Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Chugging along to Centocow

Leaving Allendale I knew it was going to be a hard job getting through the first section to Donnybrook. It was still hot and the second half had plenty of climbs. My body reserves were depleted. I was running on empty. Even so, I drew on previous experiences and knew that as evening drew closer and the temperature began to drop I would find the going easier.

Coping when your body is drained requires a different approach. Pinning Ntsikeni - 95km's with 2600 metres of ascent - to the notice board of your mind does nothing but deflate. I broke the sections down into tiny pieces - need to get to the corner fence, the road, up next to the trees, etc.. By snacking on digestible mental fragments I was able to stay focussed and keep despair at arms length.

Janine moved ahead of me without any obvious difficulty. She set a reasonable pace that I tried to match. It didn't come easy. Reaching the tar road just short of town I put my head down and ground out the last kilometre to the filling station shop. It had never felt so hard and far.

My internal furnace was doused and the pilot light threatened to flicker out. I needed to get something into my system to get it going. I grabbed 3 buddy Cokes and a packet of Lays crisps - Noakes diet be damned. One Coke went down the hatch albeit slowly, the second mixed with water in my bottles and the third as an emergency stash in my pack.

I lingered outside the shop trying to finish the crisps. I was just too exhausted to eat. Exhaustion won over and some kids got to finish what I could not.

Back in the saddle we moved toward the forest to take on the forest ride that would eventually empty out on the road just short of Centocow.
As expected the drop in temperature resulted in a inverse reaction in my energy levels. While not effortless, the ride become noticeably easier. Each climb, no matter how slight reminded me just how empty my legs were.

I was constantly aware of the fading light and wanted to be out of the forest before dark. We had been chasing sunset since before sunrise that morning. The drop into Centocow is best done in daylight. We reached the top of the watershed with ten minutes of light in hand. That meant we would do the last ten minutes in the dark, that was fine.

Dropping down we followed the track as it wound through the forest. Eight years ago it was a seldom used jeep track. This year it resembled a highway - a result of recent logging activity. Rounding a hairpin bend I stopped. It didn't feel right. The main track dropped off to the left but I had no recollection of going that way before. Janine and I discussed it and decided to take a lesser track that went straight. We climbed up slowly, desperate to see something familiar. The only thing familiar was that it went uphill. Logging had also changed the look of this track. It opened up onto another logging 'highway'. There was nothing familiar about this road either. Stopping at a junction of two major tracks we stopped. After umming and ahing for a minute I made the decision to drop down left. The direction was okay, the road not. I was used to a small track.

I ticked off the distance in my mind. After about 600 metres we got to a t-junction. That seemed about right. Taking a left I expected to see another track to my right after another 600 metres. On queue it showed up. Ducking right, now in darkness, we followed the track which started to deteriorate. It hadn't been used in a while, was covered with broken branches and we had to contend with little ditches every 100 metres or so. I was starting to doubt my navigation. I could see the lights of the mission station through the trees ahead and comforted myself that we were at least going in the right'ish direction. After a minute or two the track emptied onto the district road near Centocow Mission. We had ridden the perfect line through the forest. More by luck than judgement I must confess.
After cranking out the last few kay's we pulled up outside the intermediate support station of Centocow at 17:58. That left us with just another 6 or 7 hours to Ntsikeni. Too much to contemplate on an empty stomach. Food and something warm was on offer inside. So inside we went.

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