Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Dribbling to Masakala

Mercifully the ploughed road only persisted for a few hundred metres before yielding to the standard hard packed farm track I was expecting. 

Walking through the snow as we had done intermittently for the last few hours had ice packing into our cleats making it impossible to clip into our pedals. It also built up slowly and every now and then we would have to scrap the ice off our shoes to make it easier to walk. Hopefully cleat management was a thing of the past. 
The snow was still present in patches but was largely avoidable.

We moved along at a reasonable pace opening and closing the farm gates as we went long. When I ride with Tim it is our usual practice to alternate gate handling. The front rider would open a gate and wait while the others ride through before closing it. The new front rider would return the compliment at the next gate. However, when it is cold it usually takes two people to close a gate. Most gates are not the hinged sort but rather a collection of horizontal strands of barbed wire fixed with vertical wooden stays. The 'gate' is then tensioned between two fence stays. The cold shrinks the fencing and makes it very hard to open and close a gate. Sometimes you forgo the option of opening a gate and rather climb over because you know you will not be able to secure it afterwards. There is a simple test. If you twang the securing loop and it resonates audibly like a bass guitar string then don't bother opening it, rather climb over. Although we had no twangers there were one or two gates that required our joint efforts. 

Clearing the last gate the other two left me lagging. Once again I was struggling. They waited for me to catch up just after the farmhouse and Tim suggested a sneak through a cultivated field. It was horrible. I made a note of committing the sneak to memory, cutting off my head and then throwing it away. I shan't be using that route again. It saved exactly zero seconds and had us riding over ploughed lands. 

Once across the Underberg-Swartberg tar road we had a relatively easy stretch of 8-10 kilometres that would take us to the intermediate support station of Glen Edward where a good breakfast was sure to be had. It was just after 9 am and I was already battling with sleep monsters - I was falling asleep on my bike. I stopped and took my outer layer off so I wouldn't be too toasty. I figured I would cope better if a little cold. The other two were many kilometres up the road by the time I was back in the saddle and soon they disappeared from view. I struggled through to Glen Edward arriving 10 to 15 minutes behind the others. 

Our host did not disappoint and a scrumptious meal was presented and duly dispatched. While we were busy Gawie arrived looking like he had just cycled around the block. We were clear of the snow but the biting wind persisted. It had drained me physically and mentally but seemed to have no ill effect on Gawie who had ridden in from Ntsikeni way ahead of the other riders who he had overnighted with. 

Any thought of running out the door and charging off over the horizon fell on fallow ground. Tim left and pressed on while I shuffled into the warm sunroom. I muted the radio, set my alarm for 20 minutes and settled into a comfortable armchair and fell asleep. 

All too soon my alarm sounded. I killed it and through foggy eyes saw that Janine had followed my lead and was asleep in a chair on the far side of the room. After a minute she stirred and we began our preparations to leave even though neither one of us thought it was a good idea. In fact, the only good idea at that moment would have been to flop back into the chair and press reset on more sleep. 

We left with Gawie and began the slow uphill slog into the cold headwind. It was horrible. Gawie, even though he was riding a single speed, dropped us early on and we didn't see him again until we arrived at Masakala later that evening. 

There rest of the day pretty much past in slow motion. We trickled along. We had our sights set on getting to Masakala and no further. We stopped briefly among the wattles near Tailorville hoping that the forest would give us some relief from the wind but it didn't. After a few minutes of inactivity we were shivering from the cold and got back on our bikes. To counter the cold we just kept moving, albeit slowly. 

At 18:18 we arrived at Masakala to be reunited with cheerful as always Gawie. 

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