Sunday, 26 July 2015
Over Lehana to Rhodes
Sitting in the school at Vuvu I realised that I was still in the company of the RASA race leaders in Andrew and Tim. If I wanted to win the Race to Rhodes I would have to either beat them or arrive at the finish line with them. One look at Tim and I knew I had the beating of him. Andrew was riding strong but I had finally found my legs.
I didn't know at that stage that for the first time the Race to Rhodes (R2R) was considered a separate event to the Race Across South Africa (RASA). Last year I had ridden to Rhode in 2 days 16 hours and finished third because I was beaten to Rhodes by Graham Bird and a friend of his who is also a member of his adventure racing team. They were an hour or two quicker than me but were doing RASA. I have always argued that line honours to Rhodes should be opened to both R2R and RASA entrants as in theory it's much harder for a RASA rider as they can't give the effort to Rhodes everything as they need to ride on.
The four of us left Vuvu ahead of Tim and I was determined to keep ahead of Tim. It's quite satisfying to beat Tim, only because he is an amazing rider. As it was, he went on to win RASA this year. His third win in the event. Beating him to Rhodes became my objective whether or not I could keep up with Andrew.
The road heading down to the start of the Lehana portage has a number of challenging climbs. Janine who is normally a very strong climber struggled. She was lagging behind. Her legs were destroyed and yet she kept pushing ahead. Normally quiet she had become even more so. I dropped back on one particularly steep section and asked her what I could do to help her. I asked if she wanted encouragement or sympathy, for me to ride next to behind or in front of her? What was it I could do to help? She replied with "I'm fine!"
I concluded that she had dropped into survival mode and was best left to get on with it herself without being pestered.
I looked back down the road and Tim was nowhere to be seen. I pushed ahead to catch up with Gawie and Andrew. As we got to the start of the Lehana portage we could see other riders ahead of us making their way up the mountain. Within 30 minutes we had caught and overtaken them. Looking back I could see Janine someway back but she was catching the riders behind. She would be fine I thought. There were enough riders on the mountain should she need help.
About halfway up the portage I rounded a rocky section and bumped into Andy Wonnacott who I had last seen in 2007 when we both did our first RASA. We fell into step and chatted as if we had last seen each other a month before. It was surreal.
He eventually stopped as he needed to wait for the rest of his group. I was left with Andrew Barnes. Gawie had gone on ahead and we could see him contouring around the mountain a few hundred metres ahead.
I suggested to Andrew that we take the tiger line up the steep face of the mountain instead of the path that contours around. I figured it would save us twenty minutes - I still had an eye out for Tim. What I didn't know at the time is that he had opted for the alternate route around Mcambalala which takes a lot longer. Andrew was game for the tiger line and the two of us crawled up the mountain face.
As we got higher we had to pick our way around the snow patches that lay on the upper slopes. It was pristine white. I stopped a number of times and popped some in mouth. It was cold but refreshing. Although snow lay on the ground I was wearing only a short sleeve riding shirt and the zip was down. I was working hard, the engine was warm and I was having fun. Summiting we emptied out onto a snow covered plateau. The road that winds up to the container which was way off to our left was mostly clear of snow and we got on to the road and headed toward Tenahead Lodge. I hit the first snow bank at speed and instead of riding over it my front wheel dug into the soft snow and I ended up sprawled in the snow. I had a soft landing so no harm was done and Andrew got in a good chuckle. We treated the the rest of the snow banks with more respect.
Rounding the last corner before the lodge we saw Gawie waving at us from the deck. He had arranged coffee and toasted sandwiches for us and we wasted no time heading in to the lodge. I wasn't keen to spent too much time there because I still had Tim in mind. Our tiger line over Lehana gave me some comfort as I was sure Tim wouldn't have been able to replicate our effort as all his lot was on his bike with made it difficult if not impossible to carry on his shoulders. The coffee was good, the toasties even better and we only left the lodge after 30 minutes.
Gawie and Andrew were quick and I worked hard to stay in touch. The first big climb saw them put a big gap into me. Both are very relaxed individuals and they waited for me at the top. As we started the last descent off the mountains Gawie took off. He has amazing bike skills. He was riding a single speed hard tail with a rigid fork and gave us a lesson on how to descend at speed. Andrew and I rode together and made good time into Rhodes where we found Gawie waiting for us. Together we rode to the finish (for Gawie and I) at Rubicon.