Riding Trans-Afrika part 1

We started at the Statue of Beit on the middle of the bridge between South Africa and Zimbabwe. As the photo shows it was dark and before 5 am on the 4 October 2015. Eight riders full of hope and excitement. We were police escorted to Messina and hit the open road to start an adventure of survival.IMG_0173

Steve and I started at the back of the peloton. We planned on pacing our selves for the distance. My heart rate monitor was telling me to slow down all the time. I think this is a bit of an annoyance to Steve. I know that if I push to hard my legs will not make the days end. So I was holding back but not enough. As will later be seen. When we got to the Tshipise, Steve decided to stop for something at the shop. I had the race in my blood and rode on. Not far down the road I turned on to the dirt road passing the Nzhelele dam. Now alone as I would be for most of the race. This road tested those 2 inch reverse tread tyres of mine. I could see the faster riders with thinner tyres struggling a little in the loose sand and stoney sections. At some places I could see where they had climbed off and pushed. On reaching the tar road I turned right along the river. The temperature was rising making the body start to slow down and feel heat exertion. To save water I stopped at a place close to the river and splashed my self cool with water from the river. This made a big difference giving me renewed energy to take on the next climb.

Not far up the road Andy Masters team and Casper Venter stopped and refilled my drinking water and gave me a cold Fanta. The cool drink also helped to lower my body temperature. They said to me the next rider was not far ahead. This gave me drive to go on to catch them. Passing Dazinani I stopped at a Tavern and ordered some hot chips and ice-cold water for lunch. All the time watching the road to see if Steve was coming up the road. No there was no sign of Steve.

Not long after lunch the cramps started as a result of dehydration and to fast a start. This is what happens when you do not listen to your heart rate monitor and riding in temperatures of 40 degrees. Just before climbing the big climb up the Soutpansberg the cramps got me straight legged next to the road under a tree. I mixed an Rehydrate for sports and drank it and weighted for the cramps to go. Amazing enough after about 15 minutes the cramps stopped. Also by this time my body temperature dropped to normal again. I then climbed back on my bicycle and started the climb. Having to stop about 3 times to drink and allow body temperature to drop back to normal. At this time the temperature had reached 49 degrees. Not far from the top I received a WhatsApp telling me Gary was not far ahead. So I said I will go on then. What a wonderful find I found on the other side of the pass. A nice shop with ice and a tavern. Something cold to drink is all that is needed to bring the body temperature down. No not a beer. I am talking of cold water. From the top of the Soutpansberg was down down down all the way to Thohoyandou. At Thohoyandou had a good early supper of chicken and rice with a big salad. This helped to take away the sport drink taste in the mouth.

I had planned to sleep near Giyani for the night, so off I went. Making  good time now and feeling much better. At one point a vehicle made me exit the road. I decided to try jump the shoulder back on the road at normal speed. This was not a good idea. There was a nice step back on to the road. I felt the back-end of the bicycle coming up to my shoulders. Landed with all brakes on with my feet on the tar and the handle bars in the groin area . Amazing no injuries. On assessing the damages in the dark. I found front wheel to be ok. Back wheel was out of its place. I think when we were loading the bicycle on to a vehicle to get to the start. We had taken the back wheel off to get it to fit in a car. However I had not checked that the wheel was nice and tight afterwards. Lucky wheel had not come off down one of those hill where I was doing 50 km/h.

About 20 km from Giyani a man stopped along the road and said he would escort me to Giyani. At this time it was dark and about 8 pm. He rode behind me with hazard lights on and his head lights on me. There are really good people out in this country. Not wanting to put them out too much. I rode faster with more determination. When I got into Giyani in a light spot I stopped to speak to him. He said he had seen riders earlier in the day and likes to follow bicycle races. I asked him if he knew of good place to sleep. He escorted me to the B&B called Krematate and made sure there was place for me and the price was good.

Leaving early in the morning to make use of the dark for cooler temperatures and less traffic on the road. Made good time and met Andy along the road again before Mica. IMG_3577Then found Tim just before Hoedspruit. He was suffering from cramps and dehydration. Gave him a little cold water to help lower body temperature. Then went on my way. Later heard he left the race and was getting medical attention for heat stress and dehydration. Not finding the suggested restaurant at Hoedspruit I passed on to Acornhoek, almost running out of water. At the first spaza shop I  stopped and they gave me some rain water. This was a life line. Just a few km down the road I found a big shopping complex. Here stopped for supper at a pizza shop. Put some pizza in the back pockets and pushed on into the night. 20151005_155542Climbing Bushbuckridge in the cool of the night . At this point a cold wind came up from the south.  The head wind did not bother me as it was down hill to Hazyview.

