After leaving Paul to sort out his puncture I was on my own. It's a space I enjoy. Without the pressure of chasing or being visibly chased I was able to ride my race on my own terms. I had no idea who was immediately behind me. The trick is to stay focussed. There is always the risk of slowing down as you have no other riders around to benchmark your progress. After many years of endurance riding I have a reasonable sense of the pace I can maintain over long periods. And it's reasonable to assume that an hour into a race the field will have settled into a rhythm and unless something drastic happens the position of the field remains fairly static. That is, until the sun goes down and anything can, and does happen. Nighttime for me is the fun part of ultra endurance riding.
My hamstrings were still whinging on the way up Polly Shortts and I backed off a little more to give them a break. I needn't have bothered. Once at the top of the climb I joined the morning rush hour traffic heading in to Pietermaritzburg and got all the rest I needed. It was hectic. I slowly threaded my way into the CBD where I carefully picked my way around the hordes of taxis engaged in the morning game of maximum trips with maximum passengers. A bicycle doesn't mesh well with manic taxis. I was glad to start the climb up Town Hill on the Howick Road, not because I looked forward to the brutal 10 kilometre grind but rather because there was hardly any traffic.
When the road flattened out in Hilton I knew it was a temporary respite. I had climbed just over 1000 metres and had another 300 metres of climbing to get to the first checkpoint at Old Halliwell Inn 15 kilometres beyond Howick near Currys Post.
As I made my way through Howick the rain stopped but the sky still looked threatening. It wasn't time to strip off the rain gear quite yet.
The climb out of Howick had me back into the mist. The sun had been up a couple of hours so I figured the mist wasn't going to burn off any time soon.
Arriving at Old Halliwell gave me a chance to rest my aching hamstrings and get a warm cup of tea into my belly. I caught up with the race news and was surprised to hear that 5 hours into the race Paul was already a full hour behind. He had obviously battled to sort out his puncture. It looked like Dave was struggling as well because he was still a long way from Halliwell.
Andy told me that Ted was right behind me and a few minutes later in walked Ted. He looked like he had just strolled in from the breakfast room. He certainly looked a lot fresher than I felt. I removed my warm but still sodden gloves from the fire guard and tugged them on. This was going to get interesting.