Day Three: Second Leg

Posted: October 11, 2010 in The Journey

On our Quads for Quads journey, discovering how far away the next rest stop is can be very difficult. The organisers estimate the distance, because to a normal quad rider, an extra 30km in not a massive difference. Other riders give varying estimates because they base it on their previous trips, and the route changes from year to year. We couldn’t estimate using GPS because the paths we took were winding and much longer than when measuring as the Garmin flies.

Our best guess, as we set out for the second leg of day three, was 120km. After the 70km we had travelled, also knowing that this was an easier day than yesterday, we set out in high spirits from the rest stop, keen to finish the leg. We were also advised by everyone that this leg didn’t contain much in the way of “technical” sections – technical meaning difficult terrain like a riverbed full of boulders or steep inclines. The rest of the day would be nothing but straight roads.

We left the rest stop and followed the roads. The markers were easy to spot, and the roads didn’t deviate much. It quickly began a routine of arriving at a T-junction, turning down one road and following the dirt road for a few kilometres before repeating. We passed a few riders taking a break on the side of the road, they passed us again when they had finished.

Two hours into the ride we were starting to suffer. The heat was becoming unbearable, as we spent most of the journey in direct sunlight without any shade on the side of the roads. The landscape had flattened quickly, and now spread out around us as flat and uniform farmland. Dust clouds took a long time to settle, and so we were constantly battling the dust, lifting Phil’s helmet visor to alleviate the heat, closing it again to protect from the dust.

We stopped regularly to stretch whenever we could find a scrap of shade. Another hour passed and we had to empty our jerry can into the Polaris which had almost run out. The heat bore down and dust covered everything.

The mental connotations of doing this journey were quickly becoming clear. As physically challenging as it was, keeping out negative thoughts became difficult too. How much further was there to go? Would we have enough fuel? Does Phil have enough stamina to make it? Hoping we could just finish the remains of the race as quickly as possible, we drove quickly down the roads, hoping to hit the 120km and get out of the sun.

Half an hour later we reached a tar road with directions to head right to a fuel stop before continuing. We stopped off, filled our tanks, and met up with a few riders and locals while we were there. Cowboy was at the small rural petrol station, and told us that the Rhino has died along the route, unexpectedly shutting down. We had never really paid much attention to the possibility of a breakdown for the Polaris, but now after 600km of riding in the heat, that eventuality wasn’t too farfetched. But it was here we learned that the journey was further than we thought. From the fuel stop we had another 70km to go, making the estimated distance on this leg 170km instead of the expected 120km. We were getting late into the afternoon. The possibility of not making it before sundown was also a distant thought. We hurriedly strapped in and left the petrol station, drove back down the road and onto the trail again.

After five minutes of driving over heavy bumps, we hit a particularly big one and there was a loud clang from the back of the Polaris. I looked back and was horrified to see that the straps that were holding down the box with our water, and our jerry can, had come loose. The lid of the box was missing and the jerry can was bouncing around dangerously loose. I strapped them back down, as tightly as possible. There was no way we could go back for the box lid, everything would just have to get dirty (passing riders later told us they had ridden over it a few kilometres back down the road).

When I climbed back in, I noticed another problem that could potentially have ended our race. The fuel cap for the Polaris was not on, and the petrol tank was exposed. We’d been driving without it since the fuel stop. The petrol attendant had not replaced it, and in our hurry to make good time, we hadn’t checked it. After a small heart attack, I spotted the cap, resting a few centimetres away from the exposed tank. In all our bouncing around, it had not fallen off. We wouldn’t have been able to return to search for it, so we were impossibly lucky that it had remained nestled on the Polaris. I didn’t mention it to Phil until much later – we needed to remain focused on finishing the leg without idle speculation about the disasters that could have finished us.

We pushed on. The section shortly after the fuel stop was shaded, and gave us enough time to rest from the heat. Phil was struggling, so we worked out a quick system of pouring cold water down his back every 5km to keep him cool. We pushed on.

After a lot more driving, we hit the estimated distance of 170km, with no end in sight. Dirt roads and open countryside surrounded us, and the sun was getting low in the distance. I tried to contact our backup guys, but signal was poor and the messages wouldn’t go through. We had no choice, push on or perish.

The relief of seeing Standerton in the distance as we drove over a hill was palpable. It was still in the distance, but our destination was visible, and suddenly we could estimate how far it was. We drove into the town, winding around a few small bridges and parks before driving into the school where we would finish the leg. The total day’s journey had been 250km and much harder than the previous day.

Phil was elated to be there, but physically drained. Andre and the backup guys quickly got him out of the Polaris and drove up the road to the B&B where he could rest and reflect on possibly the most physically challenging drive he’d ever done.

As everyone else drove away, I lay back on the grass, drained. My back was aching; I was tired, hot and covered in dirt. But all the while I thought: if I’m this drained, Phil must be much more because of his limited mobility. Petrol wasn’t the only thing fuelling us on that drive. Phil’s determined will to finish carried us most of the way.

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