Kamonande – Weekend Observations(24/25 November 2018)

1. Basboontjie (Elephantorrhiza Burkei) flowers have turned into very noticable bright green pods.
2. Stamvrugte have fruit now. They are a bit scarce but are there. Skin a bit bitter with sweeter flesh inside. Baboons love them, suck them off & spit the seeds out.
3. Koedoebessie also have fruit, about 20mm in size. Don’t see lots of them, maybe you can help spot a few more.
4. Fluweelboswilg has flowers starting, should be in full bloom soon. Going to be a sight!
5. Beautiful specimen of a Lekkerbreek (Ochna pulchra) AKA Peeling-bark Ochna, bark stripped curvy white branches. Look out for them going up the cement road at Kamonande 2.

Apart from the usual, also saw 3 snakes, a beautiful big porcupine (ystervark), a few new bird sightings & id’d a few new trees.
Another rewarding weekend at Kamonande!

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Watching Dots

All my life I have been drawn to endurance sport, all of it, from when I can remember. Mostly to the challenge and participation side of it and more recently, since the increased availability of information on the Internet, as an enthusiastic spectator or as it’s called in the digital age, a dot watcher. Yes, I am a self-confessed dot watcher.

I have always enjoyed tracking, capturing and drawing tracks of routes. Even before Strava and Garmin Connect I had always a GPS with me that I used to plan routes and then go ride or hike them, all around the world. I have folders and folders of GPS files and folders and folders of Google Earth tracks or all kinds of routes, mostly of endurance races.  My own participation has taken me to many of these places over the past few decades and there’s just something about plotting a route and then going on it. Maybe it’s just me.

Races like the Freedom Challenge, Expedition Africa and long distance mountain biking races have become favourites. As dot watcher I am often more interested in the route than the athletes (sorry), I draw the tracks in detail on Google Earth, in the process developing an interest in the areas and surrounds of the route. Google is a handy aid to go and look at images along the route the athletes are travelling and I’m a sucker and a sponge for absorbing these interesting titbits of information.

More recently, especially with Freedom Challenge and Munga, I have unwittingly found myself in the role of “race statistician”, I have folders with progress reports from previous years and knowing most of the routes from personal racing or travelling, I can see in my mind exactly where and what the racers are experiencing in terms of visual scenery, people, nature, terrain and even weather. Every year when these events appear on the calendar I get inexplicably drawn to the spreadsheets and tables of comparison to report how riders/runners are tracking against leaders, records and previous years. I admit I am a bit of a data analysis geek and when the race starts, my desk looks much like that of a stock exchange trader with multiple screens showing maps, tables and twitter feeds, sucking up every bit of information.

What does it take to be a dot watcher? A keen interest in the what, where and who of what you are watching helps. Having been there makes even following dots very real, even elevated heart rate, it’s just the sore muscles that are missing. If you go next level dot watching, you need the full hog, live tracking, twitter feeds for news and photos, Googling interesting information about the location, Google Earth and spreadsheets to capture progress, splits and notes. I strongly recommend avoiding this stage of enthusiasm, there may even be a mental condition for this.

Every now and then I am fortunate enough to find myself participating and no dot watching can make up for the thrill of being out there on the trails rather than stuck behind the desk but watching dots as a consolation still beats mowing the lawn or watching television. In the final analysis, there’s a part to dot watching that is seriously geek but in the end it will most likely leave you enriched with new knowledge and hopefully inspired to get out-there to undertake your own adventures.

Here’s to the dot watchers, the racers out there drawing the lines for us and most importantly, the inspiration we draw from the dots!

Race Report. Full Moon Drakensberg Adventure Race

Suckers4Adventure is a social team. We do adventure races because we love being outdoors, discovering new places and challenging ourselves physically against ourselves and the course. Make no mistake, social doesn’t equate to stuffing around and sipping cappuccinos at every opportunity, we do our very best … it just doesn’t happen at the same speed as the front teams. Our team consisted of Hanlie Meyer (Team Founder and Captain), Inke van Wyk (newbie with no fear), Brian Bear (experienced mountain biker and vasbyter) and myself Carl Scholtz (navigator and en-route conversation maker).

