The Grandmother, the Machine, the Podium and the Imana Wild Ride by DoTerry Wampach
Nothing in my life could have prepared me for this event, a multi-day mountain bike race along the Wild Coast from Kei Mouth to Port St. Johns. I went to hell and back. It was the toughest ride I have ever done in my entire life, but I learned so much and had the most incredible experience and in the end not only finished third in the Mixed Team category, but was nominated Wild Rider of the Year by the other riders.
After crossing the Kei River Mouth by Pont, the Imana Wild Ride starts with an immediate very steep climb up a gravel road (where I started my race already attached to Shan''s tow rope, a retractable dog lead), descends onto the beach and continues over incredibly diverse terrain varying from technical ascents and descents, barely rideable soft beach sections, over rocks, up cliff faces, into ravines, through forest areas, little rural villages, river crossings (sometimes by ferry, otherwise swimming) technical single-track and often unrideable sections where portage or running is the only option.
Because of the remoteness of the region, it is not logistically possible to mark the route. Riders have to stay within a certain distance of the high water mark and although some faster route options have been discovered inland (commonly called ‘sneaks’), the idea of the race is to stay within the coastal strip. So you are ‘out there alone, racing the tide,’ as the organizers put it.
The race was tough because of the incredibly fast pace we were pushing. Other people cruised in at the end of the day, tired but still laughing, but my race partner, Shan Wilson, just doesn’t know pain; he doesn’t have a clue. We pushed hard from the gun. He is such a machine.
We started out not knowing eachother that well and we came back with an incredible friendship. He’s never raced in a mixed team before, and our levels were just so different – emotionally, physically, mentally… Everything. I think it must have been a very frustrating race for him in so many ways. Months ago, when Shan first approached me to ride with him, he said he wanted to just raise charity to build schools for the children of the Wild Coast and we would have a chilled and relaxed ride, but before I knew it we were training really hard.
On Day One, the 43km from Kei Mouth to Kob Inn, we went out so fast. I felt really strong. I was cooking. We were racing so well, the others called us “the racing snakes”. We lead the entire race for about an hour that day, with helicopters and photographers everywhere, following our every move, before the male leaders passed us.
What an incredible feeling it was, coming in first that day, even breaking the Mixed Team record set in last year’s race. I was shattered though. But we held onto our lead on Day Two, which finished 47km away at The Haven, before my hub seized on Day Three. Of the last 20km on that 46km day, Shan ran at least 12km with my bike while I rode his (and he was still faster than me!), which was way too big for me – I had to stand the whole way as I couldn’t even reach the pedals otherwise. Plus we had different cleats and he only has big blades. Then he towed me when we reached the flat section and we still crossed the line at Coffee Bay fourth, holding onto our Second Place overall – that’s what an incredible machine he is.
Day Four he pulled and pushed me and did everything he could. I had crashed the previous day and my whole cheek was scabbed and swollen – I rode with only one eye. I collapsed on the finish line at Umngazi River Bungalows and Shan ran over with both bikes and we got a third. It was madness! It really was thanks to Shan that I was voted Wild Rider: he towed me a great deal of the race, over rocks and down ravines that few would walk or ride, let alone tow! Every time I felt close to collapse, he kept me going with his continuous encouragement. I have learned a lot and this antiquated grandmother has no regrets.
ED’S NOTE: Terry Wampach is a director of Creative Colour photographic laboratory in Cape Town, but her first love is mountain biking. Her achievement is even more impressive if you consider the fact that she really is a grandmother, and usually races in the Veteran category.
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