Sunday, 5 April 2015

Post Race Reflections

My goal at the start was to finish in 55 hours or less. It was never going to be easy. However, there was a time during the early part of the race when I thought 48 hours was on the cards. As it is we finished in 63 hours 35 minutes. We had endured 14 hours of rain and I had squeezed in about 2 hours of sleep - Casper a whole lot more. Our unscheduled stop on the Elandsberg portage had cost us about 8 hours and it was there that my hopes of racing my age evaporated. However, if you were to ask me which section of the race was the most memorable I would have to say it was the night on Elandsberg. Money can't buy experiences like that. I look forward to doing that section in the future and would welcome the challenge of doing it in the dark again. 
A few words about Casper. It was never my intention to do the ride with anyone else. I am completely comfortable in my own company. I knew of Casper from past races and he had been generous in supporting the Scholarship Fund through my last Race to Rhodes endeavour. I had never met him in person. Stepping in to the dining room at The Rubicon when I arrived in Rhodes I met him for the first time. We clicked immediately and by the time dinner was eaten we had a loose alliance. He has all the characteristics that epitomise a Freedom Challenge rider - A quiet humility coupled with tenacity. 
In truth he was the stronger rider and could well have beaten me by many hours. That's just not the way he rolls - he has a high regard for alliances. 
We laughed a lot and he had an appreciation of my dry humour. He trusted me implicitly with the navigation and when I did falter on Elandsberg it didn't faze him one bit. 
I like to think that through this journey he got to experience a little of the dark side of endurance racing. By that, I hope he had a renewed appreciation of his ability to push boundaries. To move forward relentlessly and go beyond exhaustion and stifle discomfort to emerge at the end of the experience with a bit of "Wow, I did that!" Casper is the kind of person you would want at your side if ever you had to go to war. 
I, as indicated by my blog name "Adventures of an Ordinary Cyclist" am very ordinary. I am ordinary in my ability to ride a bike. I can't ride faster or better than any of my friends. I merely want different things from these races. I want to go beyond. Whilst pushing boundaries and piling on non-stop miles I try not to be so focussed on that one goal that I don't take time to smell the roses. I attempt to take in all the small detail. The one thing I do miss out on is the extended hospitality of the support stations. Fortunately, most years I get to do a recce ride down the trail where I spend quality time at the support stations ahead of the race.
These race blogs are intended primarily for people who have ridden the trail. They get to fill in the blanks from their own experiences and relive in some way the rich pleasure of living on your bike for a few short days or weeks as the case may be. 
Casper mentioned an incident related to me that he wouldn't have heard from me. I asked him how he knew. His reply "From your blog. I read about your adventures on the Freedom Challenge from your blog and that's how I came to do it."
That makes it all worthwhile. 
Would I do this race again? I can't think of a single reason why not. In the words of Casper who messaged me earlier "Do you know that I don't have a single bad memory,hardship yes but bad memories,no"
Right now it's time to rest up a little and then begin preparations for the Race to Rhodes in June. 

