Thursday, August 20, 2015

And so it ends

Eish. The spelling in my previous write-ups...

Bucklands is still as magical as I remember with lush gardens from the rain.  As we arrived, Hannes came out to meet us and shepherded us to have dinner. This was 5.45 - a mere 90 minutes after we had last eaten! 
Well trained support station that it is, Rini has prepared piles of bobotie and veg and pudding for us. 
All of which had been  taken from the farm. They were also on a Banting mission - it's everywhere! I kept my Malta pud and custard for later and we walked across to the renovated cottage for the evening. What a quaint place now with electricity. 
During dinner we spoke about the various farms we'd passed through and discovered that the farmer at Stuttgart had a relapse of cancer but was beating it through his own natural methods. Brave man. 

We left at 7.30 and I became concerned early on. Kelly's knee was limiting her ability to pedal which meant our average speed was low. We thought the day would be about 76k to Mount Ingwe but the ascent out of the Groot Rivier was always going to be slow. The fine drizzle stayed on the surrounding mountains and it was brilliant riding conditions. 
When we eventually turned onto the road towards Hadley, we did Dave The Myth's injury treatment. Double the dose of everything. 
This finally gave Kelly some relief except she complained of sparkling eyeballs. We staggered on with quite a few pushes until the descent to the river. The road was being fixed and was great to this point. We'd already crossed the river on Bucklands farm and it was flowing quite deep and in the valley, it was wet shoe time as the water came to our knees. 

The long push out 
At least 2kms of straight up pushing stretched and strained already tired muscles. It was rocky and stony and the drizzle was now coming down in earnest. There had been quite some rain as the puddles were deep and the mud copious. We slipped and slid our way up every climb and the rain picked up. I finally got cold and had a chance to wear my new improved rain jacket. This one worked. Reaching the plateau was a relief but there was no view of the sea or Baviaanskloof. Just mist and an ever darkening sky. 
In the distance and rich green of the hillside, we could make out the descent to Osseberg. 
It was now about 4pm and there was still far to go. 
We pushed on and up again. I thought the next section would be about 10km and to both of our relief it was only 6km - a gift. 
At the summit of the hill about a km from the t-junction, we called Daleen at the lodge to give her an update and to check how far to go still. 
Bad news.  Another 17km but she said she would send Lukas to fetch us. Instead of waiting we started off and it was fast and exhilarating... Then came the mud.  Black and viscous. I raced straight into a rut and two shakes of the bike and I was flying into the mud bank. As Kelly stopped to check she fell off, unable to uncleat. Cold, wet, hungry and now very muddy. 
We set off again a little more restrained. Another km later was another mud patch with two cows coming for us and a shouting herd boy in pursuit. 
At the same time, Lukas arrived and chaos ensued. He reversed out the mud, we loaded the bikes and headed on down the road, broadsiding at times as the 4x4 slipped through the mud. 
We managed 72km and it had been hard.

Mount Ingwe was a stunning Lodge in completely different terrain and grasslands. 
We decided to call it a day. Kelly's knee wouldn't hold out for the 70km the next day but we were well satisfied with our adventure.

Lukas's farm borders the Osseberg and he has a permit to go in and fix the track to the river. We strongly suggested that he build single track.... 
But what an interesting man. Film maker, farmer, collector of Anglo Boer war artefacts, and now mountain bike route builder. 
He had business in PE so the next morning, we were back in the bakkie with three quad bikes, two mountain bikes and two tired cyclists.

There are more bits to write about and photos to post.

In the meantime, thanks to Kelly for agreeing to come with me. For a novice rider, she was amazing. I think there might be a RASA in her future. 

Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Lies and deja vue

What a long and eventful day.

When I was prepping my maps and checking narratives, I was somewhat dismayed that the summary distance was still based on the old route. The 105km that had Kelly sleepless -  being 15km further than she'd ever ridden - was going to be way under. Oops. 
I hoped she'd be too tired to do the math.

She had already begun with a knee niggle and despite icing it, it would be a problem. 
We left as it got light and began the tedious route around the Addo Park.  Whilst not bad riding it was still dead straight district road. Once in the park, the route to the dam wall went on for ages too but the view when we reached the small pass above the dam wall was superb. The dam was very full and quite a bit of water was being released. We entered the Gwaas Valley which was green with an abundance of small flowers. 
The day had started overcast with a bit of spitting rain which reminded me of 2009 when we rode the valley with sifting drizzle which had left us frozen and wet then.
The road had been cleared which took a little of the magic away from the days when it was more a country lane.  I felt the same way about the road to Kleinpoort. 
Just before we left the valley, we had our first proper break. The tuna sachet came out and although I wasn't too hungry, I shoved it down knowing the day was still young.

There is something about tuna. I flew up the pass unlike 2009 when it was soggy road and hard riding. The descent was stunning with the folded cliffs towering over us.

