The Cycle Challenge Challenge

Just a few more days until the 94.7 Cycle Challenge. The one I so foolishly signed up for, as I told you previously.

I’ve spent the last four weeks being sort of nervous about it. Like whether I would make it through an entire race, never having done one before, not even a short one. More to the point, whether my bottom would make it through an entire race.

And it might very well be the toughest challenge I’ve faced yet. But you know what might even be a tougher challenge?

To pick up your racing packet before the race.

Today was the designated day to do that, and so I went on an errand to Sandton, equipped with the race number I had received in an email.

The instructions said to park in Sandton City, right next to the Sandton Convention Centre. Sounded good to me. I didn’t know then what I know now: That “right next to” is in the same language family as “just now.” It is to be taken with a huge grain of salt.

When you park in Sandton City, you better well bring a compass with you. It’s the most confusing parking garage I know. You are well advised to briefly stop and orient yourself before distancing yourself too much from your car, or you’ll never find it again.

I don’t like parking garages. I will do anything to avoid them. I don’t care what the weather is like outside, I’d rather park in the open somewhere than in a garage. Maybe that harks back to a bad childhood memory of mine. Our family was on a visit in some German city, and after strolling around the picturesque streets for a few hours, we were tired and ready to go home again. Before long we had found our car, piled in, and driven a few floors down to the exit. Where my father dutifully put the ticket into the little slot, waiting for the boom to open. Except it didn’t. We spent what felt like an hour at that boom, cars accumulating behind us, hooting impatiently, while my father was conversing with a disembodied voice through the intercom, getting more and more agitated by the minute about the fact that our ticket wasn’t working. Even though we had just paid for it. I can’t remember if I was old enough to be embarrassed by this, or still young enough to be terribly afraid that we’d never make it out of there. Either way, it wasn’t pleasant. When we finally made it out, it was only because the attendant had descended from his office and immediately discovered our error: The ticket my father was so furiously inserting, again and again, into the machine, wasn’t the one for this garage at all. Who knows, maybe it was a subway pass, or a card from a different garage. But not that one. Oh, the humiliation!

Living in Singapore didn’t make me any fonder of parking garages. There you most often had no choice. My least favorite one was that of the Cold Storage closest to our house, where you had to take a really sharp turn immediately upon entering, and then go round and round in the tightest circle to wind your way upstairs where the free spaces were beckoning, up, up, and up until your head spun. Evidently I wasn’t the only one with a problem, as witnessed by the many colorful paint marks along the wall. And the reward for my expert maneuvering through such narrow straights? Carrying a stroller with baby back down five flights of stairs, because there was no elevator!

But today, it turns out, parking was the easy part. Not only is the convention centre something like miles away from Sandton City, it is also the most convoluted path that leads you there:

First, through the parking garage.

Then up an impossibly long escalator.

Then across an enclosed walkway winding this way and that (and, admittedly, awarding you with the most beautiful view over Sandton).

Then back down at least five flights of escalators.

And finally into the promised land of the Cycle Challenge, where I discovered, to my dismay, that I wasn’t the only one.

I settled into a long queue, cursed myself once again for not having brought my Kindle, and waited. And waited. How hard can it be to hand out race packs to people? Must be extremely hard, judging form the agonizingly slow pace our line was inching forward at.

The one upside of being stuck in a room full of people picking up race packets is that it is a room full of more or less very fit people. Generally pleasant to look at. Not like going to Oceans of Fun in Kansas City and being accosted with rolls of fat bulging over elastic waist bands as far as the eye can see while you wait in line for your slide. No sir, the people of Joburg take their Cycle Challenge seriously. I hope I’ll get to see some of the crazy types on Sunday, the kind my cycling friend has told me about. You know, the ones wearing nothing but thongs, the name of their charity fundraiser painted on their cheeks. Yeah, those cheeks.

I finally received my race packet after an interminable wait, and set out to find my car again. The thing I most wished for at that moment was to have unfurled a roll of twine on my way there, so as to better find the way back. Sandton City, as you might agree if you live in Joburg, is the most confusing shopping mall there is. It’s adjacent to Mandela Square Shopping Centre, and you can go back and forth from one into the other, but not on every floor. And there are corridors into every direction. If you go to Sandton City, taking your bearings upon entering form the parking garage to take in and file away mentally which store it is on either side of the entrance, is an absolute must, or you have no chance.

And if you ask your way through the shopping center, just remember that this is Africa, and that you might have to ask at least three different people to get a representative sample of the true answer.

I felt the strong need to take a break at Mugg & Bean to fortify myself before the final push back to the car, where I sat and marveled once again how even the longest errand in Africa can be made downright pleasant by that little thing inside of you called attitude.

And by a large cappuccino and chocolate croissant.

South Africa may be the only country in the world where they’ll serve you a chocolate croissant together with grated cheddar cheese. Or is it an English thing? When it doubt, it’s always an English thing.

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