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Race to Rhodes 2024


The corrugations send ripples through my aching muscles as I roll out of Rhodes. The roadside grass, adorned with predawn frost, sparkles like jewels in the glare of my lights. Ahead, I see two pools of light cast by riders inching their way up the switchbacks on their journey to Chesneywold. The first glimmer of daylight faintly outlines the mountains in the eastern sky. It's -3°C. Inside the Defender, the seat warmer eases the spasms in my back, and the cabin is a comfortable 22°C. My thoughts drift less to my drive home and more to the journey from Pietermaritzburg to Rhodes over the previous few days.

Commitments and complications on the home front made the prospect of hitting the trail for any of the winter '24 events a remote possibility. As the entry cutoff date drew close, I contacted the race office to ask if a late entry was possible if the opportunity arose. They said I could enter late, but it would mean no resupply tubs. Having done a couple of FC events without tubs, that wasn't an issue.

As June approached and the window of opportunity narrowed, I gave up on the idea of racing and lost the motivation to get on my bike. After the race started, like hundreds of others, I took up duty as a dot watcher, checking in regularly to see how the race was unfolding. Watching riders lay down tyre tracks over terrain I've spent the last 18 years familiarising myself with led to a rise of FOMO. Still, the steps required for me to clear my schedule hadn't coalesced.

Two days before the start of the last batch of the Race to Rhodes, I took steps to resolve a roadblock issue, which I managed to clear by lunchtime. That afternoon, I made two phone calls. The first to the race office to check if I could ride, and the second to arrange a lift with Pieter van der Westhuizen, who was leaving for the race the next morning.

Next, I got my bike up on the stand at work for an express service. Once home, I stayed up until midnight rummaging through my cupboards, tossing race kit into a bag. Riding shoes were a challenge since I had trashed a pair on The Karoo Meander the month before, leaving me with only a pair of lightweight MTB shoes suitable for riding around the Cradle. In the dark recess of my cupboard, I found a pair of well-used Shimano shoes from a previous Race Across South Africa. They showed signs of wear, but the soles were mostly intact, and they had usable laces and cleats. Into the bag they went.

Fortunately, Pieter had planned a late departure, which allowed me a quick trip to the shops to buy the last bits and pieces I needed.

At midday, we hit the road, heading for the Sleeping Bao in Pietermaritzburg.

Pietermaritzburg to Two Springs

Lining up outside the Pietermaritzburg City Hall I was aware of the spasm in my lower back. I had hurt my back a few weeks earlier and had thought it had recovered. On the drive down the previous day the discomfort had returned.


6am rolled around and we ambled out of town. We were a group of 8 Race to Rhodes riders and Tim James who, having finished his up ride the day before, was turning around and heading back down the trail. 


The bunch stuck together through Bizley and the sugarcane fields. Once on the Thornville tar road the lads got to business. It didn't take long for the others to get away. By the time we turned up into the plantations toward Minerva the only rider behind me was Tim on his single speed. 


The pain in my lower back on the 14km climb up to the cellphone tower was agonising. Cresting the mountain and making my way down the switchbacks I scanned the roads below hoping to see other riders making their way into Byrne. There were none to be seen. That put me at least 6km adrift of the next slowest RTR rider in are start batch. 


I didn't stop in at The Oaks in Byrne rather choosing to replenish my water supply at a village Jojo tank a few kilometres further on. 


The short steep climbs before the drop into the Umkomaas valley were felt in my lower back. On the last climb I looked back and saw Axel and Guy. It was nice to know that I wasn't the lonely sweeper. They had stopped in at The Oaks. Guy, like me, was struggling with lower back pain. He didn't look comfortable. At least my discomfort eased once the road levelled out.


The ride down to the Umkomaas river was without incident and the recent clearing of some of the dense riverine bush meant I was across the river with nary a scratch—a far cry from previous experiences where blood sacrifices were demanded and taken by the river gods. 


Once across the river the next task is to get up the Hela Hela Pass. It's 14km to the top rising 900m. While all of it can be ridden, there are a few sections that are best walked, particularly by race laden travellers. The dread of most riders is the onset of leg cramps. In 2 dozen trips up that pass I can count on one hand the number of times I haven't cramped. This time I had carried extra hydration and was determined to soft pedal as much as possible and walk a little more than usual. Once you start cramping you carry that forward for many hours afterwards which significantly impedes progress. Especially if you're intending on pushing through the first support station at Allendale. 


