Nearing the end of the second day and we have 2 batches out on the trail. Batch 1 are all safely in at Kranskop, the second support station - they started before sunrise from Slaapkranz this morning and conquered the difficult Slaapkranz and Bontehoek portages. Although the terrain eases a bit after that, the guys, Trevor, Russell, John, Chris, Jac and Adohan all took a wrong turn on the way to Rossouw, which cost them an extra hour. The ladies, Fiona and Aileen had no trouble finding the route and jumped ahead but the guys eventually caught up again and they all regrouped at Moordenaarspoort for lunch, before pushing on the the overnight stop at Kranskop after another long day out on the trail.
Batch 2 left Rhodes this morning and after stopping in at Chesneywold for refreshments, pushed on to the Kappokkraal portage - no problems there and they all made it to Slaapkranz support station by mid afternoon, a great day’s riding by Chris, Lindsay, Rory, Colin, Segio, Fabio and Shaun. Jacques, who started with them, rode well and got to Slaapkranz before lunch, then pushed on, heading for Moordenaarspoort. He made quick work of the Slaapkranz portage and was making good time over Bontehoek portage by late afternoon. After that he has fairly straightforward riding on district roads to get to Moordenaarspoort for a late supper.
Batch 1 all made it comfortably to Slaapkranz yesterday afternoon - for most it was fairly straightforward but for Fiona, it was a tough day out and she found the going hard. She’s been moving well this morning though, so seems to have recovered well overnight. With her is Aileen and they are making steady progress, having already completed the two big portages of the day. They’ll be heading for Kranskop tonight.
The rest of the batch - Trevor, Russell, John, Chris, Jac and Adohan had a fairly comfortable day yesterday and left Slaapkranz before sunrise this morning - they got over the Slaapkranz and Bontehoek portages cleanly - then things went south - quite literally as they turned left instead of right and went off down the wrong valley. They realised their mistake though and managed to get back on track, although the mistake cost them an extra hour of effort. So the whole batch is back together again and on their way to lunch at Moordenaarspoort.
Batch 2 were all chirpy in Rhodes this morning and got going at a fairly brisk pace. They spread themselves out in the first few kilometres and Jacques Tattersal raced ahead, making good time to Chesneywold and then Kappokkraal. He’s closing in on Slaapkranz for lunch and his day will most likely not end there.
The rest of the batch are strung out behind him but all have passed through Chesneywold and are on their way to Slaapkranz.
Day 2 from Slaapkrantz to Kranzkop covers a distance of 98km and 1870m of ascent. On paper it appears an easier day than Day 1 but my racing notes say “first 20km 2 big portages, allow minimum 2 hours for each, preferably daylight”. It’s a tough day out.
First challenge of the day will be the decision on what time to start. The portage out of Slaapkrantz has a tricky twisty start, especially so with a new moon. During RASA 2015 several new routes options were explored, even in daylight. The smart play may well be to have a solid breakfast to cover the next 6-7 hours to Moordenaarspoort and then to use first light to guide the way. The portage up Slaapkrantz is a bugger, its steep, its narrow, its rutted and plain uncomfortable and the view from the top will no doubt offer a necessary distraction to catch a breath and take a photo.
Another thrilling white-knuckle descent awaits down the other side with many speed humps to get the adrenaline pumping. The drop down to Goedehoop farm is also the first encounter with regular farm gates, the gate-closing-mechanisms of which are random and different, and over the next few days riders will graduate from novice level to master-gate-opener-and-closer.
The second of the big portages up Loutebron and down to Bonthoek farm awaits and whilst it requires some careful navigation, much of it is rideable with some short steep pushing sections. It’s a hard slog to get over but the surroundings are beautiful and the views from the top are breathtaking. The steep, loose gravel drop down to Bonthoek farm is treacherous and caution should prevail to protect bikes and joints; surprisingly this drop hurts the legs as much as the preceding ascent. The dripping water tank at Bonthoek farm provides relief to top up water bottles and requires some careful manoeuvring to avoid the wrath of protective thorn bushes.
