Day 4 – April 27, 2015 – Escarpment day
Start: Sterkfontein Dam
Finish: Winterton Country Club
Official distance: 121 k
Descent: 2046 m
Ascent: 1732 m
Terrain: Single + double track, steep climbs and descents
Kits: Mikes Bikes California Kits
Today we left the Free State and dropped into KwaZulu-Natal. The entire day was beautiful and made me very happy to not have given up the prior day. The climb was tough but my legs actually felt as if they had finally recovered from the mud bog sprint on day 1. The climb up to the escarpment very much felt like the morning climb up Monitor Pass on the Death Ride. It was a long line of bicycles ascending a winding mountain trail as the sun rose over the mountains. Quite a site to see and the energy of the riders was elevated with the anticipation of the views at the top.
Odd as this may sound, it was actually really nice to have the pressure to perform taken off the table. It made the ride much more enjoyable and it allowed us to meet the riders around us, hear their stories and motivations for taking on this ride, share our rhino awareness fundraising efforts, commiserate over our aches and pains and saddle sores, etc. It also allowed us to stop and enjoy the spectacular views.
The single-track ride along the “Great Wall My China” escarpment was truly breathtaking and worth every moment of painful riding on Days 1 through 3 to reach it. Solley’s Follies is the descent off the Wall. This descent proved that I made the correct bicycle choice when I opted for the Rumor Evo over the Era. I was quite thankful for the additional 20mm of travel in my front fork. Solley’s was likely the most technical part of the ride so it really did test both the bike and my bike handling skills. My legs took the vast majority of the responsibility for getting me down safely as I was unable to place much weight on my upper body.
I think they claim that after Solley’s Follies you have a section of 20k of downhill riding but as I recall there was a whole lot of short steep climbs mixed in and lots of loose rock as well – but I guess in the scheme of the climbing we did, they were short little bursts. A bit of district road was thrown before a 6k section of fun single track and the final climb up Puff Adder. What a day! The photos don’t even begin to show just how beautiful this day was or the fun had on the descents. Mountian Biking dream.
Addition: I just watched the highlight reel – I totally forgot about that last river crossing… oops. I almost made it across. With about a meter to go I took a quick dip when my front tire hit a big ole rock that was submerged. I needed rinsing off. Post swim, we were actually riding pretty strong and after 2 embarrassing finish times, it looked as if we were going to move up a few spots until Charlie took a detour into the corn field and then we decided to make our own route by circumnavigating the corn field rather than short-cutting through the middle – oh well.
Stunning! Climbing the escarpment, riding escarpment, Solley’s Folley
One of the water stops had ICE CREAM! Real ice cream – what was I thinking when I said little?
And we made the highlight reel – 2:12 in.
The initial single track uphill was so beautiful that I actually had no idea it was 25k. With the race pressure off we stopped at the top of the escarpment and took photos of ourselves and other riders at Great Wall My China before heading down the legendary (for good reason) Sollie’s Folly. My downhill skills have improved noticeably in the last 4 days, likely because I’m too tired & sore to overuse the brakes & I’m feeling more confident. Lots more single track and an incredibly fun flow track ‘Long Drop’ after I was finally able to shove my way past one of the hyper-competitive, non-technical ‘district road warriors’ that refused to pull over for a long chain of stuck riders. I waited at the bottom with a huge grin while I waited for Karrie as she was forced to come to a near stop behind the warrior at every corner.
Yet another water crossing ~ the last 3k mark with lots of locals yelling “You can make it” encouragingly and howling with laughter as pretty much everyone eats it into the knee deep stream.
We battle past 3 pairs of our rivals right after the stream and they all manage to forget to alert us as we go off course just a few meters ahead of them with 2k to the finish, setting us off on an extra 1k loop. A quick crash for me into a cornfield where I am stuck sitting upright still clipped into the pedals and then we chase them to the finish. They appear to like me better when they beat me so it’s all good and we actually move up 6 notches.
Day 4 lesson
Silicon grips. My stock grips are fine for normal riding but all the experienced stage racers of my level are using cushier type silicon grips for good reason.