Sunday, 22 July 2012
At 6:40 I got on my bike and pedalled off. After 20 minutes or so I realised that the pains of the last few days were in recess and I was able to ride freely. In fact it was enjoyable. The ride from Rouxpos to Anysberg and then on to Montagu is roughly 160 km's but there are no difficult sections, one small climb (20 to 30 minutes) and one downhill that seems to go on forever.
Soon after sun rise it warmed sufficiently for me to take off a layer. While doing that I took a picture of what was one of the last wind pumps I would see in the race. There is something about these things that I enjoy. They are uncomplaining workers who silently go about their business, day and night. I must admit that I have heard a few groaning from time to time. Some have been replaced with electric pumps, a few are broken but most still work.
I arrived at Anysberg and after checking a few doors found the cottage allocated to the race - a whole pile of race tubs qualifies as proof. It was just before 1pm so a perfect time for lunch. Looking in the fridge I found a pot of stew or something masquerading as stew. Wasn't going to find out. Didn't fancy that as I had no idea how long it had been there. Next option was Weet-Bix. Tossed 4 pieces in a bowl, drowned them in milk and covered it all with an unhealthy pile of sugar. It was exactly what I needed. In fact, I had a repeat performance, admittedly with just 3 pieces. With half a box of Weet-Bix and 3 cups of tea in my gut I whipped my steed into action and raced across the plains to Hoek van die Berg. A chilly head wind did little to slow me as I cranked up toward the summit of Ouberg Pass. From there it is a glorious 15 or 17 km descent in to Montagu.
In less than 4 hours I had covered the 76km's from Anysberg to Montagu. It wasn't yet 17:30 so there was no point in stopping. Leaving my bike propped up against the railing by the front door I proceeded to the front desk and was warmly greeted by the person on duty who was expecting me. When they asked if I would like dinner. I said I would be pushing on and asked if I could rather have some Weet-Bix, a pot of tea and a refill for my one empty water bottle.
They were happy to comply.
I went and retrieved my bike from the pavement and parked it in the foyer - with the hotel staffs permission! As I did that I noticed a half dozen or so people standing around in the foyer and they were intrigued with my presence. It turned out they were fellow mountain bikers busy with a mountain biking tour. Apparently they had ridden about 30 km's that day. When they asked how far I had ridden I told them I had done 160 since breakfast. This impressed them, they thought it was an amazing distance for a days ride. When they asked how much further I was going to ride that day it occurred to me that I may as well finish the race and be done with it. "Just over 200km's before I stop" I replied. And there it was, I decided in that instant that I was going to get back on my bike and keep riding until I got to the finish at Diemersfontein.
8 Weet-bix and 2 cups of tea later I was back out on the street heading for Ashton. Shortly after passing through the tunnel I was flagged down by a guy who had stopped his car ahead of me. He greeted me warmly, offered me some tasty morsels and asked if I was doing the Freedom Challenge. He mentioned his Epic partner Justin had done the Freedom Challenge a few years back. As it turns out I know Justin Bouer very well and count him as one of the dear friends I have made as a result of this race. After a few minutes he wished me luck and I was on my way again - what a small world!
Arriving in Ashton I stopped at a petrol station and purchased 2 Red Bulls (poured them in to a water bottle) hoping they would help with the sleep monsters who were sure to come looking for me during the night.
The route out of Ashton to the steel bridge that crosses the Breede river was tricky to navigate the last time we rode though here so this time I paid special attention to what I was doing. It was difficult again! I figured out why, the narrative and the map are wrong. Even so, save for one dog who chased me with the intent on ravaging me I had an easy, fast, uneventful ride to McGregor. It was a beautiful windless night with a full moon in a cloudless sky. It was one of those nights when you feel like you could ride forever.
Arriving at McGregor Country House I found out that fellow rider and friend Gerrit Pretorius was there and I popped my head around the door of his room and had a brief chat before sitting down to a 3 course meal - no Weet-Bix this time.
At 22:30 with a bloated belly I headed off to Kasra a mere 25 kilometres away. After cleanly negotiating the portage through Coeniesrivier I arrived @ Kasra at 1am. It is a really nasty time to arrive anywhere - not for me but for the hosts. Even so they were waiting up for me and topped me up with bread and butternut soup. Thus fortified I headed off to tackle the walk up trappieskraal. Clouds were starting to roll over the mountains ahead and I hoped they wouldn't obscure the moon and ruin my perfect night.
