Friday, 11 December 2015

Racing The Munga - Loxton to Sutherland

I was duly welcomed at the front door and directed to the register which I signed before sitting down to a good plate of food and a cup of tea.

Facing a load shedding crisis due to my failed dynohub I had to think through my strategy carefully. First thing would be to ensure I left he support station with my power banks well charged to ensure I could get through to Sutherland without any issues. The power requirements were firstly to keep my GPS running. My cell phone was a critical component but only because it was my entertainment system and I needed to keep trickling some noise into my head to keep it occupied and to keep the sleep monsters away. As night fell I would need lights. My expected transition between Loxton and Sutherland, given the heat and wind not to mention the 216 km's between them, I estimated at close to 18 hours. I would need at least 5 hours of lights. I was shown to a room, passing Tim Dean in the process. He was in his way out. I plugged in my devices to charge and took a quick bath. Figuring on a charge time of at least 3 hours I set my alarm accordingly. Hopping into bed I pulled the blankets over my head.

The best sleep is when it feels like you didn't. No sooner had I closed my eyes my alarm sounded. It was just after 6am. I had sleep well. I slipped on my now grubby riding kit and make my way to the dining room. A good breakfast washed down with a good coffee. Freedom Challenge friends, Andy Masters and Ben de Lange, had driven through Loxton a few weeks earlier and had scribbled a message in the hotel diary for me. Nice touch!

I signed out at 6:50 am and headed off up the road. I had slept through the best time of day to ride but it was of little consequence. At least my backside wasn't sore for a change and I made good progress. As I rode along I was reminded of the previous morning where I had drafted behind myself for mile after mile. Or at least that's how it felt. With few geographical obstacles the roads often ran in a straight line for as far as you could see. The rising sun cast a shadow next to the road just in front of me. I had a sense of drafting behind another rider which spurred me on. This morning however, the sun was already well on its way to its zenith.

I knew the first formal water point was only 25 km's up the road and I ticked that off in a little over an hour. Pulling into the farm I saw the water table set in the shade of some outbuildings. It was "manned" by a lady who lived in Loxton. She was delightful and in spite of my desire to press on before the heat became oppressive I settled into conversation with her. She had lived in Cape Town and had performed duty as a support crew for some microlight enthusiasts. Doing this she had become familiar with the town of Loxton and found herself traipsing out there most weekends. Eventually she uprooted and settled in the town. She had a good collection of titanium components in her body resulting from a microlight accident years before and is an avid anti-fracking campaigner. Her dress code — a kaftan — suggested she was a bit of a retreaded hippy. As she seemed to find Loxton to her liking I asked if it was comprised of an eclectic mix of people and she admitted the description fit.
I thanked her for driving out and spending 12 hours of her day tending the water station for the race and she said it was a nice way to pass the day and I could tell she truly meant it. Besides, she said, I have my book. The book for those who love detail was For One More Day by Mitch Albom.

Back on the road I could already feel the Great Karoo blast furnace was intent on showing its teeth. The next goal was to get to the town of Fraserburg 65 km's distant. This turned out to be an interesting contest. Fortunately there were a good number of windmills dotted along the road all the way to Fraserburg. I stopped at every one using the opportunity to cool myself off. In due course I arrived in Fraserburg at midday with a single goal in mind. I was desperate for an ice cream. I found one in a little shop. To the ice cream I added a litre of water, a half litre of Coke and a huge bag of salted crisps. Then, just to be on the safe side I inhaled another ice cream.

While I stood outside the shop slurping my second ice cream two of the energetic lads from the night before pulled up at the shop. Except that one of them wasn't looking in show room condition. It would be fair to describe him as totally stuffed. They had left Loxton a short while after me so had taken the same time to cover the distance to Fraserburg. I asked if they stopped at any windmills along the way an was assured that they stopped at every single one. When I saddled up to leave the tired one was sprawled in a tyre flower pot, back against the shop wall, slowly working his way through a tin of bully beef.

A short while after leaving town I saw a sign post for Sutherland — 130 km's. That tallied with the distance I expected. The road was covered in loose gravel and was properly corrugated. The thought of wrestling with that road all the way to Sutherland did not excite me one bit! Fortunately, a few km's later the GPS directed me off the district road on to a farm road.

The trail become far more interesting with a number of technical sections which, together with an audio book I was listening to, kept me occupied for many a kilometre. Water was available at a farmyard I rode through as well as a number of windmills along the way.

Toward evening the route took me back to the district road. With 70 km's of the gradual climb left to get to Sutherland the sleep monsters came calling. I started hallucinating and falling asleep as I rode. On two occasions I ended up in the bush. The first was harmless enough, the second had me falling off and crunching my knee. It's never fun when you nod off and weave all over the place. It's even less appealing when you are riding on a public road with the very chance, albeit slim on the deserted back roads, of getting whacked by passing traffic. Once again I placed my bike down next to the road, set my alarm for 15 minutes and caught 40 winks. So rested I hopped back on my bike and pushed toward Sutherland.

About 30 kilometres I caught up with the 2 lads I had seen in Fraserburg. "Looks like you were having a good snooze," they quipped as I rode by. They were walking at that stage and I assumed the sleep beasties were scratching at their eyes as well. I pressed on and after a while I could see no sign of their lights. I guessed they had gone to ground.

I have heard so much about the night skies in Sutherland that once the climbing was done I stopped and took a few moments to enjoy the spectacle above my head. From that part of the country there are no blank spaces. Every square inch of the sky is pricked with light. Satellites are clearly visible as they traverse the sky. I even saw a shooting star. Then a funny thing happened. I focused on one of the stars of the constellation Orion (Saiph for the detail obsessed) and it began to dance as if it was a laser spot being beamed into the sky. It was weird. I turned my head light on to make sure I wasn't viewing it through a mesh fence of tree leaves and found nothing between myself and the sky. I turned my attention to another star. This one also began to dance. Every star I focused on did the same. But only the star in focus. I guess my eyes had been bobbing along on gravel roads for so long the eye gyros had got a good work over trying to focus on the road ahead.

I climbed back on my bike and rode into town. I didn't see the flags indicating the support station and after riding and extra 2 kilometres through town I did a U-turn and headed back. As I got to the support station I saw the station head sorting out the banner. It seems it had fallen over. Sarah greated me and accompanied me inside where she invited me to sign the rider register. It was 11:35 pm.

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