500km in one go – Martin Dreyer just keeps on going
10 July 2016
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Gerald de Kock: Hello and welcome to another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast where we discuss all things mountain biking. There is so much to talk about, so many people, personalities, athletes and the like. Today we’re talking to one of those athletes, a man who has conquered most things in most spheres.
Seven Dusi Canoe Marathon victories, a Land Rover G4 global winner in his time and the holder of the Freedom Challenge record on the mountain bike. Martin Dreyer is the man we’re talking to. Martin in 2016 decided to tackle the Race2Rhodes; which is a 500km race, it’s not even half of the Freedom Challenge, probably the first third. He had a goal in mind, but Martin, why did you choose Ride2Rhodes in 2016?
Martin Dreyer: Hi, I always enjoy pushing myself, to redefine my boundaries. But as you said, the Ride2Rhodes isn’t the hardest race out there. But it’s one of those races where there aren’t parameters in that the clock starts when you start. It stops when you finish. So you’ve got six days, is the basic format, to get to Rhodes. There’s five accommodation places along the way. It’s as hard as you want to make it.
You can do two days in one, so to speak, and sleep at 180km and rest up. Then push and do another two days in one, sleeping the second night and finishing in your own time. But for me, I said to my wife Jeanie, here’s a chance just to ride and see how far I can ride in one shot. If I need to sleep on the fourth night in a farmer’s house, so be it, or the fifth night. But I’m not going to have any strategy. I’m just going to ride and see where I get to.
It just so happened, I rode and I rode and I rode and before I knew it, I was at the finish line. I hadn’t slept. Being 47 years old, I was just completely gobsmacked. I never thought I was going to do such a thing. So at 47 years old, I redefined what are my limits.
GDK: You’ve redefined limits throughout your career in many ways, going back to fishing in Alaska to the Dusi’s, to Land Rover G4 or whatever it might be. On the face of it, as we talked about, this doesn’t look like a massive task. What specific limits did you redefine in this one?
Sleep deprivation and riding through the night
MD: It wasn’t in terms of physicality. I’ve been in places where I’ve bled from the eyeballs, this wasn’t that. This race isn’t about that, it’s just such radical eye candy. It’s such a beautiful route. It was just a matter of, you could say, sleep deprivation, that I didn’t realise I could ride for 49 hours non-stop. You know what? It’s not a thing that you do to brag.
Everyone goes into the Freedom Challenge and the Race2Rhodes with their own agenda. For myself, I said to Jeanie beforehand, as I mentioned, I just wanted to ride and see how far I could go. It just ended up being that I got to the finish line.
I also wanted to test myself and because you start at 6:00 in the morning. I set a two-day agenda. So I would finish at 6:00 in Rhodes two days later. But now finishing at 6:00 in the morning meant, if you had to rewind the clock. The last 12 hours would be in the dark and that would include Vuvu Valley. Which is quite a technical, dark, cold place to be, with no real track.
Also going up Lahana’s Pass, which is 1 000m elevation going over 5km on a ridge line. Where there is no path either, but just a beautiful piece of geography. I knew I’d be there round about midnight. What I wanted out of it, the race, going into it, I said to Jeanie, gee, I can’t wait to be on Lahana Pass at midnight. Below zero degrees and hopefully the stars will be out. It will just be a surreal moment.
I want to see if I’m tough enough, that’s what I wanted out of it. I wanted to see if I was tough enough to be able to handle being in that position. Boy, when I was in that position in Lahana’s at midnight, below zero, it was a gale force wind, sleet in my face. I thought well, this is quite a serious situation to be in. I put myself in it and I knew that if I gave my wife a phone call, there would be no sympathy.
No saying: Oh my honey, I’m so sorry, are you cold. It will just be like: Mart, you put yourself in it, get yourself out of it, it’s your own doing. I must say, it was everything I wanted it to be and more. The descent from the top, when you drop down from the escarpment down to Naude’s Neck. It’s a 5km descent, which is the highest pass in Southern Africa. Then you hook a district road into Rhodes.
It also wasn’t perceived to be an enjoyable descent going to the finish line. It was icy, it was about 4:30 in the morning. All the corners were frozen. They don’t get sun at all in the day time. It was still, you had to keep your wits around you.
Then I must say, I got a little bit despondent, just taking so long this downhill. That then your body starts shutting down mentally. I fell asleep on my bike, actually pedalling up a hill! It was just so monotonous, I was in granny gear and it was just like this repetition. No effort, this effortless, granny gear. I just thought I’d close my eyes for a second, as a lot of people have done when they’re driving 100km/h on the road. You have that split second where you shut your eyes and you wake up and go, oh my word, did I just fall asleep!
It’s not a hard thing to do when you’ve got 48 hours non-stop. I actually fell asleep going up the hill. I remember my handlebar, my left arm dropped and it turned my wheel 90 degrees, so it jerked me awake. I actually got off my bike and walked for a bit because I was a liability to myself in that I was pretty much wanting to sleep. But managed to sneak down to the finish line and that was that.