After a long stomp up the mountain I rode around the endless wheat fields before dropping off the mountains. The long descent left me a bit cold so I stopped and made a quick cup of tea. At Kasra they filled one of my bottles with a mixture of water, milk and sugar. I simply heated it up, popped in a tea bag and voila! Climbing up the last nek before the road drops down toward brandvlei the sleep monsters returned. I rode over the nek and halfway down the other side before concluding it would be safer to have a roadside nap - I didn't want to fall off my bike. I was going to keep my Red Bulls for later. I dragged my bike into the bush, set my alarm for 30 minutes and fell asleep. I woke up, set the alarm for another half hour and slept some more.
Hauling my body and bike out of the bushes I noticed how cold it had become. Unaccustomed to road side sleeping I had made the mistake of stopping on a downhill. As I rode off the chill of a fast descent made my teeth chatter so much I expected to see bits of tooth enamel flying out my mouth. Added to that, I was shivering so much that I couldn't hold the bike in a straight line. The absurdity of it made me chuckle which just made the situation all the more absurd. I was desperate to find a steep hill to climb so I could warm up.
The climb up to the road that runs above Brandvlei and through the prison did a good job of warming me and I was able to shed a few layers. I rode on for a few more minutes and noticed a car climbing up the hill behind me. It was Justin Bouer and his family. They were on their way to Mossel Bay and on the off chance of seeing me had taken the route past Brandvlei. Tracking me on their ipad made the job a little easier. From the tar road they had spotted me riding up against the mountain and made a quick detour. A hot mug of coffee and a danish pastry went down well. It was really good to see them. I rode off feeling good. It was a gorgeous wind free morning and I made good time through the prison and on to Trouthaven. I was a bit tired having been on the road for over 24 hours and had to walk the last few climbs. My achilles and shin were starting to hurt again so I was taking it easy.
Arriving at 10:15 I figured I had 45 minutes to eat and have a hot bath to ease the pain in my legs before starting the trek up Stettynskloof. I wanted to be out of the kloof before dark.
My hot bath turned out to be luke warm and did little to lift my spirits or dull the ache in my legs. A notice in the kitchen gave a list of each riders food ration and to my horror it specified "only 2 Weet-Bix per person". Reluctantly I complied and added a pile of other food.
At 11am I started the 60 minute ride to the dam wall where the kloof portage starts. I was tired and was worried the sleep monsters would have their way with me through the kloof. I need not have been concerned about that. Not even sleep monsters dare venture through that inhospitable place! I started walking up the kloof at midday. The gnarly remnants of a footpath made me rethink my new drug free approach and a couple of painkillers were called upon to do their work. I made hard work of an already difficult part of the race. To compound my troubles I got the route through a part called "the rocky scree" completely wrong! I have given at least a dozen people the right advice on how to navigate this section and then I hashed it up. The subsequent thrash through thick entangled undergrowth cost me at least 20 minutes. Surprisingly enough it didn't affect my mental state. Once I realised my mistake I simply picked a line and got on with what I knew was going to be a horrible experience. Once back on track I plodded on toward the big climb that would take me out of the kloof. The second half of the kloof was hard. It is littered with rocks and tortured my aching legs.
I headed back toward the river along the old fire break, crossed the river, wrestled through some ferns and onto the ridge on the far side. Now all I needed to do was clamber up the mountain side and I could bid farewell to the kloof which has tormented just over 100 riders since the inception of the race. It is easier now then it has been over the years due to a recent fire but it still has attitude and the regrowth will make subsequent years more and more difficult.
I took one big tumble on the climb out which necessitated a climb down to retrieve my bike and a further climb down to retrieve my tail light which had broken off. I needed the tail light to ride up the 8 km tar section of Du Toits.
Just before last light I was sitting on the ridge looking down the length of Stettynskloof valley. The mountains that hem it in are massive. The 8 or 9 kilometres from the dam wall had taken me just over 5 hours. I spent 45 minutes fixing stuff that had been "remodelled" on the way through the kloof including my shoes which were totally trashed. I also noticed my bottle of Red Bull had disappeared. That's the one problem with carrying your bike on your back - you don't notice when stuff falls off. When I had finished fixing and packing I looked up and noticed it was completely dark. I had made a mistake. I should have found my way down to the obscure jeep track before I stopped to sort my kit out. After 20 minutes of picking my way down the mountain I found what looked like a jeep track and followed it until it actually looked more like a jeep track and less like a disused foot path. I was on my way to the finish!
