Friday, 11 December 2015

Racing The Munga - Sutherland to Ceres - Part 1

Fed and watered I was shown to my room. I put a power pack on charge, took a quick shower and settled into a 90 minute nap.

Retracing my steps to the front room I gulped down some tea and readied my bike for a ride to the finish. 290 km's would see me to the finish at Diemersfontein. First objective was to get to support station 5 in Ceres. A distance of 219 km's.

I signed out sometime after 2:00 am and headed up the road. The next few hours were filled with wonderful riding. Sunrise found me winding down Oubergpas into the Tankwa Karoo below. To be honest I had never heard of this area before the race and I am not sure if this is a good or bad thing. The tourism literature talks of swirling dust, arid lands and all sorts of critters surviving on the edge. I was about to find out the hard way that the literature is spot on.

I arrived at the first water point and found the cooler boxes lined up by the farm gate. Inside was a real treat. Apart from the normal stuff I found bags of potato crisps. Crisps savoured and water bottles filled I headed out in good spirit. The line I was taking headed toward a ridge of mountains and I had no idea how the route made its way through. It didn't. I got off my bike and clambered up a rocky track that led straight up the face of the ridge. I am no stranger to portaging but have never had to push my bike up a ridge in such hot conditions. I stopped a few time to wring out my buff which had become so saturated that the sweat was dripping down my face and stinging my eyes.

Once over the top I was treated to some of the best riding of the race. Although riding on a jeep track the surface was good and I was able to ride most of it while down on the aero bars. I passed a reservoir but didn't stop as the head wasn't turning and my self imposed rule of only drinking fresh pumped water overrode the urge to stop. The undulating road went on for many kilometres eventually emptying out on a flat plain that offered fast riding down a really good road.

Eventually I sat up and had a proper look around. What I saw amazed me. The whole landscape as far as I could see was devoid of vegetation. It was incredible. I stopped and took a photograph. I also realised that I had less than 200 ml of water and the next official water point was still 30 kilometres away. I saw a reservoir up ahead and rode toward it at a moderate speed keen to preserve as much moisture as I could. The temperature was unbelievably hot and the day was still young. Arriving at the reservoir which looked freshly painted I found it empty. Not only that, it was dysfunctional. The pipes were disconnected and looked as if they hadn't been working for decades. Why paint the darn thing? Disappointed I headed off. Fairly soon I saw a building off to my left. I rode up to the gate and found it padlocked. I didn't fancy riding all the way to the house just to find it abandoned so I carried in up the road. Summiting a small climb I was treated to the sight of... more of the same for as far as I could see. A board on the side of the road indicated 9.0. I guessed I was 9 km's from an intersection. Perhaps something interesting lay there. Rationing myself to a tiny sip of water for every kilometre cycled I arrived at ground 0.0. Nothing. Another road joined it from the right. The next board read 12.0. Now I had 12 kilometres to ride to perhaps find something useful. I now limited my sips to one every 2 kilometres. The road passed through a dry river bed that had a few shrubs dotted along its length. I desperately hoped I would find a wind pump here. Nothing again.

Ahead of me I could see tyres tracks that wandered from side to side. Perhaps they were Amy's I thought. She was the last person to leave the support station ahead of me. A few kilometres short of where I expected to find the next water point I saw some dwellings off to my right. I rode toward them and found a few people sitting in the shade of a building. I asked about water and got a few confused looks. Eventually someone got up and disappeared inside a small dwelling. While I waited outside someone else asked if I wanted cool drink. I did indeed. I expected them to tell me how far it was to the next padstal where I could buy a Coke. Before I knew it I was presented with a 2 litre bottle of Coke. I poured about 200 ml into my bottle and thanked them. Where on earth did they get that I wondered. And how much effort was required to do that? Moved my their generosity I hooked out R20 and thanked them for the Coke. As I did that the first person reappeared with a drinking glass in hand. She then filled it from the tap I was standing next to. If only I had know it was that simple. I asked about the padstal and they pointed it out just up the road.

I pedalled to the padstal and found Amy inside. I topped up my bottles chatting to her as I did so. She was also finding the conditions rather challenging. She headed out while I waited for my pancake. This was the famous Tankwa padstal — Google it. I expected to see Charlise Theron make an appearance at the wheel of a monster truck. It was like a scene out of Mad Max.

I was reliably informed that the temperature outside was 45 degrees Celsius. At least I had a reasonable excuse for feeling sluggish. I ate my pancake and headed off. The condition of the road was the worst of the race. The corrugations were deadly. I figured a donkey rolled into each corrugation would do little to smooth out the riding. I still had 100 km's to get to Ceres and this ugly road did little to cheer me. I soon settled into riding on the right hand side riding uphill and switching to the left again for the descents as this avoided the worst of the corrugations. To add to my misery a number of vehicles bounced along stirring up dust. The road condition improved slightly but this improvement coincided with sleep monsters swarming all over me. It was the middle of the day in an area that had zero plant life to speak of. Where was I going to find a good spot to have a power nap? Soon I found a road side picnic spot. Goodness knows why there was a concrete picnic table in the middle of nowhere but I didn't care. It presented an opportunity to get out of the sun. I propped my bike against the concrete bench and curled myself around the pedestal of the table. The ground was cool to the touch and by scrunching up my legs I was able to get out of the sun. Sleep came easily.

Rested and with improved road conditions I expected the riding to get easier. But I had forgotten about the wind. To cut a miserable story short I crawled along for a few hours sometimes as slow as 10 km/h. I made 2 trips across the veld to get water from windmills and to cool off.

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