Thursday, 5 March 2020

Atlas Mountain Race - Registration



Registration for the race takes place at the Mogador Kasbah Hotel and Spa. That's 5km's from our accommodation. Practically speaking it would have been easier to have stayed at the Mogador but it was only identified as the race start venue after we had booked at Riad Bousskri. Roger tried changing it. He sent an email asking the Riad if they would waive the cancellation fee. Their response was immediate and emphatic—They deducted the full amount for our stay from his credit card. Later he got a message to the effect, "It's low season we need the money". 


As it turns out staying close to the Medina proved to be more of an authentic experience than staying at the hotel. The hotel would have been the same as staying in any 3 star hotel or Holiday Inn anywhere in the world. There is nothing uniquely Moroccan about it. 


The logistics with registration are challenging. Firstly, we need to get our bike boxes and bags to the Mogador on Friday afternoon. These will then be transferred to the finish venue. The truck doing that transfer, so we are told, will be leaving at 6pm on Friday. The race starts at 9am the following day. We are 5km's away so we can't simply tote our kit over to the the hotel. We can take a taxi but then we need to taxi back as our bikes will be back at the Riad. 


We come up with another plan. We organise a taxi. When it arrives we load our baggage and one bike. Another rider, James Dennis, is staying at the same Riad. He goes with the taxi. Roger and I scamper over to the Mogador on our bikes where James is waiting with our stuff. 


The ride over goes a lot smoother than our first attempt 2 days ago. It's hair raising riding on the wrong side (for us) trying to merge with the other cars, motorcycles and bicycles. We are getting used to the chaos and have mostly figured out which side we need to yield to when roads merge and how to assert ourselves in the traffic without the risk of getting pancaked. 


Registration isn't the slick organisation that we have become accustomed to with our 1000+ entrant races back home. There are only around 190 of us and it's a little slower than we are accustomed to but it's personal and everyone is chilled. The "race office" personnel consist of Nelson Trees the chief instigator, his mum and dad, his girlfriend and a handful of his buddies. I'm starting to develop a feel for this cabal of cyclists who go by the name bike-packers. They are really chilled. 


My first assessment of a bike-packer, in this race at least, is someone who rides a gravel bike loaded up with the full range of Apidura bike bags. They probably have at least one tattoo. There's a good chance that the guys have facial hair and a head of hair that is substantially longer than would be acceptable in a Wall Street boardroom. 


We move from station to station, registering, getting our individually numbered caps, pick up spot trackers, get our bikes inspected, pick up a brevet card and hand in our bags. That done we only have our bikes and the clothes we are wearing as we have handed in all our other belongings. We need to get back to our accommodation in this kit and return in it the next morning. I don't understand why we couldn't simply hand in our bags before the race start in the morning. Anyway, it is what it is. 


Registration done we are milling around waiting for Nelson to give the race briefing. While we wait I can't help noticing how athletic all the other riders look. I'm feeling rather intimidated. There's a guy in front of us who has a muscle that's drooping over his knee cap — I think the muscle is called the Vastis Medialis. I ask Roger if it looks normal. We can't decide. The guy moves his leg and the muscle snaps back into place. Darn, that's one gnarly set of legs. And there are a good number of legs like that scattered about the room. It turns out that droopy muscle guy is an ex pro-cyclist. My puny legs are getting a complex. 


Nelson is both eloquent and laidback. He gives us an overview of the race and explains that the cutoff for CP1 has been extended from 7am on Sunday to midday. The reason, he explains, is the route off the mountain is "a bit challenging, even in daylight. So if you decide to sleep short of the last 5 kilometre descent you'll have ample time to make your way down in the morning." 


Hmm. That's worth thinking about. CP1 is at 126 km. The race starts at 9am. It'll be dark at 8 pm. That's... 11 hours to do 126 km before dark... 11.5 km/h average. Otherwise sleep over and make it down in the morning. That gives you 27 hours to beat the cutoff. That's an average speed of 4.7km/h. Okay. It seems it's going to be an interesting first day of riding. 


Briefing done we pedal back to the Riad. It's going to be an early night. It's not that we need to bank any sleep. It's just that in our part of town it seems the best option for 3 guys dressed in spandex. 

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Atlas Mountain Race - Mystical Marrakech

Our Riad is exactly that—a townhouse with a central courtyard and a fountain. In pride of place in the centre of the courtyard is an orange tree laden with ripening oranges. Real ones not plastic —we check. Once through the front door the glumness of the area is instantly forgotten. The place inside is a comfortable haven. It is a scenario that will play out over and over during our trek across Morocco—the outside of buildings often appear neglected in contrast to the inside that is tidy and homely.

Ghislain welcomes us and we have the first of many cups of Moroccan tea—black tea infused with fresh mint. By default it's sweetened with many lumps of sugar. Fact: Morocco has the second highest per capita consumption of sugar in Africa. Our own nation, South Africa, comes in first.

Our first priority is to get local currency and SIM cards. Our host makes a line drawing of how to get to the Medina. The Medina is the central hub of Marrakech. The centre piece of the Medina is the Jama El f'na Market. It's an open air market from which radiates a myriad narrow alleyways that make up the bulk of the extensive central market.

Jama El f'na Market square is our quest. We consult Google Maps to get an idea of where we were headed. More a case of figuring out where we are so that we can make it back to our dingy alleyway. We make a point of getting our bearings and sizing our Google app to include the area we are headed toward as we will be out of WiFi reception as soon as we step outside.

We pop through the door and make our way down the alley. It's evening but you wouldn't know it. Marrakech seems to be in the wrong time zone. The sun comes up after 8am and it goes down after 7:30pm. This suits a town that only gets going midmorning and quietens down close to midnight.

I still haven't got used to the fact that they drive on the wrong side of the road. That's right, we anglophiles drive on the right side. That is, the left side, which is the right side. It takes getting used to when you have to cross a road or avoid scooters which zip up and down in an endless stream. Occasionally I just stop to methodically figure out in which direction I should be looking.

Our Riad is on the fringe of the Medina so it's not long before we merge with the throngs pulsing through narrow alleys. It's a mix of pedestrians and scooters. The scooters zip through the mob occasionally slowing to a walk to nudge through choke points. There's tolerance on both sides. As for me I'm getting whiplash trying to figure out where the next crazed scooter rider is coming from.

The stalls that line the alleys sell everything imaginable. Not only that, there are many of them that are carbon copies of a stall adjacent to them or even identical to a stall a few hundred metres away. It's far too easy to think you know where you are simply because you recognise a stall or a group of stalls. It doesn't work like that. It's not like being on a merry-go-round where you get used to the constant repetitive pattern. It's more like a train passing thousands of similar looking stalls. It's a blur of colours and smells. We resort to Google Maps on a few occasions to figure out where we are.