Storm Clouds Building

Storm clouds were building around Stuttgart. As we pedalled down the road looking toward Schurfteberg where we were headed it looked clear. I commented to Casper that we might get a 'get out of jail free' card. 
As we started up the Garland Valley Casper rode over a cattle grid just as a rinkhals was making its exit. The rinkhals reared up and dropped away from Casper while Casper swerved off in the opposite direction. I suspect each was as surprised as the other. I caught up to Casper. 
"Did you see that?" he said. The exhilaration clear on his face. 
Casper set off a a good pace and I trailed behind. I was really tired now for the first time since we we had left Rhodes some 57 hours before and I battled to keep my eyes open. The track was wet and muddy. The tyre tracks of the group a few hours ahead of us were obscured by recent rain. Looking behind us a huge storm blackened the early afternoon sky and we could hear occasional thunder. We had already endured 12 hours of rain and weren't keen for more. About half way up the valley I called out to Casper that I needed to have a quick nap. Stopping in the shade of a tree I lay back on my backpack. I set an alarm for 20 minutes and pulled my buff over my eyes. A dog was barking in the distance. I heard it bark twice before I felt the darkness of sleep drop over me like a heavy blanket. It had taken seconds to fall into a deep replenishing sleep.
I killed the alarm, put my helmet back on and pushed my bike back on to the road. 50 metres ahead a farmer had stopped by one of his gates. He pointed behind us by way of warning. The storm was closer and a lot bigger. We acknowledged his warning with a wave and pedalled off with more purpose. 
The Schurfteberg portage appeared ahead of us bathed in sunlight. Perhaps this was a 'get out of jail free' moment. 
We kept moving and eventually arrived at the Die Hoek farmhouse ruins where the climb over the mountain starts. The track to the top of the mountain looks spectacular if not a little intimidating.
"How long will that take?" asked Casper. 
"About an hour," I replied. 
"Are you mad! That's going to take at least 2 hours," said Casper. 
If you have ever stood at the farmhouse and looked up at the track that scribbles its way up that mountain you will have sympathy for Casper's assessment. It looks like a massive challenge. In truth, on a fresh pair of legs most of it is ridable and a good rider can knock it off in 30 minutes. We hadn't had a fresh pair of legs for a few days now and settled into a trudge to the top. 
An hour later our efforts were rewarded with magnificent vistas over the Karoo. Clouds, pregnant with rain, loitered menacingly over the plains below. 
"I am not so sure about the 'get out of jail free' card now," said Casper. "The best we can hope for now is some parole." With that he hopped on his bike keen to savour the exhilarating 20 minutes descent off the back of the mountain. 
We reached the road at the bottom of the mountain as it began to drizzle.
"Maybe we should put our rain gear on?" suggested Casper. 
I looked up the valley toward the exit we would take and saw it was still basked in sunlight. "Nah, I am sure we can outrun this." With that I put my head down and powered down the road. 
We cruised down that road at high speed belying the fact that we had been on the go for days. We slowed occasionally for puddles that stretched the full width of the road and then resumed our charge. All the while I kept an eye on the rain clouds around us. The nek we were headed toward was still clear even though we were all but surrounded by clouds. The drizzle continued. 
As we reached a steep climb that would take us over the ridge and down toward the district road at the foot of the Swaershoek pass the rain intensified. It is a steep climb, steeper than many parts of the Schurfteberg track we had just walked. Spurred on by the prospect of outrunning the rain we powered up the climb without any thought of walking. Cresting the ridge it became immediately apparent that we weren't going to outrun anything. The plain ahead of us was fully obscured by torrential rain. Casper made some comment about my dumb idea of not putting our rain gear on and charged off into the downpour. 
I desperately wanted to stop and put my rain coat on and my cell phone wasn't in its waterproof pouch. Casper however was a hundred metres ahead and in the reduced visibility I didn't want to lose sight of him. For twenty minutes I chased him down the road past the Jakkalsfontein farm house toward the district road. We were soaking wet. It felt like I had just walked out of a muddy dam. Catching up to Casper just short of the district road I suggested we take shelter under the cover of a shed at the junction where we could wring ourselves out. 
We arrived at the shed sopping wet but still high in spirit. We looked back toward Schurfteberg and wondered how Tim was going through the storm that engulfed the mountain. 
We spent 30 minutes putting on dry base layers and wet leg warmers and realising that the rain was there to stay we headed back into the deluge to take on the last climb of the trip. It's 10.4 km's to the top of Swaershoek pass. The first 8 km's is a gentle climb. We rode side by side chatting for most of this. The pass ahead was pitch black while the sunset behind us was clearly visible in a break in the clouds. At one point Casper mentioned that the rain had stopped. Indeed it had. We had been so engrossed in our conversation that we hadn't noticed.
Casper had spent many a holiday on a farm nestled at the foot of that mountain. He reminisced about days spent wandering around the bush and nights of warmth and laughter around the kitchen table. We stopped at the gate of the farm that used to belong to his family. The post was still there but the nameplate long since removed. Like most farms in the Karoo the small farms have been consolidated into larger farms as market prices force up the minimum size of economical farming units. It is no longer possible to profitably farm 1000 hectares in the Karoo. I am told the minimum economic unit is now 3000 hectares. 
As the road kicked up to start the last few kilometres to the top we stopped pedalling and walked. The race was all but over. Alex had arrived earlier that day to secure the win and we were certain of finishing in second place ahead of Tim who we figured was at least 2 hours behind us. We savoured the walk and spoke of nothing in particular. As we came over the top of the pass we were enveloped in mist. We noticed snake like critters on the road. On closer inspection they were giant earthworms. The rain must have forced them to the surface. They were about as thick as an index finger and about 2 feet long. We saw hundreds of them as we rode down toward Cradock. We also saw hundreds if not thousands of frogs. They didn't hop as you would expect. They ran towards our lights like rodents. 
As we dropped below the mist we could see the lights of Cradock in the distance. They seemed so close but we still had 17 kilometres to go. The descent at night, although looking fast, is a whole lot slower that doing it during the day. I had previously ridden this section of 18 during the day in just under 30 minutes. At night, with mist and a little mud to deal with it took us almost an hour. It went on forever. Every time I thought we were at the bottom it dropped down even more. 
Finally we got to the T-junction at the bottom and turned toward town. A short while later we took our final turn and rode toward the finish at the Ou Pastorie. Waiting outside to greet us was Glenn and Meryl. It was good to see them. Our race was over. We had done well. 

