2300km, but where to start?

As you can imagine, a 19day epic generates a fair amount of copy.

You can go right to the beginning of the whole ordeal, or the startline/day 1.

I'm looking at moving from a general ride report to a more up to date what's happening site. Yes, Freedom Challenge doesn't just finish in Paarl! When i get round to it, there'll be a PDF of the 19days reports.

Send some feedback (I'm aware that the whole layout is just, well kinda rubbish!)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Day 17

I'm feeling very grumpy today, maybe because its just so many consecutive days of early rise and out into the darkness but mainly because I have picked up a stomach bug. Getting on a bike is not on the top 10 list of 'things i want to do right now', but i'm just gonna stick with the boys today and grin and bear it. On the faster roads it really helps to 'stay in the bunch', but I'm not even going to bother with the map. Good thing for us our hosts are up and smiling with a lovely cooked breakfast at the ungodly hour of 4, special people indeed. I'm battling to keep up with the train today, but have outlasted Stu who has done his trick of letting Allen, Andrew and Danie go and soldier on at his own pace. In my own mind I'm pushing for the double up to Montagu, and almost do a double take when Andrew says the plan for them is to triple up to McGregor. Well at least we've got on the road early and the nav is easy, as there's 'only one road'. I request a 'hot clothing removal stop', mainly to get a brief respite, its all too quick and we don't even get a peek at the map. Chasing back to the train, I come across a foraging porcupine crossing the road, he beat me to the bush before I could get the camera out. We're quite impressed with the speed and distance covered when we come to our first junction, unfortunately it is the road to Montagu, and not Anysberg reserve. We've missed the nav and doubled back on ourselves. Going fast is a terrible thing when its in the wrong direction. We've gone so far we're actually off the map and not sure where we actually are. The next car coming past is not that helpful, but the subsequent bakkie driver takes pity and puts our bikes on the back to take us up the road to the closest farmer who will know it all. GUILTY look And that is how we ended up at Oom kanniedienaamherrinner se huis with a fresh pot of coffee and rusks for africa. He's off to the kalahari to go hunting, but his son is easily bribed to take us back to the spot we went wrong. It's not really cheating, as we're getting taken back to where we rode off the course, but the gps track must have been interesting with 100km speeds repoted. We did phone race control and were given the option of riding straight to Montagu if we really wanted to, but would miss out on some worthwhile terrain. I jumped at the opportunity to use a modern bathroom and confirmed for sure that I did indeed have a terrible stomach bug. concrete dam conversion anysberg cottages I slack totally off the pace once in the reserve getting to the Support Station, and by the time I got there the boys were finishing off lunch. We heard the news that the hollywood two had caught up with Sirk in the night and the three were reunited again in their combined push to stettyns, on that day. ouch. I had little option but let the rest go off in their quest for McGregor, I wasn't feeling very strong, but would have to make montagu and recover there. I loaded up with lots of water, knowing my system wouldn't be absorbing much and set off alone on the 77km stretch to Montagu. ignore the signs The riding was probably really nice and inspiring, but it all passes me by as a dredge in my state. Time passes, kilometers tick by and with each pedal stroke I am closer to Montagu. Its the first town on the trip that I can confidentally say I actually know. If I phone someone in Cape Town now, they could even be there by the time I arrive. But I'm not feeling very sociable right now and continue on the open road. I'm not sure how differently I would have ridden had I seen the profile before hand, but at the top of the Ouberg pass I knew that I could make the 30 odd kays to town. One of the most welcome surprises was the next 16 kays passing with hardly a pedal turned, surely one of the longest rollercoasters i've ever ridden and probably the greatest. it's all downhill from here It was a shock to actually ride a car in traffic again, Montagu rush hour is not much to worry about, but it felt very foreign right then. The ladies at the information bureau pointed me in the right direction and I actually saw the other boys on their way out of town. Andrew asked if I wanted to join them, but there was no way I could go another km. I thus had an entire guesthouse to myself, a hot bath and George's biltong ration. The unheard of and totally outlandish luxury of DSTV would get me back to speed with two weeks of Wimbledon too. When the sound of raindrops started to hit the roof I smiled at my decision to stay put. It had been a grind of a day running on empty, and its hard to hide during 150km even if it is on nice hardpack gravel. I got to bed knowing that it would be a long triple up day to rawsonville, but achievable. The route from mcgregor would be replaying in my mind after the scouting trip done there a month earlier, you can never waste time on reconnasaince. Rouxpos to Montagu via Anysberg- ~1890m of climbing 170km 15 hours door to door(detour included)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

