Thursday, August 4, 2016

DAY 11 FREEDOM CHALLENGE RACE ACROSS SOUTH AFRICA - 2016 DAY 11

Day 11 ROMANSFONTEIN TO ELANDSBURG 110KM

After Gerald had a discussion with the farmers wife in the dark, down at the boundary fence to be shown and to determine the best way out of Romansfontein, we departed at 5.30am in freezing cold conditions. The days were quite balmy but as soon as the sun sets, the evening turns to ice and so you feel it as well in the early morning.

There was a stiff breeze blowing and with that a wind chill trying to cut through our thermal wear. We had to navigate around a dam before we found some district road. On winter mornings like this, right next to an expanse of water, it gets even colder! Much consulting of maps and narrative but always moving, we managed this with no glitches. Our first big portage was to get over the Aasvoelberg mountain and portage. 

(As I write this, I am regret not having taken more pictures of this area and surroundings which was truly incredible)

The start of the climb up the Assvoelberg

Looking back to where we came from.

Some of the gates and fences we encountered and to get through
The Aasvoelberg had us riding, walking and pushing our bikes up some steep inclines but thankfully the tracks were pretty clear and made for easy navigation. We encountered our first little bit of rain which had us donning rain jackets and pack covers, but only for a short while. Once at the summit it was then the long decent off the mountain which made for some tricky and hair raising riding down on rocky and rutted jeep tracks. Some sections so steep you would be forgiven thinking you were riding on your front wheel only! My knee was still plaguing me, yet better than previous days but also not feeling strong enough to hold me out the saddle at times creating a little instability. Knuckles were white with a steady grip over the handle bars, feathering a combination of rear and front brakes and concentration levels were forced to be blade sharp as we made our way down.

Fixing tyres again en-route to Hofmeyr
Before the second last gate we needed to stop and sort out the front tyre problem Gerald was having. After a second stop, a new tube was eventually inserted and we were on our way to the karoo town of Hofmeyr and its famous pie shop but not before dropping off another pass before entering the flat lands of the karoo.

Dropping down to Hofmeyr still 40km away

Running low on water I took Neville and Gerald just off the main district road before Hofmeyr to get some fresh water from a reservoir that I knew of from my training routes over the previous months of training. Fresh water pumping straight out the ground from a lone windmill in the middle of nowhere and one could not ask for better quality!


We rode into Hofmeyr like cowboys on our horses. Found the pie shop in the main street and also found Tony and Caren just about finishing up with their dining. Tucking into some cokes, pies and whatever else we thought would boost the energy levels, it was around an hour spent and we were all packed up and on our way to Elandsberg.
A file pic off one of my training rides in April at the pie shop!
For some or other reason the ride from Hofmeyr to the last portage section was a little bit of a blur to me. Mainly on district road until we entered the track section, it was rather uninteresting. Once on the track we climbed over some fences en-route while we navigated our way through. At some point the track ran out and we had to depend on the narratives to guide us. At the top of the climb we were on, the sun was already setting low and I was starting to stress whether we would get off the mountain and onto Elandsberg before dark, still commenting to the others how much time we had before darkness would set in. I had heard that this was one section where those not in the know were getting stuck after nightfall and I really didn't want to add to any statistics. 

We were to seek out a windmill on the plateau we found ourselves and Gerald managed to pick up this quickly through the dense but shallow karoo bush-veld, as well as bike tracks from previous riders that had moved through, making a statement, that also became well known for the rest of our journey, "the whole of freedom challenge has been through here!" And he would say it like only 'Recce" Gerald could say it! while Nev and I would chuckle!

The air had got noticeably cooler as the shadows started to appear with the sun starting to seek the horizon and dip behind the mountains we were navigating through. 

We knew we had little time. We knew we were close to Elandsberg. We just didn't know what sort of downhill terrain off the mountain we were going to face and how long it would take. As I posted on my whatssup post to family that night, this is how it was; "Risking sidewall cuts and wipe-outs we gunned it off the mountain racing over and through rocky jeep tracks in single file. With rocks and stones splintering in all directions as we hammered down, I think we could have given some pro mountain bike riders a run for their money. It was "do or die" on the mountain with fading light as I really felt we would have got lost after dark if caught up there."

Reaching the last gate to take us down to the district road, a left turn and then right into Elandsberg, my hands were shaking. Not merely from cold but rather a combination of cold and adrenaline coursing through my veins. It was the most excitement I had had all day! Big smiles and screams of exhilaration all round!

We rode into Elandsberg as the winter's darkness blanketed the surrounding karoo just before 18h00.....


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