Friday, 11 December 2015

Racing The Munga - van der Kloof Dam to Britstown

Britstown, according to the race booklet we were given, lay 176 kilometres away and had only 591 metres of ascent. I expected this section to be fast. The coolness of the night and the absence of wind presenting perfect conditions for bleeding off some distance.

A short distance from the checkpoint I rolled through the gate of the Rolfontein Nature Reserve. A bakkie standing at the gate with its lights on suggested the reserve had been opened especially for the race. The riding through the reserve was spectacular. It was great to be rolling over normal MTB terrain for a change after all the gravel roads we had been riding. There were quite a few climbs which I enjoyed as I knew they were eating into what little climbing I had to do in this stretch. I startled a few buck that bounded off as I rode by. Looking up I saw a bakkie in the distance. As I approached the vehicle I saw a man standing next to a big gate. It was the back end of the reserve. He swung it open and bid me a good night as I rode out. Wow, I thought, is he going to open and close that gate for every rider that chooses to push through from the dam tonight? I knew the answer — yes. I had to marvel at the commitment of the communities who had engaged with the race.

The track led in the direction of distant lights that suggested some form of settlement. The track deteriorated in places and slowed me down. At times like these my dynohub light, dimming with the reduced speed, would prove insufficient and I would supplement it with my headlight. The track eventually thinned into a foot path which made the navigation interesting. I am new to navigation via GPS and was amazed at how simple it actually was. I took a wrong turn and it become immediately obvious that I was off track. Zooming in on the GPS I was able to pick the right route between some houses, around a dump site and back onto a road which led into the small town of Petrusville. If not for the distant sound of barking dogs I might have thought it a ghost town. A kilometre after leaving town the GPS directed me onto a good gravel road. I dropped onto the aero bars, selected a big gear and for the next while enjoyed the gentle pop of tyres rolling over gravel, the kilometres ticking over at a good pace.

The water points that night were unattended but perfectly adequate. They consisted of cooler boxes left out in the open where we could find then. The points themselves marked with flags placed adjacent to the road.

I had been riding alone the whole time and felt completely at ease. It's liberating when you don't have to alter your pace to match anyone else and vary your effort as and when to suit how you feel at any given time. Somewhere along the way I passed a few other riders and inched ahead of them slowly as I focuses on what I needed to do. I had arrived at the previous support in about 30th place and needed to start working my way up the field.

I left the second water point of this section shortly before sunrise determined to make good use of the cool before the sun ruined my party. I had 56 km's left to get to Britstown. The road surface was amazing and dawn brings with it renewed energy. I popped my earphones in and dropped into the aero bars and put some power into the pedals. I had only been on the go for 18 hours so was still well short of my use-by-date. I passed a few riders on this section and was confident that I could in fact push myself up the leader board into a more respectable position. Nearing Britstown the temperature began to ratchet up. We had been lucky to have cool overcast temperatures the afternoon before out of Bloemfontein. Today, the full furry of the Great Karoo was headed our way.

I arrived in Britstown a few minutes before 9am. It had taken me 8 hours 15 minutes to ride through from van der Kloof. It's crucial to maintain momentum in races like this. Once lost, it's hard to get back in the groove. I had done well and made up time lost the previous day. I was back on my self imposed pre-race schedule.

A good number of riders had arrived ahead of me. Very few had signed out so I assumed try were either getting food into them or they had gone to bed. After 18 hours on the go I was tired. The tiredness weighs heavy in the mornings as the days heats up and the glare of the sun stings tired eyes. You feel heavy and a tad nauseous. At least I do. But it's normal, you get used to it.

I signed the register and indicated my desire to push through. Ordering tea and breakfast I flopped down next to Tim Dean. Apart from being a really nice chap he is a seasoned adventure racer. His full English breakfast arrived ahead of mine. He opened a zip lock bag and simply tipped the entire contents of the plate into the bag; eggs and all. Said he didn't feel up to eating at that moment and would eat it later. Tucking the bag into his pocket he wished me a great ride and headed out the door.

My breakfast arrived and I decided against the ziplock treatment choosing rather to poke what I could down my throat with a knife and fork.

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