Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The conquering madness continues: Momentum 94.7 Cycle Challenge

We conquered the Pick n Pay Cape Argus Cycle Tour in March 2013 - the beginning of our Conqueror journey. We decided shortly after we finished that we wanted to continue and do other events to raise awareness for The Chaeli Campaign, but more than that we wanted to spread the Conqueror spirit! So, we entered the Momentum 94.7 Cycle Challenge that happens in Johannesburg. The event was on the 17th of November 2013.

So, this was pretty close to our returning from New York...

We wanted to go up early to do some awareness raising stuff and acclimatise (getting all sporty) - getting used to the different oxygen levels that Jozi peeps live with when you need to cycle in it is not the same as just going to visit. But we were all good :)

Because it's in Joburg we clearly had to travel, seeing as we're Capetonians. Grant and the rest of the Kruger Conquerors began the journey to joburg by road - with the bike and the wheels and pins and stuff for the buggy - the Monday before the race. This was also the Monday after I got back to Cape Town. I went up with my mom by plane on the Tuesday. Turns out 2 hours is not that long in a plane ;)

We couriered the buggy up so that it was safe and so that airport personnel don't think we're completely insane. The logistics around travelling as a differently-abled buggy buddy are sometimes challenging. We learned that at the start of the race, in a big way, but I'll explain a little later.

We organised a couple of things to promote the fact that we were there like speaking to the kids at Waterkloof Primary School. What an amazing group of young people to interact with - we had so much fun spending time and sharing our stories with them and we look forward to working with Waterkloof in the future :)

We also had lunch with Sara, who is a wheelchair user and she raises awareness around Cerebral Palsy in her school environment as well as anybody who meets her. Sara is a Conqueror in her own right and inspires us to keep doing what we're doing.

Now, onto race day:

The night before the race, my beautiful friendle Kristina stayed over and we went to the race together. We woke up at 4ish. Well, the alarm went off at 4, and Kris got up and ready and proceeded to send messages to Grant about her unsuccessful missions to get me to vacate the bed ;) Eventually it happened.

So, we left home at 5, as according to plan. We were all set to meet up with Grant at 5:30 - Grant had the bike and we had the buggy and at some point we had to meet up to unite Beastie and his bike buddy. This then proved more challenging than initially planned. Officials who were supposed to guide people to the right place were not as helpful as they should have been, and we were directed to the completely wrong place.

I was still calm at this point - our start time was 6:51, so at 5:45 I was still calm. It didn't last long though. We were in communication with Grant the whole time trying to figure out where one another were...It is not as simple as you would think, especially when officials are telling us 500 different things. Kristina had to leave because she was also cycling, and we didn't want her to miss her start time at 7:00. Eventually we got to a point that was 900m away from where we were meant to unite. We were initially not allowed through the barricades BUT THEN Vernon (an amazing man who rode the Argus for The Chaeli Campaign last year) came to the rescue!

Vernon found a security guy or something and came to get us and escort us to where the rest of my team was. In that moment, Vernon was my hero. The time at this point in the experience is around 6:47, so I was pretty justifiably stressed out. I realised then that we were not going to make our start time (I knew, rationally, that it wasn't the biggest deal because we could just start later, when we got there, but in the moment rationality was not a trait I was practicing entirely). I was on the verge of tears and having a meltdown and I kept it together quite well, until I saw Grant. Then I overflowed.

So, I was sitting in the car crying while Grant sorted the buggy out. I need to clarify that I was relief crying. I could not believe that I had finally reached my partner after such a frustrating start to the day. Relief crying.

Grant came to put me in the buggy, I was still crying (pulling myself together, though) and when I reached the buggy, the music was already playing - Taylor Swift, 22 :) - and everything was ok. We rode the almost 4km to the start and with that our 94.7 Cycle Challenge was underway.

These are the moments where I know I have the right cycling partner, because he knows how to get me out of meltdowns and freaking out and focusing back on what we need to do. I appreciate so much that he can distract me from the stressful things that often happen and remind me that the things we cannot control, add to the fun and give us really good stories to tell afterwards.

That having being said, we started the race - half an hour later than intended - and a man cycled passed us, looked at me, and said "Well, someone's getting spoilt today" expected me to smile and wave. Considering the morning we had just had, I wasn't 100% in the smile-and-wave kind of mood yet. So, I replied slightly sarcastically with "Ya, this is such a party". People around us were shocked that I could/would make a comment like that. Grant just smiled and did a sort of "good chirp"-thumbs-up to me.

