Starting our return to the Cape, heading due South following the rich Oliphants River valley to end just outside Citrusdal.
Right, here we are again. Today was meant to be an easier 35-mile ride with a big climb at the end. It wasn’t easy!
I didn’t get to sleep early enough – about midnight again which isn’t enough as we were up at 6.30am. It the blog that takes ages, but it’s worth it looking back. My target for today was to finish the blog by 10.00pm, but that’s only 30 minutes to do it, so I think it will be 10.30…let’s see.
The cooked breakfast took ages to arrive and then Mark was also doing some routine maintenance on the bikes: oil, tyre pressures, general checks etc. (I suppose the power cut yesterday could have prevented him doing so last night). We didn’t leave until just before 9.00am. Crazy really.
It was already getting hot and we were prepared for another scorching day. Out of town we hit the first incline on a new road and a bridge, constructed to allow the dam in the valley to be raised and the water level increased for better water supply and electric generation. This was sorely needed last night!
My legs felt heavy and tired for the first time this holiday (note from the editor: can’t believe you think this is a holiday!) – but it’s bound to happen and I felt more lethargic. My bike was making its normal squeaking, grating noise and a new click arrived too. Very annoying, more noises than before. Mark could hear the new one but not work out what it was. I was thinking this was starting to feel like the day when I might have an energy dip so I was on guard to manage that as best I could.
We also had a headwind to contend with. A few days ago it had been behind us and we could really feel the difference. That made sense because for the first the 4 days we were mostly cycling North, yesterday we went East and now we were going South.
We stopped frequently for drink and food but it was slow and hard going. Due to the wind the downhill parts were not even a free ride as we had to pedal then too. Each of us went our own speed and we got quite spread out. Richard was lagging quite a way behind, but was OK.
We were cycling down a valley which I expected to be a small road, and picturesque. The first 15 miles were on the new 4 lane road and not that pretty. The dam was interesting and the scenery nice, but it was a real grind. A slow, hard, hot, just get it done, not far left, moment.
After about 15 miles, and 1.5 hours, we stopped at a small concrete picnic area at the side of the road. We were wondering why it was there as there was no view and everyone was in a car which was odd, but good for us. We took on drinks and snacks. I suggested we all kept together from now on as we wouldn’t get there any quicker if we fragmented because we always waited for the slower rider when we stopped and it would help RP more if we cycled as a group. We did and it did help us all.
At that stop I told Mark I was starting to hate my bike. All its issues were getting me. He apologised and a bit later offered to switch me onto the spare bike that he was riding. I was hoping for that and gratefully accepted. As he has a different pedal type to me the pedals need to be changed from one bike to another, but my left one wouldn’t budge. They tried for ages and I then said thanks but don’t worry. He did swap my front wheel, to try and stop one of the noises, but its didn’t work.
So, on we went, immediately into a long downward section, we could get a nice speed up here and as always I did. The it levelled out and we had slowed to a normal speed. My front tyre went “bang” – a flat. I was lucky it didn’t happen a few minutes before, but it probably would have still been safe. They quickly swapped the front wheel rather than repair the tyre and we were off again.
The road did get nicer and the scenery more varied. We were cycling in the Oliphants River Valley to Citrusdal. There are lots of citrus tree farms and vines again throughout the valley but is not covered in green, as there are many brown fields all around. The river is winding and slow moving with very sandy banks for miles and miles. It was most pretty.
But it was too hot and hard work to really take it all in. We had music playing to help but it was getting hotter. By about 12.00pm we still had 14 miles to go to lunch then the final long climb. I told Mark the food on the van wasn’t enough for us as it wasn’t substantial enough. There were bananas, salted peanuts, raisins, pretzels, cookies with chocolate (so I won’t eat them!) and breakfast biscuits. All nice to snack on but not enough to sustain us for 4 hours after breakfast – I explained we ate/fuelled more and differently when we rode. Cake, flapjacks etc would be good and I think he will get some. We had passed a petrol station where it would have been ideal to raid the shop but we didn’t think of it at the time. Actually, I did think of it but didn’t make it happen!
I had brought with a bag of “emergency” energy bars, and this was the moment to take some. They did help. I also have electrolyte tables that I have been using all the time to keep me hydrated and balance my body salts. All these little things are what I have learned over the years keep me going and I’m pleased to say the plan is still working. I do also have energy gels but haven’t used them and probably won’t.