From Bonthoek riders will enjoy some rolling district roads all the way past Rossouw to Moordenaarspoort, including a nagging, dragging 7km, 300m ascent out of Rossouw. The young hosts at Moordenaarspoort will no doubt be ready with some welcome relief after what may well be the hardest 58km section of the race. The 38km stretch to Kranzkop goes past surprisingly quickly on reasonable district roads and once over the short Toomsnek just before the support station, riders looking over their right shoulders will see the signature cliff sculptures that give Kranzkop its name.
The roads flatten out a bit from Kranzkop and navigation is manageable so those with more ambitious plans may well be tempted to tackle the 48km to Brosterlea and experience some night riding under the stars.
Day 2 may well be the Queen Stage of Race to Cradock.
By Carl Scholtz
Batch 1 got away just after 5am this morning - the skies were clear and a slight tailwind pushed them gently down the valley out of Rhodes. By mid morning, they had all checked in at Chesneywold for some refreshment and then it was onwards to take on the first portage at Kappokkraal. Moving in and out of signal throughout the day meant somewhat erratic tracking for followers to watch but by late afternoon, all were present and accounted for at the Slaapkranz support station. The early arrivals were Trevor, Russell, John and Chris, followed shortly after by Jac and Adohan. Also comfortably in before any threat of darkness were Aileen and Fiona. Despite some brave talk at dinner last night, no one was keen to push on beyond Slaapkranz, so tomorrow they will be able to take on the Slaapkranz and Bontehoek portages on fresh legs.
Tomorrow morning at 4h45 the 8 riders from Batch 1 will nervously pull their bikes closer, prod at the tyres, setup their maps and then bunch up for the very low key and informal 5h00 start. Glenn and Meryl will soon after be watching their bobbing lights disappear down the Rubicon driveway towards the main road heading in a Westerly direction out of Rhodes. Race to Cradock will be underway.
For the riders, Day 1 will present them with 107km of riding and 2185m of ascent and the Kappokkraal portage. Normally this should be a challenging but manageable day but the rain the past few days may have a say in this. The turf soil in this section has presented some challenges to RASA riders over the years when saturated with rain, we’ll know by tomorrow evening and no doubt the batches for the next few days will be paying attention.
The day starts with a steep climb out of Rhodes just to welcome riders to the race but cautious pacing will soon reward them with a super-fast downhill. From here the rolling hills and possibly some early morning mist trapped in the valley will accompany them all the way to the turn-off at the top of the granny gear Bottlenek climb and an opportunity to take off a layer of clothing. With the first 53kms in the bank and a good deal of climbing, the ride has just got real. 15km further on and after a white-knuckle descent into the valley below, the riders will reach the farm Chesneywold (68km), the first of the “interim” stops. These havens can become traps for those wishing to push on as the infamous farm hospitality is like no other and with food and a hot cuppa begging, it will take a strong will to break the shackles and get going again. The resident meerkat is a big fan of the race and may overshow its affection at times.
Leaving Chesneywold the road weaves along the valley of Rytjiesvlakte passing farms with names like Winterhoek, that remind one of what awaits the RASA and RTR riders in June. Shortly after a picturesque canyon, the road splits off onto the farm Kappokkraal for the first portage of the race. The steep climb up from the garage comes as a bit of a surprise but the once on top, the heading up to the nek is pretty obvious but the drop down the other side has claimed a few victims over the years and it is on such occasion where careful preparation will pay dividends. The Spitskop farmhouse at the bottom contains some historic murals painted by a travelling Italian artist many years before. The valley leads to the first support station at Slaapkrantz (107km).
It is here where some big decisions await those who want to push through to Moordenaarspoort. The tricky and difficult portages of Slaapkrantz, Loutebron and Bonthoek await and are best traversed in daylight. The racing snakes next week will get through with time to spare but most riders may well settle in at Slaapkrantz and celebrate the tough first day, enjoying some farm hospitality and recharging body and mind for the portages the next morning.
By Carl Scholtz