Thursday, 31 March 2016

Race to Cradock - Slaapkranz to Loutebron.

The climb up the mountain didn't start immediately, we had 100 metres of flat road first. The ascent started off easily enough as we followed a jeep track but got steadily steeper with each pedal stroke. After a kilometre riding became challenging. Another few hundred metres and it was no longer an option. The Jokers grimace was upon us.

Casper was ahead and I saw him pushing his bike. I knew it wouldn't be long before he abandoned that method. It's one of those tracks where there isn't space for a bike and a bike pusher. The best method is to sling your bike over your shoulders and plod up the track, so I did just that. It was tedious I looked down and counted my steps making sure I didn't look up. The counting a distraction to pass the time. Not looking up is to prevent myself becoming despondent.

I know from previous experience (this was my 7th trip up the mountain) that it takes me just over 1000 steps to conquer the first section. That translates into 20 to 25 minutes. Some steps so short that I only progress a few inches at a time. At some point I estimated that it is about the equivalent of walking up the stairs of a 55 storey building - with your bike on your back!

There are sections where the shrubs encroach on the track and you have to shift the bike around or twist and weave to avoid the bike becoming snagged in the gnarly bushes.

Somewhere along the way I passed Casper who was taking a breather. By the time I had counted into the 900's my arms were cramping and my shoulders throbbed. Just when I thought I couldn't go another inch the track kicked up defiantly. I had been waiting for this... 1010, 1011, 1012... You can do anything for a minute I reminded myself and plodded up the last scratchy bit of the track.

I plonked my bike on the ground and took a breather. A minute later I had the bike back on my shoulders and was making my way up the next section of portage.

It is without question the toughest portage of the Cradock race. It takes almost an hour to get to the top. This is followed by a long winding descent to the district road on the other side.

As we started on the descent I heard Casper muttering. At the next gate I found out what the problem was. He rides with a dropper seat post and it was toast. It isn't on any weight weenies list of things to put on your bike as it comes with a weight penalty. But it makes the tricky descents a lot more fun. He had earlier mentioned that he was looking forward to the descent off the back of Bonthoek. The previous year we had watched with wide-eyed envy as Tim James rode most of the way down the treacherous track off the back of that mountain. A year of stewing had Casper eager for a similar attempt. Alas, it was not to be. A few kilometres short of this quarry his seat post had spewed out all it's oil and collapsed completely. A piece of tape wrapped around the post in an attempt to keep it extended had no useful effect.

Casper is tall. Very tall. He also has a body geometry that is dominated by legs. His legs are so long that it appears he is made up of 90% legs with the remaining 10% comprising arms with a head placed on top like a cherry plopped on top of an ice cream. As a consequence he has a really long seat post. When that really long seat post collapses he looks hilarious on his bike - Think Kermit the frog on a kids tricycle. I saw the humour in it, Casper didn't. He also didn't appreciate my suggestion that we wait until we got to the Bonthoek farmhouse before attempting a repair. I couldn't blame him as it was going to take us nearly 2 hours to get there. He could freewheel most of the way off the mountain so for the next 20 minutes it really wasn't a problem.

As we rounded the mountain we saw Fjord and Anthony passing below us on the district road. They were 12 minutes ahead. As we hopped over the last fence to get on the district road Casper grabbed a chunk of wood and stuffed it between his saddle and the top tube of his bike frame. It was a temporary fix that would get us to the Bonthoek farmhouse. I got a sense that he wanted to make the quick fix a little more permanent. I think he got a sense that I wanted to get a move on and that he could sort it out at the farmhouse. We didn't discuss it. Casper was at liberty to take as long as he wanted just as I was at liberty to ride off toward the start of the next mountain portage at Loutebron. I execised that liberty and after a while I saw Casper scurrying after me.

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