The stalls are packed to overflowing. I get that you can overstock with shoes, socks or brass trinkets as you will eventually sell them. There is no sell-by-date. But many of the stalls are selling fruit and vegetables. They're perishable. No one in their right mind is going to stock up on 5 tons of fruit and veggies in the hope of selling a couple of 5kg bags. Obviously there're people buying this stuff.

A familiar fragrance gets my attention. A guy eases through the crowd pushing a cart the size of a dining room table. It's loaded with litchi size strawberries. They look amazing. Not a single blemish. This epitomises my thinking about the volume of perishable goods that change hands on a daily basis. Strawberries won't wait for peak tourist season.

We make it to the central open air market place. It's packed out. Hundreds of brightly illuminated stalls fill the square which I figure is 300 metres x 300 metres. With the help of some tourists who are sitting at a cafe overlooking the square we are able to locate an ATM and a shop that sells SIM cards and airtime. South Africans will be interested in the low cost of data - 5 Gb cost me R76.

Local currency in hand and phones back online our next objective is food. The square is lined with an array of eateries. We settle for Taj'in Darna. I have no idea what to order so just go with the special. Before long an earthenware tajine is placed before me. The lid is lifted and I'm presented with a dish that is as Moroccan as it gets. A tajine is basically a stew of varying combinations of veg and meat slow cooked over coals in the earthenware pot. It's followed up with a pot of Moroccan tea. If I'd have added a Berber omelette to my meal I would have experienced the perfect Moroccan full-house. Omelettes, tagines and mint tea we're going to be the mainstay of my diet for the next few weeks. After paying for the meal and rectifying a "mistake" with our change we head back to our digs.

We return to the Medina the following day to meet with a family friend who has relocated to Marrakech from Cape Town. He runs a coffee roastery. We meet at a rooftop restaurant that is a customer of his. He is a great source of info for our upcoming trip. One bit of advice that sticks in my head is, "Watch out for scorpions, they are deadly."

As we look down from the top floor of the restaurant the Medina below looks like a construction scrap heap. It's hard to believe there's a mass of humanity making its way to and fro along the myriad narrow alleyways beneath that rubble.

Sunday, 1 March 2020

Atlas Mountain Race - Welcome to Marrakech



The wing dips as we make our final turn into Marrakech Ménara Airport in Morocco. I've got a window seat and all I can see is an endless expanse of desolate brown. As we descend I see occasional patches of green that look like orchards. Olive trees I guess. Then there're huge expanses of plastic clad structures which I assume are green houses surrounded by barren ground. 


The town of Marrakech looms. It's unspectacular. The brown tones of sprawl melt into the featureless landscape. It's flat, dry, brown and completely underwhelming. Is this mystical Marrakech I ask myself? From the air it looks more slum like than mystical. To be fair I'm not well travelled and part of the reason I've come here is to break out from my shackled experience and see and do something different. Well... not exactly do something different—my bike is in the hold and I'm here to do a bicycle race across the Atlas Mountains. I'm probably the worlds worst traveller. I don't like flying and I dislike the unfamiliar even more so I'm really not qualified to judge. But still, I expected a little more from the Marrakech I've heard snippets about over the years. 


Disembarking we enter the airport building which is surprisingly modern compared to what I saw from the air. We (I'm travelling with Roger Nicholson who is also racing) collect our bags and go through security. In a city of 1 million people that attracts no less than twice that number of visitors every year you'd think the immigration officials would buy into the value of tourism. Not! While they are as surly as their American counterparts they don't mimic them for diligence. Our bags and bike boxes are shoved through an x-ray machine which seems to be a waste of time because the official manning the device is staring off into the distance in the opposite direction of the the screen he is supposed to be monitoring. 


We get outside and find a guy next to a transfer company banner holding a clipboard with Roger's name on it. Cool. Time to load up and get to our accommodation. Lots of foreign language banter between a couple of guys while we are ignored. 


The boredom is interrupted by a gendarme who walks over to a smouldering bin into which he pours a bottle of water. There's a heated exchange between the cop and an airport worker that ends with the worker taking the now extinguished bin and placing it with a collection of recycling containers 50 metres away. It seems the entrance door of the airport is not a good place to leave a paper recycling bin. 


Eventually we are escorted by a handful of guys to our waiting transport. Lots of hands help load our bikes and bags followed by expectant looks as we are about to drive off. This is our first experience of tipping expectations for unsolicited assistance. Apparently it's rampant in this town. We've just arrived and have no local currency so they get left behind empty handed. 


As soon as the first world vestige of the airport building is out of sight we are transported into another world. I expect to see Aladdin zipping past on a flying carpet. The traffic flow is best described as organic rather than structured and systematic. But it works. There are no honking of horns or scurrying to get ahead of the next car. Motor cycles, which number as many as cars, and cyclists are given space and there's a harmonious weaving of traffic at intersections. The road makes its way through the palace grounds and in a few places the traffic is shoehorned through a narrow space in the outer walls. Only one direction of traffic can go at any time and they figure it out without any aggro. Soon we are through the palace grounds and enter, what to my untraveled and unaccustomed eye looks a dodgy part of town. We are on a street with an assortment of little shops packed together. A bakery, a car parts shop, a motor cycle repair shop, a store selling airtime, cigarettes and various food items. All of these stores having no more than 3 metres of shopfront. A few men are clustered together sharing food. 


As I'm checking out the dodgy neighbourhood the taxi stops and the driver declares we are near our hotel. 

"I can't drive closer, you must walk." 

We unload our bike boxes and suitcases and stare down the dingy alley. Bike boxes aren't dainty wheelie bags. They are heavy and take some handling to wheel along. Roger and I head down the alley dragging our bikes and carrying our luggage in search of Riad Bousskri. It should be number 3. 


A Riad is a traditional Moroccan house. The term comes from the Arab word 'ryad' (meaning 'garden') but is applied to townhouses built around an inner courtyard or garden with a central fountain or small pool. Many now operate as boutique B&B's. 


We head down the narrow alley dodging motorbikes as we go in search of our boutique hotel. Number 3 doesn't appear. We are standing with our stuff staring both ways down the alleyway when we get a gents attention. 

"Riad Bousskri?" He asks. 

Roger nods. With that the guy grabs one of Roger's bags and heads down a narrower darker alleyway. The houses are built over this alleyway which makes it dark even though the sun is a few hours from setting. 30 metres down the alley the guy stops and points into a gloomy recess. We think it's a doorway. It's too dark to see. After some gesticulating the guy takes out his lighter and strikes the flint. He holds his lighter up to the wall next to a door. A small name plate appears out of the gloom. It seems we have found Riad Bousskri. 