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Carl, Hanlie, Inke, Brian

Our goals. At Full Moon Swaziland we ended upon the wrong mountain at night and missed that one CP so coming into Full Moon Drakensberg, our goals were simple. We wanted to get all the CP’s, we wanted to finish with our whole team and we wanted to finish before sunrise (just because no good reason, just feels like you fast if you finish in the dark). Position and speed are really inconsequential.

For me the race was divided into 3 phases. First to get the kayak legs out the way as we are not very good at them, second the 61km cycle leg which is our regular sport and third the big 30km night hike which would be a big test of our navigation.

We got off to a great start … we weren’t last under the Start banner, nor were we last at the start of the kayak leg! Unfamiliar territory to us, we have learnt to be comfortable with no-one behind us. We managed to keep pace with those around us to the end of the first kayak leg, even managing to have a few boats behind us but our transition strategy was a bit involved so by the time we started the 1st hike we were almost in our regular spot at the sweeping end. The hike went fine at walking speed with easy CP’s and some lovely views over Sterkfontein Dam but on the 2nd kayak I really struggled, feeling nauseous and really weak. We somehow reached T3 and whilst Brian was off on the SUP, the rest of us started to get ready for the cycling leg. It seemed to take forever to delve through our well packed boxes, change clothes, eat food and get ready. Other teams came and left whilst we enjoyed the hot sun and faffed around, all of 30 minutes in transition … we do seem to love our transitions. I still felt crappy and whilst busy preparing the maps, offered a R1000 for an ice cold Coke … to my surprise one of the lovely and friendly transition ladies (Cherise?) opened her cooler box and poured me an ice cold Coke with ice (she thankfully declined the reward). She was elevated to hero status instantly! Can’t thank her enough, thank you again :-).

We were on the bikes, familiar territory at last. We weren’t last at this point … but pretty close to it. I was the strongest and most experienced cyclist in the team but as we reached the first hill, I had no legs and felt like death, I couldn’t keep up, it was rather frustrating but fortunately after about an hour my body started working again. I had become dehydrated and the heat got to me, school boy error really. Frustrating, never too old to learn again. Inke as a newbie cyclist manage to buy a piece of pristine Drakensberg property around a fast downhill corner but she’s tough as a nail and was up and going in a flash. The rest of our cycle was uneventful as we collected the CP’s along the way. The sun eventually set as we reached the last 15km of the cycle leg but the navigation was straight forward. As we approached T4, we could see lights up at the top of the mountain, it was pretty clear that is where we would be heading after the cycle leg, rather intimidating, those mountains are high! We reached T4 at around 19h30, 4.5 hours for a 61km cycle, way slower than even a relaxed weekend ride but at least we were still all together and with our estimate of 8 hours for the hike, still on track for a pre-sunrise finish. The wind had picked up after sunset and it was getting a bit chilly in transition as we went through our preparation for the night. We had passed a few teams on the cycle and others were taking a break so at least we were not last and even had others around that looked hardcore and very professional. We had somehow “rushed” through T4 in about 50 minutes, we really do love transitions :-).

For us the night trek leg was where the race really “started”, we felt fine physically but navigating through these mountains at night was very intimidating. Our previous team navigator had relocated to the Netherlands and I was tapped for navigational duties, which I enjoy as a mapping and tracking enthusiast but reading maps, estimating distance and keeping direction in the dark are next level compared to playing around on Google Earth. We had a few teams just ahead of us and that helped a lot as we could see their lights following the fence line and scrambling up the gully. Whilst finding CP8 up against the cliff face was probably a routine step for the top navigators, for us finding it and then finding our way up the gully was like winning an Olympic medal, it was a big thing! We were really proud of our team effort and reaching the top it was high fives and big smiles all round. It was also roughly about the same time that Jabberwock crossed the finish line to win the race. Perspective. It was just a pity the hike was in the dark as the views, some of which the rising full moon gave glimpses of, must have been spectacular. We made good progress to the vicinity of CP9, a height beacon about 200m to the right of the ridge path. In daylight the beacon would be visible from far, at night it’s almost impossible to know when one is opposite it and to start looking for it. We overshot it, relooked the map, walked around and eventually Brian spotted the rising contour towards the beacon and caught light on it with the handheld game spotting lamp. Another big victory for us, we were still on track to find all the CP’s!