By now Kelly's knee was bad.  We had placed some kinetic strapping on it being given fairly certain it was ITB. This didn't last with dust and moisture. So now we tried a bandage to support the knee 
By the time we got to the next Ridge, it was a painful struggle. So then we duct taped it which also came off but helped marginally. We also changed seat height to take some pressure off.

While Kelly was deep in the pain cave, I contended with my tool bag coming loose. An extra 1.6kg went into my backpack which did my butt no favours. Finally we spied Kleinpoort. The pie shop was open again and we sank into their chairs gratefully. 

Kleinpoort Pomp Stal 
Trail angels again. Aletta had more strapping tape and we Googled how to strap ITB. Skin cleaned, we set to work and did it properly. 
This was after I had borrowed the rolling pin and punished Kelly some more on the ITB. Picture a dusty cyclist lying on the floor of the coffee shop writhing in angony whilst her mate stands over her wielding a wooden rolling pin!

 Some Dutch men arrived having just done a 4x4 safari and they told us how much they loved the country and how beautiful it was. They had a hard core Landy outside which had already traveled Africa. They were really interested in our adventures - similar spirits I guess.

An hour later after toasted sammies and pour moi, a kiddies breakfast, cokes, rooibos tea and a whole lot of hurt, we were on our way.

Credit to Kelly, she sat on my wheel and we bolted for Bucklands to make it in the daylight averaging 20km/hour.

It had been a really long day of 118km.

Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Moving on

Lood  built us a fire to take the chill off the evening but the wind ensured we were smoked out. I came out of my room to burning eyes and a grey haze. So we were forced to open doors and windows to try to breathe. Our washing was drying in front of the fire with a new brand of stasoft : woodsmoke.

The next morning was leisurely leaving at 8am to do the 52km to Toekomst. We got a little derailed by a pair of Angora kids. Too cute and they liked the paparazzi. Finally we got on the road fairly uneventful until we pulled over for a bakkie coming from Karoopoort.

Merlie was on her way to Cradock for a conference with extra blankets for the cold front that was apparently chasing us. In the space of a few minutes we were educated in the harsh realities of modern day farming and the lot of a farmers wife.

The good news is that she plans to buy a bike and start riding. Seeing two women on the trail on their own was hopefully inspirational. I think we need a mini freedom trail event for the support station farmers who ride. Looking at you Glenn and Meryl.

Karoopoort was spectacular. The views, greenery and flowers were amazing thanks to some unexpected winter rains. On the way down, the game gate was locked so as per the instructions on the narrative, we scrabbled our way through the bush to the dry river bed. There we shimmied under the game fence but saw only warthog and water buck for our troubles.

I am now lying under a mohair blanket in my comfy tent looking out over the Karoo scrub. Below me are Eland and Sable antelope.

The silence hurts. 

Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Who's the boss

Not I. The wind bossed us from Struishoek to Gegun with just the 5km on tar to Pearston at our backs. 
Otherwise it was a master class in echelon and wheel sucking techniques. 
But that was later. 
Back at Grootdam we met Tienie when we arrived who dished out chicken soup and crispy vetkoek along with all the gossip. 
There was an American bow hunter, Gene, plus a couple of local hunters who work with boss man Neil. 
The braai was indoors. Next to the pub. I saw a couple of quivering slabs of meat being turned and tried not to wonder. 
The conversation was easy and the company relaxed. Starters were served and it was a plateful of braaied prawns which were dispatched in short order. 
Dinner was next and there were the slabs,  brown on the outside and decidedly pink on the inside. Ooh eh eh. 
The choice was reed buck or fresh eland,  as in hunted that morning by Gene. 
I went with the reed buck and hid the pink bits with mustard and mushroom sauce. Veges made an appearance which were delish. Rounding it all off was creme Brule. After the shortage of sleep, I couldn't stay up to watch the rugby so scuttled off to bed to lie back and stare up into a Leopard's arsehole. 

A leisurely breakfast of bacon and eggs and coffee got us out of Grootdam at 7.30am.

Tollies Torture 
Our first challenge of the day was the clambering over our first 3m fence. The bikes weren't too heavy according to the weigh in at Intercape.  So 14.4kg of carbon Santa Cruz porn went over followed by another. 