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

The HeidelBay 545 - Part 5



It's 2am. We've eaten our toasted sandwiches and had coffee awful enough to ward off the most resilient of sleep monsters. The ride out of Vryheid is fast. Before long we are adjacent the rail line that runs from the coal fields in Ermelo to Richards Bay. The first train passes us. It's in a cutting below us and it's dark so we can't see it. I've no idea of how fast it's going or even in which direction. It seems this line is different from the one we followed to Volksrust. The coaches roll past smoothly and they go on and on and on. 


By the time the eastern sky shows signs of a new day the landscape starts changing from flat and fast to undulating. The railway line is fairly level thanks to endless bridges and cuttings. Apparently there are 65 bridges and around 14 tunnels between Richards Bay and Vryheid. Obviously we can't ride across the bridges so have to ride down below the bridges and then make our way up above the line when it goes through a cutting and even higher when the line is swallowed by a tunnel. 


The route profile shows a gentle glide slope from Vryheid to Richards Bay but the devil is in the detail. The 230 km's from Vryheid to the sea includes a few thousand metres a ascent. All made up of short steep climbs. 


We stop for a few minutes as it's getting light. A train comes past. It's then that we get to see just how long the train sets are. 4 electric locomotives pull 200 coaches. They come past so fast that they create enough wind to buffet and chill us even though we are a good 20 metres from the tracks. The line is busy. For the rest of the day we see trains heading to and from Richards Bay at regular intervals. The electric whine of the locomotives can be heard from kilometres away. 


We enter a valley where we spend the next hour and some plummeting down rocky descents followed by snail paced climbs. It seems the bridges are spaced every kilometre or less. At one point my chain drops off and ends up wrapped around my crank. I don't have my usual tool bag which went missing between the finish of The Munga and fetching my bike once back in Johannesburg. I don't have any chain links or my chain link remover. Merak and I manage to remove the crankset and untangle the chain and straighten out the twisted links. 


A short while later my back tyre is flat. I top up the sealant and pump it up. A while later it's flat. We pump it up again. A few kilometres on and once more it's flat. On closer inspection we find the tyre has a sidewall cut. I normally carry mushroom plugs for sidewall cuts but they were also in the bag that went missing. We try inserting tyre worms which work for a few kilometres before failing. Merak eventually suggests we insert a tube. That means getting all the thorns out the tyre. I don't like that idea as it's going to take forever. I have a basic tube patch kit with rubber cement and patches. We pop the tyre off, dry the inside with my buff, scuff up the tyre with the small square of sandpaper. I squeeze on a good dollop of glue and pluck the largest patch over the hole. We bomb the tyre and the patch holds. We're on our way again. 


After countless ups and downs we cross the Mhlahlane river climb up through Mbudle village and drop into Ulundi where we pop into the local Wimpy for breakfast. We're tired and the fun has long since worn off. Merak has an appetite. I don't and just force my food down. We've only got 113km to go but it may as well be 1000km. The incessant climbing has knocked the stuffing out of me and I know there's a lot more to come. We've been going for 28 hours. Any hope of finishing the ride in 36 hours has evaporated. You'd think that 113km's in 8 hours would be a doddle. I guess it would be if you'd had a good nights sleep. We've had a good nights riding. And it's getting hot... and humid. 


Without too much enthusiasm I get on my bike and we follow the GPS on a circuitous route out of town. Eventually we are back on the railway service road and the ups and downs are back in play.   Surely, we reason, the terrain must flatten out as we get closer to the coast.  Wrong!!!  


With around 50 km's to go we come across a crew chopping up rail carriages. There was a huge derailment in December 2018. They put it down to sabotage. Apparently the line was cut with a cutting torch and over 50 coaches were derailed. There are countless wheelsets scattered along the line. The crew is using cutting torches to chop up the abandoned carriages. We stop and chat with them. A couple of the guys are from Fourways in Johannesburg. Small world. 


We keep trundling along. On the outskirts of Empangeni/Richards Bay we come across kids playing in the road. One of them is riding a bmx bike and takes delight in racing us up a steep hill. He wins easily but not without nearly running over a small tot who is watching the action. A swerve at the last moment and an embarrassing scene is averted. The kids are delighted with their friends victory. We smile politely and creep on up the climb. Soon we are away from the settlement and into a pine forest which empties into the town of Richards Bay. The last 15 kilometres are flat and fast albeit through traffic on main roads. 


We make it to the waterfront and head down the water break to the finish at the end. Our families are there but Niven popped down to the bank and has missed our arrival. It's 18:30. Our official riding time is 36h24. 


Niven arrives a few minutes after us and is as delighted as we are with our effort. 

Shortly after we see Werner Nienaber. He'd been waiting patiently at the end of the wrong water break. Its only when the pictures of our finish are posted on the Whatsapp group that he realises his mistake and he scuttles around to join us. It good to see him. 


HeidelBay is a good ride. It's as good if not better than a lot of official races. It crosses an interesting g part of the country and it can be customised to suit your requirements. We did it in a single effort but it could easily be divided into 3 or 4 days with overnight stops. It could even be ridden over a number of weekends starting at different places. 


We were lucky in that we got a good weather window in a season where rain is expected somewhere along the route. 


We did okay and I'm happy with our time. However...

Monday, 3 February 2020

The HeidelBay 545 - Part 4



The ride to Vryheid takes us away from the train track which has been our lodestar. We'll be riding district roads for this leg. We've done the first 60km's previously albeit in terrible conditions. Beyond that it's all new and we don't know what to expect. 


We make good progress out of Volksrust to Groenvlei and begin the climb up to the highest point of our route. A third of the way up we stop to eat the remains of the dinner we bought in Volksrust. Now that it's cooler we have regained the appetites that were MIA earlier. There's evidence of a lightning storm nearby but we can't figure out where it is. We simply see the occasional flash on the horizon in no particular direction. The cloud cover is light and we can see stars. I'm hoping it's far away and not along our route. Our last ride attempt spluttered out 20 kilometres further along this road near Utrecht. Im not keen for a repeat performance. 


Back on our bikes we continue our ascent. We both have the route profile page open on our Garmins. The line rises sharply off the page. I keep riding desperately waiting to see the elevation profile flatten out. It does briefly before kicking up even sharper. It's a long grind and we eventually top out at an elevation of 1965m. Niven has been waiting at the top of the climb. We feel bad for stopping to eat and keeping him waiting. It's almost 10pm, he has been on the go since before sunrise and must be tired. Sure we've been up just as long but I'd rather be pedalling than sitting around doing nothing waiting for a couple of cyclists to make an appearance. 


