Day 2 – This was an extremely tough day. No, it wasn’t. It was worse than “extremely tough”. I rode the MTB the whole way, because I enjoyed it so much yesterday, but I went slowly right from the start at 6.30am. The uphills were long, although not steep, and the downhills were few and far between. Even on the flats the going was slow and many curses were cast into the teeth of the east wind.
It was always going to be a long day, in terms of the distance to be covered (163km according to the map) and the slow pace made it even longer than planned – I eventually finished riding well after 3.00pm. And there is just nothing on the N14 between Springbok and Pofadder to relieve the monotony. Not a town, not a filling station, not a shop. Not even a poskantoor. Nothing but 163km of baking tarmac reflecting the searing heat of the desert sun onto the defenceless legs of the cyclist. The scenery is spectacular, but it is the same now as it was 10km ago and will be 10km hence. Am I getting anywhere?
An interesting feature of this part of Namaqualand is the large nests of the sociable weaver birds, which, in some stretches, adorn virtually every telephone pole. One wonders just where these birds nested before there were telephone poles, for there are not that many trees to be found here. Judging by the roadkill, the surrounding semi-desert supports a surprising variety of mammals as well as the birds. Yellow mongoose, aardwolf, bat-eared fox, rats and mice. All apparently devoid of road sense.
The wind blew east all day today, and it blew hot. Although it was fairly cool when I started at first light, it was blazing by nine o’clock, and it stayed that way until late afternoon.
The last forty or fifty kilometres would turn out to be the toughest of the whole trip. Not that the terrain was particularly difficult. It was a combination of the heat, the wind, the uphill, the fatigue and perhaps also the fact that I was riding the mountain bike rather than the road bike.
But, eventually, I got there. Who would ever think that Pofadder could be such a wonderful sight?
The altitude at Pofadder is 1050m, all of which has been climbed in two days. Little wonder that there has been so much uphill and this, coupled with the incredible heat and the east wind, helps to explain the slow progress. The hills are not steep; it is simply that they are relentless. The length of the cycling day, the heat and the slow pace conspired to cause Avril to seriously doubt the wisdom of what we were doing. If this was the second day, what condition would I be in by the twelfth? These were private thoughts, however, and at no time did we discuss quitting.
In the evening the wind blew quite strongly and it even rained for a few minutes. No sooner had I left the comfort of the tent to tighten the fly-sheet and check that all the tent pegs were secure, when the squall was over and calm restored. Looking around, there was no evidence whatsoever that it had rained. Had it?
But the church clock! Just adjacent to the Caravan Park (it sounded as though it was inside our tent!) it tolled every hour and, just for good measure, every half-hour. And I can both vouch for the fact that on the night of 30th March, 1999 it never missed a beat.
Two blunders that I made today will have a far-reaching impact on the rest of the trip. Firstly, I didn’t use enough sunblock on my arms or legs. I have never found it necessary before, but then I haven’t spent this length of time in the blazing sun of Namaqualand before. The result is fairly bad sunburn on my thighs and upper arms, with the skin already angrily red and blistered. Sunburn is always self-inflicted through carelessness and in my own defence I can only plead that I was too tired to notice that it was happening.
The second blunder was continuing to cycle once I began to chafe, without stopping to take some corrective or preventative action. I don’t usually take any kind of precautions, but the number of hours in the saddle and the heat, which encouraged more sweating than usual, contributed to the abnormal circumstances. By the time the day was done I had rubbed two patches of skin off my backside, which made sitting down exceedingly uncomfortable and even painful. These were not to heal during the course of the trip.