 The second challenge was to de-socknshoe or not. The idea of wet feet nixed that so off they came and freezing wade ensued. 
Way above us we could see the road winding it's way up the Koppie. Towards the top we reached 24% gradient then HC. 
I think I'm going to be very stiff tomorrow. After that came more water bars, 5m power intervals that went on and on until we finally got to the top of Struishoek portage and there were all the whitewashed stones in all their glory. Thanks Dave and all the Redcliff staff. 
A short picnic then we started down. One can never explain what these are like to novices so Kelly was left to her own devices to discover for herself. 
At Radcliff farm the family was settling in for a Sunday braai when two sweaty women arrived wanting water. True eastern cape hospitality meant water, homemade lemon juice and fresh oranges. 
Our detour into Pearston was put on hold as time was moving on and the wind had picked up,  ready to bludgeon us on  the last 25km.
Gegun was deserted, my phone died and we were cold and tired. Eventually - only 15min really - we discover the key in the pot plant via a portable charger and calls to race office. The entire region was without power so no tea to revive us. In the freezer was steak and chops and a frozen loaf of bread. The kindling for a braai was prepared outside in the cold strong wind. 
But help was at hand. Lisa and Lood arrived with a cooler box full of roast chicken,  salad,  pasta and potato salad. Topped off with chocolate eclairs. 
The lights have come on and all is good with the world. 

Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Finally on the trail

So the trip to Cradock was tedious and more expensive than anticipated. The welcome from Margaret made up for that and it was with a small amount of trepidation that we finally set off. 
There were a few mechanicals to deal with: brake pads that had closed, saddle  again that kept hitting get the rear wheel and a slight adjustment to my saddle. 
A Wimpy coffee sorted out my grumpiness and then we couldn't put it off anymore. Time to commit. 
We crossed the Fish River and began the climb. It's a great route. Gradual ascents of 4-5%.
A lone cyclist came at us head on in his rugby shorts and fleece, intent on having the first of many conversations today. Now we know that most of the Cradock cyclists are at Trans Baviaans,  and that he had ridden out to check on his sheep. With a detailed description of what lay ahead of us, off he sped. 
We rode leisurely and took photos. After all it was only 55km. It was a cool day and joy, a tailwind. When we finally submitted, we tucked out of the wind to snack and enjoy the Freedom of where we were. Cradock lay behind and a vast Valley lay before us encircled by Hills stretching away into the distance. 
A white Bakker pulled up next to us. 
"Why aren't you doing Trans Baviaans? " We explained why? 
"Look where my bakkie turns off, that is where you must turn. Stop at the farm. It's Eldorado." 
We watched from our lofty perch barely able to make out the white vehicle against the sun bleached winter veld. 
Eventually the wind got cold and we headed off down the pass.  As we turned off the full force of it hit our backs and we flew along the road. 
There was a moments hesitation then we swung into the farm, with Pierre Oosthuizen's experiences spurring us on.
Eastern Cape,  Karoo and Farmers. The hospitality doesn't get any better. Water or whiskey? 
Water, whiskey and rooibos tea. 
The parlour was wall to wall hunting and fishing trophies and of course the topic moved to Cecil the Lion.
Much shaking of heads.  "Gives the industry a bad name." Seeing we were in hunting country and would be staying at a hunting Lodge, we agreed. 
With multiple have good wishes and offers of help in PE, we left the Moolman's for a fast 20k downhill with shunting wind at our backs.
Grootdam awaited.  And therein probably lies another story. 

Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

Docking into Cradock

The bus down to Cradock is not cheap and definitely not fun with a bicycle. After some crazy fly by night volumetric measurements we had some very light pockets. After a crazy week prepping, I passed out for the full 12hr drive.  Fiona did not sleep a wink thanks to crazy loud phone calls at 12am... Bollywood  movies being watched on cellphones (no earphones necessary apparently) and one crazy near brawl over something we've yet to figure out. 

We arrive and thank Bob Margaret was there to save us from the Friday Shell garage jollers complete with milk stout and bloodshot eyes. 

Margaret's home was the perfect pre ride resting place sent comfy beds, hot water bottles, sausage dogs galore..

3hrs of proper sleep later we unbubble wrapped our babies, wrestled with an unwieldy brake pad and hit the local wimpy. Hard. 

It was basically onwards and upwards and upwards and upwards. Pretty Karoo 18k. climb up Swaershoek Pass.  Took some pictures of myself in the pretty Karoo flowers - what an awesome Day! 

- KellyKazi

Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

Getting to Cradock

Bleh! Bus at night not to be recommended. First we had to pay in for the bikes. Big surprise.  Making this not a cheap option. 
Unless you have a blanket, pillow and eye cover, you won't sleep. 
It was a long night. 
Margaret was there to meet us,  thank goodness. The drop off is very dodgy with late/early revellers accosting one looking for more money to buy milk stout. 
A comfy couple of hours kip in a bed made all the difference. 
Filled with streaky bacon breakfast, we were finally off. 

Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

Friday, August 14, 2015

People of the Freedom Trail rock

News just through from the race office of Freedom Trail:
Margaret (of Elandsberg fame) is generously and selflessly coming to pick up Kelly and I at 3am and taking us to her house. So we'll have a couple of extra hours of sleep, a homemade breakfast and then we'll set off for the rude 18km ascent up the Swaershoek Pass.
The hospitality of the hosts on the Freedom Trail are legendary and every year, riders are blessed with mothering, cosseting and love before heading out into bitter winter nights and days.
Respect and whole hearted thanks to Margaret for looking out for the two orphans.