How do you fuel yourself in that situation?
GDK: How did you eat on that, what was your eating strategy?
MD: As is mentioned, you’ve got six days to get to Rhodes. So every 90km or so there’s a farmer’s house. Where if you did it over six days you would sleep and you’d eat. There’s phenomenal food and hospitality. So riding non-stop you got five massive meals that you can top up calories. I use USN, I had a recovery shake and Epic Pro. Which to me is like real muti, it’s a recovery and energy all-in-one and that’s lightweight. You can fill up with water along the way and you just have sachets of that in powder.
As in the Freedom Challenge and the Race2Rhodes, you have a 2l ice cream container which you send to the race organisers three weeks before. They place them at those farmer’s accommodation. The Race2Rhodes you’ve got five ice cream containers which will be placed on the route. So there you can also top up with bike spares, sunblock, bum cream and energy products and treats like biltong and so on. So you don’t carry too much, except for your cold weather gear.
GDK: You have any mechanicals?
MD: No, fortunately not, but I would say you don’t allow yourself to have a mechanical. You ride your bike so softly because of the remoteness where you are. You don’t stand up and change. You don’t go down hills where you could fall. You walk and if the hill is too steep. Even then I’d walk because then you just get off your seat. Because it’s such a long time sitting.
It just, by walking up a steep hill, you’re maybe going 2km/h slower. But it’s just doing so much good for your body. Because your bum is just, like there’s blood flow going into the muscles and into your glutes. Whereas if you just sat, granny gear up that hill, you’re not getting the benefit of being able to walk.
You box very clever because it’s such a long way. You’re completely looking after yourself, making sure you’re not going too hard. That you’re not getting out of breath. Because when you’re out of breath, there’s lack of oxygen into the muscles, that causes lactic acid. Lactic acid causes fatigue, so you go at a pace that you don’t get tired.
Does your multitude of experience benefit you?
GDK: Where has this come from? If you were to go back and back and back through all the things you’ve done through your life, you’ve built a muscle between your ears that clearly can push the boundaries and seems not to know limits. Is this as a result of layers of all this experience, that you keep wanting to push these boundaries?
MD: Being a sports person and not a very fast athlete, as such, I enjoy the endurance side. But the endurance side isn’t difficult for me. Not to be arrogant, but it’s not difficult. Because I do it and I do it repeatedly. Because I have a lot of fun. I say ‘not difficult’ because I always can draw back to my six years commercial fishing on the West Coast of Canada.
Where it was just such hard work, 12 days at sea, one day off to unload and get fuel, get groceries. Have that one shower every 12 days and then back to sea for 12 x 18-hour work days. Six hours’ sleep and repeatedly for nine months a year. Three months off, six years on the trot.
That rewired my DNA in terms of adversity. So I always feed back to that in terms of the hardships I’ve experienced. Now riding my bike, what a jol to ride your bike and to be able to go the whole day and just see amazing geography.
I’m very fortunate though that my wife is equally insane. In a good way, in a completely good way. To allow our honeymoon to be the Freedom Challenge, well, she’s a keeper! Last year we went to Colorado and rode 900km across the Rockies, unsupported. There’s just amazing places that your bike can take you to because you work quite hard to get to the top of these big hills.
But you’ve got all the gears to make it easier and then when you’re at the top, you free wheel back down. Then the journey begins again to the next hill, with a different view. I absolutely am enthralled with my bike. The paddle takes a backseat nowadays just because in my Change a Life Academy.
Where I train, in the Valley of a Thousand Hills. My Zulu’s ‘snotklap’ me when I get into the boat. As much as I’m a Dusi champ, as you mentioned, it has no bearing when you don’t put enough time in the boat. So I add no value there, so it’s easier just to do the cycling.
How to conquer your goals
GDK: You add value everywhere else Martin, I know you’ve got the Change a Life, the RMB Mountain Bike crew as well. Therein is another story for another day, we’ll chat about that. But Martin Dreyer, thanks for telling us and giving us the story, the flavour of the Race2 Rhodes.
A man, a legend in South African sporting terms. He knows how to define the boundaries and I think we could all take something out of that. Martin, one word of advice about how we would conquer that, it’s not a similar thing, but previously unconquerable boundaries?
MD: Well, if you’re wanting to conquer something, make sure that you absolutely love it. Because it’s got to be fun and don’t set parameters. Because as I mentioned, at 47 years old, I kind of redefined one of my perceived limits in terms of being able to just go from A to Z in one go. So I mean, just leave an open book with not too much strategy and just have an absolute ball.
GDK: You’re about to go water skiing, enjoy it. Martin Dreyer, on the Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast, chatting to us here, hope you’ve enjoyed that. We’ll catch up with Martin again, he’s always got an interesting story to tell us about extreme sports, particularly mountain biking. Until next time, take care, cheers.