Navigation was uncomplicated towards CP10 at the top of the massive Babanginoni Peak. We even saw some lights of teams in the distance behind us, clearly we were racing next level and acing the course :-), we felt like real adventure racers. The slope up to CP10 was ridiculous, it was like climbing steps, so we contoured a curve a bit to the right and to our surprise, the next thing we were at the top and claimed CP10! It felt fantastic! All downhill from here! CP11 was the CP that concerned us the most, the map did not show any simple landmarks to help us, no paths, no fence lines, no daylight to help see contours .. we were going to need some luck, actually a lot of luck. We struggled to find our bearings going down but eventually luck arrived in the form of the “boertjies” or Team Seuns of Donder. The first team we had intersected with since we left T4, they had caught up from behind. We were not sure where exactly we were on the map so I asked them if they could point on their map where they thought we were, they looked at me a bit perplexed, opened their map, which had only the CP’s marked with no route choices, looked back at me again and said they’re don’t really know but the direction of travel feels about right and in the general direction of CP11. That was about as scientific and expert as navigation was going to get and was good enough for us so we hooked onto them. It was a bit of a stop-go affair as we tried to work out how far we were from the CP and with 8 lights shining around like search and rescue lights, one of The Seuns eventually spotted it. We had found CP11 in the pitch dark night. It was another little celebration with lots of smiles, clearly we had arrived as a proper adventure racing team, I mean seriously, finding difficult CP’s at night in the mountains, we felt worthy! In typical world class good navigational practice style … we decided to just follow The Seuns, after all they seemed to know where they were going. It worked out fine and even though we took a bit of a wide route it eventually got us to near the Qwantani game fence. The sun had risen as we descended the mountain and we noticed several other teams just ahead of us, all chirpy and excited, pointing at landmarks around us and walking confidently in a Northerly direction. I was in navigational nightmare, I couldn’t plot our location on the map and was tempted to follow the group of chirpy teams that seemed to know. We hung back a bit, checked maps, looking as uncertain as we were, both about our own location as much as about the direction of the group ahead. We walked to a bit of high ground to check and got sight of Sterkfontein Dam and a clear view of the bay we paddled in the previous day and to our amazement we saw the game fence and the CP12 dam right ahead of us, the rest of the navigation was straightforward from here and it was like navigational stress vanished in an instant. We could see CP12 and the path leading us to CP13 and the finish. The race was over, it was just a short walk home, a massive release of mental pressure. We noticed our tired bodies for the first time after about 19 hours on the go, adrenaline and engaged minds had kept our attention all the time.

Heidi from Kinetic (and others) was waiting for us at the finish line, like she does with every single team that finishes the race. We are ok with a low key finish, we celebrate our victories internally and with one another as we approach the finish line, our pride of finishing doesn’t require a fanfare or a big party, we understand the top teams finished the previous night already and don’t expect people to stay up through the night and into the morning to receive us … yet, they do! Heidi does! We are tired, we don’t show much emotion, our minds and bodies are a bit dead but that reception makes us feel like we are winners! It’s an acknowledgement. It shows respect to individual and team accomplishments that is deserving to every individual and team that conquers its own shortcomings, doubts and fears during an adventure race. Only someone who has experienced that will understand. Heidi understands. Thank you.

We had finished Full Moon Drakensberg with our full team, we had found all the CP’s and only missed finishing before sunrise by 2 hours. We were satisfied, We were not last. We felt like we belonged. We are Suckers4 Adventure. We are adventure racers!

Kamonande notes (13/14 Okt)

1. The Red sesbania (Sesbania punicea) is very prominent on the first dam wall and as one drives across the first vlei stream. Very pretty red flowers at the moment but unfortunately its a Category 1 invasive species. Will require destruction or removal to prevent distribution (hope it makes it onto the agenda for the reserve maintenance teams).


2. The Raasblaar (Combretum zeyheri) fruit pods are currently strewn on the ground and most already have little holes (see photo) as the larvae of the The Apricot Playboy butterfly (Deudorix dinochares) eats a small hole to get to the soft seed kernel inside. If broken open one can see the little dark colored larvae feeding.

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3. The Cape gray mongoose (Galerella pulverulenta) were also out to play. Ben van den Berg told me they are a common sight around Kamonande and enjoy a good encounter with snakes.

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4. Hammerkop nests. We have now listed 4 of them (outlet of 1st dam, near Yiwarra gate, between chalets 41/43, at last dam on Serengeti road). The one at the first dam had an occupant, not sure about the others. Anyone know of other nests?

