The Munga Grit

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The Munga Grit – Half ain’t easy

The Munga is a 1,076 km and 5,500m climbing race from Bloemfontein to Wellington which must be completed in 120 hours while you manage your riding, resting, eating and sleeping as you please. Race organiser, Alex Harris, an adventurer of note fulfilled many requests for a long endurance event that starts and finishes in the same place. With the Munga increasing in popularity, Alex was asked to design  a new challenge and “The Munga Grit”  was born. Advertised as a 500km race but actually a

530km and 5,200m of climbing race to be completed within 50 hours.

As soon as the race was announced I entered as I am a sucker for mountain bike punishment. My buddy Tiaan Ronne, is on another type of punishment. He will celebrate his 50th birthday on the second day of the Grit so he had a brain fart idea. It will be his 50th 100 miler at the Grit, all meaning he must complete 30, 100 milers in the month of September, which he does admirably eating up the

3 chains on his drivetrain.

A few days before race day, the meteorologists predict massive thunderstorms. This doesn’t bode well, but luckily, they got it all wrong. Warm and rain jackets packed means we a bit heavier on the bike. Rain and wind predicted for the first few hours. The bike is heavy as usual. At least now I have a dynamo hub to run independently of power, no need to stop and charge devices. The wind is coming from the North. So for the initial part we will have cross-winds but it’s still very heavy winds. We set out at midday from Bidon Bistro onto the cradle tar. We probably ride maybe 40 km of tar in the race. The pace is fairly hot and after about 20km I decided to back off to settle into the endurance pace. People passed me but I wasn’t fussed. We follow familiar mini Munga routes but at the 23km we make a sharp right onto a dirt road. The first real climb, 2.5km long that peaks at 15%. We descend onto a very unused rocky single track on the side of a mountain. A place where you can easily go over the handlebar.

The ride to Waterpoint 1 is uneventful on district roads. About a kilometer before the water point is a compulsory portage across a rocky stream. Ride on to the waterpoint and as I put my bike down, it starts to rain. Quick refuel and filling of bottles and off I go. The rain lasts maybe 5 minutes and that is the last of it. At 79km there is another serious 6km climb. The ride from 100km to Waterpoint 2 at

188km is made up of serious corrugated roads and never-ending climbs. This continues till Race Village

1 at Swartruggens at 269km (2,500m) arriving at 3:15am. Sitting at the table and eating, all I hear is

‘we need a bed’. I decided to continue as I was still feeling strong. I leave a few people behind and am constantly passing people, the ones that flew by me earlier. We occasionally pass through farmlands where the tracks are hardly used jeep and cattle tracks. At 4am I am now getting into some unmanicured cattle tracks that are all over the place and eventually reach the second compulsory portage.

It is impossible to ride and downright dangerous. Had to push and lift the bike over rocks, through a stream and through trees.

I end up on slate covered descent with cattle dung all over the place. Now I play dodgem dung and try to avoid the loose slate for fear of a cut tyre. Alex mentioned the slate, I thought this was it, but it wasn’t! The biggest surprise of all was up at 310km. I must mention, the kilometers do melt away if you not counting it. He talked about a big climb. I am on one and think this is it. It is rocky and rutted so it’s slow going. Get to the top and descend slowly on the slate. Then climb again, then down again. This process is repeated multiple times. I believe we ascended 700m in a 15km section, 700m in

7.5km if you ignore the slow downhills. We getting hammered but eventually reach Waterpoint 3 at 322km. About 7 of us there and we all agree this is kak hard!   The farmer says everybody has said that so far. Harder than the

Munga. I bomb my rear tyre after getting a slow puncture on the slate, refuel and go. Wow, what 4×4 does this farmer have, must be a Landy 110, coz that’s the only thing that can get up the road. Maybe a 100m climb but its steep, rocky and rutted. Manage to get over the top and my tyre is still leaking so plug it and continue. Now my rear end is starting to act up. It’s hard to find a comfortable position on the seat. Moving around to tenderise my ass in another way.

We now heading into an easterly direction. The strong wind is coming from the north and north east. It’s starting to hammer me. Head and cross winds mean the going is slow. A lot of patchy, sandy and corrugated roads which become downright nasty when hitting the soft sand

All the mielie fields are clear, so no protection from the wind. The weeds on the roadside are bending over at 45 degrees. I think the wind is around

25km/hr. So it’s slow going to Waterpoint 4. A proper farm. Roads are bad and

unused. The wind was so bad for the preceding 58km that I am out of snacks, liquids, potatoes and bananas. I gobble down as much as I can and load my pockets. I quickly speak to the wife and announce my progress, a bit slower than anticipated. Maybe pick me up around 7:30pm. I leave after the attendant says just follow that road down there. Not much of a road, just a grassy path.

A few minutes later I reach this fenced off area. Stop and took a pic. I tripled check my GPS to see if this is the route. In the picture you can see a path for the first 10m. Thereafter, nothing. It’s just short bush shrubs after a while. And you know how it is, you always tend to ride over them then dodge them. Get to the top. Now it’s even worse. There is no path, the GPS track follows something. I go straight down the shrubs and find some old tyre marks but just keep on riding over the shrubs. Another over the bar territory. Eventually after a while I get next to the mielie field, some more grassy tracks. Which eventually feeds into a district road. Its nearly 3pm and the wind is still pumping.

I reach familiar mini Munga roads, now my legs feeling strong. I’m killing it on the long gravel roads, the wind has died down and I’m getting near to the end. Slow poison is a long corrugated downhill that I hammer down as the sun sets. I sign into the Race village at 495km and get my food. Ten minutes later I’m on the last leg. Just 32km to the end of which about 15km is on tar and its relatively flat. Already accumulated 5,100 m of climbing. I put on my music courtesy of the

Oosthuizens and I race on into the cradle. Just outside Sterkfontein I whizz past 3 riders at more than

35km/hr. It looked like they were doing 15 km/hr. The last climb is not bad, and I enter the rear parking of Bidon Bistro and nearly ride into the bush in my exuberance. Get over the line in 32h35min. I get my number 34 medal. The same position as in Munga. And Alex hands over my first Munga Grit Stripe. Oh no, I have to do 5 of these to get the full set. Everybody agrees that this must be one of the hardest races around, and the handful of guys I spoke to after said they’ll do it again. 4 to go.

Just a quick Shout out to Oom Tiaan – well done on managing to sticking to his plan —- bringing in his

50th birthday Munga style coming in at 98th place giving him the official title of the “last finisher”

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