I reached the tar road at the bottom of Du Toits Kloof Pass some time around 7:30pm. From there it is an 8 km climb, about 45 minutes,up the pass followed by a fast 35-40 minute ride down the mountain through plantations to the finish.
It took me 2 hours to do the 8 km tar section. The sleep monsters were waiting for me on the tar road and no doubt chuckling about my missing Red Bull. The tar section is a mindless ride and that's the problem. When riding I was weaving from side to side across both lanes. Whenever I saw a car coming I stopped on the side and stood still because I didn't trust myself to stay riding on the side and the risk of hallucinating and wandering in to the path of a moving vehicle was real. I walked long stretches and fought an endless battle. Eventually I looked up and saw the jeep track leading in to the forest. The sleep monsters tired of their games right there and I was wide awake as I wound my way down through the forest toward Diemersfontein. David was waiting at the estate gate which he had unlocked. After greeting him I pedalled around over the dam wall toward the finish line. Having left Rouxpos 39 and a half hours before and covering 377 km's with just an hours sleep next to the road, I got off my bike for the final time. I had finished the 2260km race in 15 days, 16 hours and 10 minutes.
I had a great couple of hours with my race buddies eating pizza, drinking cappuccino's and being wrapped in a finishers blanket before heading off to bed reflecting on the most amazing riding experience of my life. I fell asleep truly happy and content.
Wednesday, 18 July 2012
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.
Tuesday, 17 July 2012
By the time I returned to the track outside the farm I noticed the wind had died. I got on my bike and scampered off as fast as I could before the wind got bored and started lashing me again. The lights of Prince Albert finally rose over the distant horizon. My excitement was tempered by the knowledge that the town was still 40km's of riding away in spite of the lights looking so bright and close across the clear expanse of the flat karoo. Johann Rissik, a Prince Albert resident, avid race follower and bike fixer extraordinaire normally meets the riders at this point of the race and treats them with coffee and rusks. Before the race we had spoken and he had promised to do exactly that for me. My phone being offline coupled with the tracker website being down meant he had no way of knowing where I was. I scratched around in my pack and found one last pain killer and put it somewhere useful - my belly. It was sobering to think I had gone through 10 myprodol, 4 cataflam and 2 voltaren in the course of the day. Shocking I know, but that's how bad the day had been.
As I pedalled up the last gentle climb just before Prince Albert my phone picked up a signal and I got a call from Johann. When he realised I was just a few kilometres from town he hung up and raced to make good on his promise. Just short of the first street light of town his car drew up and I enjoyed the warmth of both his coffee and his company before mounting my trusty steed and riding the last stretch to Denehof Guesthouse ending an arduous 20 hours of riding for the day. I was warmly greeted by Ria and Lindsay who plied me with good food and warm drink. Johann in the mean time had taken my bike to put on a new chain and give it a once over. It had been an incredibly hard day which left me completely depleted. I had finally caught up with Trevor and Theo. At midnight I was shown to a room which I would be sharing with Brian O'Reagan. He was as fast asleep as I was exhausted so I skipped a shower and quickly fell into a deep sleep.
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.
Monday, 16 July 2012
Tweet joined us for breakfast and then we headed out ahead of him. We made really good time to the dam wall arriving 85 minutes after leaving the farm house. I was feeling strong and was itching to put some distance between myself and the pursuing duo of Allen and Richmond. I have known Allen for a few years and have the greatest respect for his riding ability. Quite frankly, I was just very chuffed to be ahead of a rider of his calibre. I fully expected that they would be looking to make Bucklands that night which meant I should be looking to not be there when they arrived. I told Chris that I wanted to push on beyond Bucklands and he said that was fine. With the nod from my mate it was easier for me to put the hammer down and cruise through the Kwaas valley, cut back through Koffielaagte and make it to the "mandatory" tea and coke stop at the Karoo Stop coffee shop in Kleinpoort scaling 2 huge game fences single handed along the way. Suitably hydrated I pushed on to Bucklands arriving at 13:20. Hannes and Rini weren't there but the domestic worker Rachel was on hand to sort out lunch and give me some padkos. I called Meryl (the race office) to ask if Hadleigh, a farm some 4 or 5 hours on from Bucklands, was available as an over night stop. Her first answer was "just go there and use your charm." This was later modified to "I will call him and let him know." With this information and no cell phone coverage I headed off. The ride out the back of Bucklands, through Tretyre to the district road was right in to the teeth of a stiff wind. I consoled myself that once I hit the road and made a 180 degree turn to head toward the Grootrivierpoort I would have an awesome tail wind. Wishful thinking! Tucked in close to the Baviaans mountains there was no wind at all.