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5. Lastly, the Basboontjjie/Elephant root (Elephantorrhiza burkei) has some bright yellow flowers busy developing and its a good time of the year to identify and mark this species around your chalet. Hopefully there’s good pollination to we can get many big fat fruit/pods early next year.

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36One Race Report

I flew into George the morning of the start. I arrived at 10h00, the race started at 18h00. It worked out well. I had enough time to do registration, put my needed items into the 3 check point boxes, have lunch and catch an afternoon nap before we rode over to the start at Kleinplaas. It was good to bump into many familiar faces, all of them tough as nails, with endurance pedigree and firmly in the hard core category. I was amongst a very special crowd and no-one around me was guaranteed a finish.

I made my riding strategy clear to Willem up front. I knew how to get myself to the finish and I was going to ride my own pace, he had no obligation to stay with me and I felt none to stay with him. We had ridden many ultra rides together and both of us had the ability to reach the finish, Willem had completed 36One before. He is a stronger rider than me but we have always found common ground in pace and companionship over such a long distance is a significant advantage. As it turned out, we rode together all the way to the finish. Yes, we finished :-).

The start was, as expected a fast affair and my heart rate monitor was playing up, showing me at 115% of max HR, it had done so before. I ignored it and settled into a sustainable rhythm. I wasn’t paying very good attention to the times and splits but have the detail, I had decided beforehand to pretty much ride it as it happens no matter what time or distance. I had 4x 6 hour legs in my head and wanted to finish before sunset on Saturday. Very unprecise but it was how I had decided to manage the mental part of the race. We reached CP 1 at 81km just after 10pm which was a reasonable but not very fast pace, our position for this split was in the 250s, around midfield. The first leg up to 81km had a few good hills in but I had spun them out in easy gears to protect my legs. I am also used to riding at night and my lights had been tested many times so had no issues in this regard throughout the race. The locals around Dysselsdorp provided wonderful spectator support late at night to encourage the riders, a few special moments as the race is largely rather isolated and lonely. One girl shouted as we rode past “Vat my naam en vat my saam”, among many other very sharp chirps from others. Biggest incident of the leg was when Willem discovered he had by accident swapped his CP 1 and CP 3 boxes, meaning he had suntan lotion packed for the midnight shift and his cold weather gear was waiting in Calitzdorp, 200km down the route. He had to endure a few very cold sections up to CP 2 at halfway. I felt sorry for him on occasion but he’s a tough nut, never complained once.

So after eating a few boeries, filling up water bottles and adding a wind shell, we were off for the graveyard shift. It was pretty much 100kms of rolling hills, some more steep than others with the only interesting visual stimulants the very bright stars and the red lights of a tower on our right that we somehow never reached. I stuck to my pace albeit very frustrating at times as other groups came past, resisting the temptation to jump onto their wheels was difficult but proved smart in the end. The most difficult part of the race mentally for me was between 100 and 150km. It felt like it was never going to pass and my head was playing all kind of games with me about why riding this far was a really silly idea and stopping at 180km was not a bad idea. My mind playing tough and weak with me. Somehow once we passed 150km and only had 30km to CP2 at 180km these mind games settled and we rode comfortably to halfway. Here I bumped into an old friend Guy Pitman. He is a superb bike rider and we had raced against one another at X-Berg a few years ago (May 2015 on the blogs). Guy is a much better cyclist than me but his sense of adventure probably lured him into this race with very little preparation, hence we shared the same space. It was nice seeing some familiar faces, it brought energy. We did the support station thing and headed off into the night around 4h30, I knew by then that we were going to make it to the finish, it was just a matter of hanging in there and with the sunrise looming, new and free energy was about to engulf us. Our position split for the second leg was around the 170s, we had ridden better than over the first leg, a trend that was to continue.