3 hours to go

I sit here with random thoughts cascading around my head. Underlying them all is a quiver of nerves for this ride.
On this, there is no safety net of a Freedom Trail race office and its logistical support. They have booked our overnight spots and the rest is over to us. One novice and one more 'experienced' rider on this unsupported lark.
There are vague memories that lurk from 2009 but I realise that much will have changed and it will be focusing from scratch on maps and narratives.
We've made a last minute decision to include our bike lights in case we decide to ride in the dark from Cradock. A four hour wait for the Wimpy to open has no appeal. So there is a possibility that we will watch the sun rise from the top of the Swaershoek Pass. Magnificent!
The clock is ticking.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Rule #1

It's best to plan these unsupported events with a little time in hand.

I find I am quite nervous about it because I haven't put in my usual hours of planning and attention to detail. Not having the luxury of 2l tubs also means extra weight of snacks to be carried.

Our late commitment to the ride also meant that we couldn't get on to the Shosholoza Meyl which would have dropped us off in Cradock at the reasonable hour of 5am.

Now we are on the Sleepliner and clamber off somewhere in the town at the ungodly hour of 3am. I am pretty certain the Wimpy isn't open at that hour but I do know the Shell garage has a 24 hour coffee bar.

Going to be interesting!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Two more sleeps

The next adventure is upon me.  This time there has only been a scant two weeks to prepare. 
A five day unsupported ride on another section of the Freedom Trail. 
I have dragged my friend Kelly with me and the tale will begin at 16.30 at Park Station, Friday 14th August. 

Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Let's make it a stage to remember

And so the weather gods did.

We left Stuttgart upbeat and ready for the last 70km of which the last 18km were promised as "all downhill". Yeah right, heard that one before.

Typical Karoo scrub
I had been really worried about the Garstland Kloof because waaay back in 2009, we'd struggled through the clay mud and with all the rain, I was convinced it would be a replay of the same. It's a gradual climb up the narrow valley with a couple of farms along side the road. In front of us were mountains and it was difficult to identify which would be our Schurfteberg portage.

My legs were feeling better - not fast - but not as tight so I was happy. We had a tailwind which made the going pretty hot and we'd regroup under the shade of the odd tree that leaned over the road. We reached the bad memories of 09 (Yes, I still recognised it such was the trauma!) and rode comfortably over it. There was really no mud to speak of despite the downpours of the night before.
Mmm Yum

Tricky operation
You know you've reached the end of the valley when you practically ride into the last farmstead. As I pulled up to the others, Leon was attacking a prickly pear bush with a stick and a pen knife.He swat the fat fruit or poke at it until it dropped then stab it with the blade. Using both as tools, he slice off the prickly outer skin and hand us all slices of the insides. I wasn't sure about this but tasted some anyway. It was surprisingly sweet.

Thus fortified, we pedaled on to the gate in the fence. It's quite easy to make a mistake here and many have done so. Leon remembered his error clearly from the previous year and my maps read: Go through gate!"

So we did.

View from below
The track appeared and on we rode to the ruins at the base of the portage. As we got there, black clouds bulged over the ridge and the wind had a distinct chill and smell of rain. Undeterred, we rode onwards and I saw to my relief the ominous black cloud move off over the ridge and the sun come out exactly where we were going to ride. "Great timing," I thought.

I have two photos taken in 2009 which are framed. The one is from the bottom of the portage beside the small lake and the other from the top, looking back and over the ridge into the Karoo with a dusting of snow. I had looked forward to taking a repeat for months already. So I got my picture of the lake and the mountain looming above then pedaled off after the others.
Sheeting rain

As we hit the base of the mountain and began to climb, the black clouds rolled in and within minutes, a grey sheet of rain descended the mountain and dumped on our heads. Howling wind made it difficult to pull on rain jackets and to pack away phones and camera. Eventually, packs were on and we began the slow plod with rain driving in our faces one way, then pushing onto our backs another. Once again, I was reminded of the distinct lack of waterproofing that my seldom used jacket offered.

View from the top
We were probably half way up the climb when the clouds rolled away and the sun came out, blazing down on us in our jackets. In moments, it was hot and humid and the only one smiling was Jonathan who hadn't bothered to put on a waterproof shell at all.

Jackets on
This was my only low point of the race. For some reason, I struggled here. I felt exhausted, legs heavy again and I just wanted to put my head down on the handlebars and sleep. Of course, this is also when the negative demons come out to play and the old mantras of being useless, not up for this physicality and other rubbish roamed around my thoughts and dragged me into self pity.

I reached the gate barely able to speak but I was still determined to take my photo looking down the hill. So while the others moved onto the saddle where we would have a brief picnic. Jonathan and I messed around with photos. (I've combined the two pics from above at the bottom of this blog).

