Friday, 27 March 2015

On to Slaapkrans

It had taken us 4h15 to get to Chesney Wold. Refreshed with tea and a selection of fine nibbles we were back on the road 11 minutes later. We knew Tim was only 5 or 6 minutes ahead and we were keen to keep in touch with him. The first support station was only 38 km's up the trail. With the first big portage of the race in this stretch we were hoping to cover the distance in 3 hours. Hitting the first steep climb of the day I changed into granny gear and my chain over shifted on the rear cassette and got properly stuck between the cassette and spokes. This was hardly surprising as I had only assembled the bike the day before I had headed down to the race and apart from not test riding the bike I had installed new shifter cables and a rear dérailleur and clearly hadn't got it perfect. After freeing the chain, not without some effort I might add, I ran through my mantra for figuring out which limit screw to adjust to prevent the chain jumping off again. Is it the H (high) screw or the L (low) screw? Before steep descents on roads there are generally signs reminding truck drivers to select an appropriate gear to use engine breaking to slow their descent. "Heavy vehicles engage high gear," I chanted myself. Quite clearly I had to turn in the H screw as that was the high gear. Half way up the climb the chain jumped off again. This time it took a full 2 minutes to free up the chain. I got out my multitool and gave the H screw a good number of turns. The funny thing is that the dérailleur didn't budge at all. Slightly perplexed I ran the mantra again - "heavy vehicles engage LOW gear."  Darn, I had messed it up and turned the wrong screw. I wound the H screw out a few turns to where I thought it might have been before my befuddlement and turned the L screw in a quarter turn. The dérailleur responded immediately and I knew the chain over shift was a thing of the past. 
Heading into the farm Kapokraal I was chatting away with Casper who was riding next to me when he came to a sudden skidding halt. I stopped about 20 metres ahead and asked what the problem was. Less than a metre in front of him lay a Cobra. It hadn't reared and just lay still on the ground with its hood slightly flared. It's yellow/orange colouration was beautiful. 
"That was close," said Casper. "That's the problem with only having rear brakes."  
The night before Casper had given his bike the once over before the start and all was in order. As he pushed his bike to the start he realised his front brakes were completely dysfunctional and they remained that way to the finish.  
After admiring the snake for a minute we continued up toward the farmhouse of Kapokraal. Allow me a digression here. I have since learnt that kapok is a name for a type of soft/slushy snow - if not, then someone can enlighten me. Anyway, in the race of 2007 I had never heard the word before. In fact, I didn't even know we got snow in South Africa. The first time I heard the word used in a sentence was while lying in bed at the Romansfontein support station. It was the early hours of the morning and Will and Stephanie's youngest daughter looked out the window in the sitting room adjacent to where we were still snuggled under blankets and declared in an excited way "Dit kapok!" Having no idea what she said  I asked Rowan in the bed next to me what that meant. He pulled his blankets up higher and answered, "It means we are going to have a bad day!"  We did!

Passing the farm house we started up the portage and could just see Tim a few hundred metres ahead. We took the low line along the wetland and made good time to the top. Cresting the ridge we made our way down to the old ruin on the other side. Casper had never seen the murals before so we spent some time looking at the paintings as well as marvelling at the ox wagon that is parked in the shed behind the house. 
I am always left with a sadness about the lifeless state of these abandoned houses and wonder at what they were like when people stayed there. I stand still and strain to hear the echoes of yesteryear. To hear the voices of families around the dinner table, kids running around the garden or special occasions like birthdays and weddings being celebrated. 
We exited the house through the old front door and found 2 herdsmen propped against the derelict walls smoking home rolled cigarettes. 

We picked up the old jeep track leading away from the ruin and 7 hours 20 minutes after leaving Rhodes we had covered the first 105 km's to arrive at the first support station. As we walked inside Slaapkranz farmhouse we found Tim tucking into a hearty plate of food. By checking the race sheet we had to fill out we noticed Alex had left more than an hour before. 

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