It wasn’t long till the horizon started coloring, my favorite time of day, it always lifts my spirits. The drag and climb away from halfway keeps one in check even though the spirits are lifted, it was to become a pattern of this race. One is never in control of this race, it humbles you around every corner and after every down hill, you never feel like you have it nailed but yet I remained confident of my ability to see it through. I had great difficulty staying awake the hour around sunrise and gulped down a few cups of coffee and sandwiches at the first water point after halfway, first light had just arrived. It did the trick. The scenery had become visible for the first time since the previous night and it lit up our amazing surroundings, I was in awe of the landscape, it was a combination of moon crater (not that I’ve been there) meets desert meets cowboy movie canyons, rather spectacular yet devastated. It brought new energy and food to feed a tired mind and I embraced its welcome distraction, my mind was in a good place and my body was still comfortable with the pace. Interestingly we had started catching up to other riders and passing them. Before we knew it the much feared climb of Rooiberg was upon us. I settled into a pace that I would in the end maintain all the way to the top, it wasn’t very fast but it left me with usable legs for the remaining 100kms after Rooiberg. The descent down the Calitzdorp side was horrible, the road surface was fine but very rocky and my problem back (bulged disc) does not enjoy rough descents. Quickly the familiar pain in my back made itself felt, it feels like a hot iron poked into my lower back, its excruciating! I groaned my way down to the bottom where Willem was waiting for me. The back pain fortunately goes away soon after the rough shaking stops but it leaves a mental scar every time. I was very happy that was over. We settled into a rolling rhythm through the ostrich infested farm lands and soon rode into CP3 at Calitzdorp. I felt good for the last 80km, I was tired but had something left in the tank and mentally I was fine. We had 80km with 1200m of ascent left, that baffled me a bit as the route was pretty much downhill from 40km to go which meant that the 1200m climbing had to be done over the first 40km of the last leg, I quietly hoped the ascent was incorrect. We took our time a bit at this check point, Willem for the first time looked a bit worn, maybe it was the sight of his warm clothing when he opened his CP1 box at CP3. The food at all the stops are superb but the Ostrich sosaties and pancakes at CP3 were a winner. Soon enough we were on the bikes again and rolled off, extra sunscreen applied, earphones loaded with seventies music and my spare bottle filed with cold water to cool me down. With the bad memory of my 42C day at Race to Willowmore only three weeks earlier still fresh in my memory, I needed to keep myself cool. Our position split for leg 3 was around the 90s, we had ridden a bit faster than most in leg 3. For the record, we off course only knew this afterwards when looking at the results.

We met up with a few riders who we shared the road with for the next 40km, not that we ever spoke a word, we were all too tired but the quiet companionship filled a social and mental hole. Funny dynamic that. I remained a bit nerved about the 1200m ascent that remained as we were only doing some rolling hills and no real big climbs. The road out of Calitzdorp is stunning, it snakes along a river with some spectacular scenery and some very remote little villages, I remembered sections of this from Cape Epic 2006 I think, except this time the drag was uphill. I kept wondering where the ascent was going to be made up until one corner when the road tilts upwards and the eye catches a glimpse of a road way up in the mountain. Its probably around the 300km mark and I guess no-one particularly enjoys the series of steep climbs that follows. There were several of them, they kept coming, one after the other, the one as steep as the next. I had some legs left so enjoyed the challenge of keeping the wheels going but it was a belabored effort. Our little silent group maintained proximity with the elastic snapping every know and then and then restoring itself. At some point, with another climb road showing itself in the distance a marshal with a flag appears like an angel from heaven and directs the route away from the looming climb and onto a road that signals the start of the last 40km, which is tilted mostly downwards. It a huge relief and almost overwhelming. The remaining 40km all of a sudden feels like the last kilometer to ones house on a weekend ride. Off course by this time one knows one will finish the race, the fear of not finishing had settled by this time. It now becomes a matter of getting the last 2 hours of “admin pedaling” done and give the wary body some relief. The road from here to the last water point at 20km to go is very pretty, very fast and much fun as it winds its way through various kloofs and farms and the time passes conveniently quickly.