Saturday, 4 April 2015

I learn a new Afrikaans saying

There are certain moments in life that stand out in bold face. Once such moment occurred in April of 1973. I was in the First Form (Grade 8) and my day dreaming during the Afrikaans lesson was interrupted by Mevrou Wasseman. 
"Yes ma'm?"
"What is the Afrikaans word for Thursday?"
I had absolutely no idea and just winged it, "Dinsdag?"
I recall watching the veins on her neck and forehead getting bigger by the second. She grabbed a ballpoint pen off her table and strode over to where I sat at the very back row. 
"The word you are looking for.....," she said, grabbing my by the hair on the back of my head. "Is..." she pulled the cover off the pen with her teeth and spat it out on the floor. "D" the ballpoint pen pressed deep into my forehead. "O". A deathly hush fell over the class. "N". The pen stopped writing and she paused to scribble on my diary to restore the flow of ink. Having painfully redrawn the N she continued. "D". The girl sitting next to me started giggling. Rather that I thought than pity. "E R D A G."
She stood back looking quite pleased with her work. Fixing me with her bloodshot eyes she continued, "Donderdag, DONDERDAG!" 
That's quite a few fillings I thought as her face was obscured by the widest mouth I have ever seen. 
And so, to this day, I have never forgotten what Thursday is in Afrikaans. 

"How do you spell that?" I asked. 
We had made our way across the scarred landscape and were walking up the jeep track. 
"L-e-p-e-l l-ê with a cap on the e," replied Casper. 
"Lepel lê," I repeated. "So that's the Afrikaans word for spooning, interesting!" There was my new Donderdag. 
A little further on Casper remarked, "At least we have had a good nights sleep and should be able to push through to the finish without any more power naps." I chose to ignore that comment as a battled to keep my eyes open. 
At 7:30am we walked in through the front door of the Elandsberg farmhouse where we were warmly greeted by Lisa. 
"Hello Mike, you better call Meryl. She is worried about you guys."
We apologised for not letting her know we were running a little late but explained that we had no cell signal on the other side of the mountain. 
'A little late' meant 8 hours. We had surrendered an 8 hour advantage to Tim by parking off in the bush for the night. We knew Glenn and Meryl had been at the farm the night before and were keen for any information about Tim. When we asked Lisa she mentioned that Tim still wasn't feeling well and she thinks he spent the night  at the previous support station of Romansfontein. I was a little skeptical because that didn't sound like Tim. You would have to beat him with a gum pole to make him stop. We didn't have 3G signal so couldn't check the Freedom Challenge website to check on support station times. I called Meryl. The conversation went like this.
Me: "Hi Meryl, we have just arrived at Elandsberg."
Meryl: "That's great. Glenn and I drove through that awful storm near Elandsberg last night and were really worried about you guys. Where did you sleep?"
Me: "Doringbos Lodge."
Meryl: "Thank goodness. We were so worried. Did you have any trouble getting in?"
Me: "Huh?"
Meryl: "Were the people at the lodge okay with you just pitching up?"
Me: "Meryl, there is no lodge. We slept under a thorn bush; a doringbos!"
Meryl: lots of laughter.

