Three Big Portages. Race to Cradock – Day 1.

Rhodes to Moordenaarspoort (170km, 3526m ascent).

After a restless night during which I had replayed the first turnoff on the route over and over in my mind, the 4h00 alarm eventually announced that Race to Cradock had arrived. Those gifted with the talent to analyze dreams will have little problem spotting the symptoms of nerves about navigation. Breakfast @ Rubicon was good but the task ahead of us showed on everyone’s faces. As per usual, the very informal, almost coincidental starters orders sounded and we were off. Perhaps not unsurprisingly the group experienced a “delayed first turn” at the very first left turn, the world simply looks different in the dark.

My plan was to try and ride +- 170km each day, testing myself yet allowing opportunity to experience support station hospitality, something I had found very special during Race to Rhodes in 2014. I had anticipated that this strategy may well result in riding all 600km by myself so I just rode at a comfortable pace that I knew I could sustain throughout the day. As we climbed out of Rhodes I could see two lights not far behind me, turned out to be Coen and Craig, I just stuck to my plan. On the descent down the Bokspruit road a rider came flying past me at the speed of the wind, it was Coen and as it turned out this was going to become a pattern over the next few days.

Shadow riding as the sun rises over the Bokspruit.

Coen and I didn’t speak much on the never ending undulating climbs up to Bottlenek other than exchanging pleasantries. He had some really cool beats pumping from his handlebar mounted MP3 player, which he claimed was programmed by his children. I went ahead dropping into Chesneywold and looking forward to the support station hospitality, didn’t see much of Minki as she was busy loading cattle. Coen and I departed at the same time and he asked me what my plans were, his plan was to just ride and enjoy the trail for what it offered. Stating my Moordenaarspoort objective, Coen was on board and my wife’s biggest concern, me riding alone, was out the way. As it turned out we formed a great combination with Coen’s route knowledge from 3x RASA proving invaluable.

The farm names on route to Slaapkrantz give some insight into weather conditions in this region, ie Winterhoek, Kappokkraal, etc. It wasn’t long before we arrived at the Kappokkraal portage, I had planned the portages in extreme detail and made supplementary aerial maps and notes using Google Earth and advice from Glenn and others. The benefit was that I knew what to expect and that the portage looked familiar up to a certain level of detail. It is a very time consuming exercise but proved very worthwhile. We nailed Kappokkraal without any issues, not the most difficult portage but it helps the confidence. A bicycle painted on a shed showing a very special touch by the farmer, helps confirm the correct route and also serves to make riders feel welcome.

Kappokkraal Portage. The bicycle on the shed making us feel welcome and confirming the right route.

 

We rolled into Slaapkrantz at 12h50, having made good time, still feeling strong and with enough day time left to clear both Slaapkrantz and Loutebron Portages as well as the tricky descent to the Bonthoek farm. The Slaapkrantz portage whilst not to bad, has a very nasty steep section to get into the plateau and reach the contour path. I really battled up here through the narrow path with hard branched bushes lining the steep alley, it felt like wrestling a gorilla and being knocked down every 25m. As I have learnt many times before, the mountain has a summit where it ends and if you keep going long enough, you will reach that summit, it doesn’t move, but I do. We had some difficulty finding the path running down from the top of Slaapkrantz but after consulting the map and compass, we were on our way enjoying the thrilling downhill over bump after bump.

Top of Slaapkrantz Portage. Wrestling the gorilla until it eventually gives up.

Loutebron Portage has a tricky middle section past Witvlei but all the navigation preparation helped to traverse this section perfectly. It is rather energy sapping to get through some very steep push a bike sections but nothing a good rest under the single tree along the way couldn’t fix. I had anticipated that I may have to do Loutebron at night so had planned milestones every 300m to assist navigation, it would still have proven a challenge. We reached the top of Loutebron at 18h00 in full sunshine with more than enough light to do the very tricky and dangerous descent to Bonthoek farm. It was a very special moment for me, I was ahead of my best case schedule, I had reached the top of Loutebron in sunshine, I was still feeling good, I had found a riding buddy and I knew I was going to reach Moordenaarspoort that night.

We took a good break at the farmstead, filling up with water and having a late afternoon snack before we headed into the fading light. Riding into Rossouw is not flat and riding out of Rossouw is not flat, this innocent section between Bonthoek farm and Moordenaarspoort provided a sting in the tail to a testing day. We reached Moordenaarspoort at 21h00 to be welcomed by a sumptuous meal, an ice cold Coke and a hot shower.

A 16 hour day with some breathtaking views, some thrilling riding, stunning landscapes and beautiful people. I had achieved a few personal milestones along the way, was still feeling good and felt like a champion. It was a perfect day.

 

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