With about an hour to go  I highlighted to Willem that we could still make a sub-22 hour finish if we rode strongly, not necessarily hard. He had picked this up as well. So we quietly turned the dial up and tightened the chains. I had started feeling nauseousness from around the 310km mark and wasn’t feeling great so suggested we tap down and just ride through to the finish gently and so we started the last 20 km gently. Our best intentions unfortunately didn’t last long, there were 2 riders in the distance who didn’t play to the script, they didn’t allow us to catch them easily and as everyone knows, the race for positions really only starts in the final moments of a race and it was no different. Position 127 was up for grabs and a sub-22 hour was calling. I really don’t understand this dynamic but I have quite frankly given up trying to understand it so I just go with the flow. The flow in this instance had us pick up the pace ever so gently to catch the non-script-adhering riders. As everyone knows catching is just one half of the game, the other half starts once you pass and have to stay ahead. Turning onto the last section of tar leading into Oudtshoorn town I was already riding way too hard for almost 22 hours of effort and Willem took his turn at the front, I couldn’t help at first. In the mean time we had just about secured our gap and at some point i looked down and saw 21:53 on my Garmin, sub-22 was still a possibility. So I went to the front and started pushing the pace up the hill past the lonely tree, we flew past another rider in a flash and before we knew it we were onto the last 2km to the finish, I looked down, 21:57. I got out the saddle and punched! WTF! Who in his right mind punches after 22 hours and 360km of riding? Willem was off my wheel (never happens) so I waited up and then we klapped it again, pretty much sprinting over the finish line with my HR bordering on 90% of max. I looked down and saw 22:00:07, Willem had us just under 22 hours The official results had us at 21:52. Our split position on the final legs was in the 70s. We had rode a sensible pace and whilst frustratingly moderate at times had paid us back dividends on the final leg.

It had been a very hard day out, I had just ridden 361km on my mountain bike in 22 hours with 5100m of ascent over some big mountains and over very rough gravel roads. Its a hard day out by any measure and whilst I felt a sense of accomplishment, I was also very humbled and grateful. Anyone that finishes this race is pretty special. Respect to all!

An unexpected 36One

Two weeks before 36One I told 3 people that the 361km/5100m ascent race just isn’t my kind of thing and I meant what I had said. It had after all only been a week since I had completed Race to Willowmore, a 550km race on the Freedom Trail from Cradock to Willowmore which just feels more like an adventure than a long 361km boring old slog on district roads. I had not ridden my bike for a week and didn’t have much intention to, my body and mind was still in recovery mode. You can tell by this opening that there’s a story brewing and you are right.

On an innocent Saturday evening after a braai with a few mountain biking friends, Willem very innocently asked why I don’t come down for 36One, he had a lift for me and accommodation. I repeated my line “It’s not really my kind of thing”. The next morning I harmlessly browsed the interwebs and came across and available solo entry. One SMS later and it was still available. I checked flights and low and behold there weer flights available at the right time a price to suit my likely schedule. Within a morning all the logistical pieces of the puzzle had fallen into place.

I had done no specific training for the hilly challenges of the tough 361 route but my physical condition was sufficient to get me to the finish. I had done a few 10-15 hour days on the bike recently so my base was solid. My biggest challenge may end up being getting my mind prepared. Riding 361km on gravel roads could be compared to doing 5-6 laps of the Cycle Tour of Cycle Challenge in 24 hours. Its a very long day out. I studied the route as I like to be know what to expect. It was daunting to say the least.

I made the call, pulled the trigger and 36One was a on! I honestly never saw this coming but I knew it was doable and I had 2 weeks to get my head in the game.

36One here we come!

36One Route

Race to Willowmore Day 4

Damsedrif – Willowmore

88km / 1170m ascent / 5 hours

My SMS to Meryl at the Race Office says “Carl in damse 20h50, out 4h00”. My plan to sleep till 5h00 took a turn for the worse when the wooden floors announced the movements of the early risers. I wasn’t going to fall asleep again so I got up and put myself onto auto-pilot. I ate well, again a good sign, got myself a nice cheese and tomato sarmie packed, filled the water bottles and saddled up. Leon and Dave had left just after 3h00 and Ingrid about 15 mins before me.

The hard work on the previous 3 days had left a relatively “short” 88km into Willowmore for the last day. I was in good spirits and had worked out that the 88km was going to take me around 6 hours, 3 blocks of 2 hours each. The first two hours I’ll just enjoy the darkness until the sunrise around 6h00, the next 2 hours I’ll ride with some music, a two hour mix of seventies and eighties hits and the last 2 hours I’ll just enjoy the sights & surrounds of the Nuwekloof Pass as I head for home. Plan sorted.

