So it was with the experienced Rob Wiseman as the support vehicle driver and co navigator that we set off to Underberg on that Friday morning for the midnight race start. Being given the opportunity of a support vehicle with no restrictions as far as kit and food is concerned is wonderful until you have to pack the bloody thing and then still add four strapping blokes to the equation. Just as well we had a double cab with high canopy because I'm pretty sure we packed everything including the kitchen sink and as it turned out we would soon need the bike spares.
After arriving we did the necessary admin, attended the pre-race briefing and got fed before heading off to a 19:30 pm lights out. It's always a little difficult to get shut eye with a dorm room full of cyclists 4 hours before a race start and on this occasion it was no different. Snoring and the odd bit of nerves (Phew ! - one wonders what race fuelsome of those boys put in their bottle mixes) later made for a short 1 hour sleep and then we were off.
Despite being midnight it wasn't as cold as expected and a few layers of kit sufficed. Lights definitely played a part because it was pitch black out with six hours to go before daylight and all that poking fun about Gadgets handlebar light soon turned to nods of approval and a little envy. We started well, heading out in the middle of the 300 odd strong field but were soon stone bloody last as Badger hit something in the dark that nearly took him off his bike but ultimately only slashed his tyre completely.
No support vehicles allowed for the first 20km with 15km still to go was a major blow to morale so early on, however Gerrit's Freedom Challenge experience prevailed as he miraculously produced a spare tubed tyre from his backpack - Go figure ! We had the entire Subaru events sweeper posse watching our goings on with much amusement. Nonetheless we prevailed and were soon on our way again, or so we thought.
A faulty valve saw us stumble along with regular pumping sessions to the rendezvous point some 15km on. Well by that stage our 'race' was properly shot having lost an hour already (20-30km behind the field ) and I dare say our spirits may have flagged but for the groups tenacity and sense of humour. After all we had come a long way and still had about 200km to go ! We made it to the first check point at the McKenzie Club at around 05:15 am and after some well deserved cccoca cola and snacks we headed out of the valley up the first of many significant ascents that day.