Sunday, 27 March 2016

Race to Cradock - Chesneywold

Chesneywold farm is an intermediate stop on the race. It's not mandatory to stop there, but it's a great stop. The kitchen table normally runneth over with all manner of treats. In winter the warmth of the anthracite stove chases out the chills. I have spent many hours over the years thawing out in that kitchen as Minkie plied me with hot tea and good food. Minkie is taking on legendary status. Her husband, Christo, passed away a few years ago and she has taken up the challenge of farming herself. A former police officer she had now resigned her job and is farming full time. It is obvious that this new role agrees with her. She glows when speaking about the farm. It is clear that she has found her true purpose. It's great to see.

Arriving in the summer months is a real treat. The valley is alive, the frosts of winter that coat everything in a monotone wash of white a distant memory. The trees heavy with leaves rustle in the wind as you ride by. You can smell the earth freshly turned by the plough while in other fields, that lay scattered along the base of the valley, the first green shoots of rye grass and oats press through the soil and soak up warmth of the morning sun.

The exhaustion from the long climb over Bottlenek pass was soon forgotten, supplanted by the simple joy of riding my bike through this special place. As tempting as it was to settle down and enjoy the stop, it hadn't slip our minds that we were racing.

Dismounting I reminded Casper that we were on the clock. We had 15 minutes to get water, drink tea and get what food we could manage in that time. We surprised ourselves with our efficiency. Water bottles were filled while the kettle boiled. In 10 minutes we had drunk our tea, swallowed a plate of good food and eaten our full of home baked bread smeared with butter and coated with an array of toppings. Casper stood up and said it was time to leave. The three people we shared the table with made that an attractive idea. Tim, Janine and Fjord had arrived only 5 minutes behind us. Fjord looked strong, Janine less so. Tim was looking a bit ragged. It was hard to tell if he was exhausted or feeling fine.

Tim has the ragged look down pat. You can never judge his ability to ride a bike by the way he looks. Ray Sephton, a Freedom Trail stalwart, was at Rhodes when we arrived. I chewed the fat with him for ages. It was good to catch up. The subject of Tim came up. Ray recalled a time many years ago when Tim arrived in Rhodes during a race en route to Cape Town. Tim was so exhausted that Ray had to help him to his room. A few hours later Ray found an empty bed and Tim was already on his way. He is a tough competitor. But I knew that in recent years he has had digestive problems that manifest in the first day of a race. Last year I watched him battle with nausea during both the Race to Rhodes and Race to Cradock.

I asked where Coen was. Tim replied that Coen had stopped.
"Stopped," I asked, "Where?"
Stopped for good was the reply. Apparently Coen had a problem with an elbow that had swollen and made it too difficult to ride. It was a pity. Coen is a tough guy, and a nice guy to boot. There's a funny English idiom right there - 'to boot.' I wouldn't ever think of kicking Coen. 'To boot', for the non-anglicised, means 'as well'.

The last riders on the trail were seated around that table. Alex and Anthony had foregone the pleasures of Chesneywold and had pushed past. If Casper and I didn't get a move on we were going to be the race sweepers. We hopped on our bikes and dashed down the driveway intent on putting distance between ourselves and the current sweepers.

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