’t give a shit about a finishing medal - I finish for me. It took me a few years, but in time - I took to the mountains. Slowly at first. I also took to drinking. Not slowly - and not a little. I was messed up. I’ve never enjoyed talking about my feelings. I don’t want to see a psychologist and I don’t want to complain to my friends about how hard it was. The healing is in moving my body in nature. Thankfully I no longer seek it out at the bottom of a bottle. When I’m surrounded by mountains I’m happier than anywhere else. I feel proud - that I never gave up, that I pushed and continue to push through the difficulties, proud that my body continually gets stronger. I think about little me and I know she would be proud of where I am now.

It was suggested to me by my Coach, Erica Green. Somehow I landed myself the great honour of being one of Absa’s #SheUntamed riders taking on the Absa Cape Epic this year and was therefore gifted Erica as a Coach. Considering I’m a total MTB newbie and she is Erica friggin Green, I pretty much consider everything she says as golden. I follow her programme and I listen to her advice and suggestions.

Her words were: “Attakwas is the most difficult single day race in the country and riding it will be incredibly valuable training for the Cape Epic.” Me, thinking: “the most difficult you say…” as I registered.

I messaged my buddy Seamus and excitedly told him I would be riding Attakwas. He responded asking if I knew how to ride a bike.The turd. I’ll show him, I thought. (In his defence, he knows my favourite people are the ones who give me shit. I think I already mentioned that I’m a bit odd. If I haven’t, please be warned now…) Shucks, but I need a new bike!

Throughout December, I was riding my dear friend and Epic partner, Ingrid Avidon’s bike because my old hardtail from nineteen voetsek was simply not up to the task for the training we were doing. I secured an exciting new ambassadorship with CORE and it was confirmed that I would be getting the same bike as the Last Lioness, Hannele Steyn. Everything was set-up and confirmed and I was eagerly awaiting delivery of my new bike - sure that it would arrive in early January. I had gone back to George (my home town) and no longer had access to Ingi’s bike - and I was doing my training on my gravel bike.

Attakwas was getting closer but I was still sure the new bike would arrive in time - considering it had already mostly been built, just for me! We were just waiting on the groupset from Shimano. They sent the wrong one. Shucks, ok - now Attakwas is only a few days away. No…

Ok, fuzz - maybe I can hire one for the day? That didn’t work out, so I dusted my old orange bike off and took it to the bike shop for a service. They were full. I took it to another one - they were full too. Attakwas was two days away and they said it’s unlikely that anyone would have time to service my bike now.

I should have tried harder but figured, ah - hoping for the best has got me this far. I took it for a ride and everything seemed to be ok enough to get through a long ride. I don’t know much about much when it comes to bike mechanics but I can tell if brakes are working or not and I can confirm they were working… But not for long.

I gave myself a pep talk as I drove myself to the start on Saturday morning, planning to leave my car there and cycle back to fetch it the next day. As part of my training programme, I was meant to do a long ride the following day and decided that would be it. I would ask my Dad to fetch me at the finish in Grootbrak, take me home to George and then I would ride from my house in George back to Oudtshoorn to fetch my car. It was perfect!

But first, I had to get through the race. I reminded myself that it normally takes my legs a while to wake up and that that’s ok. I told myself not to let it negatively affect me if I was last and that the game plan is to keep on riding and not stop until I was done - simple....

Find out what happens in Part 2

Simone is a cancer and life-threatening blood disorder survivor, who refuses to give up - then and now.

Her message is one of reilience, of the power of the mind and the power of movement. She is not your usual cup of tea; quirky and authentic - she faces life smiling and with the joy and confidence of someone who earned her right to stay in it.