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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Day 15: Anysberg to Kasra

153km/14hours. Left Anysberg quite late and immediately the wind was a factor and it blew the rest of the day. In the morning it was a gusting crosswind which made it hard to ride straight. Dropping down to Montagu, the terrain became more dramatic with higher mountain ranges and more greenery. Was quite wierd riding back into civilisation with cars, trucks and tar roads again. Had lunch at Montagu Hotel and caught up on blogging (no reliable signal in the last 300km) The short, usually easy next stretch to McGregor saw the strongest winds of the day gusting straight at me, often meaning getting off and walking. An extra 90min here meant having to do the Coeniesrivier portage in the dark, which proved tricky and took up valuble sleep time. Sleeping at Kasra tonight with plans to go early enough to still make it through Stettynskloof to the finish at Diemersfontein by tomorrow evening. Good night all.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Day 14: Prince Albert to Anysberg

215km/22h After arriving in Prince Albert at 2pm, I ate, washed and got into bed at 4pm. Waking at 8pm, I ate supper, prepped all my kit and eventually left at 9:30pm. Heading up Swartberg Pass in full moonlight was a peaceful experience. The hills are steep, too steep to ride, so it was mostly a long walk for me. At about 2:30am, I saw some headlights approaching, the car stopped and out jumped RASA legend Tim James with coffee and biscuits! He was staying at a cottage in Gamkaskloof with his family for a few days. Later, he and his son Murray joined me on the hike up The Ladder, the rough donkey track out the back of Gamkaskloof. We said goodbye at the top and I headed off to Rouxpos. Thanks for the company guys. Following good dirt roads for a change, there were some fast downhills (77km/h max)on the way to Rouxpos. Ronel and Gerhard spoilt me rotten with great food and waffles for pudding. They make dried fruit rolls on the farm so my lunch pack had some in, together with some delicious homemade fudge. Next stop Anysberg, but first a short detour through Wagendrift, where the big 29er wheels floated nicely over all the soft sand. Anysberg was a bit tougher, rocky, sandy jeep tracks and gusty crosswinds swirling around between the mountains made the riding hard work. I got to the reserve office just after dark, tracked down Meisie, she had made food and gave me directions to my cottage. With a plan to still keep going to Montagu, I had supper and almost fell asleep at the table! Realising that after 200+km I needed to sleep, I decided to stay over so had a bath and got prepped to leave the next morning.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Day 13: Willowmore to Prince Albert.

168km/16.5hours. My toughest stage so far, no doubt about it! This stage is relatively flat and normally takes riders 7-10 hours to complete. I've been dreading it since the start because on a singlespeed its murder. The surface is all dirt road but the quality is shocking! Thick sand and long stretches of bone jarring corrugations keep trying to rip bike and body apart and they came close to succeeding. By the end, I had to tighten up both bottle cages which had rattled loose! On arrival in Willowmore yesterday, I felt really good and thought about pushing on but opted to get a bit of dinner and sleep first before deciding, since it would've meant back to back stages of 160km+. In hindsight I shouldn't have waited that long because when I did get going at 10pm, I was feeling sleepy. Thereafter followed 16 hours of riding, walking, rattling, chain skipping and cat-napping, with a bit of early morning rain thrown in for good measure, all of which got me to Prince Albert for lunch (instead of for breakfast as originally planned) I stopped in at Visgat farm and had tasty vetkoek for breakfast. Along the way I was met by the legendary Johan Rissik, a fellow singlespeeder and Prince Albert local, who gave me some coffee and rusks to perk me up for the final stretch into town. He's now trying to solve my chain skipping issues while I get some much needed sleep. The tranquil ambiance at Dennehof Guest Lodge should ensure I sleep well. Really glad that today's stage is over.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Day 12: Cambria to Willowmore

165km/14.5hours. Left early again, wasn't sure how long it would take to get over the big climbs in the Baviaanskloof with the singlespeed. It took long, had to walk them, no power to pedal over. Kloof was cold, dark and eerie and wet feet from river crossings made it worse. After sunrise things warmed up and body started waking up. Got to Dam se Drif for brunch (unfortunately no 'death by chocolate' this time) and put a new chain on too. Put some music on and tackled the last 90km to Willowmore. Legs felt better and ended up having a great ride, even managing to pedal up the whole of Nuwe Kloof pass, my small victory for the day. A candlelit dinner of lamb stew went down well. Rumours of another front on the way, so tomorrow may be a surprise!

