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.


  1. Fi this is a great read and I am enjoying all the pictures. I guess I am a comic book type reader. Looking forward to the rest of your blogs.

  2. There are so many pics to fit in that I have to write longer!