|Let's get started|
It was pitch dark and chilly. One layer of windproofing was enough to start because there are many climbs on the 13km out of Rhodes before a big descent. Eventually every one assembled into a rough line. A group photo was attempted but with no ambient light, it was never going to work that well.
Then it was 5am and we left.
For the uninitiated, Day One is about 105km with a k*k load of climbing - most in the first 70km. I recorded 2022m of ascent and over 1340 on the way to lunch at Chesneywold. But that was still to unfold.
Carl had said from the beginning that he hoped to get to Moordenaarspoort (most of Day Two) in one go. That left the rest of us which ranged from a five day strategy to a seven day strategy (Craig the ringer).
And so I chugged along. The first positive reinforcement came when I found the climbs out of Rhodes comfortable. I was certain I would be reduced to pushing early to manage my legs. This was a vast improvement on my memories of RASA.
I stripped off my windbreak layer preferring to be a bit cold. There were enough climbs to counter any chill. The layers of mist along the river were surreal and all of a sudden, I was descending into the mist and cold and gloom wrapped around me. Stones and debris flicked up on my legs and I frequently checked to make sure my bottle of spares hadn't worked its way loose.
|Annie & Stewart|
|Emerging from the mist|
I shoved the remains into my pack (more weight) feeling quite disconcerted at losing stuff. The chain breaker could be a problem and being the lurker at the back of the field, mean't no one would be passing me until a day later. My imagination began to run riot.
|Snacks on the go|
As we descended once more into a valley, I simply had to slam on the brakes at the sight of mist, dew and early morning sunlight which took my breath away. Not for the first time, I wished I was a better photographer.
By the time we reached the turnoff which would take us to the farm of Chesneywold, something every rider salivates and looks forward too, we were pretty much riding as a small unit.
|Saving the legs|
The downhill that I vaguely remembered eventually materialised and we bolted all the way down to the farmhouse getting some good rhythm and looking forward to the meal and meeting up with Minkie, legendary host.
|Dwarfed by the scenery on the way to Chesneywold|
It emerged that Coen and Carl had raced on ahead and formed an alliance to get to Moordenaarspoort. Leon bemoaned the effort he'd put into staying with them until he backed off and found Craig a more sensible partner.
|Chesneywold - refreshed and ready to go|
They left for Kapokkraal and we made ourselves at home. I made a rough repair for my tool bottle and put it back on the bike. I hoped that was the last of my technical issues. As we left, we had a brief chat to Minkie who told us they were weaning the calves from their mothers, hence the racket. It would last the whole weekend, she said. I was glad to be leaving.
|Downhill to Chesneywold|
|I know where I am|
I was ready.
|Snack break before Kapokkraal|
It looked a lot higher and tougher than I remembered but after so many years, one simply can't expect things to remain the same. So despite the patchy snatches of memory, it was down to common sense and the map. It was surprisingly simple to get to the saddle and once over, it was the search for the so-called Old Wagon Trail.
|Almost at the portage|
I was thrilled at the portage and the ease at which I had done it - completely on my own. It's hard to describe the satisfaction of this achievement. It validated my ability to navigate and it gave me huge confidence for the tricky sections still to come.
Rooky Mistake - not really
I have to mention the water issue. I decided to freeze the water in my camelbak knowing that it would defrost within an hour or so of starting. I also froze the juice in my bottle. The bottle defrosted quickly enough but not the water bladder. For the first couple of hours, I rode as if I had a brace on my back which made it somewhat difficult to lean forward over the handlebars!
I arrived at Chesneywold over 6 hours later and it was still frozen solid. I left it in the sun while we ate and tried to break it into segments which made bending forward easier but very little effect on the block of ice.
When I eventually caught up to Leon and Craig, I thought I had run out of water and so begged some off them. To my surprise, their water was ice cold - delicious.
Err, no. There was still ice in my water bladder, roughly nine and half hours later! Needless to say, there was no more freezing of water.