Alas, it was not to be a cramp free ride. First one leg and then the other siezed up having me off the bike and walking every hill. 


I limped into Allendale at 14h40 a full hour slower than I had hoped. The back spasms and generally lack of race fitness played a bigger role than the cramping as I usually cramp on the first day. The biggest surprise is that only Daniel and Carlo were ahead of me. They had already left. I knew Axel and Guy were behind me and I'd heard that Phillip had pulled up short at Byrne having not fully recovered from a recent bout of illness. Which left the question of, where were Pieter and Nic?"


Five minutes later Axel arrived sans Guy. Guy it seems, like me, had the double whammy of back spasms and legs cramps. Only his were much worse. He had already decided to hole up in Allendale overnight so had backed off to make a slower ride in. 


Checking the tracking site (which is permitted in support stations) we were surprised to see that Pieter and Nic well well back. They eventually arrived and looked far from showroom condition. Nic had started the day with a long sleeved riding shirt. Arriving at Allendale he had on what looked like a wife-beater shirt with frayed edges at the shoulders. The sleeves of his shirt were completely gone. In their place his arms looked like someone had thrown a dozen angry cats at him. The scratches and blood evidence of a battle well fought. His presence at Allendale an indication that he might have won the battle in spite of his tattered and bloodied appearance. 

Pieter popped through the door and it was apparent that he was the second member of the cat wrestling tag team. It seems that had messed up the navigation in the Umko valley and had dared to venture where no one should go. For 90 minutes they unnecessarily thrashed through unrelenting thorn bushes. 


While Pieter and Nic licked their wounds I headed out with Centocow as my next objective. Axel followed soon afterwards and we joined up near Donnybrook and rode together to Centocow getting in shortly before 19h00. As expected Daniel and Carlo had already passed through. Axel had originally intended to stop at Centocow but feeling relatively fresh decided to move on to Ntsikeni with me. As we were readying ourselves to leave the cat wrestlers arrived. They too said they would be departing for Ntsikeni after a meal. 


Axel and I rode out of Centocow and over the mountain to the  Ngwangwane river. Crossing the river we saw lights in the forest. It was Carlo. Carlo had punctured earlier and had spent a frustrating hour wrestling with his tyre before being able to patch it sufficiently to keep moving. The three of us moved on together,  eventually arriving at the lodge in Ntsikeni at 01h30. 


I had messaged to race office earlier to let them know that I'd push on to Two Springs if I managed to get to Ntsikeni by 11pm. My travel time to Ntsikeni had slipped by a large margin but my resolve was intact. Even so, it took me almost an hour to get out the door. I saw the lights of the cat wrestlers approaching over the wetland so, just for fun I doused my bike lights and rode down the jeep track away from the lodge under the light of the full moon. It was 02h25. 


The navigation went off without a hitch and I rolled into Two Spring at 06h10 - the perfect time for breakfast. 

Two Springs to Masakala


The ride from Pietermaritzburg to Two Springs had taken me more than two hours longer than I had hoped—it had taken me just over 24 hours. That's what happens when you haven't trained for an event and you come into it with a hard head and a marshmallow body. 230 km with 6700 metres of vertical ascent is hard enough when you're in race shape. Dragging my floppy body over that distance was hard work. 


Adding to my problems was the old pair of shoes I'd dragged out from the dark recesses of my cupboard. They were a pair of used a few RASA's ago. By the time I'd got to Allendale I knew why they had been put into retirement. The cleat plates were digging into my feet through paper thin inner soles. Removing the inner soles I added a dozen layers of duct tape in an attempt to give them more padding and ease the discomfort I had in my feet. By the time I got to Centocow I knew the damage had already been done—my feet were already bruised. The duct tape helped, but my feet ached. 


The food on offer at Two Springs was more than adequate and I filled my belly. I also decided it would be a good place to charge my phone while I had a quick nap. I set an alarm for 45 minutes and lay on the carpet next to the phone as I was worried that I might not hear the alarm if I was further away. I woke up with 25 minutes remaining on the countdown timer. The 20 minute nap was sufficient to get me through to Masakala.


Race tip: I have long since stopped using time of day as an alarm setting as it's too easy to get the time wrong when you have a foggy head and numb fingers. I use a countdown timer, typically 90 mins which I preset. It takes a lot less cerebral horsepower to figure out. In this case I had set the countdown to 45 mins. 