You gotta grip it

One of the big debates I had kitwise revolved around my carbon handlebar. Some line of thought swore not to put bar ends on them (or even take them at all). It does happen that they break, results normally being rather dramatic. Being stubborn, I chose not to heed that advice in the end.

You need bar ends, to give you more hand positions over such long days. When glancing through Bicycling magazine’s Epic bike lowdown, I was surprised that so many of the top pros had them fitted. They’ve had an air of ‘funrider’ to them for a while.

The most amazing things I’ve ever put my fingers, palms and wrists on have got to be Ergon grips. It’s like they sent some dude over and measured my hands whilst I was sleeping. Maybe they weigh a bit more, who cares? Just go to your LBS and feel them. I never thought I could get so excited about rubber. They’re also integrate with the grip, so the stress should be less on the carbon fibre bar. I had some hoseclamps for a just incase type of repair, they ended up on Andrew Barne's seattube.

Day 16

I'm up in the dark,pack my bags and ride to the guesthouse for breakfast. The group 1 boys have got their act together quicker and are just leaving as I arrive. Breakfast is a nice spread, but not feeling too good I battle to get anything down. Nevertheless I'm out into the murky darkness and soon at the turnoff to the Swartberg pass. I know its a big climb to the top and expect about 20km of uphill, but none of it is visible.

hello darkness my old friend

After a while I can hear a car coming and its easy to tell that its a windy road by the accelerate and brake repetitions, a long time passes before a bakkie swings past. Otherwise I am completely alone out there and night slowly turns to day as I make my way skywards. I stop on a false peak and take some photos of the early morning light. There's a slight descent and all of a sudden a turn off to the right. The pass continues further, so I'm very suspicious that the race director has given us a route of it before the summit!

I feel very ALIVE right now

My camera seems to have broken or at least shifted some prisms inside. I've had it in a small bag attached to my shoulder strap for easy access to get those must have pics. After rubbing against my thigh about 300 000 (guesstimate) times it's got irritating and I put it in my stem bag on the way to Prince Albert. Not a very good idea as the corrugations shook it funny! Anyway, excuse the dark sections in the corners. And then later it went blurry, only to fix itself after a good rest. For that reason I have pulled some pictures(credited as AH) from a group who toured the Trail in March/April, taking the leisurely(and wholly more senisble) time of 35 days. They skipped a bit of the Karoo and went via Knysna, but then rejoined from the otherside of the Swartberg Pass and went all the way to Cape Point.
Find Andrew Hagen's photo's here:

It's a myth that it's all downhill to Die Hel, but it's well advertised that it's a myth so I knew i was in for a bumpy ride. Once again it's a valley not short on views and there's plenty of time to stop and stare. There's two main climbs (scattered with lots of smaller ones too) on the way in, and I caught up with Stu on the second.
looking west into the valley
AH-looking east another day

I'd been to Die Hel once before, in 1999 on a hiking 'toer' with the maties hiking club (the BTK). It's got quite a history and was for generations a very isolated farming valley that got cut off by the buildng of the Gamkaskloof dam(or so i'm told). That time we came up the river, and now I'm approaching by the road that was built to help the valley, but caused its downfall. The residents were happy with their isolation, the government thought they were living as sub-class humans and built the access road. A few years after it was completed, they had all left.

I now got to enjoy this road in the best way possible, tearing down it and high speeding the many switchbacks. In the valley floor itself its quick to see that a lot has been done since I was last here. Cape nature has refusrbished all the deserted and dilapidated buildings and very tastefully turned the whole valley into a large scale museum. Well worth a visit if you're ever in the area, I'd return just to sit down for a meal at the Hell's Kitchen restaurant.

