10 June - More Beginnings and an ending

Let's begin with the end. The first batch of riders made it safely into Rhodes after scaling one of the steeper sides of Lehana Pass on their way to the legendary blue container. Seven riders - Ernst, PJ, Trevor, Nigel, Chris, John and Russell are firmly ensconced in the bar no doubt enjoying the beer and surreal sense of completing an enormous challenge of mind and body.

Elsewhere on the trail there have been some meanderings in the forest, some interesting detours and there are going to be some riders out in the cold until late. Rory nailed the descent off Black Fountain while his compatriots took slightly longer routes but all (Rory, Carl, Murray, Frans, Dan, Walter and Russell) have navigated the mysterious Vuvu valley and got to eat chicken, samp, spinach and drink milky tea before a good nights sleep under thick blankets in the quiet of someone's home.

The shorter day from Masakala to Malekonyane can be tricky navigation with the vast plains of Queens Mercy and the Mpharane Ridge lying in wait for a slight loss in concentration. Despite a few deviations, Leon has led his crew (Gary, Alex, Andrew) to the spectacular setting of the chalets where they will rest up ready for the big day to Vuvu. They took advantage of their early arrival and went out again to ride a piece of tomorrow’s route - the loop around the back of Maria Zell Mission. After completing the loop, they made their way back to the chalet via the dirt road - this allows them to start early in the dark and use the same dirt road to rejoin the route where they left it - a clever (and legal) move which helps with the long day to Vuvu that lies ahead. Joining them there are Shaun, Sergio and Fabio who came through from Masakala today.

Behind them at the quaint lodge of Masakala are Johann, John and Mike, who had overnighted at the emergency stop, Glen Edward, after a torrid time leaving Ntsikeni. They are are now a day behind but the trail is long with many days ahead to catch up. Also sharing the spot are Paul, Ian and Allen and Mike. By this support station,riders are beginning to get into the flow of the days, the curious nature of the narrative and the all important maps and compass (at least I hope they have a compass!). Late arrivals at Masakala were Rob, Tessa, Merak, Neil and Francois - they had a long day out and arrived well after dark.

When one leaves Allendale for Ntsikeni, one is prepped for the long climbs which turn into long pushes. But the biggest hurdle for many are the forests of Donnybrook and the forests leading to Centacow. Oh dear, there were tracks aplenty in the forest which takes up considerable time and puts pressure on the riders with the nervewracking prospect of riding in the dark into the reserve. Steve Johnston has opted to stay at Centacow for the night after toing and froing with indecision. Pierre who has already entered the legends of the race with his sleep out in the Umko valley is pushing on with Steve Kellerman who explored many forestry roads on his way to lunch. How far will they get? It may be another night out for the two of them. They are over Bosholweni and still moving but considering the late hour, they may opt to sleep in a hut just before the big climbs up to Ntsikeni.

John, Gert, Anton, Tony and Belgium rider Maarten are all at Ntsikeni Lodge which is one of the most comfortable stays on the ride. Tracey and John who lost some time at Centocow but eventually arrived at Ntsikeni at 20h30.

Arno and Eddie pushed hard today and have made the first real break - they arrived at Centocow at 21h20 after “making one circles in the forests…” Can they now capitalise on their efforts by getting through to Masakala tomorrow?

Behind them, settling in at Allendale are Ant, Stu, DaveG, DaveT, Lee, Gary and Jacques. Most had a good day, arriving in the late afternoon/early evening. By now there should be dozens of bike tracks to follow out of the farm in the morning but which one to choose?

The fascinating tales of the trail continue.

Tonight’s report by blanket wearers Mike Woolnough and Fiona Coward.