The Britstown Race Village is located in the Transkaroo Country Lodge. Our race lead is Philip Kleijnhans who is assisted by Paul Krynauw both of whom have done the Munga and therefore understand our sleep deprivation induced ramblings and indecisiveness. The mechanics are on hand and my bike gets a chain-lube-and-go service.
The first thing I notice as I make my way into the dining room is a grubby looking Michael. He is covered in dust, his riding shirt is torn and there's evidence that he has made a blood offering to the trail gods. It seems he ran out of talent while zooming along crouched over his aero bars. Gravel, sand and corrugations are always keen to take advantage of sleep deprived riders and they snagged a big one this morning. He looks sore but waves it off. Tough competitor.
Philip's enthusiasm cuts through my exhaustion as he makes sure I get whatever I need—he's more keen to get me out the door than I am to leave. What I actually require is an appetite. Hotel staff stand ready to dish up bacon, eggs, sausages, toast and a few other options. It looks heavy and complicated. I settle for coffee, a slice of toast and scrambled eggs. It's all I can manage.
I sit next to John Ntuli and ask him, "Are you a little faster or a lot faster than me?" His immediate response is, "I'm a lot faster."
I nod my head in agreement. Then I say, "Then why are you sitting next to me?" We chat a bit and I tell him he needs to use his speed and move ahead with purpose so he can chase down Sithembiso. John nods. He gets up and heads to the foyer to sign out.
I'm ready to leave and hear Martin ordering tea. Sounds like a good idea. I ask them to double up that order. I head to the little boys room to freshen up my chamois cream and as I'm crossing back through the foyer I come face to face with Paul. He's standing in front of me with keys in his extended hand. "Room 32" he says handing me the keys. I'm not firing on all cylinders so I've no idea what's going on and I'm standing there trying to filter this new information. Fortunately Philip is nearby and interjects, "He doesn't need a room, he's pushing on." Now it's Paul's turn to look perplexed. I guess he's got me and Jean mixed up. The moment passes and I return to the dining room with my butt freshly greased.
There's a pot of tea on the table and Martin has filled his cup. There's no spare cup. I'm too tired to hunt down a cup but Philip once again comes to my rescue. The waitron says she brought 2 cups. It's then that I notice a hotel guest at an adjacent table looking a little sheepish as they sip their coffee.
With my tea dispatched I have no further business so I sign out and hit the road. I do notice that Michael and Jean have opted to sleep and Martin is still busy so just like that I've jumped from 11th place to 8th.
The first few kilometres out of town are on tar. Apart from wanting to get away from the traffic I'm keen to escape the heat radiating off the road surface. The wind is also picking up.
Leaving the tar there's a rocky/sandy/corrugated jeep track that heads over a nek before dropping down to the Smartt Syndicate Dam. It's a dreadful jeep track. In places it's easier to thread through the bush next to the track.
At the top of the climb I realise I haven't made any videos since the race started. I stop in the shade of a thorn tree and retrieve my phone. My phones front facing microphone is broken so I have to use my earphones for audio. I record a short clip and then spend 10 minutes waiting for it to download to Whatsapp. See the clip here https://youtu.b b e/o4GXQN0-eis
While I'm watching the download progress bar limp across the screen Martin rides past, "Cramping again?"
I wobble off after Martin holding my phone in one hand while trying to navigate the wretched jeep track. Eventually it indicates a successful download by which time I've already decided that I'm not making any more videos.
I cross the wall of the dam that's been a dust bowl in every one of the 5 years I've ridden this way. The imagery is bleak. Once you leave Britstown you're in the worst part of the Karoo as far as the drought conditions are concerned. And that stretches almost 600km to just before Ceres in the Western Cape. Everything lacks vibrancy and the landscape is painted in hues of depressive brown. It's hot and my ears are ringing.
I come across Martin who is having ongoing issues with his back tyre since he flatted just before Vanderkloof. "Do you have a bomb?" he asks. I tell him that continuous bombing is going to curdle his tyre sealant and compound his problems. He doesn't have a hand pump so I toss mine to him and tell him he can give it back to me once he catches up. There's no point standing there watching because he is quicker and will catch up in no time.
I make it to the Steenkamps farm which is WP5. There I gobble down countless wedges of watermelon and glug down cup after cup of Fanta, Coke and iced water. I even manage to dispatch 2 muffins. I'm told that Martin and Janine Stewart are about 18 kilometres behind me. Hmm, obviously my pump was as much use as lockjaw. At least Martin has Janine to help out. She knows her way around a bike. I've seen her step up and sort out all manner of bike problems over the years.
We are sitting in the shade of a thatched lapa. Right next to us is a pool/reservoir the size of an large urban garden. It's brimming with ice cold water. Over the years riders have taken the opportunity to plunge in and cool off. I'm tempted but don't want to wet my bib shorts and socks to the extent that I might start chaffing once I'm back on the bike. So we sit there chatting. Me, the Steenkamp family (sans Mr Steenkamp who is distributing feed to his sheep) and John Ntuli.