AH - ou ossewaAH - restored house

The farmhouse where we camped all those years ago is now the head office, and the rest of the boys are there at what is the Support Station. I'm still not feeling great, but manage to get some sarmies and a cup of tea down before I rejoin the main group on the way out of Die Hel (I'm sure there's a craftier way to phrase that!).

AH - Die Leer track is past the right post

There's a short little nasty ridge to cross before getting to the bottom of Die Leer. This is the historical 'donkey track' that was used for generations to access the outside world. If Stettynskloof is the chinese water torture of the trip, then this is the thumb screw. It's a 400m vertical rise on a rough track that is almost undefined at times. The only reason we know its possible is because its been done before. The bilingual readers will laugh at the afrikaans bystander who asked in astonishment as we started from the base in his very crunchy english “are you going to carry your bike up the leather?”.

AH -David's famous grove of poplar trees

I quote from the narrative here:
“When you get to the stream look on the opposite side. There is a small group of poplar trees. You must cross the stream and climb up BEHIND the trees. As you go behind the trees you will experience a moment of magic. There will be a foot path. You are now on The Ladder. Pick up your bike and carry it upwards until you emerge at the top where there is the ruin of an old garage.”AH-the slog uphill

look carefully for the bike wheel of Stu the Kiwi

Maybe I have gone out too fast earlier this morning, but I'm not feeling too good or experiencing any magic and really take my time stopping for a view break on numerous occasions. I spend a lot of time wondering what happened to the donkeys that took this route. Stu seems to have a similar problem and in all it takes us about 80 minutes to complete it, whilst the other guys did it in about 45.
down to the valley floor

From there it is a very rough track that is flattish but unrideable in large parts. We've been warned that the farmer who owns the land contends the access to this right of way, and if he is in a bad mood he might be on his side of the fence with a shotgun and a hand pointing to a no-entry sign. As we approach a group working on a fence I take the lead as the afrikaans speaker of the two. They are only too happy to chat but we rush off before they change their mind or mention the landowner.

At this point Stu goes on ahead as I decide to ease the pace for the remaining 50 odd kays to the support station as I'm feeling very week and there is no hurry. It's a terrible slog getting to the road, and looking at the profile now I realise it was all uphill. Once on the road it's relatively easy riding but theres a little wind blowing straight into me. I have a few reminiscent moments as we pass places I hiked all those years ago and a field that we turned into a campsite for 50. We also go past Seweweekspoortpiek, highest mountain in the western cape (but not even given a passing reference in the narrative – local knowledge helps).

Quoting from the narrative again:
“When you reach the top of Horlosiekrans prepare yourself for one of the fastest downhill rides around. The gradient, the surface and the camber combine to draw you into a great descent. Top speed reported on the downhill is currently 78 km/hr. Minimise the braking and enjoy the wind in your face. Emerging at the bottom you might want to head back up and do it again without touching the brakes.”
I have to admit that amidst the 37 pages of broken english, generalisations, assumptions, blaring errors and downright lies this paragraph is without a doubt the most accurate piece of text I have ever read from a lawyer. Unfortunately my trust in his words is not yet whole and I do brake a bit on the early corners only topping out at 65km/h. Turning back to do it again is a good idea, but will have to wait for another day.

Once again its spellbinding scenery picking through the Vleiland valley and then turning into the Rouxpos valley. I'm treated to an african sunset of reds and pinks reflecting off the sheer mountain face and its unfortunate that I miss the last of it in the darkness.
AH - Rouxpos homestead,look at the date
The Roux family homestead is an engaging haven of warmth in both climate and hospitality. After four days of dirtyness we have laundry done for us two days in a row, what a pleasure. The food is great and waffles hit the spot for a weak rider. The hollywood boys come in a bit later and it looks like Andy has recovered from the Baviaanskloof low sufficiently that they are going to push on and try catch Sirk. I wish good luck to them (and shake my head) and offer some tips of the final route. They will be riding basically non-stop from Prince Albert, and there's a chance we might still catch them if they miss the window on the stettyns timeslot. My likely finishing place of fifth or worse is sealed at this moment, but its the furthest thing on my mind right now. Another early start is planned to make it to Stettyns in two big leaps, so I get to bed early.