Normally I am very efficient at getting through support stations. Typically I'd only be in a support station for 15-20 minutes. In this race I was anything but efficient. I'd spent 40 minutes at Allendale and lingered for 45 minutes each at Centocow and Ntsikeni. Two Springs obviously agreed with me because even though I only had a 20 minute nap I was there for 2 hours. 


I rolled out of Two Springs and had an enjoyable ride down to the Mzimvimvubu river where the route crosses into the Eastern Cape. After crossing the river I spent 20 minutes stomping up the climb that takes you into the the first villages of the area formerly known as the Transkei. Weaving through the various villages I turned off at the Lameka Primary School and headed into the wattle forests and along a route that would have me crossing the Little Mzimvubu river and heading to an area called Snakefield.  Once at Snakefield there is a short stretch of district road before heading back onto single track to skirt around  the village of Shenxa. What follows is 11km of hard riding that's tempered by the amazing untamed countryside. 


The temperature had risen into the mid twenties and I found the going challenging. The 11km took me a pedestrian 1 hour 20 mins to cover. The next 14 relatively easy kilometres took me just as long as I was starting to nod off and my feet ached whether I was walking or cycling. I looked forward to getting to Masakala just so I could get off my feet. Just after 3pm, inside Masakala the first order of business wasn't food but rather to get my shoes off and find a bed. 


Rather than charge off to the next support station I decided that I'd wait for my riding buddies to arrive and then I'd take my next action cue from them. As they were many hours back I set my alarm for 90 minutes and closed my eyes.

Masakala to Vuvu

By the time the others arrived at Masakala the weather had changed. The wind had switched and strengthened and was blowing off the snow covered mountains of Lesotho. As the sun went down it became miserably cold. 


I checked in with the others and to my relief they had no intention of riding on. We showered, had dinner and settled in to bed knowing that Tim would be along in the wee hours and in all likelihood he would be gone before we got up. 


Sure enough, Tim rolled in at 00h45 and headed out again at 03h50. Even though he was as quiet as a mouse the main Rondawel accommodation at Masakala is such that even a mouse on tiptoes can be heard.


The remnant of our start batch were up and out the door at 05h00 and before long we were making our way through thick fog. Daniel, Axel and Nic pushed ahead and before long their taillights were swallowed by the mist. 


Carlo, Pieter and I got to the turnoff that takes you off the main Queens Mercy gravel road and did well for the first 2 km. Passing the school we knew we had to take the next left turn. The road was in such poor condition that cars had made a track on the left bank of the road. Riding on that track in the fog we didn't realise that we had already taken the first left turn. Carlo concerned that we had overshot the the turn said we choice go back and take the small road we had just passed. We wove around for the next 15 minutes eventually getting to a point where the road ended at a donga. The resolution of the map, such that we could see no such feature on the map, we resorted to using a compass which worked out perfectly.  Back on track, in spite of the road being smooth and potentially fast, we pedalled slowly so as not to chill ourselves to the bone. Arriving at the floodplain proper we stopped to put on warmer gloves. My hands were so cold that I couldn't release the buckle of my backpack. Fortunately Carlo still had useful fingers. 


Crossing the floodplain toward the village of Malota we kept checking our compass bearing choosing paths that took us in the right direction. I sensed we were close when the gradient eased and a short while later we spotted the posts of a football field that is adjacent the village. 


Threading through the centre of Malota we followed the path down the other side, using the graveyard as confirmation that we were on the right track. Skirting the graveyard we dropped to the expected donga and crossed over. The fog persisted as we set off to Springkana. Rounding the village we dropped down the other side. There are 2 dongas to cross. After the second one you need to go 100-200m where the path splits. The recommended route of to keep left. Crossing the second donga there was a feint path that looked disused so I kept right. Before long we saw a house emerge through the fog. It was obvious that we had missed the left turn. I've ridden that way once before so was worried. We probably wasted 5 mins through inefficient routing through the village. But, given the challenge of riding in fog we did okay.


Queens Mercy came up without any difficulty and before long we were in the outskirts of Mpharane. The Spaza shop called Mpharane Supermarket was open for business so we popped in. The shop was well stocked and neatly packed. A young man, of subcontinent descent, at the counter was boiling a kettle. We jokingly asked if there was coffee. After telling us he didn't sell coffee he offered to make us some. We declined his kind offer. The interesting fact we took away from there is that he sells a page from a telephone directory for R1. The locals use the paper to roll their own cigarettes. The shopkeeper showed us that he was down to his last 100 pages and then told us the new telephone directories were now of a much smaller format. Once his current stash was sold he'd have to resort to the less agreeable size. 