We chat to Niven who indicates that he is going to continue tagging along until we get to Richards Bay. That's his level of interest in seeing people do this route. He's as excited as we are to put down a good time. We roll off leaving Niven to pack and stow his lights and camera. 


Now that we are at the top of the climb we can see where the lightning is coming from. There's a storm directly ahead and by my reckoning it's near Utrecht. We can see the flashes of lightning but we can't hear the resultant thunder. That's a good thing. Merak and I keep moving with neither of us saying anything about the storm we are riding toward. The wind is blowing across us so I hope it'll move away and leave us alone. 


In our last attempt this section was muddy and we crawled along into a headwind while being lashed by torrential rainfall. This time the dry surface and gentle crosswind means we belt along at a good pace losing 400m of elevation in the process. It feels great to be moving along easily. It takes Niven 15 kilometres to catch up. As we approach the turnoff near Utrecht we can see lightning bolts and hear the thunder. The storm is directly over town 10 kilometres away. It's not good. I'm happy we'll soon be turning left away from town. As we approach the junction there's one last massive lightning bolt followed by nothing. Just like that the storm has blown out. 


We inch up the next climb. The lights of Utrecht are off to our right. We are now in unchartered territory. We are almost halfway to the coast. The route profile that Carlo provided us with shows we are on a gentle glide slope from here to the coast. But the numbers suggest there is more to it than that. We have climbed less that 2000m and the total climbing for the route is 6000m. Somewhere between here and the coast  there be dragons. Lots of dragons. 


The first dragon comes up soon enough. The top end of my cassette gets 18 minutes of solid workout to cover a mere 2.5 kilometres. Hmm. One dragon down, how many more? The ride into Vryheid uncovers no more dragons. By contrast it's a nice ride with a good number of rolling hills. Our original plan had us getting to Vryheid around 1am. We have made up some lost time and are in town at 1:30am. We find a garage shop and takeaway that is open. Niven's motorcycle is parked outside. 

Saturday, 1 February 2020

The HeidelBay 545 - Part 3



With our bikes liberated of most of the mud we continue down the road. I'm aware of the grinding of brake rotors as we slosh through puddles. I'm not trying to avoid the puddles because they present an opportunity to wash yet more mud off my bike. The downside is that more mud and water are being thrown up by the back wheel. I can feel it running down my back into my chamois. If my back looks anything like Merak's and Carlo's then it's an almighty mess. They look like ninja turtles with little brown shells on their backs. 


As we close on Standerton we are squeezed between the railway track  and a large settlement. Our jeep track disappears and we are reduced to weaving along a foot path trying as best we can to avoid the piles of trash. Every now and then we have to stop and carry our bikes over trenches that have been dug to drain water from the shacks toward the rail line. As soon as is practical we cross to the other side and find another jeep track which takes us into town. 


Carlo has his mind set on stopping at the Engen garage that has a shop and  an attached Wimpy. Arriving there he  convinces one of the fuel jockeys to let us use a fire hose to clean our bikes. To top off his bike clean he hoses down his shoes and squelches off to the Wimpy leaving Merak and I to go through the same cleansing ritual. 


Bikes cleaned, water bottles filled and Cokes stashed in our packs Merak and I look for Carlo. We find him seated at a table in the Wimpy. He is surrounded by a puddle of muddy water. A muddy trail evidences his walk from the door to the closest table. We look like we have just stepped out the ring of a mud wrestling match. I hesitate and Carlo waves me over.

"It's fine, I've spoken to the manager. We'll square up for the inconvenience." Eish. With this much mess we'll have to put that down as budget repayment on our credit cards. 


There are lengths of paper towel draped over our chairs. I plop down and ease my backpack off. In spite of my best efforts I dump a load of mud on the white tiled floor. I am aware of the looks we are getting. Everyone, I repeat, everyone is looking at us. The staff, the patrons and even the people standing in line for takeaway's. My Garmin is playing up and I need to get my spare from the bag on my bike. It takes me a few minutes to pluck up the courage to run the gauntlet of stares and snickers. As I walk back to my bike I am reminded of a description in the book My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. He writes about his sister Margot walking along trailing yards of scent. Except that I'm leaving behind a trail of mud. It's dripping off me. With every footfall bits of mud cascade off me like confetti at a hippos wedding. Fortunately most people seem to find it amusing. I don't. And neither do a couple seated a few tables from us. I don't blame them—we are a filthy raggedy crew. To make matters worse our waitron makes a mess of our order and our stay at the Wimpy is extended. 


Bill settled, penance paid and apologies offered we head back into the street to retrieve our bikes. The route out of town takes us through the 'burbs. We are soon reunited with our jeep track and bobble along toward Volksrust 88km away. It's a fairly flat section and even with a little mud it shouldn't take more than 5 hours. With over 100 km's under our wheels we can feel the gentle incline which isn't made any easier when we have to ride over long stretches of discarded gravel that has been left over from railway ballast cleaning operations. It's getting warm and Merak comments that he might have underestimated his hydration needs... again. Last time we attempted this section Merak ran out of water and I rationed him to one sip for every few kilometres. Those were the longest kilometres ever. 


Carlo is dropping off and we wait occasionally for him to catch up. We try riding slower but once you're grooved in an hours long rhythm it's hard to gear down. 50 km's out of Standerton where the train line heads into a tunnel we get to a tar road and wait for Carlo. We expect him to be one or two minutes behind us but after 10 minutes there is still no sign of him. Just as he comes into view I get a phone call to let me know that Carlo has pulled the plug. Sure enough, as he pulls up he tells us he has decided that he has gone far enough. He's also not feeing great and reckons he is still within retrieval distance from home. He has made a call and is happy to wait for the cavalry to come fetch him. It's a lucky break for Merak who fills his bottles from Carlo's Camelbak. With the Musketeers down to two we continue on. 


As the railway line reappears we have conflicting directions from our Garmins. Mine has us leaving the tar road and Merak's wants us to continue down the tar. The tar section would be a lot easier but knowing Elton's aversion for tar I opt for the harder jeep track routing. It's muddy and rough going so it must be right. 


We arrive in Volksrust at 5pm. That's about an hour slower than I'd hoped for. It's muggy and I'm exhausted. We make our way to the Wimpy. This time we order takeaways and sit on the pavement and do our best to eat. A quick calculation has us a little over a third of the way to the sea. We've still got 360 kilometres to go with 4800m of cumulative ascent to tackle. We've got a long way to go. Imagine standing on the start line of a race like 36One feeling this exhausted. 

