I always associate Sutherland with Sarah Atmore who has been the Race Village lead every year. When I arrive I know I'm not going to see her this year because I saw her back in Bloemfontein. This year she's on her bike making her way to the finish via Sutherland. In her place we have Evan and Albert who have maintained the congenial atmosphere I've become accustomed to.
The plan is to get into a bed and bank 90 minutes sleep. I have a cup of tea and then head to a room. I'll eat later. The less stimulation I have now the better. I shower, wash my riding kit, and get on a bed. I set my alarm for 90 minutes and instead of sleeping I toss and turn. Even though sleep doesn't come I'm in no hurry to head back into the wind.
Eventually I get dressed and wander through to the dining area. Martin has arrived and I see him on the massage table. I check the register and see that John hasn't left.
The food is good and goes down easily. I chase that down with tea and then coffee. I'm still aware of the wind outside and put my usual Race Village turn around haste on hold and have another cup of coffee. It's going to be a long night.
If I leave now I'll be in 5th place. I've got John and Martin under my nose and they are both quicker. I've no idea where the others are but assume Dana and Michael are within striking distance. Even if all these guys catch and pass me that'll still allow me to achieve my objective of finishing in the top 10.
The wind is still blowing hard but I figure if I get out an hour ahead of the other two that'll give me a 10 or 12 kilometre lead. The riders still making their way into Sutherland are battling into the wind so will need time to recharge.
I head out of town on a tar road knowing that soon I'll be bumping along the worst corrugations of the entire race. It's not terribly windy but Sutherland is in a wind shadow and I'll be climbing out of that shelter within a few kilometres. As I leave the tar road it's soon obvious that the anticipated bumpy road is indeed in terrible shape.
Corrugations are worse on climbs. Consequently it makes sense to ride up a climb on the right side of the road and then switch back to the left on the downside. That is unless the road is in such poor condition that the cars are adopting this same strategy. Cars also take the inside line on corners in both directions and that is where you find the wave sized corrugations. As you approach a corner you need to get up on the outer high side. The dirt road climbing out of Sutherland snakes as it makes it's way around the mountain and corners are steeply banked. It's a mission trying to keep to the upper side as it switches left and right. In places there is no gap in the monster corrugations so you have to trek across them to gain the upper line. There are sections of edge to edge corrugations where there is no good line.
And then there's the matter of cars. Ideally, when you see them coming you move to the side that'll keep you clear of their dust. Sometimes it's a choice between choking dust or rattling corrugations. It's exhausting and the wind, strengthening as I climb away from town, isn't helping.
I battle on and soon there's more good surface than bad. The sun is kissing the horizon as I drop down the final climb before deviating from the district road and tackling the farm section. The farm section has a couple of stiff climbs but I don't mind as this section is tucked into a valley below the summit of the Ouberg Pass and I'm happy to trade the nagging head wind for a few big efforts.
It's getting dark as I pass the last house on the farm. The lights are on and I see someone moving about inside. It's surreal. That sounds odd but apart from passing vehicles and people at water points and race village there has been a dearth of things with heartbeats—human or animal. I've seen more animal carcasses than live ones and apart from those places mentioned above I can count on one hand the people I have seen in the last 60 hours. Obviously there are people on the farms but I've seen so few out and about. I guess with the drought farming activity is at a low ebb.
Just before I reach the farm gate at the top of the Ouberg Pass I stop to turn my lights on. I look back and see a light. It looks like a bike light but I can't be sure. At a guess I'd say it's 15 minutes away at most. I start down the pass. The wind has abated and it's a pleasant evening. The plains of the Tankwa Karoo lay 1000m below. The next 23 kilometres are all downhill. It starts with a dozen switchbacks where the road is mostly good with occasional rocky and washed out sections. Then it opens up and it's a smooth fast ride.
As the road levels out and I'm about to start the climb up to the next water point at Tankwa River Lodge I see bright lights up ahead. It's a guy on a bike. He pulls up and rides next to me and explains that he's from the lodge. The internet connection at the lodge has gone on the blink so he's ridden back along the route to see if there are riders coming in. I guess from his vantage point he could see me coming a long way off.
We chat as we ride along and soon we are dropping down the driveway at the lodge.