I asked her where Tim was and she confirmed that he had indeed left Romansfontein the previous evening at 21:15. That meant he should be right behind us. She said he was last spotted entering the Elandsberg portage section. That's where we slept. 
I converted this information to Casper and we resolved to get out of there as fast as we could. The problem was the food. It was awesome. At one stage Casper spilled something and apologised as he scraped it off the table cloth. I told him it was okay, after watching him scrape the yoghurt off the carpet at Brosterlea and eat it I was immune to anything. 
"I was hoping you didn't see that," he said the laughter rising in his throat. 
I took a dollop of anaesthetic cream and gave my saddle area a good smothering to numb it ahead of the long ride to the next support station of Stuttgart. 
Casper looked up in mock shock. "How can you do that in the middle of the dinning room?" he asked.
"You stick to carpet yoghurt and I will take care of my sore butt!" I replied. 
Suitably fed and hydrated we got a cricket score update from Jose, thanked Lisa and Jo for their hospitality and pedalled off down their driveway. 
Still no Tim in sight. That was good. 
We resolved to get to Stuttgart as fast as possible with the hope that if Tim was close behind he would see that we were moving quickly and give up any hope of catching us. We could then take a lazy ride to the finish without worrying about Tim pipping us at the post. 
The ride from Elandsberg to Baroda is normally crazy fast. We had a slight head wind that continued all the way to Stuttgart. Crossing the tar road near Spekboomberg I could feel the sleep monsters rousing. I asked Casper if he had any music and ear phones. He did. I told him I was sleepy and was going to get my ear plugs in and drown out the monsters. I did just that and Casper followed suit. Without any chit chat we moved efficiently on to Stuttgart covering the 72 km's in 4h30. 
Refuelling on a pot of tea followed by a plate of scrumptious venison pie we left Stuttgart half an hour later at 13:22 ready to bang out the last 72 km's of our race. 

A long uncomfortable night

Although layered up with both a wind shell and raincoat on top of my cycling jersey I was sopping wet. I had leg warmers in my back pack but decided the pouring rain coupled with the cramped space under the bush, which we named Doringbos Lodge, made it too tedious a job to put them on. It took us about 10 minutes to fold ourselves into the smallest possible mass and tuck the space blanket around us to exclude as much rain as possible and trap as much body heat as we could. If I so much as moved an arm it would cause the space blanket to open somewhere and we would spend a few minutes getting it secured again.
I kept my helmet on as I didn't fancy the prospect of pressing my face into the wet soil. As I lay there I had one ear to the ground and the other pointing skyward. The rain hammered against the space blanket and I was glad to have at least something between me and the storm even if it was a thin foil cover. I looked at my watch - 01:32 - it was going to be a long night. Within minutes I could hear Casper snoring gently. That chap could sleep anywhere. I wasn't so lucky. I moved a foot and immediately felt the cold night air invade our cocoon. I slowly reached down to see if I could tuck the space blanket back under my foot. At the same time I noticed a light. For a second I thought Tim had caught up and was standing there looking at these two tjops wrapped up in a foil blanket. My movement woke Casper. "My flippin' headlamp won't turn off," he said. He gave it a slap and it started cycling its way through its lighting programme from white to red and then a red strobe. He gave up placing it on the ground above his head. The rain it seems had invaded its gizzards and it wasn't going to turn off. We spent a few minutes adjusting our foil cocoon and soon Casper was asleep again. I looked at my watch  - 1:36. I adjusted my head to rest on my backpack and had the Christmas light display of Casper's headland right in my face. Not wishing to wake him again I placed my still gloved and wet hand over my face. A reasonable level of comfort slowly waned giving way to aching muscles begging to be moved. Eventually I surrendered to their plea and gave them a good stretch. Freezing air filled our space. Casper woke and announced "All turn over!"  We flipped over onto our other side, tucked the cover in and started shivering. Intense shivering that makes your muscles ache. We snuggled up closer desperate for warmth and pulled the space blanket down to minimise the airspace. I tucked my head into my raincoat to preserve the heat of my breath and try make it count for something. It was 01:45
That was the pattern throughout the night - cramps followed by shivers followed by cramps. At some point the rain stopped and was replace by a chilling wind. 
It seemed a week had passed before the darkness of the eastern sky gave way to the first light of dawn. I unfolded myself and dragged my aching body from beneath the bush. It took me a while to straighten out. The words of the poem "There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile...." played through my mind. I could hear Casper chuckling at me.
I looked up and one kilometre over the gnarled landscape in front of me the elusive jeep track ran up the ridge into the mountains. We were in exactly the right place. Looking up I saw a sky totally devoid of clouds. The wind had abated and it was a beautiful morning. Time to break camp and get to Elandsberg farm for  some breakfast.  

