Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Day 5 - would you like a side order of mud to go with that downpour?

Having got a good rest at Chesneywold we wanted to get to Kranskop which would be a stage and a half for the day. Unfortunately there were 3 big portages between us and our destination. An early start found us cycling through an icy fog. We made good progress and by sunrise we were making our way up the first portage. Shortly after finding the tracks on the other side we bumped in to Jaco (RASA 2008) coming from the opposite direction. He is busy cycling from Cape Town to Beit Bridge. It was a "Dr Livingstone I presume" moment except that we are well acquainted with each other. Spent a few minutes catching up with him and his adventures. What an amazing guy!
Jaco did mention that there was a bit of mud up ahead - what an understatement! Also said he had started riding at 6am and we found him just after 9am a mere 45 minutes of dry conditions riding from the support station. At the time I didn't put one and one together. A few hundred metres later we hit our first mud of the day. Nasty clingy stuff churned up by cows. It took us another 2 hours to get to the support station at Slaapkraanz where Trev got busy washing our bikes while I organised soup and tea.
The bike wash was a waste of time as the portage that starts as you leave the support stations was the stuff of what we thought were our worst nightmares - the worst sticky mud imaginable. We had no idea of what awaited us later that day, our idea of "worst nightmare" was to undergo a series of revisions over the next 12 hours.
As we slopped through the mud toward the last portage of the day (Bonthoek) the clouds blew over with a real threat of snow. We settled for sleet followed by a constant downpour. I knew from previous rides that once over the crest the track on the other side could get snotty. I was completely gobsmacked to find the track had been recently bulldozed which rendered it useless for riding and awful for walking. Chasing the last light we slipped and slid down the mountain and as darkness settled in made it to the unoccupied farmhouse at the bottom. Trev found a little shelter from the rain in the small half entrance to the house and started a brew while I busied myself freeing our bikes from piles of mud and grass that covered all the running gear of the bikes. How we managed to ride the last kilometre to the farm house on bikes in that condition still amazes me. Mountain bikes are incredible machines.
Bikes cleaned and tummies warmed we set off toward the emergency station 25 or 30 km's up the road. Once there we would decide on whether we would push on to Kranskop. Well, the mud and rain was having none of that. The access road to the farm was in appalling condition necessitating a walk of many kilometres. We arrived at the small settlement of Rossouw still 10km's short of the emergency support station of Moodenaarspoort at 11pm. Trevor made a bee line to the police station and by chance found someone there. It is such a small community that the police station keeps normal office hours. The guy had a room at the station and gave us the use of a phone and made us some hot milo. Trevor asked if he had any food and he happily fried up some sausage and dug out some fresh rolls. He refused compensation saying his mother would kill him if he charged people for food. He mentioned that he made milo for another rider a few years ago that rocked up early one morning looking like death warmed up after sleeping in the mountains. That was my brother. What an amazing coincidence.
Warm and fed with the rain in recess we headed off up the long climb to Moodenaarspoort arriving there at 1:35am. We had managed the equivalent of a normal days ride in appalling conditions but it had taken us over 20 hours.
We reluctantly woke the farmer who graciously welcomed us, gave us dinner and pointed us to a bed. We stripped off our sopping wet and muddy riding clothes, left them in a heap on the verandah and foregoing a shower dropped into bed. It had been a hard day but we were far from beaten.

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