The tuna moment
Then I pushed my bike wearily to where the rest of the group lay sprawled in the warm sun, drying off kit and eating. Finally, I could eat my Pringles which I'd carried all the way from Elandsberg. Leon swopped me a spoon of tuna for some chips and we made a type of tortilla. OMG. If I hadn't been so tired, I would have mugged him on the spot and torn his tuna sachet from his grip. I had this intense craving for this magic food and yet stupidly, had never packed one for emergencies.

Jonathan to the rescue with an extra sachet. Using his spork, I inhaled the contents and my world was was intact again. I was really surprised at the lift it gave me as it wasn't that long ago that we'd eaten well at Stuttgart. Never mind, it was exactly what I needed to get going. Oh, that and the technical downhill that followed!

Karoo vistas - descent looming
It was magnificent riding all the way to bottom of the valley and we were in great spirits. It was a fast downhill that made your wrists and calves ache and our speed continued onto the dirt road from the farmhouse.

A strange recollection now was my Garmin which started beeping incessantly. Eventually I figured out there was some dirt or mud jammed in one of the buttons which eventually washed out with the next downpour which came on us with the same rapidity as the dissipation of the previous one.

We were helter skeltering down the road constantly looking over our shoulders at Schurfteberg and when the valley started to blot out, it was time to whip on the waterproofs. Except for Jonathan. It seemed that everyone was trying to beat the rain as three bareback horseman came galloping up the road clearly trying to get home before the rain started in earnest again.

Soggy roads
There is a tough little climb on this road which under normal circumstances, would slow your momentum. Today, we were going nowhere. The heavens opened again creating rivers of water that rushed down the road making its own gullies and forcing us to keep our heads down. If that were not enough, it began to hail.

In the small window that was created by my jacket hood and the angle of the road, I watched the white stones bounce crazily before being swept away by the torrent. As we reached the top of the climb, the entire road surface was covered by lakes of water around which there was no riding.

It was exhilarating despite the cold from the wind which drove the rain through our layers. I loved it.

We began the descent hoping that the ruts beneath the layer of water wouldn't be too bad when Leon broke his hangar. We managed to shout the word above the wind and saw a farmhouse not 300m away. Perfect.

It was the farm called Jakkalsfontein, one of the last surviving historical farmsteads. It had an old fashioned bell pull which summoned a rather surprised looking inhabitant. Too wet to go inside, we gratefully took his offer of coffee while Leon expertly replaced his hangar. Despite the hot coffee, we'd all chilled down with the wait and when we eventually set off, this time chasing the veil of rain, it was a teeth chattering affair until we reached the bottom of the hill.

Time to leave the RASA route and make our turn towards Cradock. Only the Swaershoek Pass awaited us along with the promised 18km of nirvana downhill.

The rain had softened up the surface of the road so it became a slog and when we reached the pass, only Leon and Craig rode it. For the rest of us, a headwind, the slope and general fatigue from the weather meant a push to the top.

Top of Swaershoek Pass
Once there, the wind howled through the gap so we didn't hang around long. In the distance we could see Cradock and the light was beginning to fade. A downhill can't be enjoyed in the dark so we put our heads down and sped down the hill. Yeah, yeah, it was all of 18kms of downhill. It began with a steep drop down to one level, then gradually became less steep but the descent never wavered. It was only as we hit the tar road that would take us across the Fish River to our lodge, that the road finally leveled out.

What an awesome way to finish any event. It was almost dark when we arrived but to a warm welcome from Glenn and Meryl of the race office and the other riders who had finished.

How does one end off a tale like this? I'm not sure what is fitting. Perhaps the real measure is whether I would do it again.

Hell yes!


Monday, April 13, 2015

Double Up

From when the race was announced I had it in my head to double up the last two stages. It would make it 140kms but I figured there was a remote chance I would be fit enough to handle it. Or, on the other hand, I might be so tired, I'd regret it immensely and opt to stop after 70km at Stuttgart.

Second Breakfast
The event so far had been a lot of deja vue. Memories from 2009 were like they had happened yesterday. I had suffered quite a lot angst from Moordenaarspoort (as we covered the segments that had been RASA demons) all the way to Romansfontein where I could finally put it all behind me.

Way back then, eight riders had arrived at about 8:30pm at Elandsberg surprising Margaret who had expected four and much earlier. Chief among our group was Carl Crous, fondly known as The General. He was keen to double up from Eandsberg through to De Doorns bypassing Stuttgart. Doug and I were happy to go with him, proper little soldiers that we were! It was absolutely worth it and I still remember the energy and excitement we felt as we walked into the support station that evening having completed our first double stage.
Clouds building all around us

The ride from Elandsberg to Stuttgart is fast especially the first 30km or so. We had debated the time for departure and eventually compromised on 4:30am. After another restless night of dogs barking and mind tossing, I was happy to get up and get moving, fatigue notwithstanding. At that hour, there was only porridge which would probably last all of an hour or two but that was not my biggest problem.

