Waking, it took me a second or two to make sense of my surroundings. Ahead, and at the foot of the mountain pass, the lights of Cradock, my objective, twinkled in the predawn darkness. To my right, on the fringes of the bubble of light cast by my bike light, I could see the rock face of the road cutting flashing by. To my left a chasm of darkness. I applied the brakes and brought my bike to a stop. I was too close to the finish to end my race in a crash on the final descent.
I propped my bike against the rocks, set my alarm for five minutes and sat in the ditch with my back to the rock face. Within seconds I was asleep.
During a week dominated by the ABSA Cape Epic I rode my bike across the Eastern Cape from Rhodes to Cradock. The Race to Cradock, an event of the Freedom Challenge, could be described as a boutique event. It's niche in that it is very limited in numbers and attracts a particular type of rider.
If razzmatazz, daily post race massages, cold beers at the Chill-Zone, photographers around each corner, fully functioning water points offering an array of refreshments, nightly gatherings to highlight the performances of the day, prize-giving and daily results posted to see who is edging out who, is your thing, then the Race to Cradock is not for you.
If you merely want to experience the simple joy of riding your bike or fancy pitting yourself against yourself then perhaps you would feel as at home on the Freedom Trail as I do.
I had been on the go for nearly 49 hours covering 570 km. In that time I had only banked 25 minutes of roadside sleep. I was only thirty minutes from the finish line and had finally lost the battle against the sleep monsters who had been tormenting me for the last hour.
By the time I opened my eyes the Eastern sky showed the first signs of the advancing dawn. I hopped on my bike and rode the final 15 kilometres into town.
It had been a good race. I had ridden hard and I ridden long. It was my best performance to date over that section. It was completely satisfying and made me feel alive.