joBerg2c 2011 Day 3: Reitz to Sterkfontein Dam
Up! Up! Time to Get Up!
It is Day 3 and I am starting to get into the drumbeat of daily life in the race village. We wake up to a misty morning and, worrying about the prospect of rain, start our final preparation for the longest day in terms of distance on the route; a monstrous 127km that leads us away from the ‘flat’ farmlands of the Free State towards the escarpment and the green hills of KwaZulu-Natal.
The now familiar bright red Massey Fergusson tractor awaits us, today flanked by two smaller tractors that are driven by a couple of the local farmer’s sons. After the runaway tractor incident the day before, we are assured that the tractors are going to lead us in an orderly fashion through Reitz to the outskirts of the town and the end of the neutral zone.
Of Lions and Hills
At the top of our first climb is a farm on which lions are kept. The hill is appropriately name “Leeu Heuwel” (or Lions Hill in English), but unfortunately due to the miserable weather I don’t get to spot any of the lion. Legend has it that a lion escaped the property some years back, only to be recaptured 3 days later. I suspect that it is this legend that keeps the pace up as we pass through this area.
On the Trail on Day 3
The day comprises a ride over rolling hills that has us alternating between district road and single track that traverses open farmland. The day clears nicely and by mid-morning the African sun is beating down on us.
As the race progresses we start to notice the sandstone features that are such a prominent part of the Eastern Highlands of the Free State province. In the hazy distance we start to be able to make out the mountains that surround Harrismith, as well as parts of the Drakensberg, which lie off to our right. By the time we start nearing the dam (we know it is there, but are yet to catch sight of it) the day has become decidedly hot! We are taken up a long, shallow climb that would ordinarily see a fast pace, but this far into the race everyone is looking a little beaten and energy levels are low. Most set about a slow, steady rhythm to make sure that they reach the top with something left to get to the finish. The weathered sandstone landscape looms large all around us and, although bright, the day is very still. This is a good time to be alone with one’s thoughts in contemplation of the natural beauty of this area.
Damn! Its Big!
We finally catch a glimpse of Sterkfontein Dam, South Africa’s third largest dam. This boosts the legs and we find ourselves peddling with renewed vigour towards our destination. Unfortunately it is not all flat at the end of this day and there is one especially merciless hill that lies in wait just before we reach the dam wall. The hill presents us with a poor road surface and a tough gradient and we bite the handlebars as we sluggishly make our way to the top. This brings us to the dam wall, an impressive affair made up entirely of earth. The wall measures 93m in height and is around 3km long, and we have it on good authority that if all the soil in the wall was made into a wall 1m high and 500mm wide that wall would run right the way around the border of South Africa.
Overnight at Sterkfontein
The race village is located next to the holiday chalets. Our mechanic has set up shop with a majestic view of the dam, and although there is a cold wind coming off the surface we stick around for a time simply enjoying the splendour before us.
We are treated to a big spread of delicious looking home-baked cakes, and dinner is a rather delicious chicken potjie. We spend a cold night in our tent, and I am full of consideration for Day 4, our trek down the escarpment and another big distance day. Day 4 also marks a new chapter in my stage race experiences as I have previously only ever ridden, at most, three-day events. Despite all of this playing on my mind I sleep well.