Sunday, April 5, 2015


Let's get started
Finally 4am arrived. I gathered my few belongings, tossed the half empty tog bag into Carl's car and went for a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs. At 4:50am, I was ready. So ready to start and see if everything would come together.

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).
The lights rapidly disappeared into the dark in front of me and were soon small fireflies in the distance. I was determined to be conservative for the first two days and I pushed the immediate negative thoughts deep down. So what if I was at the back....again. So what if I rode the whole way on my own. I had prepared for this.

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.

Golden valley
The sun filled the valleys with golden light and I was compelled to stop and take photos. It was part of my mission. I wanted to record the ride and take as many photos as I could without giving up too much time. The other part of my mission was to get to the support stations in daylight.

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
As I emerged from the mist, I came across Annie and Stewart and discovered they were also photo fanatics. So a number of the pictures in this blog are courtesy of this great couple.

Emerging from the mist
 We exchanged a few words and I wanted to check my saddle height for some reason. Those bits of debris had been the lid of my spares bottle popping off and my chain breaker and my tube puncture repair kit bouncing out. My multi-tool and plugs were thankfully still there.

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
We agreed to meet at the end of the road for a snack break. From then, we swopped places frequently. I would plod along and catch them having a break, then they would catch up and pass me. On some of the bigger climbs I made sure I walked a bit to keep my conservative plan in place.

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
 All of us were a bit unprepared for the next five kms which seemed to be as tough as anything we'd done so far. The climbs were sharp and reduced all of us to pushing and the descents too short to help much.

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
As we arrived, there was a helluva racket from cows that were squashed into a corral. There was also much activity in the fields around with farmhands herding recalcitrant cows towards outbuildings. The bellows were hardly quietened by the thick walls of the farmhouse either. As we turned into the driveway, Leon and Craig were just leaving.

 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
From there, the three of us rode off to Kapokkraal, a challenge I was looking forward to. It was years since I'd been there and I wanted to see if my navigation would stand up to the first challenge. I had prepared well on my navigation, making copious notations on my maps and studying Google Earth. I had also run through my route choices with Glenn a month or so before, so I felt I should be okay.
I know where I am
  This was the part that I looked forward to the most in these types of races. On the way to this point, the nav had not been difficult at all but I made sure I got my brain attuned by constantly matching natural features such as rivers, gorges and hilltops to the map.

I was ready.

Snack break before Kapokkraal
Another snack break and I was envious of the enormous slab of nougat that Stewart and Annie shared. This was the beginning of my sugar cravings for the week. Unfortunately, Annie was struggling with nausea and it was becoming harder for her as the day wore on. By the time we reached the famous shed with a bicycle on it, I had forged ahead and began the task of navigating the portage.

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 believe it's time to change that part of the narrative. It should be the search for animal trails. I dropped down a level, picked one of the numerous trails and descended off the mountain. As I reached the bottom, I was surprised to see Leon and Craig in front of me. I had caught them.

They waited for me, gave me a top up of water, then we rode helter skelter for Slaapkrantz. Ten kilometers of exhilarating technical downhill. We arrived at 15:00, well pleased with the day's ride.

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.

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