Just as it was getting dark my bike started making an unusual cluck-cluck-cluck sound. It took me a minute or so to figure out that one of the derailleur jockey wheels had seized. Fortunately I carry spare jockey wheels and had it replaced in a couple of minutes. The turn off to Hadleigh farm is unmarked and with the stop to change the jockey wheel I had lost track of where I was. I knew the farm owner Benny and his wife lived "off the grid" and had a Lister driven generator which I was sure I could hear from the road. Soon I was riding through a clump of trees which I remembered were just below his house but there was no generator noise. I turned back 100 metres and found a track which came out by the house which was in complete darkness. "This is great" I thought, "Meryl has sold me a lemon - Benny isn't even here!" After looking around for a few minutes I found a garden bench that would serve as a bed. Another outside room yielded 2 huge grey blankets which I assumed were packing blankets. One was placed on the bench, which by now I had dragged into Benny's workshop, as a mattress and the other would make a cozy blanket to cover myself with.
I carry emergency food, a metal cup and fuel tablets which I used to make myself tea and a cup of warm Future Life porridge. Warmed and fed I hopped into my makeshift bed. I hadn't even closed my eyes when I heard Benny's pickup coming up the driveway. Plans changed quickly. Benny was followed 10 minutes later by his wife just returned from a shopping trip to Port Elizabeth and 10 minutes behind her Tweet arrived.
A hearty dinner was rustled up followed by a warm shower and bed. Tweet explained that his strategy was to sleep 6 hours every night. So with the alarm set for 3:45 we turned the lights out at 21:45. I was amazed at Tweets ability to fall asleep so quickly. Within 2 minutes he was sound asleep.
My descent to the farm house at Struishoek through the rocky gorge was slow and painful. Not exactly the kind of terrain you would take a broken body for a workout.
However, once at the bottom and onto a fairly level and dry access road where I could ride things started looking up. Rode comfortably from there. A strong headwind while riding toward Pearston did nothing to dampen my new found level of comfort on the bike. The ride to van der Venterskraal is not that challenging and we made good time arriving at 2pm. The drama of the day took place 1 km short of the support station when Chris's freebody gave up the ghost.
Once at van der Venterskraal he was able to remove the freebody simply by pulling it off - thank goodness it was a Hope. All four of the pawl springs were broken. For the less technical folk out there, the pawls are the sticky out bits in the heart of the back wheel that allow you to free wheel when going downhill or not pedalling but the moment you start pedalling the sticky out bits engage and fix the gear things to the wheel so your pedalling action results in the rear wheel being powered forwards. In Chris's case he was free wheeling in both directions and had no pedal connection to the wheel.
So there we were, over a hundred kilometres from the closest bike shop and the bike was as much use as lock-jaw.
The saying "with enough duct tape and cable ties you can fix anything" ran through my mind. As luck would have it a single cable tie was on the kitchen floor. I picked it up and joined Chris outside and figured out pretty quickly that I could make temporary springs from the cable tie. I cut it into 4 small lengths and fashioned 4 rudimentary springs after which I slipped the outer housing back on and it worked! Took no longer than 5 minutes. In less than an hour we had heated and eaten our lunch, refilled our water bottles, replenished our riding snacks and fixed a Hope freebody. Chris went on to ride another 500km's with his cable tie springs before he reached Prince Albert where spares were waiting for him. According to Johann Rissik who opened it up the bits of cable tie were still firmly in place and doing the job. It was satisfying to know that my bad patch the day before had resulted in me riding with Chris at the time he could benefit from my technical expertise.
We left at 3pm wanting to get to Toekomst 50km's down the trail. I was in a bit of a hurry as I wanted to make sure get got a clean line through the river crossings on farm Kuduskop. We bombed through there in double quick time and in the last few minutes before dark crossed the river for the final time emerging at the farmhouse where we were surprised to find ourselves hemmed in by shade cloth. They were preparing to collect all the game on the farm by driving them into the collection "funnel" we had ridden into. Without too much thought we climbed the ramp and dropped through the narrow opening to the ground below. Only then did we realise we could simply have lifted the cloth and bypassed the ramp. Funnily enough, other riders who we spoke to later did exactly the same as us.
