Friday, 11 December 2015

Racing The Munga - Britstown to Loxton - Part 1

The decision to push on from Britstown was simple. It had been programmed in my head from before the race. My standard 'opening' of late during endurance events is to push nonstop for 36 hours. That would take me through to midnight. Therefore I had fourteen and a half hours to cover the 190 km's to Loxton. I had averaged just over 21 km/h from van der Kloof Dam but was aware that that speed wasn't going to be repeated. There wasn't a lot of climbing, but I was tired, it was going to get hot, and the prevailing wind was bound to spring up in the early afternoon. The additional challenge was my backside — it hurt. I had recently switched from bib shorts to baggies and hadn't had time to get used to the new shorts. I had very recently developed allergic contact dermatitis to my normal bib shorts. Over the years, after much trial and much error, I had found a brand that didn't cause my skin to react. For some reason my skin was no longer tolerant. Riding in shorts that cause an allergic rash isn't a lot of fun. As an added precaution I had decided to ride without chamois cream as my skin is also sensitive to a wide range of products. This abundance of caution had kept the dermatitis at bay but did nothing to prevent chafing. And boy did I chafe! To add to my woes I hadn't checked my tyre pressure at the start. I did so now. My back wheel was far too hard. Particularly because I was riding a hard tail and had to deal with an excessive amount of corrugations. I spread some Bactroban and Vaseline on my chamois and deflated my tyre a whole lot.

At 09:25 I signed the register and stepped into the street. It was scorching. A short distance out of town, obeying the arrow on my GPS screen, I left the perfectly smooth tar surface and bumped along a gnarly track that alternated between thick sand and vicious corrugations. It hurt my butt something awful. The very act of lowering my butt into the saddle made me wince. Having run out of options I swallowed a pain killer and rode slowly as I counted down the minutes waiting for it to take effect. Twenty minutes later, pain numbed I was able to ride with more purpose. The veld had thinned out was looking particularly barren. I rode past the Syndicate Dam which had been reduced to a dust bowl by the current drought. There was no water in the dam at all. With the rising heat and slowness of riding earlier I had lost my momentum. That loss of momentum coupled with almost 29 hours without sleep made me drowsy. The drowsiness fed the lack of momentum. It's a vicious cycle.

I noticed my water reserves were getting a little low and kept an eye out for a windmill. Eventually I spied one tucked away some distance in the veld. I propped my bike up against the fence and picked my way carefully across the veld. I had seen too many snakes and gogga's in the last few days to carelessly romp across the land. Reaching the pump I filled my bottles and my belly. Removing my helmet, buff and top I cooled myself down as best I could. Donning my kit I made my way back to my bike. Justice and Philemon pedalled by as I scrambled over the fence. I hopped on my bike and chased them down. For a number of kilometres we rode within a few hundred metres of each other, Philemon the stronger of the three.

Eventually the sleep monsters came calling. I started losing concentration and found myself wandering all over the road. Over the years I have have learnt that sleep is best obeyed when it comes calling otherwise you end up riding slower and slower. The problem during the day is to find shelter from the sun. As far as I could see there wasn't a single tree in sight. Eventually we rode toward a farm entrance that had a brick structure that flanked the gate and cattle grid. I stopped at the gate. Justice rode past and waved that I should carry on with him. I indicated my need for sleep and he rode on.

It was exactly midday and the sun directly overhead threw no shadows from the wall. I circled the entire structure to make sure. Sure enough, not a single square inch of useful shade. I needed to sleep, so hatched a plan. I propped my bike up against the wall and used my windshell as a tarpaulin. One side I tucked over my head and down my back. The other I tied to the handlebars of the bike. Scrunching up under the small square of shade, making sure nothing poked out to get fried, I set my alarm for fifteen minutes and immediately dropped into a deep sleep.

The fifteen minute power nap worked a treat. I jumped back on my bike and pedalled off in the direction of a distant farm house that held the promise of water.

A short while later, sitting in the shade of the lapa adjacent to the farmhouse, I sipped copious amounts of ice cold water and had a lekker kuier with the farmer. But it wasn't getting me any closer to Loxton. Reluctantly, I grabbed my bike and proceeded down the road.

The expected afternoon headwind had started to blow. The route had us off the district road and on to a jeep track that snaked its was through many kilometres of farmland. I guess it would have been a real treat if it wasn't for the wind. And the heat. And the abundant corrugations that served to link up a multitude of sand pits. It was awful. I couldn't get any rhythm going. It didn't help that every kilometre or so you had to open and close a gate.
After a few hours of grinding away into a relentless wind I decided the best course of action would be to go to ground at the next water point. There would be water, snacks and the promise of shade. Rather grab an hours sleep there during the heat of the day and make up for it during the cool of the night. Besides my backside was starting to hurt again.

I eventually arrived at the water point. It was rudimentary. At least there was ample shade below the willows that grew on one side of the reservoir that served as the central feature of the water point. A few woman were in attendance. They sat around on 20 litre oil drums (palm oil, if you care for details) with the cooler boxes at their feet. Almost as if they were guarding them. I asked for and was given a bottle of water. Drinking it I was aware that it wasn't the same quality as I had become accustomed to at the previous stops. It hydrated me but didn't slake my thirst.

I swallowed a muffin and settled down under the willows. My plan was to sleep for 45 minutes. The wind howling through the trees made the prospect unlikely. I lay there watching people moving through the water point. The water mystery was soon solved. Instead of serving the supplied water, it seems the people entrusted to the running of the water point had decided to swap out the good stuff for borehole water. I watched them take the discarded empty bottles (which weren't even the same brand as the ones at the other stations) and refill them from the reservoir before screwing the lids back on and putting them back in the cooler boxes. Borehole water isn't bad. It's just that it doesn't have that crisp flavour us city folk have come to expect. It's probably because of the salts dissolved in the water.

I saw some of the top riders moving through and realised that I hadn't done as badly as I had imagined. While not aware of it, I fell asleep. I put it that way because after the race one of the other riders recalled asking me if I was ready to carry on and got no reply. I just lay there unresponsive. I probably lingered at the water point for and hour and a half during which time I made sure to get two sachets of rehydrate into my system. Filling my bottles with the disappointing borehole water I moved off.

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