This was an interesting race for us for various reasons. Firstly, in the fact that Grant had never done the race, so we were completely unaware of the route. The race goes through Johannesburg and has an unfathomable number of uphills and seemingly fewer downhills. G was such a champion on every uphill, he did have some help on some of the more hectic ones. Gary (Grant's dad) who is always by our side, making sure that everything was fine, was doing just that - the dad to team Beastie :) and for this race, we had a couple new members of the team which was awesome! Kerrin (Grant's brother who lives in Johannesburg) joined us too and it was really special to have him share that with us. And then, the man who saved the day...Vernon. Vernon became a Conqueror that day and forever more. It's amazing to participate in an event like that when you are sharing it with such incredible people. Thank you to everybody that helped us out :)

The second thing that made the race interesting and a little more stressful and challenging was Johannesburg November heat. This was challenging because of my body's unco-operative temperature gauge which tends to fail to inform us of when I'm getting too hot. It became clear that I was overheating when we stopped at the beginning of the N14 - the LONGEST road I have ever traveled on, by the way - and we realised how hot I actually was only when we stopped moving and when I objected to Grant taking the Ipad away so that he could cool me down. We did have a plan for this - we had ice-packs and cold water in ziploc bags with us in the buggy, so we were prepared. Grant put one ice-pack at my neck and subsequently, unbeknown to me, had the bag of ice-cold water in his hands, above my head and poured it all over me. I was definitely awake after that.

Just so you don't think that I'm exaggerating and overreacting about the heat was around 33 degrees where Grant was on his bike. I am about 8cm above the road which is made of tar and tar gets very hot and heat, it was super hot. But, we sorted it out - keep calm and carry on. The women who were on the side of the road, supporting the race, got rather concerned about my well-being, which we appreciated, but G had it under control :)

Heat levels sorted, we continued on the seemingly-endless road that is the N14 and the uphills that come and go and come again. We rode passed many cows, chickens and other animals which was kind of the extent of the scenery to be expected on a highway.

When we reached what everybody calls 'heartbreak hill' we got excited because it's apparently the last uphill of the race. But here's the thing, it's the last recognised uphill of the race. It's quite a hardcore one, too, and when you finally reach the top there is an amazing downhill (you know, what goes up and all that). Followed by the soul-destroying final uphill. It's almost divine intervention that the downhill is so massive and you can pick up the amount of speed that you do, because you need the momentum to get you almost half way up. Again, heat became a problem.

When we finished and throughout the race we got a lot of support. Especially tandem teams - they can relate to us. The guy riding in the front gets how much work G is doing, and the guy at the back understands how much trust and faith I have to have in G. It was awesome and refreshing to have people who actually understand the way our team works.

We crossed the finish line with a time of 4hr17min! Grant looked back at me with a "Woohoo!" And don't get me wrong, I had that too, but I was so hot that I kinda just wanted to cry. So, Grant went into is kind of amazing to me how tuned in he was to everything that I needed.

Because I was close to tears with heat, Grant was off his bike next to me - this is logistically interesting as you aren't allowed to stop the flow of people finishing, which meant that he was next to me with ice and stuff and Gary was steering the bike and Kerrin had Gary's bike. It's easier to move two bikes than a bike attached to the buggy. Logistics like a boss.

It's interesting the comments we get when we cycle and the case was no different at the finish of the 94.7. A lot of people congratulate us and tell us we're inspiring, and then you get other people who blow your mind with their comments.

One guy asked us whether we swap who is in the buggy...Now, I wasn't sure what that meant. I am a cerebral palsied wheelchair user, so clearly I'm not gonna get out of the buggy and cycle in Grant's place; and it's not like we have differently abled people strategically placed along the route. So, we said no, and he asked if the guys cycling with the buggy swap places. Gary proceeded to explain that I won't cycle with anybody else. Not a lie.

I trust G probably more than any other person in my life. I trust him with my life. The relationship that we have is special the way it is because he has an understanding of what I need with all the nitty-gritty details of disability that people forget to mention - and a couple of experiences that make those nitty-gritty details very real - and none of those things are a big deal. He's taught me that these details are just something in life that helps you be more creative around the solutions that you find. I'm so inspired by him to show other people how powerful a person can be when you have a great friend by your side who helps you find the positives in life, and even when you can't find them, will sit in the negatives with you.


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