Once on the district road for the last stretch to Toekomst we realised how warm it was. A berg wind made it feel like a warm summers evening where normal summer riding kit was adequate. 3 hours 50 minutes from when we had left van der Vensterkraal we arrived at Toekomst having had a good days ride. I felt good for the first time in days. Hot dinner followed by a cold shower (not by choice!) had me in bed icing my sore legs but feeling like I was going to get to Capetown after all. What a contrast to my head space 24 hours before.
Sunday, 15 July 2012
I rolled in to Grootdam just after midday as they were getting ready to leave. We spent a few minutes going over some navigational issues they would face up ahead and they got on their bikes an headed off. It was a bit of a bleak afternoon for me as I sat on my bed icing my injuries and contemplating what to do next. I realised it was not a good idea to pump myself full of pain killers to just get through each day as I had done the 2 previous days. The "Race office" in the form of David, Meryl and Glenn arrived at dusk and showed no sympathy. They left after Meryl had ravaged the race boxes of the riders who had pulled out of the race. During the deliberations going on inside my head I looked through my phone and found a recent update that one of my sons had made to their BBM status. It read "My Dad is still my hero". Wow! Here I was thinking about throwing in the towel and my son thinks I am a hero. My mind was made up there and then - heroes don't give up and neither would I. It was going to be difficult to keep moving but it could be done. I had experienced difficult days in previous years and a day or two of easy riding can make the world of difference. Besides, I had dropped out last year and the thought of doing it again was unpalatable.
Chris and Dawn arrived an hour after dark and while concerned to find me still there were genuinely happy to have caught up.
We caught up on our race experiences and settled in for a good nights rest. We were half way through the race and I was at least a day and a half slower than I would have like to have been at that stage. Tomorrow I would have to ride well within myself which would be easier without the Theo bullet train and Trevor the crazy chaser.
We left Romansfontein well before sunrise and were climbing up Aasvoelberg as the sun crept over the horizon. Popping over the crest we were met with yet another freshly bulldozed track. We alternated between short rides, long walks and the occasional bike scrape and wash for the first few kilometers. Eventually the track returned to the condition we were expecting and we had a quick ride down to Magdala. A few kilometres on we dropped down Vlekpoort into the Karoo. What a contrast. It was warmer and the roads were flat and dry. Theo hammered it and Trevor was happy to tuck in behind. The pace was just a bit hot for me and my injuries which I had been trying to protect were niggling.
We made it into Hofmeyr just before the pie shop closed and ordered tea, coffee, coke and a pie X 3. Bellies dragging on the ground we pushed on to Elandsberg a little too fast with my legs squealing. Arrived at Elandsberg just after 4pm and found Chris, Dave and Dawn there. Dave had some health issues and was out of the race. Dawn (his wife) was riding on with Chris. It was a tough call for her but it was something they had discussed before the race.
A 45 minute turn around had us out the door with 30 minutes of daylight left heading for the next support station about 70 km's away. I was starting to hurt a lot and although I was keen to make up time I had to drag myself out the house well dosed with pain killers. Once again the pace set by Theo wasn't doing me any favours. Trevor was happily chasing along like a dog after the butchers van.
Entering the Spekboomberg reserve we joked about the sign on the gate warning about dangerous animals. Our mirth was cut short when Theo spotted 3 rhino standing in the road less than 50 metres ahead. Trevor and I hadn't seen them. After a 10 minute wait the rhino moved off and we were able to scuttle passed. Climbing back into the mountains we arrived at Stuttgard farm just before 11pm where one of the daughters took charge and fed us and attended to our laundry. I got some ice and applied it to the aching parts of my legs took a dose of anti-inflammatories and got in to bed.
About 30 km's into the days ride we found Alex stopped next to the road with mechanical problems. The bolt that holds the saddle to the seat post had sheared off for the second time in the race. Unable to assist we rode on to Brosterlea where tea and hot soup were waiting. When we left 30-40 minutes later Alex had not yet arrived. We left Brosterlea with Theo and Hugh. Theo is an incredibly strong rider and we were able to move along at a brisk pace. The pace became too hot for Hugh and he dropped off. I was happy for the pace as the section through to Romansfontein is one of the longest days of the race. We made good time toward Stormberg and dropped down the mountain to the Stormberg station mid afternoon. We continued to ride purposefully through the Stormberg battle site in Vegkoppies and pushed toward Groot Seekoegat which I wanted to get through before dark. Just before dark we got safely though the last "interesting" bit of navigation and merely needed to make our way through to the next support station. The next hour was another mud fest followed by an easy ride on a district road. We had completed a "normal" stage in 13 hours but the extra pace was causing the leg injuries make themselves known.