Lactate had built up in my legs and they were heavy and turgid. Nevertheless we all sped off and I was just off the back, with Jonathan an easy companion. He was upbeat as he started to feel more like his old self but wanted to stay conservative. Any little climb would push me further back but I managed to make up time on the flats and downhills.
Soggy roads

The immense storm of the night before had not affected the roads too badly and they were firm under our wheels. What we had not anticipated were the culverts (cement water drainage across the road) which were running as shallow streams.

Jonathan and I came around the corner to shouts from the others. Leon had ridden straight across, his wheel had slipped on slime sending him skidding through the water to the other side. Luckily he semi-aquaplaned and only had minor roasties to boast about.

We crawled across and even so, my front wheel washed out and I just managed to correct it and reach the dry road on the other side. There were several of these obstacles on this section of road and they were treated with the necessary respect.

Sun tan lotion - wishful thinking
It was still dark as we reached the tar road to Cradock and it was disconcerting to see a road sign announcing it was only 60km to the town. We were really going the Long Way Round.

It was still dark when we reached the road, slap bang in the middle of a stop&go section. The sky should have been lightening by then but ominously, clouds were building on the eastern horizon suppressing the gray light of pre-dawn.

Craig endeared himself to the race office by mistakenly dialing Meryl's number and asking her why she had called him. One of those classic moments of confusion.

Bum break
At one of the myriad gates, I discovered my rear tire was too soft and I sincerely hoped this was the cause of my struggle to keep up. Alas not. It helped once it was pumped but not to the extent I had hoped. As always, the group waited for everyone to catch up and we made our way through a game park hoping to spot some game but equally hoping it wasn't a charge by an angry rhino.

The game we did hear was depressing and nauseating. As we exited the game park, we could hear a lion making its trademark coughing sound. Moments later it was joined by another until there was an incredible cacophony of lions. It was coming from the farm across the road and in my heart of hearts I knew it was lions for canned trophy hunting.
Stuttgart break

For an animal that is rapidly disappearing from the wild, (in 50 years, lions have gone from 450 000 to a mere 20 000) to breeding them for sport was sickening.

We left the area as quickly as we could, feeling quite disturbed. There remained only one potentially tricky bit of navigation which entailed sticky mud as we forded the Pauls River but we sailed through that and were soon on the last stretch to Stuttgart.

Sunny spot
Once again, we fell behind on some of the hills as well as stopping to take pics of a tractor seat perched on the side of the road. It felt soooo much more comfortable than my bike saddle at that moment. Finally we arrived at the farmhouse which entailed: stretching, water top ups, opening and closing of boxes and only removing the Allsorts, catching up on the semi-finals of the World Cup Cricket with SA vs NZ, eating vast quantities of venison pie and salad, lubing bums and bikes and drinking tea. All of this in an hour.

There really wasn't a rush as we would finish that day, no matter what. We still aimed for a daylight finish and there was plenty of time.

The weather gods had other ideas.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

More storms, mud and a tail wind

Romansfontein has a special place in the hearts of the RASA riders. Somehow it epitomises a haven, a place where you will be cared for, it's a home from home. We rolled in there and made ourselves immediately comfortable washing bikes, drinking coke chased by copious amounts of tea.

Aasvoelberg in the distance
I think I had the same room as in 2009, it was certainly in the same area of the house but there are so many offshoots and nooks and crannies and spaces for riders to bed down, who can be certain. The ghost rider who did not arrive at Krantzkop was expected to make an appearance this night and Stefanie wisely decided to allocate a single room off the garage. It was miles away from me and probably guaranteed not to disturb the others in their rondavel.

There was a process of sifting through other peoples leftovers in their boxes and I scaled some sour jelly tots. My own biltong, trail mix and droe wors were put back into the common pile. I took some of Craig's soft Woolies biltong instead and topped up my Allsorts and easter eggs. I think I may have also snaffled some cheese wedges.

I had a neat pile on the floor of my room which makes early morning packing a breeze and the various gadgets were plugged in for charging. Will had showed Leon and I the path out of the farm which was all well and good in the daylight. In the pitch dark, it's another story altogether.

That night a huge storm rolled in with lightening, great echoing rolls of thunder and of course torrential rain. All I could think of was the racers who would be out in the middle of this and whether they would find some shelter. I ran through the route in my head trying to visualise the various options of farmhouses along the way. Not conducive to falling asleep. I had also opened my window a crack and every little noise sounded like an animal or creature trying to get in.
One of the landmarks

At 11:43 my GPS beeped at me. I fumbled for the lamp switch but it did not work. Thinking I had knocked the plug askew, I groped for the overhead light - nothing. The power was off. I had to leave my GPS plugged in case it came back on so for the rest of the night I had this regular beeping reminding me of the problem I was going to have the next day.