Friday, 3 April 2015

Doringbos Lodge.

My exact words to Casper were, "This is not cool. I don't get lost!"
I can imagine the deflating effect that had on him. All along he thought he had his own personal GPS guidance system and here is the middle of the bush it declares it doesn't know where it's going. 
I saw a ridge off to my left and decided to go have a look on the off chance that it was the ridge we sort. Casper wasn't keen on traipsing his bike across the bush so found a perch while I set off on a little explore.  As I climbed the ridge I saw a distant electric light off to the North. It was the only fixed point of reference in my black world. I was careful to check my bearing against this light so that I was able to retrace my steps to get back to Casper. After a few hundred metres it became apparent that the ridge I was on wasn't going to help with the nav. I turned back and made my way toward Casper careful to keep the light at my 2 o'clock position. I stopped paying attention to it for about 30 seconds and when I looked up expecting to see Casper's position dead ahead he was nowhere be seen. Instead I found the distant light directly ahead. It was a reminder of how easily you can get disoriented. I could see Casper off to my left. 
Arriving back at his position I said we need to go back to the fence and start again. He wasn't keen. "It's so far! How are you going to find it if you don't know where we are?" It was a valid point. Fortunately the fence line ran East to West and was kilometres long. I set of in a northerly direction and we intercepted a track that I mistakingly thought was the one we wanted. After a few hundred metres I realised it was heading easy instead of South. We rode back down and resumed our search for the fence. Intercepting the fence we split up to look for the cycling shoe I had left on the fence pole which Casper found off to out left. Regrouping at the shoe I started going through the required navigation. It started raining and Casper decided to take shelter under a little bush. He looked like a dassie tucked under the little bush. While I was 99% certain of where we were it takes just a smidgen of doubt to make you start doubting. Random thoughts like "what is this is the other shoe I found?" can unhinge your confidence. As I stood looking out ahead of me toward where the jeep track must be I could see absolutely nothing so complete was the darkness. 
Casper suggested we go to ground and wait for light. It was only a little after 1am. I figured it would take us over an hour to get to Elandsberg if we got the navigation right on our second attempt. Stuttgart was at least 5 hours from there and then it would take another 5 or 6 hours to the finish. And we were tired. We would have to take a nap somewhere. The prospect of racing my age had evaporated. 
Always up for an adventure I asked Casper what he had in mind. He told me he had a black plastic bag which we could put on the ground. Sitting on that we could cover ourselves with a space blanket he had in his pack. Standing there in the soaking rain it did sound an attractive proposition. 
I scrambled under the bush to join him. The black bag was placed on the damp earth and we did our best to get equal amounts of body on it. Then the interesting job of unrolling the space blanket started. It came out the bag as a long sausage and bit by bit we unfurled it uncertain how big it was going to get. Fortunately is was a large one and we figured that if we lay on out sides and spooned we could shelter from the rain and do our best to keep warm. That was the beginning of one extremely uncomfortable night. 

