Ntsikeni to Masakala (via Glenn Edward)
96km, 1635m ascent
Day 3 has two tricky sections, the first 20km out of Ntsikeni Reserve over Politique Kraal and the second the three schools section between the watershed and Prospect School. This was also the day a very angry wind started showing its hand.
We left in below Celsius conditions to get a head start for a long day and to hit the tricky fence section at dawn. All went well and it was quite an amazing experience breaking ice on the ground in -3C as we rode over “perfectly manicured” graspolle, they really need to put bigger shoes on cattle in these areas so the paths can be a bit wider and visible!
The soup at Glenn Edward is legendary, more like a stew, in fact more like a pasta vegetable soup dish with some delicious home made bread and biscuits. Note for future riders, allow enough time at this stop to feed all your cravings.
From Glenn Edward the wind picked up and it was a brawl all the way to Masakala. We made good time through the schools sections and arrived to an ever friendly Masakala staff. The hot shower was a winner!
I haven’t mentioned it yet but one of the highlights every day is arriving at the support station looking forward to your pre-packed and pre-posted 2 litre ice cream tub like a child does to a luck packet. It’s not like you don’t know what’s in there … yet one opens it with an expectation like it’s the biggest surprise ever! How bizarre we are, the more we grow up, the more we remain like kids and why not!
Another tough day in the saddle and on the feet but it was the easier of the 3 days so far. Tomorrow we do an “easy” day to Ongeluksnek, if there is such a thing on the Freedom Challenge route.
Allendale to Ntsikeni (via Centacow)
96km, 2480m ascent
Day 2 into Ntsikeni has some tricky navigation and difficult terrain with a notoriously challenging exit from Allendale farm into Donnybrook. Dave offered to show the way on this section and the rumour quickly did the rounds that Dave is leaving at 6h00 and he would leave his wife behind if she weren’t on time. Needless to say by 5h55 everyone was lined up in fear of not being able find their way out of the farm yard. In previous days some groups had taken 40 minutes just to get onto the trial. We were also to learn later that Dave is a real stand up gentleman and would never leave his wife behind .. but we didn’t know that then. Dave made the perfect exit and we cruised into Donnybrook still in the dark making our way down to Centacow where more tricky navigation awaited. Temperatures never really got above Zero Celcius this morning. Biggest scare of the trip happened when Dave hit an invisible 2 strand farm wire full on, got the fright of our lives but fortunately Dave is built from Tungsten and was good to go.
Centacow is a stunning stop and like all the other days the soup and bread went down well. Trouble started as we left Centacow and hit the first big climb of the day that only ended much later and after we had pushed bikes up too steep to ride district roads, my legs did not enjoy this pushing, perhaps under prepared for walking and pushing, it was going to be a difficult day. We progressed well through the Boshelweni forests until we hit the mother of all climbs before Ntsikeni, it was push a bike for probably another hour. My personal light started fading and I hit a really bad patch and struggled to keep up with the group.
The first signs of a group camaraderie started showing this day when everyone waited when one member had a mechanical and all waited up, then later on told a straggler (me!) not too worry, we’ll wait for one another. It is important to note this is not a group race, its an individual race and groups form for specific purposes. It turned out we had a great group that rode and socialised well together and we ended up sticking together till the end.
It is very difficult to explain how steep these roads are, perhaps on a Saturday group ride our Alpha male ego’s will have us ride them to the top, I somehow doubt that, even on fresh legs. Strong and weak alike simply have to push to fight the gradient and often rough terrain. Being on the feet also take sits toll on strength when one starts pedalling again.
This was my hardest day out and seeing Nstikeni Lodge on the stunning plains was a very welcome sight. It is a truly amazing spot, as remote as you can get with a wonderful staff under Mr Nqcobo making our stay a pleasant one. His impromptu story telling over dinner under the watching eye of his wife and sister in law proved very special for us all.
A very hard day out with a beautiful end to the day. We all slept like babies.