Luckily we were able to drop unwanted layers at the Subaru strip zone at the first water point, so there was no pressure to wear only the bare minimum. The first 5 kilometres were a neutral zone through the town of Frankfort and out via the golf course. This provided an opportunity for the field to spread out comfortably, and ease some of the congestion that comes with the large single batch start.
After exiting Frankfort, we followed the Wilge river on jeep track, before heading out into the heart of the Free State farmlands. We hit the first proper section of single track, a fun, flowy descent referred to as “Hou Duim Vas”. The fizz from this carried me to the first water point hosted by the Skewerkop Boere Vereeniging/Farmers Association, where we were once again greeted with incredible hospitality by the local farmers. It never ceases to amaze me how the volunteers at the water points can’t seem to do enough to help the riders. They fill your bottles, offer to fetch food, and generally offer you all the support you could hope for.
My ride from water point 1 to water point 2 was a solo jeep track slog, through rolling wheat and mielie fields. I struggle to hold onto bunches, and find the effort involved in the inevitable surges too costly, especially when faced with another seven days of racing. So I pedalled along at my own pace, enjoying the scenery.
The most impressive thing about the Free State scenery for me is the sheer vastness of the sky- without looming mountains, the horizon is open in every direction. This openness, and the sense of freedom it brings served as a constant reminder of how lucky I am to be on my bike pedalling through these farmlands on a perfect Autumn morning. It is a bucket list experience.
After water point 2, we hit another awesome rolling single track section, which raised my spirits, and kept me going until the Boerbull descent with Reitz visible in the distance. This was a cheeky, rocky, flowing trail, and a welcome opportunity to stop pedalling and relax for a bit.
On the climb to Hoërskool Reitz, our destination for the night, we passed the Husky Romi Wolf Sanctuary. Where the unexpected sight of the wolves alongside the trail was another first experience for me.
At Hoërskool Reitz we were welcomed by a shower, and lunch, and the opportunity to make the most of the slightly shorter stage to rest up, and get ready for tomorrow’s monster 122 kilometre ride to Sterkfontein Dam.