"Leaving Pietermaritzburg on Sunday morning, current tandem record holder, Mike Woolnough immediately made his intentions clear. Heading through the Bisley Nature Reserve he rode away from the rest of his starting group. Despite good weather he was unable to cross the Umkomaas River, swollen with the recent rains and was forced to take a detour. He climbed with efficiency out of the Hella Hella and arrived at the Allendale support station in the Sisonke District in the early afternoon. Where those who left Pietermaritzburg before him had stopped, Woolnough pushed on.
By nightfall Woolnough had ridden through the Nxumeni indigenous forest and dropped down to the Umzimkulu River. He stopped briefly at the historic Centocow Mission before continuing on in darkness to climb the Gxalangene mountain. His progress was slowed when crossing the Ngwangwane River he came to the assistance of a group of three riders who had left Pietermaritzburg a day earlier and who had spent the previous three hours trying to find the route through to the Ntsikeni Nature Reserve.
Woolnough arrived at Ntsikeni after midnight having climbed in excess of 5500 metres and ridden 210 kms over a period of 19hrs and 30 minutes of near continuous cycling. After a few hours sleep he left Ntsikeni and is now headed across the upper catchment of the Umzimvubu River towards the Maluti Drakensberg mountains.
Woolnough's effort not only puts him well ahead of the rest of the field, but on par with the 2009 record setting pace of current men's record holder, Tim James. "
Sounds quite epic doesn't it? In practice it was just one ordinary guy with his bike who had a whole heap of fun.
My plan was to just get to Centocow with my brother Sean. We started out together and were joined by Stefan. Sean and Stefan fell behind a bit and were only about 200 metres behind me out of Bisley so I wasn't concerned. I thought they would ride together and catch up on the road through to Meyershoek. As it was I was 5 minutes ahead of them at that point.
After leaving Minerva I got word that Sean was 20 minutes behind and cramping. I carried on at a moderate pace and by midday made it to the Hella Hella bridge. I rode for 30 mins to the first switch back and then walked the next 30 mins.
My left knee started aching a bit as I rode off from the bridge and I assumed it might have taken a bit of a beating from climbing over and around the rocks along the river. After 10 minutes the pain was gone and I had no further problems with it.
I thought I could make the first support station at Allendale by 3pm and after a moderately paced ride I rolled in at 1:52pm way ahead of my best prediction. Had a chat, 2 cups of tea and 2 hot dogs before heading off.
The route through the forest to Donnybrooke took just 90 mins and I stopped to buy a coke. I then pedalled into the next section of forest and had a lovely ride descending into Centocow just after dark.
The idea of stopping before 6pm seemed wasteful as the weather was good and I was having fun. A quick bite to eat and I was off. I took it easy walking up the big climbs and just enjoying the cool but not cold evening.
Just after 8pm I saw some lights in the distance that look like LED's and thought it was a bit odd. There is no electricity in that area so any kind of light stands out. As I got closer I saw the lights were on the route I would be taking so I was interested to see what it was. It turned out to be 3 hapless riders who had been wandering around for hours unable to find their way through the forest. In their defence it must be noted that forestry tracks are some of the most difficult bits to navigate, even during daylight. They hooked on and after 30 minutes we had them out of the forest, over the mountain and safely on the district road. One of their party was struggling so faced with the prospect of being up all night I pointed them in the right direction and pushed on.
After an easy ride with a few walking climbs I made it into the Ntsikeni reserve. The last 9 kms is a real bog-snorkle and not much fun. Nevertheless, I arrive at 01:30am quite satisfied with a job well done.
The thing that struck me the most was how easy it actually was. I think the good weather and friendly riding temperatures made it a whole lot easier. Went to bed well pleased.
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