Sean conquers the Munga, despite health and mechanical troubles

Greenstone resident Sean Wheeler did his surname proud when he completed one of the world’s toughest mountain bike races, despite considerable challenges.

The final push for Sean was a hard one: he cycled for 25 hours straight, only stopping for short rests, despite a raw posterior and bad chest infection.

The Munga is an almost 1 100km single stage race across the middle of South Africa. It started in Bloemfontein on November 28 and competitors had only 120 hours to get to the finish line in the Cape Winelands.

The race is semi-supported, which means that competitors have to carry all of their gear – or purchase goods along the way. They may not accept outside help. There are, however, five race villages where riders can rest, eat and get mechanical assistance. There are also a number of water points, posted between 50 and 60km apart.

This is the second time Sean has completed the Munga – the first was in 2016. Both rides were in support of Rand Aid’s Thembalami Care Centre, which Sean says cares for his dad Mike with compassion and professionalism. This year, he raised R44 000 for the care centre.

Sean says he managed to cycle the 224km to the first race village, Vanderkloof Dam, before midnight on day one. “I decided not to sleep once I arrived there. Instead, I refuelled and hit the trail again.”

He rode through the night and managed to get a half-an-hour’s sleep at the next water point. It was then on to Britstown where he booked a room and slept for two hours.

The first 395km were done and dusted.

“Britstown to Loxton was an extremely tough 187km with soft sand and endless corrugations. It seemed that it was uphill all the way. I enjoyed the short break, refuelled and got going fairly quickly. It was along this stretch that my throat became extremely dry and sore,” he says, adding that the beauty of the surroundings and the colours of the sunset kept him sane.

“I got myself into a zone though and kept pushing through. I had seen all the support I was getting via social media at my last stop and that truly motivated me to keep going.”

He arrived in Loxton at just after 5am, having covered 597km in 41 hours and 11 minutes. After eating and having an hour and a half sleep, he was in the saddle again, this time headed towards Sutherland.

“The medics had given me some magic cream for my bottom which was extremely raw at this stage of the race. Getting going from there was not easy,” says Sean.

After about eight hours of grinding into what seemed to be a never-ending headwind, he arrived in Fraserburg where he found a shop with an aircon. “I bought some biltong, fresh cream and water and sat on the cold floor of the shop for a while, gathering myself and cooling down. I planned to rest at the next water stop, which was supposed to be at 742km, because there wasn’t anywhere I felt safe enough to sleep next to my bike in Fraserburg.

“That 46km from Fraserburg to the water point before Sutherland was painful. My Garmin froze a number of times and I got lost, adding an extra hour to my race.”

When his Garmin indicated that Sean should have arrived at the next water point, Sean says it was pitch dark and he could see no sign of life. “I lay next to my bike on the road and slept for 20 minutes before heading off again. At that stage, I had only a little water left.”

Just 2km down the road, however, he came across the water point. He slept there for three hours before heading for Sutherland at 3am.

“I arrived in Sutherland at just after 9am with my throat on fire and pains in my chest. I almost quit. However, the medics gave me oxygen and checked my vitals. They suggested I rest and check with them before going out again. I also got a massage to relieve the water retention in my legs and some attention was given to my extremely raw rear end.”

By 4:30pm, Sean had recovered enough to get going again. Unfortunately, his Garmin once again froze and he went 22km off course.

“All I could do was laugh and cry but I refused to give up. I made a decision there and then that I would not stop and sleep until I crossed the finish line. Meeting fellow rider Lazarus Mashishi along the way was really good as we pushed each other through the night and beat the bad weather across the Tankwa Karoo National Park.”

The pair descended the Ouberg Pass into the Tankwa, and then navigated two prominent climbs: Dagbreek Pass and Swaarmoed, which really tested their staying power. Next up was the ‘Highway through Hell: a dead-straight 60km stretch of road from Tankwa Padstal to the base of the climb.

“As I headed out of Ceres towards the Bainskloof Pass I had a car pull up beside me with a chap shouting encouragement and indicating that I should pull over because he had some Coke and ice for me. It turned out that it was an old air force mate that I had not seen for years. I thanked him for the kind support but explained that I could not accept any outside assistance. The interaction was a real morale booster, however.

“Lazarus and I worked our way over the 25km Bainskloof Pass and down to the Doolhof Wine Estate to finish the Munga at 5:30pm. I had done it… I had cycled from 4:30pm the day before without sleeping and I had conquered the Munga!

“What an incredible feeling it was to cross the line and have my daughter Kayleigh and her boyfriend Rassie and sister Tracy waiting for me. I thank all my family especially my wife Chantal and all my supporters for the massive encouragement they gave me.”

Apart from the R44 000 raised for Thembalami, Duram Paints offered to paint any areas in the care centre that need a touch up and Build it Bedfordview will donate supplies for the centre’s vegetable garden. The bulk of the money donated was through the BackaBuddy platform, with Sean’s employer, DHL Global Forwarding, contributing R20 000.

For further information on Thembalami, visit the website www.randaid.co.za

Some stats:

Navigational errors cost Sean extra kilometres. Instead of 1 076km, he did 1 113km in 101.30 hours.

Max temp: 42 degrees.

Min temp: 6 degrees.

Weight at start: 64.5kgs.

Weight at finish: 63.5kgs.

Fluid: Water only.

Supplements: Keto Fast Fit, an exogeneous ketone supplement (average of three servings per day).

Food: Sean tried to eat only ‘real’ food with no sugar or wheat products, including fruit and veg, meat, eggs and dairy where he could source them. He took along a store of macadamias, almonds and biltong.

Will he do it again ? : Ask me in a years’ time!

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