Thursday, 30 January 2020

The HeidelBay 545 - Part 2



Shortly after the start the GPS directs us onto the railway reserve road. The weather looks like it might get damp but we're hopeful it'll just be light rain. They've obviously had recent rain because it's muddy and large puddles abound. For the most part we are able to route around all but the largest of puddles. We get to the first of many railway bridges which the HeidelBay veterans refer to as the 5 Arches Bridge. Here we find Niven who has deployed his drone and is filming us as we cross the river below the bridge. I've only ever Niven once before. I arrived in Ntsikeni late one night and Niven was still up and wandered through to the common area of the lodge. He is an avid supporter of the HeidelBay route and when he heard that we were going to give it a bash he asked if he could be a fly on the wall and record our trip. 


The track on the other side has deteriorated since I was last here and we get a bit scratched up getting around the fence. The track opens up and we empty onto a district road that takes us through Balfour. 


After Balfour we're back on a mucky track. In spite of our best efforts we have our first baptism of mud mixed with dodgy looking stuff. This scenario will be played out a number of times as we pass informal settlements along the way. I guess it's a combination of poor sanitation and the concentration of  animal husbandry that takes place on the periphery of the settlements.  


As we progress the frequency of muddy stretches and water puddles increases. Even when not wet the going is hard as we roll over sodden earth. Fortunately the terrain is fairly flat which allows us to move at a good pace albeit not without some effort. 


Approaching Greylingstad the jeep track is hemmed in by tall reedlike grass which whips against forearms with such force that it stings. We constantly switch sides on the jeep track to give one and then the other of our arms a break from the assault. When we get to Greylingstad we leave the jeep track and roll through town on tar before once again taking up position on a jeep track running parallel to the rail line. There's a settlement on the other side of the line and the rail ballast is doing a good job of allowing the watery waste to leach through. Our momentum is broken as we slow to pick our way around and through huge puddles of blackened water. 


Soon we are back on a good and dry district road where we head toward the grain silos at Val. The sky is clearing and it's a gorgeous day. Once through Val we rejoin the service road and it's a bit muddy. Then it's a lot muddy. At one point the GPS route directs us onto a district road but we duck back to the safety of the service road which although not easy sailing isn't leg ripping mud. 


I recognise the next set of silos up ahead where the original route was to the left. The route suggested by our Garmin's is to the right and I'm not keen to keep schlepping through the mud. I figure we can sneak around the left hand edge of the silos and rejoin the route on the other side. The plan goes well... briefly. 


We thread through the derelict remains of the rail siding adjacent to the silos and pop out at the entrance gate. So far so good. The proper route is less than 200m away on the other side of the railway line and we've managed to avoid the muddy road. A stationary train stands between us and where we want to be. I track around the fence of the silos hoping to find a road or footpath that'll take us back over the line. Merak and Carlo foolishly put their trust in my nav skills. 


The road heads away from the train line but I'm still hopeful that we will find a way back toward the line. All we find is a bus abandoned in the middle of the road. As we approach the bus the reason for it's abandonment becomes all too clear. It's bogged down in polisiehondmodder. The clay mud attacks our bikes and before long my bike is so clogged that the chain jumps off and the wheels are no longer turning. I look back toward the silos and suggest we get back there and find a way to cross the rails. 


Once again we pass the bogged down bus. I sled my bike along the road. The wheels are packed solid with mud and they aren't going to turn. After a while I stop and scrape off enough mud that I can ride. There is a meilie field that runs up to the silo perimeter fence. A quick check confirms there is a jeep track running adjacent to the fence. I drop mud laden bike over the fence. Man it's heavy! 


I regain my bike and pedal around the meilie field until I'm ahead of the stationary train and close to the rails. Once back on the service road I ride ahead until I can see a huge puddle of water. It doesn't matter that it's murky at least it's a lot less muddy than my bike. The three of us alternate between scraping chunks of mud off our bikes and splashing dirty water over the liberated bits and pieces. 


It occurs to me that my plan to avoid a fairly muddy road resulted in us getting bogged down on a horrifically muddy road. In my attempt to save time I've flushed at least 30 minutes on this folly. 

Our bikes aren't in concours condition but at least the pedal bones are connected to the chain bones which are connected to the wheel bones. We've still got 30km to get to Standerton and the sun is well above the horizon. We saddle up and move forward. 

Sunday, 26 January 2020

The HeidelBay 545 - Part 1


The Wimpy Mega Cappuccino goes down a lot easier than the Streaky breakfast. The foods not bad but I'm struggling to get it down. We've been on the go for 28 hours and the combined effects of exhaustion, sleep deprivation and heat have suppressed my appetite. The ebb and flow of life play out on the streets of Ulundi. It's Saturday morning and the narrow pavement on the other side of the window is pulsing with life. 


We've only got 113km left to do of our 545km quest to ride non-stop from  Heidelberg in Gauteng to Richards Bay in Kwazulu-Natal. The route is mostly along the railway reserve jeep track. At Volksrust the railway line heads off toward Newcastle. At that point the cycle route deviates toward Wakkerstroom topping out at almost 2000m before dropping into Vryheid where it joins the rail line that runs from Ermelo to Richards Bay. 


The idea of the route developed over time. Years back I joined Kevin Davie on a recce ride where he wanted to see how far he could ride in 24 hours along the rail route to Durban. His ultimate goal was to ride nonstop to Durban. He figured that for our exploratory ride we'd have to get beyond Newcastle. We managed to get through Newcastle before the egg timer ran out. 


Shortly after I took Dave Bell for a spin along the route but before Standerton he'd had enough of rattling along the railway service road. It wasn't to his liking. Funny thing now is that he's a contributor and fan of the idea. Elton Prytz mapped out an alternate route that would end in Richards Bay. Niven chipped in and The HeidelBay 545 was born. Niven has the details here http://heidelbay.blogspot.com/p/the-challenge.html


113km to finish sounds easy enough but we are tired and we expect the next section to be as lumpy as our ride into Ulundi. I'm not looking forward to more of the same. This section of the route is described by many as being beautiful. It is stunning but I imagine it looks a lot nicer through the window of a car. 


I look across to Merak who is also chasing his food around his plate. 

"Why are we doing this?" I ask. 

Merak doesn't respond.

"Maybe we do stuff like this so that our mates think we are amazing?" I proffer. 

"That makes us really shallow," I add. 

We leave the why unanswered. 


This is our second attempt at doing the HeidelBay ride. Our first attempt in September 2018 fizzled out near Utrecht when we rode into the mother of all storms. That failure in some way is our unspoken why. We can't go 0/2. 


Our Heidebay challenge started opposite the Yesterday Today and Tomorrow guesthouse outside Heidelberg. Carlo had opted for a good nights sleep and had stayed at the guesthouse. As we stopped next to the road we saw him pedalling up the driveway with his overnight bag balanced on his handlebars. 