Prince Albert to Rouxpos via Die Hel- ~4638m of climbing
157km 15 hours door to door

Monday, August 18, 2008

Day 15

The human body is an amazing thing. After crawling into town last night a broke and spent force, I’m actually awake at 5 and eating breakfast ready for a 160km day. When I went to bed, I had the alternate stop of Rondawel 90 kays down the road as my first goal. You have to break the day up into achievable milestones, but I feel confident I’ll make it to Prince Albert before dark.

Today is seen as a bit of a rest day. Pushing through to Die Hel (like Sirk) is a big ordeal and most won't attempt it. It is still 160km (and therefore a fabled 'century' ride for our imperial bikers in the us) but rather flat with no major hills or passes to speak of. If there's any doubt of the insanity of this race, then a 160km rest day should clear that up.

I’m back in with the group 1 peleton now after falling off a few days ago. The dynamic has changed since I left them. Stu the kiwi is still tiptoeing his deadline of making a flight back to the UK, but the other three aren’t so worried about him now. He seems to fall off the paceline but is strong enough on his own and doesn’t lose much time. I stick with the program upfront which is 5km each to do the work. The system works great and the km roll past, except when Allen gets his nose in the wind and drills us all. Who ever thought I’d get guttered in the karoo?

The road surface is great, most of the time, but there are some patches of terrible backbreaking elbow rattling corrugations. Very unwelcome to say the least and they break up the rhythm totally.
We’re on some very out of the way roads and then actually turn into a farm to go on some route David has found for us. Its an old wagon path from days long gone by and we even see an old one on the side. The vegetation is what my std 7 geography teacher would probably describe as ‘renosterveld’.
thumbs up from Andrew B

Some purists would say that its boring riding on flat nondescript roads, but there’s a feeling of pioneering and openness on this road. The best word for it really is ‘freedom’. I can’t put my finger on it, but there definitely is something special about the Karoo to me.its not even hot today, perfectly overcast and cool.
Rondawel farmhouse
Lunch at Rondawel is one of the quirkier stops. Cristiaan is a young bachelor farmer who grew up on the farm next door where his parents still are. I'm still not sure if he actually knew we were coming but he had moerkoffie, beskuit(rusks) and plaasbrood for us. His mom had done a bit of the baking, but Sirk had made a little dent in the supplies before we arrived and we tucked into about 6 sarmies each.There was little left when we were done, and later when the hollywood boys got there they were down to the crust. Matt sneakily did an inspection of the two fridges in the kitchen. the one was off and the other had a solitary ice tray. Would be an interesting stop for the night, pretty guaranteed you'd get an egte karoo braai with skaaptjops from heaven.

we like to stop and chill at intersections

as expected we rattled off the remaining kilometers painlessly. at one point we came about ten kms from my old varisty roommate's farm. Maybe next time I could find a way to justify the ~40km roundtrip to their house and back, but for now we were shifting at a good pace.
coming into Prince Albert with NGK in view
As expected we got into town with light on our side as early as 3.being school holidays I got billeted in an overflow house back in the dorp(so ihave to ride back where i came from – never cool after 160km, but wasn't that bad). I got so frustrated with myself sorting out all the admin at the guesthouse(including getting my laundry done – there goes the darlington mud) only to misplace the keys to the house. I made quite a sight turning my worldly possessions upside down looking for it!i even made a trip to the local PEPstore, retail therapy always does the trick, even if you are only buying toothpaste.
can i buy a blanket?The house was a really cute cottage and I got busy with some proper bike wash and general TLC. When you get the time its a good idea to go over the bike and get some preventative maintenance done. A knock on the door and home mechanic/local singelspeed enthuasiast Johan Rissik comes in to help with whatever needs done (but refuses to touch any gears!). He's just done a ride from Sishen to Saldanha tracing the the well known railway line, and we get chatting. My pedals have shot their bearings and they get an inspection and a regrease. Hold thumbs they'll last to cape town.

my baby with her mudpack still on

cute cottage, eh?

