Relaxed and non-competitive, Oli Munnik’s wife, Alana, champions her first ever stage race – the Storms River Traverse.
Last weekend the tiny Garden Route hamlet of Storms River hosted the 8th edition of the three-day Glacier Storms River Traverse (SRT) MTB stage race.
While multi-day events in South Africa generally require a considerable amount of fitness and technical skill, the SRT is aimed squarely at first-time stage ‘racers’, the majority of whom find themselves intimidated by the hype and competitiveness of many (if not most) local events.
I decided to test the SRT’s claim by riding (not racing) this year’s event with my wife, Alana (aka Doylie). An ultra-trail runner at heart, Doylie has ridden a bike less than ten times since I met her three years ago, let alone ridden off-road over three consecutive days. She is born to run.
A little background to set the scene. Doylie rides a small 29er hardtail with 1×11 SRAM GX. Going ‘one by’ literally changed her life by simplifying the gearing, so that she could better focus on the changes in terrain rather than if she was in the big or small ring. Another breakthrough was Doylie getting accustomed to cleats. This took some patience and a few falls, but we (because we’re a team!) are now clipped in and pedalling with confidence.
Capped at 300 riders, the SRT’s race village – based at the Tsitsikamma Village Inn – immediately develops an intimate atmosphere. Right from registration, riders were excitedly chatting over a coffee, beer or glass of red wine (depending on the time of day). We were to discover that this relaxed vibe filters into the ride itself where beers and ostrich steak are a regular, and famously popular choice everyday at WP2!
The SRT’s stage distances were a manageable 50, 43 and 54 kilometres, proving to be the perfect challenge for Doylie, who had the legs, but not the conditioning for much more time in the saddle each day. Finishing with a smile was the goal, and we certainly achieved it on all three stages.
While Doylie’s confidence has come a long way, she and the rest of the SRT riders are actually not that keen on routes littered with single track – while this makes my heart bleed, it is totally understandable. In isolation riders can manage relatively well, but in an event scenario where you have riders in close proximity to one another, technical terrain is remarkably difficult. The SRT clearly know their market, with the route encompassing less than 1km of single track. And I can confirm, there was not a single rider who was phased in the slightest. Different strokes for different folks.
The route itself was a blend of indigenous forest tracks, pine plantation jeep tracks, farm roads as well as the odd section of district road. Looking back, our route highlights included the sections where we cycled parallel to the Indian Ocean high up on the coastal plateau, traversing the Garden Route’s lush indigenous forests, as well as soaking up the atmosphere at the water points – an aspect that event organisers, Dryland, have mastered.
Labelling the Storms River Traverse a ‘stage race’ would in fact be an injustice to the event’s unassuming, down-to-earth nature. Describing it rather as the quintessential “stage experience” for non-competitive riders, especially beginners, far better encompasses the inviting atmosphere.
With Doylie’s first ‘stage experience’ successfully championed, she is brimming with confidence and already talking of which event we can ride next. As the saying goes, a happy wife makes for a happy life!
Oliver Munnik is a former professional mountain biker. Pinner by trade, he travels the world testing the latest and greatest cycling products as Bicycling’s Gear Editor.