Thursday, 21 April 2016

Race to Cradock - Rockdale to Cradock

The sun rose as we approached the head of the valley giving us sight of our next challenge. The climb over Schurfteberg looks intimidating. The jeep track that leads from the ruin at De Hoek to the nek seems to wind up the mountain in an endless scribble. Fortunately it is easier than it looks. Even with our state of exhaustion I knew it wouldn't take more than an hour if we walked the whole way. Momentum is the key. About halfway up Casper took a break and I moved ahead of him. By the time I got to the summit he was a few hundred metres behind. That suited me perfectly. He is so much faster on the downhill sections so it made sense for me to keep going. We could regroup at the bottom.

The descent off Schurfteberg is spectacular. The track hugs the mountain for a couple of kilometres before spilling out at the farmhouse gate in the valley below. Casper caught me at the last gate and we rode together toward Jakkalsfontein. That section is flat and fast with a little bump in the middle. Last year we cruised up the bumpy bit motivated by a menacing storm that was on our tail. This year there was no storm to inject that degree of urgency so we ended up walking a few hundred metres.

While walking I turned my phone on and had a look at the race chatter. It seemed that Anthony was close behind and some were speculating as to whether he would beat us to the finish. The one entry that caught my eye was posted by my brother "Looks like we might have a dash for the line between Masper and Anthony."

I hadn't read any of the posts up until then. It seems that Casper and I had been given the collective name of Masper.

Back on our bikes we cruised down to the district road that would take us to Cradock. As we turned north toward the Swaarshoek pass we knew the cruising for the day was over. Firstly, the wind had picked up and was blowing into us. Secondly, some thoughtless official had decided it was a good day to do road maintenance. Ahead of us a grader was turning hard corrugations into spongy gravel.

As the road tipped up the wind increased. Casper and I kept craning our necks to see if there was any sight of Anthony. Eventually Casper told me not to wait for him and that I should go ahead. I dropped my head and pedalled off into the wind which was increasing in intensity all the time. I looked down at my Garmin and saw I was only doing 6 km/h. I reasoned that it was a good 2 km/h faster than walking and I would be really annoyed if Anthony beat me to the finish because I had chosen to walk instead of ride.

The pace was so slow that I started to nod off. I stopped, hooked out my earphones and got some music streaming into my ears. After a while that started losing its effect. Fortunately I received a phone call from a telemarketer. It's the only time in my life where I have wanted to hear their sales pitch in full. At one point they asked if it was convenient to talk. I assured them that the timing was perfect. They then said they could hear I was busy. I assured them that I wasn't. What followed was a twenty minute conversation about all the benefits I would derive from their product. I made a point of extracting all the details I could. Looking back it does seem a little cruel. I can imagine the person on the other side of the line texting their family and telling them they had hooked a live one and that they should go ahead and book that cruise as the commission cheque that month was going to be enormous.

When the conversation switched to closing phase details and confirmation of interest I was near the top of the climb and had to wrap up the conversation quickly so I could focus on the job at hand.

Looking back I couldn't see Casper, who was round a bend and out of sight. More importantly, looking down toward the start of the pass Anthony was nowhere to seen.

All I had to do was ride the 20 kilometres down the Swaerhoek pass into Cradock. The road surface was dry and smooth. I expected it to take me 40 minutes.
I must confess to looking back every now and then to make sure Anthony wasn't catching me. As fast as Anthony is it is unlikely that he could be significantly faster on a good fast downhill. The likelihood of him beating me to Cradock was zero. But stranger things have happened. I want about to sit up and cruise. When my speed dropped I cranked away for all I was worth. My legs were on fire and it felt good.

Once on the final stretch of tar, with Anthony nowhere to be seen, I started to relax. Pedalling up to the finish I was met by Meryl and Glenn. It had been a satisfying couple of days. Alex had beaten me by 4 hours and Casper was a few minutes behind. Someone put a cup of tea in my hand and I settled down on the stoep to wait for Casper who arrived 15 minutes later.

Anthony arrived in due course followed by Fjord and later in the day by a very soggy Janine who had ridden over the pass in a lighting storm. Of our start batch, two had dropped out early, the balance had finished 1 through 6. All inside two and a half days. As expected, it was a tough but satisfying event.

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