We all go back to the guesthouse for a meal and a general planning chat. The monster Swartberg pass is first up and if we want to double up its going to be a 4am start. That's the easiest way to kill any after dinner lounging around!

Willowmore to Prince Albert- ~1038m of climbing
160km 9 hours door to door

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Day 14

dark riding

Up at 4 and out the front door into the cold and dark by 4.30, a long road ahead. Navigation not a problem today as there is actually only one road through the valley. Sirk and I teamed up, the group 1 boys already up the road and the camera two taking their time (after not getting beds, ouch). It was comforting that Sirk knew the names of the climbs up ahead, not good that he also said they were big. Of course when its so dark for so long you have no visual idea of whats coming up ahead. this has its mental pros and cons, normally a blissfully unaware tempo up the first half followed by grimacing and swearing as you will the bike around every corner hoping it to be the top.

The first climb of the day was up really soon, I pretty soon forgot about the very cold (probably two or three degrees celsius) temperature as we got the legs pumping and the heart rate up. It's nice to see the riders up ahead (and above) as the road switched back and forth up the pass. Getting up here took a fair whack of effort, and was probably done a little too quickly. Look at the profile, it's known in the TransBaviaans race as the Mother of All Climbs (MAC) and we were doing it in reverse. Eish, I'm glad I didn't know it at the time!

We actually passed the group 1 guys down the hill (try doing that in the dark) but it all came together again at a river crossing. There was no way around and the only option was to wade through or take shoes off first to keep them dry. The water was really cold (that's an understatement, but my parents have a holiday house up the weskus, so I know my cold water) and my feet just closed up totally. Through the valley dip it got so unbearably cold I relented and pulled out my big luxury of the trip. My CapeStorm Reactor fleece only did this 2km on the road, but kept me snug off the bike every evening.
putting shoes back after wading

By the third river crossing I gave up caring and just waded through to Sirk who was already putting shoes back on. To his utter dismay, he was just on a split in the river and joined me with wet feet after a very uncharacteristic flood of bad language. By now the sun was up, but it remained uncomfortably cold till 10am in the windless valley. We seperated on another large climb and even started seeing the occasional car, being school holidays. The scenery really is too hard to describe fully, and I felt like I was rushing through it and passing some old old farm structures from days long gone that on any other trip would be explored.

looking down and back
riders down there

I came across two other cyclists coming my way and stopped for the proverbial chat.
Me:hey guys howzit going?
Cyclist 1:flippen cold, you training for transbaviaans?
M:hmmm, not sure, maybe I am actually
Cyclist 2:gees dude whats with the big bag, you kitted out there.
M:yeah i'm doing this race from maritzburg to paarl
C1: b l i k s e m
moments silence
C2:when is it?
M:oh i'm about two thirds of the way through it right now.
C1;sh1t that's hardcore. respect dude, you crazy
C2:so how far you going today?
M:hoping to get to Willowmore
C1:oh my sack! that's like transbaviaans uphill with that bag as well. you must be uber fit.
M: cheers, Paarl ain’t getting closer. There’s about five guys behind me.
C2:are you winning?
M: no there’s another guy 3 days up the road.

We went our respective ways, you could just see in their eyes that what had initially been a tough training ride in very cold weather was put into perspective by our dose of insanity. As things turned out, they were the only mountain bikers I saw on the entire route. Plenty of farmworkers on dikwiel post office bikes to put all of us to shame really.
thawing feet
When I saw a capenature work party huddle round a fire next to their green army tent I did the obvious. Throw the bike down and sidle up for a spot in the warmth. I suspended my feet above the coals and finally got some life back into them as they thawed. great chit chat whilst that happened too.
no under 18

Clearly someone has jumped on the Ronnie bandwagon, and opened a ‘sex shop’ here too. Normally we only see a farmstall like this about every 300km, so you can’t ride past. Unfortunately it was only 3kms to the SS/lunch so no point in stopping. A nice surprise to the right was the most beautiful police station in the country – Studtis. They even have Uri’s for patrol vehicles.
studtis copshop
I got to the SS first, Dam se drif is a farm/guesthouse. The owner/operator was awesome, she hadn’t been told we were coming, but bent over backwards getting us a solid meal to die for. Sometimes these awesome lunches are just too much, we still had 90 kays to go! Within 30 mins all the rest pulled in, I managed to squeeze in a sneaky shower whilst we waited on the grass sunning ourselves.

