Above, the overarching cloudless canopy of blue was partly obscured by the foliage of the syringa tree that grew next to where I lay. The leaves quivered when stirred by the occasional breeze that did little to stifle the oppressive heat. I was grateful for the dappled shade of the tree as I was for the hard wooden slats of the picnic table bench on which I lay.
Apart from a dog that snuffled at a nearby garden where I had moments before emptied the contents of my stomach there was the soothing tinkle of numerous wind chimes as the breeze rose and fell in momentary breaths.
I heard the occasional BMW motorcycle cruise by on the gravel road just behind me. I was struck at how effortless their engines sounded as they rolled by and started up the climb I was yet to face.
My ride through the Baviaanskloof Reserve that morning had started off okay. I had managed the initial climb from Cambria to top out at Bergplaas in good time. The climbs before and after the Smitskraal picnic spot were equally dealt with.
For the last two days I had been dealing with a tummy bug which had made sufficient intake of hydration and food difficult. Fifteen kilometres shy of exiting the reserve, headwinds, rising temperature and a road surface that had steadily deteriorated took their toll. The last of my reserves dwindled. I was still in the park and had the Buffalo Herders following close behind. Feeling responsible for ensuring the Herders completed their task in reasonable time I suppressed the urge to stop, gritted my teeth and pressed on to the exit gate.
Once at the gate I milled around aimlessly for half an hour after the Herders had left on their return leg to Kudukaya. I was in no hurry to get back on my bike. All the same I was acutely aware that the kilometres weren’t going to tick themselves off while I lingered. I fell into conversation with one of the reserve employees.
“Why do you do this?” he asked. I shrugged in reply. It was a good question and one I had often asked myself many times over the years.
I eventually mounted my bike and without any enthusiasm pedalled on to Damsedrif where I poked some food down my throat and drank my fill before falling asleep on a couch situated on the patio.
Waking a short while later I consulted my notes. Any hope that the distance from Damsedrif to Willowmore had miraculously shortened while I had napped was dashed… obviously. The way I was feeling those eighty five kilometres may well have been one thousand. Both seemed impossible.
Two hours after making my way down the driveway to the farmhouse I made the return trip back to the district road. I didn’t feel any better for my stop but was buoyed by the knowledge that sunset and the commensurate cooling off of the days heat was at the very least a few hours closer. Darkness I reasoned would ease my passage to The Willows Hotel in Willowmore. I simply needed to survive the next few hours under the unrelenting sun.
Kilometre by sluggish kilometre I ticked off the distance toward a feature known as the Baviaanskloof Sleutel which would mark the beginning of the exit from the Baviaanskloof. There would still be a smidgen over forty kilometres to get to Willowmore but the majority of that, once over the Nuwekloof Pass, would be downhill.
Ten kilometres shy of the Sleutel, Vero’s Rest and Craft Shop hove into view. I’d ridden passed it many times thinking it to be merely a craft shop that sold nothing of consequence to a weight conscious bicycle traveller. However, I recalled seeing photographs of riders in the winter version of the race enjoying lunch there.
I pulled up at the informal looking roadside attraction just off the road I saw there was indeed a table and chairs, a picnic bench and a few chairs scattered about. I even noticed a menu on the table. Hope thus buoyed I parked my bike anticipating something cold to drink as well as a refreshing cup of tea. Apart from a languid dog that lazed in the shade of the syringa tree there were no signs of life. Poking my head inside a building that I imagine served as both home and kitchen I startled someone who was quick to come to my assistance. Coke wasn’t an option but Iron Brew and tea were certainly on offer. Order placed I retreated to the wooden picnic table.
In short time a glass of Iron Brew and a tray of tea accoutrements where delivered to the table. The cool drink was gulped down in an attempt to slake my growing thirst. A little too quickly I imagine. Within a minute I felt the rising unease that announces you are about to void your stomach contents. I managed to move a few metres away from the table before spewing my guts out. Looking at the resultant splatter in the garden and over my riding shoes it was no wonder that I was feeling weak. It seems my lunch and everything I had drunk that afternoon had hung around in my stomach.
I returned to the picnic table and lay on the bench waiting for the stomach spasms to recede. The person who had served me, and observed me fertilising the garden, was at my side in a flash.
For a second I thought they might have been concerned for my well being. Apparently not. It seems they simply wanted to be sure of receiving payment before I keeled over.
For the next while I simply lay there staring up at the sky in the company of the languid snuffling dog, the tinkle of wind chimes and the occasional purr of passing BMW’s.