Traversing the Stormberg. Race to Cradock – Day 2.

Moordenaarspoort to Romansfontein (175km, 2488m ascent).

The first thing one does when you wake up at 4h00 after a hard previous day is check the vitals, ie legs and bum. Both mine were still there and whilst the legs were a bit stiff, they appeared functional. Our hosts had prepared breakfast for us the previous evening so we could prepare for the day in the comfort of the guest house in the front of their  garden. We were off into the dark night at 5h00 sharp.

I really enjoy night riding, both in the mornings and in the evenings. There’s a peacefulness about that during the day get’s disturbed by light and sound, in the dark our world shrinks to the immediate space around us, in daytime the world opens up and our sights, sounds and surrounds fill our world with information and distraction. My favorite time of the dark mornings is when the approaching light starts to form distinguishable silhouettes on the horizon, like its announcing its arrival with subtlety before the trumpets of the sun overwhelm us with light. So it was on this morning and just as the sun started coloring the skies, Coen’s rear wheel showed signs of a slow leak. Being experienced as he is, we stopped to top up the tyre as a precaution, this turned out to be our only “mechanical” of the race. We were off 10 minutes later under a beautiful sky.

Early morning skies out of Moordenaarspoort.

The legs were still searching for rhythm when we rode into Kranzkop at 7h30, a surprisingly short and fast section from Moordenaars (38km). Looking over our right shoulder it was obvious where the farm got its name from with a spectacular krans (cliff) soaring out in the form of a bird head (kop), ie Kranzop. Another farm that had its name from its surrounds, so simple yet sophisticated at the same time. It was becoming a pattern that I really wanted to move through the support stations efficiently, yet only managed to get out again in 30-40 minutes. Clearly I had neglected my transition preparation, it’s just that it feels so nice and welcome inside the support stations.

After Kranzkop waited two farm sections I had marked as “tricky” on my maps and notes, we got through these without any problems but I think at night it will be a different story, it really helps in daytime to able to see the surrounds and big picture of the environment. The ride into Brosterlea turned out to be a difficult one, mentally more so than physically. For the first time since the start in Rhodes, we reached a section of 33km of district road section with no navigational challenges, it dawned on me that for the first time in more than 200km my brain had the opportunity to wander and start feeling sorry for itself, allowing lurking aches and irritations to become more prominent. Lesson. If you want to feel good, keep your mind occupied. It was on this approach into Brosterlea at Gouevlei that Coen showed me what efficiency looks like in practice, eating his mid-morning snack while resting in his back. Note the beautiful view … behind him :-).

Efficient lunch while lying down during a break near Brosterlea.

Just after leaving Gouevlei a Toyota Land Cruiser came past us, I can count on my one hand the total number of vehicles we saw during our race. The vehicle stopped a few hundred meters ahead of us and the occupants walked into the road, kind of like the traffic police do in the city, they were intent on engaging us. The friendly couple Dave and Kay knew about the Freedom Challenge in June and our number plates gave away the association. Kay had done a road race recently for which she had trained on the roads around Brosterlea and they expressed heir concern about the -18C temperatures and snow conditions which RASA riders have to contend with in June, little knowing that those are the exact elements that attract Freedom Challengers, else we’d be riding the Cape Epic :-).

Coen with Dave and Kay near Brosterlea.

Brosterlea eventually appeared at 12h10 and we were surprised to meet up with Jonathan who had fallen ill the next day. He seemed a little worse for the wear but he is a really strong guy and I was pretty sure he’d recover and rejoin the race again, which he did. As per the usual I was seduced by a lamb curry and our planned 15 mins became 40 minutes. Where does the time go during these support station stops? On existing Brosterlea we rode past a big puffadder in the middle of the road, fortunately moving at a pace even slower than us. Our only encounter with a live snake. The Brosterlea dog accompanied us for a while and provided some entertainment in the form of amazing fence jumping and veld running until about 5km out we became concerned that it may not find its way back, or to be more accurate, Coen the Vet became concerned and exhibited some of his animal caring touches like shouting “huis toe” and throwing stones at the dog. A quick call to the race office seemed to intimidate the dog and it remain in place, it could have been the fact that its tongue was dragging on the ground. You may notice I am telling this story to mask the fact that our riding ability was insufficient to drop the dog.

Shortly after Brosterlea the weather started looking really nasty, dark clouds, thunder and lightning and going past Emdale farm we had to seek shelter from the lightning. We found the perfect spot and Coen again showed his superior resting skills by using the straw for a powernap, I timed him from eyes shut to knee drop in less than 30 seconds flat.

Hiding from a thunderstorm in a cattle shed near Stormberg Portage.

The Stormberg Portage en route to Vegkoppies turned out to be more tricky that I had expected, I really struggled to bring the map and the environment together but fortunately Coen’s route knowledge guided us through optimally and before long we reached the stiles on top and dropped down to the old fort below. The weather had now settled into a soft drizzle but fortunately surface conditions were still hard and not muddy. It was a bit eerie riding past the site of the Battle of Vegkoppies and one cannot help but wonder about the sense and justification of war and conflict, especially seeing the monument against the foot of the koppie where British soldiers lost their lives.

Old fort at Vegkoppies.

Up ahead I knew was a tricky section around some irrigation farms at Seekoegat that required daylight, they were supposed to have been marked up with white rocks and bokkies to assist navigation and prevent riders getting lost. The landscape had also changed during the day, the big mountains of the first day had been replaced by significant and prominent koppies, very beautiful and very handy for navigation. We were still making good time as we raced down to Seekoegat past another Rooiberg and had enough light to get through this section, I think on my own I may have taken a detour or two. We reached the district road as light faded but with only a few kilometers remaining to Romansfontein. Our quick break was made even quicker when a swarm of mosquitoes engulfed us, I suspect it must have been the Brosterlea lamb curry taste in my sweat that attracted them.

A short while later we rode into Romansfontein at 19h00 after having left Moordenaarspoort 14 hours earlier. Stephanie has the support station routine perfected and we were spoiled with food, drink and a wash of clothes. We had caught up with Batch A and planned to ride with them through the tricky Aasvoelberg Portage the next morning.

Another big day, another perfect day, very grateful.

 

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One thought on “Traversing the Stormberg. Race to Cradock – Day 2.

  1. I love night riding, there’s nothing like peace and tranquility of the stars guiding you through the night, another reason is not seeing the endless big climbs…..

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