Somerset West resident Rob Walker sets off on the ride of his life, on Friday July 28.
Departing from Geraardsbergen in Belgium with 300 other riders, he will cycle alone and unsupported 4 000 kilometres – about 300km a day – passing through four checkpoints, finishing 18 days later in Meteora in Greece.
The 52-year-old software developer started cycling 10 years ago, when he emigrated to South Africa from the United Kingdom, and the long-distance cycling bug bit in 2011, when he became aware of the Paris-Brest-Paris, a 1 230km solo cycle.
“I rode the London to Edinburgh to London event in 2013, to see how I would get on, and was mildly amazed when I completed it, all 1 428km,” Rob said.
His dream ride, Paris to Brest to Paris, happened in 2015.
“Although shorter at 1 230km, it was still a tough but stunning ride,” he said.
In December, Rob rode the Cape 1 000km, to Hartenbos and back, “as a local practice ride”.
Rob contemplated the Race Across America (RAM) at one stage but as a supported race, the costs are huge.
“More than that, though, it doesn’t really carry the same sense of adventure of riding alone and needing to be self-sufficient across an entire continent.
“There’s something simple and beautiful about one rider and one bike being all that is needed – no teams of crew and cars following behind,” he said.
Although nowhere near as expensive as RAM, the fifth Pedal Ed Transcontinental Race (TCR) is still a pricey ride.
“I’ve spent over R50 000 on my bike, then there’s the flights, and costs along the way,” Rob said, adding that whereas some of the other riders carry camping gear and camp out, he will be staying in hotels on the route.
“The TCR at 4 000km, is about three times the distance of my other races, so it will clearly be a bit of a step up,” he said.
The route taken is largely at the discretion of the cyclists, with there being multiple possible routes between some of the checkpoints.
The cut-off time for the race is 18 days, and there is also a cut-off time for each of the four checkpoints: Schloss Lichtensien, Germany; Monte Grappa, Italy; High Tatras Mountains, Slovakia; and Transfagarasan Highway, Romania.
And there are no prizes. It’s all about finishing the ride within the cut-off time.
Rob says most riders aim to finish in about 14 days. “That’s the Saturday, which means you get to go to the finishers party. If you arrive later you won’t be able to celebrate with your fellow sufferers.”
Just prior to departure, Rob was concentrating on building body mass.
“I’ve lost between nine and 10kg in previous events. This is a much longer ride, so I’ll lose at least 10kg in body mass. I need to be at last 10kg heavier than my normal body weight before I leave on Wednesday,” he said.
Rob has also trained hard for the event. “We’ve done a few 24 hour and long distance rides over the last year, but the biggest prep is mental really and although my physical training could always be more, mentally I’m feeling good.”
Each bike is fitted with a “Spot” tracker – an official GPS transponder – which allows the race organisers and the general public to track each rider.
An official dot watcher – the name given to those who follow a rider’s dot on a live updated route map – is appointed to monitor each rider to ensure they don’t cheat by hopping a train for example, “the rider will suddenly speed up,” Rob explained.
But there is also a safety angle. “If a rider is stationary for a period of time, it might mean he or she is in trouble and needs help. The organisers can then dispatch assistance if need be,” he said
The riders are not permitted to ride in company, although it is inevitable they will at times see each other en-route.
“There will be times when there will be somebody ahead or behind you, but most of the time, you’re on your own,” said Rob.
Rob will be raising funds for two local charities during his ride: Herberg Kinderhuis in Robertson, and Panthera Africa in Stanford, both of which he encountered during training rides.
Yolandi, Rob’s wife, is managing the fund-raising activities.
“We’re already doing quite well. We want to raise R20 000 for each, and we’ve already made good progress,” said Rob.
As opposed to a “cents per kilometre donation”, any single amount is welcome from donors.
Readers will be able to follow Rob’s progress during the ride.
“They all carry Spot trackers as part of the race rules. The organisers should be publishing a URL to the Trackleaders.com web site soon where all racers can be viewed. And in past years there have been other sites too which should be published soon.”
Bolander will post the relevant links on the Bolander Facebook page, and anybody wishing to donate to either of Rob’s selected beneficiaries can visit https://goo.gl/wUFXWy for Panthera Africa in Stanford or https://goo.gl/HoQbbv for Herberg Kinderhuis.
Rob will be off social media for the duration of the ride, but Yolandi will update his Facebook page at (https://goo.gl/7qtxp1)