I think about catching 40 winks on a mattress that's placed on the lawn in the shade of a tree. There's not much space as a medic has already commandeered 90% of the mattress real estate. He is spread eagled and out cold. I rest my head on a disused corner of the mattress and after a few minutes give up any hope of falling asleep. I'm obviously not as exhausted as the medic that I can ignore the heat.
I'm on my bike and ahead of John. I get back to the road as Martin pulls up. He points to his camelback where he has stashed my pump. "It was useless", he says. What can I say? I retrieve the pump and stow it on my bike. "Janine's just behind me," says Martin and rides into the farm. I look back down the road. There's no sign of Janine
I glance at my watch. Exactly midday. It's oppressively hot and I know it's going to get worse over the next few hours. I've been on the go for 24 hours. I think of the conversation I had with Benky at breakfast yesterday—the smack talk about tough conditions suiting us. Well it's time to toughen up. I clip in and head off.
It's a couple of kays along the district road before we head through the farms. I'm not looking forward to the farm section. The track alternates between corrugations, loose gravel and sandpits. And then there's the gates. Gate after gate after gate. There are probably less than a dozen but it feels like a hundred. They break your rhythm and it's a real hassle trying to balance your bike while unlatching and latching gates. The next challenge is that you can see forever. Forever's great if all you want to do is look at it, but the route through the farms takes us across this endless void to a clump of trees appearing as a mere speck on the distant horizon.
The wind has picked up and dust devils mingled with dust clouds swirl across the landscape in a drunken frenzy. The corrugations are worst than previous years. As I get to the farm gate Mr Steenkamp himself exits the farm in his bakkie pulling a massive fodder trailer. The monster corrugations eventually give way to sandpits which tear at my legs.
Eventually I spy 2 windmills. One is directly ahead on my route and the other is off to my right on what used to be the route. My head is throbbing from the heat and sweat is running into my eyes. I'm trying to figure out which of the 2 windmills will give me water and shade. I opt for the one straight ahead even though it's slightly further it's at the end of the farm track section and means I won't have to backtrack. I've stopped there before when it was the location of an official water point so I know there's water and shade. I arrive there and notice that there's no water pulsing out of the pipe into the reservoir. The top of the reservoir is chin height. I look inside. There's about a foot of water and a few million bugs swimming around. I touch the end of the pipe running into the reservoir and it's damp. That means it does work. The windmill is about 30 metres away. I sit in the shade of a pepper tree with my back against the reservoir watching the windmill. Every now and then it starts spinning up then as if exhausted from the effort it promptly stops turning. It's not like the wind's not blowing. It just seems disinterested in my problems.
There're a tangle of pipes coming from the windmill and I play my eyes over them and eventually conclude that the reservoir is the most likely destination for any water it might pump. But there's still no water.
The sun has shifted so I need to move. The ground is hostile. It's not like there are thorns or killer ants and scorpions. It's just... not nice. I try brushing a spot clear and shift over. I've learnt over the years that farm reservoirs offer 3 things: water, shade from adjacent trees, and flies. Lots of flies. It seems flies like water and salt. I'm a convenient salt lick. I wish the windmill would whirl up and deliver water so I can get away from these inconsiderate pests. I'm alternating my gaze from the windmill to the track over the farm. I'm fully expecting to see Martin and Janine heading my way.
I've been here 30 minutes and not a drop of water. I'm down to 2 bottles of water and I've worked out that it's 12km to the next occupied farmhouse which has a tap I can access. I dampen my Bottlesox with the dodgy water from the reservoir. I'm good to go. Only 12km. All flat. No climbing. How hard can that be.
The wind is into my face and it feels like someone has opened a furnace door. I count the distance down in 100m increments. All the while I'm looking for signs of the trees that surround the farmhouse. My Garmin is showing the temperature in the early 50's but it's exaggerating. I'm worried that it's going to overheat and turn off so I rig up a cover with a buff. This keeps direct sunlight off the unit and facilities airflow over the unit. I just need to lift the edge and I can see if I'm on track or not.
Finally I see the trees and before too long I'm gulping down cool water from the farmyard tap. This is an opportune time to bank some sleep. Rather sleep while it's hot and make use of the cooler nights. I'm tired enough now to sleep even though it's hot. I see a shady spot on the lawn but it's on the wrong side of a garden fence. Then I see on open door of a shed that looks like it's the workshop. It's grubby but out of the sun. I see one of the employees and ask him if I can sit inside. Instead he opens up a feed room next door. It's clean and he points to a pile of empty polypropylene feed bags and says I can lay on them. A quick look at my Garmin. It's 47°C in the shed. I fashion a mattress and without bothering to set an alarm I lay down. Before long I'm lights out.