Day 11: Bucklands to Cambria

80km/15hours. A frustrating day that started out with a pre-dawn attempt at the Perdeberg portage which didn't work out and left me thrashing through the bush trying to find the right way down the mountain in the dark. My navigational blunder cost me at least 5 hours and the chance of getting to Dam se Drif tonight. So I ended up doing a single stage and got to do some riding with the group of Gawie, Scott and Ray. Today's stage took us through some dramatic mountain ranges and from one highpoint, we could see the ocean down south, close to Jeffrey's Bay. Descending the rough Osseberg jeep track was quite a chore without any suspension but the views made up for it. Once down in the valley, the track crosses the same river 11 times as it winds its way along the valley floor to Cambria. Tomorrow we head west through the Baviaanskloof Wilderness Area. There's no tricky navigation so I'll start early and try to make up some lost ground.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Day 10: Van der Venterskraal to Bucklands

154km/13.5 hours. Lost my tracker, wasted time looking for it, so only left around 8 and eventually found it lying on the road 500m from the house! First stretch to Toekomst a singlespeed nightmare, had to push the bike a lot. Rocky, sandy, thorny tracks were hard work. Stubborn puncture eventually sealed after plugging it. Lunch at Toekomst was tasty. Got a bit confused getting around Darlington Dam and weather turned unexpectedly warm in the afternoon. Stopped at Draaifontein farm to refill water and eventually got to Bucklands around 21h30. Saw lots of small game, nearly got taken out by a buck jumping into the road. Had to cross many fences and locked gates, sometimes tricky on your own! (Dropping into the Baviaanskloof at Cambria tomorrow, not sure when next signal available so sit tight for next 2 days reports).

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Day 9: Elandsberg to Van der Venterskraal

208km/17hours. Another early start, this time 03h45; and another cold morning, dropping to -6. Thank you Margeret from Elandsberg for the great food and for getting up early to let me out. My legs felt heavy from the previous day and only really started firing again after a brief stop at Stuttgart for another breakfast just before 09h00. Francois and Amanda took good care of me and sent me on my way to tackle the first portage, the Schurfteberg. Although long, this went well and the downhill carving its way off the back was superb. Then the race was on to get over the day's other portage, the Struishoek mountain. My lunch stop at De Doorns was a hit and run affair, refilling liquids and grabbing food to eat on the bike, all in 5min. Pushing hard up the back of Struishoek, I arrived at the top to see the old farm buildings bathed in an amazing golden light and not a breath of wind. Took some pics, had a snack and headed over the mountain and down the rocky descent gully. The moon was bright by the time I reached the farmhouse at the bottom. I stopped in at the farmhouse to ask for water and was invited in for tea and Wimbledon! David and Verity are such nice people, they farm cattle and Angora goats at the foot of the Struishoek. They offered me a place to stay but I had to decline and push on. The last 3 hours riding took me past Pearston and along some very corrugated dirt roads to the farm Van der Venterskraal where I arrived exhausted at about 22h30. Just had a bath and eating now but when my head hits that pillow, I'll be out.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Day 8: Brosterlea to Elandsberg.

