2022 Sedgefield500: Event Recap
The Sedgefield500 is a self-supported 500-kilometre gravel race that starts and ends in Sedgefield, South Africa. With some help from the organizers, we’ve pieced together a recap from fourth-place finisher Ross Garrett, a stunning gallery of photos, and a short video. Check it all out here…
I’d been looking at the weather forecast each day for the last week and a half on a reliable Norwegian website. It showed 27 degrees Celsius in the Klein Karoo towns of Calitzdorp and Oudtshoorn. Unheard of at this time of year. Perfect conditions for a region that often gets upwards of 40 in January.
I was ready. My Curve Kevin of Steel glistening. Tri bars dialed in and a heart ready to explore this beautiful land. I had decided that was my “why.” In the inevitable event of me asking myself that extremely redundant question, I knew that it was to explore my country one last time before moving to the US.
I awoke to a gentle fog and drizzle. I couldn’t have hoped for more. It was perfect. I knew we were set to climb 1,000 metres in the first 40 kilometres, so the weather was playing along nicely.
The nerves gave way to a gently rising heartbeat and a magical Ghost Woman riff as I tackled the lower slopes of Montagu Pass. Eight became 10 percent, 12, then 15. I bounced on the pedals as Road Of The Lonely Ones shuffled into my ears at the moment of cresting the climb on my own, out in front.
The dense fog gave way to whispy morning mist and drier scenes on the horizon. The Outeniqua mMuntains were about to morph into the Little Karoo and the temperatures rose accordingly as I descended into heaven.
Go west, they said. And like Fievel, I did. Further and further. A puncture at around kilometre 130 found me in the shade of a large acacia, pumping and sweating furiously. My valve was old and clogged, and I struggled to get the tire to pressure. Upon remounting my bike, two caged Rottweilers gnarled as if to make me aware of my impending state. My heart rate was up and I realised that I was struggling to keep it down. I reached for a snack bar and then a sip of water and likewise, struggled to keep them down. Without realising it, I was dehydrated. The heat was becoming an issue. A drone soared above me as the black tar ribbon wound its way towards the mountains.
Somewhat confused, I rolled into Calitzdorp and fumbled about in a vain attempt to top up what I’d lost. Sweat dripped from my brow as I once again tried to get my tire up to pressure. One by one, riders rolled in and out as I tried to gather myself. Onwards I went.
The road to Groenfontein. An incredible meander leading in a northeasterly direction along the southern border of the Swartberg Mountains. It follows a small river and rolls ferociously on its way east.
The harsh reality set in. Good legs had turned bad and my body was no longer its spritely self. I found solace in others. It amazes me, race formats like this really and truly connect those who partake in a rather profound manner, or at least that’s true for me. I began to take comfort in the fact that I wasn’t alone and, in turn, became more concerned about those “dots” around me.
I was in a bad way, comforted somewhat by a shady, dusty patch at the top of a climb, I sat down for the first time. The sun-baked and my legs glistened. My plan had changed. It was about survival now. It was about finishing what I’d started. I rode some more, and then some more, and then a little bit more until I had covered another 40 kilometres and 1,000 metres of vertical gain. I sat again, this time in the shade of a birch tree next to a little stream. The mosquitoes swarmed but left me unscathed as if in a sympathetic display of pity. I listened to a voice note from my five-year-old son, I phoned a friend, and I rode into Oudtshoorn in the setting sun, the clouds peacocking over the Swartberg Mountains. Riders lying in disabled parking bays welcomed me in. They’d pulled out of the race. Maybe I would too. I had to sleep on it.
The old phone awoke me from my slumber. I felt good and I couldn’t believe it! Don’t drink the water, they said. So I didn’t. I set off in search of a sun that never rises. I hoped, that like my body had defied exhaustion, so too, the sun would defy nature, but 25 kilometres in, on top of a hill, there it was again. Like clockwork.
Go east, they said. Into a brutal headwind and up and up, they said. I was thankful though, the wind kept me cool. All I could think about was chips soaked in salt and vinegar and a cold Coke. Another rider lay in the shade of a eucalyptus tree adjacent to the N9, waiting for his dad to give him a lift back to Sedgefield. The ghost of Uniondale beckoned. Onwards I went.
Fed and watered, I left the ghost behind. Action Bronson’s A Light In The Addict saw me up the pass and on towards Prince Alfred Pass in the blistering heat. All the signs led to “Adventure,” once again reminding me of the “why.” I needed that. Cresting the summit, the world opened up, and 70 kilometres away, I could see the ocean again! It was all worth it.
All downhill it wasn’t, and I wondered how Thomas Bain even thought that building this road was remotely possible. If he believed he could, then I could certainly believe that I could finish the 500 kilometres. Mountains and forests and forests and mountains, and by the time I reached the canopy of trees, 4 p.m. was looming. The heat belied the slowly setting sun and by the time I reached the coast, another brave rider was forced to abandon. We sat for a while., his beer and nachos luring me to stay. Onwards I went.
The Seven Passes minus two lay ahead. The eastern side of Phantom Pass, now sheltered from the setting sun, was quiet, dense, and stuffy. But the fresh, cool water in my bidons was all I needed. It was beautiful. At the top, I found tar and a flat road. As my elbows rested comfortably on my tri bars, a flashback appeared to my right. Lunch tables decorated with wedges of watermelon came flooding back and the neatly trimmed lawn of The Backward Point Cricket Ground urged me to lie down.
One pass and then the next as the quiet undergrowth enveloped the road until there was nothing left but a spotlight. A giant eagle owl and then a rhebok played tricks on my tired eyes. Strings of colourful lights and the banter from a roadside barbecue as a dog ran towards me in the dark. A car driving alongside me called my name and urged me to the finish. A hug with friends as I turned south towards the ocean. It all seemed too surreal to be true.
I plummeted into the cool, dark, night air. It smelled different. I felt different, like a horse turning for home. All that was left was what I imagine the cobbles of Arenberg to feel like, the dark walls of night encroaching like the forest, as every bit of what was left of me rattled on the corrugated surface. I was just about home.
Part of me wanted to keep riding, but the wiser part of me turned right towards the finish. I arrived to the cheers of four people, a hug, and the most delicious beer of my life. Something great happened that night.
Now, four days later, I wonder how those other dots are doing. What it meant to them, what moments they replay in their minds. How their legs feel, if their bruises have healed, their tan lines faded, their bikes been cleaned. I wonder if they would do it all again. I would.
This year’s event went so well that the organizers have decided to host a second one on October 7th, 2022. Applications for entry will open on April 1st, 2022. Learn more here.
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