Here made a decision to ride on to Nelspruit as three other riders in front of me had decided to sleep here. This would put me in front of them. Also I would not make the border of Swaziland in time and would lose a day. I have lived in this area before so know the area. Stopped at White river garage to charge GPS and telephone as they had gone flat about 2 hours earlier. Slept leaning against a wall for about half hour. Had some food from the garage shop. After about an hour the gear had charged enough. Free wheeling down to Nelspruit at sunrise. To sleepy to go on found a grassy spot and slept for about an hour. When the rain started I found an open garage shop and got more food.  Pushing on to wards Barberton in the rain.

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Along this stretch Colin and Andrew caught up with me. They were surprised to find it was me. They had heard in White river that there was a cyclist ahead of them. They thought it was Gary. They ride faster than I do so off they went. Entering the bottom of the hill/mountain up to the Swaziland border post near Barberton at 9H05 and reaching the border at 14H00. Not long after starting the climb Colin and Andrew past me again. They had stopped at Barberton Wimpy for brunch.20151006_014849 I was very tired at this stage and had to stop for a few sleeps to keep me awake. There is a forestry workers compound on the way up. I stopped to fill up my water bladders here. There is no other place for water or food on this hill. All vehicles have to ascend in first and second gear to manage to move forward. Had to do a lot of pushing to make sure to save legs/knees for rest of race.20151006_014902

From the border to Pigs Peak the road is very bad. Many steep hills with powder and stones. Found my tyres spinning making it very difficult to cycle up hill. This is when  MTB tyres are needed. Landed up pushing most of the way. Covered 18 km from border to Highlands inn from 14H00 to 17H15.20151006_055623

Had a good supper with Andy, Colin and Andrew at the Highlands Inn. I chose to sleep longer than they did as I had not slept the night before. They entered the road about 2 or 3 am in the morning, I left at 5 am. This put them about 2 or 3 hours ahead of me. From here they put on the speed . I think they were afraid I was going to pass them when they were sleeping.20151007_053544 Just before sunset I stopped at a stop for supplies. The shop keeper let me know how far a head of me they were and they were planning on sleeping in Standerton. This was a long way from where I was and had to push on. In Ermelo stopped at a pizza shop remembering how it helped to get energy to push through the night last time. Except I had to wait 2 hours to let my GPS and Cell charge. This put me more time behind them.

I pushed on into the night to try see if could get past Morgenzon. Just out of Ermelo some youngsters coming from town thought to give me a problem. They harassed me and pushed be off the road with their farm bakkie (truck). I was making good time with a tail wind and down hill. Forcing me to exit road at about 30 to 40 km/h into the veld (grasslands). Lucky they rode off and left me alone after that. Thank goodness no damages only the wind out of my sail. Not long after this I started to look for a good place to sleep along the road. Not finding a good place slept I settled in the entrance to a culvert under the road. Did not sleep well on account of the place not been well concealed. After about 2 hours light sleep pushed on into the sunrise. Before Standerton there was some major road works. This forced me off into the stones or made me have to stop to let cars pass. At Standerton made sure to have a good breakfast of cheese and ham sandwiches. Purchased some supplies for the road and was on my way again.

The Free state is supposed to be flat with rolling hills. Let me tell you there are hills. Together with the heat and gentle head wind this made for some slow progress. Having to stop under the odd tree along the road to cool down. Just before Vrede Andy and team checked in on me.FB_IMG_1446841573702 At Vrede stopped in to see if could get more Rehydrate at chemist. No luck but bumped into the mother inlaw of Petri my boss. She had been following my progress and had wanted to show her support. However I had been to slow in coming and she had gone to the shops. We had a short talk in the chemist and I was on my way again.

The wind was picking up quite bad now. Pushing me to a snail’s pace. Together with heat and head wind the water had turned to tea and was not quenching the thirst. What a luck there was a windmill with lots of cold water to splash over my hot body and to full bladders up with cold water. The road to Warden was very busy. The R101 had lots of heavy vehicles and no shoulder on the road. Thank goodness wind was now from the shoulder. Only gusting causing bicycle to zig zag. Making it even more dangerous not to have a shoulder on the road. At Sunset reached Warden to book into the Warden Lodge. Very good food and good hospitality.  Had a good sleep for the first time in a long time.

Leaving for Bethlehem in the early hours of the morning to make use of less wind in the night. This was the first time it had felt cool in the morning. It is mostly down hill to Bethlehem. Nice wide shoulder on road. Slight tailwind and down hill made for quick work on this stretch. Refilled supplies at Bethlehem, chemist even had Rehydrate sport. That was good news knowing I was facing Lesotho. Road to Fouriesburg had no shoulder and was quite busy. This made slow work having to exit the road for trucks all the time. Finally reaching Fouriesburg after lunch. Making it not worth my will to enter Lesotho. Chose to rest and eat well and have an early night. Border opens at 6H00 this gave me a full nights rest. Had dinner with Colin and Andrew as they had chosen to ride Moteng pass then sleep at Fouriesburg before heading south. This ment they were one day ahead of me now.FB_IMG_1446841580285

Will write second half of race in another post. What a adventure this was. Hope you give it a go next year. If you read between the lines you may find many tips to plan your race.

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