A mountain biking event behind enemy lines
01 January 1970
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Hello and welcome to another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast, thanks for downloading. I’m Gerald de Kock and for the next 10 minutes we’re going to be talking about mountain biking, or events in mountain biking, which is where we are now. We’re going to be talking about an event which is yet to happen, it’s been brewing for some years in the mind of a man. Who has a passion for not just mountain biking, but extreme events.
He’s done pretty much every one you’d wish to do and many more that you probably would never dream could be taken on. But Luther Erasmus is sitting opposite me now and he’s going to be talking about the Recce MTB Mission. First off, Luther was a recce, but I want him to tell us exactly what that entailed in those days of being a recce in the military?
Luther Erasmus: Gerald, that started back in the 1970’s when they formed the so-called ‘special forces’ and the reconnaissance commanders and they were known as recces. Up to the end of the Angolan Bush War about 480 qualified as recces. They were just normal people, but they had an enormous self-control determination to get their mission done. To qualify as a recce you had to go through a fairly rigorous training cycle that includes a number of selection courses.
I think the overall training when I was there was just over a year. More or less a year, that we spent. Only then you become operational. The recces mostly operated beyond enemy lines, meaning in foreign countries. It’s like special forces, you go beyond enemy lines. You do what you have to do.
These were just normal guys, but a lot of guts and determination, duty, doing it for various reasons. But yes, the mystique and there’s a lot of stories about them, not all of them are true. These were just normal guys that really go out and they just did it.
You’re in the army now son (well not really)
GDK: Right, we’ve now moved to the Recce Mountain Bike Mission. Which has many mountain bikers, just at the thought of what you’ve described and where it’s coming from, a little bit worried. Cause it is quite an extreme event. Tell us about how that all came about?
LE: Yes, I’ve been scouting the Highlands for the better part of five years for a double century, 200km mountain bike event. Couldn’t really put it together. It’s a fascinating area, again, 2.5 hours’ drive from Gauteng. About a year and a half ago I started talking to my old associate, my recce association or special forces association which mostly is old recces or old special forces. Looking at putting an event together that’s got a recce flavour to it.
It’s not really extreme, but it’s got to be done the way the recces did it. In fact, back in the 1980’s, there were a number of recce missions where the guys used, at that stage not mountain bikes, it was just bicycles, to actually go and do the job. We put together an event which will be a mission, in the format of a mission.
It’s like any 24-hour mountain bike event, but this one is slightly different flavoured, it’s a mission, you’ll pass by a couple of targets on the way. There are checkpoints, there’s definitely food and water, but it might not be exactly where you think it’s going to be. There are all sorts of Recce themes.
Everybody will have to do a part of the route at night. The mission will start at 10:00 and I don’t think the quickest guys, it’s going to be about 220km, the quickest guys will not finish before 8:00 or 9:00 at night, maybe 10:00. But we expect a typical field between 10 hours and the cut-off time of 22 hours.
GDK: There are some over 200km events like Trans Baviaans. Then there’s the 360 and 361 and all that type of thing. But this sounds a little bit different. It sounds almost a little bit tougher, but doable for whom? Who should be looking at trying to do this?
Taking in the best of the Highlands
LE: I think in certain instances it’s much easier than something like the 360 in terms of elevation. What we tried to do is visit the most scenic places, not in terms of making it tough. We start off at Highlands Gate Trout and Gold Estate on the eastern escarpment –
GDK: That’s quite near Dullstroom?
LE: Yes, just to the east of Dullstroom. We literally traverse the eastern escarpment, all the way, going through some of the most spectacular farms belonging to some of the richest people in the country. Then we go down, very close to Belfast. We go into the Lakenvlei, Komatiland forest which again is just such a unique place.
There are opportunities to shortcut the route, but it’s vlei land and there will be quite a bit of water. Then we go into private farms, a lot of private farms, all the way up to a little place called Tonteldoos. Then we go up all the way to the Berg, which is the highest point in Mpumalanga or up north here.
Then through Verloren Vallei, which is a world heritage type of site in terms of the nature and conservation areas. We go down and miss Dullstroom, go all the way back using railway lines. All sorts of farm roads and a little bit of district roads as well, unfortunately. It’s so isolated, so once you start the mission, you’re not going to see any town or anything.
We consider the towns like Belfast, Dullstroom as enemy towns. Because this is a very hostile area, a lot of hills. But I think anybody that can do 150km or 200km on a mountain bike can do it because there is time. It’s not that extreme, but what will make it very special is the areas you go through. It will be a marked route, obviously, but it’s just awesome. It’s literally taking everything that the highlands has got to offer and put it in one single package and visit all those places in one go.
What do people need to expect?
GDK: Clearly you need lights, how self-sustainable do you have to be in terms of things like food and drink? I know you said you’re going to have food and drink on the route?
LE: We’ll have like these typical 24-hour events. We’ll have about 5-6 stations where you’ll have your hydration and energy stuff and food stuff and so forth. The event is on the 11th and 12th of March, so wherever you go, there will be a lot of water in the veld. It’s the best water because probably 6-7 of the country’s rivers start right up there on that plateau. Which is, most of the route is around about 2 000m, the highest points go up to 2 300m. It is the divide where most of the rivers starts in SA, or on the eastern side of the country.
So there’s a lot of streams and it’s the best water you can get. Like recces, you can get your water anywhere, but there will be more than enough food and support. There will be tech support, there are two checkpoints where there will be tech support and crates and normal stuff where people can reload and fix their bicycles or whatever.
GDK: How long are you allowing for the longest rider?
LE: The race starts on Saturday morning at 10:00 and the cut-off is 22 hours. So Sunday morning at 8:00 its finished, 9:00 or 10:00 will be dished out and by 12:00. The recce base will be vacated and everybody will be gone.
GDK: It’s going to be run along recce lines, but you don’t have to be a recce to ride it, but it would help because you’re going to suffer a bit.
LE: No, we are all old recces –
The race is very doable
GDK: There is no such thing as an old recce.
LE: No, anybody that can think of doing something like the Trans Baviaans or even a mountain bike marathon, double marathon, ultra marathon, they can do that it’s really not that extreme. We also have a relay event. What we had in the recces was that recces could only be successful if they had a good support team.
The support team includes chefs, toughies looking after vehicles, all sorts of mechanics and guys supporting us. We used to call them ‘jammies’ which comes from jam stealers. That’s an old British terminology for the special SAS that comes out of World War II.
We have a Jammie Race as well, which is a relay which can consist of two or three people, each one doing one leg and then you can split it there, either 1, 2 or 3 legs. There’s also a shorter Jammie Solo Race which only goes up to Lakenvlei, which is roughly 100km. The first 100k of the event, which I would say is the daytime ride. If you want to complete the recce mission, you have to do the whole route yourself. Again, the format is single/solo or two-man teams, three-man teams or four-man teams.
GDK: It sounds fantastic, where are more details?
LE: More details can be found on recce.co.za, which is the recce website. Then there’s also recceinc.co.za.
GDK: Luther Erasmus, ex-recce, now passionate man about adventure and extreme events, thanks very much for chatting to us. Good luck with the Recce Mountain Bike Mission in March next year, it sounds like one that needs to be put on the Bucket List for most people who like to challenge themselves.
Take a look at those websites and enter because it’ll be one I think you’ll really enjoy. There’s always something about doing the first event. Doing the first one, there’s always a bit of magic about that. Because everyone is a pioneer in those things, so good luck with it. Thanks for downloading another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast. Until next time, take care, ride carefully and enjoy, cheers.