Thursday, 2 April 2015

The science of getting lost

Being discombobulated I stopped. I could well have been going the right way but I didn't have a sense of my direction. This seldom happens to me and when it does I stop and reset to get reorientated. I had my compass out but it is little comfort knowing the compass directions derived from magnetic north when you don't know where you are. I knew I wanted to go SSE to intercept a jeep track that would take me in a southerly direction. SSE was the direction from the start of the track and not necessarily the direction required from where I stood. I am not quite sure what Casper made of my sudden halt. A walked around a bit and then told him we needed to get back to the gate to start again. We found a fence line and by following  that in a northerly direction Casper found the gate. Starting back at the gate I gave my head a little shake to reset my internal gyro and tried again. We went in exactly the same direction but this time I had no doubts and we quickly picked up the track we were looking for. We bumped along this track for a short distance and then walked up a couple of steep sections all the while I was checking and double checking. Once we were at the top of a ridge that would lead us down to the fence line where we would have to stop and hop the fence Casper was ahead of me. It was a mistake. Not that Casper did anything wrong, it is just that I didn't have a proper sense of the distance we covered. I told him to look out for a fence line on our right hand side and mentioned that when it got close we were to cross to the fence line and hop over. He did just that. 
Something wasn't right. The slope of the land did not correlate with my mental picture of what should have been in front of us. My light, although bright did very little to help. I told Casper I was going to go further down the track. He said he was happy to stay where he was and I climbed back over the fence and walked further down the jeep track. I walked for about 100 metres and saw the fence was a lot closer to the track as I had expected. Crossing to the fence I stepped on an old cycling shoe complete with cleat. I had seen this very shoe on my previous excursion and confident that this was exactly where I wanted to be. I picked the shoe up and hung it on the fence. After hopping over the fence I walked in Casper's direction to fetch him. Imagine my surprise when, as I walked down the straight fence line, I saw his headlight far off to my right. A short distance on I found a junction in the fence that I hadn't noticed before. Casper and I had crossed the wrong fence. It ran perpendicular to the fence we wanted. I reached him, retrieved my bike and we made our way back to the spot I had marked on the fence. I explained to Casper that all we had to do is head directly south and after a few hundred metres we would intercept the track that would take us on to Elandsberg farm. It's a no brainer. I did this same section at night in 2009 when riding with Glenn on the tandem and we made it look easy. The only difference this time round is that it was dark - there were no stars or skyline visible. The only way we could get a bearing was with a compass. That is where it got interesting. As most of us know, geographic north (true north) and magnetic north are not the same thing. Maps are oriented to true north which is a good thing as magnetic north has a nasty habit of wandering. It moves all the time. From Cradock magnetic north is way off to the west of true north. The trick is to know how much. On the last government ordinance maps of that area that I saw I seem to remember the magnetic declination (it's marked at the bottom of the maps) of the maps being something of the order of 18 degrees west. That means your compass will point 18 degrees further west than the true bearing if you are heading north. We were heading south which means the indicated bearing would deviate east 18 degrees, or so I though. The maps I last saw were dated late 70's early 80's and I thought 18 degrees a little steep so I aimed to walk just off South, 10 degrees or so. Today I googled the current magnetic declination for Cradock and found it to be a whopping 23 degrees west. That's massive. Certainly a whole heap more than I anticipated. The net effect is that we wandered off too far left. There is another interesting contributing factor that causes you to go off line. Every time you walk around a bush or try find a line through an obstacle,such as the dongas we were faced with, it is unlikely you will realign yourself on the same intended track once through. You will be some metres left or right of your previous bearing. Pick up your compass and continue on the same bearing and you will continue on a parallel line that will maintain your obstacle deviation. After a few hundred metres you could be 20, 30 or even 50 metres away from your target line. With the benefit of some light you will see the skyline. By aiming at a feature you do away with the parallel deviation and introduce converging paths. If the distance to the feature you head toward is fairly close the convergence effect is self correcting.
While this may all sound rather boring, to me it is fascinating. By understanding how we get it wrong we are able to apply the learning to avoid a reoccurrence. 
When I spoke to Alex about it later he said he was surprised because we know the lay of the land and it is simple. True, except for a few things. Firstly, we had been on the go for nearly 40 hours with less than an hours sleep. While not aware of any ill effects I guess it might have played a part. The second challenge is selective visual attention. If you stand at the fence in daylight it is easy to see the track that you need to get to. Your brain, bombarded by many visual stimuli, is able to focus in on the target stimulus. In this case it correctly identifies the distant jeep track heading up the ridge as the way out. There is a high resolution of focus on this one object. Everything else is  demoted to your periphery where it is scanned in low resolution and is stored in your brain with little detail. If the jeep track was not visible from the fence then it is probable that the stored memory would contain more detailed information. 
As we drifted left I started seeing things that I was not familiar with. The dongas we encountered were huge. Nothing like the ones I remembered from previous years. Probably an effect of poor memory data and the effect of things looking bigger at night as you battle to get a sense of scale in a limit visual pool. Eventually I stopped and told Casper that it wasn't going well. To be continued....