190km/17hours. After an early night at Brosterlea, I left at 3:30am and even though the temp was -3, it felt a lot warmer than previous days. First up was the Stormberg portage, which I hit just before sunrise - got it a bit wrong which cost me some time and added some extra distance, not a great start! The riding afterwards was mostly on district and good farm roads and went well. At one stage, just before Romansfontein, these wierd snowflakes started falling, almost like light, hollow balls... Arrived at Romansfontein farm around 11am and had porridge and tea. Stefanie, the host, packed me some lunch and the boys showed me the back route through the farm, taking care of the gates as they went.(thanks guys) Made another nav error going over Aasvoelberg which cost me about 20 min, that's what you get for trying a shortcut! Got down the back of Aasvoelberg in one piece although it was hard work for the arms and shoulders because of the rigid fork.(The bike handled the very rough descent extremely well but I was most impressed by the Hope Mini brakes, ample power and no fade from such small, light brakes.) Then the race was on to get to the town of Hofmeyr to sample one of the famous pies from the Karoobos Stall but even though I got there before 5, they had closed early for the SA vs France soccer match. So it was on to the final obstacle for the day, the Elandsberg portage. I didn't quite make it to the start before dark but that was fine, the worst part was the loose, rocky jeep track off the other side, it just wouldn't end! Not one of my favourite parts of the route but it's done. In a few minutes, Margeret from Elandsberg farm will bring supper and then a hot bath and sleep. The weather here seems to be changing, so may wait until morning before deciding on the next day's riding plan.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Day 7: Moordenaarspoort to Brosterlea

88km/9 hours. Had to take it easier today. Totally overslept and only got going after 7 but felt tired with heavy legs. Had a long stop at Vaalbank to recharge a bit and enjoyed sitting in the sun, playing with the dogs and feeding my face with Sandra's baked goodies. Headed out into some new sections with navigation required but all straightforward in the daylight and then pedalled on into a stiff headwind to Brosterlea farm, where I arrived at 4:30pm. On the way I came across a tortoise trying to cross the road, so helped him out. Also spooked a rooibok coming down the hill quite fast at Leeuwkraal - he jumped out and ran in front of me for the next 500m, I was doing 40km/h and he left me behind. Resting up at Brosterlea now and going on early tomorrow, the wood stove is roaring and its warm inside.

Day 6: Rhodes to Moordenaarspoort

160km/17 hours. Long day today but the weather was good so decided to go for it. Started an hour before dawn and watched the temp drop to -10, then -14, which froze all liquids so couldn't drink, bit of a problem. Made quick stops at Chesneywold and Slaapkrantz and eventually got caught in the dark coming down Bonthoek portage which was wet, muddy and slippery. A long, slow haul out of Rossouw really started getting to me but eventually arrived at about 22h30. Bike was flawless today, new chain made all the difference. Need sleep.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Day 5: Tinana Mission to Rhodes

22h03 pm: 85km/11 hours. I left Tinana just before first light and got to see the sunrise from the mountain tops above Mjikelweni Village. The route down was on great singletrack, perfect way to start the day! Took a tumble over the bars when my front wheel went into an unseen hole, no harm done and gave the local kids something to chuckle at. Going into the tricky Vuvu valley a bit later, I found a very tired looking Blackie Swart who had spent a very cold night out, getting lost in the valley. Offered to show him the route and we went on together towards Vuvu. He opted to stay in Vuvu to recover. I had some tea and a snack before heading off to tackle Lehana's Pass. An icy headwind made the approach and exit a bit testy but things went well and I passed by the Tenahead Lodge in just under 3 hours from the start. From there the road down into Rhodes first drops, then climbs (a 25min walk for me) before dropping down Naudesnek Pass. The surface still had some ice and snow on, so I went very carefully and the windchill left me with frozen fingers but I got down to Rhodes in one piece, arriving just before dark. Found some familiar faces here amongst some of the Ride2Rhodes finshers as well as Marius and Audrey who started with me on Tuesday but have both since withdrawn. I also found new chains from Tandem Mike - thanks Mike - so hopefully the chain issues are over. Felt good today but need to watch my left knee, it started complaining a bit, later in the day, probably be fine after a good rest. An early start tomorrow and heading for Slaapkranz. PS - answers to some questions on the blog: my pack weighs 6kg fully loaded with another 1kg in the front chest pouch. Travelling light, yes and getting a bit cold in the early mornings before sunrise but mostly hands that suffer, should have taken warmer gloves. Bike weighs 11.5kg loaded up and yes it was a pleasure to carry up Lehana's although the big 29er wheels were like sails in the wind.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Day 4: Masakala to Tinana Mission

