After a night of sleeping in the sprint position so I could wake up every hour and run to the portaloos, I started today feeling understandably anxious. The prospect of 122km with the squirts wasn’t filling me with my usual enthusiasm for a day on the bike.
Although, let it be said that if there is one day of trail riding worth putting your body on the line, today’s route from the Free State into Kwa-Zulu Natal would be it.
Despite feeling pretty rough this morning, I settled into a strong rhythm riding up to the escarpment with Rory van Zyl of crank.co.za. I knew what was coming and convinced him that the pain of pushing hard in the early climbing would be worth it as we skirted the cliffs of the escarpment clear of some slower riders and then were free to drop off the plateau on our own. I was right.
The sun greeted us across the veld as we zipped through some stunning grassland singletrack. Then, as we slowly climbed the sheer magnitude of the view hit Rory like a truck. There, stretched out hundreds of metres beneath us, was an endless patchwork of rivers, ridges and farmland. What would ordinarily be challenging singletrack was made even more difficult by a fierce crosswind that pushed us toward the precipice a few metres to our right. The technical trail demanded our full attention, but it was almost impossible not to be distracted by the scenes unfolding as the sun climbed into the sky and lit up the land far below us. That vision will be permanently etched in my mind. The Old Mutual joBerg2C had produced another stunner.
And that was just the view. The early climbing was leading us to the real prize – a feast of traversing downhill singletrack that must rate up there with the best on the planet. Sculpted singletrack appropriately called the Mineshaft led kicked it off. Then the hairy steep switchbacks of Solly’s Folly took us further down into the plains below. Ultimately, the treacherous rock-strewn Bezuidenhout’s Pass dropped us to the floor. Then, suddenly we hit the first waterpoint. 44km had flown by in a heartbeat. All of it spectacular. And I hadn’t thought once of my dodgy stomach…
That was about to change. While I waited for Andrew at the waterpoint I realised I wasn’t interested in eating anything. Damn. There was nothing I could do about it, but I knew today was going to be particularly long if I was already struggling to eat. Gulp.
Andy arrived soon after me and was clearly on the same high, having had that singletrack feast for breakfast. We regrouped and pushed on through some district roads and savannah singletrack, destined for the lung-annihilating gradient of Spioenkop at the 70km mark. Along the way we picked up Thando Klaas, a talented development rider from Songo.info.
As the 23% gradient greeted us I engaged granny gear and let everyone go. I was hurting and barely moving forward. There was just no gas left in the tank. Thankfully, the boys we were riding with very graciously offered me shotgun on the singletrack descent and I tore into it like a man possessed.
Not surprisingly my legs abandoned me as soon as we ran out of gravity. At 100km the loose and steep Poffadder Pass reared up on the horizon. The climb passed in a blur of sweat and swearing. By this stage Andrew was getting stronger, and he took the lead into the headwind all the way home. Without his honed IronMan timetrial legs I think I may still be out there…
As I sit here at 6pm, the last teams are rolling across the line. Wow. That’s 11 hours after we started this morning. Huge respect! It seems yesterday’s effort at writing our daily blog has left Andrew with an insatiable taste for writing. Herewith, then, his latest update (unedited this time):
I have to start by apologising for slagging off my partner Nic yesterday. I thought he was having an average day in the bike but it turns out that he was actually sick as a dog with a rather vicious stomach bug. To make me feel even worse he managed the toughest day of the Old Mutual JoBerg2C after no supper, no breakfast and four bouts of nausea while riding (if I counted correctly). That’s pretty tough in my book.
As we write down today’s events he is looking a little better and has managed to keep down three rusks, so things are looking up for tomorrow. I had a great day, my legs arrived from PE and it was great to feel stronger at the end than I did at the beginning. I loved every minute of today, we truly live in the most exquisite country. Traversing the escarpment, flying down it, climbing Spioenkop and then negotiating the 11km of singletrack afterwards has left me excited for tomorrow and the next five days that remain.
Hopefully Nic and I can string together a day when we both feel great and do some charging up the field.