The big drama was Andrew Barnes cracking his frame. The seattube sheared just above the weld, and they secured it by tying the saddle forward to the handle bar (and a lot of riding out the saddle). Now this is drama, he’s a really tall guy and his seatpost was probably overextended (despite the fact that it was within the manufacturers limits). As the experts (not me) would tell you, it’s not that easy to weld aluminium. Enter boer maak ‘n plan rescue plan.

The owner’s father on the farm next door is a legend welder, and even repaired a bike that had cracked through near the bottle cage two years previously! They came to collect the bike, and brought it back 30 minutes later, with a legend repair job that would last the trip. Meanwhile Andrew was on the buzzer and had located a longer seatpost in PE that his cousins would drive out to Willowmore. Drama, what drama?!
boer maak'n plan

I got back on the road first, as it had been a long rest indeed and I was eager to get to Willowmore. The road was very deceptive, and looking at the profile now, I can see that it was really a gradual rise forever even if it looked flat. After 20 kms I really wondered why I was going so slow. I was probably doing 12km on a flattish road. I checked both wheels, both brakes, the chain, the pedals etc for resistance. The bike was 100% fine, and the problem was simply that I was blown. Shattered, with 70km left to go. Hit the wall. Bonked. Monkey on my back. Finished. Faak.

Two of the guys came past and offered advice and support. It would be unchartered territory for me. I would have to just grin and bear it and dig really deep. I hate it when people ride their bikes with Ipods. If you’re on the road you need to hear the traffic, if you’re in the mountains you NEED to hear the nature. It was a bit of a debate to take one along for the long, straight and dreary Karoo roads. My perfect solution was just to get a memory card for the phone and take headphones. This was the first time I rode with it on and this is music got me through the day:
Cake - Comfort Eagle
Counting Crows – August and everything after
U2 – The Joshua Tree
Crowded house – the best of.
changing danie's tyre

I got quite scared of the Nuwekloof pass. We’re in a monster valley and this is the only way out. Luckily it wasn’t that bad, but I wasn’t going to hang around to help repair Danie’s wheel after it picked up a pencil sized thorn. At the top of the pass the road emerged to a plateau of sorts. It looked like about 35km to go with maybe less than an hour of light remaining. Some of the guys came flying (its all relative) past me and I kept plugging away on what seemed the right road. The distances in the narrative stopped making sense and by the time it got dark I felt very disorientated. I couldn’t concentrate, my eyesight went hazy and I was really on my last legs. There was talk before the race that Willowmore is the tipping point for quitting the race as you are sitting on the bus route. I never thought of quitting, but was at my lowest ebb physically. I wasn’t in a good shape upstairs either, but at least I still knew that I could force myself to carry on.

looking back into the valley

What seemed like the first intersection made no sense and I stopped to study it. A bakkie pulled up and asked if I needed help. It turned out I was right, and instead of about 20 to go, I had only 12…almost all downhill. That was good news, but you have to be careful not to count chickens before they hatch. There’s nothing worse than false hopes getting dashed.

Stu the kiwi caught up to me on the tar road on the outskirts of town. The lodge was very well signposted, being the biggest hotel in the town (and maybe even the whole Karoo). It was very different swapping a farmhouse for a hotel bed. I crashed straight onto my bed once I found it. Wary of not recovering properly I eventually moved to the bathroom and had a long and well deserved shower. I rejoined the guys in the hotel restaurant, and got very grumpy when my food took an hour and a half to arrive. The poor manager/waitress/concierge/barlady had her hands full and all I could do was sift through the ‘fair game’ boxes and pass out on the tv room couch! Anything for the days when the food is sitting on a hot tray and you dish up at your own whim and desire.