Merak and I unloaded our bikes and got them ready. I, as usual, wasn't well prepared and I picked through a bundle of clothes and equipment trying to decide what I should or shouldn't take. In the end I tossed it all back in my backpack. Rather too much than too little. 


Oliver was supposed to ride with us but he was down with lurgy and not in riding shape. It was his birthday so standing next to the road we celebrated his 18th birthday with cup cakes. At 06:06 we hopped on our bikes and set off toward the sea.  

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Munga 2019 Final Wrap - Gun Fights and Bar Brawls

As much as I think age is just a number the reality is that when you are standing neck deep in torn off calendar pages you are faced with the realisation that you can't ride away from that number.

It goes without saying that a thirty something year old has a massive physical advantage over someone like myself who is almost sixty. Therein lies the beauty of ultra endurance cycling — it's not all about brawn. I like to think that as your body yields to the ageing process there is a inversely proportional increase in savviness.

I appreciate that if you go to a gun fight you need a gun and the skill to use it. A one day race is analogous to a gun fight. The Munga on the other hand is more of a bar brawl. You have to know how to throw a punch as well as knee someone in the groin. Somewhere along the way knives, broken bottles and guns come in handy. Multi-faceted rampaging will keep you from being the first to be ejected into the street.

30 years ago I might have placed more emphasis on my physical condition going into a race. That's not to say that I didn't get into the best shape I could. I did. However, no matter how hard I train I am never going to be a Kevin Benkenstein or Thinus Redelinghuys. My body simply won't tolerate the training load that they are able to put themselves through. My time to recovery after an intense training effort would take too long and result in sub-optimal condition.

Given that physical condition was not a mainstay I could build my race strategy around I needed to figure out how I could prevail against the younger riders. I was under no illusions - I was never going to beat the best of them. My audacious goal was to finish inside the top 10. That meant I'd have to beat a good number of strong riders.

If I have any super power it's the ability to keep riding with the minimum of sleep. This skill was stashed for the bar fight. But it wasn't enough. Apart from that I planned meticulously mapping out times and distances between water points and race villages. Experience has taught me that even the best-laid plans can and do go awry so I was armed with flexibility. I ended up sleeping well before I'd planned to but given the circumstances it was exactly the right time.

If you are going to be a habitual bar scrapper it won't do if you can only take one punch. The best brawlers can take one to the jaw and shake it off. There were times where all I wanted to do was get off my bike and call it a day. To counter that I had programmed my headspace with a version of Muzak (elevator music) that looped endlessly. The constant refrain was, "Keep moving forward, don't give up."

It might come as a surprise to some but the thought, "This race is stupid, why am I doing it?" is as common among the front of the field as anywhere else. Every long race I do is definitely my last one and at some point every day of every race there are moments when the only rational thing to do is quit. Endurance racing isn't fun. But it's satisfying beyond comprehension. That is, once you've finished... and recovered.

I had a good race. I'd even say I had the perfect race. Conditions were tough but they were expected and I'd prepared for them. The best preparation was experience. I've learnt a lot from my successes and failures in this event over the last 5 years. My failures in particular are rich pickings for improvements. I wanted to be able to come home and have no regrets about decisions made during the race. And that's how it is. My race has survived post-race analysis without criticism being levelled.

Finally, the fight analogy is just that. If there's any battle involved it is the fight against yourself. I'm not alone in wanting to go faster and further or finish higher up. When we stand on the start line it's with the intention of becoming our own hero. There's no malice among riders. We see and understand each other's moments of weakness and inner wrestling. We don't relish others travails. In the greater scheme of things where we finish is irrelevant. Someone asked me if I'd feel the same way about my "perfect race" if I'd placed 15th instead of 4th. It made me think. If 5 or 6 stronger riders had entered or if some of the riders who had entered hadn't been beaten by the elements I might well have finished outside of the top 10. After reflection I'd have to say I did the best I'm capable of which means it was my perfect race.

Sunday, 5 January 2020

Munga 2019 - Part 17 - Ceres to Doolhof

I arrive at the Ceres Race Village to a cheery welcome. While I'm filling in the register I'm asked what I would like to eat. I ask what's available. A list of options is run off.
"That sounds perfect," I reply.
"All of it?"
"If that's okay?"
"Sure thing."
He hurries off to whip up an express custom breakfast. I think I just made his day.

The next inquiry is about what I'd like to drink.
"Tea, coffee and Coke will be perfect, thanks." This time there's no query about my broad selection.

By the time I've filled my bottles coffee and Coke are waiting for me.
"Sorry, we don't have tea."
They look genuinely disappointed.

I ask where Sithembiso is and they tell me he's at least an hour behind. Chat turns to the winners. It seems Benky and Thinus settled for a joint win. That's a pity because I'm trying to imagine what a sprint finish would have been like down the precipitous jeep track to the finish. Especially since there's only space for a single bike down the drop off just before the finish.

A plateful of breakfast yumminess is presented. I wolf it down. I've only got 45km to get to the finish at Doolhof. There's sufficient sustenance to fuel my legs and keep a smile on my face.

I sign out and grab my bike. It's a beautiful morning. It's cool with a gentle breeze and apart from the last 2 km drop into Doolhof it's on tar.
A glance at my watch tells me it's 09:20. I wonder if I can get to the finish in under 2 hours. Apart from Sithembiso creeping up behind me there's no particular hurry. It just seems a fun challenge. There is the small matter of getting up the 8km climb of Bainskloof Pass but the road to the start of the pass is mostly flat and fast.

The breakfast has revived me and I'm up and over Mitchell's Pass in no time at all. I'm on the aero bars and moving well. As I get to the approaches of Bainskloof Pass I'm caught by some Wellington based riders who are heading back over the pass. They are following the race and greet me by name. They offer to let me draft behind them but I explain that I'm not allowed to draft and they slip in behind me. As traffic allows one of them rides beside me and we chat. Some of them have done Race To Rhodes and they are familiar with my Blog.

They are strong riders and I'm riding hard so that I don't hold them up. My legs are burning but it feels great to be riding at something akin to race pace. Approaching the top of the climb I see that a sub-2 hour Ceres to Doolhof ride is on the cards. The weariness of the last 3 days has sloughed off. I bid the others adieu and use my aero bars to full effect. The banners indicating the final drop to the finish comes up quickly and I brake hard and head over the lip. I pick my lines carefully as I don't want to crash this close to the end. The final snake like turns make the Garmin ineffective and besides the arrows indicating the route make it superfluous. I'm glad I don't have to keep looking down.