Leaving the "Supermarket" we rolled down the road to the point where we would start making our way up on to the Mpharane ridge. As we approached the community hall at the base of the mountain a break in the clouds showed the huts above bathed in sunshine. We knew that the huts were a little over half the elevation we needed to gain to get on the ridge and from our perspective they looked very high.


Looping around the community hall we portaged up onto the next spur. In the 10 minutes it took us to do that the fog had completely dispersed. With the fog gone we stopped to shed a few layers of clothing and then had a good trundle across the top of the mountain before dropping down to Gladstone farm. I imagine the Gladstone farmhouse, consisting of a farm house and sandstone barn, were impressive in their prime. It's fair to say it's been a long time since they looked gorgeous. We made our way around the farmhouse and onto the next jeep track that heads up the ridge that overlooks the police station on one side and the Mariazell Mission Station on the other.  


As we rode up the ridge we saw the silhouettes of 2 riders at the top. Given that Daniel is a Lone Ranger we assumed it was Axel and Nic. Sure enough it was. Nic had some tyre issues that needed attention and Axel had a wheel washout on the drag paths on the Mpharane ridge. He had taken a hard fall resulting in a shoulder injury which he had strapped up. 


It was our intention to get to Tinana that evening so we had a quick turnaround at Malekgalonyane. Daniel, Axel and Nic headed out first with myself, Carlo and Pieter following 10 minutes later. Tim had been through earlier leaving just before we arrived so he was at least 35 minutes ahead of us. 


Rolling down the cattle paths above the grassy field we'd have to cross I scanned to see if I could spot the other 3. To my surprise they were nowhere to be seen. I had a good idea of how long it would take to cover ground and knew that couldn't already be off the grassy section. The beginning of the grassy section starts where you cross a river. Once across the river I commented to the others that I could t see the other 3. It didn't take long before I heard, "There they are. Behind us." It was a reminder that even the smallest of navigational errors can waste time and effort. 


As we got to the start of the cattle path that crosses the chasm between Thaba Chitja and Koebung we saw Tim at the bottom of the valley having just crossed the river and making his way up to Koebung. We pressed ahead with a little more urgency catching up with Tim just after the water tanks above the village. 


Our group split up heading toward the settlement of Blackfountain. The settlement consists of half a dozen dwellings where the population swells in summers and shrinks in the winter months when the livestock are moved off the mountains. In winter I'd be surprised if there were as many as 10 people there.  The tap was functional and we topped up our water bottles and headed off. At this stage our gang was myself, Tim, Pieter and Axel. 


We made short work of the ride across from Blackfountain to Tinana arriving at the Kibi's house at 16h50. In the next few minutes the 4 of us agreed that it was still early and we'd push on to Vuvu school only 30 km and one challenging Vuvu valley away. While we were eating the other 3 arrived and told us they'd be staying at Tinana for the night. Tinana is a great place to spend a night but the challenge of navigation through the Vuvu valley by night with its 5 river crossings and interesting portages was too much to resist. 


Half an hour after arriving in Tinana and darkness set we headed out for Vuvu. It'd be nice to write about how exhilarating it was but alas it was smooth sailing. At times when the path became indistinct we'd fan out until one of our number found it and be on our way without disruption. 


4 hours after leaving Tinana we were at the school. We had food followed by a bucket wash—always a special experience—and settled for the night.   

Eight short kilometers

Vuvu to the start of Lehana's Pass is only 8 km but it is packed with wow moments as well as moments that give you pause to reflect on your own privilege. Those moments start as you leave the school in predawn darkness. It's as remote a region as you'll find in South Africa tucked up against the mountain barriers that define the Lesotho border. 

As you pedal along from the school to the start of Lehana's Pass you're likely to pass shadowy figures dressed against the cold waiting patiently next to the road for their transport to arrive. A raised hand or a gentle yebo of acknowledgement as you pass. You'll see the headlights of School buses scything through the many switchbacks as they start the task of getting scholars to school. 

