Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Day 12 - getting back in to the race groove

Getting up just before 4 Tweet and I heated some water for coffee on the Aga stove and managed to make toast in the oven. With about 965km's still to ride I needed to get a wiggle on if I wanted a reasonable finishing time.
The obvious plan to the finish looked something like:
160km to Dam se Drif
270km to Prince Albert (big ask but doable)
160km to Rouxpos
150km to Montagu
150km to Trouthaven
75km to Diemersfontein
That would give me a 16 and a half day finish which is reasonable. But, I wasn't sure it would secure 5th place with Allen, Richmond and Andre Visser chasing.
Soon after 4am we were heading up toward the Grootrivierpoort. At the top Tweet commented that arriving in the dark was such a waste as it was one of the most spectacular views of the race and we could only see the small space illuminated by our lights.
A few hours later, still in darkness, we arrived at the start of the Osseberg 4x4 track. In my typical conservative manner I started walking down the rutted and overgrown track. After a few minutes Tweet came shooting by obviously intent on riding down. I threw caution to the wind and cycled on behind him. I figured he would fall into the holes ahead of me giving me ample warning. As it turned out he stayed upright while shouting a few warnings to me. We were right on the crest of the mountain range when the sun lightened the eastern sky. We took the opportunity to stop and enjoy the vistas surrounding us. Up ahead what looked like a water filled valley was actually the valley we were heading for and it filled with morning fog. Riding down the mountain in to the fog was visually spectacular even though it was freezing cold. We crunched over the frozen grass through a thick fog and came to the first of 11 river crossings. When I first rode through in 2007 there was an obvious jeep track running the entire length of the gorge. Now it was barely discernible. Here and there were piles of flood debris that had dogged the riders last year. I can only imagine how awful it must have been. A year later the debris and fallen trees were still challenging although nothing compared to the carnage experienced during last years race.
Meryl had described that section as "dead easy". Clearly she had not been through here. The river crossings, sometimes as long as 100 metres were completely overgrown with reeds and finding the right route needed a bit of thought. The jeep track had become a series of splintered single tracks where huge fallen trees made it impassable. I wondered when last a vehicle had actually driven this far down the gorge and figured it had been many years.
Once over the 3 metre gate to the reserve we rode on what used to be a good dirt road but was now a tacky disused track. Clearly no one was visiting the reserve which accounted for the 4x4 track being in such bad shape.
Just before the main district road we found the river had washed the road away leaving a 30 metre chasm where the road once ran. That explained the disused state of the road.
We rolled in Kudu Kaya (Cambria support station) just after 11am and found it in disarray even though the riders who had spent the previous night had left nearly 6 hours before. There was no milk and no food. It arrived 30 minutes after we did and it wasn't worth the wait as it was far from appealing. I nibbled on the food, had a few cups of tea and we were out the door.
Dam se Drif is about 80km's from Cambria over 2 big mountain passes. The day was unusually warm and we made good progress. It was strange riding through the various kloof's along the way to find some really warm and others freezing cold. For the first time in the race I become really hungry. The hunger, combined with an ache in my left knee, convinced me to stop at Dam se Drif for the night and not push on another 90km's to Willowmore. Tweet was keen to push on and gobbled his food and got ready to go. He asked if I was coming and I indicated that I was done for the day and was pretty confident of covering the 260km's the next day to get to Prince Albert. I left him at the table contemplating his options and went to settle down. We had caught up with Rory and I was able to catch up with his trail stories including a first hand account of how he was savaged by a pack of dogs. He had the scars to prove it even though the stitches had already been removed. Rory is a great guy and it was clear that he was enjoying every bit of the adventure. Tweet arrived a short while later having decided to stay put. This resulted in a schedule and strategy change as he deviated from his 6 hours of sleep for the first time in the race and settled for just 5. Big day to follow with 260km's on the cards.

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