Sunday, 25 October 2020

RASA 2020 the Final Night

I had finally made it out of Stettynskloof. It hadn't been easy. With only 13 minutes sleep in the last 42 hours my thinking had become clouded. I'd made a few bad route choices coming through the Kloof and it had cost me valuable time and energy. My final line out of the valley had me faced with an unscalable cliff face hemmed in by an impenetrable wall of Hakea — an invasive species of needlewood with the emphasis on needle. I sat on the mountainside for 10 minutes gathering my thoughts trying to figure out how to free myself from the grasp of the valley. There was no rush as it was now dark.

I heaved my bike back onto my shoulders and retraced my steps until I was able to contour under a rocky ledge to the other side of the slope which was dominated by young flexible protea bushes rather than the unyielding hakea. I plodded upward picking my way around the bigger bushes until the slope levelled out and I was clear of the Kloof.
It had taken me ten hours to move the eight kilometres through Stettynskloof. That was many hours more than I had hoped for.

The blisters on my feet throbbed and I was happy to get the bike off my back and sit for a minute or two. One or two minutes became 20 or 30 minutes. I became aware of someone sitting next to me. I looked up, it was Siya Kolisi, the Captain of the South African national rugby side. I'd been having sleep deprivation induced hallucinations on and off for days now so while I was aware that he was a mere figment of my imagination I was glad for his company.

"Come, let's go find the jeep track," I said. I wheeled my bike down the back of the mountain with Siya following a few metres behind. I knew I had to head South West to intercept the jeep track that would lead me out of the valley. Once I had located the track it would take me another 3 hours to get to the finish at the Diemersfontein Wine Estate in Wellington. The mountain was littered with rocks and undergrowth that tangled with my feet and bike. A couple of times I tripped over rocks or stepped into holes that had me tumbling to the ground. It was clear I had reached the limit of my physical endurance and desperately needed to sleep. I had come to the race hoping to finish in under 12.5 days. All I had to do was find the track and I'd be good for a sub-12 day finish.

I had gone a long way down the slope and hadn't yet caught sight of the jeep track. I started weaving across the valley floor in the hope of intercepting the track. Every now and then I would catch sight of what looked like a jeep track only for it to fizzle out after a few metres. This happened several times making me wonder if there were multiple jeep tracks or was I merely imagining that they were there? After all I had Siya trailing along behind me and every bush is sight had turned into either a dancing marionette or a pixie dancing a jig. The line between reality and hallucination had become indecipherable.

I took out my compass and map for the 5th time in 30 mins and was unable to reconcile my instincts with the compass bearing that should get me to the track.

I sat down and took off my backpack. It was a beautiful night. There was a slight breeze and a light overcast sky. It occurred to me that the thing I had been obsessing about for the last 10 days was available right there—a solid nights sleep. If I found the jeep track in the next few minutes I'm not sure I would have been able to make the trip to the finish in the condition I was in. I made up my mind.
"Siya, we're going to bivvy down right here." I unfurled my bivvy bag and without even removing my shoes or helmet I slipped inside and fell fast asleep.


Unknown said...

Unreal!! You are amazing!

Doc Humie said...

Epic stuff Mike. Remember well a long conversation I had with an old Gogo on a 25km beach hike in Mozambique on an AR there, until one of my team mates asked who I was talking to😱😴😴 Sleepmonsters!

Philip Erasmus said...

Yes, so near and so far. Amazing how the body can re-act when it is over extended! Still an amazing adventure. Thanks for the notes!