Pinpricks of light and the lazy swirl of smoke from houses informs you the sleepy mantle of night has been shed. You might even see a gogo carefully dip a cup into a shallow depression she has dug into a roadside cutting where water has seeped in overnight. She will patiently scoop water into a 20 litre bucket before covering the hole with a rusty sheet of corrugated iron to protect it from contamination before hauling her bucket of water to her dwelling on the mountainside above the road.

Banter is shared between children as they get ready for school, their voices carried many hundreds of metres across the valley as they call out to each other from their houses. As it gets lighter you'll see scholars dressed in an array of school uniforms make their way down to the road. Some to wait for a bus and others make their way to school on foot. 

Next to the road the occasional sullen donkey waits patiently for the sun to rise. The sound of distant cow bells echo across the craggy mountains. As you round a corner, to the west you'll catch sight of the snow peaked mountains of Lesotho. The glimmer of which signals the sun is edging above the horizon to the east. 

Speeding down sweeping descents your bike tyres splash through low level river crossings before crawling up the steep inclines that follow—the crunch of gravel and the pop of stones bounce off the steep sides of the cuttings where the road has been hewed through the mountains. Roads that connect these small villages to the larger world. Roads that bring food and supplies from far away. The same roads that carry people far from home in search of work and income. These same roads that bring them home occasionally where they share stories of life elsewhere. 

The 8 km out of a Vuvu are a time to reflect on the last few days. The pace of life is probably slower than you're used to but don't be fooled by the slower metronomic tick of life. Those valleys with their scattering of villages pulse with the warmth of life. Apart from the willingness and warmth of the support stations along the way, many a wayward rider has knocked on a strangers door and been welcomed inside. 

Leaving the Vuvu to Mount Fletcher gravel road at the hairpin bend that marks the start of the Lehana's Pass portage you start the transition into a different part of the country. A part so different from what you've experienced over the last 400 km that it's akin to passing through a wormhole. You'll leave behind the myriad villages, the countless greetings offered as you ride by and are shouted from fields, the constant stream of vehicles rattling down tired roads, spaza shops and dogs that attentively follow their horse mounted masters. You'll catch your last glimpse of people draped in colourful Basotho blankets. You'll say goodbye to a region of the trail so far removed from your day to day that it'll leave an indelible mark on your soul.

Lehanas Pass

Lehana's Pass is a fancy name for a footpath between South Africa and Lesotho. I'm told that it was a regular route for people of nefarious intent to ply their dubious wares between Lesotho and Mount Fletcher. Today it's little more than a ragtag collection of sheep tracks that run 7 km from the last villages snuggled up against the Drakensberg mountains climbing nearly 900 metres to the south east corner of Lesotho. At the top of the climb there is a blue container perched above the cliffs. This container is the focus of riders attention as they make their way up the mountain. I say riders, but walkers is a more apt description. A bicycle is superfluous and is in fact a hinderance. 

The container is, or was until recently as I have seen no signs of life over the last decade, used by the stock theft unit of the police to monitor livestock on the slopes below. Being adjacent the Lesotho border stock theft is a constant challenge. I'm told there are a couple of similar containers dotted along the border to the north. Years ago I stopped and spoke to the officers on duty. They would serve time at the container which had a fireplace for cooking and heating as well as somewhere to sleep when they weren't on duty scanning the slopes. As I said, it's been many years since I last saw smoke emanating from the chimney of that container. As it's fallen into disuse so has the access road that comes in from Naudes Nek to the south west. 

The race brief is to make your way over the mountains to get to Naudes Neck. Going up Lehana's Pass is one option, the other is to take a route that lays further east. It is the Mcambalala route. It's a lot further but said to be less taxing. It also serves as an alternate route if Lehana's is snowed over. That said, going over the mountain on the  Lehana's Pass route is iconic. 

There are a number of route options and permutations of route options which makes for good dot watching. The two most common routes to get on to the mountain is to take the "standard route" which is the route shown on the tracking site or the "Pyga Line" which is a more direct but physically demanding route.  The latter term was coined after Oliver Burnett, one of the owners of the Pyga bike brand, skipped the standard route first spur and went up the second spur which is now referred to as the Pyga line. Whether this was deliberate or as a result of poor navigation has never been revealed. In any event, it caught the eye of the race fraternity and subsequently has become the route of choice for many riders. 

