Everyone is terrified of Day Five - Malekonyane to Vuvu. The final valley stretch has caught out many a rider and there are a zillion tales about lost riders and late arrivals to the little school on top of the mountain.
We were fairly confident in getting through and the challenge as per all the other days, was to get there in the light. Once again, the entire group was going to leave together and push on as one. A big group is very unwieldy and slow so the pressure was to keep moving at a reasonable pace.
That afternoon, Paul (rasa) and I went to recce the exit from the Lodge and thought we could navigate our way in the pitch dark at 5:30 the next morning. I had slept poorly and felt like a walking/riding zombie the next day but we hit the road on time and the posse headed off to the dongas ready to begin the slog to Vuvu.
We didn't quite get it right - too many navigators pulling in too many directions. Eventally Gadget Andries, Paul and I put our heads down and pushed steadily in the direction we believed to be correct. Soon there were lights scattered all over the hillside. At a particularly boggy section, we saw Alex Harris's tracks and knew we were correct. As I squelched through the mud, I regretted (and not for the first time) not having my seal skin socks on.
The was a small stream crossing between us and the road and I took a chance and rode it only to stop dead in the mud, wheel buried and my one foot properly stuck. Urgh - cold, wet and muddy. The sun was just coming up and the temperatures dropped significantly. My toes had disappeared and my bike parts froze. The jockey wheel refused to turn and the gear cables stuck. I wrung out my socks hoping it would help but by the time I had laced up my shoes again, the laces had frozen!
No matter, it was a push up Ongeluksnek anyway and a chance for things to defrost and to get the blood circulating. The small problem was the downhill on the other side. Bitter. As we turned off the road, the sun finally hit the fields in front of us and I had to push my bike towards it, not wanting to force any of the frozen bits.
Andries scratched around in his backpack and next minute, he's got a paper taper and match and he has lit a fire under my jockey wheel. it never stopped working after that. No one else would have thought of that.
Before long, we were enjoying some of the best natural single track ever. As Pawel said of one the well known multi day races "That is just a creche."
Then we lost him. He disappeared somewhere behind us and re-appeared somewhere in front of us! By now the large group was split into two making it much more manageable and Pawel was somewhere inbetween.
We searched for him all over and eventually cell phone technology came to the rescue and we were all reunited again. However, the time spent looking for him put us under pressure to get to the Vuvu valley. And I, in my rush made an amateurish blunder in the navigation and brought us all down several valleys too early. This mean't clambering down cliff faces, pushing through thick wattle and aiming for what I thought was the road. NOT!
We were in hysterics when we got to the bottom and looked back at the huge cliff we had descended and to their credit, the boys were very upbeat about the "adventure" I had taken them on. The road was actually a wattle drag track and when I finally studied the map properly, we were almost off the paper! Fortunately, I had used the same track in 2008 with Doug and Stu Brew and knew we would come out at a good spot. Wattle drag tracks are also incredible riding and we bolted along until we could see the bell at Tinana Mission where the bakkie was waiting for us with hot noodles and coke.
The other group had left about 15 minutes before us so despite the pioneering route we took, we were not that far behind.
We rode hard to the turnoff to the Vuvu valley taking in another spectacular wattle drag descent, and there Dave and Dawn loaded us up with fruit cake. Pawel elected to ride around on the road and Derek, Andries and I set off in our race against the sun.
Memory, maps and narrative are an excellent combination for finding one's way. I relied too much on memory and we did a 10 minute detour before getting back on track. As we entered the valley, Derek spotted the other group heading up the wrong river valley! Too far for us to call them back.
Nothing for it but to grind our way through. And we did. There was quite a bit of pushing and shoving of the bikes as I strove to remember the quick route of 2009. I needed to calm down and think but I was just too tired.
Eventually we got it together and it was really quick to the point where we started to ascend from the depths of the river bed. By now I had regained my equilibrium and we reached the newly graded road halfway out the valley as it got dark. Well satisfied with our effort, we sat down, added clothing and ate all of the fruitcake.
We were out the valley in three hours which was a bonus. Luckily the other group realised their mistake and came in an hour after us.
We were assigned an awesome home to sleep in and I was more than happy to pile in under the heavy blankets knowing that there was only one more day left.