Romansfontein to somewhere dark and interesting.

Romansfontein as a support station is a double edged sword. The hospitality and food are fantastic. While that can be said of any number of support stations along the way, there is someone unique about this place. When the kids are home it is even better. It exudes a home-away-from-home feeling. It always makes me home sick because there is something about the place that is uncomplicated and completely welcoming. Will and Stephanie are so chilled. That we managed to get out in under an hour and a half is surprising. We arrived to a warm welcome, were plied with tea and good food and given a bed where we lay out grubby bodies for a 30 minute snooze. As it turned out I only managed about 10. I scratched through the opened resupply boxes hoping to find some AA batteries but it seems AAA are more popular. Will scratched around in a few boxes in his garage and came up with a handful of assorted brand AA's and I fitted 4 of these these in my headlamp. At least I now had a light to make the transition through the Elandsberg portage a bit easier. 
Shortly after 2pm we left the support station and headed toward the next big portage of Aasvoelberg. I was hoping to get to Hofmeyr by 7pm and then on to Elandsberg by just after 10pm. 
During our lunch stop I had read a message Fiona had recently posted about her ride down Aasvoelberg earlier that morning and her group encountered really bad muddy sections. I wasn't looking forward to those. We pedalled along to the farm Gunstelling and after a crazy descent to the farm house started the plod up the near side of Aasvoelberg stopping to take a picture of me sitting on the old rusty shell of a car near the top. I like many others always wonder how it got up there. Last time I posted a similar picture I labeled it "Iconic relic." Dave Bell shot back "Double sided comment 😜".  I am a relic but hardly iconic. 
We popped over the top not quite sure what to expect and were pleasantly surprised to find the 'going underfoot' rather good. We could see where Fiona's posse had bludgeoned their way through some snotty sections but could also see how Alex, like us, rolled over the now firm surface barely leaving any tracks. 
I am a cautious technical rider avoiding any chance of an unscheduled dismount while Casper revels in the challenge. Not having any front brakes made him even quicker. His reward? He got to open and close most of the gates on the way down to Magdala farm. 
We trudged along in the heat to Vlekpoort and stopped at the stone barn to fill out bottles from a tap just behind the barn. 
At this point Casper made a startling confession. He is quicker that me on both uphill and downhill sections but admitted he was not looking forward to the flat stretches in to and out of Hofmeyr because he struggles to keep up with me on that type of riding. I can't figure out how that works but was surprised to hear that. The result is that I made a point of riding behind him on flat sections. That made him quicker. On the odd occasion that I moved ahead of him there was an obvious drop off in his pace. As soon as I backed off and let him go ahead I would have to increase my effort to keep up. 
Before the drop down Vlekpoort pass Casper said his rear brakes were almost gone. We decided he could take his brake pads out his dysfunctional front brakes and swap them to the rear when we got to Hofmeyr. 
Arriving in Hofmeyr we found a spot under a street lamp just outside the hotel and Casper set about sorting out his brakes. The street light would burn for about 5 or 6 minutes and then go out. It would slowly start again and after a few minutes of full brightness would go off again. I called the race office to check in and Glenn asked me what time we expected to get to Elandsberg. I figured on 3 hours from Hofmeyr so I said 11pm. The bike maintenance took 6 light failures (30 minutes) so we only rolled out of town at 10:30. 
With a slight tail wind we 'breezed' out of town at a blistering pace and I though we could make up a big chunk of the 30 minutes we had lost. 
The ride to the start of the portage went faster than expected but it wasn't interesting enough to keep the sleep monsters at bay. Casper was seeing kangaroos and snowmen regularly. A storm was building up ahead and the stars above us were completely obliterated by cloud. Getting to the last gate we turned off left and followed the faint jeep track for 50 metres before is disappeared. 200 metres in I had absolutely no idea what direction I was headed. 
For the first time in many years I dug out my compass to get a heading. 
The night was black as ink. Without a torch visibility was zero. The occasional lightening bolt would show a silhouette of the mountains but fairly soon the lightening would stop altogether. It was the start of an interesting night......