On the van there is “Mootie” which is a concentrated energy drink. I tried it once on the first day and didn’t like it. All the others have it all the time and Mark also adds Magnesium to help prevent cramps. Today I had it all too! Anything to fill me up and get me through.
We pushed on in scorching heat, all getting annoyed that we were not at lunch yet. To be fair, apart from the petrol station I hadn’t seen anywhere to stop and get a meal. At what was the last stop before lunch, Mark phoned ahead to check the restaurant was open! This was not a good sign and we all felt the day was going rather wrong!
Eventually we turned off the main road towards Citrusdal. Then Mark turned into a sandy, uphill dirt road. “We are not cycling up there”, I thought, as I know the sand will be very hard to get through and I wasn’t going to use my energy for that. We were all by now getting a bit miffed. I got off and walked, considering the driveway to a restaurant not part of the ride. Richard did the same but David and Keith soldiered on and followed Mark up the path. I couldn’t believe the van drove off and didn’t pick us up. The driveway must have been half a mile long and it was crazy hot. Soon the van did reverse back, loaded our bikes on the back and we jumped in.
Lunch was good. A lovely old trading post serving the valley pass, previously a school and post house too. I had a wash to cool down in the bathroom. We had the obligatory coffee ice cream milkshakes which were really good. I had water and a fruit juice too. Being hungry and knowing that I needed refuelling for the big climb, I had chicken schnitzel, chips and vegetables. Lovely! But really too much and I nearly said hello again to it shortly later when at maximum effort on the climb. I should have known better and must remember this for the future!
We all felt better and had cooled down, in many ways. Not being able to put off the climb any more we had to just get on with it.
We got back in the van, it was scorching hot and looking at my stats, I can see it was 39 degrees at that point. Once again we were doing the hard climb at the hottest time of the day. We refilled water bottles and were taken back to the turn off at the main road. Out we got. I watered my bandanna, shoulders and front and got on with it.
I tried to stay with Richard and David to help Richard through. He was really concerned it would be too much for him. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay with him as my cycling rhythm is such that I had to press on because going slower seemed more difficult.
It was 3 miles of really hard constant grind. The gradient was steep but OK – we have had worse. The head wind came up again at times making it hard and it was so hot. At times I felt a bit queasy because my stomach was digesting the big lunch. So, I took extra gulps of air in to compensate. I was OK in the end. The road went around a few bends and eventually I could see the hotel at the top. But it still seemed to still take ages to get there. My method is to count out the rhythm, 20 pushes, 20 more, then 10, then 20 and I just keep going. My legs hurt but I just put it out of my mind. Strangely my music got on my nerves and I switched it off for the last quarter of a mile or so.
I had passed David and Keith on the way up. Richard was sitting in the shade when I got there as for him this was one climb too far. His training at home was quite a lot behind the rest of us, plus the mega heat we were in and that he is not a great hill climber anyway made him decide to miss the climb. He gave it his best shot, but knew when to stop. Even so, we all did amazingly well today and there was much high fiving and sweaty hugs between us all. We are a good team really.
Then I arrived. Thank g-d! The hotel is called Hebron and the sign was in English and Ivrit. I am interested in why it’s called that but can’t be bothered to ask! It’s a lovely quaint, quirky hotel overlooking the valley. I took my case to the room changed so quickly and got in the cool pool with and amazing infinity view. Lovely, so lovely! And so cool.
Then I had a quick shower and went off for a pre-arranged massage at a hotel on the other side of the road. Nice but not a good as the first one. This was followed by a beer and some biltong (dried beef) and watching the second half of the Spurs game with Keith and Richard – it was a 1-1 draw!
I managed a 30-minute rest before a lovely dinner. I had a starter for a main course as I still felt so full up! This was accompanied by a nice wine from the local vineyards of Pickenierskloof.
What a day. Again, full of adventure and challenge and camaraderie which us why I love these trips so very much.
Off to bed at 11.00am so I missed the 10.00pm target by a long way – but as always there was so much to say.
I’m feeling great mostly. A little niggle here and there but overall I’m doing really well. Hopefully my legs will feel more energised tomorrow. It’s a 65-mile day but the temperature should be cooler. Let’s see!
Follow all of my travels here on the blog. Thank you to everyone who has donated in support – I’m blown away with the amount raised so far.