Friday, 18 June 2010

Finally at Rhodes

Today was the last stretch for the Rough Ride to Rhodes bunch. Knowing that it was a short day (if a 7 to 9 hour day can be considered short!) and being so cold we opted for a late start at just after 7. If was a chilly start but our spirits were buoyed by the knowledge that the forecast for the day was good conditions. It is an 8km pedal to the start of the 7km portage up the mountain - a route known as Lehana pass. "Pass" is a rather fancy title for something loosely resembling a little used donkey track. Some early morning cloud obscured the sun except for the mountain peaks of Lehana pass which were bathed in sunlight and glistened bright white with the snow on the slopes. Thirty minutes of trekking up the slopes found us walking through the first scattered drifts of snow. By the time we reached the top we were at times knee deep in snow. However there were only smiles and no grumbling as we slogged on under a cloudless sky with no wind. Anton slipped on some ice and gashed his shin badly. He has battled all day to stem the bleeding without much luck but will push on tomorrow.
The trudge through the snow continued until we hit dirt roads after which it alternated between snow, ice, slush and mud until just 15km's from Rhodes it all dried up to yield a perfectly rideable surface. Riding down the long and steep Naudes pass with snow and ice on the road was a little testing. Francois lost his front wheel and got to inspect the ice at close quarters.
We had an end of ride dinner this evening for the Ride to Rhodes guys also attended by the RASA competitors who are overnighting in Rhodes. The Ride to Rhodes finishers were presented with their traditional herdsman whips and some words of encouragement were offered to the RASA lads who continue on tomorrow. This being the inaugural Rough Ride to Rhodes made for a special time around the dinner table. The Ride to Rhodes guys shared exactly the same conditions with full backpacks and only riding the race route where other softer options existed. The R2R and RASA guys who I shared the trail with over the last 6 days were a great bunch with no complaints or moaning. The whole bunch embracing each challenge and revelling in the beauty of their surrounds - except me. I didn't enjoy the first three days of riding as I felt the pain in my body every inch of the way. The last three days were better. The bunch of guys I rode with however made all 6 days worthwhile as the company was fun and uplifting. Over the last few days we have had a few team races where Andre and I compete to find the fastest way to get to a certain point while sticking within the race options. The others would then choose one team or other and compete to win the mini stage. It all ended in a tie by the end but it was always amusing to see who would back who each time we declared a challenge or Andre or I chose different paths. I guess its never fun to back a loosing horse. We will get up early to wish the RASA guys Bon Voyage before making our way home to watch the rest of the race unfold from the comfort of our heated rooms on the screens of our PC's

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Ride into a frozen Vuvu

Really cold night at Malaghalonyane last night made it difficult to sleep. Got going just after 6 to be faced with an icy wind blowing off the snow covered mountains. The first 6km's took us 90 mins. The next 6 were all downhill so took no time at all. The wind chill factor of our speed with the sub zero temperatures made our eyes both water and freeze at the same time. It was horrible. The rest of the day went smoothly but it got progressively colder after midday. We arrived at Vuvu School our support station just before sunset after yet another interesting 2 hour trip through the Vuvu valley. It is as remote a valley as you can imagine and not a simple ride. The last section is a climb up a near vertical face that takes at least 30 mins.
I am now snugly wrapped up in bed in one of the locals huts and can hear the wind howling outside. One day left and I am really looking forward to getting it behind me and getting off the bike for a few days.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

First Snow

We had a lie in today due to the short section. Only about 60km. We hopped out of bed at 6 for a 7 o'clock breakfast to start at 8. At 7 it started snowing lightly. There was light snow as we left and it was on and off all day. Temperature barely above zero all day. Only excitement of the day was an impromptu race across the Knira flood plain. Riders divided themselves into 2 "teams" following either Mike or Andre. Mike only had one taker (Francois) as he had been riding slow from day 1. By the time Andres team arrived at the Queens Mercy shop the other two had been there for over half an hour.
I had a better day today partly because I have gotten over myself and mostly because I lathered my saddle region with anaesthetic cream. Certainly helped. The snow is widespread and may be a problem in the next few days for us. The mountains around us are covered making it really cold. The guys who hung their washing on the fence went to collect it soon after sunset to find it frozen solid.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Days 2 and 3

