I left Estcourt on a little used road and headed northwest paralleling the N3 national road. 20 kilometres later the road ended and I turned west, crossed the N3 and headed toward the Drakensberg. My route over the next few hours would take me through Winterton and on to Bergville where I planned to stop and get some dinner.
I had sufficient water so opted to ride through Winterton without stopping. Exiting town I saw Ted just ahead of me. He must have stopped. 12 hours into the race and only 1 minute separated us. This time I got to see exactly how much faster his bike was than mine on the downhills. On the first climb out of town the gap stayed at one minute. With every successive downhill he would increase that gap by 30 seconds or more. By the time I rolled into Bergville Ted was out of sight. With my thoughts now on dinner he was also well out of mind.
There is a Caltex garage at the far end of town that has a small Maxis restaurant. I have to admit that I don't have a nutritional plan on long rides. I allow my eyes to shop for my belly. The eyes ordered a soft serve ice cream, a toasted cheese and ham sandwich combo (combo = add coffee) and a pot of tea. The tea/coffee/ice cream combo had them a tad confused. The confusion cost a few minutes and it was a good half an hour before I was back on my bike. But not before I shed my rain jacket and replaced it with a cooler wind shell. Sunset, and therefore cooler conditions, was 30 minutes away but I knew the big climb that loomed was going to keep me warm.
The next checkpoint was at The Border Post, 45 km away at the top of Oliviershoek Pass. A phone call confirmed that Ted had pushed through Bergville and was a good 45 mins ahead of me. I passed Amphitheatre Backpackers, which was last year's checkpoint, at 7:10 pm which put me an hour and twenty minutes ahead of my time from the previous year. At 7:30 pm I started on the 13 km climb up the pass. It starts off okay but kicks up in the middle before easing off near the top. Andy passed me when I was halfway up. He told me he was going back to Bergville to fetch Paul Erasmus who had pulled out of the race after battling with tyre problems since early morning.
I pulled up at The Border Post (taking its name from straddling the border between KZN and the Free State provinces, not between South Africa and Lesotho) a few minutes before 8:30 pm. The big climb of the race was now behind me. I couldn't find Liz but I did find Ted. He was exhausted. The climb had hurt him and he was getting ready for some shuteye. They didn't have rooms available but they did have two caravans and Ted had staked his claim to one of them. I'm guessing Paul would be take up occupancy in the other when he arrived with Andy.
I wondered back toward the main building and found Liz. Owing to the lack of milk I had a cup of black tea which, while not my usual fare, was surprisingly refreshing. I cracked open my checkpoint box and stuffed my pockets with fruitcake and biscuits. It was going to be a long night and I wasn't expecting to find any shops open until after sunrise. I figured that the garage at Petrus Steyn, 180 km away, would be my first chance to get something other than water. A garage at Kestell, 60 or 70 km away had a tap so water was covered.
Andy arrived back at 9 pm as I was leaving. I told him I had work to do. It was time to make hay while the sun wasn't shining. In other words, I had to put some distance between me and Ted. I thought Ted would sleep for at least 3 hours which meant that I should be in Kestell before he got going. Ted was playing a vital role in my race. Having him around was helping me maintain momentum.