20:35pm: 95km/11 hours. Lot's of singletrack and slightly warmer weather made for a great day out on the bike. I got away a bit late (07h20) and very nearly detoured into Matatiele to find a new chain but managed to shorten and retension it which worked ok, although it misbehaved a few more times during the day. Got to Malekholonjane at 13h30 but only made a quick pitstop, grabbing some vetkoek and refilling drinks. Out the door 10 min later thanks to the pit crew of Ntlantla, Duma and Nomsa. The vetkoek worked like rocket fuel (need to get that recipe!) and kept me going for the rest of the day. The new approach to Black Fountain definately added more time so it meant a race to get through the singletrack along the ridge before dark to get a peek at the descent off the ridge to Tinana Mission. Just made it and then had some moonlight to help me down. Arriving after dark, I found the house of Gogo Zibi and her daughter Lucian (who was a few quarts into her Friday night) and they've been taking good care of me. They tell me I'm not the first one to make use of this emergency stop and are very proud hosts. Working my way through a huge plate of spinach and pap and the kettle's boiling for more tea. Happiness...

8:11 am: A frosty good morning

8:11 am: After yesterday's late chain issues, decided to leave later in case I needed to detour into Matatiele in search of a bike shop or at least some other options. So far though the bike has been behaving. So it's off to Malekholonyane (near Ongeluksnek border post) and then on to an emergency stop at Tinana Mission. Pretty chilly still, currently minus 1 and frost everywhere but sun is shining and things should start warming up soon.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Day 3: Ntsikeni to Masakala.

87km/9 hours. Much better day today, felt good and was able to ride a lot more than previous days. Great hosts at Ntsikeni, Jim, Gloria and Dula the story teller - they really helped me to recharge after yesterday! Got away a bit late at 8:15 and started with an 8km walk out of Ntsikeni thanks to long grass and deeply rutted paths, pretty cold too with temps around minus 2 and lots of frozen puddles. Once on the roads, I found some nice rythym on the bike and skipped coffee at Glen Edward farm, aiming for Masakala (near Matatiele) before dark. Some good technical singletrack on the way, although I really missed having front shocks on the rough stuff, my arms took a pounding! Coming into Masakala, I had a few issues with the chain jumping off repeatedly, so tightened up the tensioner but didn't really help... Chain was very dirty though, with sticky gunk, so I took it off and cleaned it properly and re-lubed everything too. Hope this isn't an issue again tomorrow. Got to Masakala just after 5pm and found Rob here - he's waiting for a lift back home after pulling out of Ride2Rhodes. Passed through a mix of tribal and farming areas today with many farmers burning firebreaks now, quite weird riding past the heat of the veld burning while you're looking up at the snow covered peaks of the Drakensberg ahead... Just waiting for washing to dry and then bed.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Day 2: Allendale to Ntsikeni

100km/15 hours. A long hard day that's almost done, I'm sending this from the top of a hill where there's signal, still a few km's to the lodge, which I can see in the distance, where signal is bad. I started out at 3am with the intention of getting past Ntsikeni and staying at Banchory farm, an emergency stop over on the way to Masakala but things started going wrong early on. When I left Allendale it was minus 7 deg and I was struggling to control the bike down the first technical singletrack, so lost some time there. Then the navigation caught me out before Donnybrook and again before Centocow. By midday I was already a few hours behind schedule. I've also been battling with nausea most of the day, so my pace slowed to a crawl. The last climb up to Ntsikeni has been a killer and I'm dead tired from all the walking again today. The wise thing to do is to stay and rest up for tomorrow. Signing off now, fingers starting to freeze!