One final drop-off and the Munga Gantry looms. I roll over the finish line and squeeze the brakes. It's 11:18 on Saturday 30th December and one more adventure has come to a close

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Munga 2019 - Part 16- Tankwa Padstal to Ceres

Last year the Tankwa Padstal was where my race ended. This time I'm merely passing through. Another 141 km and I'll be done. I'm in a good space. Physical exhaustion and dilatory thinking and actions brought about by endless hours of pedalling and sleep deprivation become the norm so are ignored as meaningless indicators of how I feel. Even hallucinations can be accommodated without too much concern. Physical pain however, be it saddle sores, ITB or Achilles tenderness, or any pain that would be exacerbated by continued cycling would concern me. As it is I've no red flags.

Michael and Carol-Ann radiate a gentle air of hospitality and warmth that resonates with me. They are calm but attentive and engaging without being exhausting. We fall into easy conversation and I'm well fed and watered and am ready to move on.

Michael assures me that the road is in good shape. That's both good and bad. The good is that it will be fast and I won't be rattling over corrugations. The bad is that a perfect surface lacks stimulation. The road is wide and smooth. It's also a single hue of beige. It's a moonless night and my world consists of what I see in the bubble of light ahead of me. I may as well tape a piece of beige coloured paper to my glasses for all the visual stimulation I'm going to get. A bad road surface would require that I stayed engaged as I look for a better line and avoid obstacles. But right now I'd settle for boring and fast and take my chances with sleep monsters.

I roll out and the road is indeed in good shape. I get an audio book running and get on with the business of putting the next 45 kilometres of dreary gravel behind me. There's one section of 20 km's that is straight as an arrow. In some ways I'm glad I can't see the drudgery that lays ahead.

I've been going for just over an hour and I see vehicle lights approaching. It's still pitch black so I see them from far off. It gets to within a kilometre of me and it pulls to the side of the road and stops. As I approach I see a person standing next to the car. It's Leon Erasmus. He has done multiple Munga's and after countless hours of dot watching has decided to drive to the Padstal and see real people. I'd posit that he's suffering from FOMO—Fear Of Missing Out—but technically that'd be a flawed assumption as he has already missed out on doing the race. So it must be ROMO—Reality Of Missing Out. I stop briefly and we chat. Nice surprise.

I'm on my way again and counting down the kilometres when I notice some lights just off the road to my left. I guess they're no more than 10 metres from the road. I'm trying to figure out why a farmer would put lights out for his sheep in the middle of nowhere. Very odd. It's a fleeting thought that barely touches sides as it wobbles down my thoughts passageway and staggers out the tradesman's entrance.

It's starting to get light and I see a district road merging from the left. This is the road you would take if you drove from Sutherland rather than weave through the farms on a bike. It's a critical landmark for me. Now I know I'm only a handful of kilometres away from a change of scenery. I'm so excited I punch the air and give out an audible whoop whoop which is not like me. This long straight boring road will soon give way to orchards and vineyards. It also means there's some climbing but that's okay.

As the sky lightens the temperature starts dropping. It's down to 12°C and I stop and put a jacket on. I really don't like the look of the sky. It reminds me of a cold mid-winter Freedom Challenge sky. The thought makes me shiver.

Finally I'm free of the grasp of the Tankwa Karoo as I ride into Matjiesrivier.
There's a long slow grind to the base of Bo-Swaarmoed Pass. The weather still looks uncertain with heavy cloud obscuring the top of the pass. As I get to the bottom of the pass the cloud lifts and I can see the twists and turns I'll have to overcome. I've never managed to ride this pass and am determined that today is the day that I'm going to conquer this beast. I'm 3/4 of the way up and I realise that I'm not in conquering condition. It's not a hard climb but my legs can't cope. My energy reserves are depleted and I'm running on fumes.

As I'm plodding up the pass I take out my phone to catch up on race chatter and see that I'm now 4th. Somehow Sithembiso has fallen behind me. That's weird. There's only one road from the Padstal to Matjiesrivier and I didn't see him. Hmm. Wait... The lights next to the road that I thought were sheep lights... I now have an explanation that makes sense. The next message I see is that Sithembiso has compounded his problems by going the wrong way. Advantage Mike.

2 minutes later I look back and I see 2 cyclists heading up the pass behind me. So much for my 4th place elation. They are too far back to see who they are but I'm guessing one must be Sithembiso and the other... I've no idea. They are pedalling up the climb I've just walked and making it look like they're on an easy Saturday morning ride. As they get closer I notice that they don't have Munga race boards and therefore aren't part of the race. They are in fact a couple out for their Saturday morning ride. We exchange a few words as they pass. They were surprised to see bike tracks when they started up the climb as they seldom see other cyclists out this way.

I'm at the top of the climb and onto the tar road. My sense is that I just need to roll down the road, cut through a farm section and I'll be in Ceres in no time at all. I look down at my Garmin. What!!! I've still got 40km to get to the Race Village in Ceres. That doesn't seem right. It's just down the road. Isn't it? No amount of wishing is going to make it less. I pedal up the first climb on the tar road. I can see the couple ahead of me. They are making it look far too easy. I know it's about 12 km to the turn off and most of that is downhill. Hill conquered I'm zooming along and my Garmin says I must turn left. It's nonsense. I know I don't have to go left this early and carry on. Then it starts squealing telling me I'm off course. I stop. The Garmin is confused but I'm too tired to argue so I play along. I go back and take a random farm road where the Garmin insisted I turn off. I've gone 30 metres and the Garmin tells me I'm off course again. I'm back on the tar and ignoring my Garmin. 100 metres on and it's happy again. Should have trusted my gut.

Soon I'm passing a community hall which means I should turn left in a few hundred metres. The Garmin ignores the turnoff that I've always taken and tells me to carry on. This is weird. I check the Garmin. Yup, I've gone 12 km. But the route on the Garmin clearly says I must carry on down the tar road. And it is down. Steep and fast down. Like a big effort to reverse if its wrong steep. I'm rolling along with one eye on the road and the other on my Garmin. I'm on track in spite of my reservations. Then I remember Alex saying something about a route change before Ceres. I should have paid attention.

At the 18 km mark there's a turnoff onto a gravel road and my Garmin suggests I take it. Still 22km to go. I don't remember wiggling through farms for so many kilometres and I've cut out a huge chunk by going further on tar. I get to the first climb and my legs are hollow. I'm empty. I crawl up the climbs and roll down the other side. I ride around in what seems ever decreasing circles and now I'm on a tar road that I remember. This is the last haul to town. It's flat fast and... not that short. I remember it being short but I've still got 11.5km to the Race Village. The distances on Garmin have been spot on with the distances I have on my cheat sheet so it must be every inch of those 11.5km. I summon a smidgeon of enthusiasm and manage to get my speed up.

