Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Cold, dark, wet and windy.

Over the years Brosterlea has come to represent an oasis, a happy place in a challenging section of the race. I sort refuge from a snowstorm there in 2007 albeit only for an hour. Good food and mugs of warm tea reviving me sufficiently to push on. In 2011 on a recce ride the temperature plummeted below zero on the road there and we spend a night comfortably snuggled up in warm beds after a sumptuous meal sitting around the dining room table with our hosts. It's a great place with hospitable hosts. Arrive at midday and your resolve to ride on is truly tested. Arrive at 3:30am during a blackout expecting to push through and the reality is very different. It is an interim support station and as such you should expect nothing more than bread and water.
We found Anthony fast asleep drowning in plush pillows and swaddled in a fluffy duvet. In the other room, by the light of barely adequate emergency LED light we found a loaf of bread, margarine and peanut butter with some kind of juice. There was a kettle; with all the stuff needed to make tea, toaster and microwave oven but Casper had forgotten to bring a 6.5KVa generator along not to mention a litre or two of petrol - that's the price of packing light to race the trail. I normally carry a few fuel tablets and a metal mug but this time decided to lighten up. 
I nearly forgot to mention the yoghurt! There were 2 or 3 little yoghurts. This is the interesting part about this stop. Casper grabbed a spoon and peeled the foil lid back and dipped his spoon in to get a good portion. As he raised it to his mouth his frozen hands misfired and the yoghurt slipped from the spoon and splattered on the carpet. Without hesitation Casper leaned down and scrapped the yoghurt up with his spoon. Now he has contaminated his spoon I thought. Having recharged his spoon with the floor scrapings he simply popped it into his mouth and carried on like nothing unusual had happened. Waste not want not. That's interesting I thought and said nothing. 
There were three empty beds and they were exactly that - empty! Not a stitch of bed linen. 
Anthony woke up at about 3:45 and said the hosts had been told we were pushing through so they hadn't made arrangements for sleeping. He had initially set his alarm for 4am but with the storm he said he was going to get up at 5 instead. We decided a little nap for an hour while we waited for the storm to abate wouldn't do any harm. Casper found 2 bath mats and what looked like towels. I placed a bath mat on the bare mattress to protect it from my muddy clothes, carefully lay on it and covered myself with the tiny towel. The next hour was long. I was wet, cold and uncomfortable. We got up at 5, layered up in our soaking clothes and headed out into the rain. As we pedalled down the slippery road in the rain I commented to Casper that this was a lot more comfortable than the time I spent on the hard mattress. He concurred. Here we were pedalling down a muddy road in the rain just over 24 hours into the race and I had had about 10 minutes sleep. Casper had fared better on the sleep front. 
Anthony soon caught us and after a few pleasantries he rode off at the pace of a man who had spend many hours fast asleep in a cozy bed. By the time we got to Enerdale farm Anthony was out of sight. For the next few hours we trailed the twin set of tracks from Alex and Anthony. Alex wasn't that far ahead. According to Anthony, Alex had lingered at Brosterlea because of the storm and had only left about an hour before we arrived. We could see from Alex's tracks that he had a torrid time of getting through the mud and sand traps along the way. At least we had the benefit of daylight to pick better lines. 
We refreshed our water bottles at Weltevrede farm and began the slip 'n slide ride up the back of Stormberg. The wind had picked up and we were being lashed by regular squalls of rain. The ground had long since given up trying to absorb the rainfall and it ran down the track we were riding up. 
Cresting the ridge above the Stormberg station we made our way to the blockhouse intending to get shelter from the icy wind. The wind had picked up making the inside of the blockhouse unbearable. In fact it was probably the low point of the ride. We got back on our bikes and pedalled off through the rain grateful for the heat the effort produced.  

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