It was with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that I boarded a plane at the end of August to spend a month in Europe to do 70.3 Zell Am See and the inaugural 70.3 Pula.
Excitement because it was looking like being the trip of a lifetime and trepidation because the Rand had tanked against all major currencies the previous day and I was imagining spending the next month eating dry bread.
First stop was Zell Am See for the 70.3 World Championships. It's hard to describe the beauty of the place. The lake is crystal clear and the locals say you can drink directly from it, and the Alps surround you in all their magnificence. The only problem is that you have to ride into them.
I had the most carefully laid out plans for the race - none of which came to bear. Firstly, a damaged power meter meant I was riding on feel. The second was much more of a disaster.
I got out of the swim (race plan for this part of the race from Kent was "survive"), got to my bike and rolled it along the carpet to the T1 exit. But all of a sudden I knew something was very wrong. Two flat tyres. TWO! IN TRANSITION! Following some R18 language, I set about fixing everything all the while wondering what the conversation back home was going to be as a result of my 24 minute T1. The highlights were "I think he's lost his bike". Credit to Wes who guessed punctures at the first time of asking.
The bike ride was out of this world - it was either flat and very fast or climbing so steeply it seemed quicker to walk. Riding up the Alps is not for the faint hearted. Nor for that matter is riding down as I nearly came off on one particularly sharp corner.
Eventually the bike ended (in less than 3 hours as planned) and I got onto the run around the lake. At this point I realised I was in trouble. I was mentally exhausted from the T1 episode and riding 90km without spares knowing that another puncture meant I was out. And I may have pushed a little too hard on the last 20km trying to gain a few extra minutes. After 1km I quit triathlon. After 2km I was booking a plane ticket home and after 3km I sold my bike. And then I thought of everyone back home who had and were supporting me and I carried on running. There were plenty of strong words, lots of gritted teeth and the fastest red carpet run I have ever done simply so that the race could be over.
It certainly didn't go according to plan, but in hindsight it was a fantastic experience and one that made me a stronger athlete.
From there it was on to Slovenia to spend two weeks there. This was undoubtedly the highlight of the trip. Slovenia is a hidden gem - the countryside is beautiful, the food is good and the people are friendly. I spent a lot of time on my bike riding around (No swimming because it cost 11 euros to use the pool) and exploring. I visited the lake districts of Bled and Bohinj which turned out to be two of the most spectacular places you could ever hope to see and in one incredible coincidence bumped into Conrad Stoltz in a restaurant - I was sightseeing on my bike and he recognised my MTD kit.
Having already climbed the Alps, it seemed churlish to not attempt Vrsic pass in Slovenia - the inspiration behind Alp d'huez. 24 cobble stone switchbacks, 1000m of climbing. In 9km. On a TT bike. I questioned my sanity.
And then it was on to Pula, Croatia. A swim in the Adriatic, a bike ride through olive fields and a run through the Old Town of Pula, finishing in a 2000 year old Roman arena.
As always, things didn't quite go according to plan. Strong winds and currents caused a buoy to come loose, leaving 2000 athletes swimming all over Ambrela Beach in any direction they felt like. The bike course was fast, but 40kph winds made for an interesting first 60km. Fortunately, being from Cape Town riding uphill and into the wind is pretty much standard fare. And then came the run along the harbour, through the Old Town, under the Triumph Arc and into the Roman arena - all in a PB time.
And then it was time to pack up and come home. Back to friends and family and MTD (which is some sort of weird combination of both). An enormous thank you to Kent who got me to the races in the best shape possible, Matt Holden who spent months slaughtering me in the gym so that I would be able to complete two races in quick succession without falling apart and to everyone else who supported, encouraged, tracked me on the day and offered words of encouragement and advice.
It's good to be home.