Saturday, 16 April 2016

Race to Cradock - Romansfontein to Magdala

On our way out of Romanfontein we bumped into Gavin Robertson. He had started the day ahead of us. Without realising it we had passed him while he was asleep at Brosterlea. I recall seeing another bike but hadn't thought anything of it. He was as surprised to see us as we were him. His reaction was amusing. He said he had just spoken to his wife and told her that if he didn't get a move on he was going to get caught by Mike. As it was, that had happened many hours before.

Generally, the first big challenge out of Romansfontein is the Aasvoelberg portage. It takes anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour to pedal to the start of the climb at Gunstelling farm. However, that morning, heading out of Romansfontein, we got handed a proper headwind that would keep us busy for the next 12 hours. The first hour and some got used up getting to the gate at Gunstelling.

Once at the gate I expected a few kilometres of flowing jeep track that head down toward the farmhouse. Alas, it was not to be. Someone had been playing with big machines. The results suggested that they didn't pass Farm Road Maintenance - 101. The work done on the road could, in Real Estate parlance, be described as a 'Renovators Delight'. Clearly some thought had gone into the remodelling. There were loads of water-bars that would serve to divert water away from the road and prevent erosion. These were huge, and unfinished, and tricky, and ultimately slow to ride. The road between these bumps had been ... I wanted to say 'levelled' but that would be an exaggeration. Let's rather say that a road had been 'torn' down the mountain. Actually, it wasn't that bad. But it was an unexpected and unwelcome surprise. The portage up the mountain on the other side of the valley was going to be hard enough without wasting time and energy picking my way down what used to be a wonderful descent.

The sun was nearing its zenith and it was warming up. We had been on the move for over 30 hours and the battle into the headwind hadn't helped. By impeding our progress it stifled stimulation and hastened the onset of tiredness.

On the far side of the valley where the jeep track turned to head up toward Aasvoelberg there were a couple of sheep pens and a water reservoir. We thought we would benefit from a 15 minute break in the shade of the reservoir. Damp ground around reservoirs, I thought, was exactly where snakes and other gogga's would hang out. I gave the ground a thorough scan before sitting. Casper, more of a country boy than me, went down like he had been punched by Mike Tyson. He was out in seconds. The sound of his snoring, carried across the short distance between us, resembled a cat purring.
Before I had a chance to settle I encountered my first gogga. The gogga then called its friends. They arrived in a swarm. Before long I had flies crawling all over me. I guess there isn't a lot to eat in the veld. I was probably the entomological equivalent of a McDonalds soft serve ice cream. I swear I could hear them licking me. It was a long 15 minutes.

The alarm roused Casper and we headed up the mountain. Chunks of it are rideable on fresh legs but, as Don Henley of the Eagles might have sung if he were mountain biker, "we hadn't had that freshness of leg since 19:59" the previous night. We rode a bit and walked a lot. The trick was to keep moving.

Our persistence paid off and quicker than expected we were over the nek and heading down the other side. The descent down the southern slope of Aasvoelberg goes on for many kilometres. If you like fast technical downhill riding, like Casper does, this is the perfect playground. As for me, not so fast, and not so skilled, I gingerly picked my way down the early steep sections while watching Casper get ever smaller as be bombed down the valley ahead. It's a long descent. I'm not sure of the distance but it takes about 30 minutes before you roll onto the district road near Magdala farm. There is no chance of nodding off on that section as the stimulation level is off the charts.

Sadly, the road section at the bottom is dreadfully boring. With a headwind it takes at least an hour of uphill grind before you drop into the Karoo proper. One kilometre of boredom later we were slumped in the shade of a thorn tree. Not ideal, but there wasn't a lot of choice. It was either thorn tree or cactus.

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