Ironically, Romansfontein was the first decent night's sleep I had on RASA 2009 but this time around, a good night's rest eluded me. Tiredness was beginning to accumulate. I was looking forward to the Aasvoelberg portage and navigation but dreaded the long district roads into Hofmeyer.
Wrapping up before the descent

4am eventually arrived but without courtesy of Eskom. Miraculously, Stefanie managed to produce the best breakfast of the trip on a gas ring and amidst a plague of miniature frogs. It was an egg frittata with cheese grillers sliced into it. Tasty! (Maybe it was frogs?)

It had stopped raining but was still dripping and threatening more. We opted to avoid the farm track and rode around on the district road. I had yet to wake fully and was disconcerted at the speedy pace set by Stewart as he hauled us along the gravel.

Bike wash
I spotted the black outline of the Aasvoelberg in the unearthly grey light of pre-dawn only to find out it was a copse of trees covering the road. Eventually, as the sky lightened and we arrived at Gunsteling gate, there was the mountain. We took a few minutes to orientate ourselves and I showed the others the path we would be taking.

Trying to stay ahead of the rain
No mistakes and we popped up at the gate at the top which would send us on our way down again. There was a pumping wind on top and we pulled out windproof layers before beginning a long descent to valley below. The descent is steep and wrists and brakes are saved by the berms built to stop erosion so I could afford to pick up speed knowing I would be forcibly slowed. The tail wind pushed unmercifully and it was exhilarating.

Reaching the Karoo proper
Or it was until we reached the mud. At first it flicked off like angry bees but in the lee of the berms it collected and reached out its sticky arms to coat wheels and jam derailleurs. Bummer. Having experienced this before, I managed to clear the mud with a stick enough to be able to lift my bike off the track and push it amongst the rocks and grass. After I rejoined the track, I walked next to the bike to keep weight off it and so came to the first of many gates.

From there the gradient dropped off again which seemed to keep the mud at bay and we rode all the way to the bottom stopping eventually at the river for an extended clean up. I hate getting my feet wet but here there was no real choice. I joined the others and waded in and used the river's flow to get rid of what I could.

 Pie Shop
I was really disappointed in our descent. I had looked forward to it despite its previous gnarly nature being tamed by an over zealous farmer grading the track. As we left the river behind, the soft road surface was tedious and it was really hard to find a rhythm. It was my turn to be towed by Leon for a couple of stretches and yet the road climbed ever so gently to Vlekpoort nek. Under normal circumstances, it would be an easy ride but not this day.

My GPS had long been switched off and I found it immensely disconcerting to be unable to track distance but then, it was always a surprise to know we covered large chunks of kilometers when we stopped at junctions.

A bike shop?
Miraculously, the roads to Hofmeyer were hard and fast helped by the still present tail wind. We formed an efficient echelon and in no time, we were at the pie shop. Pie, salad, chips, coffee and coke. The owners were kind enough to also provide us with a hosepipe to get rid of more of the mud.

Fueled up and shoved along by the wind, we reached the Elandsberg portage, notorious for catching people out. It had its claws ready again this year but not for us. The track was so well defined from the gate, I had trouble believing we were right but fragments of memory popped up and some Google earth images lodged in my head finally convinced me.

Tiger line to jeep track after the fence line
Once again, we had no problems and we picked up the jeep track that would lead us to our next support station at the base of Elandsberg. We arrived in great spirits to be greeted by an enormous boerbul called Jasper. We gave the bikes another wash and also washed his
slobber off us then piled into the tea.

I had begun to feel the effects of the previous four days and my legs were heavy with lactate. Despite propping them up, they were uncomfortable and I would pay the next day for not having done a good stretch and a bit of massage.

Race leader, Alex Harris finally caught us and impressed us with his efficiency. He checked his race box, selected his snacks, ate his meal and blew out again in an incredible 15 minutes. I snagged his unwanted Niknaks.

Almost at the support station
The best dinner of race was served up - chicken curry and plenty of it. Then we all fell into bed to the sounds of another storm brewing, catching up to us and then venting its fury. Warm and dry, I spared a brief thought for two riders who were expected to arrive in the next couple of hours - Mike Woolnough and Casper Venter.

Elandsberg saved its spite for the two of them and you can read about it here. The tale of Mike and Casper's race is extremely entertaining and gives one another perspective.

(If you click on the pics, you can view them as an album and in larger format)

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Big Ride

No caption needed
The night before the ride began, my sleep was packed with restless dreams about what was to come. (Not quite as bad as Carl who dreamed he could not navigate past the first turn-off!) Slaapkrantz was heavenly, a little lie down in the afternoon and a full eight hours of sleep.