Finally I'm through the centre of Ceres and at the race village. The food here is always good. Individually tailored and good. I'm empty, hungry and keen to fuel up for the final push. I head inside to see what's available.

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Munga 2019 - Part 15 - Tankwa River Lodge to the Tankwa Padstal.


Tankwa River Lodge is tucked away in the nicest part of the Tankwa Karoo. There are other parts that are overtly hostile. I'll be visiting those parts shortly. But before I do I get to enjoy the hospitality of WP9. It's a gorgeous evening with a slight breeze that looks like it might assist me in getting to the next water point. If it turns out to be of no help that's okay because at the very least it seems unlikely to be a hinderance. 


The ambience is relaxed, mostly because there is no electricity, and I'm efficiently assisted in filling bottles and getting something to eat. A small generator is fired up to make a cup of coffee. I ask about the rider behind me. I'm told that the last time they had an internet connection there wasn't a rider close to me. I mention the lights I saw at the top of the pass and they assure me it was unlikely to be another rider. Even so I'm expecting to see someone roll down the driveway any minute.


In spite of not getting any sleep in Sutherland I feel okay and I'm looking forward to the next section. That's only because I'm going through at night. It's 165km to the next Race Village in Ceres with 115km of that being the most desolate part of the country you're likely to find. There is a water point situated at the Tankwa Padstal which is 70 km away. During the day this section is brutally hot and there's normally a demoralising headwind. But during the hours of darkness you've a better chance of it being cool with little chance of a headwind. Over the years I've tackled it in daylight and at night and it's a proper Jekyll and Hyde. My daytime excursions have been traumatic while my nighttime sorties have been okay apart from rampaging sleep monsters. 


Time to head out. In spite of my concerns no other riders have arrived. At the top of the driveway I look back down the trail and there are no lights to be seen. The Tankwa River Lodge is located in the Northern Cape. It's 20 kilometres to the provincial border of the Western Cape. My rear tyre is a bit flat and I make a note to pump it up when I get to the next gate. 


The first gate comes up as I leave the district road to start cutting across farmland. I prop my bike against the fence and close the gate. I pop the end of my pump over the tyre valve and seconds later my tyre is completely flat. Now I understand what Martin meant when he said the pump was useless. It seems the one way valve in the pump head isn't doing it's job. After fishing out an inflator cartridge and getting the tyre back to operating pressure I stow the dysfunctional pump and hop back on my steed. 


Access to the Western Cape is via a gnarly jeep track that is the hardest climb of the race. It's only 2km and on fresh legs it's a rideable albeit tough pedal. I haven't had fresh legs for days so I ride up about a quarter of the way and push the rest. I'm wearing carbon soled shoes and I'm reminded afresh why I use flexible soled shoes for the Freedom Challenge. These carbon shoes really are rubbish for walking in. Fortunately there's very little walking required on this race and some riders don't walk at all. As I stomp up the track I'm constantly looking back to see if I can see any chasing lights. In spite of being 99% certain of getting a top 10 finish I've started to consider that I might be able to finish well inside the top 10 so the last thing I want to see is a bunch of guys chasing me down. It's a moonless night and there are no lights to be seen, bike or otherwise. I reckon that from up on the mountain I'm able to see a bike light as far away as 10 km's if not more. 


Satisfied that I've got a decent gap I mount my bike and pick my way down the rock strewn jeep track. As it flattens out I know I've only got another 45 km to get to the Padstal. From memory I know the track all the way there is in good condition with few climbs or challenging bits. I pop my earphones in, get music playing and drop onto my aero bars. I turn my bike light up a notch and scan ahead constantly on the lookout for sandy patches. At night sand is all but impossible to see. However, I can see the tyre tracks left by the riders ahead of me. Running into a sand trap at speed while crouched over your aero bars can dampen euphoria in the blink of an eye. 


It's windless and I'm enjoying the cool night. Having done this section many times I'm able to tick off the various landmarks as they rush through the bubble cast by my bike light. 


As I pass a small steel shed I smile at the memory of my time here last year. I got here 10 hours quicker which meant I caught it at its worst. The temps were in the high 40's. I was low on water and what water I had was so hot it was undrinkable. This is where I hatched the plan to cool my bottles with a wet buff which was the precursor to my BottleSox. The wind was blowing something fierce whipping up the sand and stinging my legs, arms and face. It was blowing slightly across and I battled to keep my bike on the track. I was crawling along at around 10 km/h as I drew level with the shed. I saw 2 dogs asleep in the shade of the shed and it looked like the best idea ever. I stopped, propped my bike against the shed and lay down next to the dogs on a pile of what I assume were sheep dropping. It didn't matter what they were because they were comfortable. In no time at all the three of us were fast asleep in the narrow ribbon of shadow cast by the shed. I woke up a while later crisping in the full glare of the sun. My sleeping buddies had abandoned me. I found them in the shade on the other side of the shed. It's then that I knew we'd never be friends. What a difference 10 hours can make. This time I breezed past the shed feeling content which passes for absolute joy in these events.


A distant farm light peeps over the horizon which means I'm getting close to the district road that'll take me to the Tankwa Padstal. 


I'm through the last gate and onto the road and a sign indicates that it's only 3 km to the shop. The water point is hosted in the adjacent community hall. As I make my way along the road I notice bright red lights up ahead to my left. I can't figure out what they are or even how far away they are. I know I've still got almost 3km to get to the hall but the lights seem a lot closer. I've no idea what I'm looking at and am further confused when as I pedal they dont appear to get any closer. I've ridden 2.5km from the gate when I see smaller flashing red lights that indicate the turnoff to the water point. Now I can see what the bright red lights are. They are the lights of an ambulance that's parked outside the hall. They've obviously left them on as a beacon for us night stalkers. 


Michael and Carol-Ann Jeffrey are once again on duty at WP10. This has to be the toughest water point to look after on the entire route. Firstly it's the last one (Ceres is the last Race Village) and it's located is the harshest place imaginable. Day time temperatures get into the high 40's and it's deep into the night before the temperature in the tin roofed structure drops to anything one could call comfortable. As a consequence you'll find them sitting outside until late at night. The first riders come through around the 48 hour mark and the last limp in approaching the 120 hour race cut-off. They are essentially on duty for 70 hours. There's no time off. In spite of this Michael and Carol-Ann are welcoming and friendly. 


As I pull up Michael comes out to meet me and says, "Aren't you cold?" I hadn't even thought about that. I look at my watch and it's just after 2am. That's a good enough reason for it to have cooled down. It's 20°C but compared to the heat we've been through it does feel delightfully nippy.