It wasn’t long before I saw Ingrid’s flashing red light in the distance and as I caught up to her, she promptly turned left down a reasonably prominent road but a decided turnoff. The road from Damse Drift to Willowmore is pretty much straight with not a single turnoff. I called her and we checked the narratives and map to be sure. We continued along the correct straight ahead road and made some small talk before we the distance between us opened up every so gently and eventually her lights disappeared behind me. Now this little dynamic may come across as rather ungentleman like. The Freedom Trail and its races have some unspoken arrangements which follow from the nature of the personalities that venture along the trail. Whilst most enjoy the company of others, most also are very comfortable riding and venturing out solo at odd hours. There is an acceptance that paths will intersect and that group will form for convenience and then will split up in an instant without discussion or deep consideration, feelings of guilt. Ingrid is one tough lady, she has a RASA blanket, has done several of the Freedom Series races solo and has got lost in forests on occasion. Her gentle demeanor and friendly smile hides a lean mean self-sufficient riding machine. She was content to ride at her pace and in her world as much as I was mine.

It wasn’t too long until the dark sky started developing some coloring, first gentle and then increasingly pastel filled color until the sun bursts out and illuminates the world as much as starts heating it up. I love this experience and it always fills me with energy and lifts my spirits. I had planned to find some water along the way but the cooler night temperature meant my water was good to last the way. The morning light was the first light of the Baviaans since we had left the reserve gate the previous evening. I had ridden almost all the way through the Baviaanskloof without seeing any of its beauty. Luckily I had a bit left and the rising light lit up the the Kloof around me with its red rock formations forming a stunning backdrop. I reached the site of a tree house site just as the light came through, we had been the first guests to stay here many years ago. Around the next corner was Makadaat Caves and Info centre, it seemed quiet at 7h00 so I rode past. In the mean time the iPod music was superb, I was singing Alice and Major Tom at the top of my voice, it was like a very enjoyable Saturday morning ride, it was in fact Saturday.

I still had no signal and was ahead of schedule so wanted to let my wife know that I would be in Willowmore around 10h00, a few hours ahead of schedule. They wanted to be at the finish to welcome me but were en route the Langkloof from St Francis. I thought maybe I’ll get a signal at the top of the Nuwekloof Pass, the last sting in the tail of the this riding section before Willowmore. It was around 8h00 cause Alice and Major Tom repeated for the second time in my ears (2 hours from 6h00 when I started the iPod as per my schedule). There’s a lesson in here for myself and other long distance riders. Progress is slow and looking at the odo meter and time can be mentally and emotionally draining. Any distractions for the mind are most welcome and can make long boring stretches a bit more interesting and tolerable.

After a really breathtaking ride through the Nuwekloof Pass I eventually reached the top of a high mountain where I could call my wife and inform her of my estimated arrival time. They were a bit tight for time but were already on the way. I was looking forward to seeing the very underwhelming welcoming party in the street in Willowmore. It would probably be the very recognizable figures of Meryl and Glenn and my wife and her sister, who had kept her company while I was out on my adventure. I was no there yet and after a little picnic of cold water and a cheese sarmie I saddled up for the last 30km. It was an enjoyable ride and Alice and Major Tom had not repeated for a third time yet. For the first time in days the scenery changed from mountains to more Karoo flat land again and presented some very pretty photo opportunities.

In an amazing coincidence I reached the last 3km tar road at the exact moment my wife and her sister cam speeding by towards Willowmore. When I noticed them, I naturally got out the saddle, pumped the pedals and rode like I was time trailing the Tour de France. They raced off the prepare the finish line procedures whilst I could sit up again and slow down to a more responsible riding speed and take in the scenes of Willowmore ahead in the distance. I generally find the final hour before the finish of these ultra rides an emotional period as I take time to reflect on the highs and the lows of the journey and this time it has been no different. During my incredibly hard second day there were times that I did not think I would be able to finish the race but the fear of failure and knowing that it was within my abilities no matter how hard kept me going and from that moment on I never had negative thought again and my riding became more enjoyable. I had made new friends, some amazing and special new memories and I was going to finish. I had been blessed beyond my wildest dreams.
I rode into Willowmore feeling like a champion. I double checked my right turn and rode up to the Willows. In the distance I saw the expected underwhelming reception party, the familiar figures and the finish line of Race to Willowmore. There is no finish setting that would be appropriate and deserving to celebrate the special experience of this race and it ends as low key as it starts and we prefer it this way. The real riding experiences and trail and tribulations are had out on the trail but what makes this reception party special is that these are the people who accompany us in the background as they watch over and support us kilometer for kilometer of our journey. Its a special moment when we see each other again and the hugs, smiles and chirps complete a perfect ending.

Thank you to everyone who made this adventure possible, I have been truly blessed.