Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Prequel to "The Mountain Roared"

The last 20 hours of the race for me were rather dramatic but it occurred to me that the first part of the race never got a mention so here are the salient details of that first part.
All the riders in our start batch had indicated that Ntsikeni was their ambition for the first stop. Ntsikeni in one effort has only been achieved by 6 or 7 riders in the previous 10 years of the Freedom Trail. It is an impressive achievement covering 205 km's with over 5500 metres of ascent. There are 4 major climbs that take about an hour each to get over. As it turned out I was the only rider to get there inside of 24 hours.
The group charged out of Pietermaritzburg as a tight bunch and pretty much stayed that way with all of them at Minerva around 10 o'clock. Allen Sharp and I were in and out of the stop in less than 5 minutes which put us ahead of the rest of the bunch. We got down to the Umkomaas river and waded across around 11:30. Allen stopped to take his shoes off before crossing while I just waded across as I was. That is where Allen and I parted ways. The climb from the river up Hella Hella was a matter of ride a bit, walk a bit. I arrived at Allendale at 13:50 which is a pretty good time but 20 minutes slower than I would have liked. I was moving okay but not with any real energy. It seemed to me that the LCHF diet I was following didn't deliver during periods of high exertion. At Allendale I decided to get some carbs in the form of Coke. That seemed to give me a bit of extra energy. The day was a little hot for riding hard and I made Donnybrook 15 to 20 minutes slower than I would have liked. There I stopped and got some buddy bottles of Coke and made a weak mixture of 1 part Coke to 3 parts water which I maintained for the balance of the race and it went down well. I also snacked on Woolies soft chewing gums the rest of the way to Rhodes, drip feeding myself on a low dose of carbs. As I headed toward Centocow the temperature dropped slowly which made the riding easier. Close to Centocow the temperature dropped rapidly so I decided to stop there and layer up for the night ahead. It was my original intention to skip Centocow but I figured it would be a good place to have a quick sto as I could sort my gear out and have a hot cup of tea and a peanut butter sandwich while I was at it. The ride out of there went smoothly except for a short while after crossing Boshelweni when I began to feel my eyes getting heavy. I countered this by listening to music from my iPod. In no time at all I was starting the gnarly climb on the track leading to the northern entrance of Ntsikeni. I expected to get my feet wet crossing the boggy part of the track close to the lodge. Fortunately it was so cold that the boggy bits were frozen and I was able to ride over without any difficulty. Arriving shortly before midnight I had a few cups of tea which became a regular habit at each support station and ate lightly which was also a constant. The general thinking is that you need to eat well to fuel up. Although I ate sparingly I ate often as I passed through a number of support stations each day. I also suspect that my fat adaption served well to keep me going. There are 2 route options out of Ntsikeni and I opted for the longer route as I figured it was less complicated and mostly rideable. It turned out to be a good choice as it was much faster compared to the time reported by riders who took the shorter route. A full moon made for a quick easy ride and 2 hours 15 minutes after leaving Ntsikeni Lodge I was rolling along the Politique road well on my way to Glen Edward. Soon after crossing the Swartberg tar road while moving quickly down the dirt road it got so cold that I had to blink my eyes open. Every time I blinked my eyelids would stick together and I would have to make a deliberate effort to open them. This was the coldest
part of the race. It had warmed slightly by the time I arrived at Glen Edward 30 minutes later at 5 am. Charles informed me that it was -10 Celsius.
Interestingly enough there were 2 other lady riders who had arrived an hour before me at the same time that Kevin Davie had left.
I informed Sheila and Charles that I would be pressing on and asked for a blanket so I could catch a few zzzzz's on the couch in front of the fireplace while they prepared me a breakfast of bacon and eggs. After a 10 minute snooze I ate breakfast (with 2 cups if tea) and left at 6 to chase down Kevin. By 7 am I had crossed in to the Transkei. By 8 o'clock my backside was starting to hurt. Not from chaffing but simply from being in the saddle almost non-stop for 26 hours. Compounding the problem was the horrendous condition of the Traneskei roads. I opened my pack looking for Anesthetic cream that I habitually carry but like Old Mother Hubbard I came up bare. The rough roads, tracks and riding over grass lands made it all rather uncomfortable. I arrived at Masakala just outside Matatiele sometime around noon. Kevin had left an hour before me so I hadn't made any ground with him. I decided to have another look through my backpack and hit the jackpot. Without delay the soothing effect of the numbing cream was doing its work. So soothed, I headed off toward Ongeluksnek right into a head wind that made the going a bit tough. I started to feel drowsy again on the long boring stretch of road toward the Knira flood plain. Help arrived in the form of a teenage boy on a bicycle. We struck up a conversation that carried me through the next 30 minutes. By the time he bid me adieu the tiredness had disappeared. I scampered across the Knira flood plain with only one mishap. My front wheel dropped into a huge hole that left my front handlebars level with the ground. I was gently deposited on all fours. Clearing Queens Mercy I rode on to Mparane and climbed up onto the ridge. Soon after last light I walked down the contour path heading to the old Gladstone farmhouse. The conditions had changed somewhat from 6 weeks previous when I had ridden the same way. A whole pile of wattle had been cut and was covering the ground obscuring the track. After riding around all the wattle I emerged on some drag paths that looked unfamiliar. I decided that the path would take me in the general direction I wanted to head so I followed it. Cutting across a grass plain I eventually arrived at a fence that was clearly not the one I had expected to find. Hearing a dog bark in the distance I figured it had to be coming from near the farm so crossed the river by walking over a fallen tree and in no time at all I was back in familiar surroundings. Climbing down off the ridge I cycled into Mariazell which is the school the FC Scholarship Fund enrolls it's students. There was a buzz around the school. I rode up to some students and asked what was going on. They explained that they were merely hanging out and enjoying each other's company. Before long there were at least a dozen students asking me about my ride, two of which happened to be FCSF students. When realizing I was riding alone one student asked "aren't you afraid of riding at night by yourself?" That piqued my interest as they were from the area and I was curious to find out if I was in any real danger. I asked what I had to be afraid of and the answer surprised me. It appears that I had nothing to fear from humans but should keep a sharp look out for ghosts and skeletons. Bidding them goodbye I rode to Ongeluksnek fully expecting to find Kevin there. To my surprise he had not yet arrived. He arrived after I had showered and fallen asleep so I never got to speak to him. I set my alarm for a 3 hour sleep. After 38 hours of riding I expected sleep would come easily but it took me 30 minutes to wind down and finally drift off.

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