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)

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