Day Four: First Leg

Posted: October 14, 2010 in The Journey

It was hard to imagine that the final day of the journey was here. Life had become a strange routine of early morning activity packing things up, putting petrol into various things and strapping things to other things so they didn’t fall off when we hit a few bumpy things along the way. Now at the end of the day, we would be going home and sleeping in our own beds. A welcome thought after travelling so far, but also sad.

The first leg would be our tough leg today. Reports had told us we would see much of the same terrain as we had in the second leg yesterday. This time however we had the advantage of driving through the morning before the heat became unbearable. We wanted to leave as early as possible to make sure we could make the rest stops in good time. But the organisers threw a spanner into that plan.

The previous evening, while everyone was gathered around an array of braais cooking supper, Glen warned us that nobody could leave before 8am. Not just a recommendation, but an order, because the Standerton council would fine every Quad seen on the streets before that time. It was a Sunday morning, and church-going folk would probably be upset with the roar of engines drowning out their praise and worship. On the down run, Standerton fined the Quads for Quads race R20,000 for breaking this rule.

The unforeseen consequence of not being able to drive the quad early was that we couldn’t refuel before Phil got in (without doing a few trips with jerry cans). We filled the Polaris from our jerry can, and with petrol remaining in the can we decided that making good time on the leg would be better than taking the time to stop and refuel. After all we had Brendon and Cowboy following in the Rhino (which had been patched up and resurrected the night before) with extra fuel.

We left in good spirits, knowing that we only had to worry about the first leg. The second would be going over familiar territory, because the previous week Phil and I had done the first leg of the down run as a test of the Polaris and Phil’s skill and stamina. From Fortuna resort (the first rest stop) we would be fine.

We weren’t getting lost today, and we followed the Rhino closely. We left Standerton and hit the same dirt roads that had punished us the day before. We pushed on, making decent time. The journey itself was rather uneventful, and the landscape was bare and uninteresting.

About two hours into the trip, Phil noticed that the fuel gauge was lower than it was supposed to be. Compared to what we had seen on previous legs, we seemed to be burning more fuel than expected. When we stopped to take a break, we emptied our jerry can into the tank, leaving us with whatever was in the Polaris to get us to the rest stop. We were also slowing down, and noticed that most of the pack had passed us.

The kilometres fell away behind us, and the fuel gauge slowly crept towards empty. The landscape changed from dusty roads to grassy hills that we drove through and over. A few winding tracks through burnt grass confused us, but we followed the markers diligently when the Rhino went ahead of us. On straight roads the more powerful Polaris could easily keep up with the Rhino, but when we hit winding tracks Cowboy’s driving left us in the dust and there was still a chance we could take a wrong turn.

When our fuel gauge hit the final bar, we pushed as hard as possible to get to the Rhino and ask for more fuel. When we caught them, Cowboy told us that there was hardly any distance to go, and we would make it. Phil was agitated, knowing what running out would mean, but we trusted Cowboy’s experience and pushed onwards. This wasn’t the time to sit in the sun and argue.

Shortly after that we stopped on a hill where a fellow rider had broken down. Cowboy jumped out and tried to assist, and by the time Phil and I got there he was already setting up a tow rope to tow the Quad to the rest stop. We didn’t know how long they would take, and how slow their pace would be towing another rider, and so we decided to go on ahead without the Rhino for the rest of the leg.

By now we were panicking a bit. Almost out of fuel, with our backup navigator and reserve tank now on a hill behind us, we had to make it to the stop. If we got lost, we would run out of fuel and not make it. Not knowing how far it was, we couldn’t say we would make it without running out of fuel anyway. But we went slowly and followed the markers.

Every rise over a hill we expected to see the rest stop, but it was always another track to the next hill. We should already have been at the rest stop, and text messages from Andre confirmed we were late and they weren’t sure where we were. Every minute that passed we became more concerned about whether we would make it. But the markers were there, we hadn’t lost our way.

Finally we saw big signs pointing us to Fortuna, but halfway along the road which we expected to take us straight there, the marker pointed us off the road into the wilderness. Phil wanted to ignore the marker and push ahead, but after a bit of discussion on our options, we agreed that ignoring a marker would be the worst thing we could do in this situation. We left the road, and drove through ten minutes of technical off road driving.

By now we couldn’t think about our predicament. I was concentrating full time on spotting markers, gesturing vigorously whenever I saw one to point the way. Phil followed the road and my directions, trying to keep calm. After the detour, we arrived back on the same road we had left just a minute ago. If we had known we could have avoided the technical section, but at least we were out and the rests stop was minutes away.

We drove into Fortuna resort on fumes. Even the resort itself thwarted us, and we drove up a few wrong turns until we found our backup guys sitting under a gazebo, along with Cowboy and Brendon who had skipped the technical section and got there before us. We were flustered and upset, but we were there. We were alone.

Every other rider had left already.

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