Monday, April 6, 2015

Three portages and a storm

Early morning above Slaapkrantz
Now we had a day behind us, we all felt a little more comfortable as a group. Stewart and Annie had established that I did not particularly want to ride alone and I had established that they were happy to ride with anyone else. We had a laugh at the courtesies and assumptions and the group decided to tackle the next morning's three portages as a unit. Then we'd decide on the strategy for the rest of the stage.

There's always a fence
Life is so easy when living out of a small backpack. The shirt I wore that evening was my riding shirt for the next day. My shorts had been washed and sun dried and that was it. Day One repeated - no frills, no fuss.

We left at 5am reckoning it would be light by the time we needed to do serious navigation. It was warm and when we reached the hike-a-bike section, we were all sweating profusely. It would get worse!

The gradient got steeper (registering 34% at times) and the path narrower and more rutted. I had my bike on my back and it was no easy feat preventing the bike from hooking the stringy bushes and trying to place my feet directly in front of each other - it's hard to balance that way. Try it. (I now know why models mince down runways, they are trying to keep their balance as they cross feet in front of the other.)

We reached the top as the sky lightened, took a breather then tackled the next section. We opted to contour around and it was easy and quick, picking up a path which virtually took us to the jeep track.

Descending from Slaapkrantz portage
As we rounded the corner, there was a spectacular weather front over the mountains in front of us. We needed to make sure we were ahead of it on the next two portages. With Slaapkrantz safely negotiated and no errors, it was on to Loutebron. The real struggle for me on this section was matching the map and the surroundings. The old adventure racing maxim "Always know where you are on the map" was not playing out and I was loathe to commit until I was sure. Fences had appeared that were not on the map and the route plotted on the map did not fit the terrain.
Beginning Loutebron

Stewart and I studied the maps and watched the other riders disappear over the crest. Eventually we decided to follow and see where they went. Relief. They swung towards the spur we had identified and all was right with the world...until we reached the path and hiked our bikes up another steep jeep track. Swinging bikes up and onto backs creates for some interesting niggles and stiff muscles. Sweating again, we eventually summit-ted and ran straight into a fence.

Loutebron farm house way below
Snack rewards on reaching the top
Going back to basic nav eventually sorted us out. Align the map, use the compass and while doing this, turn 360 degrees. The jeep track showed itself where it had snuck across some grass. Gotcha!

We barreled along until we reached the split that would lead us to the saddle and the treacherous descent to Bontehoek. There is something very special about sitting at the top of the world, looking back on what you've negotiated with a bicycle. Riders who refuse to pick up their bikes and hike can never aspire to these views and the deep rooted pleasure at pushing through physical boundaries and limitations.

Promised snack and water break at Bontehoek

Secret valleys
Finally we reached the district road and set off for lunch at Moordenaarspoort. I had come off the mountain feeling incredibly upbeat and happy. Within minutes, my head did itself in and I plunged right down into a cesspit of negativity. I couldn't change into granny gear (an absolute necessity) and when I manually forced it, it clattered so badly, I thought my chain wouldn't last. Close to tears, I fiddled with the cable adjuster which made no difference whatsoever, The rest of the group had disappeared up the road and I was on my own.

Finally I had the good sense to prod at my derailleur and sort of straighten it - at least that's what I think I did. It probably only needed millimeters of adjustment but it worked. My head did one of those spinning thingies and my happy mood was back. To add to it, the group waited for me at the junction and off we sped to Roussouw.

Welcome lunch stop
Moordenaarspoort was so close and already I was disinterested in my snacks. The only thing I was enjoying were the Licorice Allsorts. I had not remembered that 7km of the 14km to lunch were uphill and severely so. But then again, the next 7km were downhill and fast. Life and the race were peachy.
Riding into the storm
Thick butternut soup, several fresh rolls layered with butter filled the spot. Anke - all of 7 years old - had painstakingly prepared a gift for Annie and I. A book of drawings and stickers. I'll have to post pictures of that too. It survived the next few days of rain and sun and is safely back in Johannesburg with me.

Dark clouds were looming in the distance and it seemed that we would ride away from them as we left the farm. The wind picked up and one could see the distant hills slowly disappear behind a veil of grey as the rain took hold. I'd been counting the time between lightening and thunder and it was definitely getting closer. A mere 7km from Moordenaarspoort, we were well and truly caught.

Lashing rain and winds
It was a sudden, violent onset of lashing rain, storm winds that threatened to knock us off our bikes, lightening and great peals of thunder. The rain gear was hauled out and we briefly contemplated continuing which would have been into the storm's teeth. There were some farm buildings off to our right so we scampered down the hill trying to hold a line as the wind and rain buffeted us, almost unseating me. An empty barn was our salvation and we waited out the worst of the storm shivering but sheltered.

The Barn
As we'd anticipated, the storm moved on and we ventured out again, our sights set on Krantzkop, 30 odd kms away. But all had changed.

From hard packed dirt roads, we now had soggy spongy tracks to negotiate. In the forty minutes of rain, the roads had become soft and forgiving, sucking our tires into the mud. Nowhere was easier.

Storm's aftermath
Weather especially violent weather can be exhilarating. The suddenness of the storm, the massive squall that accompanied it and now its aftermath of rivulets is part of the game. It's a fundamental part of riding this event and it's to be embraced in all its difficulty and its beauty. Somehow, between all of us, we found some rhythm and managed to power our way through the mud, the pools of water and still find something epic about our adventure.

Still smiling
As we hit the district road some 6kms from our destination, we were all astounded at how we were only managing a speed of 12km/hour on a slight downhill. Needless to say, we opted to walk the short climb up the nek.

The turnoff to Krantzkop came quickly. Too quickly for Craig who shot past and ended up at the farm at the bottom of the hill. It was quite comical seeing him way below us, puzzling out how we had got to the farmhouse.

Once we were all ensconced, the guys built a large fire and all our wet gear steamed quietly as we ate our fill and prepared for the Queen stage of the event. One hundred and thirty kilometres to Romansfontein.

After the storm

No comments:

Post a Comment