The past few long days had caught up to us, and Sirk and Andrew King were in a similar condition to myself. Bizarrely (I thought), Sirk announced that he was going to be leaving at 4 the next day and doing the 250km to Die Hel. I wasn’t even sure if I could even get on a bike in 7 hours time. It would be exactly the same move that the 2007 winner (and his Cape Epic riding partner) Maarten van Dalsen did to shake off a certain Tim James. Matt was keen to follow, but Andrew needed the rest (and had their maps!). It was hard to read into the logic, but he was either trying to shake off the boys and move into second outright or he was chasing a finish time and racing the clock. Either way I couldn’t see the logic and wished him good luck.

Cambria to Willowmore via Dam se drif- ~5240m of climbing
171km 15 hours door to door

Monday, August 11, 2008

blogga slogga

so you might have noticed the pictures are not coming through.

after many attmepts to clear out my cache, and sort out the gmail connection to, i found this on the blogger help site. . .

Hey folks,

As many of you have reported, there are a few issues with image upload
that we need to sort out. We're currently working on the problem and
hope to have it resolved soon.

Thanks for you patience,

The Blogger Team

. will keep the posts coming, don't go too far

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Day 13

i'd like to thank my sponsors


By now you could say I am really into the swing of things on the race. Getting up from a cosy bed, hobbling around picking riding gear and squeezing everything into a bag is a routine. I'm almost always the last to leave, but not by much. Its easier now to plan today, tomorrow and the next as you have an indication of what is possible, and what's coming. We've been on the run for almost two weeks now, and there's nothing left to hide.

Of course I have race strategy in the back of my mind. Barring a major catastrophe, Tim has first place sewn up as he's now sitting two days up the road, effectively three days ahead of me. I'm riding in fifth, but have positions two to four under my eye. The chasing pack behind me is also now under the same roof. I've got a day on them, and could safely sit tight there.

And that's my plan, sit tight. I'd have been happy with fifth place before I started, but having luckily got into 2nd I've seen what its like at the front. My trump card is my knowledge of the last two days of the course, having scouted it in a training weekend. Hell, I've dipped my hiking shoes into the bloodbath that is Stettynskloof and come out alive (albeit the way we went in). I'll have to see how the race for second goes, if the group splits I can follow the leader and maybe jump into third or fourth. If it all stays together I can lay a late charge and bank my gap on doing the last section in the dark. There is a time gate at the Stettynskloof dam, if you don't get through it by 8am, then you wait till 3am the next morning. That gives me 19 of the 24 hours I need to catch up on the boys ahead, the rest will have to come from a fast passage through the kloof. It's a gamble and most likely won't come off. But if the unmentionable happens to Tim and he's forced to pull out, well then its racing for the win and worth the risk.

But for now, I shut up and ride. I'm pretty damn tired anyway, so this racing thinking is unhealthy to say the least. Today is kind of a rest day, we're only doing one 'stage'. Tonight's support station Cambria is seen as a bit of a bottleneck, as it's hard to double up past it in one shot. There is a bit of a route option today, some were told that we could skip the 'green route' scratchy section through the Perdeberg due to there being Kudu hunters in the valley. The group one boys opted for the longer route around the mountain and we took the short and sharp track through the veld.

The path takes us under a fence, with a vervet monkey taken by a gin trap to remind us that this is rough country.
poor guy

We've got to be careful of not getting caught ourselves. We then managed to curse our option as there was no real route through the valley, and we ended up walking up a dry riverbed. It was very slow going, having to duck under low branches and negotiate smooth rocks now and then. It took us a while, but eventually a track to nowhere emerged, and yay we were on the bikes in a flash.

We were heading towards a farmstead, and of course when we got there it was dead locked and empty. Once again we were off the bikes and hiking up a steep hill. It wasn't far to the top, but the first section of a portage is always the hardest. The top tube digs into your shoulders and neck, and your arms are bent awkwardly in balancing the bike behind your head. It gets easier for some reason, maybe because you start huffing and puffing or maybe because everything just goes numb. Once on top we found a path of sorts that lead through a plateau. As Newtown would attest, we then got to go down, a thrilling charge switching between a jeep track and a footpath that wound next to it. Of course Sirk beat us to the bottom, despite stopping for his daily trip to the bushes!