Today was much like yesterday in one respect and in another the complete opposite. Yesterday I had no fun on the trail and today was just the same. Yesterday was really hot while today was icy.
My lack of fitness combined with a 10kg backpack and a dysfunctional right pedal makes for a long uncomfortable day. The bits of my body that make contact with the saddle feel like they are both ulcerated and raw. Perhaps just a bit raw. It just hurts so bad that I look forward to portages or any walk for that matter and we have had that in spades. Yesterday due to the hot conditions we had to carefully manage our water resorting to boiling river water at one stage. It was the hottest day I have experienced on the trail in 4 years. We were looking forward to the evening just to cool down. When we eventually arrived at Ntsikeni at 20h30 after 14 and a half hours on the move it was sub zero. The main reason for our late arrival was a navigational error heading into Centacow Mission. There is a lot of active logging in the forest and it changes everything. Collectively our group have been through that section 18 times and we still got it wrong. The remedy to get back on track was a hideous climb over one mountain followed by. A long slog. Cost us nearly 2 hours. Cold start this morning crunching over iced over puddles. Fought our way through the thick grass of Ntsikeni valley. Rode the rest of the day into a strong and freezing head wind. Mountains tops around St Bernards Peak covered in snow. Gawie got tired of the slow pace and set off on his own. He eventually caught up with us having lost his way on the trail as we exited the last single track an hour from making the support station Surprised to find Trevor and Eugene still at Masakala when we arrived. Trevor having experienced problems with his freebody. He has a new pawl which is not the right part by they have managed to grind it into usable shape. They plan an early start. The rest of us are going to sleep in and leave at the civilised hour of 8. Weather tomorrow looks grim. Max of 8 Celsius predicted.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

When walking is a great idea

At first glance this concrete "road" looks like the perfect option for descending into the Umkomaas valley. The only problem being that it is too steep to ride down safely so walking is the method of choice. Rather a bizarre "road" as it goes absolutely nowhere!
I really struggled today arriving at the support station after dark for a 12 hour day on the trail. I suspect me troubles are caused firstly by lack of training and secondly by lack of talent. Andre and Francois (Riekert) have been very gracious and waited for me all day

Friday, 11 June 2010

So not ready!

7 hours till the start of the ride and I have only just finished packing my backpack - to be fair I only started on it an hour ago.
Have been so busy at work that I have had no time to prepare. Last night I managed to put new tyres on my bike which was long overdue and then haul out a selection of things (clothing and other assorted paraphernalia) which I spread out on the floor. Getting out of bed this morning I realised I was not going to get everything done for my 8 o'clock lift so canned that idea and decided to take my car instead. I ran out of time so asked my wife if she could chuck my bike and anything else that looked useful into her car and meet me up the road. When she arrived it was pretty obvious that I was never going to be able to shoehorn the stuff she had into my car along with all the race admin stuff I was shipping to the start. Decided to chuck my stuff in her bigger car and head off to Pietermaritzburg.
Arriving at the start venue there was the usual hubbub in getting people registered. I followed that up with a very scratchy pre-race briefing which I had to do.
Finally was able to sort my kit out. Found enough stuff to fill my backpack. Just short of a cell phone charger, some nice-to-have space parts, puncture repair kit and a pump. Probably find some other crucial stuff missing in the next day or two but there is nothing I can do about it now except have a good few hours sleep and then head down the trail and have some fun.

Friday, 4 June 2010

2010 and on the trail again

Fifty, Fat and Fantastically under trained I have just over a week until the start of Ride 2 Rhodes 2010. To be fair I did ride the inaugural 9 day joBerg2c at the end of April so up until a month ago my legs were turning over ok. I guess you could say I have been "tapering" since then. Andre Britz and I are supposed to be the Guardians for the first group starting on 12 June. I say "supposed" because the job of a Guardian is to shepherd the Ride2Rhodes group through to Rhodes with the aid of a vehicle. These riders although riding the same route as the racers going through to the Cape have fixed stops every day and have there baggage ferried forward each day. They are also met along the route each day and are fortified with food and drink. We have decided that our bunch will dispense with the soft touch and ride to Rhodes as if we are doing the full race. This means full backpacks and no comforts and definitely no vehicular support as Andre and I will be riding the route along with everyone else. What this means in practice is that we only had 2 takers. Looking forward to a fun filled week as we are joined by Francois who rode most of the full race with me last year.