Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Day 14 - A rest day of 160 kilometres

After just 3 hours sleep I was woken by Brian's alarm. Not quite what I had in mind but I was awake so I got up had a shower and prepped my bike. Bike prep. consists of filling water bottles and adding race powder, cleaning out all the snack wrappers from the previous day or stage if you do multiple stage days, and in my case topping up my snack bag with jelly babies and wine gums. I snacked my way through a bag of each for every completed stage. Lastly a selection of energy bars and chocolates were selected and loaded. Choice changed each day according to how I felt. Chunky Kit Kat always got the nod.
Got to see Trevor and Theo at breakfast and they were looking annoyingly fit and strong. I decided I would treat the day as a moving rest day to recover from the abuse I had put my body through the day before. That's the irony of this race. I was contemplating an easy day of 160km's which included a 90 minute portage up a cliff face.
Leaving Prince Albert it was apparent that the Theo bullet train had lost none of their enthusiasm for fast paced riding and I settled into a more civilised pace suited to a guy half-a-hundred-and-a-bit years old. I plodded along nicely without realising quite how ploddy it was until I arrived in Gamkaaskloof at 11:23 to see that the 3T's (Theo, Trevor and Tweet) had signed in at 09:42.

The guy at the support station assured me that David's distances to the finish were way out and it was a lot shorter than the narrative suggested. I asked him how far it really was to the start of the ladder and he said it was only 4 or 5 km's. When I asked how far it was from the top of the Ladder to road he said it was also about 4 or 5 km's. In practice it was over 11km's to the Ladder and it was about the same again to the road. Fortunately I had done it before and wasn't suckered into the 4 or 5 km story.
I have gone up the Ladder (Die Leer) twice before, each time arriving at first light. This was the first time I was able to look at the route out of Die Hell in full light. Standing on the ridge opposite it was hard to accept that the route out went up the rocky cliff face in front of me. If I hadn't done it before I would have thought I was at the wrong place.
The narrative reads "walking behind the trees you will experience a moment of wonder!" And it really is a moment of wonder. Firstly you wonder if the steep ill defined path is right and then you are filled with wonder at the though of people finding this path and then leading donkeys in and out of the valley this way. In 2007 I stayed at one of the restored historical cottages in the valley and it boasted the first coal stove brought into the valley. It was dismantled and trekked in piece by piece on the backs of donkeys. The Ladder, or as it is better known 'Die Leer' is an amazing part of the history of that remote valley. It is a pity that a few land owners are looking to close down what has been a public right of way for decades because they don't want a few dozen cyclists a year passing over their land. To my mind, the race generates positive publicity for the little known jewels of Die Hell and Die Leer.
I have scampered up The Ladder in under an hour before but this time I sauntered up in 90 minutes, stopping often to look back and enjoy the view. Gamkaaskloof (more commonly known as Die Hell) is a remote valley less than 20km's long with an average width of just a few hundred metres.
At the pace I was moving I got to enjoy the variety of plants I passed as I make my way up the 1.2km climb. The plants in this part of the world are tough. They look inviting but are rough to the touch. It was interesting to note the presence of spekboom plants. Hundreds of kilometres back on the route they have embarked on a spekboom replanting programme in the Baviaanskloof mountains where over grazing, mostly by angora goats had all but eradicated this species that once covered the region like a wall to wall carpet.
I bumped my way over the gnarly jeep track that empties on to the district road just above the Seweweekspoort climb. A gentle headwind slowed progress as I climbed to the top of horlosie pass. The reward was a 17km descent on a dirt road in mint condition. The sun had started setting which added a surreal glow that made the experience all the more enjoyable. At the bottom I made the final turn of the day and cranked up the last few climbs arriving at the farm Rouxpos just after 7:30pm - a perfect time for dinner. I really enjoy Ronel and Gerrards company as they are warm uncomplicated people.
The three T's had arrived three and a half. hours ahead of me, stuffed food down their gullets and pushed on toward the next support station at Anysberg nature reserve. Well fed and showered I was settling down as Brian arrived. I was feeling remarkably relaxed and in good spirit when Ronel asked what time I would like breakfast. I said 5:15 would be just fine as it was a Sunday after all.
The other reason is that we would have to navigate our way through Wagendrift in the morning and I wanted to be able to see the landmarks clearly in day light. Just before bed time the race office called and told us to go around Wagendrift as there were issues going through. Trevor and Theo had been turned back and to add insult to injury Theo had been bitten by a dog on their way out. Even with the early navigational challenge now out of the way I was still keen on a late start the next day. It was a full but uncomplicated ride to Montagu in the morning so I didn't see the point in an early start.

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