The standard route and Pyga line come together just before a feature called the first kraal. This kraal, like the others you encounter further up the mountain, are a combination of a small walled in area for overnighting livestock, which are primarily sheep, and a small low roofed structure that the shepherds use for sleeping. The shepherds spend many days on the mountain. The structures they build are drab affairs but if you have a good look you'll notice that they are built entirely of rocks that have been rounded up. The roof of these structures is made from galvanised sheeting. 

The first time I went over the mountain there were two cairns, the larger of which was a perfect spot for a photograph overlooking the Lesotho mountains in the near distance. The last picture I had taken at that cairn was in 2009 when we hauled a tandem over that mountain.  Soon after that the rocks that formed the cairns were repurposed into kraals to house livestock and shepherds. What's remarkable about these structures is the size of the rocks that have been placed on top of each other. Some of them are massive—not Pyramid big or Stonehenge big. But big enough that it would take a least a few people to manhandle the rocks into place. The rocks are tight packed so as to keep out the wind which often reaches gale force up on the mountain. The roof sheets are often tied down with thick fencing wire. They are attached to rocks or the occasional steel fence post that has been driven into the ground. 

Once passed the last of the kraals there are options for getting to the cliff top. Once again there is the standard route or a more aggressive line knows as the Tiger Line. The Tiger Line is shorter and potentially faster but it exacts a heavy toll on your energy reserves. 

Once over the top the two routes merge. A few kilometres later the magnificent Tena Head Mountain Lodge comes into view. Race Snakes typically ride on without stopping while the more sensibly minded avail themselves of the food and coffee on offer. There's nothing quite like sitting on the wooden deck overlooking the Bell river and tipping the first cup of real coffee that'd you've had for the last 4 or 5 days down your throat. 

Trundling along the Pyga Line 

After a good nights sleep Pieter, Daniel and I headed out from Vuvu School and made our way to the last hairpin bend that marks the beginning of the Lehana's Pass portage. It was still dark when we left the school but 35 minutes later when we got to the hairpin our riding lights were extinguished. As we made our way along the rocky track that ran along the Tina river we could see the blue container on the ridge 7km ahead and 900 metres above our current elevation. We opted for the Pyga Line route which, apart from Pieter taking a tumble during one of the few sections we were able to ride, we covered the ground in reasonable time. What is considered reasonable time? It took us 90 mins to cover 3 km. That gives you a sense of how tough that particular portage is. 

Next we took the Tiger Line as we didn't fancy going around under the container and having to plod through the snow covered rocks on the southern path. The final steep plod up the  mountain and scramble up the final cliff took us 45 mins even though it was just over 1 km. It had taken us 3 hours 20 mins to cover the 5.4 km from the road to the top of the mountain next to the blue container. The standard route is 7 km but by combining the Pyga Line and the Tiger Line it’s a bit shorter. Harder but shorter. 

Exhausted but happy to have the Lehana portage behind us we took a few minutes to look back and enjoy the view of the route we had just taken. Next goal was to cover the relatively easy 5 km to get to the Tenahead Lodge. In the way there we were already discussing what we were going to order. Coffee, the first real coffee since leaving Pietermaritzburg a few days earlier, was on the top of our list. 

Tenahead Lodge. Always a welcome sight

Arriving at the Lodge we were warmly welcomed. Aware that we were scruffy and not exactly 5 star establishment fragrant we sat out on the wooden deck overlooking the Bell river where we ordered coffee and toasted sandwiches. The coffee arrived in short order. 

While savouring our coffee we saw race leader Alex Harris pedal past. I for one was not envious of the fact that Alex was less than a quarter of the way through his race. We, on the other hand, had only 35 kilometres to our finish in Rhodes - most of that was downhill. And, while this was a race, race spirit had been ripped out of us 2 days before. I was looking forward to a leisurely ride into Rhodes. 

While waiting for our sandwiches we were ushered into the lodge where a table had been set for us where we were given a complimentary bowl of leek and onion soup. Our toasted sandwiches with chips followed soon after. We looked like street urchins but were treated like royalty. 

In a few short hours we had been transported from the thriving activity of countless villages to a serene postcard setting in the mountains with a population density as close to zero per square kilometre as you can get. In our ride to Rhodes we saw only one vehicle. I stopped to chat to the couple who had stopped to change a flat tyre. 

Daniel had family waiting for him in Rhodes so he scampered off like a dog chasing a postman, while Pieter and I savoured the last couple of hours soft-pedalling into town. 

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