Krantzkop changed all that. We had heard there was a rider from the batch behind who would make his way to us - doubling up the first two stages. We calculated that he would arrive around midnight.
Ghost riders

Now the farmhouse is a thick walled building with springy wooden floors which creaked incessantly as we walked throughout. There were three bedrooms, two of which had four beds in them. This late arrival would have to sleep in one of them making it a lottery as to who would get disturbed. To add to that, we left the outside light on making the rooms rather bright throughout the night.

On track
I tossed and turned. Every little noise sounded like a rider arriving and I lay there ears straining expecting a hesitant push on the door to the room. Gritty eyed, I eventually got up at 3:30am for a 4:30am departure. In the subdued early morning conversation, it appeared we'd all been affected by the expectations!

Endless gates
Our hosts had left pre-cooked oats, boiled eggs, bread, jam, cheese and the like for our breakfast. They stayed off the property and like all good sensible people, they refused to come and cook for the early morning lunatics.

I tried, I really tried to turn the oats into something that did not jam my throat like wet concrete. The boiled eggs might as well have been sponge balls for all the ease at which I tried to eat them. I should have copied Leon and eaten leftover lasagna. It was early, I was tired and in truth, not very hungry.

Early morning mists
We finally switched off the outside light realising that no other rider was going to arrive before daylight and we left in the utter dark, pierced only by our bike lights.

We cruised through the next sections despite the dark with only a minor glitch at a farm which was quickly rectified. The pre-dawn mist and ghostly light was just enough to negotiate some final fences before we hopped onto a farm jeep track and rode towards the N6 tar road close to Jamestown.

Breakfast again
It was time for some breakfast. My mind still thinks of Freedom riders as some sort of mutant version of hobbits. Before 12:00, we've had about six breakfasts.

I was looking forward to this stretch. Four of us had slept out at a farm called Gouevlei in 2009 and it would be good to see the terrain without wind, driving rain and snow. The other part of my mind dreaded the section to Brosterlea. I had the feeling it would prove to be endless and undulating.

On the way to Brosterlea
The newly graded section was soft going but after the nth hill, it eventually hardened up and made the riding a little quicker. I was feeling so tired at this point. So I set my sights on not falling below 10km an hour and pedaled onward. I remember being absurdly pleased at staying at around 12km an hour.

About 12km from Brosterlea I saw one of the riders riding back towards me which was surprising as none of us had felt the need to retrace steps. Usually we waited at some point.

Panoramic vistas

'Rare' sighting of sheep
It was Jonathan from Batch A who had fallen ill and stayed at Brosterlea to recover. The big man had picked up some virus of sorts and was simply unable to push his bike, let alone ride it. He was now rejoining the race and would see whether he could stay with our Batch. It was great to add a riding buddy to the mix and he kept me company, stopping only to photograph a headless puffadder.

Company of hobbits
I struggled into the farm feeling terrible. Shoes off and I padded into the lounge and dropped to the floor. I remember fiddling in my pack trying to get organised - for the life of me, I don't know what I was doing but there may have been a cup of tea involved.

It's a gate...again
The curry and rice was served with aplomb and I smashed two servings. I also scaled some leftover sun tan lotion from Annie. Not to eat... I remembered to lube my bum which had taken some strain on the 18km stretch. And so it went on. A jumble of activities without any coherent plan.

Weltevrede water
The style
Yet when we hit the road for the next stretch, I was a different person. We blew through the Emdale farm section and this was a real highlight of riding. It was interesting, technical and such varied terrain. Then it was onto the Stormberg portage.

Historic Blockhouse
This we negotiated easily finding one of the styles quickly and descending down to the blockhouse in quick time. While those who had not seen this piece of history explored it, a train came through giving us a couple of blasts as it shot through.

Vegkoppies was negotiated and we seemed to just be moving really smoothly through section after section. A short break as we left the tar, with a bit of a top up on Allsorts and it was onto the gravel road again. On this section a bakkie came roaring up to us and we were greeted by Race Director, Glenn Harrison and his passenger, Robbie McIntosh who had withdrawn due to illness.

Beautiful veggie garden and smiles
A brand new farmhouse, still in the stages of construction provided us with a top up of water before we hit the final stretches before Romansfontein. We had a quick catch up on the race news and were particularly interested in the progress of the guys racing to Cradock. Glenn predicted that Alex Harris would join us for breakfast in Romansfontein and I expected Mike Woolnough (now teamed up with Casper Venter) to catch us at Elandsberg.
Jonathan hanging in

Nothing ever works out the way we think on this race.

Jonathan was hanging in and on the last stretch, we fell a little behind the others. I can now announce that for the first time and probably only time, I towed him.
Always time for a snack

As we finally reached the turnoff to Romansfontein, the rest of group were waiting. Only 800m from the farmhouse, they still chose to wait. It just epitomises the spirit of the group and the nature of the riders to take these adventures.

We had ridden 130 km and it had been wonderful.