Monday, 9 July 2012

Day 3 - Rampant Sleep Monsters

We headed out at about 4am and on the spur of the moment I decided that we would try the longer but faster route out of the lodge which I knew about but had never tried. This turned out to be a mistake as it may be quicker in dry conditions but with recent rains it had become completely unrideable. We abandoned the "fast route" and cut across the hills, slopped through sticky mud and emerged onto a rideable road having taken 30 minutes longer than anticipated. We caught and passed our first riders coming off Thaba Chitja (they had started 2 days ahead of us) and made good time to the cliffs above Tinana Mission. Second mistake of the day was trying something different to what I had done half a dozen times before. It cost us a further 15 or 20 minutes but we were off and charging for Vuvu. The short stretch of road into Setabataba must surely be the worst road in South Africa. It is simply horrible. After a thorough rattling we arrived at the last spazza shop before entering the Vuvu valley only to discover they no longer sell coke! Muttering to ourselves we headed into the valley. Progress was slightly slowed by a late afternoon thunder shower as we made our way up the cliffs arriving just after 15:30. A push to Rhodes that night meant a moonless climb up the infamous Lehana. We decided to give it a whirl. Trevors reasoning was "just find the path and follow it to the top". If only it was that simple. We left Vuvu school with enough daylight to get to the start of the portage. Along the way I was coughing my lungs out and spitting out chucks. I hoped I had started the antibiotics soon enough to deal with the infection before it became debilitating. We had managed the first simple climb when everything went pitch black. It was so dark that we were unable to make out the silhouette of the mountains that surrounded us. To add to the challenge the wind started blowing, increasing in velocity until it was blowing us over. Total darkness, save for the light of our torches, and gale force winds made it impossible to tell if we were walking uphill or downhill. As a result we took an unconventional line and eventually by walking on a fixed compass point (actually just south as indicated by the Southern Cross) we found the gate below the container that led us to safety. Arriving at Tena Head Lodge at midnight, Trevor got the munchies and had to brew coffee and eat which we did sheltering behind a wall by the wood pile of the lodge. The inactivity unleashed the sleep monsters that swarmed over me all the way into Rhodes. Stopped at one river to dip my head in to the freezing water and inadvertently squashed and broke my glasses which didn't help. Sleep monsters (sleep deprivation) are incredibly debilitating. It starts with you nodding off while inactive, walking or riding day or night. If you are moving you start hallucinating. If you are very unlucky you crash as Alex Harris did while riding down Ouberg Pass into Montagu. Fortunately he hit the cutting on the high side and woke up tumbling down the road. To stay awake some people use Ipods others like Alex and I slap ourselves, yell or sing out insanely loud. It's worse than an injury because you have no control. Sometimes the best thing is to stop, crawl into the bush and have a power nap - anything from 5 minutes to an hour.

Eventually arrived in Rhodes at 5am. We had made it to Rhodes inside 3 days but only just. The lack of sleep had taken its toll - we had slept only 4 hours since leaving Pietermaritzburg 71 hours before. Still, it was a major achievement as only 2 other riders had ever managed that in the history of the race. After a quick snack we caught a few hours sleep.
We had finished the Maluti leg of the race and finally passed through the Transkei. Kids along the way are always keen to practice the little english they know and it seems like it is limited to "Good morning" which is anytime of the day and "I love you". One youngster stared up at me and delivered what I presumed was the extent of her english proficiency obviously learnt from her teacher in one endless stream "Good morning how are you sit down be quiet". Priceless!

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