Craig McKune
Craig McKune

A reason to get on my bike

“Were you smoking something this weekend? Because whatever you’ve got …” My new colleague lunged towards my face, forcing up my Wayfarers to peer into my glazed eyeballs.

“Look at his eyes. I want some of that,” she said to her companion. Dark rings. Bloodshot. Vacant.

I’d been peacefully sauntering up Long Street, fixated on my mid-morning coffee — a little kick in the pants to get me over my weekend’s exhausting pursuits. My muscles grumbled with each step, and the sunglasses were a crucial shield between myself and Monday. All I managed in response was a goofy grin and a mumble before being released and dashing straight for the drug.

This Monday my eyes will be just as glazed. And next Monday and the Monday after that too, and I wish I could blame it on partying. No. Had my colleague been privy to my awkward tan lines, uncharacteristically large leg muscles and monk-like lifestyle she might have been able to piece the puzzle together.

On each arm I’m permanently sunburned in a block from bicep to my wrist. My legs are sunburned from mid-thigh to ankle. A deep red V on my chest extends up to my face stopping just short of my hairline. And my legs are always sore.

This is because, the only thing I do when I’m not working is ride my bike. This morning, Saturday, for example, I rose at 5am, climbed on my bike at 6am, peddled about the Cape Peninsula’s mountains through 37° heat until 1pm and collapsed in a heap with a James Herriot book until suppertime.

As I rode, my eyes flicked from the dirt trails to my GPS computer’s heart-rate monitor and back, monitoring my effort and dodging the rocks. Every hour, on the hour, I force-fed myself a Jungle Bar, banana or sandwich, and a bladder inside the bag on my back supplied energy drink through the tube on which I would suck.

At home, rising from my heap, I plugged my GPS into my computer, downloaded my ride data and stared at it. How far did I go, and how long did it take me? What were my maximum and average heart rate measurements, and how do they compare to my last few rides? How long did I spend riding above and below 70% of my maximum heart rate. Analysing my route profile, I noted where I almost collapsed in exhaustion, and eventually, I “populated” my training spreadsheet and compared it to my week’s goals.

Eleven hours, 35 minutes and 12 seconds to go before my ride week finishes.

That means, tomorrow morning I will be back in the saddle, peddling up and down the mountains, in Jonkershoek for another five hours. And on Tuesday and Wednesday I’ll be up at 5am, grinding away the remaining training hours to be finished with enough time to rest, so that by next Saturday I’ll ready to start riding my next training week: 14 hours. What we call a “rest” week.

This is how it has been since October, and it will carry on until the end of March.

“Are you training to ride the Argus Cycle Tour,” a girl asked us when we stopped to by a cooldrink in Noordhoek. I snorted and Coke splattered out my nostrils. I wish.

“No, we’re training for the Cape Epic.”

“How far is that?” she enquired sweetly.

“700km”

“Why?”

No answer from either my riding partner or myself.

But thinking back, I now remember a moment today in the hills behind Silvermine Dam. Justin and I had skidded to a halt to watch two huge black eagles circling each other high above the mountain. Suddenly they became entangled and spiralled together, down toward the burned fynbos before spreading their wings, swooping over our heads and out over the valley where they circled each other again. We gawked, before continuing to bounce uncomfortable down the track.

It was just a small thing, but it might be one answer.