Arriving at a civilised hour gave us the opportunity to get laundry done and do routine maintenance on the bikes. In my case it was a scheduled chain replacement.
Friday, 13 July 2012
As we were leaving the table the farmers wife asked where Trevor was. She was alarmed at my indifference. Trevor is a big boy and if he has a bad plan he can live with the consequences. He was woken and ran around in a mild panic with the farmers wife doing everything she could to get him ready. All rather amusing.
I went back to the verandah and started putting on the grubby wet clothes I had abandoned there a few hours earlier. When trying to put my shoes on they just wouldn't fit! I ended up digging out about half a cups worth of mud from the toe end of each shoe. All the walking the day before had trashed my shoes. The sole plate had separated from the rest of the shoe allowing mud to squeeze passed. That explained the sore and bruised toe nails!
Also noticed my right shin was badly inflamed and the left calf muscle and Achilles tendon were tender. The mud wrestling from the day before had taken its toll.
We set off right into a rainstorm. Before long we were sopping wet and the fun barometer was sinking fast. We arrived at Kranskop at lunch time and called it quits for the day. 2 days of mud and rain had drained us. We had only managed a half stage for the second time in 3 days and the weather outlook for the following day looked just as bleak.
The short day gave us time to attend to our bikes and get our gear washed and dried. My bike had come out of the mud ordeal in good shape. The same could not be said of the others. Lots of worn out brake pads, faulty shifting derailleurs and at least one bike with a worn out bottom bracket.
Martin arrived a few hours after sunset followed an hour later by Alex. We had been caught by the race leaders a lot earlier than planned. They arrived wet and grubby after riding through the same conditions as us but you wouldn't have guessed that from their mental state. Both very professional, polite and efficient. We went to bed a little apprehensive about facing another day of appalling conditions.
Wednesday, 11 July 2012
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.
Monday, 9 July 2012
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!
We had set ourselves up for a possible push to Rhodes in 3 days but it meant an early start. Went to bed knowing we would only have time for 2 hours sleep for the second night in a row.
Sunday, 8 July 2012
I moved my start day ahead by one day to make my sub 16 day wish fit in with my wife and daughters departure for an overseas competition. As luck would have it, Trevor Ball, a previous finisher of RASA (2009, 2010) arrived at Aintree Lodge a day early. On hearing I intended starting the next morning he ran around getting his loose ends sorted out and duly arrived at the start the next morning. I was happy to ride with him as he is easy company and he was happy to rely on my navigational skills.
At this stage 3 days to Rhodes seemed such a stretch as I was still feeling a touch off colour with a lingering dose of lurgy. As the city hall clock chimed 6am we headed out into what promised to be a beautiful day for riding. We made good time and by 11:25 we had crossed the Umkomaas river and were beginning the challenging climb up Hella Hella. At that stage Trevor and I had Allen Sharp riding with us. We were unprepared for the heat and we all had to deal with some form of cramping which is something none of us had experienced before. As a result we only made the first support station at Allendale at 13:50. We scuttled out of there and made good time to Donnybrook. Just before Donnybrook Allen had told us we could push on without him as he knew the way and was planning on stopping at Centacow. Pulling into Donnybrook we noticed he had dropped off but weren't concerned. We had a quick coke and vanilla milk stop and pressed on toward Centacow. Just before 5pm Allen rejoined us covered in blood. Apparently he had tipped himself into a bramble bush just before Donnybrook and its barbs had mercilessly ravaged him. We rolled into Centacow at 17:25 sans Allen. He arrived a few minutes later having zigged when he should have zagged. While Allen settled in for the night, Trev and I tucked into some fodder and prepared to push on to Ntsikeni about 50km's further.
Shortly after leaving Centacow my chain snapped and was quickly repaired with a powerlink. We made good time and after stopping for trail side coffee brewed on Trev's mini gas cooker arrived at Ntsikeni at 1am. We had put just over 200km's with 5500 metres of ascent between us and the start in the first day. With the real racing snakes due to start 2 days behind us, we were the current race leaders.