We rejoined the main road and it hugged a contour along the valley side.
big country
Andrew had warned us about some impending monster hills and the general topography was indeed just sheer valleys all around. I'd heard about the Baviaanskloof (mainly from this insane race that goes 230km through it in one go), and I could feel it was just around the corner. Have a look at the days profile below, we shunted down the twisty steep Grootrivierpoortpas to the river below and stopped to fill up water bottles from a rainwater tank.

crossing over

lunch spot for kings

We'd have to take our time in getting out of this valley, the term describing it in the narrative is 'dramatic descent' and 'equally ridiculous 400m climb'. I was watching the altimeter on my Suunto Observer and we had done the majority of the altitude gain in the first third of the hill, well that's what I hoped as it was brutal. Luckily for the race director his narrative was correct and the road levelled out a bit and on cresting we could even see the sea in the distance. Just a touch down the road we stopped at one of the greatest lunch spots i've had the pleasure to sit at. You get places with 360' views; and others, like here, where you have to think in three dimensions as the splendour is all around you.

We sat in a row lined up together scoffing our sarmies and looking at this crazy track we were to be following next.

osseberg jeep track

The Osseberg jeep track is rutted and dangerously steep in places, it follows ridge lines and valley dips as it falls 600m over 10 glorious kilometers. There are at least five viewpoints where you just have to stop and gaze in awonder at all around you. I'm going to have to go back there sometime to do it again, be it on a bike or even a 4x4 (is it really possible?!). We didn't realise it at the time, but the four of us (plus the cameramen polly and dave) wouldn't ride together again as a group. Looking back I can't believe it was only three days, but it was some of the best times I had on the route.

Sirk got impatient and heaved off, we still had 8 river crossings to do at the bottom of the valley and they are much more fun during daylight! I was next off a bit behind him (the boys were good at post lunch pfaffing), but didn't bother with catching up. Being bumpy double track with a meneer middlemannetjie running down the middle, there's a tough call on which track to ride in. You concentrate on the road straight ahead and try assess if it's better to swap when it gets bad. Of course anticipation is really handy here, but often you've just got to stick with your choice and plug on. Halfway down a grassed hill, there happened to be an unsighted fox/badger/whatever hole on the left track. You could only see it when your frontwheel was in it. I had taken that route and went flying over the bars and landed in a heap that turned to laughter once I knew all was ok. I even looked back a few times up the next ridge to see the boys coming down, camera ready for the unavoidable wipe. They never came, but chatting later it turned out we all hit it!

I'd stopped quite a bit getting down to the river, and the shadows were beginning to lengthen. We had to criss cross the river, and the next 10km could really take anything from 30 minutes to 3 hours. I made sure of counting the river crossings, and after about the third the going got a lot easier and there was still daylight left when I got to the camp site and back onto the road. It was easy to get through the game fence as it had been conveniently left unlocked for us. Finding the actual support station turned to be a mission of note, as the directions were a mess and I was not the first who had gone further up the road and asked a home. Never fun doing extra km and time when you think you're done.

in the valley
crossing number 8

The house was quite cosy as the boys had got the fire cracking. Unfortunately we were a bit overbooked and there was a bed shortage. The camera boys were bottom of the pile, but I felt really bad when andrew and matt ended up on the floor too. Race control had said that the farmers were planning on riding through to Cambria as well. We severely doubted they'd try the rivers in the dark, but things would get very cosy if they did! The general (and respected) rule is first come first served. It gets funny when guys try hedge their bets against keeping a room to themselves, and then the later cyclists start filling the beds up. Worst case scenario – you get a snorer. Sirk and I were happy rooming together, maybe just for the fact that we both knew neither of us snored!

Rest day?whatever – put that profile in front of most hardcore mtb riders and they will cough on their energy drink. Tell them they're carrying a 8kg pack, and also having to carry it up a fairly steep hill and you'll see some excuse coming. It was just an easier day, compared to some of the other hard ones. We demolished the food and desert, and then straight to bed in anticipation for an......early start. Tomorrow was a killer of a day, Transbaviaans backwards/uphill (well 170km of it). If that doesn't keep you awake at night, nothing will.

Bucklands to Cambria- ~2631m of climbing

72km 9 hours door to door